International House of Dan: September 2005

Friday, September 30, 2005

Say What?!?!

In case you've been living under a rock somewhere, former Reagan Education Secretary Bill Bennett got himself into some hot water by saying that abortions among blacks would lower crime. Yeah... I heard that this morning on CNN and was at a complete loss for words. Over the course of the day, the media has been scrambling to both condemn and contextualize the ridiculously idiotic remark. White House Press Secretary Scott "Skippy" McClellan explained that the President "believes that the comments were inappropriate." Quite.

Firmly wedded to my belief that an impartial evaluation of most things will prove that I am right, I listened to the controversial call on Mr. Bennett's show (which airs on "Christian Radio's #1 News Network": Salem Radio Network). Basically, the caller said that he opposed abortion because he read somewhere that that Social Security could remain solvent if we had the tax revenue from all the people that would have been born since Roe had abortion not been legalized. Bennett responded that abortion should be opposed for moral, not economic reasons, lest someone should defend the practice by linking its legalization to a desirable policy outcome, such as a reduction in crime.

Let's get away from what he said for a second and consider the argument itself. Mr. Bennett steps into the shoes of a hypothetical pro-choicer who would selectively use data to divorce the high incarceration rate among African Americans from factors such as racial profiling, poverty, and the state of inner city schools, and then extend that out-of-context statistical link between race and crime to say that the crime rate would be astronomical had abortion among African Americans not been legalized. I'm not sure what the fiscal impact of these never-born taxpayers later collecting Social Security would be, but I suppose this hypothetical idiot could bolster his argument by noting that the unaborted criminals would kill productive citizens, leading to a quicker collapse for Social Security funding. In other words, Bennett's comment, while racist on its face, was not made to assert the position it expressed, but rather to rebut a caller's ridiculous anti-abortion proposition by virtue of its own absurdity. So does this excuse him for saying something very bad during an impromptu on-air exchange? I think no, not so much, no...

Bennett said that his hypothetical pro-choice response to the caller was in reference to the connection between crime and legalized abortion that was drawn in the book Freakonomics. I have not read the book but, I understand that the connection is drawn for entirely different reasons than those adopted by Mr. Bennett's hypothetical pro-choicer:

First, women who have abortions are those most at risk to give birth to children who would engage in criminal activity. Teenagers, unmarried women, and the economically disadvantaged are all substantially more likely to seek abortions [Levine et al. 1996]. Recent studies have found children born to these mothers to be at higher risk for committing crime in adolescence [Comanor and Phillips 1999] ... Second, women may use abortion to optimize the timing of childbearing.
What does that mean exactly? Levitt and Dubner posit that abortion doesn't necessarily affect the number of children a woman will have, but rather the conditions under which she will have them. In other words, a woman who before Roe would've been forced to raise a child under conditions that would lead it to crime could instead wait to have that child at a later stage in her life and raise it in a less crime-prone environment. The point missed by the caller is that he assumes that a woman who had two abortions and later had a child would have had three taxpayers (children) were it not for Roe.

Steven Levitt, one of the authors of Freakonomics, points out that though the bare numbers suggest higher crime by African Americans, "for most crimes a white person and a black person who grow up next door to each other with similar incomes and the same family structure would be predicted to have the same crime involvement." This is why I don't believe I'll excuse Mr. Bennett's comment because of its context: the context is what makes the comment bad.

If Bennett meant to refute the caller's premise by citing Freakonomics, then why the inclusion of race, and why in that way? It's completely superfluous, the abortion-crime argument as originally presented would suffice to make the point Bennett intended to make. The example he chose wasn't aborting white men to get rid of hate crimes, serial killers and child molesters, it wasn't aborting rich people to eliminate corporate fraud, it wasn't even aborting poor people to get rid of crime (though the very example he turns to places poverty above race as a cause of crime): no, he chose to add that aborting black people would eliminate crime. His choice was irresponsible, it was unnecessary for the purpose of making his point, and it was statistically misleading. I'm not ready to call Bill Bennett a racist, but I will call him an idiot.

Sorry, but that's just how I roll...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Back In One Piece, Arrest Record Unchanged

I will not go into too much detail at the time, as I've been riding a bus since about 9 EST last night. All I will say for now is that the march was a truly inspiring event that, if adequately covered by the media, is sure to have an effect on the "hearts and minds" of our nation. At a later time I will try to upload some pictures of a few of the highlights: an Arlington-style arrangement of crosses for the fallen troops (1,900+ is more when you see it spread out in front of you); a group of 4 or 5 kids (aged no more than 13) who started leading chants with such enthusiasm that within instants they had hundreds of people around them joining in; the seemingly endless procession snaking around the streets of D.C, despite (unknown to us at the time) police efforts to redirect the march at various stages in an attempt to separate groups and (in my humble opinion) interfere with freedom of assembly; the plethora of signs and sounds ranging from your roving bands of anarchist agitators to families with signs reading "Republicans against the war" and the surprisingly high number of teenage and early college aged youths with signs expressing their desire to go to school, not war. I will come back to this post and throw in some links as I find them, but over all I just want to say that it was refreshing to see that overall, the march seemed to be composed mostly of ordinary people from various walks of life than of the tired groups of hippies that the mainstream so readily dismiss. I always find it more effective to see khaki-clad parents with their children at a march than 20-something kids in dreadlocks.

That being said, it is notable that in one of the blackest cities in America, the biggest African American presence was probably among the police, though even then it was small. Some speculated that the relative absence of minorities was due to the fact that America's minority population, especially in D.C., tends to be poor, and so is unable to attend either due to work or already being in Iraq. In any case, I'm willing to bet that there were far more minorities there yesterday than are there today at the pro-war response. As far as overall numbers go, I still haven't gotten caught up on the news, but per CNN a few minutes ago there were about 20,000 people marching today, versus 100,000 yesterday. Go figure...

Friday, September 23, 2005


Dan will be away from Chicago this weekend to attend a massive march against the war in Iraq in Washington, D.C. No matter what the papers later say I did, I swear I didn't do it...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Does Judge Roberts Have a Soul?

Yesterday I called the offices of Senators Obama and Durbin to ask that they vigorously oppose the confirmation of Judge John G. Roberts. I'd been meaning to call but what finally pushed it off my to-do list was thinking about the answers he'd given the previous night when questioned by Sen. Durbin. This portion of the transcript (about 1/4 of the way down) cemented the impression of Roberts that had been forming in my head over the time since his nomination, first to Justice O'Connor's seat, and then to become Chief Justice of the United States: I'm not convinced that the man has a soul.

I knew I would relate to Sen. Durbin's questions when he remarked to the Judge: "I remember law students with your talents when I was in law school. I had to get to know them in the first year, because they were then off to the law review and I was off to buy another Gilbert's outline. I didn't see them again." Too true... In any event, a troubling pattern soon became clear in Judge Roberts's answers. When asked about if he could see "the people behind the precedents? The families behind the footnotes?" Judge Roberts responded as follows:

It's hard for me to imagine what their case is about, that I haven't been on their side at some point in my career. If it's somebody who's representing welfare recipients who have had their benefits cut off, I've done that. If it's somebody who is representing a criminal defendant who's facing a long sentence in prison, I've done that. If it's a prosecutor who's doing his job to defend society's interest against criminals, I've been on the side of the prosecution. If it's somebody who's representing environmental interests, environmentalists in the Supreme Court, I've done that. If it's somebody who is representing the plaintiffs in an anti- trust case, I've been in that person's shoes. I've done that. If it's somebody representing a defendant in any trust [sic] case, I've done that as well.
It seemed like a good answer at the time, and Sen. Durbin seemed to think so too, but as the questioning progressed it began to dawn on me that the Judge does not relate to the people behind the cases: he relates to their lawyers. He doesn't relate to what's right, just what's legal.

Sen. Durbin asked Judge Roberts if he thought he'd been on the right side of the law in a case where he argued an HMO's claimed exemption from an Illinois law designed to extend health care to the uninsured, and when he wrote a memo criticizing the U.S. Solicitor General for not intervening in defense of a Texas law eliminating undocumented children's access to education. Judge Roberts in both instances continued to beat the tired horse of duty: he does not appear to think or care about what's right or wrong on a grand moral scale, he will do his job as a lawyer and apply the law as he finds it.

Here's where I decide he has no soul. There are many reasons why a nominee would give a an answer that makes him seem like a robot: he could've been poorly prepped (not the case here), he could be stupid (not the case here), he could be nervous (not the case here), or he might just be either evil or telling the truth. Judge Roberts seems unlikely to be moved by the plight of the weak and voiceless, and I don't think it's because he's evil, I think it's that he sincerely can't see past the books. As an attorney, I understand that a client should be advocated for with zeal, regardless of personal feelings, but as a human being I know that just because personal feelings can't interfere with representation doesn't mean that they cease to exist. "Yes Senator, of course I don't wish to hurt poor uninsured Americans or immigrant children trying to learn to read, but I was required by my oath to fight for my client with zeal, to brush my feelings aside and do everything within the law to articulate my client's position." That was something like the answer I think Senator Durbin (and I) had hoped for. We got everything that came after "but", everything except the part we wanted to hear. I don't think Judge Roberts should be stopped because he's evil, I think he should be stopped because he fails to show compassion.

Considering the rest of the hearings, this attempt (conscious or not) to isolate his judgment from the parties before him seems inconsistent with his repeated refusal to give his opinion on the grounds that the facts of each case may require a different decision. On it's face, I don't think Article III necessarily supports the notion that decisions must be wholly divorced from the people they affect. The sterile application of law without regard for the parties in a case might even tend to moot the distinction, for example, between de facto and de jure discrimination. Furthermore, if our judiciary is meant to interpret the law without an eye toward people, then why ban advisory opinions?

If we can divine any universal truths from The Simpsons (which we can), then I suspect that the automatic sliding doors at the store do not open for Judge Roberts. But then again, I have a hard time imagining that the man shops anywhere with automatic sliding doors. Maybe lacking a soul messes him up at airport entrances...

In any event, if you're still reading this, sorry it got so long and rambly, but if you live in Illinois, click on your Senators' names at the start of this post and tell them to oppose this nominee. If you live outside Illinois, find your Senators here. Tell them you don't wish to see our highest court stripped of the compassion and humanity that have allowed its members to escape the heavy yoke of stare decisis and oppressive legislation and put a human face on the issue before them, as they did when they saw Plessy for what it was and brought us closer to what we should be.

Maybe he's putting on an act for the right and will turn out to be a great reformer, but it seems unlikely, and I don't feel comfortable pegging the next few decades of case law to an optimistic "maybe."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Updates And Predictions

I predict that my inexcusable neglect of this little corner of cyberspace will hopefully be remedied soon. I mean it this time. I am in the process of securing permanent internet access at home, which will free me from the shackles of Panera's tyrannical hours of operation, and from having work interrupt my blogging at the office.

As far as updates go, the more observant among you will notice that my age, as it appears next to my little picture on the margin, has increased by one. This happened on Wednesday, and the names of those of you who did not call, write, or buy me something have been properly noted for retributive action. Additionally, I have added a new link to my pet project: the Chicago Alliance for the International Criminal Court. My efforts to get this thing off the ground have been frankly pathetic, so as part of a concerted effort to start doing everything better, I have decided to get cracking on this thing. Still in its infancy, the CAICC will one day include various local religious, civic, academic and social organizations and be a resounding voice of area support for US participation in the ICC. Much work remains to be done on the CAICC site, but at least it's up there.

I am off to Kansas City for the weekend to see the family and some friends, and to attend the Wizards-Metrostars match. I will be rooting against New York in that game, of course, while simultaneously praying that the Yankees give the Bosox the beating they so richly deserve, thereby regaining first place in the AL East and making me some cash.

Obviously I've been having many interesting discussions on Katrina, Rehnquist, and various other matters, and I will try to include my thoughts on them here in the coming days. Thank you for your patience...