Patterico's Pontifications


Justice in Texas

Filed under: General — Aaron Worthing @ 9:01 pm

[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here.  Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]

About nine years ago, I sat down for my first class in law school: contracts.  I don’t remember the name of the first case that our professor had us read, but I remember what it was about: remedies.  The case was largely noteworthy for its discussion of the proper measure of “damages”—what us lawyers call the amount of money awarded to the victorious plaintiff.  And the professor explained how one casebook author used to start his entire first chapter and the first few weeks of class discussing nothing but the proper measure of damages—that is, how much money the plaintiff gets.  Because in the end, that is how you demonstrate the value of the right in question: by providing an appropriate remedy when it is violated.

It is appropriate tonight to remember what happened thirteen years ago in Jasper, Texas.  It may be hard to read it, but the victim deserves your attention and remembrance.  From an article on one of the related trials:

In his closing argument, another prosecutor, Pat Hardy, described [William] King and his co-defendants as “three robed riders coming straight out of hell.” Noting that [James] Byrd’s dismembered body was left by the gate of an old black cemetery, Hardy said the three wanted “to show their defiance to God and Christianity and everything most people in this county stand for.”

Byrd, who was unemployed and living alone in a subsidized apartment, was walking home from a family gathering after midnight when he was picked up and driven to woods outside the city. There, he was beaten, then chained at the ankles and dragged behind a pickup truck for about three miles. In testimony Monday, a pathologist said Byrd was alive until his head and right arm were torn off by the jagged edge of a roadside culvert.

That testimony was crucial for the prosecution. The underlying felony of kidnapping is what made Byrd’s murder a death-penalty offense. For Byrd to have been kidnapped under Texas’s definition of the crime, he had to have been alive while being dragged.

Which is excellent legal thinking on the part of the prosecutors, but it also highlights a grisly fact: Byrd was alive and certainly aware as much of his body was ground like meat.  This was a cruel and torturous way to die.

Tonight in Texas, one of those accomplices, Lawrence Russell Brewer was put to death for his role in this horror.  It is often wondered by death penalty liberals how people professing to believe in the sanctity of life can support the death penalty.  But what greater affirmation of the value of James Byrd’s life could there be, than to say that the price of his murder is the death of those who killed them?  The value of the right is determined by the remedy for its violation.  This is as true in a simple breach of contract as it is in murder.

In 1857, the Supreme Court declared that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  Texas affirmed today that the right of James Byrd to his life was one that three white supremacists not only were bound to respect, but that the violation of that right would cost at least one of them his life.  It is a grim moment for which Texans can rightfully feel a solemn sense of pride.

[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]

Mead vs Sullivan: No Contest

Filed under: General — Karl @ 2:33 pm

[Posted by Karl]

Andrew Sullivan made the mistake of challenging Walter Russell Mead, who does not think much of hysteria about the coming Republican theocracy.  Fair use prevents me from reprinting Mead’s reply in full, so you will want to RTWT.  An excerpt:

Many younger readers will have trouble believing that anybody older than Andrew Sullivan exists, but I am not only a good bit older than Mr. Sullivan, I’ve been immersed in American life much longer, and I can remember when the Right was really Right.  I remember KKK billboards on the roadside, and I especially remember one showing a picture of Martin Luther King in a photograph captioned “Martin Luther King in a Communist training school.”  I remember when you couldn’t buy a drink in much of the South, when mixed race dating led to bloody beatings if not death, when the liberal position on homosexuality was that it was a terrible and destructive disease that might, possibly, be treated by years of psychotherapy, when divorced people couldn’t get re-married in mainline Protestant churches, abortion was illegal, Ulysses was banned, marijuana was a life-threatening drug that beatniks and jazz musicians used in New York, and members of the Communist Party couldn’t speak on university campuses or hold teaching jobs.

In other words, I remember a United States where Andrew Sullivan’s darkest fantasies were fulfilled — and I’ve watched us move steadily away from that for nigh on sixty years.  (Yes, kids, people can be that old and still blog, but that’s only because my teams of underpaid, starving research associates can transfer my cursive Gothic script from the parchment I like onto one of those computational devices you young people use.)  In more than half a century of watching the ebbs and flows of American politics, I’ve seen this country steadily become more tolerant, more thoughtful, more open and in many ways more just.

The Christian right that apparently keeps Mr. Sullivan up at night shivering with fear is a pathetic, compromising bunch of namby pamby wimps compared to the holy warriors of my youth…

I would say that will leave a mark, but it won’t.  Sullivan is long past the point where things that do not feed his paranoia and conspiracy-mongering leave much of an impression.  The former maverick is increasingly a one-trick pony.


Obama’s class warfare sideshow

Filed under: General — Karl @ 10:58 am

[Posted by Karl]

The funniest part of Pres. Obama’s class warfare sideshow may be pundits like Andrew Sullivan and Greg Sargent, who seem to think that proposed tax hikes on “the rich” are about anything other than propping up Obama’s sagging support with progressives.  They trot out a bunch of polls showing such tax hikes are broadly popular, and conclude Obama’s tax hike proposals will help him beyond his dwindling base.

Sullivan and Sargent seem to have never heard of the concept of intensity.  Smarter lefties, like Kevin Drum, get that these polls do not tell the whole story:

Unfortunately, as with nearly all polls, these don’t measure intensity of feeling. And I don’t think anyone will be surprised if I suggest that the one-third of Americans opposed to tax increases feels really strongly about it while the two-thirds who support them don’t really care all that much. They’re certainly nowhere near ready to kick people out of office if they decline to vote for a tax increase.

This is, of course, the story of politics everywhere. A motivated minority trumps an apathetic majority every time. They always have and they always will.

Non-wingnutty political scientist Larry Bartels broke down the math on fighting the extension of the Bush tax cuts:

[T]he sizable minority of people who want the tax cuts for affluent taxpayers renewed seem to attach much more weight to this issue than the slim majority who want them to expire. In a statistical analysis taking separate account of prospective voters’ broader partisan attachments, those who support President Obama’s position on the tax cuts are only 6% more likely than those who are unsure about the issue to say they will vote for a Democratic House candidate. Even those who want to let all the tax cuts expire are only 9% more likely to vote Democratic. By comparison, those who want to keep the tax cuts for affluent taxpayers in place are 22% more likely to say they will vote for a Republican House candidate.

An even more lopsided difference appears in the impact of tax cut preferences on presidential approval. People who support President Obama’s position on this issue are only slightly more approving of his overall performance than those who are unsure, while those who want to renew all the tax cuts are moved about five times as far toward disapproving. Among political independents, a whopping 76% of those who want continued tax cuts for the rich say they strongly disapprove of the president’s performance; only 27% of those who support his proposal for selective extension of the tax cuts are equally disenchanted.


These results suggest that candidate Obama’s skillful-looking proposal to allow the tax cuts to expire only for the richest 2% of taxpayers has turned out to be very costly for President Obama and his party, despite its overall popularity.

Thus, the only people shocked when Obama and the lame duck Democratic Congress decided to take credit for extending the Bush tax cuts after the 2010 midterms were people like Sargent and Sullivan.  You would think people would have learned from past examples where intensity was the real story (e.g., abortion, second amendment), but apparently hopeandchange springs eternal for some.

Team Obama has rolled out the class warfare sideshow now for two reasons.  First, as noted, they need to pump up the left to arrest the president’s steadily declining approval ratings.  They led with class warfare because they will want to ease off tax hiking as the campaign heats up and pivot to Mediscare, an issue with more intensity and saliency for people who vote and might otherwise vote Republican (even here, there are doubts about Mediscare working in the current economic climate).  Second, any day the establishment media wastes talking about fiscal minutiae like “the Buffett rule” is a day Team Obama is not forced to address chronic high unemployment, job-killing regulations, nascent scandals, and so on.


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