Thursday, May 20, 2010


An A-Pauling View on Civil Rights

Memo to Republicans:  Stop rehashing "civil" matters.  

How wonderfully ironic that two of the freshest new faces on the GOP scene both managed to trip themselves on age-old "civil" issues. Last month, new Virginia Gov. Bob MacDonnell made an unforced error by issuing a proclamation to recognize April as Confederate History Month -- that didn't mention slavery.  

Now, Rand Paul, fresh from a great primary victory in Kentucky decides to double-down on previously-written opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He explored his views on the Rachel Maddow show last night. Sorry, but it was appalling (and no, my conservative friends, this could hardly be called a "gotcha" interview). 

If GOP candidates from southern and "border" states (how weird it is to use that phrase in 2010 not in the context of Mexico and immigration) really want to present themselves as ready to lead this country in the 21st century, re-arguing and re-litigating 50- and 150-year-old American history isn't really the best way to go.  Especially when it touches on the nation's awkward attempts to expiate its original sin.   

I have a great deal of respect for the Senate nominee's father, Ron Paul.  His views on economics (which some might call "obscure") are actually insightful and gaining traction.  He also has an important perspective to be heard in foreign affairs.  But it is the height of stupidity to decry the "private property" implications of the Civil Rights Act (as he did on Meet The Press three years ago), when a major goal of the legislation was to overturn state laws that overwhelmingly restrained the economic advancement of a group of people who were once classified as private property.  

Republicans -- whether one calls oneself conservative, libertarian, free-market -- shouldn't have philosophical opposition to the basic goals of the Civil Rights Act (hell, the bill passed because of Republican votes!)  It's perfectly fine for contemporary fans of Barry Goldwater to say that the man was wrong to oppose the CRA -- whether on philosophical or political ("hunting where the ducks are") grounds.  It's fine to say that the Civil Rights Act has been too broadly interpreted in the decades since.  But, the 1964 Act and the Voting Rights Act which followed in 1965 were designed to overturn geographic apartheid in parts of this country.  

The Pauls seem to concede to the validity of the Act's overturning of discrimination in public settings, such as transportation.  But why aren't they -- as libertarians -- outraged that Jim Crow laws themselves infringed on private property and free exchange of goods?  Jim Crow said whites and blacks couldn't eat together or live in the same hotels. If you were a white restaurant owner and wanted to serve blacks, you could be shut down. Once again, Jim Crow prevented whites and blacks from engaging in a basic economic relationship. That is the power of the state at its worst. And Rand Paul calls such a reality "obscure"? 
This, by the way, speaks to something that an  astute and philosophically honest libertarian, David Boaz, has noted:  There never was a golden age of lost liberty in the United States: 

The Cato Institute's boilerplate description of itself used to include the line, "Since [the American] revolution, civil and economic liberties have been eroded." Until Clarence Thomas, then chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, gave a speech at Cato and pointed out to us that it didn't seem quite that way to black people.
And he was right. American public policy has changed in many ways since the American Revolution, sometimes in a libertarian direction, sometimes not.
It's one thing for conservatives to regularly force a reconsideration of major economic issues.  It's legitimate to wonder if every part of the New Deal -- or Great Society -- should stay in place.  But dismissing the Civil Rights Act -- without at least recognizing that the pre-Act status quo ante was an obscene era for freedom in the United States that required some sort of federal action -- is intellectually immoral and politically stupid.   

UPDATE: Rand Paul stated today that the Civil Rights Act is "settled" law and "unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964." Well, that's a relief.  However, Paul still avoids the major problem.  He says, "I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere."   However, as said above, Jim Crow also prevented private property owners from engaging in economic activity between the races.  It's not just a "public sphere." That a libertarian would stumble over something as basic as this is problematic, to say the least. 

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Monday, May 17, 2010


Apres Le Deluge...

...well, comes the real deluge -- the lawyers:
On April 21, with the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig still in flames, John W. Degravelles and a group of other lawyers sued for damages. In the first of at least 88 suits filed since the disaster, they were seeking compensation for the widow of a Transocean worker who went missing and is presumed dead.
It marked the beginning of legal action that is spreading as inexorably as the oil that threatens the wildlife and economy of five states along the Gulf of Mexico.
"On Thursday, I could smell the oil and, being a toxic tort lawyer, I realized that the fact that you're smelling something means that you're inhaling something," Stuart Smith, a New Orleans lawyer, said this month when breezes were carrying the scent of the oil slick toward the city. Smith, who has sued major oil companies before, immediately contacted toxicologists and air monitors to start doing tests that could be used as evidence.
The law firms now assembling are members of the all-star team of plaintiffs' attorneys. They have experience suing big companies over asbestos, tobacco, oil company waste, breast implants and Chinese drywall. They have represented Ecuadoran shrimp farmers and New York lobstermen, patients who have swallowed Vioxx and investors who lost money on shares of Enron. And their ranks include the likes of Erin Brockovich, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and former partners of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.
"When we put together the team for tobacco . . . it was the A-team of lawyers, and this is the same thing developing here," said Mike Papantonio, who cut his teeth on asbestos litigation and is a partner in Florida-based Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner & Proctor. The firm says it has won $2.5 billion in jury verdicts, including a dozen of more than $10 million each.
Geez, didn't you kinda prefer Erin Brockovich when she was just this hard-working secretary, who stumbled on some presumed ultility-company malfeasance?  Now, she's a pro, swooping down with the rest of the legal flock -- with a gusto that would shame vultures in the desert.  And you just gotta love an attorney identifying himself -- without any sense of irony -- as a "toxic tort lawyer." 

Of course, there's some legitimate liability issues here, both in terms of the loss of life of the 11 oil workers and damage done to the environment.  Even so, the rapacious glee of the legal "eagles" descending is still appalling. Is driving a major oil company out of business a desired goal -- either economically or in terms of energy development and supply?  Because that's what BP is facing: 
Smith, suing on behalf of fishermen, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and four large hotels, alleges that BP and others were "grossly negligent" in allowing the blowout to occur. Damage includes removal costs, property damage and the loss of income and profits for people and businesses. Because the spill has been lingering offshore, the plaintiffs who can claim damages so far are mostly out-of-work fishermen and tourist resorts that are getting cancellations.

 As rich as BP is, "if this well keeps leaking for three or four months, it's Katie bar the door," Smith said. "I don't think they have enough money." He said fishing beds might need one or two generations to recover.
Some lawyers say the case also offers a chance to take on the oil industry's political ties. Papantonio wants to depose the person who ran the Minerals Management Service under President George W. Bush to find out why the agency did not require certain types of safety devices.
Yep, driving oil companies out of business and making a political statement too! What's Julia Roberts doing these days? I smell something in the air too -- a "toxic" sequel!

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Sunday, May 16, 2010


Rescuing The "King"

My Post colleague Pete Vescey puts the sudden rush to crucify  the "underachieving/choking" LeBron James in proper perspective: 
Again, last I checked, LeBron was 25 and already had carried his team once (2007, his fourth year in the league) to the Finals.
Michael Jordan didn’t plead his case on the Supreme Court or win a title until he was 28 . . . with Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright by his side and trusty shooters on the outskirts.
Neither Kobe nor Shaq won a title unless aided by one another, or abetted by Dwyane Wade or Pau Gasol. Oscar Robertson never won until he joined Kareem in Milwaukee. Magic never won without Kareem, either.
Go back to the 1980s. The lone franchise players ever to capture a championship without another Top 50 player were Isiah Thomas (twice) and Hakeem Olajuwon (once) ... and Tim Duncan (three times), but he had Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
From that viewpoint, James still has three years in hand before he "ties" Jordan in title-futility in terms of age. How soon we forget that James was frustrated by both the Bird Celtics and the Isiah Thomas Pistons before he finally broke through (Oh, and James actually got his team to the Finals in only his fourth year in the league -- surpassing Jordan in that regard). 

Does LeBron need to improve himself? Sure -- but Jordan's outside shot and defense got better as the years went by.  As Vecsey points out, it's more important that LeBron has not just a "supporting cast," but a very good partner-in-crime that will complement his greatness.

And, yeah, and after watching a decade of Knicks futility, I'd love to see him in New York.  Don't think it's going to happen, but we starved NY fans would be happy to have five straight years in the playoffs. 

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