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Discourse on race in the classroom

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race

Tressie McMillan Cottom has an excellent column up on Slate today about teaching structural racism in college and the general and unfortunate trend to run academia, including what happens in the classroom, like a business.

Essentially, Minneapolis Community and Technical College Shannon Gibney, an English and African diaspora studies professor, was reprimanded after more than one complaint of discrimination by white students who said they felt uncomfortable when learning about structural racism.

Of course, white students should feel uncomfortable when talking about race in the classroom, whether it’s historical or modern. And since when does being uncomfortable about a topic equal discrimination?

Just a few feet from both Tillman Hall, named for the flaming racist who helped found Clemson University, and the Strom Thurmond Institute, named for the South Carolina senator who was staunch proponent of segregation (It’s no coincidence, I don’t think, that directly above the institute, the sidewalk is designed in the shape of the Confederate flag), I took a class titled, “Whiteness in America,” and during that semester, I was quite uncomfortable to learn that in subtle and sometimes subconscious ways, whites have used color to their distinct advantage. As a native of the South, I was made to come to terms with the real possibility — many of my fellow students were met with the same sobering reality — that some of my descendants either had servants, indentured or otherwise, or were otherwise rabidly opposed to equality and may have harbored an irrational dislike or fear of black people.

To come to this realization as a 19-year-old is far from settling, but as Cottom points out, that often defines the educational process:

Learning is—should often be—uncomfortable for individuals. When universities have a mission to serve the public good, they balance the needs of individuals with benefits to society and the power of the majority against the humanity of the minority.

And running a college like a business directly defeats the purpose of both:

When colleges and universities become a market, there is no incentive to teach what customers would rather not know. When colleges are in the business of making customers comfortable, we are all poorer for it.

This is where the rubber meets the road for studies in racism and social equality, evolution, gender studies and other potentially controversial topics. The beautiful thing about college — and this is why I personally look back on those years with fondness — is the sheer number of “wow” moments that are pregnant in each lecture or classroom discussion. If students are going to college just to have their previously formed opinions affirmed, they shouldn’t bother picking up the first book, and colleges do them, and all of us, a disservice if they only reinforce what students might want to know about the nature of our world versus other truths that might rattle their cage.

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Written by Jeremy

December 3rd, 2013 at 7:42 pm

It’s a wonder we’re not all toast

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This is a time lapse map of every nuclear detonation that has taken place on Earth between 1945-1998. Two guesses as to which nation leads the pack.

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Written by Jeremy

November 29th, 2013 at 9:37 pm

‘Free Willy’ decidedly unfree

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For all its feel-good Hollywood charm, “Free Willy” was in fact a shamefully ironic movie since the whale that was used to tell a story about a freed orca was himself being held in captivity. His name was Keiko.

Although Keiko did not experience a terribly successful reintegration program, as he only lived about five years in the wild, pieces like the video below and the recent CNN special, “Blackfish,” continue to keep the issue of captive killer whales in the public’s conscience.

After watching “Blackfish,” one can’t help but feel equal amounts of sadness and anger that such social and emotive creatures essentially have their personalities lulled into robotism and isolationism so we humans can be entertained. SeaWorld, of course, claims it’s making important contributions in “education and science” by keeping orcas and other animals in captivity by, presumably, studying them, while at the same time failing to admit they are exploiting animals for profit.

For what it’s worth, SeaWorld officials would have helped their case mightily had they agreed to an on-camera interview with CNN to tell their side of the story. As “Blackfish” reports, SeaWorld refused multiple attempts at interviews.

For further reading, here is SeaWorld’s response to the film, along with some documents that supposedly show their instructive work at the parks.

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Written by Jeremy

November 11th, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Tea Party post Obama

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I wonder what will happen with the Tea Party when Obama leaves office and none of the over the top alarmist warnings come to fruition about impending doom and an American socialist state.

Will they just latch on to some other wild conspiracies or will they disappear into oblivion? I hope for the latter but will bet on the former.

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Written by Jeremy

November 9th, 2013 at 1:10 am

God bless Mayor Rob Ford

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At least Mayor Rob Ford has finally decided to come clean about his apparently insatiable urge for narcotics, alcohol and adventure. How many public servants would confess to such a serious allegation?

Note: The beginning of this post originally read, “At least Mayor Rob Ford is honest about his …” activities. After a comment from a reader and even though this post was more or less tongue in cheek anyway, I realized that describing the man as “honest” in this case was too strong and too laudatory since he has spent the last several months denying claims that he, indeed, smoked crack cocaine in a drunken stupor. I maintain that most politicians would deny such a serious claim to the grave or just resign. I’m guessing Ford’s admission was a calculated political move, and say what you want about his character, it’ll probably pay off. Thanks to Fil Salustri for calling me on this one.

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Written by Jeremy

November 9th, 2013 at 1:00 am

Health care status quo

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The rollout, especially the website, has been a boondoggle for sure, but people are being dropped from coverage because their old health insurance policies don’t measure up to the standards of Obamacare, which means the people that were dropped had bad policies to begin with, whether they realized it or not.

Obama should be embarrassed that he said time and again, “If you like your coverage you can keep it,” but the fact is, the folks who were dropped had shit policies from the start. America either joins the scores of nations (Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, Australia, Denmark, Portugal, Greece, South Korea, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Switzerland) that have instituted some form of universal health care or we become satisfied with the status quo.

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Written by Jeremy

November 9th, 2013 at 12:49 am

How many countries?

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One hundred ninety-three or 195 or 200, give or take, and depending on who you ask:

Via CGPGrey.

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Written by Jeremy

October 24th, 2013 at 11:55 pm

GOP fail

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Now that the Republicans have sufficiently embarrassed themselves while managing to embarrass the country with their dangerous game of brinkmanship, it’s safe to say, as does this New York Times blog post, the strategy of using the federal default to win political battles in Washington is probably all but dead in the water, much like the GOP will be if it doesn’t purge itself of the Tea Party and toe a somewhat more moderate line a la Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

In addition to appearing not only unprofessional but sophomoric in their attempts to hold the government hostage until their demands were met, Republicans in the House also looked incredibly weak since the strategy, as we all know now, failed and failed miserably. President Obama and the Democrats were not going to flinch on defunding Obamacare, a bill that was considered, vetted and passed by a democratically elected House and Senate and upheld by the Supreme Court.

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Written by Jeremy

October 17th, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Hijacking of GOP now complete

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Rep. John Boehner has now effectively lost control of his own party in the U.S. House in what Paul Krugman has called an “unprecedented” level of partisanship on Capitol Hill amid the Tea Party’s threats of a government shutdown. It’s almost partisanship within partisanship as the rancor seems to be solely taking place within the ranks of the Republican Party, as establishment Republicans butt heads with the increasingly vocal and powerful once-fringe crowd.

The House plans to vote on a measure that would undercut Obamacare in an effort to avert a government shutdown. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Senate have — quite futilely — attempted to work on a plan that would hold muster with the Tea Party crowd. Short of defunding Obamacare completely, however, such a plan would not win Tea Party support.

According to a report from CNN today:

In a strict party line vote, Senate Democrats restored funding for President Barack Obama’s signature health care reforms that House Republicans had eliminated in their original proposal to extend government funding beyond the end of the current fiscal year on Monday.

A similar 54-44 Senate vote then sent the measure back to the House, leaving Boehner with the choice of urging his divided Republican caucus to vote with Democrats to pass the Senate plan, or to yield again to the tea party wing that seeks to undermine Obamacare.

As Krugman noted in his column, “The Crazy Party,” only 13 times since World War II has the president’s party controlled both the House and the Senate, and this is not one of those times: The GOP controls the House right now, while the Democrats control the Senate. Not in decades, and maybe never in American history, have we seen such a stubborn and pretentious political wing as the Tea Party, which is essentially willing to close the doors in Washington unless their demands are met, a rancorous move Krugman equates with blackmail:

He writes:

Nonetheless, the United States government continued to function. Most of the time divided government led to compromise; sometimes to stalemate. Nobody even considered the possibility that a party might try to achieve its agenda, not through the constitutional process, but through blackmail — by threatening to bring the federal government, and maybe the whole economy, to its knees unless its demands were met.

… Today, by contrast, Republicans are coming off an election in which they failed to retake the presidency despite a weak economy, failed to retake the Senate even though far more Democratic than Republican seats were at risk, and held the House only through a combination of gerrymandering and the vagaries of districting.Democrats actually won the popular ballot for the House by 1.4 million votes. This is not a party that, by any conceivable standard of legitimacy, has the right to make extreme demands on the president.

And this is why I called Tea Party politicians in Washington pretentious, and why I called Sye Ten Bruggencate pretentious for his claims about religion. Amid stronger leadership, the Tea Party would be in no position to be demanding anything, yet because of the weakness of Boehner and other mainstream GOP leaders in Washington, its members are doing exactly that. Pretension is nothing more than stubbornness wrapped in credulity.

On second thought, one shouldn’t feel sorry for Boehner, since the rise of the Tea Party took place right under his nose, and he was hardly caught unawares. Indeed, for kowtowing to the fringe and allowing the Tea Party to hijack his party, perhaps “cowardly” and inept are more apt.

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Syria and presidential power

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Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School, made a compelling case today in The Atlantic that regardless of whether President Barack Obama gets Congressional approval for some kind of military strike in Syria, he will have effectively increased presidential power to declare war, rather than, as some have contended, scaled it back:

If Congress says no to Obama, it will not significantly restrain future presidents from using military force. At best, it will preserve current understandings about presidential power. If Congress says yes, it may bestow significant new powers on future presidents – and it will also commit the United States to violating international law. For Obama plans to violate the United Nations Charter, and he wants Congress to give him its blessing.

According to the straight forward United Nations Charter — Syria is a member state — a U.N. security council, not an individual nation,

shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security. — Chapter VII, Article 39

and according to articles 41 and 42 of the same chapter,

41. The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.

42. Should the Security Council consider that measures provided for in Article 41 would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate, it may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.

This clearly states that other measures of mitigation should be attempted before any military strikes can occur, and if and when the Security Council determines that force is necessary,

46. Plans for the application of armed force shall be made by the Security Council with the assistance of the Military Staff Committee.

What is conspicuously missing from the charter is that individual member states may not decide independently and out of the purview of the United Nations Security Council — which is the United States in the case with Syria — that military action should be taken against another member state. Further, Syria has not threatened the U.S., so there has not been an act of aggression in theory or in practice. Still, Obama has said given the U.N.’s apparent ineptness in holding Syria accountable, the U.S. has the authority to take action.

Not so, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations charter and/or when the Security Council approves of such action. That is a firm principle of the United Nations.

With or without Congressional approval, Obama seems resigned to move forward with plans to crack down on Syria, and I would wager that if he does, future American presidents will have near limitless power to police the world. George W. Bush’s notorious authorization for the use of military force in Iraq still stands as a black eye in American foreign policy. A new AUMF has been issued on Syria.

Here is Balkin again:

… the Syria episode offers Obama­ and future presidents­ new opportunities for increasing presidential power. Obama has submitted a fairly broad authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) proposal to Congress. It is not limited either temporally or geographically; it does not specifically exclude the use of ground troops; and it requires only that the president determine that there is a plausible connection between his use of force and the use of weapons of mass destruction in the Syrian civil war. If Congress adopts this proposal, President Obama ­and every future president ­can simply add it to the existing body of AUMFs and congressional authorizations.

While I’m not an isolationist by any stretch and think that the United States has a role to play on the world stage, we may be peering into the diplomatic abyss on this one. America should be partnering with other developed nations in identifying the best steps on moving forward when issues like the one in Syria arises instead of going it alone. Unfortunately, Obama’s star seems to be fading, even after finding and killing Osama bin Laden and avenging the lives of 3,000 Americans, and he seems to need or want another strong military success on which to hang his legacy, particularly after the Benghazi debacle. One has to ask: Where is the Obama who castigated Bush for his strong arm approach to foreign policy and where is the Obama who touted the use of diplomacy over force? Was that not essentially his raison d’être on foreign policy?

***

Addendum: Chapter 1, Article 2, number 4 of the United Nations charter makes it illegal for member states to wage strikes against other member states:

All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

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