Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Wednesday Thought Nuggets

In Western Legal Tradition today--
"Lawyers and big businesses run the world. What about the unemployed, the poor? Do they have a voice? Sure, some people claim to represent them. But they are mostly lawyers."

"Bush mentioned liberty and freedom something likely fifty times in his State of the Union speech without defining them. And, he forgot all about equality."

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Getting Serious About Affirmative Action

Contrary to my initial reaction to Professor Sander's controversial affirmative action study, it would seem that a hardy debate is going to take place after all. The NYT chronicles a bit of it in Sunday's paper. To be honest, I thought that, like in the past, any criticism of affirmative action would be met with contempt, ridicule and scorn, while failing to address some very real concerns about the efficacy of the program.

All to often past debates have been marked by vitriol and ad hominem attacks. Regular readers will have noted that I am fairly skeptical when it comes to affirmative action and have called for something more class based. But I do so not because I am opposed to the advancement of minorities. As I have written before, I view affirmative action as a way for well off liberals to appease their guilty consciences. Beyond that, there seems to be a fair amount of empirical evidence questioning its effectiveness. Unfortunately we too often pay homage to the idea of affirmative action itself, making a discussion of how better to achieve our stated goals off-limits. We should all welcome what may be a newfound willingness to engage in a serious debate about how best to ensure equality of opportunity to all Americans.

The Danger of Law Profs Doing Public Policy

When you let people who do not fathom economics (for example, most law professors not in law and economics) do policy, this is the sort of housing policy recommendations you end up with- the study says that under the right conditions it would make financial sense to have developers set aside 10 to 20 percent of their units for lower-income residents. And, "[i]n certain market conditions, it could actually work," said Michael H. Schill, a former New York University professor who helped conduct the study and is now dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. So then, obviously those conditions have not been met or the market would have provided the aforementioned number of set asides.

I understand that NYC is a tight housing market made all the worse by decades of rent control. But, if the city were to impose these sorts of requirements on developers, what might we expect to happen? Oh.. wait... I know the answer to that one.. perhaps something similar to what happened during rent control where, absent the ability to make profits in the rental markets, landlords converted to condos and development in the apartment market was inhibited. And, of course, it is primarily those at the lower end of the economic specturm who are most afflicted by such a situation.

Of course, I am not so cavalier as to be opposed to efforts to make housing available to lower income folks. But let the government shoulder the cost of providing it. If we decide that housing poor people is a priority (and I would argue that it is) then we, acting as a government, ought to be putting up the dollars to do so, instead of imposing our will on the market. Not because we have no right to, but because there are serious negative consequences for doing so.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Creating Community

Today was one of my professor's 87th birthday and to celebrate the school wheeled in a cake and we all sang Happy Birthday before class (he made us wait until the last fifteen minutes to indulge in the cake and coffee). This got me to thinking about how we, as humans, create community. In my last job before graduate school we talked a lot about creating a community of learners, which is a task made easier (at least in some respects) when operating in an environment of a walk-to elementary school. How one creates such an environment in a higher education setting seems to be a bit more difficult.

First, aside from a small to midsized graduate department, higher education is more diffuse in terms of its students, faculty and staff. People are operating on much different schedules and finding time for community is therefore more difficult. But I think a more challenging hurdle is society's belief in higher education's instrumental value, which I would argue obtains in most all areas except for the more "intellectual" graduate programs (and maybe some undergraduate departments, like philosophy or theology).

There has also been a decline in community in society at large, which likely contributes to the problem in academia. Much of our means of creating and nurturing community came from religion and civic groups. With the decline of religion's influence on society (at least with respect to religion as a means for collective action outside of the electoral sphere, where such action has arguably increased)and people's ever busier work/professional life our sense of community, or shared interests, has abated.* (I would also argue that the internet also has a fragmenting effect, as well as its more noted communal effect.)

Some remnants of the religion based community activities still remain, such as weddings and baptisms. But these are, I would argue, more tribal than communal. It is the family and close friends who come together, not a community. And while these are invariably positive for society, they do not bring about community as something larger than our familial universe.

But what does all this matter, anyway? At least in the higher education atmosphere, I would argue that a sense of community allows students to feel that they are part of something larger than themselves. In the law school context, it could add a sense of responsibility for the legal profession and not just an ability to pay off mosntrously large student debt at any cost. A sense of community provides some notion of history and establishes connections between students and faculty that go beyond the imparting of very specific classroom knowledge. Again, in the environment of law school, it gives students and professors alike a common purpose, rather than what I would argue is a more disjointed system where students are concerned with passing the bar and getting a job and professors are focused on publishing law review articles and engaging primarily with the ideas of other academics.

Finally, the most important argument for community in higher education as I see it, is that it makes for a more enjoyable experience, both for students and faculty. Both parties are benefited when each are working towards the same goals. For the student, school becomes something more than a hassle to endure. And, for faculty, teaching becomes more than something they have to do in order to be able to research and publish. A sense of community brings about a better climate in higher education, which makes for better students and better teachers. And, society itself benefits from a healthier and more robust academic atmosphere.

* for a detailed argument about civic decline, see Bowling Alone by Putnam

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Ohh.. the Agony

Of once again agreeing with Professor Bainbridge about something. Really, it has to make me question my tastes and judgments.

Never the less, it would appear that Wallace and Gromit are going to do a full length movie. For those of you not in the know, you ought to get yourself edumacated.

Sunday Inspiration

The Battle For America has begun. And it will take all our efforts to retake our democracy. We must take it back from the fearmongers, the haters and others who would divide us by race, class, religion, sexual preference, and age. America is at her best when we all come together, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, young and old to embrace our universal American values of liberty and equality.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Only in Bush's America

Do we warn alleged law breakers 15 days in advance that we're going to begin an investigation. Oh wait, that is not for regular criminals, who the Bushies want to strip of their Constitutional rights. No, they only want to give that sort of warning to Big Business. Because, you know, WalMart et al drive the economy and we need to bend over backwards to ensure their success. Especially with respect to those pesky child labor laws. How on earth could we allow society's beliefs that certain jobs are too dangerous for children get in the way of corporate profits.

Hallelujah.. praise the profit and protect the sweat shops!!

Friday, February 11, 2005

This Way.. Wait, No.. That Way

With the post-election navel gazing and the search for a new DNC chair a lot of ink has been spilled over charting the course to victory for the Democratic Party. But what most commentators (as opposed to bloggers) fail to realize is that it is not the direction of the path, but the way we walk down it that will determine our ability to take back power in Washington and the states. (If anything illustrates the truth of this thesis, it is the meandering path the GOP has taken. While their rhetoric has remained decidedly conservative, their actions have been erratic and driven more by a combination of polls and neo-con fantasies of restoring US hegemony.)

The path to victory, as noted by Kos and other liberal bloggers, is one of pure partisanship. It requires a party leadership of people who are not afraid to be Democrats and are not scared into submission by the Republican Noise Machine.

The Democratic Party has, for the better part of the past twenty years, been at best timid, at worst petrified. Instead of standing up for our values, we have tried to appease and move closer to the GOP. In our search for some mythical middle ground we have played ball with Republicans and in the end have moved the middle of the playing field well into the GOP's territory. Not only that, but over the past four years, Democratic efforts to work with this President have resulted in utter policy failures, where Democratic support is used as a coverall for debacle (see, NCLB, Iraq War).

We, as a Party, need to stand firm to our principles. Rather than run away from Roe v. Wade or internationalism or equal rights, we must explain to the people (in a compelling way) why those are inherently American values that are good for all. We must use whatever means necessary to retake the moral high ground we ceded to the GOP and its minions of hateful "Christians". We must remind people that Christ did not teach us that God hates fags or abortions, but that he taught us forgiveness, charity and justice.

What we need are hardcore partisan Democrats willing to stand up and be counted. We do not need tinkerers who want to "fine tune" our message. We do not need a DLC leadership that cares more about criticizing their own Party on the pages of the GOP's newspaper of choice. By that same token we do not need to drive the Party off into some liberal fantasyland in order to bring home a few wayward Naderites. And, we certainly do not need failed DNC chair candidates lashing out at the Party for not being inclusive enough on abortion.

This is not to say that we ought to silence internal debates over policy. But those arguments MUST be dealt with among friends, not by airing out our dirty laundry for the masses to see and for the GOP to use against us. To those who wish to take cheap shots at the Party in such a way, I have one simple suggestion- get the fuck out and join the GOP. If you hate your Party so much that you think tearing it down in public is better than working together, then we have no use for you. Take your ball and go home.

This Party is one of believers and doers. We are a Party that will work together to achieve common goals. We will not engage in petty internecine warfare over ideological purity. We will no longer tolerate so-called leaders who are driven more by their own megalomania than a commitment to Democratic values. We will no longer bow down to DC based consultants who, despite years of failure, insist that they know better than we do. We, the members of the Democratic Party, are taking our Party back from the emasculated whiners in DC.

And, we, the people, will chart our own way to victory.