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31.1.08

Rooting For A Race War

I'm sure there are tensions of various sorts between non-Latin@ blacks and non-black Latin@s (not sure where black Latin@s fall) in the US. These tensions are worth addressing (in a way that's led by members of those groups). But I'm rather discomfited by the prurient interest the media seems to have taken in this issue, prompted by Barack Obama's low poll numbers among Latin@s. I get the distinct impression that there's a significant segment of whites who really want a black-Latin@ race war so that they can take the focus off themselves and say "see, everybody's (equally) racist!"

(I'm trying out this tags thing. Unfortunately, Blogger has completely changed their system for coding templates since 2003 when I created this template, so I can't fix the layout to make the "labels" line look nice until I completely rewrite the template.)

UPDATE: An amusing update, that seems to corroborate my theory a bit: According to the Pew Research Center, blacks and Latin@s have a more positive view of the state of black-Latin@ relations than whites do.

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There's a term for what the government is doing ...

... it's "aiding and abetting." Specifcally, DHS is (in a moral, if not legal, sense) aiding and abetting domestic violence by abusers who use their victims' lack of immigration status as a way to control them, by restricting the access of those victims to status that's not dependent on the abuser. It's a sadly common pattern in law enforcement (in immigration and elsewhere) -- crack down in whatever ways comes easiest, on whichever people you can get your hands on, without thinking about how that crackdown can generate unintended consequences elsewhere and inhibit your ability to deal with the people doing the really bad stuff.

In very tangentially related news, on NPR this morning they had a report about mercury contamination in fish. The health experts they talked to said (paraphrased) "the general public should go ahead and eat lots of fish, but children and women of childbearing age should be careful." So women and children are apparently not part of the "general public." It's a nice illustration of how environmental health science still treats the middle-class adult white male as the generic person, with everyone else handled as an exception to the rule. I also like the way they slip from the risks specifically related to pregnant and nursing mothers into warning all "women of childbearing age" -- I guess the public outcry got them to back off explicitly labeling all women as "pre-pregnant," but the mentality behind it stuck. (This is not to say that the mercury contamination versus health benefits of fish tradeoff is being significantly overblown in one direction or the other. Obviously, as a vegetarian I'd prefer that anyone who can afford to do so avoid fish for reasons unrelated to mercury, as well as preferring that everyone could afford to do so, and that fish not be contaminated both for their own sake and for the sake of whatever people or other animals eat them.)

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28.1.08

Hillary Goes Nativist

(I know I promised I'd go back to writing about the environment, but this was too good to pass up.)

Contrary to the popular desire to blame Bush and post-9/11 hysteria for the worst aspects of the US immigration system, most of the really bad law -- including the divide-and-conquer between "good immigrants" and "criminal aliens" -- was signed back in 1996 by one Bill Clinton. Now it seems his wife wants a second round of cracking down:

"Anybody who committed a crime in this country or in the country they came from has to be deported immediately, with no legal process. They are immediately gone," Mrs. Clinton told a town hall meeting in Anderson, S.C., Thursday. On Wednesday, she told a crowd in North Bergen, N.J., that such criminals "absolutely" need to be deported. A day earlier, she told a rally in Salinas, Calif., that aliens with criminal records "should be deported, no questions asked."

..."No legal process," the New York senator said at a forum in Tipton, Iowa, according to a political news outlet, the Politico. "You put them on a plane to wherever they came from."


I do, however, have to agree with one person in the comment section here. In what they believed was support for Senator Clinton's proposal, "bah" said:

the immigration laws as set forth in the constitution should be followed to the letter and any amendments or changes/modifications to those laws should be approached with extreme caution .

just because the founding fathers could not anticipate many of the current problems today, we as a nation should not quickly and mindlessly trash heart and soul american constitutional principles just to suit some real or perceived narrow social or economic interest(s).


I agree. Here, in its entirety, is what the Constitution says about immigration law:

The Congress shall have power ... To establish a uniform rule of naturalization.


Sounds good to me. I think "open borders for everybody but anti-US terrorists" fulfils the definition of a "uniform rule of naturalization," and sticks pretty close to what the founders intended.

As for Clinton ... who's the Green Party nominating this year?

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26.1.08

Two Terrorism Links

I promise this isn't going to turn into a link blog. If I'm lucky, my next substantive post might even talk about the environment (which is supposedly my main topic here).

Earlier this week, when I saw the news about al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri soliciting questions from people who (claim to) support the group's goals, all I could think of was the classic Onion article, "Klan Rally 70 Percent Undercover Reporters."

There has been some excitement on some right-wing blogs over a report that some person posted a call for "forest fire jihad," i.e. for radical Muslims to set wildfires in the U.S. as a form of terrorism. There's no indication that the person in question has any significant standing in al-Qaida or any other Islamist group, nor that any such group has developed any detailed strategy of arson. It's true that, historically, wildfire has been a weapon of war -- the Japanese actually started sending incendiary baloons across the Pacific during World War II, though the scheme was a total failure -- and in particular, it has been a popular tool of non-state actors engaging in resistance to the government. But I hope the "forest fire jihad" idea doesn't lead to wildfire policy getting sucked into the war on terror paradigm.

25.1.08

Immigration Detention Madness

First, a story about a man from Minnesota by way of Georgia who ICE tried to deport to Russia*, though luckily he got help from several attorneys and a reporter, who found his Minnesota birth certificate in minutes. If someone ever made a serious effort at deporting the 12 million or so undocumented people, I wonder just how many citizens would find themselves ejected. (Disclosure: my wife was one of the attorneys in question.)

Second, a long post by XicanoPwr (which I admit I haven't finished yet -- it's pretty information-dense) about the privatization of the immigration detention system.

Third, a post by brownfemipower about how borders and distance are used to break down communities, and hence undercut the ability to resist violence either from outside or from within the group. She doesn't explicitly address the detention system, but it makes a good example. My wife once said that she heard about a seminar for nonprofits on building relationships with the wider community, and she said "in immigration detention work, we don't have a wider community -- our clients are a miscellany of people whose friends and family are scattered all over the country." In the US today, imprisonment has been nationalized** -- that is, you don't necessarily go to the prison nearest to where you live or allegedly did something wrong. The Florence, Arizona detention centers house plenty of people who were picked up for immigration violations in Boston. Eloy, Arizona recently completed a new prison specifically for people serving criminal sentences from Alaska and Hawaii.

Even if you accept the principle that it's OK to put people behind bars as a punishment or to prevent them from absconding, it's still detrimental for those bars to be on the opposite side of the country from the inmate/detainee's family and community. For people serving sentences, being jailed close to your community means loved ones can visit you, contributing to your own mental health as well as the maintenance of your ties to the community, which in turn make it more likely that you'll be re-integrated into society upon your release. For detainees, the distance is a critical factor in whether you can win your case. Winning an immigration case is hugely dependent on support from people on the outside who can organize documents and testify (the huge role of the judge's discretion means having your family and other supporters there in person makes a great difference). It puts a high burden on detainees' families who may spend a thousand dollars to come to the hearing in person, only to find that it's postponed at the last minute because, for example, ICE hasn't read its own documents yet. I don't have any documentation of particular instances, but I would be very surprised if ICE did not at least occasionally transfer a detainee to a facility in another state in order to disrupt that person's access to legal aid. And even when a person is let out, they're often just dumped -- with nothing more than the clothes on their back -- at the Tucson bus station in the middle of the night.

*Which I suppose is better than one Colorado prison he spent time in, whose records say he's being sent to "the Soviet Union." I didn't know you could be deported through time as well as through space.

**I imagine it's only a matter of time before imprisonment is fully globalized. As little as CCA and Geo pay their guards in the US, I'm sure they could find cheaper labor abroad. Heck, I'm told in Haiti they don't even feed their prisoners, so that would save big bucks.

Quick History of Geography

My first semester of grad school, I had to take "Billie's Class," aka "History of Western Geographic Thought" with B.L. Turner II. Yesterday in the Cultural Geography class I'm teaching, I boiled Billie's Class down into a 20 minute presentation. It went something like this:

Ancient times to late 1800s: Exploration and cataloguing. Western geography was about finding new places and documenting what was there -- the coast is shaped like this, the people look like this, such-and-such plants grow there, etc.

Late 1800s to 1920s: Environmental determinism. European explorers had explored and catalogued most of the world, so geographers figured it might be time to try explaining what was going on. The theory they picked -- which dates back at least to the ancient Greeks -- was that human societies are determined by their biophysical environment. In particular, they decided that climate determines personality (e.g. people from hot climates are lazy and have high libidos). This made geography a SCIENCE because it was based on evolution, which was the paradigm of science at the time.

1930s to 1950s: Regional geography. So it turns out environmental determinism is entirely based on racism, and has no empirical support whatsoever. Oops. Geographers decided to give up on that whole embarassing "theory" thing, and go back to cataloguing. This time, they focused on cataloguing everything that's happening at one very narrowly defined place. And they used that information to try to determine where the "real," objective boundaries of "regions" are.

1950s to 1960s: Quantitative revolution. Regional geography is kind of dull, and nobody cares about it besides other geographers. Geography needs to be a SCIENCE. And since the paradigm science is now physics, that means lots and lots of math. Geographers decided they could be objective and scientific by just analyzing the spatial patterns of things.

1960s to present: Social theory. The quantitative revolution produced some useful analytical tools (including the forerunners to GIS). But if all you do is analyze patterns, you should go join the math department, because you're doing geometry, not geography. Geographers realized they needed some theories to explain how and why things were interacting in space. Luckily, there were a variety of theories available in other disciplines that could be geographized -- systems theory, neoclassical economics, Marxism, phenomenology, social psychology, postmodernism, etc.

The near future, hopefully: Geographical theory. I'd like to hope that geographers can move from borrowing other disciplines' theories to creating theories of their own (that other disciplines can also use).

18.1.08

"Gay" And "Aborigine" Are Not Mutually Exclusive

One more post before I go to bed. I was struck by this little discussion of intersectionality making it into the Sydney Morning Herald, in a story about efforts by Sydney's (white) gay community to organize a rally against recent gay-bashings, whose perpetrators have been described by police as Aboriginal:

Chris Lawrence, an Aboriginal Redfern resident who is gay, said the posters depicted "a sea of white gay men". He said coverage of gay bashings by a local gay and lesbian newspaper, the Sydney Star Observer, risked inspiring a racist backlash.

"Our concern is that the paper is beating the story up in a racial way and it risks reprisals against Aboriginal people who are homeless and frequent Oxford Street," he said. Mr Lawrence said he had never been abused for his sexuality in 16 years in Redfern. "The only abuse I've had is [for being Aboriginal] from a few white gay guys."

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Huckabee Learns A Fact

I miss the old Mike Huckabee. Back when he was hopelessly languishing at 2% of the polls, he had the freedom to occasionally say something sensible -- like that immigrants are not, in fact, the devil incarnate. But now that it looks like he has a realistic shot at the nomination, he feels like he has to pander to the nativists. His latest salvo is a plan to completely cut off all immigration from countries that harbor terrorists. Perhaps Huckabee would like to go personally tell the Christian refugees from the Middle East that they have to go home, because the same Islamist policies that lead to oppressing the Christian minority also lead to getting in bed with terrorist groups.

I do, however, have to give him a bit of credit. In his first flailing attempt at establishing his nativist cred, Huckabee tried to justify his position with a delusion about a wave of fictional Pakistani undocumented immigrants. But this time around, he's pointing out that all of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country legally (hence, by his logic, the need to cut off all immigration from certain countries). This is not just an actual fact, but a fact that many Americans are either unaware of or ignore. (Perhaps he's raised enough money now that he can afford to hire people to brief him on issues.)

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Immigration: A Triangular Affair

(With apologies to J. Baird Callicott*.)

It's easy to slip into thinking of the U.S. immigration debate as a two-sided one, with anti-migrant forces lined up against pro-migrant ones. But I think there are really three positions: nativism, business pro-migration, and progressive pro-migrant. The latter two groups, are both "pro-immigrant" in the limited sense that they want the U.S. to let in lots of immigrants and dislike punitive measures toward those who are here without status under the current regime. But once you get beyond the front lines of the battle with the nativists, the coalition between the business and progressive positions unravels quickly.

To understand the difference between the two views too often lumped together as pro-immigrant, take the following two quotes. The first is a comment left on an editorial in The Oklahoman, and quoted (with tacit approval) by Marisa Treviño:

I live here in Arizona where the infamous sheriff of Maricopa county has the" Immigration Fever" and his politics is beginning to hurt in the county pocketbook.

The illegals that were trying to get a work release and come here to work in the low paying sector has been run away. Now the Unions are sending people in to get these jobs, but they want two thirds of a higher salary. Maricopa county is now in financial trouble.


This is a common argument in favor of immigration. But it's a business-type argument that should be anathema to progressives. It boils down to "immigration is good, because immigrants work for cheap and we can exploit them." This kind of argument may make short-term gains in staving off "deport them all and build a wall" policies. But it perpetuates the destructive dynamic of pitting native and immigrant workers against each other.

Now consider this encouraging story, linked by brownfemipower, about efforts by New York carpentry unions to organize immigrant workers:

While the Carpenters union has struggled to organize immigrant workers, union members supported the walk out. "Part of what you need to do to organize non-union workers is to organize your own workers to support the campaign," said Andres Puerta, who's been organizing immigrant workers for the UBC. "Carpenters in New York are aggressive, proud union members and part of that identity is that they support these campaigns."


This approach is not going to help Maricopa County fix its immediate fiscal crisis, since it would lead to immigrants working for the same union wages as citizens (though the roots of the budget woes in Maricopa -- and other Arizona counties, and the state -- go far deeper than Sheriff Joe running immigrants out of town). But it's an approach that integrates support for migrants as people (as opposed to immigration as a phenomenon) with the rest of the progressive agenda.

*Callicott is an environmental philosopher who wrote a famous article "Animal liberation: a triangular affair," which argued that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that the environmental debate is a matter of anthropocentrists versus non-anthropocentrists, there are actually three positions -- anthropocentrism, animal liberation, and ecocentrism. Ecocentrists like Callicott have nearly as much to complain about against the animal liberation view as they do against anthropocentrism.

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Utilitarians And Brain Damage

Going through some old blog carnivals, I came across a post by Wesley Buckwalter provocatively titled "Are Utilitarians Brain-Damaged?" The post describes an interesting experiment* in which normal people and people with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (known to play an important role in emotion) in their brain were both asked to evaluate various moral dilemmas. Both groups tended to make utilitarian judgments about moral dilemmas that were impersonal (involving strangers and actions separated from the decider by some chain of cause-and-effect). But when faced with personal moral dilemmas (which required direct actions on known individuals), only the brain-damaged people continued to make utilitarian judgments. (Note that in studies like these, there is typically a good amount of variability between people -- so there were probably plenty of "normal" people who made utilitarian judgments in all cases.)

This study confirms some interesting things about how our brains work. But I'm not sure it says as much about how we should make moral judgments as Buckwalter suggests. He concludes his post:

If it is true that we have experimental proof that in certain circumstances intuitions and emotions are necessary to bring about normal moral judgments, what are the implications for popular consequentialist theories, which, it could be argued, sometimes rely on the absence of emotion in the decision making process? Further, if it is the case that a particular part of the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for the emotions that in some cases give rise to moral judgment, can Utilitarianism account for the fact that it may require something of its agents that is just contrary to their mental
architecture?


That the demands of utilitarianism often run contrary to our intuitions about particular cases is nothing new. Bentham and Mill were, after all, social reformers. And indeed, what's the point of a moral philosophy that never tells us we ought to do something we didn't already think we should do (or more precisely, that sets out to make sure it never asks us to do such a thing)? In any event, since the study showed both kinds of people making utilitarian judgments in some cases, it's equally challenging to consistent anti-utilitarians. This study might have raised problems if it had shown that the normal patients couldn't reason, or act, in a consistently more utilitarian way than their intuitions led them to. But it showed no
such thing, and in fact we have good reason to believe that people can alter or recallibrate their intuitive judgments.

Moral psychology is an important pursuit, but interpreting its results requires caution about the is/ought divide. After all, if someone did a study showing that nomal people are susceptible to the Gambler's Fallacy but people with damage to a certain part of the brain are not, we would not take that as evidence that the Gambler's Fallacy is correct after all and statisticians are brain-damaged, nor that trying to teach people to be more statistically literate is a fool's errand.

I would note as well that it's questionable to take this study to demonstrate that people with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex necessarily always reason in a utilitarian manner (nor that normal people always reason the specific way the control group did). After all, if you are entirely devoid of emotion, why would you care about saving the greater number of people or causing others less harm? I think a more culturally sensitive interpretation of the results is that they confirm the dual-process theory of judgment (that we have a quick intuitive, affect-based process and a slower methodical, cognition-based process) and that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is critical in applying the quick process. The specific content of
those processes, however, may be (to a greater or lesser extent) culturally variable, so it's only in certain cultures -- such as the dominant culture of the modern West, where something like utilitarianism is deeply engrained as the very definition of
rationality -- that the slow process would produce specifically utilitarian results.

*I don't have access to the original paper at the moment, so all of my discussion is working from Buckwalter's summary.

14.1.08

Respect In Theory Versus Respect In Practice*

I mostly read and link to blogs that would fall in the broad category "political." I find it easier to get into and engage with posts that are written as philosophical essays addressed to the world at large. But the same kinds of issues come up on "personal" blogs -- sometimes even more powerfully for being shorn of abstract theory. A case in point is Frankie's description of some fat-bashing comments made by some friends:

The rest of the evening, I couldn't forget the tone of distain in their voices even though we had moved onto other topics. I felt worthless and invisible. Disrespected. Even the people I consider my friends don't really respect me because of my weight. I bet if I asked them whether or not they respected me they would say they did. But to speak like that in front of me was a blatant disregard of my feelings, of something I struggle with every day.


The kind of "present company excluded" thinking she describes here is deeply pernicious. A number of commenters replying to her post seem to me to miss the point, by reassuring her that while her friends may hate fat, they probably don't think of Frankie as fat.

The problem with that is that Frankie is fat. She knows she's fat, she has the objective physical characteristics that would meet any reasonable definition of fat, and people she interacts with, from strangers to family, reinforce that judgment. And so fat-bashing stings even when the basher would claim not to apply their comments to her personally. By the logic of their language, they're still talking about Frankie's body. The "oh, but you aren't fat" dodge makes things worse -- it in effect says "we know you're a good person -- smart and funny and caring and hot -- so you couldn't possibly be one of those fatties." That makes the person to whom it's directed invisible, refusing to see a significant aspect of who they are and what they have to deal with in their life, forcibly redefining them as part of the "in group" so as to avoid having to question the hostility directed at the "out group."

Even if Frankie could interpret her friends as using some definition of "fat" that excluded her, there are still lots of people out there who do count as fat. To ask anyone to accept a "present company excluded" type caveat is to demand selfishness, to demand that they accept hurting others as long as they (and/or those close to them) are spared. That's wrong, and all the more so when you know what it would be like to not be spared in that way.

*Some day I'm going to go count up the proportion of my posts whose titles are "X and Y" or "X versus Y."

10.1.08

Botanical Trivia

Apparently kale, collard greens, cabbage, broccoli, Chinese broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi are all (different cultivars of) the same species. Similarly, most of our squashes (from acorn to zucchini) are one species. I feel kind of like Homer Simpson when he was told bacon, ham, and pork all come from the same animal.

A Quick Link

The New Times has a great article making the specific point that Sherrif Joe and Andrew Thomas ("Attorney Andy"?) are loathsome people, and the general point that having local law enforcement get involved with immigration enforcement is a disaster.

8.1.08

[UPDATED] An Inspiring Speech, As Speeches Operating Within Conventional Assumptions Go

[UPDATE: I finally had time to find a transcript of the speech. I turned my paraphrases into real quotes, and struck out my parenthetical comment about not mentioning feminism since I somehow missed his reference to the suffragettes.]

Dear Barack Obama,

There are lots of good examples of Americans struggling successfully for justice and happiness that you could use to illustrate your point of "yes we can"* in your concession speech. You hit a bunch of the good ones -- abolition of slavery, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, and immigrants** (though I notice feminism didn't make the cut -- have your staffers filled you in on how you lost among women by a sizeable margin? -- nor did environmentalism, much less the LGBT rights movement or the disability movement). But why did you have to try to inspire us with the image of "pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness"?

That "wilderness" had a lot of people living there, most of whom your pioneers killed either directly or indirectly (not to mention the fact that westward expansion of European settlement was as much a government-managed enterprise as a grassroots movement). And the idea of people struggling against the wilderness perpetuates the idea of a fundamental opposition between humans and nature, which is something you shouldn't be reinforcing if you're serious about your earlier line about eliminating oil dependence.

* I was hoping that, while he was chanting "yes we can," he'd drop in a "sí se puede."
** Immigrants from "distant shores," hence implicitly the good European or possibly Asian ones, not the Mexicans.

6.1.08

Open Letter

Dear Hugo,

I'm a pretty ignorant white guy. I don't know a quarter of what you know about feminism -- and next to nothing about women of color. (I'm inside the house with the shutters closed, as it were.) I haven't followed the controversies over Full Frontal Feminism or the Yes Means Yes proposal in any detail at all. But even I could tell that the arguments you claim to be responding to aren't the arguments that your critics are actually making. I read your posts and immediately thought "that can't possibly be what they're criticizing FFF and YMY for." Is it too much to ask you to hold off on the overwrought mea-culpa-cum-apologia until you can accurately diagnose the culpa?

5.1.08

Labor Supports Immigrants

I made a comment about this in response to Alon Levy in the candidate post, but I thought it deserved a post of its own because the results of my Googling were so pleasantly surprising. Levy expressed concern that the nativism that led the AFL to support the Chinese Exclusion Act back in 1882 is still rampant among U.S. unions.

I knew that there is a good argument to be made as to why labor should support a progressive immigration policy. So I went to see what the major unions actually did think about the issue. I checked out the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME, and Teamsters -- and came away impressed. Their official stances all took basically the strong pro-immigrant line that I would have wanted to hear. Indeed, they all opposed last year's immigration reform bill from the left -- because it was too harsh on immigrants and allowed employers to continue exploiting them.

The pro-labor pro-immigrant argument that the unions make goes basically like this: the problems faced by American labor and immigrants to America share two basic causes:

1) Poorly designed "free trade" policies like NAFTA wreck the economic prospects of the lower classes in other countries (thus pushing them to migrate), as well as making the position of workers in the US more precarious. So both groups would be well-served by revoking or re-writing these trade policies.

2) The precariousness of immigrants' ability to stay in the U.S. enables others -- most notably for our purposes, employers -- to exploit them. This is bad for immigrant workers because it virtually eliminates their power to demand decent wages and working conditions. And it's bad for American workers because those exploited immigrant workers end up in competition with American workers, pushing down wages. The solution is to give more immigrants status, thereby leveling the playing field and allowing immigrant and citizen workers to play complementary roles in the economy. The unions recognize that "guest worker" programs do not address this issue, as they serve to regularize, rather than eliminate, the exploitative relationship between employers and immigrant workers.

In sum, immigrants are here to work, so unions should support them just like they support citizens who are here to work.

The official stances of the unions' national organizations do not, of course, necessarily tell you what the rank-and-file (much less all blue-collar workers) think. But they do show that the progressive argument on immigration can be persuasive to them, and so conflict between American labor and immigrants is not inevitable.

3.1.08

Vindication

I'd just like to point out that I was exactly correct in my predictions for the Iowa caucuses. Specifically, I was exactly right in predicting that my predictions would be wildly off-base.

I Endorse "None Of The Above" In The Democratic Primary

I had plans to write a whole series of posts with my thoughts on each of the Democratic candidates as the primaries drew near. But here we are on the day of the Iowa caucuses, and I never got around to it. While it's likely that all the candidates will stick it out at least until New Hampshire (it's only a week, after all), the race changes as soon as real votes are cast (or real corners are stood in, as it were). So this is the abridged (yet still monstrous) version. (I'm presenting the candidates in rough order of their usual standing in the polls.)

I'm not concerned here with the candidates viability, or electability, or any other such strategic questions -- my prediction record is dismal enough for me to wave off making those judgments. What I am concerned with is this: Do I trust this person to move the country in a generally and substantially progressive direction?

The title of the post gives away the punchline: none of the candidates meet the bar for me. All of them seem too likely to maintain the status quo, stepping back from the worst excesses of the Bush years but not leading us in any transformative steps forward. If I had to choose, at this point I would lean towards Obama. For reasons detailed below, I would not call myself an Obama supporter. But in the absence of any candidate that can inspire me, I'll take one who can break a glass ceiling, and Obama is more progressive than Clinton or Richardson. Plus, being a precinct captain for Obama and going to caucus trainings by Cornell West has apparently radicalized my mother-in-law's views on race.

It probably shouldn't be necessary to say this, but to forestall any willful misinterpretation: as disappointed as I am with the Democratic field, they're saints compared to the ogres of the Republican party. If Arizona is in any danger at all of being a close race (or if the Libertarians are the only third party on the ballot again), I will without hesitation vote for the Democrat -- whichever one it may be -- in November.

Mike Gravel

I have to give Gravel credit for thinking big. Where most of the other candidates follow cautiously behind the idea folks, adopting the least boat-rocking versions of proposals, Gravel has two big ideas: a national sales tax, and a national referendum system. Unfortunately, neither of these big ideas are progressive ones.

The sales tax is the most obviously regressive. I've written before about why it's a bad idea. In summary, while progressives should be advocating a tax system that demands proportionally more of the well-off and expands aid to the less-well-off, Gravel's tax proposal would be flat if considered on a purchase-by-purchase basis and regressive when you take the full set of each person's expenditures into account (and the basic structure is not changed by putting a small kink in the bottom to take the pressure off the poorest).

The referendum sounds potentially progressive (and it has roots in early 20th-century progressivism, which instituted it in many states -- unlike the sales tax, which originated on the right). Progressives should be looking for ways to make policymaking more democratic, expanding democracy beyond just elections. But I don't think referenda are the way to go. Legislatures are able to deliberate -- to get together and discuss bills, creating counter-proposals and adopting amendments and coordinating between different areas of law. However imperfectly ("very") this happens in practice, it is practically impossible in the case of a referendum. Voters are presented with a bare up-or-down choice on a single version of a proposal (or worse, simultaneous up-or-down choices on several competing versions). What I would rather see is increased use of deliberative public participation in administrative rule-making (and even legislation-drafting).

Dennis Kucinich

If you were to go purely by their policy white papers, I should be endorsing Kucinich. He's the only candidate who supports single payer health care and same-sex marriage (without supporting additional bad ideas like Gravel). But then I have to ask whether Kucinich would actually get the job done. And here he comes up short. Kucinich, to put it bluntly, does not play well with others. He'd rather draw a line in the sand than figure out how to get things done. He gets credit for choosing leftism as the substantive agenda about which to be self-righteous and purist -- though his conversion to the cause is very recent, as is apparent when you trace his voting record on abortion back past the start of his '04 presidential run. There's definitely a role for an uncompromising conscience figure in the party. But "president" is not the right job to put that person in. Kucinich would be too petulant, too quick to sabotage progressive legislative efforts to prove his progressiver-than-thou bona fides, to make an effective leader of the country.

Chris Dodd

Dodd generally looks good. He's got a solidly, though not exceptionally, liberal voting scorecard in the Senate. And he's showed some leadership in the past (Family and Medical Leave Act) and in the present (FISA). Nevertheless, it's notable that I'd never really heard of him until he declared he was going to run. There have been many times when someone should have stood up and made a serious filibuster threat -- many of them more important than the latest FISA bill (e.g. the original FISA bill, or the Alito, Roberts, or Mukasey nominations) -- and Dodd didn't do it (nor, to be fair, did any of the other Senators in or out of the presidential race). And indeed, over the years he has voted for a variety of bad laws, whenever the Democrats decided to go along with the right -- NAFTA, the 1996 immigration law, the Patriot Act, the Iraq war, etc.

Dodd is also too much of an insider. Though the establishment has thrown its weight behind Clinton, Dodd doesn't challenge them much. After all, he announced his candidacy on Don Imus's show (and didn't repudiate him during the "nappy-headed hos" scandal). And his conventionality is reflected in his positions on the issues, which are all about what you'd expect from Generic Democrat. For example, he made a point of being against giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and used that to slam Clinton when she was wavering -- hardly an instance of progressive leadership.

Joe Biden

Biden's selling point is his foreign policy knowledge. I don't doubt that he's a very smart and well-informed man on this topic. But then I consider his most noted foreign policy proposal -- partitioning Iraq into three semi-independent regions. Whether or not this is the best route for Iraq to go, it signals a wrong direction for America. The partition plan is not supported by most Iraqis. And even if they did support it, a change of that monumental import should be done by Iraqis, not by America. We should be getting out of Iraq and letting it set its own course, not continuing to try to push solutions to fix the country. It seems Biden has let his confidence in his own foreign policy smarts erode the humility that a post-Bush foreign policy requires. In general, I worry that Biden's ego will get in his way.

Then there's the fact that Biden is in the pocket of the banking industry (I'm sad that mergers have killed the "D-MBNA" joke, since "D-Bank of America" doesn't have the same ring to it). The structure of modern capitalism is a key problem in today's society, and while I don't expect any of the candidates to make huge strides in changing it, Biden is the most likely of the Democrats to try to support it.

Bill Richardson

Way back at the outset of this campaign, I had positive feelings about Richardson. This inspired me to learn a little more about him ... and I came away convinced that he's probably the most conservative candidate in the race. His experience is a plus, but much less of one than most people make it out to be because he was using that time in office to practice being a moderate, not a progressive.

Richardson's big theme has been the war. I can't entirely fault him for turning into a one-trick pony, since that may be what you have to do to get the media to start paying attention to you (and it worked for Dean last time around). Nevertheless, he chose to make a mountain out of the molehill's worth of difference between the candidates' stated plans on Iraq, when his own position on the issue is not entirely trustworthy. Richardson has been no long-time war opponent -- in fact, he supported the war when it started.

I do have to give Richardson credit for his stance on the environment, which -- because of the way he highlights the importance of controlling sprawl and boosting public transportation -- seems to indicate more engagement with the issue than the other candidates have. Nevertheless, he seems terriby uninformed about the substance of many issues. For example, he made embarassing stumbles in the first debate when he cited Byron White as his favorite Supreme Court justice and thought Roe v. Wade was decided in the 1980s, and in the gay rights debate when he said homosexuality is a choice. This may actually be a good quality in a mediator -- it's useful to be free of pre-concieved notions and agendas about the solution. But it's a terrible quality in a president who should be showing progressive leadership.

Finally, I have questions about Richardson's governance style. One of the most damaging aspects of Bush's presidency is the nepotism, the privileging of loyalty over competence. Based on what I've read about how he runs New Mexico, I'd say of all the Democrats running, Richardson seems the most likely to give us another "heckuva job, Brownie" moment.

John Edwards

Of the three leading candidates, Edwards appears the most progressive in terms of his policy proposals and his rhetoric on the stump. He gets more credit than anyone else for bringing new ideas to the race -- about poverty and the fundamental brokenness of our corporate system -- and trying to shift the conversation rather than just cautiously follow it. (Gravel tried this, but his new ideas were bad and nobody would listen to him.)

The problem is that these new ideas are pretty new to Edwards, too. His campaign this year is strikingly different from the affable centrist image he ran on in 2003-2004. The 03-04 Edwards is more consistent with the Edwards who represented North Carolina for a term in the Senate. There, he got consistently mediocre-for-a-Democrat ratings from various issue groups. And most damningly, he co-sponsored the Iraq war resolution.

Perhaps his conversion -- which, to his credit (much like Howard Dean, whose netroots support he inherited while, inexplicably, never really becoming the "netroots candidate") he portrays as a conversion -- is real. But I can't find any way to trust that for sure. Or perhaps, as some Edwards supporters have argued, he was a progressive at heart all along, but was just pandering to his red-state constituents. If that's the case, he's likely to slip back as president -- because the USA, while bluer than North Carolina, is significantly redder than the Democratic base he's playing to right now.

Even if his recent conversion is genuine, Edwards has no experience governing as a progressive. Everyone else in the race is campaigning as the same kind of politician they've been in their most recent office. But Edwards left the Senate before his transformation into a progressive, and spent the intervening three years preparing himself to run for president. Without meaning any disrespect to the current candidates for North Carolina Senator (about whom I know almost nothing), I would be quite happy to see the current incarnation of Edwards make a bid to get back into Congress. He's a young guy, so he could spend four to eight years (depending on how the '08 election turns out) learning how to put his new rhetoric into practice and proving himself before trying to become leader of the free world.

Sometimes, Edwards' shakiness on his new progressive feet shows through -- notably for me on the issue of same-sex marriage. Most of the other candidates are pretty straightforward in showing that they're not serious about this issue, regurgitating the same unresponsive formulas about "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," then trying to change the topic. Edwards, on the other hand, has made a clumsy attempt to present himself as thoughtful and earnest -- but without actually adopting the progressive position. He gives us a tortured story about how he's "not there yet," winking to progressives that maybe he'll support them when he's in office, but pointedly not triggering the "oh no, Edwards likes the gays" reaction from non-progressives. The journey metaphor grates on me, because when it comes to beliefs, if you know your destination, you're there already. The only way to be on a journey is if you're unsure where you should end up.

Barack Obama

I think Obama is basically a progressive at heart. If he could wave a magic wand and get the substantive outcomes he wanted, they'd fall basically in line with what I'd realistically hope for from a candidate I supported.

The problem is, Obama doesn't seem to care about the substantive issues that much. Instead, he fetishizes the bipartisan process that he thinks will get us there (and himself as the one anointed to lead this process). This means, on the one hand, that his grasp of the content of the issues sometimes fails -- for example, in his early endorsement of "clean coal" (which he was able to sort of back down from), or the lack of a mandate in his health care plan (which he tried to spin as the central virtue of his plan). It also means he's prone to adopting right-wing frames, from "Democrats hate God" to campaigning with ex-gay entertainer Donnie McClurkin to "trial lawyers are evil" (the recent claim that he bashed Gore and Kerry is, I think, baseless -- but he set himself up for being misinterpreted with his larger pattern of attacking his party from the right).

For someone dedicated to creating a new kind of politics, he's shown very little leadership in the Senate. For example, he couldn't even bring himself to vote against the Kyl-Lieberman bill rattling our saber at Iran (though he happily knocked Clinton for voting for it), nor could he get himself back to DC to take a stand on the FISA bill last month.

Lack of experience is another issue. The experience charge is a bit rich coming from all the Edwards supporters at DailyKos, given that their man's government experience is a big one term in the Senate, and his pre-government job as a trial lawyer, admirable as it may be, is not as relevant to governing as Obama's background as a law professor and community organizer (though I'm still not clear what exactly he accomplished in his organizing). Obama is no neophyte, but what he's lacking is the kind of experience possibly most important to a president (since it's the arena he has the freest rein in): foreign policy. It's great that Obama spent part of his years growing up in Indonesia -- but citing that ends up making the opposite of the point he wants to make if that's his best or only experience dealing with foreign countries.

Hillary Clinton

The obvious reason not to support Clinton is her hawkishness. She's positioned herself as a moderate on many issues (perhaps as a reaction against the right-wing meme that she's a crazy pinko), such as her ill-advised strike against violent video games. She voted for the Iraq war, and has pointedly refused to apologize for it. She's been the most aggressive toward Iran (and the most sincerely so -- Obama's occasional saber-rattling, for example, comes off as just a pander). I think the lesson she learned from the Bush years is not that military intervention is a bad way to conduct foreign policy, but that you need someone competent at the helm, such as herself, to make it work. While I doubt she'd start World War III, she's likely to repeat her husband's use of force abroad.

She also seems to have learned the wrong lesson about the expansion of executive power. While most of the other candidates run on a message of changing the system, Clinton's message is that we just need a better person to play the system. I have trouble envisioning her rolling back the Bush-era arrogant assumption of power by the executive branch.

My last problem with Clinton is that she's clearly the establishment candidate. I don't hate the party establishment out of pure contrarianism or love for the underdog. Rather, I hate it because the particular Democratic establishment that we have today is rotten. It's a club of short-term thinkers in the grip of a variety of powerful but detrimental myths about politics and policy, more concerned with their own advancement and looking good in front of other establishment figures (on both sides of the aisle) than with making substantive changes for the good of the country. Clinton (as well as Dodd, Biden, and Richardson, and to a lesser degree Obama) would listen most closely to these people, and put them in charge of running things.