Thursday, May 31, 2007

McGee needs to be over

I've spent a bit of time listening to public reaction to the charges against Michael McGee, Jr. on WMCS (and I will be on the station this afternoon from 4:30 to 6:00). While the response was not monolithic, there is a substantial body of opinion - perhaps even a consensus - that McGee is being treated unfairly, hasn't done anything that bad or that the "good" (which I am constantly told, without specifics, that he does) outweighs this. McGee, calling into WNOV this morning, apparently sang a battle hymn to his supporters. He apparently thinks that he - or whatever cause he is supposed to represent (no snitchin'? wig peeling? gatekeeping?) are worth dying for. Maybe there are folks who agree.

There is a pretty clear racial divide and my sympathies are with those that believe this view of McGee is wrongheaded, harmful and pretty much outside the boundaries of reason. It wouldn't be hard to conclude that there is no possibility of dialogue between two Milwaukees who see things so differently.

I'd like to imagine otherwise. McGee and those like him strike me as mirror images of the segregation demagogues of the south. Wallace, Faubus, and Maddox capitalized on the anger generated by the end of segregation. They appealed to group loyalties that were stronger than any rational assessment of what would or would not better everyday life. Although they claimed to be the leaders who would help the south rise again, the south did not rise until they fell (or, in Wallace's case, changed their ways.)

McGee capitalizes on the anger that flows from a history of racial injustice. He claims to be the leader who will help black Milwaukee rise, but, just as was the case with the white racial demagogues, it will not rise until McGee and his ilk go the way of Faubus and his.

To say that McGee makes a few legitimate points along the way - or to respond to his wrongdoing by dwelling on the faults of his critics - is simply to enable him and block the evolution of effective leadership. The poor whites that Bilbo and Barnett spoke for had legitimate grievances too and there was more than a little snobbery and hypocrisy among the "pointy-headed" liberals that opposed them

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What did McGee, Jr., mean?

Mike McGee's attorney says that the DA is confused about street language when he suggests that McGee's discussion of "peeling back" someone's "wig" refers to homicide.

Maybe. We know that "peeling back a cap" does refer to a head shot that disfigures by "peeling back" the cranium. We have, for example, Ice-T in the aptly titled "Peel Their Caps Back":

I'm a n***a on the trigger, madder than a pitbull
Just layin for a reason to pull
On you, any duck motherf***er that gets in my way
I'm insane, and my homeboy's death made me this way
But then we spot him, evil e shot him
Dead in the face, made sure that he got him
Others ran, but no mercy to the posse's wrath
Automatic uzi motherf***in bloodbath
Let's peel their caps back
Let's peel their caps back
Let's peel their caps back

Not too subtle.

Here, according to the paper, McGee, Jr. allegedly said "peel his wig back." That must be different. Maybe he was planning to play a practical joke on a bald guy?

McGee, Jr., also referred to "sewing his cap together;" perhaps a reference to a foray into neurosurgery.

I wish this really was funny.

Update: Jessica McBride, demonstrating the difference between a journalist and a lawyer, actually finds reference to "peeling back a wig."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

What was McGee, Jr. up to?

It's hard to know what to make of the charges against Micahel McGee, Jr. and the somewhat extraordinary way in which they and his arrest have been handled. The federal complaint does not look good for him. But, based on what we have seen to date, it alleges garden variety corruption.

What seems to make - or at least is alleged to make this case different - may be found in whatever resulted in his state arrest which the Journal Sentinel is reporting as suspicion of "substantial battery/intend bodily harm, party to a crime; substantial battery-intend bodily harm and conspiracy." That is not garden variety corruption.

Those sealed details are what may make this case extraordinary. What public safety concerns prompted the action that was taken? I doubt it was that McGee was a flight risk. Is the state alleging that he took his "stop snitchin'" campaign to another level? Did the campaign against his recall become overzealous?

I hope, for the sake of the community, that the DA can back up his actions and the underlying information comes sooner rather than later. There is, at the moment, a sense among some folks that McGee has been treated differently and we can be sure that he and his supporters will pursue that theme in the coming days.

I am one of those who believe that the McGees are a scourge on the community. But I would not expect a sitting alderman to actually behave (as opposed to talk)violently. Still, I have to believe that Chislom was aware of the political and social ramifications and that something significant prompted him to act as he did. Only time will tell.

Monday, May 28, 2007

It started here

In reference to the controversy over the extent to which hip-hop glorifies gang culture, I hope that we don't forget to include the Shangri-Las.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Business Book for the Left

When I sorted out my Journal Sentinel this morning (i.e., tossed aside the advertising sections), I noted that Crossroads published a column by Lee Iaccoca (actually by his "co-author") trotting out the left's creedal faith on the Bush administration and making the point that a Leader of Men like, oh Lee Iaccoca, knows from leadership and this ain't it. I didn't read it.

Patrick McIlheran did and points out that Lee's plain talk is actually puerile oversimplification. I have now read the piece and, while I agree with Patrick, I have another observation.

Lee Iaccoca was the prototype for the modern CEO Hero. He was one of the first CEOs or owners to place himself in his company's commercials. This has been much repeated, bringing us the likes of the Men's Wearhouse's George Zimmer. Lee should be shunned for that alone.

Of course, you put the CEO Hero in the commercial because the success or failure of the enterprise turns upon him. He can't be paid too much. Lee was a critical stepping point in the process that brought us Richard Grasso.

His subtype is the Common Man At the Top. (Harry Truman is the political version.) This guy is a genius because he doesn't bother with those complexities that bedevil lesser men and women. He cuts through all the horses*** (apparently a key concept for Lee) and gets things done.

It is tempting to look to such people for political advice. The difficulty, of course, is that while such people may know their own business quite well and have done a wonderful job within it, they have no particular insight or expertise that can be translated into the political world. Making money at Chrysler or EDS tells us nothing about how or whether you could govern your state or your country.

Translated in to politics, the Common Man CEO Hero usually calls for an end to ideology and a rejection of the controversies that most of the rest of us are arguing about. This can be very seductive. Cf. H. Ross Perot. The problem, of course, is that, in business, we generally agree about the ultimate objective, i.e., we want to make money. In politics, we don't (or at least we have prioritze differently) and that's what much of the argument is about. Competing views of the good and of the way in which the world works are likely to be far more complex than adding two points to gross margin (which can be a daunting task). A bit more tolerance for debate is required. While Iaccoca argues that Bush is insular, the tired old stuff that he trots out in support of his position suggests that he may need to expand his own reading list.

Lee's (actually Catherine Whitney's) column is just a condensed version of the literary adjunct to the culture of the CEO Hero, the modern business book. It requires some mnemonic device (S.W.O.T.; in this case, the 9 "C"s) or metaphor (i.e., the hedgehog or moving cheese) that the author rides past the point of collapse. I know that some people find these things helpful and they sell like crazy. I guess they can serve as a way to stay focused on what you already know, but they are rarely anything more than tricked up banality.

Like "Iaccoca's" column.

That all this is trotted out in service of the left's disgust with Bush is a tad ironic, no?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Right on poverty

Earlier this week, I was at a teaching colloquium at Marquette. There was an outside expert in law school pedagogy who cited research that law students get better grades if they argue with the cases as they read them.

In the same way, I think our arguments on public policy get better (although they might change) if we argue with them and if we take others' critiques of them seriously.

Having brought you that M.O.S. (definition is in the sixth paragraph), Paul Soglin has responded to my most recent post on conservative responses to urban violence and poverty. (He says no talking about the Wisconsin Supreme Court but I shall go boldly whereever the truth leads.)

The Mayor wants to make the argument from middle class flight. While he seems to posit an initial onslaught of violence and poverty (where did that come from?), the argument often goes like this: In the segregated inner city of the past, black lawyers and doctors lived in the same neighborhoods as poor people. Discrimination prevented their escape.

But that has ended and, with greater opportunity, the black middle class has fled. Paul would say that this removed the moral standard bearers from the community and has resulted in what we see today.

I don't disagree with that, but, ironically, this suggests that the problem is an unfortunate result of the civil rights movement. Greater opportunity for some has had bad consequences for those who have been left behind.

Paul might cite some failure to spend money on something here, but I am going to indict the larger society in a different way. We created a welfare system that paid young women to have children and not work and that left young men off the hook. If you think that was compassionate, ask yourself if you'd treat your own children that way.

We created a cultural zeitgeist that came to see sex as the moral equivalent of a tennis match ("thanks for the game") and single-parent homes as just another equally valid family choice. We fostered (and many political leaders have thrived on) the view that opposition to and defiance of the majority culture conveys authenticity. We do not solution to our problem; we must take it from the Man. (That, incidentally, is the problem with much of hip-hop; not who does and doesn't buy it. It - for the profit of the mostly white guys who own and run the record companies - tells both young whites and blacks what is and is not black culture.)

In the end, we both may be saying that the problem is cultural although disagreeing on where it came from and what to do about it. But that agreement is significant because it has implications for what might work.

All sorts of economic opportunity is being left on the table. While we conservatives like to rail against MPS and I think it deserves plenty of criticism, the fact remains that education is on offer there. Teachers show up and they are qualified and willing to teach. If you are poor and are born and live your whole life on 23rd & North, there is a way out of poverty that is virtually guaranteed to succeed. Go to school. Don't have a kid until you are married. Don't get married too soon. Stay off drugs.

We have economic opportunity. Maybe its not "enough" but its there. Poverty has become more of a cultural than an economic problem.

The problem I have with the people on the left who see this is that they tend to believe that these cultural deficiencies can be solved inorganically; that the state can act as the parents that children never had - provide breakfast, inculcate values, provide job training to people who couldn't get through nine grades of schooling.

I don't suggest that we just abandon that, but the existing evidence is that it does not work very well and that some of what we've done (welfare as we knew it) made things worse.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

State v. Post

There may have been some initial confusion about what the Wisconsin Supreme Court did this morning in State v. Post.

The case involved review of an appellate court judgment reversing Post's fifth drunken driving condition. The court of appeals had held that Post's deviation within a single traffic lane could not create probable cause to stop him and reversed his conviction.

The state appealed and asked the court to adopt a bright line rule (lawyer slang for simple and easy to apply) that anytime a person deviates in a single lane of traffic, it constitutes probable cause to pull them over. The court - unanimously - declined to do that.

But it reversed the court of appeals and upheld Post's conviction. It did so because, under the "totality of the circumstances." Post's deviations in this case (between 5 and 9 feet in an S-shaped pattern at night) were enough.

Along the way, it rejected Post's argument that it should hold that deviation within a single lane cannot constitute probable cause unless it it is "erratic, unsafe or illegal."

Chief Justice Abrahamson dissented in part. She thought that the facts in the record were insufficient to support probable cause and would have remanded for further fact finding.

Cluck or roar?

So now that Eugene Kane is back, he has written on Jasmine Owen's death. He refrained from making excuses for the thugs or trotting out any of the tired old nostrums. In fact, he expressed his horror through a pretty good money line: "Just think about what a kid in a casket looks like before taking the next shot."

James Widgerson prefers chicken clucks and McMahon must not have seen it because he thinks Kane is still clucking. I disagree with both of them. This time, Kane focuses on the problem: people who shoot at other people.

But here's a question for you all: How is what Kane did here any different that what local liberals get all over local conservatives for doing when it comes to urban issues. He called people thugs. He expressed outrage. He offered no solutions.

Is it because he tries not to be so blunt about it? Is the problem inattention to the requisite sensitivities? Doesn't calling for that seem a tad bloodless in the wake of the murder of a child? In any event, Kane spoke plainly here.

Is the difference that you figure that someday he'll write a column calling for an end to W-2 or for the start of some expensive anything? Is it that you think he'll call for the end of guns ? Is it because you are sure that he won't actually support more aggressive law enforcement that might have a "disproportionate" impact on a minority group as if that concern ought to trump the need for safe streets?

If it's the latter, we're talking about strategy and not objectives. If it's not hateful for Kane to call a thug by his name, its not hateful for Sykes either.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Maybe McBride is a martyr?

A few final comments.

1. Jay Bullock does not want to make her a martyr. But folks on the left who are celebrating her dismissal because of the Kane bit are doing just that. As I blogged on Saturday, I thought that the bit was unfunny and a tad overnasty - not to Jasmine Owens and her family - but to Kane. Rather than simply cry outrage or circle the wagons, I tried to explain what was and what was not wrong with it. It did not "mock" the death of Jasmine Owens. It did not express indifference about her death (quite the opposite). Although, in this context, it was a bit unfair to Kane, she was trying to make a deadly serious point about the muted response to urban violence by those who could make a big difference but do not. Although I have tried to make the same point, it's not the way I would do it. But, as I said, I am not sure that my approach to things would win a very large radio audience.

But there was no way it was a firing offense. We all flub occasionally and I am sure that journalism instructor McBride could find some examples in the annals of this blog.

I am perfectly willing to believe that TMJ let her go for lack of ratings. It is a pretty much impossible situation, going on the air whenever the Brewers and Bucks are off or done. Under those circumstances, I think its tough to build a following.

By trying to claim her scalp or justify her dismissal as a response to what she said, however, a martyr is exactly what she will become and, as critical as I was of her, that status will be justified and necessary.

I am sure that I could listen to Joel McNally's show on MCS for about 45 minutes and find something just as nasty (I know it would not be funny.) Do I think MCS should fire him if I do? Absolutely not.

If I spent some time I do not have this morning and read around the left side of the local political blogs, I could find numerous examples just as nasty (although some would be funny.) Has a liberal blogger ever accused conservatives of not caring about poor black people or of reveling in or encouraging "hate crimes"? Ever used the death of a soldiers in Iraq in conjunction with Bush's war policy to suggest that Bush was indifferent to that death? Ever called anyone a chicken? Or any other rotten name?

There is conceit on the left that they are somehow "nicer" and more "civil" than those on the right. That's blind. It's not true.

So an overweening concern for propriety is going to chop off heads on both sides of the fence. Think about that. You'd be left with Jim Rowen and I discussing the nuances of the judicial review or the Great Lakes water shed. Grog on that for awhile.

2. I actually hate to see her go. I didn't often have a chance to listen, but I enjoyed keeping an ear on the show when I was working at that time and she was on. I am a Dennis Miller fan, but I prefer my radio to be local and she was the only one on the dial at that time. I thought she had grown into the job.

3. I don't know what Jessica McBride plans to do but my (undrgrad) alma mater could use a John McAdams. That may be hard to do without tenure, but she might want to think on that.

Can you dig it?

Although he is now backtracking, Jimmy Carter apparently thought it commensurate with his stature as an ex-President to call George W. Bush the worst President ever.

If that's true, it must be some relief to Carter. His feckless response to the Iran hostage crisis has the first mistake in our response to Islamic fascism. That's misery that must love company.

But here's how I see Carter.

A number of years ago, David Frum wrote an excellent book about the 70s. Even for those of us who were there, it was a great reminder of how truly atrocious that whole time was.

I am reminded of a scene from a late 70s movie called The Warriors, now a cult classic. The Warriors are a street gang from Brooklyn wrongly accused of killing Cyrus - the "one and only" and leader of the largest gang in the city . They are being sought by the police and every other gang in New York and are trying to fight their way back to Coney Island. Stay with me.

Mercy, a young women of dubious occupation, who has become a sort of camp follower (she says she's looking for some "real action"), wants to "get with" the Swan, the gang's leader, in a subway tunnel in Manhattan. (Can the comments on film school symbolism.) He refuses, saying that he doesn't like the way she lives. She pleads. "C'mon, Warrior." He cuts her off. "You're just part of everything that's happened tonight and it's all bad."

That sums up the 70s and the Carter administration better than I ever could.

(Although I once tried.)

(NB: Yeah, I know that Mercy and Swan sort of get together in the end, but, as I see it, that's the Clinton administration.)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Urban right, pt 6: Why we need to be in on the debate

In the wake of the killing of Jasmine Owens and the disgusting failure of the intended target to cooperate with the police (McGee must be proud), I blogged about the difficult questions raised by a culture of criminal violence.

One thoughtful commentator pushes the argument that the problem is economic. He wrote "members of groups within society that perceive themselves to have meaningful opportunity to create better lives (and who see themselves as being included in the larger community) typically function more productively, refrain from the level of anti-social behavior we are talking about, and generally pursue better lives."

This is, of course, the traditional argument from the left. At root, the problem is economic. Give people what they need and the violence will stop. A recent letter to the Journal Sentinel made the same point; the writer arguing that maybe "we all" killed Jasmine Owens. Local blogger Michael J. Mathias of Pundit Nation argues for economics as well.

I have to admit that my intial reaction to these arguments is often less than civil. I have been hearing them for so long (I'm getting old here) and they are so beside the point. They have, over the fast 40 years, resulted in ineffectual policy and continued deterioration.

Perhaps that's unfair because there is a sense in which they are true. While I believe that the culture is now the larger problem, poverty did help to create that culture and it is poverty that makes its consequences so devastating.

But, however etiology might inform treatment, it doesn't control it. An infected wound might have been caused by a failure to clean it, but, once infection sets in, antibiotics are reguired. The solutions offered by my commenter - school breakfast, massive job training, smaller class sizes - haven't (and aren't going to) change anything unless the culture changes and unless people are free to go to job training or school breakfast without getting blown away

Unfortunately, I can't see a soft way to do this. Drugs are a problem and some people call for treatment rather than punishment. I have the greatest sympathy for people whose loved ones have drug and alcohol problems and can't get treatment, but the sad facts are 1)drug and alcohol abuse are often a symptom of culutural malaise, and 2)perhaps as a result, treatment doesn't work that well and, when it does, the success seems to be just as readily, if not primarily attributed to the patient's environment and outside support. Therapy can help, but it can't fill the holes in your life.

As I have said before, I am probably willing to spend more on anti-poverty programs than most conservatives. I am a Santorum and Brownback type of guy. But it won't help to spend that money unless the programs are designed to control urban violence now, encourage the recovery of a culture of marriage, inculcate traditional values (as opposed to the kind of multi-cultural divisiveness that we see too much of now), and create economic opportunities that are not "made" by the government because those will not last and will not be very robust.

I have to admit that I don't really know how to do that but, as I have blogged before, I think it is a discussion we need to spend more time on. The left keeps calling for things that won't work and, unfortunately, my cohorts seem better at diagnosis than prescription.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Shark recommends ...

I usually do all politics and law all the time, but its Sunday and my kid graduated from college today, so lighter fare is in order.

Said son has always said that I have a weakness for "quirky chick singers." The best is, of course, Beth Hart who sounds like Janis Joplin would have had she lived and gotten to be really good. That this woman is not a huge star is an indictment of the collective taste. Here's a sample:

One of my favorites in the Beth ouvre is a song called Skin apparently written about Hart's sister who died of AIDS. This video is unpolished but you get a sense of it:

For a guy who's into complicating things, I like the simple expression of human need. If I bow my head down to the ground, "will you heal my skin?" - the most apparent and creaturely part of me. I am not skin deep but please start there. Can I ask for at least that much?

The song ends by asking for "soley" delivery. Whatever that may be.

I'll return to the blog wars later.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

L'affaire McBride

I was out of town when it happened, but I didn't regard her "Left Side of the Moon" poke at Eugene Kane as disrespectful or exploitive of Jasmine Owens. I see now that Tim Cuprisin was looking for conservatives to attack her like they attacked McGee. He sees it as a somehow "similar" to the McGee/Imus/Opie & Anthony "gaffes."

I don't see the equivalence. The bit was unfair to Kane and it wasn't funny. Chicken squawks are pretty much fourth grade.

But it didn't strike me as being in the same category as the the others. She wasn't suggesting that Jasmine's death was a good or deserved thing (as McGee did with respect to Katherine Sykes) nor did she suggest that Kane was happy about it (as McGee claimed to be). She didn't suggest that violence against another person was funny (Opie & Anthony) or utter a racial slur (Imus).

She was making - however sophomorically - a point about the way in which some people in Milwaukee allow other concerns - whether they be political correctness or a legitimate concern about racism - affect their response to urban violence. These women made precisely that point in the Journal Sentinel on Friday.

What was unfair about it is that Kane didn't do that here and, contrary to what my colleagues on the local right say, he doesn't always do it. He is perfectly capable of getting his Bill Cosby on.

Maybe it was too soon to mention Jasmine in connection with a political point but I don't believe that. I did it the day after the awful thing happened. It is an outrage that requires a political response. I agree that the political point should not have been made with humor or in a way that attacked the good faith of a particular person, but was it really as bad as celebrating someone's death or laughing at an imagined assault of a woman?

But, since it is my job to suck thumb over things, I want to say that the whole thing demonstrates the limitations of politics as entertainment. If you want to draw people - whether you are left or right - there is a certain pressure on you to take cheap shots. Ann Coulter has been quite forthright in admitting that she is often more concerned that her stuff be funny than that it make all the points that she wants to make in just the right way. (I'd say that she often does both but I don't want to give Jim Rowen tachycardia.)

When I was doing a regular newspaper column, I felt that way. You wanted to make a point and be fair, but you also wanted to get a reaction. On this blog, I have decided, for a number of reasons, that my role isn't to go for a large readership. (Reddess: And you're going a great job with that!) I am more concerned with who reads than how many read. (Ed:Pretention alert!)

But if I wanted to have more traffic, wouldn't I have to talk more smack?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Save us from this

I spent Wednesday night and Thursday in Newark mediating a piece of litigation I have out there. Newark is, near as I can tell, a wholly ungentrified city. It has some commercial activity in a downtown with virtually no amenities (although they are building a fancy new arena for the New Jersey Devils). Although it was once a city of some vibrancy, it is now the ultimate urban donut hole - far worse than Detroit. On the way in from the airport (which may be its greatest municipal asset), I saw a billboard which read "Help Wanted: Stop the Killings in Newark Now!" They are apparently all over and are paid for by the Newark Teachers Union. They have been quite controversial. Critics say that it just makes things worse although they were already pretty bad.
They propose no solution and I suspect that it because no one can think of one. There is a point after which none of the standard liberal or conservative nostrums are likely to work. Newark seems to be there.
One of the things that struck me is the extent which no seems to care. Although we all think of that big area out there as "New York metro," people do not regard themselves as New Yorkers. They are from New Jersey. Yet Newark is seen as an irredeemably lost cause. I'd wonder out loud why Newark couldn't become a more affordable alternative to Manhattan which is about twenty minutes by train (you spend a lot of time sitting around in mediations which are mostly a form of shuttle diplomacy). Some towns across the river like Jersey City have done so, but I guess that they are getting pretty expensive as well. The response was that "people" just don't want to live in Newark.
You could see it was once an interesting place. You wonder why it can't be again.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ziegler/Ethics Board settlement reflects what we have always known

Local liberal blogger Jay Bullock inadvertently acknowledges what is behind the level of mock outrage over Annette Ziegler's violation of a provision of Wisconsin's judicial code concerning disclosures and recusals. He's disappointed that she has admitted to violations of the order and settled with the state's Ethics Board:

No Ziegler under oath today. She won't be forced to detail in open court what her thinking was as she repeatedly violated the state's code of judicial ethics. She won't have to make any statements on the record that could be used against her when she runs for re-election in a decade. (emphasis supplied.)

Well, of course there won't be a hearing because there are no facts to be established. She has admitted, as the board charged, that she handled (although there was not much to do) five cases in which her husband sat on the board which state law defines as having a financial interest. The only reason to conduct a hearing would be to torment her about it and, while that may be a relevant part of a political campaign and Jay might enjoy it, it is not the board's function.

As I have blogged before, it has been clear from the outset that 1) Ziegler broke a prophylactic rule by sitting on some cases involving a bank for which her husband is a director; 2) most of the "numerous" cases on which she was said to have done this were actually defaults (the Ethics Board found five that were not) on which she literally did nothing, 3) she did not sit on the remaining five cases for financial gain because none was in the offing and 4) the cases were such that it is clear that her sitting on the case actually prejudiced no one.

The episode did reflect a certain lack of attention to the niceties of the law. It was a negative fact in the balance that voters had to conduct in deciding whether to support her or Linda Clifford. It was not indicative of moral bankruptcy or corruption. My guess is that whatever the judicial commission does will be, as the Ethics Board's actions were, consistent with this.

(Update: This post was composed in my hotel room in Newark at 5 in the morning CDT. I would like to think that this is why the penultimate paragraph initially had three typos, but it was probably that I was demonstrating a lack of attention to the niceties of proofreading.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A public square of the cloth?

What started (and continued) as some good natured trash talk with writer and former top Norquist aide Jim Rowen developed into a conversation about the relationship between religion and politics. The death of Jerry Falwell seems like a good excuse for further bloviation.

Social and religious conservatives are known for acting as if they are fighting against a tide of secularism, but there are all sorts of signs that the other side is on the defensive. Two recent publishing trends (and a guy who spends what I do with Amazon and Borders is going to know these things) are warnings against imminent theocracy and insistent apologetics that this God-thing has to be false, false, false! Atheism and secularism (not the same things) have gone all evangelical on us.

There is a sense, I suppose, in which both sides can be right. Secularism, if not a de facto atheism, has been the predominant public posture of the educated elite and still is. So those who oppose the naked public square still feel like they have a lot of heavy lifting to do.

But there have been inroads made among what Justice Scalia called the "law-profession culture" (similar to the reigning sensibilities in universities and editorial boards). Those opposing a secular society have developed their own countervailing intelligentsia and, among the great herd, this God-fellow just won't go away.

So secularists feel harried as well.

I think there are at least two reasons for this.

The first is the utter poverty of arguments for a uniformly secular public discourse such as John Rawls' concept of "public reason." The argument that people ought to put their bedrock principles and way of seeing the world in a desk drawer before they venture outside is intellectually bankrupt and impossible in practice.

The second is the way in which our Establishment Clause jurisprudence has devoured itself. Put simply (but not overly so), we have tried to enforce governmental neutrality between religion and irreligion. We do not want, as Justice O'Connor argued, anyone to feel like a disfavored member of the political community.

That might work if government did no more than it did in 1787. But as it becomes involved in educating children (and taking that education past the basic 3 Rs) and trying to solve a variety of social problems, it injects itself into areas of life in which, according to many, there can be no exclusion of faith. To tell such people that all views are welcome but theirs is not neutral and certainly causes them to feel disfavored. To read a recent and scintillating exposition of this, see Richard M. Esenberg, You Cannot Lose If You Choose Not to Play: Toward a More Modest Establishment Clause, 12 Roger Williams L.Rev. 1 (2006)

But make sure you have some coffee first.

Obviously there is much more to it than this (S & S is a general interest blog) and the debate is nowhere near over. As Marquette lawprof Scott Idleman recently said (I paraphrase) the only things that are certain in life are death, taxes and disputes over the religion clauses of the First Amendment.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell, R.I.P.

Patrick McIlheran has an excellent post on the death of Jerry Falwell. Falwell said a lot of things that I can't buy into. Culturally and theologically, there is an enormous difference between Baptists and "catholic" denominations like Episcopalians, Lutherans and even Roman Catholics.

When Falwell annoyed me, I have to admit that I thought he was being stupid. But I never really thought he was venal or hateful. He did call things sin that I would not call sin. He did claim to know the mind of God in a way that I would think we ought not to claim. But in that his error was candor in the pursuit of mistake. He seemed to brook no more hate than have many of the lions - and lionesses - of liberal protestantism.

Patrick says that Walker Percy - no fundamentalist - preferred the Gospel of Falwell to that of Guccione. As much as it may not be precisely mine, I am not so sure that I don't prefer it to the Gospel of John Shelby Spong.

But, and this is a change in topic, I have got to acknowledge this line in Patrick's post:

Even Jimmy Carter, who was Falwell's predecessor in being openly, publicly religious, managed to confess to lust only in the course of trying to convince secular Democrats that his born-again Christianity wouldn't impinge on the world.

This is, I think, why Carter made that confession in Playboy. This is, I think, why Carter has been rather promiscuous when it comes to self-righteousness and sanctimony in the years that have followed. If we think "pharisee," is there really any reason to think more readily of Falwell than of Carter? Is the latter any more certain of his rectitude than the former? Has Carter ever apologized with cost in the way that Falwell has?

Was Falwell "better" than Carter? While I think Carter's "ex-presidency" has been almost wholly unadmirable, I don't want to say that. But I do think that Falwell had the rare courage to follow his beliefs without regard to how it played in Cambridge and New Haven and, in doing so, he accomplished quite a bit. On the whole, I think he did more good than harm.

How awful is this?

The senseless murder of 4 yr old Jasmine Owens horrifies us and, to be honest, leaves us stumped. To his credit, Governor Doyle has committed to helping the city fund police overtime in Milwaukee. While I think that the Governor is over fond of spending and I recognize that some conservatives won't support state taxpayers "bailing out" the city on this, it is impractical to think that Milwaukee can deal with this crisis on its own. Doyle is doing the right thing.

I wish that handwringing about guns and greater controls promised to help. I'm actually in favor of a lot more regulation of the sale of firearms. I think background checks should be required for not only gun show sales but private transfers. (I understand that the latter requires gun registration but that doesn't scare me.) I might even be willing to listen to arguments for a legislative mandate of smart guns should that technology ever become workable and affordable. (But imposing liability for the failure to adopt it is pure mischief.)

But it is entirely implausible that any of this would make much difference in the rate of gun violence. People who conduct drive-by shootings tend not to care much about the law. You'd have to get guns off the streets to make a difference and I don't see that happening.

If complaining about gun laws is beside the point, so is bemoaning the absence of good jobs. The guys who drive around in SUVs shooting at one another are not doing so because they can no longer work at Tower Automotive. Expecting nothing different until that day in which the lamb lies down with the lion because the kingdom of perfect righteousness is at hand will leave a lot of lambs to the slaughter.

Actually, tomorrow morning"s Journal Sentinel editorial suggests the larger answer: Inner city neighborhoods must rise up and reclaim themselves.

How does that happen?

It raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions. How do you tolerate a political leader who calls for "no snitchin'?" If you are properly concerned about the high incarceration rate of African American males, is there a solution for the problem which will not require, at least in the short run, continued high incarceration rates for African-American males? If you distrust - with some justification - the Milwaukee Police Department, is there any solution that doesn't require more cops who will tolerate less anti-social behavior? Everyone - and I mean everyone - who I ever speak to who works at MPS says that a significant minority of disruptive and uninterested students materially impairs the education of the rest (and drives the middle class out of the system). If you want to oppose extraordinary measures to restore extraordinary disorder because they seem stigmatizing or racist, then what is your alternative?

And perhaps most difficult: what do you do when too many people (it doesn't have to be all that many) become amoral and deracinated? Do you ostracize those who indulge in any aspect of thug culture? Do you stop tolerating cruising (dropping the McNally-ite illusion that it is just an urbanization of Richie and Pottsie)?

If these questions can be avoided, tell me how. If the answers do not require the abandonment of much of the rhetoric that we have traditionally heard from Milwaukee Democrats who do not represent districts on the south side, tell me why.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thompson has upset the Farve

There was a moment - a single one - when I knew that former Packer coaches Bart Starr and Ray Rhodes would be fired. They both did essentially the same thing. In 1983, Starr sat on his timeouts - arms folded and jaw set - while the Bears ran down the clock and kicked a game winner that knocked the team out of the playoffs. Rhodes did much the same thing in '99 against the Panthers, this time refusing to call a time out so that Carolina (who had first and goal and enough time to use all the downs remaining to them) could score the go ahead touchdown with virtually no time on the clock. Rhodes had the same look of defiance that Starr had. "I'm going to screw this up and there is nothing you can do about it." Neither could be permitted to coach the team after such singular cluelessness.

I had been wondering whether we saw the end of Ted Thompson's career when he said the name "Justin Herill" in the first round of the draft. I have come to believe that would be unfair. Herrill may be very good if he stays out of the hospital.

I am less certain that he hasn't irredeemably fouled his nest with his refusal to spend a fourth round draft choice for Randy Moss. The decision - in and of itself - is inexplicable particularly given the way that Thompson used his latter round choices this year, generally taking guys a round or two before anyone else would. In the third round, for example, he takes a wideout whose singular accomplishment is to be second-team All-WAC and a safety who is said to look like Tarzan and play like Jane. Wouldn't taking a flyer on Moss have been smarter than gambling on these guys?

Now we hear that Brett Farve demanded to be traded in light of Thompson's thick-necked refusal to do anything to help him on offense next year. I think a few things are possible.

1. Thompson believes that last year's 8-8 season was a fluke and does not think he can make the playoffs this year. For that reason, he doesn't care about getting Farve immediate help because he doesn't believe that it will accomplish anything.

2. This is all a struggle for the mind of Ted Thompson. He has done nothing and this is a way for Farve and Thompson's critics within the organization to let him know that he better quit sitting on his hands. He needs to sign Keshawn Johnson or do something else to show that he wants to win now.

3. If Thompson was building for the future, his refusal to make the slightest concession to now has put him in a box. Maybe he thinks that the Packers future is in 2009, but his future is now. If he doesn't win, he will become the most unpopular man in Wisconsin (he's up there now) and its not clear that, in the peculiar culture of the Green Bay Packers, that you can be that and keep your job.

4. If he trades Farve, he will have to watch home games from his home. He'd be absolutely crazy to show his face at Lambeau and the only way that he could get past that is to go deep into the playoffs.

5. I wonder if Thompson is a bit like the old baseball scouts in Moneyball. He outguesses himself and places too much emphasis on an impressive body ("five tool guys" in baseball) even if that body's owner has never been able to keep it healthy or to use it to accomplish anything outstanding on the football field. On the other hand, there is some indication that his '06 draft was pretty good, so ....

6. As to his performance lately, there seem to be only two possibilities: Ted Thompson is an idiot or everyone else is.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I'll see your three and raise you however many you want

My Backstory colleague Jim Rowen is poking fun at three recent actions by GOP politicians. He was nice enough to send me an e-mail saying that they were "all mine..."

He's laughing at JB Van Hollen (for not apparently not realizing that Hezbollah has trademarked the Name of God), Jim Sennsenbrenner for not allowing a congressional hearing to turn into a sit-in, and Tommy Thompson for his remarks about employers firing gay people.

As for JB, his point was that the GOP is less reluctant (than most, but not all Dems) to allow faith an God-talk into their politics and is, in that sense, a party of God. It's not a phrase that I would use because it threatens to elide important distinctions, but I get his point. This curious idea that people's religious worldviews can and should be kept out of politics has been pretty much demolished by legal academics, philosophers and theologians. It is sort of like Newtonian physics - sort of 1912. As for his terminology, I wouldn't think Hezbollah gets to monopolize God.

As for Sensenbrenner, I appreciate that he lacks a certain late night Comedy Channel Colbertian "cooliness" and it is always tough to have to play the grown-up, but why should he allow a congressional hearing to turn into a political stunt. The opposition wanted to talk about something that was not germane in a way that violated the rules.

The there's Tommy. Somebody needs to tell him to stop. I believe he probably did misspeak during the debate. Wisconsin law has prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since before he became Governor and I can't recall that he made much, if any, effort to repeal that.

But, then on Maher, he made it all worse by saying that non-discrimination is the federal rule. No it's not. Federal law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is the rule in the state he served as Governor for what seemed to be most of the twentieth century and it is the rule that his government enforced. But somehow he failed to make that point.

He just can't do this. At least not without a new hearing aid.

But, Jim, how about a trio of Al Gore saying that the earth has a fever (whatever the legitimate range of debate on global warming, he is a certified nut), Hilary saying that Obama shouldn't take money from people who don't like her, Obama for suggesting that an historical massacre is like outsourcing or whatever happens to be the last thing that Joe Biden said.

----- Original Message -----

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Grumpy old Shark

A Chicago area divorce lawyer has put up this billboard, promoting - not herself for those who face divorce - but the concept of divorce in general. The point seems to be: why stick with the same old, same old when there is hot new stuff out there? The flanking figures add some poignancy to the question, although, of course, the one on the left is just a dead ringer for the Reddess. (Ed: Spousal sucking up needs to be more subtle than that.) (Reddess: I'd never mistake you for the guy on the right.)

The ad is tongue-in-cheek, but there are culture war implications. (You knew there would be.) The decline in marriage is rooted, in part, in an increased willingness on the part of people to buy into the notion that there is little or no value in remaining committed to someone who is not thrilling you lately. The human tendency to regard distant grass as greener makes us susceptible to that. The offending lawyer signs on when she suggests that the billboard is about "happiness and personal integrity" both of which apparently require being led by your whatever.
She says, and she's right, that no one is going to get a divorce because they see a billboard. But that's too reductionist. No one is going to do anything because of a single cultural message. But they are going to be affected by the overall gestalt. This adds to a chorus that says, mostly implicitly but often explicitly, that when the thrill seems to be gone, you should be too. Don't we have the right to be happy - and have hot sex - all of the time?
This has caused a great deal of pain over the past 40 years. If that's cold water, I can't help it.
I can light up enough to joke about this, but I can't ignore its lousy side.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

We're from the state government and we're here to help you ...

pay more for gasoline.

In related news, gas prices are not expected to hit $4/gallon. Perhaps not, but our public servants will do their best.

Of course, it does no good to blame the bureaucrats. It is an uncommonly silly law but no less of one for that.

Urban right, pt. 5: where we fall short

When I started my "urban right" series, I wanted to get at what I think conservatives get right, but also what they get wrong on issues affecting our central cities.

What we get right tends to be criticism. We know that the paradigm that many of us grew up with, i.e., that the principal foe (ofay?) is from above, is wrong. We know that the notions that the main culprits are currently extant racism and the insufficiency of government intervention are misguided and that to continue to give them pride of place is destructive.

But how often do we offer more than that? Two stories.

A few months ago, I was down in Arizona, chatting with a friend who is a fairly senior person at a rather large and well funded conservative organization. Were I to name it, my liberal readers would cross themselves and reach for their garlic necklaces. We were talking about the potential for common cause between social conservatives and African-American pastors. He was cautiously optimistic but noted that the ministers he speaks to want some indication that we care about the daily travails of the communities they serve. He believed that it is incumbent upon us - both politically and morally - to take their concerns to heart.

Last night, as I drove home, Eric Von had an impressive young lady on his show. She's a black teenager in Milwaukee (a freshman at King) involved in organizing a youth march to "take back" the streets of Milwaukee. She said that she was 15 years old and afraid to walk down the street. As the adult helping to organize the march said, she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

As I listened to this, it occurred to me that, although there is a limit to what can be accomplished by this type of symbolism, there is potential power in a public demonstration of courage and resolve. Would it even occur to local conservatives - particularly those with the ability to help - to support such an effort? Would it even occur to the folks organizing such efforts to ask?

We are, I think, right in the belief that our state and local governments do not need to take more of our money. But there may be areas of urban policy where its simply not pragmatic to rule out a major role for government.

If we like "broken windows" policing, then there need to be sufficient resources to accomplish this in a way that doesn't set the community and law enforcement at loggerheads. If we like school choice, we need to make sure that it is adequately funded and that parents are protected from fly-by-night storefront schools. We want Messmer. We don't want Acme High School.

If we believe in opportunity, then welfare as we now know it should be limited, conditioned - and generous.

We believe in law and order. We have little sympathy for people who commit violent crimes. But we need to be willing to think about the impact of our twenty year experiment in more aggressive law enforcement of the drug laws on the community. Have we curbed drug use or have we just thrown more people in jail?

We ought to criticize MPS, but public schools are not - and should not - go away. There is plenty wrong with the system but it is not an irredeemable "rat trap." We may have been right on the flexicuffs, but we lack credibility when it is only things like flexicuffs that get our attention.

I think that there is more of this type of thought happening on the right than the left gives us credit for. If any one decides to "monitor" Sykes and McBride, they will hear some of it from them. .

But, too often, we limit ourselves to outrage. Sometimes that's a necessary first step. Our challenge is to make sure that we do not stop there.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Supreme Court to Ziegler: Later

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, today's Supreme Court order denying Annette Ziegler's petition for an original action does not mean that the court has rejected the merits of her position regarding the Ethics Board's power to discipline judges. Original jurisdiction is rarely exercised and it doesn't surprise me that the court did not fall over itself to take this one. She will be free to make her separation of powers argument before the Ethics Board and on review from any decision that it may render.

If I were to bet, however, I'm guessing that the thing gets settled.

Actually she's spot on

Bill Christofferson and the blog called Whallah. (apparently put up to stalk her across the internet) think Jessica McBride is off base for thinking that an FEC ruling that Mark Green did not break federal election law in transferring federal campaign funds to his state account sometimes vindicates Green of last fall's Doyle/State Elections Board hit on his integrity.

They argue that no one said he violated federal law. It was state law that he broke. McBride is wrong, wrong, wrong.

No, actually, she isn't wrong at all. There was, Xoff and Whallah-guy will recall, this nasty little issue of the SEB having permitted Tom Barrett to do what it said Mark Green could not. The reconciliation of this, argued for by the SEB and state Justice and accepted by Judge Neiss, was that there had been an intervening change in federal law.

In particular, the argument was that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act had been amended in 2004 to say that permitted use of federal funds included "donations to state and local candidates subject to state law." This supposedly created a new restriction on conversions that did not exist when Barrett transferred his funds. The argument was that now only lawfully raised federal funds that could also have been lawfully raised under state law could be converted. This was important, not only legally, but politically because it allowed Doyle supporters to argue that Green "should have known" that what he proposed to do may have been right in the past, but that it was wrong now.

I thought that was a pretty hinky argument back then and the FEC has now agreed. Nothing in the amendments to the BCRA required or caused a change in state law. The SEB simply changed the rules on Green.

In fact, when Judge Neiss denied Green's motion for a preliminary injunction, Xoff crowed loudly and cited the court's reading of the federal law . Now that this reading has been rejected by the FEC, he claims it is irrelevant and that Jessica McBride is foolish for thinking it has anything to do with what the Dems did to Green.

I understand that consistency is not a core value in the political consulting game, but lawyers have a hard time getting away from it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Urban right, pt 4: A reflection on Gurda

I think that Milwaukee historian John Gurda is a local treasure. I enthusiastically recommend his recent books, The Making of Milwaukee and Cream City Chronicles: Stories of Milwaukee's Past.

There is much I agree with in his column in yesterday's Crossroads section. Much of the fear about crime in the city is overblown. I have written about the urgency of the crime problem on this blog and in the paper and have spoken about it on WMCS as much as minot pundit, but it really has no impact on my willingness to work, play and (if I ever get my house ready to sell) even live in the city. Playing off what Gurda writes, I have little or no fear that "the social chaos associated with that poverty will one day touch [me] personally. " None of us is immune from potential tragedy, but a little common sense in traveling about town (and recognition that there are a few "no-go" zones - at least at certain times of day and on foot) will reduce your odds of falling victim to violent crime to about zero.

Actually, it is the people who have to live in these "no-go" zones that are at risk. They are the reason that the violence in our city is a scandal.

Gurda would not disagree but, unfortunately, he at least hints at diagnoses of and prescriptions for resolution of the problem that are unlikely to help. I am glad that he used his monthly column in Crossroads to address the issue, but I'd like to offer a different perspective.

John raises the absence of good jobs and welfare as we knew it. He writes that "we should hardly be surprised when people raised in savage conditions engage in savage behavior."

Elsewhere in the piece he pulls out his cred as a historian. He knows, for example, that economic conditions and racism in the city were once far worse.

But it is the implication of this that he completely misses. The view of the liberal establishment in the city is that our unprecedented levels of urban violence are largely driven by poverty.

But if, as Gurda points out poverty (and racial discrimination) were far worse in the past, what are we to make of the fact that, when these things were worse, the level of violence was substantially lower?

Gurda (echoing a common refrain of the Journal Sentinel editorial board) refers to the drop in "good" (commonly meant to refer to manufacturing) jobs. I think that the degree to which people were paid large amounts of money for low-skill labor in the past has been overstated but, in any event, the decline in manufacturing employment has been going on for 30 years.

There is not, as Gurda writes, a shortage of good jobs. There is a shortage of good jobs that require little education and nominal work skills. The problem for the "the able-bodied young men gathered on the street at midday" is not that they are ready for opportunities that society has failed to provide for them, but that the cultural milieu in which they have been raised has left them unprepared for the opportunities that exist.

Gurda is right in that the challenges of the inner city require hard slogging. But he is wrong in the implication that they can be remedied if only those outside the inner city resolve to do so.

He is right in observing that there is "the inner city has no shortage of organizations, religious and otherwise, working overtime to address the distress in their midst." There is much that the community at large can do to support those organizations.

But we have to be clear about the objective of all that hard slogging. It is not to "fight the power," as exciting as that might be. Rather, the need is to change the culture - to convince people that the way out lies in civility, education and marriage. Many poor people - probably most - already get that. But it's hard to live into that in the middle of a shooting gallery.

But when I started this, I wanted to get at where conservatives go wrong on these issues. I hope to do that later in the week.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Now you see it, now you don't

I've got to hand it to Jerrel Jones. He found a way to appear to act responsibly while telling the rest of us to go screw ourselves in one fell swoop. It's as if CBS replaced Imus with Michael Richards. You've got to admire the work.

Urban right, pt 3: I have some questions

It appears that Michael McGee, Sr. has finally gone too far. If Jerrel Jones lets him on his air again, he is just placing his business at risk. There is no reason to believe that this guy will ever conform himself to what a radio station must expect of its talent. McGee has a constitutional right to say what he wants, but Jones has a legitimate interest in keeping the process servers at bay. Maybe, in this case, a defamation suit would fail because McGee's comments were so off the wall that no unmedicated person could have understood him to be asserting a matter of fact, but that's probably less comfort than a station owner would like to have.

I was, however, genuinely puzzled by some of what I heard yesterday afternoon on Milwaukee's "other" urban station, WMCS. I appear on that station most Thursday afternoons and can say that, however they may really think I'm an irredeemable wingnut, the people there have been unfailing courteous, friendly and professional to me. Eric Von runs a very good show and the station plays an important role within the community that it primarily serves. So what follows is an attempt to further dialogue and not simply to attack.

I listened to a small part of the afternoon's proceedings, so I am not claiming that the response that I am about to describe is "typical." My purpose here is to talk about what I heard, not to argue that it is characteristic of "liberals" or "blacks" or anyone else. There have been people on the left who have unambiously and unreservedly condemned McGee.

I heard one caller in particular wondering why there is no outcry over what were asserted to be somehow comparable and daily divisive and inflammatory comments by Charlie Sykes and others. Fred Gordon, filling in for Eric, thought this unremarkable and obvious, saying that talk radio was a business and that "people of color" and "liberals" were pawns that are somehow abused by it. I did not hear McGee's remarks defended. One of Fred's guests allowed that they "may have been bigoted if you want to call them that." (Yes, actually, I do.) But there seemed to be a general assumption that what "goes on all the time on WTMJ" was to be regarded as, if not equally, at least comparably bad; as something that you could put in the same sentence as McGee's vitriol.

I really try to be modulated on this blog, but this strikes me as preposterous. What you hear on TMJ is fairly standard conservative analysis. It is certainly jazzed up to make it accessible and entertaining - a radio show is not a graduate seminar. But I have yet to hear anyone thank God for anyone's death and pray for more. Generally speaking, you have to go to WNOV or al-Jazeera to find that.

Here are my questions. They aren't rhetorical. I really want to know.

If you are on the left, do you really think that people who believe that taxes are too high (or need not be raised) or who think that organic market solutions are often preferable to government mandates, are being inappropriately divisive? Do you believe that people who, on balance, regard law enforcement as a good thing and not a threat or who see street violence as largely the product of cultural factors and a matter of individual responsibility as opposed to a mechanistic response to economic forces, are "hateful?" Are those who have come to believe that racial preferences perpetuate, rather than ameliorate, racial division excessively inflammatory?

If your response to any of this is affirmative, aren't you simply saying that people with whom you disagree ought to shut up? Might a healthy modesty and self awareness require that you leave room for the possibility that you may not hold all of life's answers?

When I have raised this with colleagues on the left, one response is that it is not what is said on talk radio but how it is said. There is too much vitriol and not enough thought.

As I said before, popular punditry - if it is to be popular - tends to become sharp. Look, for example, at Joel McNally, who is a Shepherd Express columnist and now the morning guy at WMCS. Perhaps his private persona is more discerning, but, between the white lines, McNally repeatedly portrays conservatives as idiots, bigots and greedheads. There is no ambiguity or nuance in anything that he says or writes. Based upon what he says in public, it seems that, if there is anything that he is sure of, it's his own moral superiority.

You might argue that conservative talkers are just as bad, but I fail to see how you can say they are any worse. If there is any difference between McNally and his right wing counterparts on the "nuance" and "divisiveness" scales, it is that Joel has far fewer listeners.

But none of them - neither McNally nor the conservative talkers - have ever come close to McGee, Sr. and there is no way in which they ought to be equated or even compared.

What am I missing?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Good news

The gift of 51 million dollars by the Ecksteins to Marquette University Law School is a fantastic thing for the school and for Milwaukee in general. Congratulations to Fr. Wild, Dean Kearney and, most significantly, to the Ecksteins. Not only is the gift generous, it is intelligent in that it will make a significant difference to an institution that they quite clearly care about.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

He's hardly worth it

But I can't resist. With respect to Michael McGee's comments on the tragic death of Charlie Sykes' mother, three things occur to me.

1. I assume that McGee only sounds like he's wasted at 8 am in the morning, so that drugs and alcohol are not an excuse.

2. If the local left and "responsible establishment" continues to coddle this guy, it is racially condescending. Too often we are asked to "understand" the "authenticity" of the "rage" expressed by people like McGee and his son. Years ago when McGee Sr. went on one of his rants at a Common Council meeting threatening racial Armageddon, Larraine McNamara-McGraw said (and I roughly paraphrase) that she "really liked Mike tonight." More recently, Eugene Kane seems to think that the incoherent press release by McGee, Jr. "explaining" that his comments about bricking speeding motorists were a "psycho-political" message actually means something. (Perhaps if he would have omitted the word "political.")

The upshot of all of this is that people like the McGees are not expected to be grown-ups. They need not be rational or responsible. They only need play the role that white liberals have assigned them in a stale political morality play.

If we treated McGee like a man, we'd treat him like a pariah. The failure to do so is accord him something less than full human agency.

3. Jerrell Jones who owns WNOV and who continues to host this cancer will apparently not be compelled by sponsors or McGee's audience (which is not the same as WMCS' listeners where I do not believe this garbage would be tolerated) to do anything. Jones may be compelled to do something by the fact that McGee flat-out defamed Charlie Sykes. If I were Charlie, I'd go see a lawyer and see if I can't add a radio station to my portfolio.

Cho and Virginia Tech revisited

While I remain unconvinced that the Virginia Tech massacre requires any bold changes in law or policy, there is an irony in the way that Seung-Hui Cho was treated by the school and local authorities. As National Review and others have pointed out, had the vitriol and insanity that he spewed been directed at a protected minority group, the university would have come down at him like a ton of bricks. But act in ways that make teachers and students afraid to be in the same room with you is to simply let your voice be heard. Who are we to judge?

One of the singular sins of my generation is to have lost their capacity for judging anything other than "intolerance" - a concept that, for us, has taken on a specialized meaning applying to a set of disfavored attitudes about race and sex. We had good reason to be concerned about these things, but we have been fighting the last war since approximately 1969. Many of the people who dealt with Cho understood that his conduct had passed a point at which he ought no longer be the master of his treatment, but our disinclination to pass judgment prevailed.

(Interestingly, it appears that it was only when Cho's conduct arguably became an offense against gender - sexual harassment - that there was any concerted effort to address the threat that he posed.)

For me, the difficulty of all this is underscored by some research done by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Professor Harcourt has apparently demonstrated that there is a strong and inverse correlation between the homicide rate and rate of combined institutionalization (i.e., prison and mental institutions). He shows that, while our prison population has risen, the numbers in mental hospitals has decreased such that we institutionalized more people in the 1940s and 1950s than we do today.

Professor Harcourt is quick to point out that this does not mean that we ought to embark on a new project of warehousing people and I agree. It is hard to get at the Chos without sweeping up less dangerous folks. But the determined refusal to see a problem like Cho's for what it is strikes me as another malignancy of the Sixties.

Suspension of Burek and Chvala: Just right?

Michael McCabe, executive director of the committee to repeal the first amendment ironically known as the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, is upset that former Senators Chuck Chvala and Brian Burke got their law licenses pulled for only two years as a result of their felony convictions.

For whatever its worth, I recently served as referee on a reinstatement case in which an attorney had been suspended for one year as a result of a fraud conviction and another in which the Office of Lawyer Regulation sought to pull the ticket of a guy who had been convicted of tax evasion.

In order to make my recommendations, I spent some time researching what the court had actually done with lawyers who had been convicted of what can broadly be called dishonesty crimes including those that were not themselves violations of their professional responsibilities (this applied to the second case).

Much depends on the circumstances but, rightly or wrongly, two years is fairly normal. Burke and Chvala were not made to be examples, but they really didn't catch a break either.

McCabe would argue that their prominence and status as high elected officials should militate in favor of a harsher penalty. I might argue that the aggressive application of the criminal law in at least some of the charges cuts the other way. It looks like the court chose the middle path.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

May 2: A day for common sense.

Regarding illegal immigration, Robert J. Samuelson, as is his wont, had an excellent column in the Washington Post. Samuelson takes both liberals and conservatives to task.

He writes:

From liberals, we need more common sense. Their main position is to perpetuate a policy that guarantees rising U.S. poverty. Consider: From 1990 to 2005, the increase in the number of people living beneath the government's poverty line (now about $20,000 for a family of four) was 3,365,000; the increase in the number of Hispanics living below the poverty line over the same period was 3,362,000. Does anyone doubt that this coincidence stems mostly from immigration?

He points out that the argument that we "need" illegals to remedy a shortage of unskilled labor (i.e., to do those jobs that Americans will not do) is belied by the facts. "In March," he observes, " the unemployment rate for college graduates was 1.8 percent; for the 13 million workers without a high school diploma, it was 7 percent."

He notes that increasing the supply of low-skilled labor depresses the wages earned by these workers. It stresses social service systems which incur extra costs that are not covered by the taxes paid by the illegal immigrants who require these services.

That the left either doesn't get this or doesn't care is another example of an outdated paradigm. Those who want to get in have brown skin so, therefore, we must support them. The problem is that the price is paid by poor folks (many who are "of color") who are citizens of this country.

Samuelson also attacks the right for the insistence of many conservatives that there may be "no amnesty." This is both impractical and harsh.

He suggests that we "should control our borders and create a reliable worker verification system for businesses. Violators should be punished severely. Long-standing illegal immigrants who meet legislated standards of good behavior and community ties should receive legal status -- "amnesty," though by a less provocative label. There should be no major "guest worker" program. Instead, permanent-residency visas -- leading to citizenship -- should favor skilled over low-skilled workers."

Sounds about right to me.

Urban right, part 2

As I mentioned earlier this week, we on the right are often flummoxed when poor and minority communities react to issues in a way which seems inimical to their self interest. Here in Milwaukee, while most of the city is safe, there are neighborhoods that have begun to resemble the O.K. Corral. Yet there is little urgency about that. The black community has, during the past year, mobilized over the acquittal of off-duty police officers accused of beating a man of mixed racial heritage at a drunken party, a proposal to restrain out of control students with plastic handcuffs, and the attempted recall of a race-baiting alderman who has publicly called on the citizens of neighborhoods that are popularly known by names such as Little Beirut, to "stop snitching." It seems to have remained largely quiescent in the face of increasingly brazen violence. People are concerned, but there is not the same energy.

In last month's Atlantic (subscription required), experts commenting on the spread of a "stop snitching" ethic acknowledged the impact of good old fashioned intimidation, but also cited the oppositional paradigm (my term, not theirs) that informs a great deal of popular black sentiment. Many young African-American males wind up in the criminal justice system, underscoring the notion that the police are "them" and not "us." They noted the widespread acceptance of racialized myths such as the notion that crack is a government conspiracy that fit within this paradigm.

Returning to Milwaukee, we saw this in the community's reaction to the handcuff proposal. Opposition was based on concerns over the symbolism of handcuffs in school. They were said to be a device to prepare young blacks to be handcuffed in real life or to be reminiscent of slavery. Former UWM professor Walter Farrell, commenting on WMCS, suggested that handcuffed students would be seen in the community as "punked" because they had allowed themselves to be cuffed by someone who was not a cop. Farrell, and school board president Peter Blewitt on the same station, worried about discipline being rooted in cultural differences as if lashing out at others and throwing objects is a "black thing." (I'm guessing its not.)

This is undoubtedly rooted in a concern over further stigmatization of MPS students, a distrust of authority and, frankly, in a certain amount of embarrassment.

All of this is understandable, but it remains problematic in that is severed from an undeniable reality. Every person that I have spoken to within MPS acknowledges that kids who cannot be restrained are a huge problem. Perhaps flexicuffs aren't the answer, but neither is sensitivity or even Farrell's call for flying squads of shrinks who would supposedly do what a child's parents have not.

Similarly, I can understand why poor black people are distrustful of police. But a resolve to stop snitching is akin to handing over the hen house to the fox for fear of the rooster.

Conservatives are right to criticize this oppositional paradigm and are joined by a growing number of black commentators - conservative and otherwise - who will probably be more effective than white conservatives.

But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that the paradigm is widely shared and examine our own complicity in its continuing power. The Jude beating was a double tragedy. Not only was Frank Jude abused, but a community that needs the police was rendered even more distrustful of them. It is incumbent upon all of us to see allegations of police misconduct as a matter to be investigated and not a political litmus test.

We need to reexamine, as many conservatives have begun to do, sentencing practices in drug crimes. In forging ties to African-American pastors who are fighting a lonely battle against family breakdown and the erosion of civility, we must not only share and support their promotion of traditional morality, but listen to their concerns regarding the need for expanded economic opportunity. Our proposals to address the latter certainly need not resemble traditional welfare, but we may need to accept that they will cost money.

Our sympathy

The Reddess and I express our condolences to Charlie Sykes on the tragic loss of his mother. The family is in our prayers. Grant her eternal rest and may light perpetual shine upon her.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A day without reason

I have to give whoever thought of a "A day without latinos" some credit. It is a remarkably effective exercise in demagoguery and obfuscation. It seeks to equate the idea that the United States should care about who gets to cross its borders - an idea that has been important to virtually every nation-state at every time - with racism. In our culture, calling someone a racist - whether it be Al Sharpton or Ann Coulter, Charlie Sykes or Eugene Kane - is to tell them to shut up.

I'm fairly moderate on immigration, but this is an astonishing bit of silliness. In today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, you have Patrick Cudahy, a local meatpacking firm, apparently supports the sentiment. It doesn't surprise me that the company is in favor of increasing the supply of cheap labor. What is rare is this opportunity for it to do well and claim to be doing good.

Note: An earlier draft of this post suggested that Cudahy was encouraging its workers to stay home. It has not.