Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Thursday, February 29, 2024

ABA adopts academic freedom standard, but 'Crossroads' convo shows, not everybody gets it

Is the American Bar Association (ABA) "Doing Enough to Promote Viewpoint Diversity?," panelists were asked at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Louisville, Ky., on February 3.

No, I say emphatically. So I was pleased that my take was represented on the panel by Kentucky attorney Philip D. Williamson and South Texas College of Law Professor Josh Blackman.

Having made a quantitative assessment of 10 years of ABA amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court, Williamson listed positions to which the ABA has committed itself. The ABA has taken positions, such as on Roe and Dobbs, that are not related to the practice of law or legal professionalism, and about which there is rational disagreement among lawyers. 

ABA briefs also take "diametrically opposed" positions, Williamson said: favoring stare decisis in Dobbs, but disfavoring it on juror unanimity; favoring state power in a Republican administration, favoring federal power in a Democrat administration; regarding tribal classifications as political rather than racial, and then, under the Trump travel ban, arguing nationality classifications as racial rather than political. One might ask, Williamson posited, "Why does the ABA care about this at all?"

The only common thread in ABA positions, Williamson said, is consistency with liberal politics. Would right-of-center lawyers feel welcome in the ABA?, Williamson asked. "No." There might be one amicus in the pile that aligned with a red-state attorney general, Williamson said, but it's "hard to find."

Williamson also criticized ABA policy on racial classifications as hypocritical. Until recently, the ABA had numerical quotas based on race in composing panels for continuing legal education (CLE) programs. The ABA backed down when the Florida Bar resisted awarding CLE credits upon a policy it viewed as unconstitutionally racially discriminatory.

Williamson observed that for ABA diversity purposes, "Asian" regards a Bangladeshi person and a Chinese person as "interchangeable." "Maybe we could fine tune how we think about race," Williamson said, "rather than how fast you sunburn in Miami." You won't read that in the ABA coverage of the event.

Williamson, Thomas, Blackman, and Rosenblum
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Chicago attorney Juan R. Thomas said he welcomes viewpoint diversity, subject to one condition: He paraphrased James Baldwin: "We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist." (The quote is widely attributed to Baldwin, but I cannot find an original source.)

We can debate which Super Bowl team is the better, Thomas said, but not whether they play football.

I admire Thomas quite a bit, and the Baldwin quote is a self-evident truth. But it's also a red herring.

Blackman asked in response—also omitted from the ABA coverage—"if I can't oppose qualified immunity because it's not grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, that makes me a racist?"

Thomas, who is a minister besides lawyer, also voiced a "dirty secret," that "not all people of color are progressives." He should have directed the observation to the ABA, not to his co-panelist adversaries. Their very point was that the ABA should be wary of taking politically charged positions over which reasonable, informed people disagree.

To Thomas's point, a lawyer commenting from the audience said something that resonated with me: that he personally opposes lawmakers making abortion decisions for women, but he believes that Roe was wrongly decided as a matter of federalism. That's the unpopular conclusion that I, too, came to, many years ago. I refrain from voicing it in the liberal circles of academia.

My position on affirmative action is similar. I champion socioeconomic equality and fully acknowledge systemic racism, but I so abhor government classification based on race that I cannot countenance official discrimination as a purported redress of discrimination. I rather would redress systemic inequalities through socioeconomic amelioration.

I said as much once out loud, and the r-word charges upended my life and career. An ABA accreditation site team at the time was fully informed of the matter and brushed it under the rug. One rocks the boat at one's hazard at an ABA-compliant school.

Which brings me to an interesting point and an occasion for the ABA discussion: At the time of the caucus meeting, the ABA had just signed off on new legal education Standard 208, which requires ABA-accredited law schools, such as the one where I work, to "adopt, publish, and adhere to written policies that protect academic freedom."

That only took 70 years since the Second Red Scare.

I'm keen to see whether the ABA really will follow through. ABA accreditation of law schools is nothing but a pricey protection racket. Entry costs are steep to join the club, but once you're in, you can do no wrong—almost: woe to the unfortunate straggler left to hang in the wind to prove the legitimacy of the system. The ABA is terrified of losing its monopoly power over legal education, as it did over judicial confirmation.

The kicker-quote in the ABA's own coverage of the caucus program does not induce confidence: "'I would be proud to be the last member standing of an association that fights against oppression,' [attorney and author Lauren Stiller Rikleen] stated."

Right, because that's what this is about. Standing for equality and rule of law makes me pro oppression.

The ABA Midyear panel on "Are the ABA and the Legal Profession Doing Enough to Promote Viewpoint Diversity?" comprised Williamson, Blackman, Thomas, and Oregon Attorney General Ellen F. Rosenblum. Senior U.S. Sixth Circuit Judge Danny J. Boggs moderated.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Frum invokes Judge Learned Hand on self-doubt to build case for 'uncanceling' Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson, 1912
Library of Congress
In the March Atlantic David Frum pleaded for the "uncanceling" of Woodrow Wilson and gave a shout out to the great Judge Learned Hand.

Frum exhibited his usual eloquence in pleading for understanding that people are complicated and we ought not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Wilsonianism has guided American foreign policy for a century and has done a lot of good in the world, Frum argued persuasively. One cannot pretend away that legacy in an eagerness to embrace the admittedly ample evidence of Wilson's racism and bigotry.

We ought be wary as well, Frum observed, that right and left both are eager to "cancel" Wilson. The left for his racism, of course. The anti-regulatory right, meanwhile, sees Wilson as a forefather of both globalism and the administrative state. Besides his vision for what would become the United Nations, Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission Act into law in 1914. With the Chevron doctrine presently withering in the Supreme Court, lefties, be careful what you're canceling.

An aside on the subject of left and right: The Economist published a fabulous opinion piece last week that's a balm for classical liberals such as myself who have been rendered ideologically homeless by the ironic Republican embrace of "the state [as] savior." (Every American libertarian, by which I mean most Americans, should read it, so it's unfortunate that it's paywalled.)

In the course of his reasoned plea, Frum further observed:

We live now in a more polarized time [than Wilson's], one of ideological extremes on both left and right. Learned Hand, a celebrated federal judge of Wilson’s era, praised "the spirit which is not too sure that it is right." Our contemporaries have exorcised that spirit. We are very sure that we are right. We have little tolerance for anyone who seems in any degree wrong.

Hear, hear. The line comes from Hand's famous "Spirit of Liberty" speech in 1944. Read more at Judicature.

Torts students know Learned Hand for his also famous formula to describe rational choice as a weighing of burdens against the risk of loss. Hand was prolific, and his subtle influences can be traced through many fields of American law in the 20th century. Indeed, see The Atlantic in 1961.

Just yesterday, as it happens, I was talking after class with a 1L Torts student about the imperative that legal education empower a student to challenge one's own assumptions. I know what you're thinking, but it was she who made the point. "We should question ourselves," she said. "We should never stop questioning."

Wise woman.

Speaking of wise women, hat tip @ my wife for spying The Economist item.

Incidentally, the cover story of the March Atlantic concerns police response to mass shooting events, focusing on, but definitely not limited to, the Deputy Scot Peterson matter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In June 2023, Peterson was acquitted on all charges after a trial in which authorities alleged felony child neglect and criminal negligence. In January 2024, a Florida court denied a defense motion to dismiss civil suits by 17 families against Peterson, clearing the matter for trial.

Frum's article is Uncancel Woodrow Wilson, The Atlantic, Mar. 2024 (online Feb. 2, 2024) (subscription).

Friday, February 23, 2024

'Gripping' Ugandan documentary makes Oscar cut

Uganda has its first ever Oscar-nominated film, a documentary about political persecution and daring resistance to the Museveni regime.

Bobi Wine: The People's President tells the story of musician Bobi Wine's transition from pop culture to political activist running for the presidency of Uganda against entrenched incumbent Yoweri Museveni. En route, Wine is arrested many times, brutally beaten, and effectively exiled from his homeland.

Here is the trailer.


For On the Media, Brooke Gladstone has a compelling interview with Wine himself and director Moses Bwayo.

In following Bobi Wine for the film, the film crew was itself in peril. If behind the scenes was as breathtaking as Bwayo described, I can't imagine how unnerving the end product must be. Wine briefly spoke on OTM of his torture by Ugandan authorities, and it's not easy to hear, before he himself stopped and said he could not talk it about it more.

It happens that my all-time favorite documentary to date is Call Me Kuchu (2012), which deals with the detestable persecution of the LGBTQ community in Uganda. Call Me Kuchu is hard to watch, but I come away from it every time thinking it should be required viewing for humanity: a lesson in immorality, the horror that results when the great commandment of Matthew 22:39 is disregarded. 

I note that it's not clear Wine himself, for all his persecution, quite gets the takeaway on the LGBTQ question. But he might have come around, and he's probably right that the Museveni regime leverages past transgressions against him.

Anyway, I am keen to see Bobi Wine, which is streaming in the United States on Hulu and Disney+, where the film is touted as "gripping." Fortunately, the film can be seen in Africa and even has been screened in Uganda. Wine told OTM that National Geographic has made the film available for streaming throughout the continent.

Shockingly, Wine told OTM that he is intent on returning to Uganda. Much as I would like to see change for Uganda—I've traveled there, and it's a magnificent country—I hope Wine takes to heart the lesson of Alexei Navalny and well considers his timing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

To combat corruption, India Supreme Court strikes down dark money system, cites U.S. precedents

Late last week, the Supreme Court of India struck a blow for transparency and accountability when it ruled unconstitutional a system of anonymous political donation.

In a 2017 law, India had adopted a system of "electoral bonds." These are not investment bonds. Rather, to make a political donation, a donor was required to buy a political bond from the State Bank of India, and the bank then gave the money to the indicated political candidate.

The bond system was adopted ostensibly to further transparency and accountability. By requiring all political donations to be processed by the state bank, regulators could ensure compliance with donor restrictions. The system was supposed, then, to balance donor anonymity—a legitimate extension of free speech rights—with anti-corruption regulation.

P.M. Narendra Modi speaks to Pres. Biden at the G20, 2022.
White House photo via Flickr
But as Darian Woods reported for The Indicator, the party in power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi received 90% of donations. It seems less likely that imbalance represented overwhelming enthusiasm for the Modi administration and much more likely that corporate donors sought favor with the administration and feared retaliation otherwise, despite their seeming anonymity. For while they were anonymous to the public, their identities were known to the state bank. And the state bank is under the control of the administration.

The India Supreme Court ruled that the electoral bond system is incompatible with the fundamental "right to know" (RTK), that is, with Indian norms of freedom of information (FOI). I wrote in 2017 about India's Right to Information Act (RTIA), a statutory instrument akin to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOI, or access to information (ATI), for India, though, is in sync with contemporary norms elsewhere in the world, notably Europe, where RTK or FOI is recognized as a human right. Courts such as the India Supreme Court, like the Court of Justice of the EU, therefore have the constitutional enforcement power of judicial review.

The India Supreme Court, as it often does on important constitutional questions, surveyed other common law nations. And despite our weak and non-textual recognition of FOI as a constitutional right, the United States earned several mentions. Saliently, the court cited the old stalwart, Buckley v Valeo (U.S. 1976), for "concern of quid pro quo arrangements and [the] dangers to a fair and effective government. Improper influence erodes and harms the confidence in the system of representative government." Disclosure, the India court reasoned,

helps and aides the voter in evaluating those contesting elections. It allows the voter to identify interests which candidates are most likely to be responsive to, thereby facilitating prediction of future performance in office. Secondly, it checks actual corruption and helps avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity. Relying upon Grosjean v. American Press Co. (U.S. 1936), [disclosure] holds that informed public opinion is the most potent of all restraints upon misgovernment. Thirdly, record keeping, reporting and disclosure are essential means of gathering data necessary to detect violations of contribution limitations.

For a more recent vintage, the India court cited Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC (U.S. 2000): 

[T]he Supreme Court of the United States observes that large contributions given to secure a political quid pro quo undermines the system of representative democracy. It stems public awareness of the opportunities for abuse inherent in a regime of large contributions. This effects the integrity of the electoral process not only in the form of corruption or quid pro quo arrangements, but also extending to the broader threat of the beneficiary being too compliant with the wishes of large contributors.

So the India court fairly observed that the U.S. Supreme Court has been willing to unmask donors, even if the Supreme Court has lately been less than enthusiastic about regulations it once, in a Buckley world, approved. Indeed, even as the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the disparate treatment of corporations in Citizens United v. FEC (U.S. 2010), it approved of disclosure requirements. 

The India court found support for disclosure in defense against corruption in other national regimes, too, for example, in Canada and Australia. Alas, there, comparisons with the United States deteriorate in practice. The India Supreme Court did not mention the dark (money) side to America's affair with transparency. Read more at the Brennan Center for Justice.

The case is Association for Democratic Reforms v. India (India Feb. 15, 2024).

Thursday, October 5, 2023

'Statute of limitations is a very real thing in this country'

"The statute of limitations is a very real thing in this country," former President and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump told reporters Monday at the New York court where he faces civil fraud claims.

I say the same thing to my 1L class every fall. Finally, some authority to back me up.

Though I can't help but think that the former President is thinking of the E. Jean Carroll matter.  Carroll filed her defamation and battery claims against the former President under New York's Adult Survivors Act (ASA). The act temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for civil claims arising from alleged sexual abuse, allowing a year-long "look-back window." Carroll filed on the day the act took effect.

The ASA opened look-back to all of a complainant's adult life. The window will close on November 23, 2023. In 2019, New York extended the statute of limitations for adult survivor claims from three to 20 years, but the extension is not retroactive. The N.Y. Law Journal reported 67 ASA lawsuits filed by February 2023; according to Katz Banks Kumin, citing The Wall Street Journal, 106 suits had been filed by May 2023. Though in April 2023, The Appeal reported "nearly 1,000" claims under the ASA by incarcerated or formerly incarcerated women against corrections officers.

The ASA was enacted as a political response to the #MeToo movement and a pointed plank in the platform of New York's first female governor, Kathy Hochul. The ASA was modeled on the New York Child Victims Act of 2019, which was in significant part a response to abuse in the Catholic Church.

The Child Victims Act similarly extended the New York limitations period for child survivors' civil claims to a victim's age 55 and opened a look-back window, one year later extended to two, that expired in 2021. That allowance saw "almost 11,000 cases," according to the N.Y. Law Journal. Jeff Anderson has details and data. Child USA tracks such laws across the country.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Judge chides attorney for not wearing coat

An Arkansas Supreme Court justice earlier this month called out a professor-attorney for not wearing a coat in a Zoom argument.

Associate Justice Courtney Rae Hudson took to task attorney and Professor Robert Steinbuch, Arkansas Little Rock, my colleague and past co-author on freedom-of-information works (book, essay), first, for not wearing a coat over his button-down shirt in the Zoom argument on February 2, and then for not having asked advance permission to use a demonstrative exhibit. She had the court and counsel wait painfully while Steinbuch and his attorney-client fetched coats.

Steinbuch probably should've worn a coat. He told Justice Hudson he had not because it interfered with his handling of the exhibit, a statutory text, within the small space of the camera view. Good excuse, bad excuse; either way, Justice Hudson's handling of the matter was condescending and, coming as it did after Steinbuch's argument, felt more personal than professional. My impression as a viewer was that Hudson was the one who came off looking worse for the exchange.

Being an aggressive advocate for transparency and accountability in Arkansas, Steinbuch has many allies in mass media, and they were not as gentlemanly about what went down as Steinbuch was. The aptly named Snarky Media Report made a YouTube video highlighting the exchange.  As Snarky told it, "Justice Hudson pulled out her Karen Card." Snarky also observed, with captured image in evidence, that "[s]everal times during the hearing Hudson appeared to be spitting into a cup."

More seriously, Snarky took the occasion to highlight past instances in which Hudson's ethics were called into question. Hudson (formerly Goodson), who was elected to the court in 2010, and her now ex-husband, a class action attorney, took two vacations abroad, valued together at $62,000, at the expense of Arkansas litigator W.H. Taylor (Legal Newsline). Hudson did report the gifts, and she said she would recuse from any case in which Taylor was involved.

Very well, but my suspicions of bias run a bit deeper. Hudson's vacation-mate ex, John Goodson, is chairman of the board of the University of Arkansas. (Correction, May 9, 2023: I'm told that Goodson ended his service on the board a year or so ago; I've not been able to ascertain the date.) One of Steinbuch's tireless transparency causes has been for Arkansas Freedom of Information Act access to the foundation funding of the university system in Arkansas, especially the flagship University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Indeed, Steinbuch wrote just last week (and on January 29), in his weekly column for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, about that very issue in connection with secret spending at Arkansas State University. University System counsel have fought ferociously and successfully for decades to stop any lawsuit or legislative bill that would open foundation books to public scrutiny.

Goodson also has what the Democrat-Gazette characterized in 2019 as "deep political and legal connections around the state" with disgraced former state Senator Jeremy Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a nemesis of former Arkansas politician Dan Greenberg (a longtime friend of mine). After Greenberg lost the senate race to Hutchinson in 2010, Greenberg sued a local newspaper, alleging a deliberate campaign of misinformation. Steinbuch supported Greenberg in the suit. Though Greenberg was unable to demonstrate actual malice to the satisfaction of the courts, discovery in the suit revealed a problematically cozy relationship between the newspaper editor and Hutchinson.

The day after the oral argument in Steinbuch's case, Hutchinson was sentenced to 46 months in prison on federal charges of bribery and tax fraud—ironic, given that a false report of ethical misconduct was a rumor that Hutchinson had sewn about Greenberg in 2010. 

I don't know; maybe Justice Hudson just gets really hung up on men's attire.  She does hail from a conservative corner of Arkansas.

But a wise friend once told me, "Nothing in Arkansas happens for the reason you think it happens."

The case is Corbitt v. Pulaski County Jail, No. CV-22-204 (Ark. oral arg. Feb. 2, 2023).

Friday, February 24, 2023

Nigerians pin high hopes on horse-race election

Voters bear PDP flags at a rally in Ilé-Ifè, Osun State, in December.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Update, March 1, 2023: Nigerian election authorities declared Bola Tinubu of the incumbent APC party as President-elect. Al Jazeera has data. Obi prevailed in Lagos, Abuja, and a band of southern states including Anambra, but turned in 6.1 million votes to Abubakar's 7 million and Tinubu's 8.8 million, according to official numbers. PDP and Labour vowed legal challenges after an election marred by technical difficulties and incidents of violent voter suppression. The U.S. State Department issued a press release.

Nigerians go to the polls in a landmark presidential election tomorrow, Saturday, February 25.

The election is landmark for many reasons. Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation. Polls show a horse race. The three-way contest with no incumbent offers an outsider option that's especially appealing to young voters. Beset by social and economic crises, Nigeria is perceived as standing at a crossroads from which ways lead either to catastrophic collapse of the rule of law or to sea-change development into continental economic powerhouse. And, unfortunately, Nigerian elections even in the best of times notoriously coincide with violent protest.

The three leading candidates are Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, and Peter Obi (linked to BBC profiles). I went to Nigeria in December to get the lay of the land.

I visited the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, one of two UNESCO
World Heritage Sites in Nigeria. Regrettably, the other, the
Sukur Cultural Landscape, is not in a safely accessible region.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Atiku Abubakar is no stranger to the election process, having run unsuccessfully before against outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari. Abubakar represents the center-right People's Democratic Party (PDP), which was the affiliation of Buhari predecessor Goodluck Jonathan. The PDP tends to conservative economic and social policy, meaning, respectively, deregulation and religious values. The latter is especially significant in Nigeria, because outbreaks of violence and the government's loss of control of northern states are complications principally of religious sectarianism. Both Abubakar and Buhari are Muslim; Jonathan is Christian. Trying to balance the demands of both the Islamic north and the Christian south simultaneously, the PDP has favored deference to regional religious authorities through laissez-faire federalism in social as well as economic policy.

A car in Ilé-Ifè advertises PDP candidates. Ilé-Ifè is a spiritual home of the Yoruba people.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

At the Central Mosque in Ilorin, Kwara State.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Bola Tinubu is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party of Buhari, who also was a military head of state in the 1980s. A millionaire, accountant, and former governor of Lagos, Tinubu is American educated and has past ties to U.S. mega-corporations such as Arthur Anderson, which collapsed after the Enron scandal, and ExxonMobil, specifically, Mobil Nigeria, which bought its way out of the environmental mess of the Niger Delta for $1.3 billion last year. A Muslim, Tinubu hails from southwestern Lagos and Oyo State. To broaden his appeal, he chose a Muslim running mate from the north, though Christian voters are disenchanted with the break from the tradition of a spiritually split ticket. The APC identifies with social-democratic economic policy. A favorite of the populous Yoruba ethnic group, Tinubu boasts of his business acumen, having brought record-breaking foreign investment to Lagos. But his ties to big business and the political establishment cause many, especially younger voters, to eye him warily. As well, kidnapping and violence in Nigeria have reached into even the southwestern states of Oyo and Osun, formerly regarded as safe, surfacing discontent with the incumbent APC's poor record on basic security.

The Nigerian capital of Abuja is developing an arts-tech district,
which I visited in December. The capital was moved in 1991 from
Lagos to Abuja, a planned city at a central geographic location,
selected for practical and symbolic reasons to unite Nigerians
of different ethnic and religious identities.

RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Peter Obi is the wild card. At 61, he's a kind of Nigerian Bernie Sanders for enthusiastic youth fed up with the status quo. He's a Catholic from east of the Niger River, which alienates Muslims in the north, while not necessarily delivering a go-to for Christians in the southwest: an uphill battle. An ethnic Igbo, though, he appeals to another populous ethnic group that feels marginalized by the two parties of the political establishment. In the Nigerian civil war of the 1960s, Igbo nationalists threw in with the secessionist Republic of Biafra, and the Igbo have struggled to reclaim political representation since.

Labour Party logo.
Via Wikipedia (fair use).
Formerly a PDP candidate, Obi in Saturday's election represents the Labour Party, which stands more overtly for social democracy than the APC does. Boasting a logo of a gear encircling people, Labour touts values of social justice and universal economic opportunity. That message strikes a powerful note in a country endowed with a wealth of natural resources, including oil, yet in which almost two-thirds of the population, some 134 million people, live in poverty. Gen Z voters in particular crave change, and they've reclaimed the term "coconut heads," formerly used to disparage perceived laziness, now to signal support for Obi.

Obi is a former governor of Anambra State, home of the busy river port of Onitsha on the east bank of the Niger. A friend of mine is an Anambra native, American educated in business, and an executive of a manufacturing firm in Onitsha. He's a Christian and Gen X, like me, but, despite his age, you can count him among the coconut heads. (I'm not naming him here for sake of his security. Though he has expressed his views publicly, and support for Obi is widespread in Anambra, we don't know what the future will bring for Nigeria, and there's no need to memorialize online one voter's politics.) He wrote a missive just two days ago that I think well captures the motivation of Obi supporters:

Nigerians have never been able to hold Gen. Buhari to task on any promise made before the 2015 general elections. He has not kept any. The reason is because those promises were made by his campaign spokespersons, aides and APC party officials. Same is repeating itself with Atiku and Tinubu. The two men have been prevaricating on what they would do if elected. In fact, Tinubu has not granted any interview to any Nigerian television/radio stations. He has also avoided every debate for the presidential candidates. He is running away from being held responsible for his words and promises.

In contrary, Peter Obi has attended every debates, townhall meetings and interviews that came up. He has also looked Nigerians straight in the eyes and told them to hold him responsible for his promises. In a television interview yesterday, Ahmed Datti, Mr. Obi's running mate, told Nigerians to fire them if they fail to improve their lives after four years.

The choice is yours. I and my household shall vote Peter Obi's Labour Party for presidency on Saturday, 25th February, 2023.

When I visited Nigeria in late autumn, I hoped to learn more about the social and political situation in the country than I could glean from reading from home. For better or worse, I didn't absorb much that was new. Nigeria's reality on the ground is precisely what it appears to be: a nation that exemplifies "the resource curse," awash with oil yet riddled with poverty; a people flush with potential yet stymied by venal institutions. Insofar as Nigeria's present predicament makes it a bellwether for west and central Africa, more might ride on Saturday's election than even one nation's presidency.

I've long witnessed my friend in Onitsha rail in frustration at Nigeria's inability to combat corruption and climb to its rightful place as a social and economic leader on the world stage. Having been welcomed by people of such a famously boisterous yet warmly embracing national culture, I'm brimming with empathy. Maybe this election at last will show a way forward and upward.

 
Celebrants rally for the PDP in Ilé-Ifè in December. Political parties sometimes pay supporters to turn out, so it can be difficult to gauge true voter fervor on the basis of public demonstration.
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Follow the dollar, name politicians in train disaster

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) blocked rail safety measures.
Medill DC via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Government "tried" to regulate rail, but industry "resisted" and "won."

That's what I heard tonight in a news break on National Public Radio about the East Palestine, Ohio, derailment disaster.

As if public safety regulation were a football match. Government just couldn't stop that offensive drive late in the second half.

No.

Blame industry, sure.  There's plenty blame to go around. But profits ahead of people? You can't be surprised. That's American industry's MO. And, to be fair, as long as no one gets hurt, we applaud.

Rather, save a big helping of blame for government. The same government now in Ohio trumpeting how Norfolk Southern will be held accountable.

Buck passed.

Government wasn't defeated in some contest with industry on the gridiron. Government failed. The people who are the government lacked the will to do the right thing, or worse, chose to do wrong.

Lee Fang for The Intercept dug into how the U.S. Senate, namely Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), blocked industry safety regulations eight years ago.

Follow the dollar.  Thune turns up, too, as a top-five recipient of rail lobbying dollars in 2021-22. Here's that list from Open Secrets:

  • Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), $107,343
  • Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), $85,548
  • Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), $72,900
  • Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), $69,550
  • Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), $61,015

I think I know where we should send the contaminated soil from Ohio.

Nonprofit, nonpartisan Open Secrets has plenty of data. Check it out. If your congresspersons are on Big Rail's donee roster, don't send them back to Washington to try again.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Politics complicates football: Sympathy for ... Iran

As advertised, last week in Kraków, Poland, I had the great privilege to talk law, development, and the FIFA World Cup, with the group stage under way in Qatar.

Students and faculty of the American Law Scientific Circle (KNPA) and American Law Program at Jagiellonian University (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego TBSP UJ and Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego UJ), in collaboration with the Columbus Law School at the Catholic University of America, generously hosted me.  The talk kicked off a KNPA lecture series on "Law and Sustainability." My especial thanks to KNPA President Zuzanna Maszniew and her leadership team.

Photo © Zuzanna Maszniew, used with permission.
I was no John Oliver, to be sure, but I hope I stimulated thinking about the Gordian Knot of sport and politics and its implications for the Middle East and North Africa's place at the table.

Today, November 29, the United States will round out its play in the group stage in Qatar with a match against Iran, simultaneously with a high stakes stand-off between England and Wales. It's a big day, football fans.

Meanwhile, coming home to the States this week, I've been disappointed that Americans are not more in tune with the fascinating stories of geopolitics that are unfolding under the sporting tents of the Qatar World Cup. I admit, what's happening now in China dangles meritorious distraction. But with the USMNT facing Iran today, I want to mention one of the stories from Qatar that has gripped me.

In Iran's opening match with England last week, Iranian footballers refused to sing their own national anthem (BBC).  Stony faced, the players apparently chose to stand in silent solidarity with rights protestors against the government at home (N.Y. Times). Subsequently, Iranian authorities arrested a former national-team footballer known for occasional anti-regime sentiments (Guardian). At Iran's second match, the lads toed the line.

The anthem stunt was extraordinarily courageous. The players had to have known the disgrace they brought on the regime would have consequences when they go home, if not sooner.

Iranian footballers in 2018.
Mahdi Zare/Fars News Agency via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 4.0
More, though, I was struck by the reminder that people and their governments are not the same thing.

I'm a reasonably bright person, as people go, and I've seen a lot of the world. I come from an immigrant family myself. I grew up with a dear Iranian friend. Her stepmother taught me how to make tahchin, and her dad eagerly gave me his own well worn copy of All the Shah's Men. I shouldn't need to be reminded that people are just people, much the same around the world, just trying to make the best of things and find some joy where we can; and that it's wrong to ascribe the Machiavellian motives of states, whether others or our own, to their citizens. The protests now in China say the same.

Yet, I admit, I had followed the USMNT into the World Cup with something of a Cold War mentality, maybe because of the era when I grew up. Yellow ribbons, burning effigies, and "Death to America" chants all bounce around my long-term memory. I was determined that we and our Group B compatriots from England and Wales should beat Iran to make some kind of political point. A Miracle on Ice or Rocky IV situation.

The Iranian men's demonstration unsettled my unconscious prejudice. As a result, a part of me has been pulling for Iran in their last matches, even while, still, I had to favor the England squad, which features some of my beloved Manchester City stars, and Wales, which invokes Lasso-esque Wrexham affections. And even while, of course, I support my home USMNT today, there will be a part of me that wants to see the Iranian side make a pride-worthy showing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

With FIFA World Cup under way in Qatar, law students study sport and soft power, law and development

I'll be talking law, development, and the World Cup today in Kraków, Poland.

Thanks to the American Law Scientific Circle (KNPA) and American Law Program at Jagiellonian University (Koło Naukowe Prawa Amerykańskiego TBSP UJ and Szkoła Prawa Amerykańskiego UJ), in collaboration with the Columbus Law School at the Catholic University of America, for hosting me. This talk kicks off a KNPA lecture series on "Law and Sustainability" and begins at 3 p.m. CET at Pałac Larischa 203, Bracka 12.

I'll share some of the subject matter later.  Too much football to watch!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Governor's proposed pay hikes evince typical bureaucratic ignorance of how working people earn

Governor Dan McKee
(Kenneth C. Zirkel CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia)
Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee's proposal for huge increases to state administrators' pay, on the scale of revising $135,000 upward to $190,000, shows ignorance of how ordinary working people earn.

Our present condition of oppressive inflation has us all thinking a lot about pay. For ordinary working people in America, the only way to avoid an effective pay reduction over time is to change jobs. (Hat tip at my wife for putting words to that observation.) Employers demand "team" or "family" loyalty, 24/7 availability, and uncompensated overtime. But the loyal employee winds up being underpaid for overworking.

Raises don't keep up with inflation, if there are raises at all. In my own compulsorily union job, 2% raises are the contract standard. That rate tracks inflation for about the last 10 years, on average, but not for the preceding 10 years, when the union negotiated the rate, nor for the present year. The union admonishes that the university would give zero were it not for, of course, the union, so workers should be grateful for losing less badly. Then when the pandemic hit, the union asked for bigger pay cuts than the university proposed. So the union lost all credibility with me.

The "family" loyalty employers demand works only one way. At the first sign of hardship, jobs are cut; people in the lower ranks are disposable. Business cries out for relief form taxpayers, even as bottom lines bulge. Profiteering, not necessity, is pushing the present inflation, and there is no will in Washington for protection against price gouging. No wonder some workers are at last wising up to "quiet quitting," which is not quitting at all.

I make OK money, less than market rate for what I do, and less than I was promised since my employer, with union assent, reneged on an agreement, but a lot more than most Rhode Islanders. And I think I'm pretty good at what I do. You can't help but learn something with 25 years' experience.

Yet if I left my job, my employer would be pleased to replace me with someone lacking experience and paid two-thirds or less. Indeed, the norm in legal academia, in step with the private marketplace, is to prefer a 20-something lawyer out of a clerkship over a lateral candidate. At that, there would be young people lined up for my job, eager to be part of the "family," and understandably so in a market that has long forgotten what it means to negotiate terms of employment. I cannot move laterally even if I take the pay cut, because it's not just the discount price employers are after. They want a newly beholden member of the "family."

That's the reality for most American workers: employers expecting commitment and performance akin to indentured servitude from people who work cheap because they know they're easily replaceable for less.

So when I see pay raises of the kind that Governor McKee is proposing, supposedly for the purpose of recruitment and retention, I am outraged. In this New England market, there are plenty of bright, talented people right out of university, law and graduate school, some of them my former students, who are eager to test their skills in public leadership. The present $135,000 pay, double the average state salary, would be a dream offer.

That's not to say, of course, that I wouldn't rather see the market treat people fairly and reward talent and experience. I would rather that everyone in the workforce had pension security, not just public sector workers regardless of merit, willing to commit to one job and place for 20 years; that everyone had access to high-quality healthcare, not just people who let an employer walk all over them because they're afraid of dying from a recurred cancer if they change insurers; and that everyone would have the opportunity to earn a living wage in fewer than 40 hours per week.

But that's not our world. Well, not our country. So in the meantime, I don't care to see public-sector leaders privileged by terms of employment they are unable or unwilling to establish for the rest of us.

McKee's Republican opponent accused him of buying votes. I'm not sure that's true. There aren't enough state department heads to turn an election, and I doubt they have that much sway behind the curtain over the voters who work for them. 

I think it more likely that McKee has calculated that in the present political climate, his reelection as a Rhode Island Democrat is effectively a done deal. So he has the political capital to spend to shore up loyalty in an executive branch that he claimed this term by succession rather than election. (Independents such as me are barred from primary voting in Rhode Island, so I've had no say yet.)

Either way, raises for already well compensated state leaders will be an insult to taxpayers.

Friday, August 26, 2022

McMahon debates incumbent insider in DA race

[UPDATE, Sept. 7, 2022.] With 90% reporting, the N.Y. Times lists Quinn prevailing with 65% of the vote to McMahon's 35%. This result is not surprising with a well known, insider incumbent. McMahon's strong showing as an out-of-the-box challenger will, I hope, keep the DA's office mindful of its accountability to the public. And I hope we'll see McMahon again in politics and public service soon.

Shannon McMahon and Thomas Quinn, candidates in the September 6 primary for Bristol County, Mass., district attorney, faced off August 12 in what South Coast Today described as a "bare-knuckles debate," sponsored by Dartmouth media and available on YouTube, below.

McMahon is a former student of my advisership.  I assessed the race in the spring.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Kenyan presidential election has Nairobi on edge

UPDATE, Aug. 19: William Ruto won the Kenya presidential election.  Read more at NPR, Aug. 15.

Kenya will vote for a new president next month in a general election laced with ethnic tensions, which has people in Nairobi on edge.

For two five-year terms, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has labored to convince Kenyans that his agenda has generated economic opportunity and quelled corruption. Most of that time he has been effective, at least at the convincing, as evidenced by approval ratings exceeding 70%. But those ratings have occasionally plunged upon allegations that shook the moral high ground.

Perhaps most damning, Kenyatta faced charges in the International Criminal Court alleging complicity in violence, including the burning to death of 28 people inside a church, related to a previous election cycle. In 2014, the court dismissed the indictment for insufficient evidence. Frustrated prosecutors alleged witness tampering and intimidation.

Now Kenyatta is term limited. His exit from power has broader significance because he represents a family dynasty that has maintained control of Kenyan politics since 1963 independence. A rivalry with the Odinga family has lent Kenyatta dominance a gloss of competition, and sometimes a run for its money. But perennial presidential challenger Raila Odinga has never quite made the grade, and the seesawing fortunes of the families come off to more numerous outsiders as oligarchic.

Threads of ethnic tension underlie the contest, too.  The Kenyatta family is part of Kenya's plurality ethnic group, the Kikuyu, a Bantu people constituting about a fifth of the population. Fairly or unfairly, Kenyatta is perceived as having allocated political power to aggrandize Kikuyu hegemony.

But neither of the two leading candidates for the presidency is Kikuyu. One candidate is the familiar Odinga, who hails from the Luo ethnic group, a Nilotic people, like the well known Maasai. Traveling in the Maasai Mara in June, anecdotally, I found people more prone than their Nairobi fellows to view the presidential race through an ethnic prism. Or maybe they were just more willing to say so.

Me with a Maasai mate in June
(C) Alison 2022, licensed exclusively to RJ Peltz-Steele
Though they are longtime rivals, Kenyatta has endorsed Odinga. Further lending support to the feel of oligarchy, the two share a history of occasional accusations of financial improprieties.  Odinga has chosen a Kikuyu running mate with a history similarly suggestive of insider status.

The other contender is the incumbent deputy president, William Ruto. Ruto, who belongs to the Kalenjin ethnic group, also a Nilotic people, was charged in The Hague over election violence, alongside Kenyatta, and saw his charges dismissed likewise in 2016. Ruto also chose a Kikuyu running mate; Martha "Iron Lady" Karua would be the nation's first female deputy president.

That both candidates chose Kikuyu running mates shows the priority of appealing to an ethnic plurality that might fear the loss of long familiar station. Odinga and Ruto have traded the lead in polls, but either way, it is overwhelmingly likely that the highest office in Kenya will, historically, slip out of Kikuyu hands.

With a history of violence following elections—besides the '07-08 turmoil that precipitated ICC investigation, Kenyatta's narrow reelection margin five years ago led to civil unrest and a dramatic court challenge—people in Nairobi are on edge.  I was repeatedly warned to stay away from any assembly that might even morph into a political rally. And I found some city dwellers flatly unwilling to venture out after dark.

All that said, I have to admit, what first caused me to take an interest in the Kenyan presidential election is none of the above. Rather, it was a Ruto billboard that I saw in many places around Nairobi. The billboard boasts the curious tagline, "EVERY HUSTLE MATTERS," or, sometimes, "EVERY HUSTLE COUNTS."

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele

I laughed out loud when I first saw it. I asked a taxi driver what it meant, and he told me matter-of-factly that it meant Ruto promises plenty of jobs, "hustles," for people: important in an economy in which a person might derive income from many and various part-time gigs.

A more trusted Kenyan source later told me, yes, Kenyan English does recognize the negative connotation of the word "hustle." And Ruto did indeed take some heat for his unusual choice of words in an election in which anti-corruption figures prominently.

Maybe in the end, the hustle will work for Ruto. After two terms of Uhuru Kenyatta leadership and a half-century of dynastic family control, Kenya struck me as mired in a state of development ill-befitting its reputation as an East Africa leader and below par relative to neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Perhaps for voters, it's the economy, stupid.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Let's laugh at them, not with them: Klobuchar cites serious stats, but occasions levity in Jackson hearing

On day 2 of the Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) borrowed a joke from The Daily Show's Trevor Noah.

Klobuchar remarked on the significance of a woman taking a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court to attain a 5-4 gender balance for the first time.  Of 115 confirmed justices in American history, Klobuchar counted, 110 have been men.  Klobuchar said that she had "reminded" Trevor Noah on The Daily Show of similar statistics relative to service in the U.S. Senate: "Of the nearly 2,000 people who have served, only 58 have been women.  And he responded that if a night club had numbers that bad, they'd shut it down."  Here's the 38-second clip:


It was Noah who actually quoted the Senate statistic from a book, Nevertheless, We Persisted (2018), an anthology for which Klobuchar wrote a foreword and which she touted at the time. Noah followed up, "I've been to gay clubs that have better ratios of men to women."  Klobuchar took the occasion in 2018 to speak against the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, pending at the time.  She put the appearance on Facebook.


Klobuchar appeared on The Daily Show also in 2017 and in 2019, the latter while running for President.  But none of those appearances marks the funniest intersection of Klobuchar and Noah in popular culture.  That honor goes to a 2019 tweet by Noah in which he lampooned Klobuchar for overusing a joke on the campaign trail.

Senators' interrogations of Jackson on Tuesday and Wednesday this week were at times cringeworthy, to use my wife's word.  In particular, the questioning by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were difficult to endure; even National Review Senior Fellow Andrew C. McCarthy, who opposes Jackson's appointment on other grounds, described Hawley's attack as "meritless."  The affair rubs in for me David Brooks's recent lament in The Atlantic on the divide between today's rabid right and the meritorious social value of genuine conservatism.

Both Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah are off this week, so between the stresses of a contentious Senate hearing and the ongoing war in Ukraine, I am sorely missing my daily doses of escapist levity. Fortunately, The Daily Show's Desi Lydic deposited a dose of satire on the web for us; don't miss it.


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Shannon McMahon for Bristol County, Mass., DA

[UPDATE, Sept. 7, 2022.] With 90% reporting, the N.Y. Times lists Quinn prevailing with 65% of the vote to McMahon's 35%. This result is not surprising with a well known, insider incumbent. McMahon's strong showing as an out-of-the-box challenger will, I hope, keep the DA's office mindful of its accountability to the public. And I hope we'll see McMahon again in politics and public service soon.

Shannon McMahon is running for Bristol County, Mass., DA (press release) and has my wholehearted support (in my personal capacity*).

Attorney McMahon, a former assistant DA, is a colleague, friend, and former student, an alumna of UMass Law School, where I work.  She was editor-in-chief of the newly constituted UMass Law Review in the early days of the Commonwealth's public law school project, in 2011, when I joined the faculty and served as law review co-adviser.  At the same time, she worked as a bartender and raised two children.  Oh, and she finished law school at the top of her class.

I deeply valued McMahon even then more as colleague than advisee; she was, and no doubt remains, bold in tackling problems head on.  Her penchant for plain-speaking was a breath of fresh air in the stultifying environment of public higher ed, especially in staid Massachusetts.

McMahon has been accused of irreverence; what I see in her is a refusal to defer to the status quo, a flat denial that things must be what they are because that's how they always have been.  No surprise, then, that McMahon has made headlines (e.g., The Public's Radio) for stepping out as the first challenger in 16 years to give voters a choice before the dynastic incumbent DA can walk away with a third four-year term.

"Given the dynamics of the community right now, between the drug crisis and the mental health crisis and issues with the police and the community, people are angry and upset that nothing is being done to help with the people's problems, and I think right now, and it's imperative, that people have a choice," McMahon told the Herald News.

Massachusetts can be unkind to people who are willing to topple the apple cart to effect needed reform.  The state's veneer of progressivism is a thin veil for a social and political culture that demands conformity and doubles down on socioeconomic hierarchy.

For that very reason, McMahon is perfect for the job, and I hope she's only getting started.

You too can donate at McMahon for DA.  Save the date for a March 28 event.

*As always, this blog is a product of my personal creation, even if it sometimes serves also to fulfill my responsibilities as an academic in teaching, service, and research, and as an attorney in the Bar of the District of Columbia.  The Savory Tort is neither affiliated with nor within the editorial control of my employer, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  I produced this posting, "Shannon McMahon for Bristol County, Mass., DA," on personal time and with no public resources.

Rob Steinbuch, law prof, for Arkansas House

UPDATE, June 26: I'm sorry to report that Professor Steinbuch did not prevail in the primary. But wow did he come close with 46.5% of the vote, 1,758 votes to Jon Wickliffe's 2,206. That leaves Wickliffe with some discontented voters to win over, and I'm sure Steinbuch will hold his feet to the fire.

Rob Steinbuch, a law professor and advocate for civil rights and transparency, is running for office, and he has my full-throated support (in my personal capacity*).

A friend, colleague, and co-author, Professor Steinbuch is running to represent Arkansas House District 73, which extends west from the state capital of Little Rock.

Professor Steinbuch has a campaign website that lists his top priorities: "Safety and Security," "Small Government," and "Life, Liberty, & Freedom."  The website is loaded with videos in which Steinbuch talks about a range of issues; three videos tackle transparency and accountability directly.  And there is a blog, in which he has held incumbent officials' feet to the fire.

When I left Arkansas for employment in Massachusetts in 2011, Steinbuch took over, rekindled, and then substantially grew my investment in transparency in the state.  He joined Professor John Watkins and me as co-author of the treatise, The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, for its sixth edition in 2017.  And with Professor Watkins now retired and my having moved on, Steinbuch has continued the project and secured a publisher going forward.

More importantly, Steinbuch became a fixture at the Arkansas Capitol in the 2010s, testifying relentlessly in the cause of transparency and unofficially advising legislators.  He transformed transparency advocacy from the defensive and reactionary posture, which local media long had maintained, into affirmative advocacy for reform on key issues, such as attorney fee awards for successful record requesters.

Steinbuch's commitment to transparency is among the qualities that make him a superior candidate for public office.  You don't have to agree with Steinbuch on everything—he and I agree on many things, and we disagree, too—but you will never lack for knowing where he stands.  Any day, I would choose consistency and honest integrity for my representation, even in someone with whom I sometimes disagree, over the run-of-the-mill politician who bends to the special interest or politically correct fashion of the day.  Say what you will about Steinbuch, he will never be bought, and he never pulls his punches.

You too can support Steinbuch to prevail over the well moneyed special interests by donating at Steinbuch for Arkansas.

*As always, this blog is a product of my personal creation, even if it sometimes serves also to fulfill my responsibilities as an academic in teaching, service, and research, and as an attorney in the Bar of the District of Columbia.  The Savory Tort is neither affiliated with nor within the editorial control of my employer, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  I produced this posting, "Rob Steinbuch, law prof, for Arkansas House," on personal time and with no public resources.