Civil Rights

Gates Revisited

If you want an interesting take on the Professor Gates hullabaloo, read Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson’s piece this week. In it, he argues that Cambridge, Mass., locals should be used to interacting with proud macaronis like Harvard professors because, well, they’re smart and doggone it, they know it. But I don’t buy that “Big Cheese” line of reasoning. Just because Ivy League professors teach students to question authority doesn’t mean they now have license to flaunt it.

Robinson then ignorantly presumes to place himself on the doorstep of Gates’s home that evening. He opines, “Apparently, there was something about the power relationship involved — uppity, jet-setting black professor vs. regular-guy, working-class white cop — that Crowley couldn't abide. Judging by the overheated commentary that followed, that same something, whatever it might be, also makes conservatives forget that they believe in individual rights and oppose intrusive state power.”

Obama: His Own Best Crisis Manager

This piece is also published in The Washington Times.

President Obama did the right thing and some quick damage control when he went himself to the White House press room Friday to admit that he had inadvertently "ratcheted up" the issue of the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. He had fueled the controversy when, Wednesday night, he stated that the "Cambridge police had acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

Class Warfare in America

Just when most Americans were beginning to feel that we had reached a significant milestone in our racial history, we must confront the story of the professor, the police officer and the president of the United States.

That’s right, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and President Barack Obama thought it appropriate to insult and mischaracterize an entire profession after Cambridge, Mass., police responded to a burglary at the professor’s home.


The first step toward tolerance is respect and the first step toward respect is knowledge.
— Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Respect is a two-way street.

What happened in Cambridge is regrettable, but it is also a teaching moment.

Harvard Professor Henry Gates prefers to teach an old lesson: that racism is alive and well in America. But teaching that old lesson doesn’t necessarily move us forward.

Avoiding Prisons

At a sentencing hearing in Toronto last week, the lawyer for two theater producers, both convicted of forgery and a $400 million fraud, made a provocative plea to the sentencing judge. Rather than imprisoning the two felons, he proposed, the judge should send them on a lecture tour of 65 Canadian schools to teach theatre students about their craft, and — I’m not making this up — "avoidance of unethical conduct." They would do the latter at six universities that teach business ethics. The judge will decide in August whether to agree to this proposal, or impose the legally circumscribed 10 years of imprisonment for fraud and 14 for forgery.

Jefferson’s Declaration: Good Spin Plus High Principles

The following appears originally in The Washington Times of Monday, July 6.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

But it would be interesting and provocative to analyze the Declaration of Independence from the perspective of a political communications strategist.

Supremes Fanning the Firefighter Flames

It may be one of the dumber Supreme Court rationales in quite some time. Writing for the 5-4 majority which ruled in favor of New Haven’s white firefighters and effectively against anti-discrimination in employment, Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer’s reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions.”

Is he kidding? The “fear of litigation” is possibly the strongest motivation there is when any individual or institution decides on a course of action. Why else are the nation’s doctors braying, after all these decades, over the malpractice lawsuits that have forced them into P-Y-A medical decisions? Why else have corporations funneled so much money toward politicians to try and achieve “tort reform,” which really means severely limiting someone’s chances of righting some wrong in court. Right you are: It’s the “fear of litigation” that Justice Kennedy so cavalierly dismisses.

There’s Rape in the Prisons — And Gambling in Rick’s Place

I tried a class action lawsuit against the District of Columbia Jail years ago, questioning (successfully) whether the conditions of overcrowding and isolation of prisoners constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Experts — John Calhoun of NIH; Robert Ardrey, author of The Territorial Imperative; psychiatrists Karl Menninger and Hans Esser; an architect and others — visited the jail and testified in the federal court that conditions at the jail were likely to cause aggression, suicide and rape. They could have been describing conditions at most prisons and jails in America, then and now.

So it comes as no surprise that Congress’s National Prison Rape Elimination Commission reported last week that over 60,000 prisoners reported they were sexually assaulted in 2007, a likely lower figure than the actual one since these horrible events are underreported for fear of reprisals and embarrassment, and often involved repeated acts of violence. The victims include women, young offenders, people in jail (not convicted but awaiting trial), and in community programs. The perpetrators are predatory fellow prisoners and exploitative correctional officers. Youngsters (under 16) and women are victims more than adults and men, and the women are more likely to be abused by staff than peers. Even immigrants in detention facilities are abused, vulnerable as they are by the remote and exploitative conditions of their detention.

Violence and Power Confront Each Other in Tehran

"Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow of it [violence] is power."

— Hannah Arendt, On Violence.

Violence and power are often confused as being two sides of the same coin, when in fact they are contradictory. Real power in a state depends on consent and support of the population. Violence requires no such constituency. Prior to last week’s demonstrations, the Iranian government seemed to enjoy reasonable support for the institutions of the state.