The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Reparations Hearing Begins with Fireworks

Ta-Nahisi Coates at SXSW 2018 (SXSW via YouTube)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the fight for reparations begins on Capitol Hill, Josh Hawley goes after social-media companies, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls detention facilities for illegal migrants “concentration camps.”

Reparations Hearing Begins

Stakeholders gathered to testify Wednesday before the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties subcommittee in Washington to present their thoughts on H.R. 40, a bill proposing a formal study to consider reparations for slavery.

It was a contentious hearing, with Representative Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) advising the booing and hissing attendees to “chill.”

How do you do, fellow kids?

Among those who testified in favor were writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, Senator Cory Booker, and actor Danny Glover; among those opposed were former Oakland Raiders safety Burgess Owens and freelancer Coleman Hughes.

Coates presented a moving defense of his position, invoking the persistent racial disparities in incarceration and wealth as demonstrative of the continued legacy of slavery. Coates, you’ll remember, became a writer of national acclaim for his landmark piece on reparations in 2014. Our Kevin Williamson wrote a response to Coates at the time:

Mr. Coates does not make the case so much for reparations as for a South Africa–style truth-and-reconciliation commission. “The crime with which reparations activists charge the country implicates more than just a few towns or corporations. The crime indicts the American people themselves, at every level, and in nearly every configuration. A crime that implicates the entire American people deserves its hearing in the legislative body that represents them.” The purpose of a debate on a reparations bill of the sort being offered by John Conyers Jr. is not so much to construct a program of economic compensation as it is to have another verse of that Democratic hymn, an honest conversation about race. (As though we ever talked about anything else.) And this gets to the real defect in Mr. Coates’s approach. The purpose of public policy in this area can be one of two things. The first is a program focused on trying to improve in real terms the lives of those who are poorly off and those born into circumstances that are likely to lead to their being poorly off adults, proceeding with the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that such programs will disproportionately benefit black Americans, as they should. The second option is a symbolic political process designed to confer a degree of psychic satisfaction on relatively well-off men and women such as Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The questions surrounding this very old debate about historical redress for slavery are even more practical: Who is owed what? Michael Knowles of Daily Wire spoke about this on his eponymous podcast yesterday:

The first formally recognized slaveholder in America was black . . . [H]e was named Anthony Johnson, he was a black Angolan farmer, he was captured in Angola by Arab slave traders, [who] sold him off. He ended up in Virginia, and he was a slave [there]. He was eventually emancipated after his indenture was over, he was freed, and he himself became a successful farmer. He also owned slaves; so, he owned a black slave named John Casor . . . [T]he question is: are the black descendants of Anthony Johnson, a slave owner, entitled to reparations for slavery? Doesn’t make a whole of sense, does it? Are the black descendants of John Casor- the slave owned by Anthony Johnson- entitled to reparations from the black descendants of Anthony Johnson? So that means, when we have reparations for slavery, that some black descendants of slave owners have to pay reparations to some black descendants of slaves? How are we going to work that- are we going to be taking DNA tests, and is going to get hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants just to figure out who was descended from whom? What if you’re descended from a black slave owner and a black slave- does it cancel out? Or a white slave owner and a black slave- how are we going to adjudicate your culpability today in 2019?

Knowles continued, describing further complexities that arise from the legions of slaves held by American Indians, whose ownership of slaves persisted even after federal abolition of the practice. Are the living descendants of Native American slaveholders (and 1/1024 of Elizabeth Warren, just for sport) required to pay too?

The debate will inevitably continue as the Left hurtles on in its pursuit of, to borrow Kevin’s phrase, that “verse of that Democratic hymn, an honest conversation about race.”

Josh Hawley’s Proposed Regulation of Big Tech

Senator Josh Hawley is the upstart populist from Missouri who has been something of a mascot for the Sohrabites in the now-tired internecine conservative debate.

Hawley is proposing an amendment to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), legislation from 1996 prompted by the 1995 New York Supreme Court decision Stratton Oakmont, Inc. v. Prodigy Services Co. Stratton held that the internet company Prodigy was acting as a publisher when they exercised basic editorial oversight (i.e. content guidelines, provisions against profanity, etc.) over the comments section to an online bulletin board they ran, and as such could be held legally liable for the defamatory and otherwise libelous content. In response, the CDA stipulated that legitimate exercises of editorial discretion available to internet platforms did not necessitate their regulation as publishers.

Hawley’s bill insists companies must reapply with the FTC every two years to be granted this statutory exemption from liability. Supporters of the bill hope the perennial reapplication clause will force companies to be more judicious in their editorial practices and allow a more diverse pool of voices on their platform.

The libertarian site Reason disagrees, citing the potentially chilling effects of the bill:

Censorship would be universally worse without Section 230 and, as someone who studied law, Hawley should know this. But it doesn’t matter what he knows about Section 230, it matters what the masses know about Section 230—which was basically zilch, until recently. That’s what makes it easy for folks like Hawley, Harris, and the rest of the bipartisan chorus calling for 230’s demise to manipulate their base into buying that it’s about “bias” or “sex trafficking” or “gun violence” or any other number of hated things. But no matter how many culture war red flags Hawley and company raise, their solutions all come down to the same thing: letting folks in Washington have more say over what can be said on the internet, and using tweaks to Section 230 to do it. When Democrats and Republicans professing diametrically opposed goals settle on the same solution, it’s a good clue that politicians aren’t telling their constituents the truth.

Our David French is also opposed to this measure, and you can find his piece on the subject here.

AOC Compares Detention Facilities to “Concentration Camps” Used in the Holocaust

Academics rushed to Twitter, as they are wont to do, to defend Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s assertion in a rambling Instagram livestream Monday that America is running “concentration camps” on its southern border. AOC said she wants to talk to people “who are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something.”

“Never again” betrays that AOC is making a (particularly egregious) Holocaust comparison and not a clinical description of a “facility where individuals are involuntarily held without a trial.”

But precision was never her raison d’être.

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