The VRA and Southern Racism

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the Voting Rights Act today.  To read while it’s still needed, there’s this.   Anyway, I was intrigued by the comments of John Roberts (via TPM):

A question posed by Chief Justice John Roberts to the Obama administration’s lawyer defending the Voting Rights Act captured the tenor of the proceedings.

“Is it the government’s submission that citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?” Roberts asked.

Roberts thinks that “no” is the obvious answer to this question.  But this is an empirical question, to which we know the answer.  It’s a little dated now, but my friend and colleague Mike Cobb made his name with an innovative approach to more accurately measuring racism.  You can read the whole thing here, but I’ll excerpt from the abstract:

Using a new and relatively unobtrusive measure of racial attitudes designed to overcome possible social desirability effects, our study finds racial prejudice to be still high in the South and markedly higher in the South than the non-South. Preliminary evidence also indicates that this prejudice is concentrated among white southern men.  [emphasis mine]

Well, there you go, Justice Roberts.  Now, this was published in 1997 and Mike tells me he’s not aware of any replication since then, but I think it’s safe to presume that something “markedly higher” has not disappeared completely in 15 years.


Republican politicians and gay marriage

I half-noticed articles about Republicans endorsing gay marriage the other day, but didn’t pay much attention, because most of what I saw featured a head-shot of Jon Huntsman– not exactly in the mainstream of the Republican party (good for him, of course).  The headline of this short Slate piece, confirmed my initial reaction to essentially ignore this as news, “Why Only Two Republicans in Congress Admit to Supporting Gay Marriage.”  So, of these 82 Republicans who signed on to a legal brief supporting gay marriage, a whopping 4 hold political office and only 2 hold federal political office.  I guess it’s a good thing that Republican “politicians” support gay marriage, but it will actually matter when Republican office-holders support gay marriage. 

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo

of the day:

Picture of a barn owl flying over reeds

Barn Owl, United Kingdom

A wild barn owl flying over Norfolk reeds at dusk

Actually, I don’t quite get how this photo works.  The reeds in the foreground are in focus, the owl in the back of the shot is in focus, but the reeds in the background are out of focus.  How is this happening?  How can the owl be in focus while those further back reeds are not?


Alright, I feel a little guilty for writing about this, as celebrity murder trials get way too much attention as actual news.  But, hey, I’m human and have been intrigued by this case.  I love this take from Will Saletan, that even if you entirely buy Pistorious’ own version of events, he’s a dangerous, reckless killer.  Here’s a bit:

On Feb. 14, around 3 a.m., Pistorius was in bed at his house with his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. According to his affidavit,

I woke up, went onto the balcony to bring the fan in and closed the sliding doors, the blinds and the curtains. I heard a noise in the bathroom and realised that someone was in the bathroom. I felt a sense of terror rushing over me. There are no burglar bars across the bathroom window and I knew that contractors who worked at my house had left the ladders outside.

Pause right there. Pistorius lives in a hyper-secure gated community that advertises a “solid, electrified security wall,” laser sensors, and biometric locks. Wealthy South Africans move to such communities precisely so they can go outside without fear. At last week’s bail hearing, a police officer testified that there were two dogs outside the window where Pistorius claimed an intruder might have entered. The prosecutor also asked why, if Pistorius feared burglars, he slept with his balcony doors open. Pistorius’ lawyer, Barry Roux, didn’t address either point.

There’s no record of any burglary-like incident at Pistorius’ home. The two incidents he has acknowledged were false alarms…

To appreciate the perversity of this story, you have to see the floor plan of Pistorius’ home. His bedroom door wasn’t down the hall, where he’d heard the purported burglar noises. It was in the entryway right next to him. All he had to do was wake Steenkamp and slip out with her. His “limited mobility,” which supposedly prevented him from making it 15 feet to the bedroom door, somehow didn’t deter him from maneuvering 20 feet down the hall toward the danger, and around a corner for another 15 feet to where he thought the intruder was. There, a homeowner ostensibly too terrified to turn on a light in his bedroom, or even unlock his bedroom door and flee, had no trouble firing four shots through the locked toilet door, which offered no escape route. If there really was an armed intruder, this was the course of action most likely to escalate the carnage.

Short version: pretty damning.

Great minds

As you know, I get enough of my ideas from Kevin Drum.  It’s kind of cool, though, when we independently reach the same conclusions.  He posted this on Ignatius’ column in the wee hours of the east coast morning:

A “firm presidential statement”? Seriously? Where do people come up with this stuff? Obama has made dozens of firm presidential statements, and it’s had precisely zero effect. Republicans couldn’t care less about his firm presidential statements.

Roger that.

Obama just needs to give a speech!

Or so the answer seems if you write Opinion for the Post.  David Ignatius starts out with the standard “they’re both wrong!” approach”

I’m no fan of the way President Obama has handled the fiscal crisis. As I’ve written often, he needs to provide the presidential leadership that guides Congress and the country toward fiscal stability. In my analogy, he should take the steering wheel firmly in hand and drive the car toward the destination where most maps show we need to be heading: namely, a balanced program of cuts in Social Security and Medicare and modest increases in revenue.

Hmmm, last I checked, that was pretty much what Obama had proposed.  But he’s not gripping the wheel firmly enough?  To Ignatius’ credit, we do get this:

Much as I would criticize Obama, it’s wrong to say that both sides are equally to blame for what’s about to hit us. This isn’t a one-off case of Republicans using Obama’s sequestration legislation to force reckless budget cuts. It’s a pattern of behavior: First the Republicans were prepared to shut down the government and damage the national credit rating with their showdown over the debt ceiling; then they were careening toward the “fiscal cliff.” This isn’t a legislative tactic anymore; it’s an addiction.

I kept reading, hoping that Ignatius would give us the magic answer of what Obama needs to do to firmly take the steering wheel and drive the country where we need to go.  The answer?

The House Republicans are still grabbing for the wheel, and the car is rumbling toward trouble.

Obama tries everything to gain control — except a clear, firm presidential statement that speaks to everyone onboard, those who voted for him and those who didn’t — that could get the country where it needs to go.

Are you serious??  This could all be resolved if only Obama made a “firm statement”?  What planet is Ignatius living on?  Does he understand anything about how government works.  It is absolutely amazing to me at what passes for punditry these days.  Oh, and Edwards might want to try reading Ezra Klein’s great New Yorker piece about the pervasive ineffectiveness of presidential speeches.

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