The silent Iranian Revolution


In 1979, religious fundamentalists overthrew the government in Iran. Built-up by the repressive conditions of the despotic Shah, who despite his autocracy was fiercely secular and even admiring toward the west, religious groups loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini, an Islamic cleric, engaged in an armed struggle to win control of the country.

Iran, which to that point had been a model of secularist values in the Middle East, quickly turned its back on the progress. Bolstered by popular support, Khomeini took supreme control of the country, and began a brutal crackdown on all dissenters and minorities. Equality between the sexes, once a goal in Iran, became a distant dream as misogynists only reinforced patriarchal conditions in the country. Iran, as well as countries with similar stories such as Afghanistan, only took a step backward since being taken over by religious zealots. They have turned their back on the 21st century, and all the values that go along with it.

Today, Israel stands on the precipice of its own “silent Iranian revolution.” However, the reactionary and misogynistic brigades of today will rely upon votes, not violence, and ballots, not bombs, to achieve their goals.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, comprised with some centrist elements, has collapsed, new elections will take place in 10 days time. Opinion polls prognosticate that Netanyahu will likely be returned as prime minister in the parliamentary elections, which feature a plethora of parties as a result of the nationwide proportional representation system. However, more significant than Netanyahu’s likely re-election is that his most extreme allies, namely the far-right religious parties such as The Jewish Home, look destined to retain their strong presence in the Knesset at the expense of those aforementioned centrist parties.

Originally, one of Israel’s key advantages compared to its backwards neighbors was its dedication to secular values. Even though, as early as the state’s declaration of independence, there were references to the state’s dedication to being a home for the Jewish people, this sentiment echoed the people and not the religion. Many of the state’s founding fathers, including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzchak Rabin, were avowed atheists.

Unfortunately, as time went on, the population has become far more religious, heavily comprised of individuals with little appreciation for democratic values. Dedication to free speech/expression, minority rights and equality of the sexes has particularly been ignored by these backwards, reactionary and extreme parties.

Under Netanyahu’s stewardship, the government enacted an anti-democratic law, ostensibly designed to protect against well-organized boycotts against the state. The law allows for private individuals to launch litigious, frivolous and punitive suits against those advocating for such boycotts, chilling the free speech rights of those advocating for dissenting opinions in Israeli society. This illiberal, authoritarian law was heralded by the aforementioned religious and far-right parties.

They have similarly done their best to alienate the Arab minority within Israel. Long heralded for its colorblind and ethnicity-blind laws that extended equal protections and democratic rights to all citizens, Jewish, Arab or something else entirely, these protections have been all but eviscerated in recent years. In 2010, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his racist ilk attempted to push through a so-called loyalty oath that would have required citizens, of all ethnicities and religions, to pledge fealty toward the “Jewish state.” The heinous proposal, which sought to humiliate religious and ethnic minorities, was derided by newspapers and even cabinet ministers as simply fascist in nature.

Perhaps most perniciously, ultra-religious groups have begun expanding segregation based on gender in public spaces. Be it cemeteries, sidewalks or even buses, women are often compelled to occupy second-class conditions as a way of fulfilling misogyny and sexism masquerading as religious values. Former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, one of the centrist politicians recently sacked by Netanyahu and a key rival to him in this month’s election, attempted to criminalize these abhorrent practices but received immense pushback from religious societies.

The ultra-religious have exponentially grown in population and influence in Israel as a result of the indefensibly generous deal they get from government welfare. These individuals simply get a check from the government, subsidizing their unemployment, and spend all days at Synagogues or Yeshivas, contributing absolutely nothing to society. Most Israelis agree they are a drain on the economy, but political realities suggest they are also a drain on the morality and progress of the state. Like the fundamentalists who propped up Khomeini in Iran, their vision for the future is theocratic and deleterious.

In the next Israeli parliamentary election, the hard and religious right looks likely to continue their stranglehold in power and continue to implement their harmful, reactionary and fascist agenda upon the state. For all those curious to see how theocracy can work out for a Middle Eastern country, one need not look any further than Iran. For the sake of Israel, which despite all these criticisms is still at heart a liberal democracy (albeit with many, many flaws), it should seek a different path. Their silent Iranian Revolution may not be silent much longer.

The two big things wrong with politics

I tried for a good ten minutes to find a title that briefly and succinctly describes our broken political reality without using any type of expletive; I failed. It goes without saying that, particularly at the national level, the red-versus-blue tribal mentality of the day is extraordinarily awful. I’ve been trying to figure out the underlying causes for a couple years now, and think I have finally zeroed in on two central ailments.

The first is an adulteration of sincere information, which runs hand-in-hand with the demonization of views that challenge one’s own. This, in my opinion, has by far the most deleterious consequences.

As I have noted repeatedly in a somewhat jovial manner, the degradation of the consumption of “healthy” information has been somewhat rapid in this state. Newspapers are shriveling, news radio stations are shuttering and local television news has largely been reduced to 30 minutes of shooting coverages and cats of the week. Make no mistake, this is not because of a lack of competent journalists in all mediums. It is because the average Texan — indeed, American — is far more comfortable getting his “news” from the television monitors at a gas station than in something he actually has to read. I purposefully say he because the problem is significantly worse with men.

However, apart from apathy on the part of the average citizen, many political inclined individuals have moved away from the fair arbiters of newspapers and other unbiased news sources. Fox News and MSNBC are rather trite examples, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Many blogs allow partisans to create a completely alternate universe where their fantasies can become reality –ever so briefly. For a liberal in Austin who got 100% of her politics from Burnt Orange Report or Addicting Info, perhaps there could have been genuine shock to the utter shellacking that Wendy Davis and the Democratic slate received in Texas last year.

However, to cast this issue as equally bad on both sides would be monstrously disingenuous. When it comes to blogs and other online sources that spin the truth or just make stuff up, nobody even comes close to the Tea Party. I’m friends on Facebook with a few rabble-rousers within those organizations, and I see no shortage of evocative headlines from sketchy sources littering their timeline. They are the political equivalent of the National Enquirer, though that would probably be an insult to the Enquirer for the 5% of stuff they don’t make up.

Take this recent article from “Next Generation Patriots” about a supposed report linking Hillary Clinton to the Benghazi terrorist attack once and for all. Nevermind that even the Republican committee that orchestrated the investigations have cleared the administration. This is a BOMBSHELL REPORT! Sadly, all too many people believe this drek, because somehow they have been deluded into thinking that these uber-partisan online tabloids are more reliable than actual newspapers. I am baffled and speechless.

Similarly, I saw a Facebook friend share this nearly year-old post from “America’s Freedom Fighters,” which alleges that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the American government. At this point, I’m really at a loss for words. Are the authors of these sites actually delusional, like in a clinical way? Or do they just sit around a big room thinking of provocative things to completely lie about? And yet, individuals heavily involved in Tea Party causes, the 1% of the political process in this state, actually believe them and are influenced by them.

The decline of the information process has a companion in the elimination of robust opinion journalism. In my view, the harmful effects are comparable. We have become a nation of echo chamber dwelling simpletons, who become offended by anything that challenges our own preconceived notions.

For example, since the summer, I have served on the editorial board of The Daily Texan (one of the top 10 largest newspapers in the state), also serving as an editor for the opinion/editorial section. I like to think that the Texan runs our editorial content the way a reputable publication should. For the three semesters I have sat on the editorial board, our consensus opinion has been somewhat left-of-center, but we have always gone to lengths to ensure we have a plethora of conservative voices as columnists.

Sadly, few appear to appreciate this dedication to diversity in the editorial pages. The columns chock-full of liberal talking points get spread far-and-wide by like-minded individuals and groups; same for the conservative talking points. The few times I have shared columns that I disagreed with, but were particularly thought-provoking nonetheless, I faced nothing but derision by the “Tea Party Democrats” who incessantly accused me of being some type of horrendous political traitor who should be ashamed of myself.

Opinion content is not about validating all of your existent beliefs. Rather, it is about challenging your conventions. I have always been raised to believe if you cannot defend your views and positions against criticism and derision, they weren’t very good beliefs to begin with. With politics, that is especially true.

I subscribe to three magazines: The Atlantic, The Economist and Texas Monthly. If I had extra time and money, there would likely be others on that list, but those three in particular have always struck me as understanding how opinion content should work. They are unafraid to taking bold, new positions, and they defend these points with logic and reason remarkably well.

Particularly with the Economist, I found myself Freshman year of college disagreeing with a great deal of its content. The sophomoric juvenile in me wanted to just stop reading and retreat to the trite, backwards leftism of The Nation or Mother Jones —but the adult kept on reading. After a semester or two, two major developments had occurred in my political thought process. First, I had gotten a lot better at defending my tried-and-true liberal positions in the face of unwavering criticism. For example, the Economist is thoroughly skeptical of affirmative action, a program that I have always greatly supported. I like to think my defense of that position has been made more competent.

Second, and perhaps most important, some of my lousier political positions changed. Most notably, when I was in high school, I was a paleoliberal on topics such as free trade and protectionism. I opposed NAFTA. I favored silly, outdated things like tariffs and foolishly thought that such a course of action — say, by heavily taxing Japanese automobile imports —  could do things like pay down our deficit and assist in economic prosperity.

The more I did research inspired by those articles, the more I realized that free trade — arguably the Economist’s biggest trademark — is not an inherently bad idea. My introduction to economics class at Brandeis — a “saltwater school” in Boston, not a “freshwater school” in Chicago — corroborated this, and that was that.

Sadly, few people use opinion-based political content for such reasons anymore. All too often, it’s just used as a way to support what one already believes. Anything with which one disagrees with is immediately labeled heresy or worse.

The second, and admittedly probably less important, problem plaguing our political system is a total elimination of respect for authority. Let me clarify: I do not mean blind allegiance to one’s government or jingoistic patriotism or the like. Instead, I mean respecting the opinions of experts in their pertinent fields.

The most egregious example of this, in my opinion, is the Tea Party total adulteration of the word “constitutional.” In their topsy-turvy world, the constitution has taken on this divine power in which it is revered as a truly perfect piece of literature. “Look to the constitution” is the cliche that is the answer to nearly every single political quandary, much how “look to the Bible” is the trite retort for a proselytizing fundamentalist.

First, it goes without saying that the constitution is far from perfect (3/5ths compromise, anyone?), but the real issue is a fundamental misunderstanding of how we adjudicate disputes about the nation’s founding charter: the court system.

Even otherwise reasonable conservatives fall into this trap, quickly calling Obamacare some type of “unconstitutional” trainwreck. Most criticisms fall within the realm of one’s opinion, but the constitutionality of a law is not one of them. The Supreme Court explicitly upheld the crux of Obamacare’s constitutionality in 2012. By definition, that means it’s constitutional. I would say you’re supposed to learn about stuff like judicial review in the 11th grade, but the Oklahoma Legislature is definitely doing their best to prevent that.

The Tea Party, egged-on by those aforementioned political tabloids, has taken it upon themselves to usurp the judicial system’s authority to call something constitutional. To a lesser extent, the left has done this as well. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a Democrat insist the campaign finance restrictions struck down in Citizens United were indeed “constitutional,” I could’ve bought an extra Dr Pepper at lunch today. You might disagree with the decision (I do), but, by definition, it’s not constitutional. My father, an attorney, made a point of teaching me that lesson in 2008 after the District of Columbia v. Heller case. If 14 year-old Noah can understand, you can too!

Sadly, the distrust of lawyers on legal matters is not the only example of such willful ignorance. Teachers have lost their ability to teach children without criticism and, of course, doctors and other medical professionals are accused of not knowing better than parents on medical knowledge. This was recently exemplified by the recent brouhaha over vaccines.

These deleterious beliefs of one’s superiority over everyone and anyone — no matter how knowledgeable or qualified on pertinent issues — have penetrated even ostensibly professional quarters of our society. I recently found Greg Groogan, a reporter for the local Fox affiliate, promulgating that exact type of hooey, specifically on the vaccine issue. (If you want to have some fun, check out the succeeding conversation on Twitter. I called him out, and he went off on me in especially sanctimonious and patronizing way. This, from someone who just straight-up fabricated stuff during the last mayoral election.)

This was a little more longwinded than I was going for, but those are what I believe to be the two most harmful impediments to a functional political system that we currently face. I fully admit I have broken these rules myself on a variety of occasions, but I have recently been trying my best to follow them.

Horwitz on ‘going Blue’

For some reason, there are a large number of people in this State who think that, if Wendy Davis runs for Governor, she will win. Personally, I find that statement to be utterly ridiculous, but admire the optimism from those who believe it. Even more Texans believe, once again foolishly, that Julian Castro can win the Governor’s mansion in 2018. Once again, the optimism is admired from this tired, old cynic. But I do not want to talk about how long our road to victory still is, the Editorial Board has already done that. I would like to talk about how, once Democrats break the losing-streak we’ve had since 1996, serious challenges will persist. Indeed, as long as the road to our first Democratic victory will be, the road to a Texas that is as blue as California will be even longer.

As much as I would love the peaches & cream belief that a single Democratic victory ushers in an unprecedented era of Democratic dominance, it simply won’t happen. Here’s why:

Let us assume, arguendo, that Julian Castro is victorious in his campaign to deny Governor Greg Abbott a second term in 2018, the same year his twin brother, Joaquin Castro is elected to the United States Senate by defeating first-term Senator Ted Cruz. The election will be quite notable, because while the pundits and Democratic activists had been saying it all along, the real establishment had been far more pessimistic about the entire ordeal. Accordingly, Democrats ran really poor candidates against the Agriculture Commissioner, Brandon Creighton; the Land Commissioner, George P. Bush, and; the Comptroller, Harvey Hilderbran. All these officeholders crushed the mediocre, placeholder Democratic opposition. Meanwhile, some of the Statewide spots on the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals lacked even a single Democratic opponent.

Democrats made only meager gains in the State Legislature, though one bright spot was Texas Democratic Party Chairwoman Wendy Davis defeating Konni Burton and winning back her old Senate seat.

Democrats wouldn’t make such a mistake more than once, so they will probably start running competent candidates in all the Statewide seats thereafter. They won’t win, though, for at least a few more election cycles.

The other reason a Democratic governor’s election in 2018 would be invaluable is that she or he could veto the redistricting plan. Under current maps, it would be almost impossible for Democrats to win more than 65 seats in the House, and I cannot image them winning many more than that by 2021. Accordingly, a heavily Republican Legislature will draw the maps for the 2020s. For these reasons, I cannot image Democrats taking over the State Legislature until the 2030s.

Another problem is something that the Democrats will surely face in their first defensive position, say 2022:

By 2022, the national mood will have turned against the Democrats in full force. Despite President Clinton’s re-election just two years earlier, the nation had grown weary of the 14 years of continuous Democratic rule in Washington. The frustration was taken out on the local level as Land Commissioner George P. Bush soundly defeated Governor Castro in the 2022 midterm elections. Republicans, still controlling back majorities in the State Legislature, pushed for another mid-decade redistricting plan–the second in the past three decades.

Things still hadn’t turned around by 2024, when Republicans take back the White House after 16 years, and the new Republican President’s coattails sweep a creationist into the Senate, denying Joaquin Castro a second term.

Once the Democrats start taking Statewide positions, they will be fighting hard with the Republicans to keep them for the foreseeable future. To give some background, Illinois has voted Democratic in the past six Presidential election, but the Land of Lincoln will probably elected a Republican governor next year. To this Bostonian, need I say more than Scott Brown?

So make absolutely no mistake, Texas is not going blue any time soon. The State will go purple at some point in the next 10-15 years, but I will have grey white hair before the pigment is blue.

Why I am a Democrat

My Grandfather was an ardent LBJ Democrat, and my father has made the full metamorphosis from Baby Boomer Rebel Rouser to Obama Democrat (which is every bit as hypocritical and intellectually anathema as its predecessor). Needless to say, both of these men did and do hold much more liberal views than me on most static (i.e., non-social) issues.

My freshman year of High Schools I founded a club, along with two good political friends, to foster political discussion in a non-partisan manner. The year was 2009, President Obama was still riding high and the Tea Party was just something that little girls did in their spare time. We named the club the “Young Independents Club.” This idea of independence and non-partisanship became deeply ingrained into the fabric of the club. While both the leadership and membership of the organization, during its four year existence, were dominated by young, liberal Jews, it never felt like a Young Democratic club. During that time, I fervently defended myself as an Independent, albeit a liberal one.

This all begs the question of why I have been such a loud supporter of the Democratic Party in the last year. Moderates typically make the point of noting which political party they agree with “more than 50% of the time.” That logic is not applicable in the least to myself. You see, while I probably do agree with the Democratic Party a little more than half of the time, it does not mean I agree with the Republican Party a little less than half of the time. In fact, I probably agree with them roughly 0% of the time.

That is because we do not have a centre-left party and a centre-right party, we have a centre-right party and a far-right party. Adlai Stevenson vs. Dwight Eisenhower was an election between a centre-left and centre-right candidate. If I had been 21 on Election Day back then, I would have been put squarely in the middle of these two candidates. Similarly, a hypothetical election between Bobby Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller.

I’m not afraid to admit I am a moderate, and I will defend that position all day long. I believe Capitalism and Free Markets are the greatest economic system in the world, and I get uncomfortable when Elizabeth Warren Or Howard Dean starts talking about a socialized economy. I believe that a dovish foreign policy is horrendously naive and just plain stupid sometimes. Needless to say, going to a liberal arts college in Massachusetts, it is not that rare of an occurrence for me to be the most conservative person in the room.

Simply put, I am a Democrat because I am not a Republican, and I feel very, very strongly about not being a Republican. It is a pet peeve of mine when someone politically apathetic admits that Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum is “crazy,” but the rest of the Republican Party (read: Mitt Romney) is okay. To borrow a colloquialism, the inmates have taken over the asylum, as individuals such as Bachmann and Santorum are now considered the mainstream of the Republican Party. The latter individual received a hero’s welcome when he visited the Texas Capitol yesterday.

For example, I strongly believe in the right of couples to get married, regardless of their sexual orientation. That is not a fringe opinion, by any means. 58% of Americans support gay marriage, as do over 3/4 of young people. All three major political parties in the United Kingdom have supported the position for many years (before the Democratic Party did, for that matter). The Texas Republican Party, however, couldn’t even pass a bill this session to remove an unenforceable, directly unconstitutional law that prohibits “gay sodomy.” The party’s 2012 platform declares that homosexuality “tears at the fabric of society.”

I strongly believe in gun control. That is not a fringe opinion, either. 86% of Americans support universal background checks, among other hefty regulations on firearms. This is a non-issue in every other nation in the Civilized World. Again, the Texas Republican Party lives in an alternate reality, wishing to allow college students to bring their loaded weapons on campus or criminalize enforcement of Federal Laws.

There are countless other issues like this, including reproductive rights, equal pay, immigration, education and others. In each and every one, there is only one political party that exists within reality, the Democratic Party. That, in essence, is why I am a Democrat.

More thoughts on recent tragedies

I am not an emotional person. Hell, I can be pretty aloof. While I can assure anyone that I am, in fact, empathetic and saddened after learning of mass tragedies, I have always felt a sense of distance.

For anyone in my generation, 9/11 was the first big “when were you then” moment; the first international major event to happen within my memory. I was 7, for the record, but I remember the day vividly. At the time, I had never been to New York, but I had certainly flown on an airplane before, and understood the concept of one crashing into a skyscraper quite well. Still, there remained a sense of distance and isolation from the event.

In the years since, there have been plenty of attacks, however, in places that I have visited. I had been to Fort Hood before the rampage there, and I had been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington before the shooting there as well. But there has never been an act of terror committed somewhere I lived, that is, until Monday.

The marathon bomb went on off near the finish line, on Bolyston Street. That area of town is not when that I frequent, but I have certainly been there before. Throughout the day, more news came in about possible other bombs being found throughout the town. One of the possible locations was the subway stop in Harvard Square. I use that station, on average, three times a week. At that moment, finally, it became all too real. Somewhere that was a part of my life was nearly a part of a terrorist attack.

Immediately, I began running the scenarios in my head. This past Monday, known as Patriots’ Day in Boston, was a major holiday observed by many closures throughout the city. As it so happened, my college did not have a holiday, but many did. What if my college had cancelled class? What if I would have decided to go to marathon? I would have probably ended up using the Harvard Square subway station.

Now, as any avid follower of the news knows, there was never a bomb in Harvard Square. It was an example of the non-news the abhorrence known as CNN decided to report this past week. But that didn’t stop my heart from pounding, and that wasn’t even the worst part.

Late on Thursday night, after the media had released their photos, the suspects in Monday’s bombings allegedly murdered an MIT police officer before carjacking an SUV and leading police on a chase. The chase finally ended in the middle of Watertown, a little town to the west of Boston, with grenades, explosions and gunfire. I literally live in the next town over from Watertown, and I have family who live even closer. I go through Watertown more days than not, it seems. Heck, I ate dinner there tonight. As CNN and the Houston Chronicle began discussing the exact street the police had last seen the victim, I knew exactly where they were talking about.

The police set up headquarters at the Watertown Target, the Target I shop at. To say it was an eerie feeling would be an understatement. At this point, the alleged terrorist was less than a mile away from my family, so, as any good brother would do, I stayed up all night watching the news, standing guard and making sure the activity did not go into the next neighborhood over. Luckily it didn’t, and they caught both of the suspects.

I don’t have much of a point to make here, just that it takes a local incident to really put things in perspective. I was never in any danger whatsoever, and I don’t even know anyone who knows anyone directly affected, but it was tough watching my (second) city go through this mess. I want to thank all the brave law enforcement officials who dedicated life and limb to catch the perpetrators, and, once again, my deepest condolences to all of the victims.

Obama fans must realize dissent is needed

From my day job at The Justice. I’m going to take a lot of flak for this.

Last autumn I voted to re-elect President Obama and, when he was announced the winner on election night. I too was one of the hundreds of students giddy with joy, celebrating in the Shapiro Campus Center. Despite this, both before and during the election season, and now after the election and into Obama’s second term, I have made no secret of the fact that there are a number of issues in which I sharply disagree with the President—namely his positions on civil liberties issues and his weakness in negotiations. However, worse than any of Obama’s shortcomings, are the shortcomings of many of his supporters—specifically, those who are intolerant of dissent toward the President.

It has become almost political heresy to criticize Obama within most progressive circles. I have alienated colleagues, friends and family, simply by stating a way in which the President has failed to deliver on part of his election agenda.

Counter to what Fox News or other allegedly conservatively-biased news outlets would have you believe, this is not because Obama has instituted a cult of personality, instructing his supporters to worship him. Instead, the intolerance of dissent that has formed was spontaneously created because progressives are still naïvely waiting for their man on a white horse to lead them into the promised land.

Obama has continued most of police-state policies of the previous Bush administration, such as the continued use of Guantanamo Bay and the USA PATRIOT Act. Orwellian measures, such as ubiquitous wiretaps and surveillance, have been extended from George W. Bush’s presidency. In addition, Obama has added a few authoritative measures of his own, such as the recent Defense department appropriations act, which gives the right to indefinitely detain American citizens, and the notorious drone program. However, Obama, when running for president in 2008, never actually claimed to be against these sorts of measures. Obama voted to renew the Patriot Act while in the Senate in 2005, and voted to extend blatantly unconstitutional National Security Agency Wiretaps in 2008.

However, progressives and other Democrats still flocked to support him, seeing Obama through his lens of hope and change, as an inspirational figure, rather than the fallible politician he is.

Yet if one dares to criticize the President for continuing these policies and legislation that, historically, have had no place in the Democratic Party, they are unfairly called out by fellow progressives for splitting the party. For example, when Senator Rand Paul recently filibustered President Obama’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, only one Senate Democrat, Oregon Senator RonWyden, publically came to his support.

Senator Wyden was not punished by his party in any direct way; his influence on powerful Senate Committees was not diminished. However, the 54 other Senate Democrats, many of which have otherwise friendly records in Civil Liberties, were painfully silent, out of fear of publicly rebuking Obama. The frightening zeal that has developed among many of Obama’s supporters is eerily reminiscent of President Bush’s frequent charges of “us vs. them.” As Television host Bill Maher said in 2009, when discussing this very problem, “I like Obama too, [but] let’s not make it a religion.” Indeed, many of Obama’s supporters have developed an almost cult-like reverence for the man, seeing his actions as infallible and his errors are nonexistent. Last year, former Democratic Representative Arthur Davis even commented upon this phenomenon, remarking in a Politico.comop-ed that “the Obama camp looks ominously like a cult of personality that tolerates no dissent.”

However, this is not actually Obama’s fault. He simply has a set of political views, which he did not especially hide when running for office, and is now implementing his agenda based on those views. Just as how Republicans measure up their current politicians to Ronald Reagan like a yard stick, as some sort of perfect conservative demagogue, I fear that progressives will do the same with Obama.

Progressives are wrong to see Obama as anything more than he is: a fallible politician.

In our country, dissent should be celebrated, even from sources usually in agreement with each other. The Democratic Party’s internal debates and divisions in the 20th century are what brought the current centre-left party of today into existence. Unwavering support of any politician is wrong, and it is disquieting to see that some progressives seem to care more about an individual person than the policies they supposedly stand for.

Euphemisms are causing the English language to erode

Pretty irrelevant to Texas/Houston politics, but I figure a little fun to start off yalls’ week. From my day job at The Justice.

A euphemism is defined as a non-harmful phrase or word used to substitute another word or phrase that is seen as, in some way, unpleasant. These words and phrases, though created with the best possible intentions, are slowly causing the English language to decay.
For example, penitentiaries used to be led by a warden. In an effort to seem politically correct, penitentiaries, prisons and jails have been renamed to the, allegedly less controversial, title of “correctional facility” or “detention facility.” The wardens, as the leaders, are now referred to as the “correctional facility supervisor” or “detention facility supervisor.” With these new euphemisms, the words “penitentiary” and “warden,” which had no other use besides describing an actual prison or its leader, have been replaced. These old words are slowly disappearing from the English language, being replaced by softer phrases. The allegedly harsh words have been written out of the language, for fear of being offensive. It is one thing to replace an allegedly offensive or harsh word with another word meaning the same thing, but these euphemisms are simply removing the words from our lexicons and replacing them with presumably innocuous phrases. 
It is true that the English language, specifically in the United States, differs greatly from some other languages in that, here in the United States, the government does not directly control the words; their creation is simply spontaneous. However, the language is controlled by the oligarchy of the nation, essentially the top one percent who own companies which may write the dictionaries. 
There are hundreds of other examples of this phenomenon, many of which are highlighted in a famous George Carlin comedy routine, representing a quite troubling phenomenon. In George Orwell’s famous book 1984, depicting a totalitarian, dystopian future in the British Isles, the English language has been abandoned in favor of a new tongue, known as “Newspeak.” In Newspeak, the number of words was greatly diminished to a point where concepts disliked by the rulers were removed from the language. The idea was that if you removed the words for negative occurrences or actions, the actual occurrences or actions somehow disappear. Similarly, even though the rough words of penitentiary and warden have been removed, the roughness and harshness of prisons still remain. For, even though a “correctional facility” sounds nicer than a “prison,” it isn’t. An inmate at Guantanamo Bay could be described as undergoing “enhanced interrogation” rather than torture, but he is still being tortured. If a woman is described as “sexually assaulted,” she has still been raped, even though many states, including my home of Texas, will use the former term in its penal code.
In this crusade for euphemisms, the most egregious assault at the integrity of our language is in the sphere of disabled people, with an example known as a “people-first language.” In these examples, euphemistic advocates have argued that instead of labeling a disabled individual with a preceding adjective, which has been allegedly perceived as dehumanizing, any conditions should come after the acknowledgement of the person’s humanity. For example, instead of “blind person,” it would be “person with visual impairment.” Such a concept is wrong for two reasons. First, the syntax of the English language places adjectives before nouns, as a general rule. Thus, grammar rules could become the second casualty in euphemism’s crusade. Second, most organizations representing the interests of different disabled people reject this concept of people-first language, explaining it is not necessary. In 1993, for example, the American National Federation for the Blind condemned the concept at their national conference, explaining that they strongly disagreed with the use of such euphemisms. Additionally, organizations representing the deaf community have strongly condemned this concept. Notable autistic individuals, including a man named Jim Sinclair who wrote a strongly worded 2011 New York Times op-ed on the topic, have also voiced disapproval of such a concept. Again, there remains an idea that, as George Carlin put in his famous monologue on the subject, that “if you change the name of the condition, somehow you will change the condition.” Referring to the blind as “persons with visual impairment” may seem to mitigate the severity of the condition, but it does not. 
It is a common theme in the media to say the uneducated youth, or other delinquent urbanites, are polluting or helping to dismantle the English language through the use of slang or neologisms. However, throughout much of history, terms first coined as slang quickly become accepted nomenclature. It is the well-to-do, educated elite who are dismantling the language, through their use of euphemisms that mitigate the diversity of the vocabulary, providing needless exceptions to grammatical syntax rules. 

In defense of a Democratic District Attorney

I voted for Mike Anderson. It pained me, and my father threatened to stop talking to me because of it, but I could not bear the thought of someone like Lloyd Wayne Oliver becoming DA, even more than I could not bear the thought of someone like Anderson becoming DA.

I expected most of my (Democratic/Liberal) friends & colleagues to come to a similar decision, albeit as painfully as I did. However, while most did, in fact, vote for the Republican candidate, the rationale was absolutely appalling. Far too many of my contemporaries, who otherwise vote liberally, have been duped into this folly of believing a District Attorney is about exacting punishment and revenge, and therefore it is perfect for the GOP. The DA is not about punishment, it is about equity and fairness.

In England, there once existed an institution named the Court of Chancery. Its main purpose was to be an equitable companion to the aloofness and harshness of Common Law. While the Court of Chancery did not, per se, deal with much of the same material as a  District Attorney would deal with, the concept was still, in my opinion, pretty much the same.

Great Britain, once upon a time used these equitable remedies to straighten out the de facto injustices caused by their legal system, both in criminal and civil cases. Today, in the United States, we have things like punitive damages and (with the exception of moron Texas) no loser-pay laws in litigation, meaning the courthouse doors are open to everyone. Finally, we have the modern District Attorney.

Again, I am familiar with the history of the law, and know that the District Attorney, in its modern day prosecutorial role, is not intended to be an equitable figure, but that is what has occurred. I realize, in many ways, the prime function of the DA is to persuade juries to the side of the State, but that does not mean the DA is a figure of the vigilante mobs, elected on promises of exacting retaliation “for the victims” or “for justice“. Rather, like just about everything else in our common law system, the position is about the accused, and not the attacked.

The District Attorney, in its modern embodiment, is invaluable in cuing plea deals, and deciding exactly which course of action to take on a case. Thus, the idea of “prosecutorial discretion.” For example, even though a [first time] DWI is considered a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas, and the punishment is 180 days in jail, many defendants can get off without doing any jail time, and some can even see their records expunged after the completion of a pseudo-probationary program (the DIVERT program, a creation of Ms. Lykos).

The DA, in this capacity, is the arbiter of equity. The law is cold, black & white, and aloof. But the DA, who is human, should be warm, grey, and involved. If extenuating circumstances are involved, the penalty will often be mitigated. This is why a lunatic who murders a police officer, and a woman who strangles her abusive husband in his sleep, are not charged with the same crime, even though it may seem the law would warrant such action. It is the same reason Jean Valjean’s petty larceny does not warrant the same penalty as post-Hurricane electronic store looters.

Therefore, my heart cries when I find my otherwise-liberal friends talking about how they want a “hard on crime”, “law & order” DA, but will stick with Democratic Judges. In fact, it is this type of cross-ticket voting that kept Bradford out of the office to begin with. The DA is not, and most definitely should not, be a bully pulpit for modern day public punishment. It should be the keepers of equity in an otherwise inequitable system. One in which first time offenders may be channeled into probationary programs instead of being locked up like hardened criminals, in which drug addicts may be treated for their disease, rather than punished for their infraction.

Politicians should be the true retaliatory figures, and the true “law and order” types. For they are the ones who write the laws. If the public truly wishes for blood, than the legislatures would be the ones to stiffen the penalties. As the keepers of the grey in a black & white world, the DA should not be seen as the inquisitor.

Yes, I voted for Anderson, but if given another option, I wouldn’t have. For the DA is not about punishment, it is about protection.

In re Fisher

My take on Affirmative Action, from my day-job at The Justice:

This past week was the 50th anniversary of integration at my hometown’s college, the University of Houston.

The college has seen a dramatic transition and is now the third most racially and ethnically diverse college in the nation, according to the U.S. News and World Report. This reversal is most likely the result of both changing demographics and affirmative action.

On the other hand, the diversity at the University of Texas is less likely to be attributed just to changing demographics: Since integration, the proportion of African-American students has risen to 20 percent, and the proportion of Latino students has risen to nearly 21 percent.

This blossoming of diversity is newly found in the South, finally taking part in the progressive tenants of the 20th century. However, these programs now face new challenges from our judicial system.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, in what will, most likely, be a landmark Supreme Court decision. It  could outlaw all affirmative action programs used at public universities.

The Supreme Court is likely to strike down all affirmative action programs, as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote who saved the programs 10 years ago, is no longer on the court.

There is no doubt in my mind that affirmative action has tremendously changed this country for the better.

In my “Social and Political Philosophy: Democracy and Disobedience” course, Prof.Andreas Teuber (PHIL) mentioned that President Johnson once stated that affirmative action was necessary because students overcoming poverty and racism could not be accurately measured against those who did not have to face the same difficulties.

Johnson compared a person helped by affirmative action to a person who “has been hobbled by chains, and then when liberated, brought to the starting line of a race and told, ‘You are free to compete with all the others.’”

Indeed, the harshest critics of affirmative action today, in their blind hatred of anyone given the slightest push in college admissions, underscore why affirmative action is needed in the first place.

All too often, those who oppose affirmative action lay out the same story: The sad rich white kid was denied entrance into a prestigious university, as he may feel is his birthright.

Each of the plaintiffs of affirmative action court cases have sued institutions of higher learning after they were denied admission. These people assumed that the sole reason for their rejection was because they were white. 

Additionally, most detractors seem to fundamentally misunderstand how affirmative action programs function today.

While originally, universities may have had quota systems, these actions have been illegal for 34 years since the Supreme Court case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Under current precedents and universities’ rules, race may only be considered a part of the larger picture in admissions decisions.

In reality, several other factors are considered during the college admissions process aside from grade point average, leadership and extracurricular positions. Personality (that is one of the reasons there is often an interview), background and profile are some of the additional factors.

Affirmative action’s opponents may not understand that wealth, familial connections and a stable home life have tremendous influence on a student’s grades throughout high school.

In 2010, Harvard University published an article alleging that the SAT was biased toward white people, citing cultural differences in the verbal section. Additionally, a 2009 study published by The New York Times showed an average difference in score of about 375 points between the lowest and highest income groups, most likely as a result of the ability to purchase preparation materials and tutoring.

Rather, the opponents of affirmative action should look at the positive effects of fostering diversity within the community. An article from The New York Times from this past Friday claimed that ending such programs, “would reduce the number of black students by about 60 percent, and the number of Hispanic students by about one-third, at selective private schools.”

Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio, who delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, is another example of the positive attributes of affirmative action. While Castro had always stood out among his friends and family for being intelligent, he could not overcome the institutional bias of standardized testing.

According to a New York Times article from a few years ago, Mayor Castro’s SAT score was 1210 out of a maximum of 1600, well below the mean score for Stanford University.

He attributed his acceptance to Stanford to its affirmative action program. Granted, Castro boasted a stellar grade point average, but affirmative action was most likely at least partially responsible for his acceptance. It is worth noting that without any further help, he excelled at Stanford, was elected to the university’s student senate, and gained admission to Harvard Law School, this time in the median range of incoming students.

Nevertheless, opponents of the program find that any such boost is unfair. Conservative organizations and blogs such as Breitbart, Drudge Report, and The Washington Times have given Castro the pejorative, if not racist, title of “affirmative action boy” or “Mayor affirmative action.”
Such hatred underscores why the program is still needed today, just as it has been needed in the past.

I am sure there are many more like Castro whose stories have yet to be written. If our nation’s Supreme Court justices overturn the 30 years of precedent to outlaw affirmative action in public institutions, their stories may never be written.

International Perspective on the Democratic Party

Any poor schlemiel who will ever take an introductory class on Comparative Government will realize something right off the bat–our political system, Democrats & Republicans, is fundamentally different than other countries. America has a a problem with people not voting, we have a lot of young ingrates that won’t get off their lazy butts long enough to go to a polling booth, and I mean A LOT of them. Voter Turnout in 2008, our big “landslide” election was 62%. The net result of this is that the people on the extreme right who do vote dominate the entire process.

Speaking internationally, the United States has two political parties: a right-wing party, and a “big tent” party that encompasses centre-right, centre, and centre-left. The left-wing people of America are not really represented. This is fundamentally different than most other international systems. European nations have right-wing parties, LDRP of Russia and Yisrael Beiteneu of Israel as two examples, but neither ever really make it past third or fourth place. I have noticed that most European models are skewed to the left, whilst the United States is skewed to the right.

In Canada, there was at one point a similar system to the United States. There was the Conservative Party, representing the centre-right, the Liberal Party representing the centre-left, they fought over the middle, and there were smaller third parties that got the right-wing and left-wing. However, all of this changed in 2011. While the Conservatives maintained their control of the government, there was a spectacular death and resurrection of the left that occurred in the background. The Liberal Party lost half of their seats, and the centre-left Quebec interests party lost all but four. Meanwhile, the left-wing New Democratic Party tripled their share in the House of Commons. The left of Canadian politics was traded from cenre-left to left-wing.

In 2010, however, the opposite thing occurred in the United Kingdom. The centre-right Conservative Party rose to power, defeating the left-wing Labour Party (it is important to not the Labourites are probably in between centre-left and left-wing after the reforms of Blair). However, the big winners of the elections was the Liberal Democrat Party, of the centre-left persuasion. In one election they rose from irrelevance to forcing the first coalition government in 65 years.

Still, other nations see a perpetuation of the old ways. In France, the centre-right UPM would face off against the left-wing Socialist Party, the two competing over the middle with splinter parties vying for the extreme. Similarly, Germany has the centre-right Christian Democrats and left-wing Social Democrats.

There seem to be three types of non-American political parties: Conservative (centre-right), Liberal (centre, centre-left), and Socialist (left-wing). Fascism (far-right), Republicanism (right-wing), and Communism (far-left) are all minor actors. What I’m trying to get at here is that the USA has a political system which is at its core unsustainable. Democrats used to be exclusively centre-left and the GOP centre-right, but times have changed as the Republicans keep moving to the right and the Democrats keep eating up the empty territory. Once the Democratic Party solidifies its control of Conservatives, Liberals, and Socialists (which in the United States is quite small), it will be the end of the Republican Party.

I have hypothesized that this would happen around the early 2030s, keeping in line with demographic changes. The result would be a short lived second Era of Good Feelings, followed by the Democrats splitting into two distinct parties. What those two parties would represent, I believe, is based on just how far the country moves to the left. Whether it will revert to being a centre country like before, or to the European model of being skewed to the left.

If we revert to a centre model, we would have a Conservative party roughly in line with the Republicans of the Kennedy era and a Liberal party roughly in line with the Democrats of the Kennedy era. If, however, we go further, we could have a Liberal party and a Socialist Party. I think it is based on the political climate of the era (1932-1980, Left), (1980-Present, Right).

Anyways it’s late, and Houston politics is pretty quiet right now.