All posts by P.WoodPunditry

Trump’s Missed Opportunity: North Korea

It’s no secret that Donald Trump campaigned on being a tough guy — a strong, bold, new type of leader that would get the world to respect and fear the United States of America once again.

If President Trump could finally do something about North Korea, a persistent annoyance to the United States for the last few decades, he might accrue a significant accomplishment, deliver his voters’ expectations, and build the foundation for a possibly positive legacy.

Alas, an under-developed Communist nation with an economy the size of that of Birmingham, Alabama, has managed to outsmart the man at the helm of the most powerful military in the world.

Last April, the North Korean regime was still struggling to successfully test-launch missiles into the sea. It was doubtful the regime could strike any target outside the Western Pacific Rim. At that time, I advocated for war with the Kim regime on both moral and strategic grounds — to “quash the menace in its infancy” before the North Korean arsenal could catch up.

In the meantime, however, North Korean missile technology has become more impressive. It appears as though North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) could strike not only Guam and Alaska but the Western contiguous states as well. Worse yet, the North Koreans have discovered a way to miniaturize nuclear warheads and mount them onto these ICBMs. For the first time, North Korea stands unquestionably capable of striking the United States with a nuclear weapon.

And it happened on Trump’s watch.

Trump’s legacy, which already has a number of black marks, could soon bear one of the most unfortunate: “Allowed North Korea to become a nuclear rival in earnest.”

Welcome to Cold War II. All the rules from the first Cold War now apply. Say hello again to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Let me be clear about one thing: I am glad that Trump did not preemptively nuke the entire country of North Korea into oblivion back in April. North Korea civilians are as worthy of life as nationals of any country. Such devastating action is not necessary and would deservedly face condemnation from the international community and lower Trump’s historical ranking as a president.

In addition, it is impossible to talk seriously about North Korea today without discussing China. While China has recently been a more reluctant ally of North Korea, U.S. aggression against North Korea could lead to a hot conflict with nuclear-equipped China, whose military power easily dwarfs that of North Korea.

However, back in April, the U.S. still had leverage to push for a denuclearized Korea, if not complete regime change. Before entering the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush threatened military action if Saddam Hussein did not end the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Likewise, the U.S. could have threatened North Korea to dismantle their nuclear program or else the U.S. would bomb their R&D and artillery facilities without fear of nuclear retaliation. Indeed, China and the United States were involved in negotiations regarding North Korea over the summer.

One wonders if we were willing enough then to negotiate with China over North Korea. In my view, North Korea’s growing threat to its own people, the United States, and the world would justify significant concessions to China in exchange for their help in pressuring North Korea. Trump promised to renegotiate trade deals with China, but that option is now off the table now that China has new leverage.

Much like climate change, U.S. leadership has waited too long to find the right solution, and the consequences are soon to follow. Now that North Korea can retaliate against the U.S. with intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Kim regime is less vulnerable than ever.

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Yemen is Ripe for an Explosive Civil War

By PATRICK WOOD

Yemen is a relatively new country. Only in 1990 did North Yemen and South Yemen unite to form the Republic of Yemen. With rising unemployment and poverty (more than 40% of the population earns less than $2 a day), the Yemeni people have many reasons to be angry. It’s only going to get worse.

If a country relies on a single export for 25% or more of its GDP, an explosive civil war is likely to emerge. Not only is Yemen an oil export-driven economy, but Yemen’s oil fields are expected to run dry by 2025. When this happens, knowing what the country’s new primary export will be difficult. Only 3% of the country’s land is arable, making it a poor candidate for agriculture.

A longtime hotbed for terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, turbulence and terrorism already threaten Yemen’s stability. While Yemen has not yet reached a full-on civil war, current conditions suggest it is only a matter of time.

First, the religious composition of the country makes bloodshed more likely. Sectarian conflict has emerged between two insurgent groups –Sunnis in the south aligned with President Hadi and the Shia Houthi insurgents in the north (see Shia insurgency in Yemen). Over 10 years, this conflict has already cost 16,200 lives, 10,000 of which were civilians. Thousands more have been wounded or displaced from their homes.

Second, the current government has been ineffective at lifting the population out of poverty. It has not kept its people safe from terrorist attacks and drones from the West. It maintains an authoritarian regime under the façade of democracy and rebellions and coup attempts are to be expected.

However, the exhaustion of Yemen’s oil fields will very likely catalyze civil war. In this case, Yemen virtually becomes a failed state and possibly even a collapsed state. Exceedingly rare, Somalia and Afghanistan formerly met this definition as both lacked any effective central authority.

The implications of a collapsed state in the 2020s would be enormous, requiring increasingly likely international intervention. Terrorist organizations take advantage of failed or collapsed states; Al Shabaab maintains a strong presence in Somalia, and Al Qaeda and its allies controlled half of Mali up to just four years ago.

There are so many indicators of an impending explosive civil war in Yemen that if such an event does not happen, we must admit that much of our understanding of political science and international relations is false. Leading authorities on failed states and civil war, such as Paul Collier, may face harsh scrutiny or complete discredit.

An Open Endorsement of War with North Korea

By PATRICK WOOD

I’m no hawk. I opposed military action in Syria and Libya and call myself a progressive humanitarian with respect for international law and norms.

I am completely convinced that going to war with North Korea to depose the Kim regime is the right thing to do for the world as a whole.

North Korea is desperately trying to pose a larger threat to the international community than it currently does. Its current floundering and almost comical attempts to intimidate the rest of the world with missile launches and bomb tests, most of which fail, is a temporary stage. Given enough time, North Korea will discover how to use its arsenal successfully.

It would be wise to quash this menace in its infancy. The North Korean regime has given ample justification for its destruction, including direct threats to South Korea and the United States, as well as humanitarian justifications by starving and killing their own people. North Korea’s neglect of its own people is so extreme and the malnutrition of its own people is so severe that we are beginning to see human beings born in the country develop smaller statures to compensate for the lack of nutritional intake. While this is a fascinating glimpse at human evolution and adaptation, the cause and effect of this change is quite grim. On average, North Korean men are already an entire 3.25 inches shorter than South Koreans. North Korean males born today will attain an average height of only 5’2″, earning this generation the nickname “The Stunted Generation.”

North Korea has admitted to placing members of its population in labor camps. Refugees reveal that their crimes, notably escaping the country, will subject three generations of their family to death or imprisonment in a labor camp. The Kim regime has taken authoritarianism as well as restriction on freedom of thought and expression to a twisted high.

When North Korea allows foreign nationals to visit, these tourists are typically only allowed to see Pyongyang and are accompanied on any excursions by a government minder. The U.S. State Department warns that the government has subjected Americans to “arbitrary arrests and long-term detention,” but Americans are still technically allowed to visit and generally avoid trouble as long as they follow all the rules.

Pyongyang may be the only city in North Korea where starvation isn’t completely rampant. Of course, if the Kim regime doesn’t like you or your family, you don’t get to live in Pyongyang.

After World War II and the Holocaust, an international principle called R2P (“Responsibility to Protect”) was articulated. The objective was not to allow a genocide like the Holocaust to occur again.

Admittedly, the actions of the North Korean regime may not meet the strict definition of genocide (some definitions exclude anything less than an attempt to completely exterminate a demographic group), but the similarities to a genocidal regime are apparent and in my view strong enough to invoke the principle of R2P.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have died or are dying of starvation due to the government’s unwillingness to concentrate on feeding its people. Labor camps, resembling concentration camps, are operating in North Korea, and political critics and their families are being butchered by the state without so much as a trial.

The safety and security of North Korea and the world depends on the toppling of the Kim regime. The American government, frequently speaking through Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence, has done a lot of posturing and line-drawing on this issue recently. Mike Pence has warned North Korea that “the sword stands ready.”

For the sake of “The Stunted Generation” and the world, I hope we are one missile test away from the sword swinging.

Our Real Problem? The Moderate Always Loses

By PATRICK WOOD

In 2010, one midterm election was enough to unseat half of the so called “Blue Dog Democrats” (more moderate/conservative Democrats) from Congress. This statistic is pretty amazing for a few reasons. One, as an advantage of incumbency, members of Congress have extremely high reelection rates. They are reelected roughly 90% of the time. Second, this happened when there wasn’t even a presidential election occurring. People generally don’t give a damn about these elections, voter participation is lower than it is during presidential election years, and one would think this would boost the incumbency advantage for members of Congress.

But 2010 saw blue dog after blue dog fall.

In 2012, the Republican Party flirted with more extreme conservative candidates before nominating Mitt Romney, who struck many as a much more vanilla, centrist choice. Romney was initially perceived as a wise pick, as it was thought he had the greatest chance of appealing to voters who identified as anything other than “very conservative.” Romney ended up losing his bid to Barack Obama, and in truth, the contest wasn’t that close.

This was reminiscent of 2004 when the Democrats did the exact same thing with John Kerry, who mounted an unsuccessful bid to defeat George Bush. “Boring,” “lackluster,” “flip-flopping,” “calculating,” centrist Kerry lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote to a vulnerable incumbent president.

So, who does win elections? Extremists, populists, hard party-liners, and those who appeal to the party’s base. People like Donald Trump. Why? They’re exciting. They bring out their supporters on election day.

For moderates, like Kerry and Clinton, this is much harder to do. Soaring ideals are simply more inspiring than calculating pragmatism.

While more people might align more closely with a moderate and not care for the more extreme candidate, these people need an additional reason to come out to the polls. Their emotions and passions are not stirred by vanilla establishment candidates.

Meanwhile the extreme, populist/demagogic, or hyper-partisan candidate enjoys the advantage of soaking up most of the media attention. We have to concede they’re exciting, and we’re hanging on every word.

So what does this mean? – It’s bad, bad news.

The level of partisanship in Washington is only going to get worse. To illustrate this, take this year’s senatorial elections. The Democrats managed to unseat two Republican senators. Maggie Hassan just barely eeked out a win over Kelly Ayotte, a somewhat moderate Republican from New Hampshire. The only blowout against an incumbent Republican was Tammy Duckworth’s victory over Illinois senator Mark Kirk, the most liberal Republican in the entire Senate.

The moderate always loses in the USA. Senator Kirk had a strong record on LGBT rights, reviled Donald Trump, and voted with the Democrats on numerous issues.

With Kirk gone, are any remaining Republicans going to compromise and work with the Democrats? It seems very unlikely. The Democrats have eliminated their only friend from across the aisle. Expect countless strict party-line votes once the new Congress begins.

While Kirk was defeated, a senator in Wisconsin managed to defy the expectations of forecasters and hold on to his seat in Congress. This man is Ron Johnson, who defeated progressive darling Russ Feingold in the purply/blue state of Wisconsin after suggesting that impeachment motions should be brought immediately if Clinton were to win the presidency.

The extremist wins, the moderate loses, and the country suffers.

The Nightmare of Hillary Clinton

By PATRICK WOOD

Hillary Clinton is a nightmare for American leftists.

How many Sanders supporters and peaceniks happily hopped, skipped, and jumped over to the Clinton campaign when it become apparent Bernie Sanders was not going to win the Democratic nomination? Surely not as many as had serious reservations, flat-out refused to support Clinton, or only made the switch because of the grotesque spectre of a Trump presidency.

This is partly because Clinton doesn’t have nor does she deserve the same reputation for honesty and political integrity that Sanders does. Clinton’s statement that she “never received nor sent any material that was marked classified” on her private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State was not true and her recounting of landing under sniper fire in Bosnia was either a sign of a very faulty memory or a straight-up fib.

Mostly, however, it’s because Clinton has embraced policy positions that most progressives in 2016 do not support. Clinton has rejected the idea of pursuing single-payer healthcare, instead she wants to work to improve the ObamaCare system. Clinton has refused to encourage a ban on fracking or an end to the Drug War. Wall Street banks like Citi Group and Goldman Sachs liter her list of top contributors over her political career. Her foreign policy views have been labeled “hawkish” and include a threat to go to war with Iran if it breaches the nuclear agreement and a promise to immediately attempt to remove the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from power.

Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate will do little to herd in fleeing progressives. Kaine is a boring centrist, with a lackluster record on reproductive rights and staunchly pro-Israel foreign policy views. To his credit, Kaine is surprisingly progressive on gun control for a Virginia senator, and that is perhaps the one issue where this ticket presents any hope for progressive change.

The progressive vote is going to be divided in many ways this November, but most progressive voters will fall into one of four categories: voting for Clinton, writing-in Bernie Sanders, voting for Jill Stein, or staying home because they are disillusioned with the two major party candidates.

Jill Stein, who barely cracked 0.3% of the vote last election, is poised to have a much, much bigger year. In her, progressives see an opportunity to vote for an agenda they agree with that doesn’t exist with Hillary, and they don’t have to forgo voting for a female candidate for President of the United States.

Of course, this presents the same old bitter debate over third party candidates. Many, like George Takei, are encouraging former Sanders supporters and progressives to “vote blue no matter who,” deeply concerned about what a Trump presidency would mean for the United States. These are the voices that especially in this election view a vote for Jill Stein or another third party candidate as a wasted vote, or worse yet “a vote for Trump.”

IT’S A TRAP.

The Democratic Party has produced one of the most disfavored nominees in the party’s history. If all of America’s progressives fall in line to support Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party has no incentive to cease running hawkish centrists with honesty problems, corporate backing, and mediocre records on the environment and fighting poverty. Unless the Democratic Party begins losing a little support on the left, they will feel free to continue this drift to the right. Already they have come up with a ticket other countries would likely view as more conservative. American progressives deserve a better choice, one that aligns with their views and values. That is why I offer a battlecry intended to counter “Vote Blue No Matter Who”, with all due respect to the magnificent George Takei, and that is “Have A Spine, Vote for Stein.”

You Should Have to “Opt In” To Access Porn on Your Computer

Sounds crazy, right?

But consider the kind of pornography that’s available on the internet. Much of it contains brutal and degrading sexual violence against women, sometimes in the form of theatrically created rape, assault, or molestation scenes. This is behavior that is societally impermissible.  Now think about how easy it is for children and teenagers to access pornography on the home computer.

Roughly zero percent of “romantic encounters” in pornography resemble anything that would actually happen in real life, and a minor who views porn might come away with some very wrongheaded ideas about women, sex, and love.

This isn’t about censorship. All graphically explicit material on the internet will be accessible to those who opt in. While opting in might seem embarrassing, especially with the default set to “opt out,” the embarrassing effect is ameliorated by the millions of other people who will opt in. By referring to the materials at issue as “explicit and potentially disturbing material,” it will at least be plausible that those who are opting in aren’t doing it just for pornography. Shocking and controversial art, film, and other explicit media can be nicely wrapped up into the same package.

This “opt-in” approach is currently being used in Britain and has inspired Republican State Senator Todd Weiler to push for something similar in the state of Utah. As someone who identifies as “left-wing” politically, I can’t remember ever being so supportive of proposed legislation from a Republican official. While some minors will of course be successful in finding other ways to access porn, this idea will protect our children using the home computer or tablet while preserving the right of adults to view sexually explicit content on the internet. It’s a rare opportunity to get something for nothing.

Rethinking “Gender Queer”

By PATRICK WOOD

By accommodating those who feel that they were born into the wrong sex and wish to live life as the opposite sex, we do trans individuals a world of good. Using preferred pronouns and treating trans individuals with warmth and understanding helps them feel comfortable, gives them courage to take steps regarding transition which they feel are appropriate, and likely dramatically decreases the elevated risk of depression, suicide, and other social ills that trans people experience.

The worst possible course of action, which happened in North Carolina, is an approach that treats people as stuck with their sex at birth. The law requires people to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate even if they have had sex reassignment surgery or otherwise appear to others as their self-identified gender, i.e, “You have a beard but you were born female? Legally you should be using the ladies’ room.”

As a society, we have at last largely accepted the fact that some people are born homosexual and that it’s okay. Our willingness to take that step followed our recognition that some people simply can’t or shouldn’t have to conform to  behavioral norms for sexual orientation.

It seems prudent to extend this recognition to the trans community, but just how far is this line to be extended? In addition to those who identify with the sex opposite that of their birth, there are some individuals who openly identify with both genders or neither.

Perhaps you have seen the video of this individual who was born a human female but identifies as a cat.

She is a clear example of someone who should not be afforded the same kind of accommodation as other members of the trans community. This girl (I am calling her a girl because I don’t feel it is beneficial to her to call her a cat) may suffer from a specific mental illness. This may just be extreme narcissism and an attempt to attract attention. However, this may also be the serious and rare disorder known as species dysphoria.

In my view, some self-proclaimed “gender queer” individuals are in a similar position. While some people are born with both male and female parts, identifying as both male and female or neither may otherwise be a call for attention, or it may be a way for naturally androgynous people to cope with a negative body image.

The majority of gender queer individuals, however, illustrate to me a larger problem — identifying as “gender queer” may simply reflect the stigma from not fitting into society’s perceptions of “male” or “female.”

Just as it is not beneficial to call someone with species dysphoria a cat, it may be a wrong-headed approach to accommodate someone’s pronoun request when that request is to be referred to as “xe” or “they” instead of “him” or “her.” The better approach is a long-term systematic strategy in which we collectively promulgate a view that accepts that males can have feminine qualities and do feminine things, and vice versa. Eliminating gender roles and gender expectations helps allow people to feel comfortable presenting themselves as male or female regardless of their interests or favorite activities, their social behavior, their appearance, or their sexual orientation. We can create a society in which “male” and “female” encompasses everyone and requires no one to change their behavior to fit into those categories.

This Democratic Primary Wasn’t Very Democratic

By PATRICK WOOD

I’ve become very disillusioned with the Democratic presidential primary process after reading, researching, and participating in it during this primary cycle.

The first issue, which caught the attention of quite a few people, was the debate schedule initially presented by the DNC. They significantly reduced the number of debates to be held, all the way down to a mere six debates. The Republicans also reduced their number but still planned to have twice as many debates as the Democrats.

It was widely believed the reason for this limited debate schedule was that it would help the one candidate the Democratic establishment wanted to see prevail: Hillary Clinton.

Hillary’s initial competition consisted of four (remotely serious) candidates:

  • Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee, governors with little name recognition and very few diehard supporters.
  • Jim Webb, a military man and one-term Senator with some views far too conservative to earn the Democratic Party’s blessing.
  • Bernie Sanders, who made the decision to run as a Democrat after years of successfully winning against them as an Independent.

None of these four opposing candidates were going to receive much love from the Democratic Party. The party had every reason to favor Mrs. Clinton, and the best way to give institutional support to Clinton, already the betting-man’s favorite to win the nomination, was to see that absolutely nothing interesting happened during the primary cycle. A quick and quiet primary season would be beneficial to the Clinton campaign, and fewer debates would mean fewer opportunities for a Clinton slip up that might knock her out of her frontrunner status.

Not too long after this, there was another startling development, but this one did not get nearly the same level of attention. Lawrence Lessig, after declaring his candidacy and raising sufficient funds, reached out to the DNC in the hopes of appearing in a televised debate. The DNC refused to recognize Lessig’s candidacy. It then set a requirement that to appear at the first debate, a candidate must receive at least 1% support among likely voters in three or more national polls. Lessig wound up excluded from most polls because of the DNC’s withholding of recognition for the candidacy.

After being excluded from the first debate, Lessig set his sights on appearing at the second and appeared primed to do so. Lessig registered at 1% in two national polls and only had one more to go.

Then, the DNC changed the rules.

They added a stipulation that any polls conducted within six weeks of the debate would not count.

That was the end of Lawrence Lessig’s campaign to be the Democratic nominee.

I live (and vote) in New York, and while my voting experience in this year’s primary went smoothly, I can’t say the same for many of my friends in the state. My cousin, an 18-year-old first-time voter, received a piece of mail acknowledging her registration as a Democrat and informing her of polling location for the presidential primary. When she showed up, she wasn’t on the poll workers’ list and was turned away. I instructed her to demand an affidavit ballot which she did. I do not know if it will ever be counted. I instructed her to refuse to accept provisional ballots, as these simply do not count (Democratic Party Election officials acknowledge this). Anyone who submitted a provisional ballot this year appears to have simply wasted their time. Perhaps the same is true for the countless voters like my cousin forced to submit affidavit ballots. A friend told me she knew seven different people who were all forced to submit affidavit ballots for one reason or another.

Voting irregularities in Arizona and Brooklyn (which happens to be where Bernie Sanders grew up) are also cause for concern.

An examination of the kinds of things reducing voter access this primary cycle demonstrates an interesting pattern.

Some registered Democrats were taken off voter rolls because they had not voted in seven or more years. Voting rules stipulated that wearing pro-candidate clothes or accessories to the polls was illegal electioneering and anyone doing that should not be allowed to vote. Taking pictures of one’s ballot was deemed grounds to invalidate the ballot.

Voters falling into all three of these categories are in my view more likely to be Sanders supporters (Millennials excited about their first vote, wearing “Feel the Bern!” tees and snapping pictures of their first-ever vote, and older people so disillusioned with politics they haven’t felt inspired to vote since this fiery outsider showed up).

Finally, lets look at Wyoming. A state where Bernie Sanders won the popular vote by more than 10%, but received fewer delegates than Clinton. Granted, Bernie Sanders did agree to the rules which produced this result when he was recognized by the DNC and ran as a Democrat, but this result is wholly undemocratic.

If we vote for a candidate and give him or her a 10 point win in our state, but our candidate is awarded less delegates and comes out in a worse position to win the election after this result, how much should we really believe our votes are worth?

 

 

Nick Kristof v. Ben Shapiro – Who is Right on White Privilege?

By PATRICK WOOD

Watch Ben Shapiro‘s argument here. Read Nick Kristof‘s argument here and watch him elaborate upon the argument and respond to questions here.

White privilege. Of all the topics you could choose to discuss with others, this is one of the most likely to ruin friendships and draw frowns and snarls from those who disagree with you.

A very charged political, social, and racial issue, the question of the existence and/or extent of white privilege is a question that easily gives way to strong, impassioned opinions. Strong opinions and passion can be good things, but absolute certainty of the correctness of one side of the argument creates problems. When we are not willing to listen to those we know are unlikely to persuade us, we miss out on the opportunity to be surprised and turned around by arguments we didn’t understand or know before. If not persuaded to entirely switch sides, at least the opportunity to understand the other side and to recognize the limitations and weaknesses of our own viewpoints and arguments is important.

This problem is especially prevalent on the issue of white privilege. So, I encourage all readers of this article to consider the competing arguments of two very intelligent men before I provide my own analysis of their arguments.

Have you checked them both out? Good. Let’s begin.

Ben Shapiro Point #1

Shapiro suggests that the bias against people of color by law enforcement and the criminal justice system is imagined, and there is no evidence of white privilege to be found in these fields.

To bolster this argument, Shapiro begins by pointing out that more white people are killed by police than black people, and that police are less likely to kill black individuals in the same circumstances.

Next, Shapiro addressed alleged racial profiling while speeding. A study conducted in New Jersey found that black people sped disproportionately compared with other races. Moreover, while black individuals constituted 25% of all the people speeding, they only made up 23% of all the people getting speeding tickets.

Finally, Shapiro addressed the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, which is often used to argue the existence of white privilege because possession of a drug more frequently used by white people (powdered cocaine) leads to more lenient sentences. Shapiro says that the reason the disparity exists is because black legislators in inner cities pushed for harsher punishment for crack cocaine because they felt pressured to keep people from selling and using crack in their communities.

My take: While these are all interesting points, I find this to be the least persuasive part of Shapiro’s talk. To begin, while black individuals may speed more frequently than white people, there is no significant difference in the rates of marijuana use by whites and blacks, yet black individuals are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it.

Furthermore, even if black people aren’t receiving a disproportionate number of speeding tickets, this does nothing to disprove notions that police officers will occasionally pull over black drivers for little or no reason (even if these encounters don’t result in speeding tickets).

Even the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal reports that prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years.

Prosecutors are almost twice as likely to bring charges carrying mandatory minimums against a black defendant as a white defendant committing the same crime under the same circumstances and with an identical prior criminal history.

Shapiro Point #2

Shapiro argues there is no white privilege when it comes to university admissions, saying “If it’s white privilege to sit on the side because you can’t go to college because the black guy took your spot [even though] he had a lower SAT score – and it didn’t matter that he grew up rich and you grew up poor – if that’s white privilege, then nobody would want to be a member of the white privileged class.”

I am in agreement with Mr. Shapiro on this point. Whites are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to university admissions. This is why white prospective law students all across the country “prefer not to disclose race” on the demographic section of their applications. Mr. Shapiro raises an incredibly important point when he mentions that the affluent black student is more likely to be accepted than the white student who has struggled in a low-income family in a rough neighborhood with poor public schooling. It is my view that the affirmative action programs used by universities should be based solely on the applicant’s socio-economic background and should be race-blind. This preserves the system as more of a meritocracy, while taking into account that students from poorer areas with less educated parents may struggle more to get the same grades and other achievements as students from more well-off families.

Nicholas Kristof Point #1

To illustrate the disparate conditions of whites and blacks in America, Kristof opens with some facts relating to the races’ respective economic standing. He reports that the net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, and points out that the black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.

These figures are shocking and difficult to believe, but the statistic that the value of a white person’s home is on average 18 times greater than that of a black person originates directly from U.S. Census data.

Although black households make less income than white households, that does not entirely explain this difference in wealth. Indeed, even when blacks and Latinos are earning the same salaries as white people, they aren’t accumulating as much wealth.

There are significant differences in saving and investing behavior among the races. Some research has suggested reluctance to invest on the part of African Americans may be related to culture and the fact that previous generations of African Americans were less experienced in investing in stock and mutual funds than whites. This does not necessarily show any prejudice or force working against dark-skinned people at present.

Kristof Point #2

In his Facebook video, Kristof is asked if conscious decisions to promote racial diversity in a company’s workforce may pose a threat to its meritocratic nature. He responds that it probably does not, depending on what measures are taken. He goes on to say that studies on decision-making have shown that the best decisions are made “not by a pool of the most qualified people, but by the more diverse pool and people with more diverse experiences.”

I would really like to see these studies. It seems counter-intuitive that the most qualified group of people is not the one to make the best decision. Without seeing these studies it is hard for me to say more. I came into Mr. Kristof’s video believing merit was far more important than diversity, but perhaps it is diversity that yields better results.

Conclusion

Even Ben Shapiro acknowledges that America has a deeply racist past. This is important to recognize as we try to make sense of the present. It is my view that a large part of the economic disparities between whites and blacks are the result of this past system of forced inequality. The side-effects of this are unquestionably lingering, but whether whites still unconsciously hold up this system to rise above blacks as the racial hegemon invites debate.

Indigent Defense Crisis in the U.S.

By PATRICK WOOD

In criminal cases in the United States, those who are too poor to hire a private attorney will have an attorney provided for them. In many jurisdictions, these attorneys are from a public defenders’ office, wherein all attorneys are paid by the government to represent these indigent individuals. The prominence of public defender’s offices is largely a result of the 1963 Supreme Court case known as Gideon v. Wainwright.

Clarence E. Gideon (pictured) was a man who lived in poverty and had been committing crimes of theft since he was a teenager. After being arrested in Florida for petty larceny in 1961, Gideon had no money for a private attorney and argued at his trial that he was entitled to be represented by counsel. The court declined to provide counsel for Gideon, and the court stated “Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the Court can appoint Counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense.”[1]

Gideon was forced to represent himself. The jury in the Florida court found Gideon guilty and Gideon was then imprisoned. From prison, Gideon wrote a handwritten petition to the Supreme Court. It was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. Amazingly, the petition caught the attention and interest of the United States Supreme Court. The Court examined Gideon’s case and in a unanimous decision decided that the right to counsel applied both to capital and non-capital cases.[2] Gideon was re-tried, this time a lawyer was provided and the trial ended in an acquittal for Gideon.[3] The Sixth Amendment provides crystal clear justification for the Court’s landmark decision. It entitles the accused to “have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” It makes no distinction between capital and non-capital offenses.[4]

Despite the court’s revolutionary decision that afforded an attorney to every defendant in misdemeanor and felony cases and continues to be celebrated by public defenders, indigent defense in criminal courts is weak in the United States. The poor do not receive the same quality legal defense as those wealthy enough to hire a private attorney. The dire condition of indigent defense in the United States can be attributed to many different causes.

Public defenders are burdened with caseloads so immense they can only afford to spend minimal time meeting their clients and discussing their case. The vast majority of cases in which a defendant is represented by a public defender are not taken to trial but are plea bargained away.[5] In a plea bargain, the prosecution is guaranteed a conviction as the defendant, acting on the advice of their counsel, pleads guilty to charges somewhat less serious than the initial charges. This still results in serious consequences for the defendant, and many are incarcerated without a full trial.[6]

Public defenders are often very motivated to plea bargain because it saves them a great deal of time and they are simply unable to take every case to trial. The caseloads of public defenders have been so overwhelming that the U.S. Justice Department declared a “crisis” in the country’s courts. Their 2001 report “Keeping Defender Workloads Manageable” drew on reports from around the country, documenting how public defenders were handling anywhere from 200 to 2,225 felony and misdemeanor cases a year.[7] On the other hand, private attorneys would consider even 100 clients an enormous workload. This is because they can refuse to provide counsel, especially to those who cannot afford it.

The Constitution Project released a 2009 report stating that “sometimes counsel is not provided at all, and it often is supplied in ways that make a mockery of the great promise of the Gideon decision and the Supreme Court’s soaring rhetoric.”[8] The Constitution Project’s allusion to the decision’s “soaring rhetoric” is a reference to such statements from Justice Hugo Black’s majority opinion as “There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has” and “…lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.” [9] The Constitution Project wrote in their report that public defenders are now providing second-rate defense for their clients, but through no fault of their own. Due to their enormous caseloads the attorneys were simply unable to provide the same quality defense for their clients as private attorneys. The report reads,

“Sometimes the defenders have well over 100 clients at a time, with many clients charged with serious offenses, and their cases moving quickly through the court system. As a consequence, defense lawyers are constantly forced to violate their oaths as attorneys because their caseloads make it impossible for them to practice law as they are required to do according to the profession’s rules. They cannot interview their clients properly, effectively seek their pretrial release, file appropriate motions, conduct necessary fact investigations, negotiate responsibly with the prosecutor, adequately prepare for hearings, and perform countless other tasks that normally would be undertaken by a lawyer with sufficient time and resources.”

The lack of resources afforded to public defender’s offices is the primary reason they are perpetually understaffed and their employees are overworked. There is no law regarding how much a state must pay into public defender programs, and some states place the burden of funding entirely on the county in which the public defender’s office operates.[10] The understaffed offices must see their attorneys burdened with absolutely crushing caseloads so every defendant may have counsel. Amazingly, 80% of all criminal defendants in the United States are represented by public defenders.[11] The Constitution Project report stated that failing the poor by underfunding indigent defense would ultimately cost society a great deal in the long run. They noted that “state and local governments are faced with increased jail expenses, retrials of cases, lawsuits, and lack of public confidence in our justice systems.” Further, “in the country’s current fiscal crisis, indigent defense funding may be further curtailed, and the risk of convicting innocent persons will be greater than ever.”[12]

NOTE: My objectives in writing this piece were to dispel the myth that public defenders tend to get inferior results because they are inherently inferior attorneys, to point out the disparity in quality of defense obtained by rich and poor defendants, and to highlight the need for more resources, funding and staffing to be directed to pubic defenders’ offices in order to provide desperately needed caseload relief and raise the quality of defense provided to each individual defendant.