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Thoughts on the Climate and the Future of (Western, Liberal) Government (Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future)

It’s coincidental that I’m drafting this on the weekend that Al Gore published his thoughtful, hopeful op-ed in the NYT (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/12/opinion/sunday/biden-climate-change-al-gore.html). But, the following thoughts began a couple of weeks ago when I joined Bryan Alexander’s (Bryanalexander.org) book club reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future (https://www.amazon.com/Ministry-Future-Kim-Stanley-Robinson-ebook/dp/B084FY1NXB). It’s a wonderful account so far of the national and global government dysfunction that prevents any real coordinated effort to manage climate change (or any other global problem for that matter–education, demographics, etc.). Reading this, I’m reminded of an equally poignant and terrifying book (and article by the same title) Climate Leviathan by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann (https://www.amazon.com/Climate-Leviathan-Political-Theory-Planetary/dp/1786634457/ref=sr_1_1?crid=10HOTJRASJY84&dchild=1&keywords=climate+leviathan&qid=1607873245&sprefix=climate+levi%2Cdigital-text%2C168&sr=8-1). Both demonstrate that western liberalism has met its match when confronting truly global challenges.

Real Political Reform–and Improvement–in Virginia.

A redistricting commission is only the first step. Real, meaningful political reform means placing the interests of the voters before those of incumbents. This means changing legislative terms, using a better electoral system, and looking to enforce the spirit as well as the letter of the Voting Rights Act.


Congress is the Problem–not SCOTUS

Congressional calls to repair the Supreme Court are, at best, the product of myopia and, at worst, outright attempts to distract the public from the dysfunction that characterizes the US Congress. From the Richmond Times: https://richmond.com/opinion/columnists/mark-rush-column-congress-not-the-supreme-court-is-the-problem/article_6cdea361-2f21-5688-85b0-305d24a19f67.html

A Reflection on one of the Red Herrings of the 2020 election Puerto Rico and Packing the Senate

It is too bad that members of both parties have sunk to such a septic level of partisanship. In the wake of the ACB appointment and the election, calls went out for Dems to pack the Senate and the Court. Alas, there is nothing wrong with the Court and Everything Wrong with the Senate (and Congress more generally. More on that in the next blog post) . For now, a comment on disingenuous apportionment politics: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/tag/author-mark-rush/

Puerto Rico Map | Maps of Puerto Rico

Honest assessment of the Gerrymandering issue

Thanks to Fox News for publishing my op-ed.  The main-streamers don’t want to hear this.  But there is a clear, easy solution to the gerrymandering problem.



It would take care of 99% of the problems we now face with blowout or uncompetitive elections, unbeatable incumbents, minority voters with no choice, poor turnout, etc..  But, the so-called  reformers are not interested.  Incumbents don’t want competitive elections.  Consultants and litigants won’t profit from solving the gerrymandering problem.  They profit from managing but never quite solving it.  So, all involved–incumbents, litigants, consultants, reformers, protect the single-member district instead of militating to get rid of it.

Wanna see a real soution?  Check out Fairvote.org. Meanwhile, my piece is available here.

The Law Needs to Catch up to the Cyber World

I don’t blog much.  Some would say that’s a good thing. But, after reading Shoshanna Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, my head has been spinning—almost as much as it spun after I read Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction.  In fact, my head may still be spinning from reading Cathy’s awesome book.  Regardless, there is not much I’m going to offer here that goes beyond the exhaustive analysis and discussion that Bryan Alexander and Friends provide on his site here.

But, let me offer these several, unorganized thoughts.  First, I think perhaps the best summary of what is my principal quibble with Zuboff’s analysis is that she overlooks the obvious:  people are willing to sacrifice privacy in exchange for the many benefits they receive from going online, using apps, etc.  Bryan cites Nicholas Carr’s point in his review in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

While Zuboff’s assessment of the costs that people incur under surveillance capitalism is exhaustive, she largely ignores the benefits people receive in return — convenience, customization, savings, entertainment, social connection, and so on. The benefits can’t be dismissed as illusory, and the public can no longer claim ignorance about what’s sacrificed in exchange for them.

But, I agree with this conclusion only to a point.  Whether we like it or not, access to the digital world has become almost an unavoidable necessity.  Heck, in 2016, the UN declared that web access ought to be regarded as a human right.  See how long you can go WITHOUT engaging someone or something online.  Even if you take a wad of cash and try to flee to live somewhere near the Arctic Circle, you will probably be scanned driving through a toll booth.

BUT, while the public cannot “claim ignorance about what’s sacrificed,” there is also little question that the sacrifice is made because the web remains a wild west with little in the way of enforceable rules.  Private actors—Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, etc., all operate in a digital universe with no Hobbesian leviathan around to keep them in line.  Our only recourse is to threaten to abandon one provider or platform for a better deal offered by another.  But, seriously…what does Verizon care if you jump ship to Sprint?

The problem as I see it is that right now, the law has not been able to evolve fast enough to be relevant in the digital universe.

For starters, we lack a good legal metaphor for life in the digital world.  Let’s start by saying it’s a “market.”  Well, OK.  That makes sense.  We enter markets voluntarily.  Markets are public entities full of private actors that have rights.   But, those rights are not inviolable.  Merchants can’t discriminate—for the most part.  Civil Rights law prohibits discriminating on the basis of race, gender, etc. in public accommodations.  But, if you play the religion card, you might be able to discriminate against customers you don’t like.

We can leave it to customers to pick and choose the merchants they will support.  But, if all the merchants can somehow discriminate against you, the market can be as open as restaurants and hotels were prior to the Civil Rights Acts.  Go ahead and boycott.  See if the powerful merchants care…

So, merchants are free to operate so long as they abide by market rules against discrimination, monopolies, etc.  But what about those privacy rights we willingly (or have no choice but to) sacrifice when we enter the digital world?  The powers of surveillance and the permanence of digital footprints make privacy claims much less enforceable in the digital world than in the terrestrial world.  In the digital world, we really can’t pretend to be naked emperors.  Our enemy is not some truthtelling child. Instead, it is ourselves since we cannot help but be seen… by everyone.

Still, there are two things wrong with this.  First, there is no question that it can be argued that we “agree” to sign away our rights every time we click “accept” or, simply, log on to Google.  In essence, we contractually agree to fork over our rights.  But, there is such a thing as an unconscionable contract. (OK.  I ran home to mom and cited Wikipedia there).  Zuboff notes in numerous spots that courts have routinely stated that internet users willingly sacrifice their rights and, therefore, unconscionability is not an issue… for now.  Restaurant owners used to run segregated lunch counters once upon a time.  That came to an end.

But how to come up with a right that can be enforced against cyber giants effectively and efficiently?

Second, our enemy may actually be that truthtelling child or, worse, the malignant teen hacker who is able to blackmail or bully us as Danielle Citron details in Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.  To prevent that bullying and blackmail, we need a government with enough cyberpower to track such punks down.  Problem is, that’s a lot of cyberpower—enough to dwarf Hobbes’ leviathan and take on the mantle of, say, Orwell’s big brother.

But–do we really want to hand government—any government—that kind of power?  Can we generate a legal system that can control cyberbullies and Google without threatening our freedom even more?

This problem is not new.  In Federalist  51, James Madison said:

“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

To ensure the preservation of liberty, the framers of the US Constitution gave the federal government lots of power and then divided that power into a system of checks and balances.  That worked well for a 19th century terrestrial nation even of continental scope.  But, what version of that can work in cyberspace?

We can’t imagine that until we conceive of a system of laws, rights and powers that matches the scope and powers of cyberactors.

Bryan Alexander concludes his reflections on Zuboff by saying “Looking ahead, I think Zuboff outlines an unfolding politics.”  For now, the threats posed by the weaponization of cyberpower are of immeasurable scope.  The law needs to catch up to the speed with which that politics is unfolding.  It is nowhere close.

Preliminary research on the betrayal of minority voters and the Voting Rights Act in Virginia.

In this short piece, I offer an overview of the devastating impact of majority minority districts on Virginia’s black voters.  They have essentially no choice in state legislative elections.  This undermines the Voting Rights Act.  Single member districts, along with our campaign finance rules favor incumbents so much that competitive elections are virtually nonexistent.  This is especially true in majority-minority districts.  So, the VRA has been implemented by incumbents in a manner that favors minority incumbents instead of minority voters.

The paper is available at ssrn and at academia.edu: https://www.academia.edu/37104513/The_Voting_Rights_Act_and_the_Debasement_of_Minority_Voting_Rights_in_Virginia_2001-_2015_A_Preliminary_Analysis_update_

Latest Op-ED: Richmond Times: Why a Constitutional Convention is a REALLY Bad Idea

Many thanks to the folk at the RTD and the Scholars Strategy Network for working with me on this.

The threat of a convention is real.  The country is perilously close to calling one–and no one seems to notice.  This would precipitate chaos.  There would be no winners.  Read on here:  https://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/guest-columnists/mark-rush-column-the-last-thing-we-need-right-now/article_b4b9459c-49ba-512a-9d21-6e923a926161.html  This little cartoon from New York sums it up nicely.


MLB Opening Day on Campus: W&L’s Most Loved and Hated Pro Sports Teams—Round One

This is an unofficial account of the inaugural celebration of MLB’s Opening Day at Washington and Lee’s Ruscio Center for Global Learning (RCGL).

The Center for International Education (which is housed in the RCGL) hosted the celebration.  It was originally conceived as a means of introducing our international students to an important aspect of American culture that frequently is overlooked in higher education: sports.  Amidst the divisiveness of contemporary politics across the globe and across our campuses, the center organized the celebration to highlight the transcendence and global importance of sports.

The campus community was peppered with colors as folks wore hats and shirts of their favorite sports teams.  Banners of sports teams from around the world adorned the RCGL atrium’s railings.   Along with national flags of our current students, banners of the New Zealand All Blacks, Manchester United, Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, and Chelsea added color inside and out on a beautiful spring day.  Passers-by also noted the presence of Dallas Cowboys and Boston Red Sox colors…

As part of the celebration, the Center for International Education conducted an online poll of the W&L community to determine which teams are the most loved and reviled.  Mark Rush, Center Director, announced the results at 12:30 PM.  “Sports transcends political and national divisions,” Rush said.  Noting that “the ancient Greeks would stop wars so that soldiers could participate in the Olympic Games,” Rush said that the poll and the celebration added another element to the celebration of internationalization on campus.

Some 200 members of the W&L community participated in the poll.  Along with announcing the winners and losers, Rush also gave honorable mention to the most creative responses.  A couple of respondents listed several different teams that they hated.  One’s favorite team was “Any team but the Cowboys.”  Another loathed “the NFC East and Indianapolis.”

The New York Yankees were the most disliked team on campus.  They doubled the number of votes against the New England Patriots.  Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Boston Red Sox tied for the most loved teams.  The polling was diverse and covered sports teams from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America as well as North America.

The Center will conduct the poll again–and scores will be settled–in Spring, 2019.


Don’t be Fooled by the Gerrymandering Gimmick

This is another piece that I published on Whitford v. Gill, the gerrymandering case that the Supreme Court will hear this year.  It is available at the Huffington Post Website

Many in the media suggest that this case presents a great opportunity for the Court to end the gerrymandering problem once and for all.  This is due to the fact that the case is informed by a measure generated by my colleagues Nick Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee called the “Efficiency Gap.”  The measure is elegant and simple.  But the media are misusing it and miscasting the case.

So long as we have discriminatory campaign finance laws and we use the winner-take-all electoral system, our elections will always seem to be gerrymandered.  Incumbents will remain unbeatable, elections will be uncompetitive, districts will have bizarre shapes and voter turnout will be low.

There is a solution to this problem.  But, it does not lie in any formula.  We need to change our electoral system.  To do so is simple.