Obama on Health Care

September 14, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I just watched Obama’s speech on health care (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1YNF9I25yU) and it was somewhat disappointing. He has, vaguely, committed to a public option, but only as an option for people who don’t have health care from public sources, and anticipates that it wont cover many people at all. I’m not sure how that qualifies as a “public option” if its only an option for people who don’t have health care and can’t afford to buy it individually (don’t we already have that with medicaid)? Obama also made it clear that that any public option wouldn’t be tax funded and would need to generate its own revenue by charging its members, competing with private insurance (and, how is that different than the Republican’s ‘co-op’ counter-proposal?)

The funniest line was when Obama said “there are those on the left – who believe the only way to fix the system is through a single payer system like Canada’s,”… where we would restrict the private insurance market and have the government provide insurance for everyone, and a member of congress interrupted ‘woohoo’ and he had to talk through the applause so as to not permit it to be an official ‘applause line.’

Obama reassured the right that “there are also those who claim our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants; this too is false! The reforms I am proposing would not apply to those who are hear illegally”, which drew an outburst from the audience. When I watched it, I had hoped that it was heckling from progressives appalled by the inhumanity of denying undocumented immigrants health care, but apparently it was an ultra-rightwing republican member of congress shouting ‘you lie.’  Obama followed up with “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” – apparently unwanted pregnancy is not a health care issue if the minority party, the rightwing opposition, uses it in their propaganda.

When are the Democrats going to get disillusioned with Obama?  He has more political capital than God and he’s squandered it pandering to the insurance companies, the republicans, and the pharmaceutical industry.  And this is his stance on health care, the supposedly central piece of his political agenda that loyal democrats routinely point to in order to excuse the fact that he has generally continued Bush regime policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, torture, Guantanamo bay, use of mercenary troops without any legal restraint, state terrorism against Pakistan, a presidency that recognizes no legal restraints, and a tax funded gift to the super-rich and their banks that even Bush didn’t think to attempt (see David Swanson’s Bush’s Third Term at http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/22527 ).  The left (and, for that matter, left of center which Obama surely cannot claim to be a part of) need to organize against Obama’s conservatism; otherwise the only political pressure he’ll notice and respond to will be that coming from the loony rightwing teabaggers.


Critical Legal Conference 2009

September 13, 2009 at 5:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I went to the Critical Legal Conference this weekend to present a paper on finance capitalism and pure economic loss from a CLS perspective (you can read my abstract here: http://www.le.ac.uk/la/clc2009/Streams/StreamsCriticalPropertyTheory.html it is the 3rd from the top) The conference was in Leicester UK (I literally flew out Thursday night, arrived in Leicester Friday morning, returned to London Saturday night, and am flying back to DC this morning)…which is a surprisingly nice city; the town center is remarkably cute.
leicester U

It was amazing to get to talk to so many people doing left legal theory and see such a wide variety of talks.  I was impressed at just how many people attended how thoroughly international it was.  I particularly appreciated a presentation by Morag Goodwin on how technological development allows the ‘coding’ of self-enforcing patents.  For instance, she described how seeds are genetically engineered to die after a season so they can’t be replanted, and even more scarily how cocktails of drugs are being designed so the cocktail will fail if generic drugs used in place of brand name drugs.  I also particularly appreciated a talk by Virginia Mantouvalou of the University of Leicester argued for the political utility of rights discourse for use in progressive labor law and the labor movement.  A lot of the presenters worked with Foucault or Marx, or were in fairly technical legal topics, or alternatively only tangentially ‘legal’ in nature…I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to hear from anyone doing work continuing the American CLS tradition, but it gave me a sense of the range of variety in and around critical legal theory.


National Lawyers Guild National Convention resolution on law schools and legal education

September 1, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The following is the text of a resolution submitted for debate and voting at the 2009 National Lawyers Guild National Convention, October 14-18 in Seattle.  See http://www.nlg.org/convention/ for more information

email critropolitan@gmail.com if you’d like to get involved in the working group on legal education.

Resolution on Law Schools and Legal Education

1.WHEREAS – Law school curriculums often discourage critical political and legal thought, presenting the law in a reified form, as a thing existing independently of the social reality of its application.  Law students are trained to work under the assumption that ‘the law’ governing any given dispute is potentially discernible simply through statutory and case history analysis, implicitly denying the role of political and material constraints on judicial behavior.

2.WHEREAS – Legal perspectives such as critical legal theory, critical race theory, feminist legal theory, analytical jurisprudence, and others that question the dominant ideological understanding of the law’s role in society, are frequently not available to students.  When these perspectives are taught in law schools, they are almost always limited to seminars, partition from the standard classes in substantive topics in law.  The effect is to relegate them to sub-disciplines onto themselves, excluded from the analysis of major subjects in law.   When asked to analyze a fact pattern, students are credited almost exclusively when they draw from a limited set of traditional legal arguments that can be reconfigured to suit the needs of any prospective client, further reinforcing the assumption that cases are decided on the logical strength of their arguments. This is an assumption widely questioned in academia and practice.

3. WHEREAS – Most law schools enforce grade curves, where the number of students permitted to receive desirable grades is capped, and professors are required to assign a quotient of stigmatizingly low grades.  This effectively causes all students to be in direct competition with each other in their classes.  This experience of a forced zero-sum game where one’s success entails another’s failure, and one’s failure contributes to another’s success, institutionalizes competitive behavior among students and creates systematically estranging working conditions in law schools.  Rather than encouraging cooperation, solidarity, and community building which might make law school a more tolerable or even enriching experience, grade curves incentivize aggressive self-centeredness making the experience more isolating than necessary.  This problem is further exacerbated by the perception among law students that their grades will have a controlling affect on their career options and lives.

Grade curves that force the assignment of low grades betray a lack of confidence in the quality of the students that they’ve admitted and pressure students to stay ahead of their colleagues or risk personal disaster.   Grade curves that limit the number of high grades compel arbitrary hierarchies among excellent students that only serve to aid employers in rapidly distinguishing between students.  This practice treats students as if products for employers’ use, labeling them by grade accordingly, instead of considering students work on its own academic and educational merit for the student.

4.WHEREAS – First year law students are overworked by design.  In a three year course of study, work is disproportionately heavily allocated to the first year, rather than distributed evenly in a fashion that would make it more manageable.  This results in unnecessary stress and reduced quality of life. Law school culture encourages obsessive work habits and treats busyness as if a virtue in and of itself.  Coupled with the artificial levels of competition for grades, the work load creates a pressure-cooker environment that makes law school an unnecessary ordeal.  This minimizes the room for error in a way that further punishes students who have dependent children, elderly parents, and other relationships that require attention and other responsibilities outside of school that cannot simply be ignored for a year or three.  Many students resort to stimulants as study aids, unambiguous cheating, and withdrawal from their loved ones, as while struggling to keep up, creating a false impression that the work could be manageable.

There is no inherent reason why law must be studied at a grueling pace and this can be detrimental to a thorough understanding of the subject.  Students assigned more work than they can reasonably do will inevitably cut corners, rely on law summaries, on course outlines and on study groups that divide work among members so that no one has themselves completed most of the assignments.  The result is that students simply study towards the exam superficially rather than understanding the material in a substantial way. They lack the opportunity to form original, insightful positions that come only with slow and careful reading with time for consideration, and have reason to think that even if they did, such an effort would be unrecognized in their exam grades.  Finally, without adequate time to reflect on the material, the law is simply less academically interesting and stimulating, reducing students’ appreciation of what could be an intellectually fascinating, living discipline into a static set of doctrines and rules.

5. WHEREAS – Law school is a profoundly alienating experience for many progressive law students.  When someone’s political commitments play a significant motivating role in their lives, having to devote the clear majority of their time, energy, thought and opportunity for daily human interaction in an environment hostile to them, can be very isolating.  Progressive law school students are constantly pressured to sanitize their politics to avoid worsening the existing alienation from their classmates, professors, school administrators and potential employers.  The cognitive dissonance resulting from having passionate reactions to issues and discussions in and out of class, while also feeling compelled to present more conformist views, makes progressive law school students especially alienated from themselves and others.

Student organizing can provide progressive students an opportunity to engage with work and communities they find meaningful, thereby alleviating some of the alienation of law school.  However the conformist atmosphere and sheer volume of time and energy consumed by law school, often proves a real obstacle to student’s self-motivated organizing .  What would otherwise feel as if only a minimal amount of effort to get involved can be experienced as too much of a commitment of time or energy to many students while in school.  Even where a student’s natural affinity is closest to the National Lawyers Guild, the Guild  is often seen as only one of numerous progressive students associations to join, and the decision to invest ones limited time and effort into one student group over another is often based not on their history or literature but simply the level of activity on campus and organizational support they receive.  This support cannot come from students alone given the high turnover rate in student chapters and the relatively short time students spend in law school, if it is to be successful in making National Lawyers Guild student chapters an attractive option for progressive law students.

6. WHEREAS – The renewal of the National Lawyers Guild’s membership depends on ensuring young lawyers are committed to it as an organization.


  1. That the National Lawyers Guild calls on law schools to eliminate forced grade curve policies, class rankings, grades as factors in law review/journal membership selection, and other policies that create zero-sum competitions among students.
  2. That the National Lawyers Guild calls on the ABA, AALS, and law school curriculum committees to reexamine first year law school required curriculums with an aim towards a. reducing work load so as allow students to maintain reasonable hours without compromising their performance b. rewarding original legal analysis rather than rote learning c. Including the contributions of critical legal studies, critical race theory, feminist legal theory and other critical perspectives on the law in the main portions of the curriculum including the first year curriculum.
  3. That the National Lawyers Guild attempt to intervene in the upcoming Association of American Law Schools Annual Meeting in New Orleans in order to voice these concerns, publicize its position, and open a dialogue among law school faculty and administrators, as far as is practicable.  That the National Lawyers Guild reports back its effort in this regard in Guild Notes, issue a press release on its website, and otherwise draw attention to the issue as appropriate.
  4. That the National Lawyers Guild send a revised open letter modified into a more suitable style that captures the substance of the ‘whereas’ clauses 2, 3, and 4, to the deans, and when available, deans students and academics, and curriculum committee chairs, of all ABA accredited law schools.
  5. That the National Lawyers Guild, recognizing that more support is needed to cultivate strong, active, growing student chapters, conduct a survey of law schools for student chapter activity and attempt to provide additional support for existing student chapters, including more support for student chapter building, NLG sponsored social events, working with faculty, distributing guild literature, travel funding, on-campus political events, and educational events presenting socially progressive views of the law consistent with the National Lawyers Guild’s mission.  Where law school chapters do not exist, that the National Lawyers Guild request that local chapters publicize the National Lawyers Guild on campuses to the best of their abilities, preferably through in person outreach when possible.
  6. That the National Lawyers Guild calls on its committees and projects seek opportunities to involve law students in their work where possible and, when it would not pose an unreasonable administrative burden, publicize their work on law student campuses.
  7. That the National Lawyers Guild send copies of this resolution to all NLG chapters
  8. That the National Lawyers Guild establish a student chapter voluntary alumni network and call on members to assist in the continuation of their chapters and support for NLG law student chapters when possible and not overly burdensome, encouraging the alumni network to make contacts available to student chapters when available.


This resolution will be implemented by a working group on legal education, formed for the purpose of implementing the resolution, concerned individual chapters and members acting in support of the resolution as applicable, with assistance as needed by the National Office and NEC, in consultation with law student chapters.

Documents from in Re: Blackwater Litigation

September 1, 2009 at 4:16 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In short, a former and a current Blackwater employee have accused the company of, among other things, knowingly deploying mercenaries who had a history of unjustified and arbitrary killing of civilians, smuggling weapons, engaging in a prostitution (including child prostitution) ring, failing to provide medical aid to innocent civilians that were arbitrarily killed, and destroying evidence.

Not much comment to make here, other than, if this stuff is true, it should horrify everyone, regardless of ideology. The declarations are a very short read, and very chilling.

Declaration 2 (from former Blackwater employee), Declaration 1 (from a former US Marine and current Blackwater employee).

Background here.

More background: read the complaint, or, for better legal analysis and more information, the brief in opposition to dismissal.

-Daniel Hornal

Edit 1: According to the declarations, all of this information was made under oath to a grand jury and provided to the US Dept. of Justice. If this stuff was just “made up,” the writers would be subjected to charges of perjury, not to mention a defamation lawsuit.

The derogatory use of the word “political”

August 31, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yesterday one of the main headlines in the news was that Cheney called Obama’s CIA probe “political.”  The word “political” was almost always included in the headline wherever the story appeared making it clear that the media understood Cheney as accusing Obama of acting inappropriately by describing his actions this way.

Why shouldn’t an official who is constitutionally tasked with enforcing the law feel politically motivated to enforce the law?  You would think that having those political beliefs would be part of the job description.

Of course, that wasn’t (I think) really what Cheney meant to convey by calling Obama “political” at all.  He wasn’t referring to Obama’s political beliefs, rather he was suggsting that Obama was using it to ‘political advantage.’  Not to accomplish his stated aims, but for the sake of consolidating or preserving his political power for its own sake.

How ridiculous is it that in the U.S. the term “political” has come to mean not beliefs about how society ought to be and what policies government should pursue, but rather the activity of gaining prestige and capacity in the political area, in spite of your social and policy beliefs.  When someone in the U.S. calls something “very political” in the context of government actors, they don’t mean it’s “very strongly principled” or “very strongly opinionated,” they mean just the opposite, that it is very precisely designed to to strategically weigh the way powerful political actors will respond to it in order to maximize advantage.

National elections in America are the most ‘political’ of all in that with few exceptions and almost universally during primaries, in that all ‘politically viable’ candidates arrive at policies that are nearly functionally equivalent to their opponents.  They rarely debate matters of principle, at least those that they could and would actually affect change on if elected, or really debate what their goals ought to be meaningfully. Clinton and Obama’s 2008 election platforms were not substantively different, and that has been true of the leading democratic contenders as far as I can remember.  It is about personality and essentially non-political characteristics of the candidate: the real debate is not over what should be done but who should get the honor and responsibility to do it.

I think its really a shame that this is what ‘politics’ has been reduced to in the United States.  Instead of seeking office to gain the ability to pursue a specific political objective, politicians when acting ‘politically’ adapt their political objectives to gain the ability to seek and maintain office.  This is ‘politics’ depoliticized and it reduces the extent to which the acts of an elected legislature or executive can be to meaningfully express any political will of people.

For the record, this particular comment of Cheney’s was one of his very few that I agree with, but for other reasons.  If Obama wasn’t acting for strategic advantage, and instead only to fulfill his responsibility, he would as he should, call for a full investigation of everyone who participated in torture, at any level, strip them of any government immunities or protections, and put them on trial for their crimes against humanity.


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