Saturday, October 31, 2009

MBH Pottery at the Palmer Park Arts Market Today 10/31/09

Well, it's once again that time of the month: the last Saturday of the month. My lovely bride will again be out at the market setting up her booth to sell her pottery. She's been hard at work all month and has dramatically added to her inventory of pieces. So, if you want to support a great cause and pick up some wonderful pieces of handmade, high quality pottery as wedding gifts, birthday presents, or any other kind of gift, please do come out to the Arts Market today at Palmer Park on the corner of Claiborne and Carrollton Avenues and look her up. Not sure which booth number she's been assigned, but you can find out where she is at the information booth. MBH Pottery or Michele Benson Huck Pottery is what you should look for. Michele will also be doing live demonstrations at her pottery wheel, so come see how pots are thrown!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vitter Addressing Muslim Gathering?? Holy Smokes!!

Wow! Who woulda thunk it? I have to say that I am positively impressed. It certainly goes against character, don't you think? I suppose, though, that I should reserve judgment until we actually hear what comes out of Vitter's mouth at this event, because he certainly could go on a rant about the evils of Islam and vilify all Muslims as terrorists in the process; but I find that to be almost unthinkable. I'm still trying to figure out what Vitter could possibly gain from this stunt.

Cao and the Vitter Census Proposal

One of the major reasons why I like Anh "Joseph" Cao is because of his relatively progressive stance on issues that focus on immigrant communities. Hence, I was pleased that Cao came out against the Vitter proposal to modify the census to ask a question regarding citizenship status. This aligns Cao with Mary Landrieu, and puts Cao at odds with every other member of the Louisiana Congressional delegation, including Democrat Charlie Melancon. Here's how the Times-Picayune reported Cao's position:

Princella Smith, Cao's spokeswoman, said he is "emphatically against noncitizens being used in counting population numbers."

"However, as an immigrant, Congressman Cao understands that it is a priority that minorities and non-English speaking citizens participate in the census," Smith said. "He wants to work towards a solution, but he does not want to get into the practice of signing a letter to an isolated senator in the delegation. He'd rather pick up the phone."
I have to admit that Smith's first statement is a bit odd. I find it nonsensical that Cao would oppose counting noncitizens in population tallies and yet still want them to participate in the census. Isn't the point of the census precisely to come up with a population tally? Maybe Cao is trying to have his cake and eat it, too; but what is clear is that he won't support Vitter's proposal. He can come up with any spin he wants that might try to endear him to the xenophobes that I think motivates Vitter's intentions with this proposal in the first place; but, unlike Vitter, his "spin" is to soften perception of his clear opposition to the proposal, not to demagogue his support of it, which is what Melancon is doing. And I'm glad for that. I think Cao knows the significance to local communities and to democracy itself in counting noncitizen residents in the census; and I think Cao knows the xenophobia that undergirds this proposal and which Vitter and others are shrouding in the language of defending Louisiana's interests. Cao simply will have no part in sugarcoating xenophobia in this way. Good for him. Good for us. Good for democracy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Pathetic and Sorry Story of Sarah Palin vs. Levi Johnston

Regardless of what anyone thinks of Sarah Palin or Levi Johnston, the ongoing and escalating feud between the two of them is completely unbecoming. I can't imagine this Jerry Springer episode playing out in the White House. How anyone can see Sarah Palin as a credible presidential contender is beyond me. Not only is she completely unserious and uncurious, but the drama surrounding her personal family life is actually quite pathetic.

The truly sad thing is that this whole infantile family feud is probably very much exemplary of a certain swath of "Joe the Plumber" America; but this swath of America has absolutely no business at all getting even close to the White House. I mean, the story of the Palin family is one big scandal after another waiting to happen. We got some glimpses of that in the whole Trooper-gate mess; but I feel that it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Now I don't trust Levi Johnston one whit either. He strikes me as opportunistic, crass, and pathetic as well. I wouldn't believe anything he said as being truthful. And this is where I think Andrew Sullivan shows a bit of myopia. Andrew is much too willing to think that Levi is the noble and truthful foil to the fraud of Sarah Palin. I agree that Palin is an ignoble and mendacious fraud; but I think pretty much the same of Levi Johnston.

From my "elitist" perch, I guess you could say that I find both of them to be pathetic, which makes it all the worse. Levi and Sarah are both contemptible. And their behavior should be disgusting to anyone who values basic human decency, goodness, and nobility.

As far as I can tell, when it comes to an example of what the first family should be, the Obamas are by far representative of the kind of family values that Americans should admire and seek to emulate. Barack Obama attends Parent/Teacher conferences, for goodness sakes. I'd bet anything that Sarah Palin has hardly ever attended any Parent/Teacher conferences for her kids. Frankly, I find the personal lives of the Palin/Johnston folk to be just gross.

I mean, really. To all you parents out there I ask: how would you feel sending your kids to spend a weekend at the Palin household? I wouldn't let my kids around that dysfunctional mess for anything.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Public Option "Opt Out"

How clever can the Democrats get? You have to give it to them. Why, you ask? Well, it's like this ...

I can see no difference between the "Opt Out" provision of the Public Option in the Senate Health Care Bill and the argument that Democrats have been making all along that a government option is always an "opt out" option.

From the very get go, Barack Obama has gone to great pains to try to convince Americans that including a public option in the Health Care Reform bills did not mean that anyone would be forced to choose the government plan. Obama has always maintained that anyone would be able to choose any plan he or she pleased. And yet this argument just never seemed to gain traction. However, now we have a proposal in which states could opt out of the public option. So, the choice is still there; but the only difference now is that the public officials of each state have to decide for its citizens that they aren't worthy of the choice of a public option while citizens in other states are worthy of such a choice. And yet this seems to be gaining traction!

What I see happening is that states that initially "opt out" will be passing a sentence on their residents, a sentence that will be met with a wave of out-migration and relocation because of their myopia. And those citizens that do stay will feel so slighted that their friends and relatives in other states have yet another choice, that they'll make it almost impossible for even the most die-hard anti-public option conservative state lawmaker to not ultimately "opt in."

It seems to me that the new plan, which appears to be gaining some traction, is even much more of a guarantee that a public option will be part of the end result for all Americans. And, furthermore, all Americans would still have the chance to choose the public option or not!

So, it's the choice of a public option for all Americans through the back door! Clever, clever clever!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thought of the Day: Tea Party Terminology

Beyond the infantile bluster and destructive rage that I associate with the Tea Party movement, I have always found the "Tea Party" moniker for this movement to be curious. There seemed to me to be some disconnect between the name the movement adopted and the kind of vicious hostility behind the movement. It wasn't until recently that an explanation for this feeling I had dawned on me. Now, before I share this explanation with you, I have to warn you that it will reveal a somewhat politically incorrect side of me. But what can I do? I can run from how I was formed and I can try to alter some of the rouger sides of this formation, but I can't fully escape it! So, I have to own it. Anyway, what dawned on me is that I associate the term "Tea Party" with foppish British gentility among men, with something little girls like to play in the backyard, and with something petite grandmothers do to pass the time on weekday afternoons. Nothing wrong with any of that, but it just doesn't conjure up in my mind what the Tea Party movement is supposed to stand for. Some Alpha males who like to drink Bud Light all day long at Saints tailgating parties might describe other men involved in a "Tea Party" as "wusses." And yet it is supposedly some of these very Alpha males who are supposedly leading up these "Tea Parties." I think that's what strikes me as a bit odd about the whole movement. But perhaps it's a positive sign that even conservative Beckolytes are mixing up their male/female associations! Perhaps it's a sign that conservative male "Tea Partiers" are getting in touch with their feminine side and that conservative women "Tea Partiers" are adding a little Alpha male bravado to their notions of feminine behavior. Who knows what this all means? And perhaps it only means something about me! Anyway ... just wanted to share!

Blogging Self-Nudge

As some of my readers might know, I have been subjecting myself to a little experiment in blogging self-motivation. Three months ago, following on the concept of a "nudge" as outlined in Cass Sunstein and Dick Thaler's book by the same name, I instituted a little self-nudge to get me blogging more regularly. With this posting, I have reached blog posting number 32 for the month of October, which exceeds the goals outlined in the self-nudge I constructed. This marks three complete months of success. I can't say whether the quality of my blog postings have improved or whether this self-nudge has served to cheapen the blog content in any way. I'd like to hope not, but I do know that I have been making postings to my blog much more regularly, which was the intent. I plan to continue with the blogging self-nudge challenge. To date, I have learned a few lessons:

(1) The concept of "nudges" as outlined by Sunstein and Thaler is not only intellectually persuasive, but it also works in practice.
(2) I have become a more disciplined blogger because of the self-nudge.
(3) I feel better about myself for having been able to live up to the challenge.

Who knows how long it will last, but I'm pleased that it's lasted this long already. It's been a win all the way around regardless of the future. So, here's to Sunstein and Thaler (and to The Huck Upchuck reader Eric for introducing me to the book)! Onwards and upwards!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Some Glam Rock Jam

One of my very earliest musical memories is British Glam Rock band The Sweet's "Little Willy." Enjoy:

Friday, October 23, 2009

James Gill on the Vitter Census Proposal ... Again

Yes, James Gill of the Times-Picayune has yet another column defending the idea of having the Census ask a question to determine citizenship status. Gill once again argues that this idea is consistent with the democratic principles of governance because census counts determine the number of seats allocated per state to the US Federal House of Representatives.

And once again, I'll point out that representative democracy is not just about having elected representatives to the Federal Congress reflect the interests only of their citizen constituents, but rather the interests of all the people, citizens and non-citizens alike, who live in the community that this official represents.

Our Constitution does not apply only to citizens. Our Constitutions affords its protections to any person resident in this country. Undocumented migrants have the rights to due process, to fair recompense for their labor, to free expression of religion, etc., even if the authorities in their own country constrain such rights.

Let me give a rather far-fetched hypothetical case just to make the point. Let's say a city of 500,000 people in the U.S. is composed of 400,000 non-citizen residents and 100,000 citizen residents. And let's say that the reason for such a discrepancy is that most of these non-citizen residents are here legally on temporary work visas to work in the foreign-owned automobile manufacturing plants this city is known for. The roads, infrastructure, schools, etc., are all impacted by this non-resident population in ways that affect the citizen residents, too. But if census data were to deny this community sufficient federal resources to maintain such services because the number of citizen residents is relatively low, then the quality of the overall community suffers. If the elected Congressional representative of this community really cares about the well being of his community, he would want these non-citizen residents counted as part of his charge such that he could have access to resources that would help him best serve BOTH the citizen AS WELL AS the non-citizen residents.

In short, democracy is not something that serves the enfranchised few. In our history, we have already experimented with excluding or minimizing the value of residents identified as non-citizens. It hasn't worked out all that well and has even run afoul of the principles of our Constitution. Some might even argue that the impoverishment of the South relative to other parts of the country might be attributable to Southern states not having proper access to federal resources relative to its overall resident human population because a big chunk of that population was comprised of "non-citizen" slaves, even though these slaves taxed community resources and services as much as citizen residents. If we are not going to give the foreign student on a temporary student visa the right to have an electoral say over choosing the public officials who will dictate the quality of his life while he is in residence in the U.S., the least we can do is to make sure that he is counted in the population numbers that determine the number of elected officials and the amount of federal resources that such officials can claim to serve the communities in which these non-residents live and make their home, sometimes for very long periods of time. That is what I would call democratic government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." And let's remember that this concept has never been phrased as one that is "of the citizen, by the citizen, and for the citizen." Non-citizen residents are people, too. And thus they merit a government under whose jurisdiction they reside that, at the very least, recognizes their presence and acknowledges their value.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Vitter Skitter

What does David Vitter do when asked why he's been AWOL in commenting on the whole Tangipahoa Parish Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell's refusal to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple?

He runs and hides and thus keeps his appeal in tact among Louisiana's racists-who-aren't-racists-even-though-they-unapologetically-do-racist-things.

It's the good-ol' Vitter Skitter.

And like any cowardly cockroach, he's quite good at it, too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why Obama's Health Insurance Reform Program Will Pass

Because the health insurance industry's treatment of people like the family in this story exposes the cynicism of the health insurance industry and how out of touch it is with common, hardworking people who pay their premiums and do nothing wrong.

How absolutely pathetic and disgusting is it that a health insurance company will deny coverage to a healthy 2-yr-old girl just because she's a bit small and weighs in at 22 lbs? If the health insurance industry can deny coverage for this reason, they can deny coverage for any reason. Apparently, all they need to do is pull one out of thin air.

What's next? Your kid goes to public school? Too risky for swine flu. Insurance denied.

Your kid's maternal great, great grandmother died of breast cancer? Too risky for future breast cancer. Insurance denied.

Your kid's a red-head with fair skin and easily subject to sunburn? Too risky for future skin cancer. Insurance denied.

Your kid stomps in rain puddles? Too risky for a staff infection. Insurance denied.

Your kid plays football? Too risky for future arthritis. Insurance denied.

When insurance companies deny coverage because an otherwise healthy girl is apparently on the small side for her weight, they've already lost the battle. And what's more, they give ammunition to the pressing need for a public option. If the greedy private sector won't cover this girl, then charitable and humane American citizens should ... and will.

Support a public option! It may be the only option your child has.

Batt Girl Helena Moreno Resurfaces in NOLA Politics

Only this time, it's as the media contact sidekick for her latest superhero crush, Jeff Georges, who is an independent unofficially preparing to run for mayor.

Having Moreno involved in his campaign is a big mistake for Georges. Helena Moreno revealed herself to be a Republican disingenuously running as a Democrat against Bill Jefferson in last fall's Congressional race. This deception associated with Moreno's candidacy will not help Georges convince New Orleans Democrats, whom he will need to woo to win, to trust that he, too, is not a Republican wrapped in the mantle of the a-partisan Independent.

Furthermore, we find out in this brief article that Helena Morenso is considering a run for the New Orleans City Council's District "B" seat, which is my district's seat and which is currently occupied by Stacy Head. Does Moreno even live in this District? I presumed she lived in District A, which is represented by Shelley Midura, who is not running for re-election. But, then, she wouldn't even think of running for District A's seat on the Council because Republican Jay Batt plans to run for that seat again, and Moreno is a declared Batt Girl. Anyway ... all I know is if Moreno runs for the District B seat, she won't get my vote. In fact, I might even have to set up an "Anybody but Batt Girl" movement against her.

Yes, I still resent Moreno's snow job in the last Congressional election. And I still think it was revealing in a not so nice way that she showed up 15 minutes late for our Congressional Forum last fall, and left this forum right in the middle of it. That one incident told me a lot about the lack of class of this particular Batt Girl. I'll never support her for public office again; and I'll actively work to defeat her efforts to run for local office in the future.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tulane Latin American Studies News

I'm sure some of my readers know that I work at the Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane University. I'm the Assistant Director and Graduate Advisor there. I'm also a graduate of the Stone Center, having earned through the Center both my MA and my Ph.D. in Latin American Studies. We're a National Resource Center on Latin America through the U.S. Department of Education's Title VI Program. The big news recently is that the Center for Inter-American Policy & Research (CIPR), which is a research institute affiliated with the Stone Center at Tulane, has received $12.3 million in grants to support the continued growth and emphasis of Latin American Studies at Tulane. We are, obviously, very excited about this development; and we're looking forward to confirming our status as one of the premier academic programs and research centers on the study of Latin American in the United States. If you are interested in the study of Latin America in any capacity, please check out the many exciting things we have going on at the Stone Center and CIPR. Needless to say, I am proud to be a part of the Stone Center and CIPR team.

Vitter, Gill, the Census, and Non-Citizen Residents

I haven't commented yet on David Vitter's quest to add a citizenship question to the Census because the typical Vitter pander to the worst anti-immigrant fears among the conservative xenophobes seemed pretty obvious to me; but James Gill's column today in the Times-Picayune, which found merit in Vitter's proposal, thus glossing over the xenophobic nature of Vitter's position, demands a response. I'll get to Gill in a minute, but as proof of Vitter's pandering to the conservative base, let me just note that in his letter to Sen. Mary Landrieu requesting her support of his census initiative, as reported in the Times-Picayune, Vitter wrote:

"Voting for cloture or against my amendment could very well be a vote to strip our state of proper representation in Congress and cede our state's influence to other states that reward illegal immigrants like California and New York."
California and New York. Two reliably liberal states. Certainly, California does have a fairly large share of undocumented non-citizens. But New York? What about Texas? Arizona? I guess Vitter would argue that Texas or Arizona don't "reward" undocumented migrants, but it stands to reason that if Texas or Arizona didn't "reward" undocumented migrants in some way, these migrants wouldn't hang around in that state. And as for California, Vitter conveniently ignores the fact that in spite of this state's "liberal" electorate, California is also the state whose voters passed the infamous Proposition 187 in 1994. Can't recall that any similar measure managed to pass muster in the State of Texas. Well, I think Vitter doesn't mention Texas in his demagoguery of this issue because Texas is a reliably "red" state, and Vitter wouldn't want to offend that state's two Republican Senators. But I digress ... The point is that Vitter's intention in supporting this measure is clearly partisan and clearly not principled, and is more a pander to anti-immigrant xenophobia in Louisiana than a sincere interest in preserving the numbers of Louisiana's Congressional delegation or in preserving Louisiana's access to the federal government's largesse. And I'll attempt to show this more fully when I go through Gill's column.

Now, on to Gill. In his editorial, Gill, who is a rather reliable critic of Vitter, surprised me with a rather uninformed and unnuanced view of the big picture that must be considered when looking at Vitter's proposal. He does throw a barb at Vitter, but only to criticize him for over-demagoguing the issue and thus turning what Gill thinks was a sensible idea into a bit of ugly legislation. Gill writes:
That it [adding a citizenship question to the census questionnaire] won't happen may be partly Vitter's fault. His original proposal was that the Census should ask not only about citizenship but about the legal status of immigrants.

That was obviously unnecessary since the plan was that all aliens, documented or not, would not count in population statistics used for reapportionment purposes. The Vitter amendment, in its original form, would have served only to scare the illegals off and skew the Census numbers.

After Stonecipher pointed this out, Vitter removed the offending words so that the additional question would be limited to the issue of citizenship. But the battle appeared lost by then.
Gill is right about Vitter's attempts to "scare the illegals off." And that makes Vitter's xenophobic pandering clear. At least to me it does. But what Gill fails to mention is that scaring these folks off from participating in the census isn't going to scare them out of the country. No, it will instead just make such folks scared of any person claiming to represent state authority, including local law enforcement, which any local law enforcement officer would tell you is never in the best interest of a community's security. And that, in itself, is a practical reason not to demagogue the census in this way, thus wrapping this important task up in all the nastiness towards undocumented immigrants that comes with the highly-charged immigration debate.

But there are other reasons to find fault with even the "sanitized" version of Vitter's proposal, which Gill seems to think is good and reasonable. And these reasons have precisely to do with what both Vitter and Gill think make this proposal a worthy endeavor: apportioning Congressional representation and federal dollars. The essence of this argument is twofold: (1) that, without excluding non-citizens from the census count, Louisiana stands to lose a seat in the Federal Congress, reducing its representation in Washington from 7 seats in the House to 6 seats; and (2) that states with low numbers of non-citizen populations would lose some portion of the pie (i.e. federal dollar disbursements to the states) based on general population statistics as determined by the census. And it may just very well be true that both of these outcomes will occur. First off, I'm not sure this would be the outcome, though it could be. But, even if it does turn out this way, I don't hold that this is necessarily a bad thing. Nor do I think that it would be an undemocratic outcome, which is what Vitter and Gill would have you think. Democracy is not just about serving citizens, but about representing communities. And state/municipal governments with higher non-citizen populations still have the demands of managing the well-being of their communities. Cheating these states and municipalities of the resources needed to serve their residents, citizen and non-citizen alike, will hurt not only the non-citizen residents, but also the citizen residents. Providing fewer federal dollars to support infrastructure, law enforcement, public health and social welfare programs, etc., of states and municipalities is not only a recipe for augmenting problems in such places, but it punishes the citizens of such places for a problem not of their own making. Try convincing a mayor or a citizen of a Southwestern Texas or Southern California city (or a Northeastern Texas or Northern California city with very few non-citizen residents, for that matter) that reducing per capita spending on services that keep their communities safe, healthy, and happy is a good and fair thing. I don't think many citizens in such places will think it is all that good or fair.

As for the whole questions of restructuring congressional delegations, the bigger picture suggests that the net outcome of the Vitter proposal in terms of the Republican/Democratic balance of power in Washington would be a relative wash. So, under the Vitter proposal, states with relatively low non-citizen populations wouldn't lose seats in Congress while states with relatively higher non-citizen populations would. This means, supposedly, that places like Texas and California would lose seats and places like Louisiana and Utah would retain their seats, while places where citizen populations increase for other reasons would see the number of seats in their Congressional delegations increase. But if Texas and California are likely to lose seats, so too are places like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina and a host of other Southern and Great Plains states that have witnessed significant non-citizen population increases over the past decades. As many "red" state seats could be lost as gained; and the same for "blue" state seats. But, I think this argument in itself is a non-starter, because it rests on the assumption that it is only the non-citizen population that is changing the demographic makeup of certain states. I question this assumption. In places where non-citizen populations have grown since the last census, citizen populations have also likely grown alongside them as well. I'm not convinced that removing the non-citizen population from the census would alter the general population counts all that much so as to make a significant difference one way or the other. On this point, Gill, referencing demographer Elliott Stonecipher, writes:
Thus, with non-citizens in the count, Louisiana has 1.453 percent of the national population. But take them out and our share goes up to 1.538 percent, which Elliott Stonecipher, Louisiana demographer par excellence, figures would be more than enough to ensure that none of our estimable members of Congress would need to be sacrificed.
But I wonder what assumptions about citizen demographic shifts factor into this calculation? I wonder how Stonecipher is calculating Louisianians displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita into his model? It's unclear to me how they arrive at this conclusion.

And then there's also the question of lying about citizenship status. I'd like to know what evidence Vitter has that including such a politically-charged question on a census questionnaire would produce the kind of outcome he hopes it will. I know that if I were a non-citizen resident in the U.S., especially if I were undocumented, I'd probably choose not to participate in the Census to begin with, or, if I did participate, not to answer this particular question. Or, if I thought that not answering the question would raise suspicion and draw the curious gaze of the state in my direction, I'd flat out lie about it. What I would never do, though, under any circumstance, would be to volunteer to a U.S. government authority via a census form information that I am not a citizen of the country. So, I honestly don't think Vitter's proposal would yield the kind of results he thinks it would.

In the end, in my mind, the reasons not to ask citizenship status on a census outweigh the parochial benefits, as elusive as they may be, that might be gained by including such a question. For politicians like Vitter (and even for pundits like Gill), one would think that the risk of angering all those citizens who may be punished by including such a question with the intent to discriminate on the basis of answers to it, or who would be put out by the manifest mean-spiritedness of it, wouldn't be worth the trouble for potential gains that may not materialize anyway. Let me offer this off-hand comment by Gill as an example:
Well over two-thirds of them [non-citizen residents] are in California and Texas, which thus gain Washington clout, and federal dollars, at the expense of Louisiana and other states that have relatively few residents unfamiliar with the Pledge of Allegiance.
With gratuitous cheap shots like that, the ugliness of the intent behind the proposal becomes pretty clear. And it's hard for those of us who know the non-citizen residents of our communities personally, people who often know more about this country than many citizens do and who are generally more grateful for the opportunities that being in this country provide to them than many citizens are, to muster up any sympathy for a proposal wrapped in such petty meanness.

Saints vs. Giants -- Prediction

The Saints are undefeated and the mood is really upbeat. The ruckus from the cheering Who Dats will be deafening. Eli Manning will be over-nervous and over-excited playing in his hometown, and thus I predict he will make a few critical mistakes. Drew Brees is due for a big day. I predict a 4 touchdown passing day for Brees. Final score: Saints 38, Giants 24.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Three Books to Change Minds

Andrew Sullivan linked over to this posting by Tony Woodlief, who is a conservative/libertarian. Woodlief, in a moment of admirable intellectual curiosity, posed a challenge:

The maddening thing about reading Hayek is that I come away thinking, “If only leftists had a proper understanding of economics and society, they would stop their infernal meddling and let people be about the business of living productive lives.”

Then I think that perhaps I’m being just as muddle-headed as I think leftists are. Admittedly, I was a leftist before I read any economics, but maybe I read the wrong kind. Maybe there’s some whole other set of thinking and philosophy out there that will bring a right-thinking person to a leftist point of view.

This got me wondering what books thoughtful leftists and small-c conservatives/small-l libertarians might recommend to one another. ...

So, here’s what I’m asking. If you are a leftist, what three books do you believe would best persuade thoughtful people who disagree with you that they are in error?
Interesting. My three choices, sticking with the economics/development theme, would be the following:

Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom
Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor
Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time

Your selections?

Quote of the Day

"Perhaps he's worried the kids will grow up and be president." Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, on Tangipahoa Parish Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell, who refuses to issue a marriage license to interracial couples because he's supposedly worried about their children's futures. Of course, Quigley is referring to Barack Obama, the child of an interracial couple, whose "worrisome" future included being a Harvard Law School graduate, a U.S. Senator, and President of the United States.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Race in Louisiana

I find it absolutely repugnant and unacceptable, but not altogether surprising, some hick justice of the peace here in my home state of Louisiana (why do I live here again?) refuses to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple because he worries for their children. Where the hell does this dude get off making such decisions? It's not his friggin' business to worry about someone else's children, much less someone else's children who aren't even conceived yet. It's his business simply to grant a marriage license to anyone who is legally entitled to one. And if that wasn't bad enough, this idiot has the utter gall to say:

"I don't do interracial marriages because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves," Bardwell said. "In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."

If he does an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.

"I try to treat everyone equally," he said.
Oh, the rich and ugly irony! He considers denying two people their legal right to marry because he doesn't support interracial union as an effort "to treat everyone equally." Does this racist idiot not see that his attitude is precisely NOT treating everyone equally?

The guy should lose his license, be disbarred, or whatever it takes to have him removed from any position of authority where he can behave so reprehensibly. Oh, and the two people victimized by his racist bigotry should sue the guy's pants off.

The Health Insurance Industry's Risky Gambit

The Health Insurance Industry, which had seemingly been on board with the health care reform initiative as long as it believed all Americans would be mandated to buy their products in some form, has flip-flopped on the reform effort and is now mounting a furious lobbying and public relations effort to damage, if not kill, the health reform movement.

But I think the Health Insurance Industry is making a foolish mistake here. First off, even if it's the Baucus bill that ends up becoming law, a bill that reduces penalties for not buying health insurance, the net result will still be more people purchasing health insurance than ever before. Moreover, it's the Baucus bill that keeps the public option as far off the table as possible. You'd think that the health insurance industry would bend over backwards to support any bill, no matter how tepid, that keeps a government option out of the market.

Additionally, the health insurance industry must realize that most people, even many conservatives who don't support the Democratic health reform proposals, aren't big cheerleaders and fans of the health insurance industry. If there is one player in the whole health care economy that's generally reviled by a large majority of people, it's the rapacious health insurance industry. People don't like it that insurance bureaucrats can interfere with their healthcare and can meddle with the doctor/patient relationship. People don't like it that health insurance bureaucrats can seemingly deny coverage or benefits willy-nilly, at any time, on the flimsiest of pretenses, if it helps their bottom line. People don't like it that health insurance providers have posted obscene profits over recent years as the costs of basic healthcare to the average consumer become unsustainably high. In short, the health insurance industry has very little legs to stand on in leading up a high profile opposition to the health reform effort. And it probably won't matter how much of their obscene profits they spend in their lobbying efforts.

It also baffles me that the health insurance industry would mount such an effort in the midst of a political environment that has the Democrats in control of both the Congress and the White House by opposition proof margins. The natural constituency of the Democratic party are people who not only want health care reform, but probably want to punish the health insurance industry in a fit of vindictive fury.

The only chance the health insurance industry has is to completely crush the effort such that we return to the status quo that no one wants and which has only benefitted the health insurance industry's bottom line. But I seriously doubt that's gonna happen, especially with the reviled health insurance industry now leading the charge against the reform effort.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The New GOP Website

Have you seen it yet? If not, you can check it out here. Assessment: it's an unwieldy and epic FAIL! It took me all of five minutes to come across a forum in the "Our GOP" section under the "National Defense" category titled: "I AM PRAYING THAT OBAMA WILL NUKE IRAN". Here's what this member of the GOP has to say on the party's official website:

I AM PRAYING THAT OBAMA WILL NUKE IRAN.

I have been praying that Obama will carry on our agenda by nuking IRAN off the planet. We have started a family prayer every night. I think the more people that pray to our lord the more likely he will grant our wishes.

By nuking these people off the planet it is the only way we can be safe from the terrorists, and the only way to bring peace and freedom to the iranian people
WTF?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Doesn't this imbecile realize that there won't be any "iranian people" to bring freedom to if they are "nuked off the planet"?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

I know the Democratic Party has its own dimwits; but, really, I can't imagine they are this bad.

The GOP really is a party that is clearly, and embarrassingly, unmoored from reality and sanity. Harkens me back to this:

Obama's Visit To New Orleans Update

Well, it's about 8:15pm and still no email from the White House with an offer of tickets to attend Obama's town hall meeting at UNO tomorrow. I guess that means I didn't luck out in the lottery. Bummer. I hope someone else who got tickets to attend the town hall meeting will see fit to ask the President my question about repealing DADT.

Fear not, though, as I will be occupied with another noble effort. I'll be joining some of my LatiNola colleagues for a visit to John Ehret High School's Spanish Club to speak with them about the college admissions process and the importance of a college education of some kind to their future.

The GOP and the Health Care Reform Bills

Well, I guess it's a good thing that some of the more moderate Northeastern Repulican Senators are inching towards tepid support of a tepid Health Care Reform proposal. First, there was Sen. Olympia Snowe, who joined her Democratic colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee and voted to send along that Committee's version of a health care reform bill to the full Senate. Now, apparently, her fellow Senator from Maine, Susan Collins, appears to be leaning in the direction of support for some kind of health care reform bill.

As I said, I guess that's good. So should I cheer or something?

Really, though, I don't understand why anyone thinks it is important to get any "bipartisan" support from the GOP on any health care reform bill. My attitude is let the GOP be the party of "No" on a reform effort the U.S. public clearly supports in principle. If moderate GOP Senators like Snowe and Collins want to jump on board to save their "bumpies" when they are next up for election in a state that went decisively for Obama, that's fine. Let them do it. But they should not get any credit for this at all. And, in fact, the Democratic Party should basically make it clear that it doesn't need the GOP to pass healthcare reform and will do it without Snowe or Collins.

Come to think of it, it actually makes me quite angry that it's taken all the way until now, when the tide of public opinion is drifting more and more into the column of support for the health care reform initiatives of the Democrats, when moderate Republicans want to jump on board. My attitude has been, since the whole GOP-endorsed town hall obstructionist effort of August happened, to tell the GOP (and any elected official with an "R" behind their name) to piss off. I still feel that way.

So, while I guess it's a net plus that Snowe and Collins are maybe, possibly, potentially, going to support the final health care reform bill, all I can muster at this news is a flat, unenthusiastic "whoop-de-friggin'-doo."

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Mayoral Platform

If I were ever to run for Mayor of New Orleans, I'd keep my campaign platform simple and sweet. It would contain four concrete elements. They are, in no particular order:

(1) Paving and maintaining the roads. I'd reallocate budget items until enough could be dedicated to fixing and maintaining all the roads in the city.
(2) Placing information on crime (locations, types, and investigation status) online in real time reporting so that citizens would have as much information on crime patterns as possible and as soon as possible.
(3) Complete transparency on all aspects of government business not subject to violations of privacy laws.
(4) Participatory budgeting in which neighborhood associations would have a seat at the budget negotiation table and out of which budget priorities would evolve and resource allocations would be made.

That's not to say that I wouldn't work on other issues as needed. It's simply that these four principles/elements would be my campaign and administrative cornerstones.

When Obama Comes To Town

President Obama is scheduled to visit New Orleans this Thursday and he will be holding a town hall style meeting at the University of New Orleans. Attendees will be selected by the White House via lottery. I've already put in my request via the online request form. I'll know probably by tomorrow afternoon if my name is picked. If I get picked, I will most definitely attend and I will prepare only one question to ask of Obama. That question will not be about New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, or Gulf Coast Recovery efforts. Instead, I would like to ask Obama the following question:

If you assumed the role of Commander-in-Chief of a military governed by a policy that excluded soldiers solely because they were black, would you wait for Congress to change the legislation governing this policy before addressing this discrimination? Or would you, as a matter of justice and basic human rights, and in your capacity as Commander-in-Chief, immediately end this discriminatory policy using whatever legal means at your disposal? If so, and if you believe that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a civil rights issue and is as indefensible and as reprehensible as discrimination on the basis of race, why would you not act immediately on this matter as well? I would like to know if you will call on Congress to put a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on your desk by the end of this year; and, if Congress fails to deliver on this mandate by year's end, whether you, as Commander-in-Chief and as a matter of justice, will exercise your authority through an executive order to end this discriminatory policy?
That's a pretty long interrelated series of questions. So, I'd probably boil it down specifically to the last one and leave it at that. This is one issue I see as an egregious violation of civil rights and one on which I am the most disappointed in Obama. I simply cannot understand his inaction on the subject. He stands to lose nothing and gain so much by such a simple action. As much as I'd want also to ask him something about his commitment to New Orleans's continued recovery, I'd have to pick the question of civil rights over Gulf Coast recovery every time.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Guns Don't Kill People ...

People Kill People. But there's always that pesky fact that in many tragic accidents like this one, if there were no guns, people who should never have died would still be alive, and people wouldn't be killing people they don't want to kill. I really wonder what gun advocates think should be the punishment, if any, for killings that take place because someone who has a gun has absolutely no training in how/when to use it? Is this a case of negligent homicide? What kind of justice does the deceased and her family deserve in this instance?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Barack Obama: Nobel Peace Prize?

First off, let me say that I'm happy Obama got the prize, if for no other reason than that it will make the regular conservative blowhards have multiple aneurysms and will make them look so very petty (and dare I say un-American) to piss on something that is nothing but a good thing for this country. I mean, really, would they feel better if Obama got the Nobel Prize for torture? So, let conservatives splutter, let their veins pop out of their heads and necks, let them once again be exposed for the naysayer cynics that they are. So, yeah, I'm happy Obama got the award.

That said, I have to say I did find it quite surprising and strange. I do think Obama will earn this award, but it does seem a bit premature to me that he got it for something yet to come.

When I step back and try to understand how this could have happened, I am forced to confront the fact that Obama really has been a positively transformative figure to the rest of the world in ways that even his supporters here in the U.S. can't really even begin to grasp. I have been equally surprised by how much the rest of the world really thinks Obama deserves this award at this time. Such a thing tells me that the damage that George W. Bush did to the U.S.'s image and reputation in the world was enormous. I mean, I knew it was bad, but I had no clue it was so bad that Obama's simply not being Bush and taking steps to undo the worst of Bush's damage was enough to make the Nobel Peace Prize committee consider Obama to be a harbinger of peace.

I also was thinking earlier that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee put Obama in a very difficult position. Does he accept the award and thus give his domestic critics ammunition to harp on more about his perceived arrogance and narcissism? Or does Obama reject the award and so slap the face of the world, thus potentially risking much of the good will and political capital among the world that Obama has so painstakingly constructed over the years?

Whichever path Obama would have chosen (and we know now that he has chosen to accept the Prize), he would be stepping into a minefield.

But the testament to Obama's abilities is how skillfully he actually does manage to walk this line. Here is how he formally greeted the news in front of the U.S. people and the world:



In this speech, Obama shows humility and grace, all the while broadening this Prize Award's recognition to include the full range of people throughout the world who are trying to make this world a better and more peaceful place to live.

James Fallows of the Atlantic has a wonderful, must-read evaluation of the skillfulness and mastery with which Obama handled this surprising news.

NOLA Government Gets a Pay Raise

In my mind, raising the salaries of New Orleans City Councilmembers from $42,500 to about $83,507 per year is the right thing to do. The only people I know who would run for office on a salary as low as $42,500 are those who are so rich that the salary is not an issue, or those whose skill levels are so poor that a $42,500 salary in otherwise unattainable. And neither of these kinds of people would represent me. The folks on the City Council who supported this measure and who voted for it are to be commended. Now, maybe, some capable people might consider running for office. One can hope, right?

LSU versus Florida

Even if Tim Tebow is unable to play against LSU this weekend, I still think LSU is the longshot underdog to win this game. LSU has been playing inconsistent and sloppy football; and Florida is just too darn impressive a team to give LSU a fair shake. Now, I fully admit that anything is possible and that LSU does have the talent to win if they play the best football that they're capable of playing (and if Florida has a really off night), so LSU could pull it out in the end. But I'd still put my money on Florida. I'd even take Florida and give up the points, too.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Worth Repeating on Honduras

I think it's worth mentioning again, in the wake of the announcement by the de facto usurper government that constitutional liberties are to be restored soon, that as mischievous as the Zelaya Administration has been, what it never did was to suspend constitutional liberties like the Micheletti government did. And I think this speaks volumes about which of the two administrations is more reflective of a commitment to democratic values and freedom. In fact, I'd venture to say that if Zelaya had done to constitutional liberties what Micheletti did, all in the name of order against destabilizing popular movements against the government, we wouldn't have seen a coup and a Micheletti government. The freedom that Zelaya respected that emboldened his opponents also made his ouster possible. Had Zelaya really been the autocrat he is charged as being (or threatening to become), the coup plotters would never have gotten their movement off the ground.

Guns, Irresponsible Behavior, and 2nd Amendment Rights

I came across this sad story about an apparent murder/suicide gun incident involving a woman who caused controversy some time back by packing a loaded weapon to her 5-yr-old daughter's soccer game. Although gun rights advocates will trot out the usual memes in explaining this incident, memes such as "guns don't kill people, people kill people," etc., such incidents can't avoid the connection between the insecurity of those who feel the need to call attention to 2nd amendment rights in such irresponsible ways, and the ultimate tragedy of what happens when such insecurity gets coupled with apparent mental instability. You get a murder/suicide, three young kids who are orphans overnight, and three young kids who themselves have to deal with the trauma of being at home to witness the murder/suicide of both parents. It makes me angry. But I don't want to harp on the murder/suicide and what it means for the whole gun control debate. What I do want to do is revisit the soccer game incident and offer some thoughts on where to draw the line between evidence of personal irresponsibility regarding guns and 2nd amendment rights to bear arms. From the above-linked MSNBC article:

Meleanie Hain made headlines after she attended a children's soccer game in a park on Sept. 11, 2008, with a handgun in plain view holstered on her hip, upsetting other parents.

The county sheriff, Michael DeLeo, revoked her gun-carrying permit nine days later.

Hain successfully appealed the permit revocation, although the judge who restored the permit questioned her judgment and said she had "scared the devil" out of other people at the game.

Harassment
Hain sued DeLeo in federal court, alleging that he violated her constitutional rights and prosecuted her maliciously when he took the permit away. She said that because of his actions her baby-sitting service had suffered, her children had been harassed and she had been ostracized by her neighbors in Lebanon, which has about 25,000 residents.

DeLeo said at Hain's appeal that he revoked her permit after fielding the parents' complaints. He said he based his decision on a state law that prohibits certain gun permits from being given to anyone whose character and reputation make him or her a danger to public safety.

After Hain sued DeLeo, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which says it tries to reform the gun industry through sensible regulations, offered to defend him for free.

"It is a case that calls out for common sense," Brady Center attorney Daniel Vice said then. "It's ridiculous to bring a gun to a child's soccer game."
The issue, it seems to me, is the question of rights, responsibilities, and the authority's ability to decide when irresponsibility precludes rights.

I would argue that bringing a weapon to a children's soccer game at a public park, simply for the purpose of making a larger political point about the 2nd amendment is irresponsible behavior. It is, to echo Daniel Vice, "ridiculous" and not something that has much common sense about it. I'd even say that it is irresponsible behavior that borders on mentally unstable behavior. And I support DeLeo's decision to revoke this woman's gun-carrying permit for these reasons. Not everyone, by virtue of being a citizen, is entitled to the privilege of carrying a loaded gun around in public. Erratic or questionable or non-sensical behavior is reason enough to tell someone that their right to bear arms doesn't trump the rights of others to be protected from an irresponsible and potentially irrational/menatally unstable firearm bearer.

I also find that Hain's suit against DeLeo's decision reveals even more about her irresponsibility and the nuttiness of her thinking that would make DeLeo's decision to revoke her permit all the more justifiable. For Hains to argue that it was DeLeo's decision to revoke her permit, and not the fact that she showed up at the playground locked and loaded, which caused her babysitting business to suffer, the teasing that her kids faced, or her ostracization by the neighbors is quite absurd. What parent wouldn't pull his or her kids from a babysitting service upon hearing that the person doing the babysitting walked around kids with a loaded gun in full view? That's a tragic accident just waiting to happen. And it's no one's fault but Hain's that her business is suffering as a consequence. Same thing about being ostracized by the neighbors. Put it this way: I certainly wouldn't be hanging around (nor would I let my kids hang around) a household where what I think is erratic and unnecessarily risky behavior with firearms is taking place.

Finally, and I hate to say this, but I can't say that I'm surprised that the end of this story was a tragic murder/suicide. To me, it fits the pattern. Crazy people behaving in crazy, irresponsible ways with weapons is much more likely to lead to tragic gun violence in their lives than not.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Brother Martin Junior High?

Apparently, the Archdiocese of New Orleans is not opposed to allowing Brother Martin High School to add a 7th grade to its ranks.

More and more, the Catholic High Schools are reaching back into the middle school student population. I've commented on this before, but I'll say it again now. If the Archdiocese is so keen on providing quality education to the city's neediest and poorest students that it openly supports a taxpayer funded voucher program to siphon away students from the public schools, then it should not only be advocating for a voucher system, it should also be encouraging the successful Catholic Religious Order run high schools to set up middle and elementary school feeder programs. If voucher program supporters really think that providing choice is key to resolving the City's educational crisis, then it shouldn't go only halfway in encouraging choice. It should embrace competition among and between Catholic educational institutions as well as among and between public schools and Catholic schools.

I'm glad to see that there appears to be some slow movement in this direction. Now, apparently, Brother Martin is joining Holy Cross and St. Augustine in offering a 7th grade program. I don't see how it can now prevent the floodgates from opening such that schools like Rummel, Jesuit, Dominican, Mount Carmel, etc., will be moving in that direction to get a part of that action. The losers stand to be the Archdiocesan elementary and middle schools. As I said, I'm happy to see Brother Martin go down this road; but I can't imagine that Catholic Elementary Schools like Holy Name, Christian Brothers Academy, Stuart Hall, and St. Dominic are too thrilled with the prospect of losing yet another grade to the much better education afforded by the Religious Orders who run these high schools. I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of this story yet.

I hope my alma mater, Jesuit High School, is next.

Aryan Brotherhood

Members of this hate group are popping up in St. Tammany Parish. Now why doesn't that surprise me?

In God We Trust

Andrew Sullivan pointed me to this outrageous mural in which the fusion of conservatism, Christianity, and the US Constitution is complete. When you scroll over the different parts of this mural, you can see an interactive commentary accompanying the person or item that the cursor scrolls over.

A few things I noticed. First, there is only one Democratic politician of the 20th and 21st century included in the mural, and that person is John F. Kennedy. On the Republican side, there is Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and, of course, Ronald Reagan. Among recognizable politicians from the mid-19th Century, there's Ulysses S. Grant and Abraham Lincoln.

But most notable is the dichotomy presented between the evil modern liberal folks on the bottom right quadrant of the mural compared to the patriotic "real" Americans on the bottom left quadrant of the mural. Since the liberals seem to have their home on the bottom right quadrant, one must presume that the folks on the bottom left quadrant are constituted by conservatives.

Now, among the evil modern liberal folks is one character called the "Professor." Of course, as a liberal "professor" myself, I was just tickled to death by being lumped in among the worst of the worst in America. I'll come back to this in a moment, but now I must digress to the main feature: Jesus in the center of the mural holding the U.S. Constitution in his right hand, as if the U.S. Constitution is the equivalent of divine scriptural revelation. I wonder where this leaves the whole "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" mandate from Christ? Anyway ... If we've got Jesus in the middle, cetainly we've got to have Satan around, too, only in some subordinate position. Which brings me back to the bottom right quadrant. It's almost easy to miss, but if you look to the right of the "Professor" and just behind the "Mr. Hollywood" character, you'll see a rather sinister, dark, hooded figure. You guessed it! SATAN! And he's got the back of all his minions in that bottom right quadrant. Which reminds me ... I need to check my backpack to make sure I've got my Satanic Cult Soul Sucking paraphernalia all together and packed up to take to my class tomorrow. Wouldn't want to cheat the "Dark Lord" by failing to corrupt the souls of my students by having them discuss the "humanistic" importance of tacos and mariachi music to Mexican identity, now would I?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Another Football Trifecta

Saints win against the Jets: 24-10
LSU pulls out another ugly win against Georgia: 20-13
Tulane pulls out an impressive win against Army: 17-16

If only Lusher and Jesuit had won their games, then the weekend would have been perfect. Alas! Not to be.

And yet, still, a very good week for Louisiana football.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

LAGO Conference

The Latin Americanist Graduate Organization (LAGO) at Tulane University is hosting an academic conference in early December of this year (December 4-5 to be precise). The keynote speaker at this conference is the esteemed scholar Jean Franco. The call for papers is out and the deadline for submission of a paper or panel proposal is October 23, 2009. Please consider attending the Conference, even if you are unable to submit a paper or panel proposal.

Blog Nudge Update - Month 3 and Counting

As some of my regular readers might remember, two months ago, in the wake of reading Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's very enjoyable and persuasive book Nudge, and feeling somewhat despondent about my anemic blogging at the time, decided to take on a "Blogging Self-Nidge". I am pleased to say that the effort has been quite successful to date. I have completed two full months of blogging under the terms of this "Blogging Self-Nudge"; and I am pleased to report that I have met the goals set out in this "Blogging Self-Nudge" for each of these two months. I am now committed to another month under the terms of this arrangement and am looking forward to it.