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March 1, 2013

roberts wants to overturn the civil rights act

Aw jeez, Jeffrey Toobin has to go and say it out loud:
Every chief justice of the United States picks a signature issue. After Wednesday's argument on the future of the Voting Rights Act, it's clearer than ever that John Roberts has made his choice: to declare victory in the nation's fight against racial discrimination and then to disable the weapons with which that struggle was won.

In other words, Chief Justice Roberts wants to overturn the Civil Rights Act.

I guess it's maybe admirable that Roberts thinks that racism is no longer a problem in America?  I mean, it's a hundred percent wrong — crazy person talk, really, a result of that weird blind spot that conservatives have.  Like, "Americans are not racist, because of our innate exceptionalism!  Therefore, there cannot be racism in America."  It's an arm's-length orthodoxy, and if something happens outside the confines of Harvard Law or the University of Chicago School of Economics, it didn't merit notice.  I guess I'm not ready to question Roberts' motivations.  (Just vehemently disagree with him.)

Scalia, however — I'm ready to interrogate his motivations.  Scalia fundamentally believes that discrimination is an expression of speech as protectable as any of them.  Let's just say that I'd love to know Scalia's thoughts on Plessy v. Ferguson.

(And, for the record, his nauseating description of voting rights protection as a "racial entitlement" is yet another example of Republicans damn the social welfare that they disagree with by calling it an entitlement.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:56 AM

February 28, 2013

subway tracks and more

So I heard from a fellow who is in the public transportation business (went to school for it and everything!), and he corrected a misconception that I included in that piece about subways—a minor but interesting explanation, and not worth an official correction.

In the piece I said that the differences between the IRT and the BMT lines, which were actually separately run until 1940, is the gauge of the track.  That is incorrect, as in fact the standard train track gauge (used pretty much universally in America) is four feet eight and one-half inches between the inner sides of the rails.  So in fact, technically, those fat BMT trains (like the B and D) can ride the rails of the IRT tunnels!

But they can't after all, because the problem is not the track gauge, but rather the width of the cars on the rails.  The tunnels were designed and built to allow clearance for the planned size of the trains.  So BMT trains literally will not fit into IRT stations.

So then IRT trains could run on BMT lines, right?  Well, they could.  They'd fit.  But since they are smaller than the BMT trains, once the IRT trains got to the station, the gap between the car and the platform would be daunting to the average customer.

Now you know.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:11 AM

February 27, 2013

section five

Put me on the record to share all the outrage that you might have seen online today over the arguments in front of the Supreme Court concerning Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act.  See, Section 5 is the part of the law that requires the South to get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice if they're proposing any law affecting voting.  The reason that was put in there was, well, because of the South, and poll taxes and all the other seemingly legal ways they've historically tried to suppress minority vote.  (Section 5 has been renewed by Congress four times.)

And the arguments were a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, as Justice Scalia came right out and said that he views the Civil Rights Act as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement," which is a whole lot more venal that the neanderthal shit that Robert Bork got Borked over.  So

Here's the thing (and this did not come up in the arguments at all): during the past election cycle, the Department of Justice blocked a number of municipalities, including blocking earl-voting restrictions in Florida and voter ID laws and redistricting in Texas, from enacting changes to voting laws, under the authority of Section 5.

If there is no better indication of the need for an enforcement provision than the continued actions of enforcement, I'm not quite sure what that is.  That is to say, Shelby County, Alabama (who brought the suit) is claiming that the need for Section 5 is with us no longer, even though Section 5 successfully prevented acts that would be violative of the Civil Rights Act within the past twelve months.

There's a pretty clear right and wrong on this one.  And I don't know if it's scarier that Scalia believes something like that or that he's comfortable saying it out loud.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:15 PM

February 26, 2013

subways, hal needham

What I should be doing is mentioning that I have a new piece up at The Awl, and that it's about something quirky and go read it bla bla bla.

But between you and me, I found 35 minutes yesterday to listen to this interview of Hal Needham by Terry Gross, and it is fabulous.  Hal Needham is the self-described "highest paid stuntman ever" who also managed to direct the late-70s classics "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Hooper" and even "Cannonball Run".  God, it's an awesome interview, filled with HOLLYWOOD HISTORY, so learn up on those that came before you, filmmakers.

Oh right, the Awl piece — it's about subways and fare increases and that sort of stuff.  I was going to work in some ranty bit about the degradation of MTA service, but in research I kind of fell in love with the sprawling mess all over again and couldn't bring myself to do it.

But boy is service terrible these days, am I right?  Nothing like a Hal Needham interview to take the edge off after a nasty commute.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:49 PM

the man on the street and the trouble down the line

Here is a question I have.

You're reading/watching/hearing a lot of stories about the upcoming sequestration, and all the cuts that are going to happen and services that are going to be diminished.  Inevitably, this story will cut to some man-on-the-street reaction.  On one side you'll have someone decrying the upcoming chaos and gridlock and all that.  And then you'll have the other side (because where would we be if there weren't two and only two sides to the story?) who will shake his/her head but agree that the cuts just have to happen, because (paraphrasing!), "This country has a debt problem, and if we don't do something, it's gonna be real bad down the road."

And that's a popularly-held sentiment; you hear it all the time.  The lobbying forces that don't like government debt (coincidentally also the lobbying forces that don't like social safety net spending) have done a pretty good job of installing that thought into Americans.

So here is my question.  Do the people who think there's gonna be trouble if we don't do something have a conception of what this trouble is?  Not, "What will this trouble be?"  I have an idea of what the trouble will look like (i.e., something like what happens this Friday if we hit the sequester, but actually very very unlikely in any event).  Do they?  Or are they just repeating something they saw some talking head say on TV, a catch phrase, untethered from meaning?

Just wondering.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM