Monday, November 7, 2016

The League of Zegnatronic Voters Guide 2016

The League of Zegnatronic Voters Guide 2016

2 Local (San Francisco)

2.1 US Congress, District 12

2.1.1 Recommendation

Preston Picus

2.1.2 Reasons

  1. Preston Picus is the more progressive candidate.
  2. He is closely aligned with Bernie Sanders.
  3. We have an opportunity to move this seat left, since Nancy Pelosi doesn't have a Republican challenger this year.

2.2 US Congress, District 14

2.2.1 Recommendation

Jackie Speier

2.2.2 Reasons

  1. Jackie Speier is a progressive.
  2. Evidently, she's running unopposed this year, anyway.
  3. She was shot 5 times and left for dead by followers of cult leader Jim Jones, on a remote airstrip in Guyana in 1978. It's not a reason to vote for her, but Jesus, that's trippy.

3 State (California)

3.1 US Senate

3.1.1 Recommendation

Kamala Harris

3.1.2 Reasons

  1. Kamala Harris is probably the more progressive candidate, which I favor.

3.2 Proposition 51

3.2.1 Name

School Bonds. Funding for K-12 School and Community College Facilities

3.2.2 Description

Authorizes $9 billion in bonds for new construction and modernization of K-12 public schools, for charter and vocational schools, and for community colleges.

3.2.3 Recommendation


3.2.4 Reasons

  1. I generally favor school funding.
  2. I generally favor infrastructure spending.
  3. I generally favor bond measures.
  4. The debt service likely less than 1/2% state's current budget
  5. The argument against the proposition in the voter guide is provided by California Taxpayers Action Network. I generally distrust lower-tax advocacy organizations.
  6. The argument against the proposition uses loaded language like "bureaucrats" and "cronies" which increases my distrust.

3.3 Proposition 52

3.3.1 Name

Medi-Cal Hospital Fee Program. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute

3.3.2 Description

Makes permanent a hospital fee that expires in 2018, whose primary effect is to trigger Federal matching funds. It's essentially a gimmick–but maybe a good one–to force additional federal spending on low-income health care.

3.3.3 Recommendation


3.3.4 Reasons

  1. I generally favor low-income health care funding.
  2. It doesn't exactly make the fee "permanent." It just makes it more difficult to undo, which seems defensible to me.
  3. The fee is a net win for the state.
  4. The argument against uses loaded language like "lavish perks for millionaire CEOs," which I distrust.

3.4 Proposition 53

3.4.1 Name

Revenue Bonds. Statewide Voter Approval. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

3.4.2 Description

Requires statewide voter approval before the state can sell revenue bonds for state projects over $2 billion. Essentially, it tries to make it more difficult–or increase voter oversight–for large state projects to be funded.

3.4.3 Recommendation


3.4.4 Reasons

  1. I generally favor infrastructure spending.
  2. I've been persuaded that this proposition is the pet project of one rich guy, Dean Cortopassi. That doesn't necessarily mean he's wrong or that it's a bad idea, but it does raise suspicion in me.
  3. My suspicion is increased by Cortopassi's profile. He generally seems like a decent guy, but he also seems to have the anti-public spending fervor that afflicts his class.

3.5 Proposition 54

3.5.1 Name

Legislature. Legislation and Proceedings. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

3.5.2 Description

This proposition requires the legislature to post any bill on the internet for at least 72 hours before voting on it, to make audiovisual recordings of most proceedings publicly available, to authorize anyone else to record most proceedings, and to authorize recordings for any legitimate purpose.

3.5.3 Recommendation


3.5.4 Reasons

  1. Most proceedings already have publicly-available recordings.
  2. Most bills are already publicly-available on the internet.
  3. I'm not in favor of lifting the current prohibition on using legislative recordings in political ads.
  4. I've been persuaded that this proposition is intended to provide additional stalling tactics to legislators.

3.6 Proposition 55

3.6.1 Name

Tax Extension to Fund Education and Health-care Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

3.6.2 Description

Extends by 12 years the 2012 personal income tax increase on earnings over $250k/$500k (single/joint) and allocates the revenue to community colleges, K-12 schools, and low-income health-care.

3.6.3 Recommendation


3.6.4 Reasons

  1. I generally favor higher taxes, especially progressive ones.
  2. The argument against the proposition in the voter guide contains especially bad reasoning.
    1. "Temporary should mean temporary." Voters are free to change our minds on this.
    2. "Prop. 55 will hurt small businesses and kill jobs." Small businesses on-net are no better at providing jobs than larger businesses are.
    3. "We can't trust the politicians and special interests." Perhaps, but then this would apply to both sides of practically every issue, and is practically a tautology.

3.7 Proposition 56

3.7.1 Name

Cigarette Tax to Fund Health-care, Tobacco Use Prevention, Research, and Law Enforcement. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

3.7.2 Description

Increases cigarette tax from $0.87 to $2.87 per pack, increases taxes on other tobacco products, and taxes currently untaxed e-cigarettes.

3.7.3 Recommendation


3.7.4 Reasons

  1. I generally favor incentives to reduce the use of nicotine-containing products.
  2. I consider the current no-tax policy on e-cigarettes to be silly.
  3. While the tax is probably regressive, I'm mollified by the fact that California's tobacco taxes are below the median for the country.

3.8 Proposition 57

3.8.1 Name

Criminal Sentences. Parole. Juvenile Criminal Proceedings and Sentencing. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

3.8.2 Description

This proposition contains an assortment of changes that generally increases clemency for non-violent felons, prisoners exhibiting good behavior, and juvenile defendants.

3.8.3 Recommendation


3.8.4 Reasons

  1. I generally favor greater clemency in the criminal justice system.
  2. The arguments against the proposition in the voter guide is deceptive in my view. For instance, evidently the proposition doesn't enumerate which crimes are to be considered "non-violent," and the authors of the argument against the proposition use that to claim the proposition would deem things like rape, human trafficking, and bombing a hospital as non-violent. The arguments for the proposition seem to say that this is only because other California law, California Supreme Court decisions, and federal law already specify what it means to be violent and non-violent. That's plausible to me, and the argument against has the pungent aroma of ludicrousness because of it.

3.9 Proposition 58

3.9.1 Name

English Proficiency. Multilingual Education. Initiative Statute.

3.9.2 Description

The primary effect of this proposition seems to be to relax the 1998 prohibition on multilingual education in public schools. It does so partly by reaffirming the state's commitment English proficiency.

3.9.3 Recommendation


3.9.4 Reasons

  1. It repeals a proposition that was put in place in 1998, in the last among many decades when the "English-only" brand of xenophobia ran higher than has in the last 2 decades.
  2. It's plausible to me that state-of-the art English proficiency education would incorporate multilingual methods.
  3. The arguments for the proposition in the voter guide deploy dubious evidence in its favor.

3.10 Proposition 59

3.10.1 Name

Corporations Political Spending. Federal Constitutional Protections. Legislative Advisory Question

3.10.2 Description

Basically, this proposition asks California legislators to "do something" about the controversial U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Citizens United, which revoked important limits on political spending by corporations and unions.

3.10.3 Recommendation


3.10.4 Reasons

  1. It's an opportunity for California voters to express our opinion on the role of "big money" in politics, which seems worthwhile.
  2. At the same time, it literally costs us nothing.
  3. At worst, it's a toothless symbolic gesture that besides costing us nothing, will do nothing. As "worst cases" go, that's really mild.

3.11 Proposition 60

3.11.1 Name

Adult Films Condoms. Health Requirements. Initiative Statute.

3.11.2 Description

Requires adult film performers to use condoms, requires adult film producers to pay for exams, testing, and vaccinations and to be licensed, and imposes liability for violations on both.

3.11.3 Recommendation


3.11.4 Reasons

  1. Adult film performers already participate in a pretty rigorous testing regime and infection rates are now incredibly low.
  2. Conversely, sex workers in prostitution and in very low-profile adult film production already skirt or outright violate various other regulations.
  3. Therefore, it's likely this would do little if anything to promote health and safety in the various sex worker "industries."
  4. It's plausible that this is just a moralizing crusade whose real purpose is to punish adult film workers and to push their industry out of the state.

3.12 Proposition 61

3.12.1 Name

State Prescription Drug Purchases Pricing Standards. Initiative Statute.

3.12.2 Description

Prohibits state agencies from paying more for prescription drugs than The Department of Veterans Affairs does, with some exemptions.

3.12.3 Recommendation


3.12.4 Reasons

  1. While there is some hand-wringing about how this won't be effective, I think a good way to think about it is this. It sends a strong signal to government officials to drive a harder bargain in negotiating drug prices.
  2. The legislative analyst for the state says that one possible outcome is that drug manufacturers might just raise VA prices instead. Frankly, that seems like an economically illiterate point-of-view, because in principle, in a free market drug companies will charge what the market will bear. If they could "just raise VA prices" then they already would.

3.13 Proposition 62

3.13.1 Name

Death Penalty. Initiative Statute

3.13.2 Description

This proposition repeals the death penalty in California.

3.13.3 Recommendation


3.13.4 Reasons

  1. I favor repealing the death penalty in all cases, since I consider it immoral.
  2. Morality aside, evidence supports the position that the death penalty is inherently costly and yet is not effective at deterring crime.
  3. Even if those inherent deficiencies weren't present in theory, in practice evidence supports the position that the death penalty in California in other states is deeply flawed and unjust in its application.

3.14 Proposition 63

3.14.1 Name

Firearms. Ammunition Sales. Initiative Statute.

3.14.2 Description

This proposition has an assortment of gun-control measures.

3.14.3 Recommendation


3.14.4 Reasons

  1. In general, I am not in favor of most of the gun control legislation that's proposed in the U.S. I'm not a gun enthusiast at all, and wish that nobody had guns, but I don't see any plausible way to get to such an arrangement.
  2. The truth is, the crime (and violent crime) rate is down–way down–from where it was 2 decades ago (although there's been a worrying uptick lately in certain cities, like Chicago). I don't believe gun control had–or ever would have–the desired effect on crime, and other policies are much more important.
  3. While I'm sympathetic to "do nothing" legislation that "sends a message" (see above recommendation on Proposition 59), I've been persuaded that this particular proposition really is a "vanity piece" for Gavin Newsom, a Centrist Democrat former SF mayor who I strongly distrust.

3.15 Proposition 64

3.15.1 Name

Marijuana Legalization. Initiative Statute.

3.15.2 Description

Legalizes marijuana for adults 21 and older.

3.15.3 Recommendation


3.15.4 Reasons

I don't really need to dwell on this, do I?

3.16 Proposition 65

3.16.1 Name

Carryout Bags. Charges. Initiative Statute.

3.16.2 Description

Redirects money collected by grocery and certain other retail stores through the sale of carryout bags, ostensibly toward environmental causes.

3.16.3 Recommendation


3.16.4 Reasons

  1. This is a companion piece to Proposition 67, which aims to ban plastic bags. The relationship is somewhat complicated, but the upshot seems to be that if proposition 65 passes, the likelihood is fairly high that grocers will lose money on every bag they provide.
  2. Hence, the likelihood is fairly high grocers will lose their incentives for providing or selling any bags whatsoever, including truly reusable/recyclable bags.

3.17 Proposition 66

3.17.1 Name

Death Penalty. Procedures. Initiative Statute.

3.17.2 Description

Basically, this proposition aims to expedite the death penalty process by imposing time limits on the appeals process. It also aims to increase the pool of representation by relaxing constraints on appointing defense attorneys. Finally, it nullifies the outcome of Proposition 65 if this proposition wins.

3.17.3 Recommendation


3.17.4 Reasons

  1. In addition to the reasons given above for my support of Proposition 65, it's likely the passage of proposition 66 would only exacerbate the problems inherent in the death penalty.

3.18 Proposition 67

3.18.1 Name

Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags. Referendum.

3.18.2 Description

Prohibits grocery and certain other retail stores from providing single-use bags.

3.18.3 Recommendation


3.18.4 Reasons

  1. California currently already has a legislative ban on single-use plastic bags, so we already have the opportunity to evaluate how we feel about the policy. Essentially, this proposition is a challenge to already-existing circumstances which, I suspect, most Californians are fine with.
  2. The evidence strongly supports the position that plastic bags are a serious threat to wildlife and that banning them is an important component of modern conservation efforts.

4 Federal (United States)

4.1 President

4.1.1 Recommendation

Hillary Clinton

4.1.2 Reasons

  1. Donald Trump is a shambling mound of garbage.

4.2 Vice President

4.2.1 Recommendation

Tim Kaine

4.2.2 Reasons

  1. Tim Kaine seems like a decent fellow.
  2. He speaks fluent Spanish.
  3. I loved him as Teb in "Galaxy Quest."

Author: David A. Ventimiglia (

Date: <2016-11-07 Mon>

Emacs 24.5.1 (Org mode 8.2.10)


Friday, July 4, 2014

On "The Case For Reparations": Part II

Earlier, I wrote that Ta-Nehisi Coates's article "The Case For Reparations" in The Atlantic bothered me, but I didn't exactly say why. Stalling for time, I summarized the argument as faithfully as I could. Of course, evaluating reasoning by first setting aside judgment is a good habit to get into when aiming for quality debate. It frees the mind, clarifies debate, and strengthens one's intellectual integrity. But eventually, it must be superseded by the critique itself.

The Response

This isn't a critique of the idea of reparations itself as I do not repudiate such a policy. I have reservations about reparations, but I am not strongly opposed to them. Rather, this is a critique of Coates's argument itself, of its contents and its structure, and of the lessons one might learn from it.

I've already summarized its strengths in On "The Case For Reparations": Part I. An even briefer summary would have these essential elements.

  • A superb albeit incomplete history of "White Supremacy" in America
  • Moving, personal portraits of its victims, rendered in rich detail
  • An essential structure that has some real durability

Unfortunately, its weaknesses sap its strengths and undermine its foundation so fatally that in its full detail I think the argument cannot be recommended. The argument is imprecise and inconsistent, over-long and under-sourced, and manipulative and unfair. In fact it seems a bit lazy. It's the work of a well-meaning dilettante who hasn't done the work necessary to clear the formidable bar his ambition set for himself.

That ambition is evident in the subject and in the article's sheer length. Allow me to stipulate that the subject of reparations is a provocative one; I doubt the author or many other people would disagree. As for the article's length, I'll grant that this is the style in The Atlantic, but also suggest that perhaps Coates chose that journal because of the breathing room it gives. In its length, however, I think you'll also find evidence of Coates's laziness.

Reasoning is difficult and we humans rarely do it well. We're lucky we can do it at all. When it is done well, it has the power to change minds and reveal truths. Much of its power derives from simplicity, which is obtained by removing every defect. Good reasoning like good writing comes from thrift, and thrift only comes after hard labor.

What isn't hard is to launch 16,000 untrained words as Coates has done. It's easy and it's also seductive because it serves to overwhelm the reader. Judging an argument requires understanding it. Understanding it requires modeling it. Modeling it requires absorbing its details, discovering their relationships, organizing the parts into a whole, and then viewing the assemblage from all angles to draw conclusions and make inferences. An article this long is a chore to read and re-read and the model it produces is a dreadnought that barely fits in your head and hardly turns on a dime once there. Would it be any wonder then if the mind just threw in the towel and assumed that "16,000 Words Can't Be Wrong"? In that way the article's bulk and vividness invite a fallacious proof by verbosity, and one wonders if that is entirely accidental.

That verbosity adds a veneer of scholarship that hides some rather green wood underneath. This isn't a scientific thesis, in which empirical data are objectively selected in support of carefully-posed arguments. It's a polemic, built on cherry picking and wishful thinking. Consider this passage.

“Some of the land taken from black families has become a country club in Virginia,” the AP reported, as well as “oil fields in Mississippi” and “a baseball spring training facility in Florida.”

These are only anecdotes. Anecdotes are delightful playthings but have little logical content and shed little light on the total picture. Suppose some of the land was also used for hospitals, parks, and schools. After all, we're free to imagine that since we've only been told how "some" of the land has been used. Would these more noble uses justify the theft? Probably not. Yet, how the land was used must have some relevance, otherwise why would Coates mention it? In that case, why did he choose to highlight these uses? Can it be anything other than an emotional appeal? Am I certain the data are biased? Of course not. I only know that a biased presentation can't be ruled out because Coates hasn't given us all the relevant information.

Unfortunately, Coates rarely gives us all the relevant information or even any of the relevant information. If you peer through the blizzard of detail (again, much of it fascinating and worthwhile in other ways) you see that a great deal of his argument is built on unsupported assertions.

The essence of American racism is disrespect.

Is it? It's possible, of course. But, I can think of plausible alternative candidates for the "essence" (whatever that means) of American racism. "Fear" is a good example. Is it important that the essence be fear and not disrespect? Not necessarily, no. However, that doesn't seem to be the author's position. He seems to regard uncovering the essence of racism to be a worthwhile project, and assures us he has done so. He just doesn't reveal how.

But while the people advocating reparations have changed over time, the response from the country has remained virtually the same. “They have been taught to labor,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized in 1891. “They have been taught Christian civilization, and to speak the noble English language instead of some African gibberish. The account is square with the ex‑slaves.”

It strikes me as highly unlikely that objections to reparations made to African Americans today are the same as objections to reparations for actual slaves over a century ago. It's possible, but I would like to see some evidence before accepting it. Once again, Coates has none to offer.

Another provocative but unsupported claim--that black exploitation is somehow foundational, intrinsic, or essential to America--appears in several variations in Coates's article and in fact is one of the pillars of his argument.

  • America begins in black plunder and white democracy
  • “Whoever says Industrial Revolution,” wrote the historian Eric J. Hobsbawm, “says cotton.”
  • Yet America was built on the preferential treatment of white people
  • The early American economy was built on slave labor.
  • “In 1860, slaves as an asset were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together,” the Yale historian David W. Blight has noted.

But, are these things true? Was historian Eric J. Hobsbawm right to link the Industrial Revolution to slavery by dint of "cotton"? How relevant to, say, the growth of the economy, is Yale historian Donald W. Blight's "note" about slaves as a property asset? What of the steam engine, the conveyor belt, and all the other sociological and technological innovations in this era? Are they eclipsed by black exploitation? Maybe. Did America begin "in black plunder" and was it "built on slave labor?" Maybe. But, claims of this gravity require evidence.

Likewise do the assertions by Coates regarding the motives of various groups of people. Many times throughout the article he confidently tells us how people feel and what they think.

And the notion that black lives, black bodies, and black wealth were rightful targets remained deeply rooted in the broader society.

I find it hard to swallow the claim that the oppressors who "target" African Americans with exploitation believe its their right to do so. It's possible of course, but it sounds unlikely. My concerns would be alleviated if only Coates would back up his claim.

That HR 40 has never—under either Democrats or Republicans—made it to the House floor suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential.

How does Coates know what "our" concerns are "rooted" in (whatever that means)?

  • From the White House on down, the myth holds that fatherhood is the great antidote to all that ails black people.
  • Today, progressives are loath to invoke white supremacy as an explanation for anything.
  • The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.
  • When we think of white supremacy, we picture Colored Only signs

These are exaggerations inside straw-men arguments wrapped in fanciful mind-reading. These are not examples of careful reasoning.

But, careful reasoning can't happen without evidence. It also can't happen with vague terms that are never defined but are often equivocated. What exactly does "begins in" and "was built on" mean to the author? Does it matter that black Americans in the South in 1860 were actual slaves while black Americans in 1960--without making light of the injustices they suffered--were free citizens? The answer is that it absolutely matters.

It matters because Coates is attempting to persuade the reader through the power of reasoning, and because reasoning must proceed with great care and attention to detail. It's a rocky path with uneven footing and fallacies lurking behind every boulder. The mind gropes along step by step leaning on symbols, but symbols often have multiple meanings and cannot be trusted until they are secured to the ground with careful definition. But, that's no fun. It's tedious work that slows progress. It's more fun to dash ahead as Coates does without bothering to set anchors for the reader.

Here we find the roots of American wealth and democracy—in the for-profit destruction of the most important asset available to any people, the family.

What does it mean for something to be the "root" of American wealth and democracy?

But still we are haunted.

Are we haunted? Who's "we." What does it mean to be "haunted?" How does this haunting manifest itself?

In fact the whole article itself is an equivocation. It's a "bait-and-switch". With portentous tone, its link-bait title provocatively promises to make "The Case For Reparations," yet the article fails to deliver the goods. It fails not just because of its logical defects--of which there are many--but also because lacks follow-through. When we finally get to the policy Coates is advocating, it's a bit of a let-down, for he's not really recommending reparations, but rather a plan to think about maybe possibly doing "something" that may end up resembling reparations in some way--or not.

A country curious about how reparations might actually work has an easy solution in Conyers’s bill, now called HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. We would support this bill, submit the question to study, and then assess the possible solutions. But we are not interested.

From what little Coates has told us about John Conyers's bill we cannot infer that it does much more than call "for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects" and make "recommendations for 'appropriate remedies'." Those sound like worthwhile endeavors to me, but they also don't exactly sound like reparations. What Coates seems to be doing here is this. The rest of the article very clearly is making a case for actual reparations. But the reader might reject a case both because of its lack of merit and because of its consequences. In other words, one might find the argument persuasive yet still feel uneasy about actually instituting a policy of reparations. Coates seems to be hedging his bet, trying to mollify the reader. Frankly, it sounds a bit like the strategy of "climate change deniers" who assure us they only want more time "to study the issue," and it's no less disingenuous.

I don't want to belabor the issue. I think the interested reader can find in Coates's article many more examples of the kinds of problems I've tried to identify.

I don't intend for this to be a "take-down" of Coates's article and as I said I also am not opposing the idea of reparations per se. My objections are to the way that Coates reasons when making his case.'s just not very good. Oh, it's probably no worse than what is found in most political argumentation these days, but then that's a pretty low bar, now isn't it? So why dwell on this one article?

For me, the main motivation is to emphasize the importance and difficulty of good reasoning, and to encourage people on all points along the political spectrum to try harder. A linear political spectrum is a useful--albeit incomplete--axis for sorting people. My unscientific sampling along that spectrum leads me to believe that its Liberal end has a high self-regard for its own wisdom. "Reality has a well-known liberal bias," a great philosopher once said. Most scientists probably are under the Liberal tent, as are most atheists and agnostics, I would assume. My experience (which could be wrong) is that we tell ourselves we have more diversity, more tolerance of people who are different, and are less hidebound by antiquated traditions. If these things were true of ourselves, they would give us some ground for supposing that we reason better than Conservatives do. And, maybe we do reason better than Conservatives. Or, maybe we don't. It's an interesting question, but not the one being asked here. The question here is, "Do Liberals reason as well as we think we do?" Or more precisely, given the vast scope of that question, "Does being a Liberal grant immunity to the logical blunders we scorn Conservatives for making?" Assuming that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Liberal (a fair assumption, I hope), I argue that his article "The Case For Reparations" demonstrates that hypothesis to be false.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On "The Case For Reparations": Part I

Ta-Nehisi Coates's article "The Case for Reparations" has been bothering me since it was published in The Atlantic's May issue. A friend of mine whose opinion I value called it "powerful," however, so I think I should be cautious in my approach. I confess I didn't do that at first and snarked that at 16,000 words the article is "powerfully long." That's The Atlantic's style, though, and so in this post I offer that only as an observation and not as a criticism. In fact, you'll find no criticisms here. The piece is worthy of scrutiny, but before I head down that road I ought to present the case that's being made. Of course, the piece stands by itself, the author speaks for himself, and the reader needs no help from me in interpreting it as he or she sees fit. But, how can I ask anyone to evaluate my own judgment if I don't first spell out the case as I saw it? So, depending on how long your interest and stamina hold out, read the piece, read my interpretation, and let me know what I got wrong, when I'm being unfair, and where I'm being obtuse. Anything goes. Don't worry. You won't hurt my feelings.

The Case

Though I'm speaking with my voice, the argument I'm presenting belongs to Ta-Nehisi Coates. Therefore, to emphasize that fact I'm setting off the remaining paragraphs as a block-quote, even though I'm not literally quoting anyone. I suppose what I'm doing is quoting his ideas, if not his literal words.

Coates seems to be arguing that America should seriously consider making reparations--or at least beginning the process of doing so--to atone for its legacy of white supremacy. Objections to reparations on practical grounds can be overcome, he says, and there is actual pending legislation that spells out how to do this. What's more, doubts about such a project can be assuaged by examining actual historical evidence and precedent for reparations, both in America and in the world.

One of the premises of his argument is that so-called "white supremacy" was both foundational to the nation and remains intrinsic to the nation. In this setting "white supremacy" is taken to mean the systematic subjugation and exploitation of black Americans by white Americans in a variety of ways, including but certainly not limited to actual slavery. It's "foundational" in that much--maybe even most--of America's (or at least "White America's") early economic prowess owes to the practice of slavery. It's "intrinsic" in that likewise deliberate, systematic, even institutional exploitation of blacks by whites continued well into the 20th century and even unto today.

Naturally, this exploitation in its various forms involves injury to and downright theft from black Americans over many generations, and that this is literally a crime. Hence the second premise is that as with any crime we must seek justice. Presumably the crime must be stopped and its perpetrators must be prosecuted, but the particular element of justice Coates advocates here is for restitution. In colorful language, America is an ongoing crime scene and we Americans are obliged to make restitution to the victims of this crime

America has a duty to make restitution to black Americans for principled reasons, but the third premise is that the cause is augmented by pragmatic considerations. Much of the length of the article is absorbed by moving portraits of black exploitation presented in superb detail. Coates associates this overlooked history of America with a deep, corrupting sin that tarnishes all facets of American life. Reparations would necessitate a frank appraisal of this history, and the process of meting out justice would be cathartic and healing. In other words, not just black Americans but all Americans would benefit, and in the end we would have a stronger, better country.

Predictably, there will be objections to reparations. However, all of those objections can be and have been at times overcome, and this is the fourth premise in Coates's argument. One category of objection hinges on the practical issues that reparations would raise. It's encouraging then that mainstream legislators have been able to craft actual proposed legislation that lays out a path--or at least the beginning of a path--to implementing a reparations policy. Moreover, history both distant and recent, on both small scales and on large scales, in both The United States and in the world clearly demonstrates that reparations have often been sought and occasionally been granted. Apparently, it is possible.

The conclusion then is that there is a reasoned, rational, practical case to be made for a policy of reparations toward black Americans. White supremacy and black exploitation are essential to any honest examination of American history. It's a criminal history of the systematic exploitation of black Americans, who deserve justice and restitution. However, we all should welcome the blunt review of this history that reparations would necessitate as an opportunity for the growth, the healing, and the strengthening of our nation. Finally, far from being the impractical fantasy of people on the political fringe, reparations can actually be implemented as a practical policy, fully compatible with mainstream political ideas. History demonstrates that this is true. The path will not be easy, but few things worth doing in life really are easy. And, in this case both the destination and the journey are manifestly worth doing.