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“Let me tell you a story…” (Part 6 of 9)

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 8, 2014 in Background

Every good story needs a good villain, and during my tenure as N.C. State‘s Student Senate President that villain was the Student Body President.

It might have been my own fault, informing the then-President-elect1 “I’m not taking any sh*t off the Executive Branch” — on the night we got elected :beatup:

Maybe I never gave him a fair shake because I’d always hated the Office of the Student Body President as an institution.

Or perhaps it really was how I saw it at the time: our two paths diverging over the failed leadership of the statewide UNC Association of Student Governments, and the fissures growing with each misstep from there.

Whatever the reason, the discord was sufficiently epic2 that it became the single longest response to any question I got asked as part of my interview with the Student Leadership Initiative. Take a look:

Questions in this Clip:

00:00 – Can you describe how you collaborated with other Student Government branches, particularly your relationship with Student Body President Bobby Mills?

Needless to say I wasn’t a member of the fan club :)

Thanks for watching, have a great night!

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From the law:/dev/null Student Leadership Initiative-related archives:

  1. A recent candidate for the N.C. General Assembly down in Onslow County. []
  2. Including me having him thrown out of Senate chambers, and later chronicling his foibles in a censure resolution that was (intentionally) blocked before it could reach committee — ensuring its text would never be amended :angel: []

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2

5 thoughts on this Shirley Sherrod foolishness

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 21, 2010 in Unsolicited Commentary

If you’re one of those folks lucky enough to not know who Shirley Sherrod is, stop reading this entry now and go to another website :) This easily ranks among the very dumbest fabricated political controversies I’ve seen in awhile — and I don’t want any of you complaining that I’ve wasted minutes of your life enticing you to read about it :P

For everyone else keeping up on the controversy, I just have five thoughts on it:

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1) Most people talking about this “controversy” are just regurgitating TV talking points
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I learned that earlier today when I made a comment via Twitter and got into a pair of lengthy back-and-forth discussions with one of my old roommates at N.C. State and one of my colleagues at NCCU Law. Apparently my opinion was sufficiently outrageous that several third-party observers of our conversations felt the need to argue with me via other channels… only to later concede they hadn’t actually seen anything beyond what was reported on CNN or MSNBC.

If you’re not familiar with the incident and disregarded my opening warning to skip the rest of this entry (last chance! turn back now!), it all began on Monday with this entry at BigGovernment.com, a website run by conservative activist Andrew Breitbart. It features commentary from Breitbart claiming the NAACP is hypocritical on race issues and is coupled with two clips of Ms. Sherrod speaking at the local NAACP’s Freedom Fund Banquet. In the clips Ms. Sherrod tells a tale of being approached by a white farmer in need of help to save his farm from foreclosure, and she “didn’t give him the full force of what [she] could do” because he was white. The moral of her story was her later realization that issues of race are often more accurately characterized as issues of class, or in Ms. Sherrod’s words “it’s about poor versus those who have”.

Within a day Sherrod was forced to resign by Secretary of Agriculture Tommy Vilsack and was denounced as a racist by NAACP President Ben Jealous1 — both clearly overreacting out of fear they would be seen as defending reverse racism. Then everyone reversed course a day later, claiming Ms. Sherrod’s remarks were taken out of context, and the NAACP leadership even having the guile to claim it was “snookered” by Fox News (which hadn’t run anything about the story until after Ms. Sherrod was fired by Vilsack and denounced by Jealous) before posting what the NAACP claims is the “full” video on its website. The airwaves are now replete with everyone hurling the “racist” label at everyone else.

The whole thing has been so absurdly outrageous, so predictable, so orchestrated, that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a movie. It’d be a farcical comedy if it wasn’t our federal government and the leadership of one of the nation’s oldest advocacy groups taking part as primary actors…

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2) Shirley Sherrod shouldn’t have been fired…
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Every law student in the country is familiar with the twin concepts of Statutes of Limitation and Statutes of Repose.

For the non-law-inclined, in overly-simplified terms a Statute of Limitation sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit once you realize you have a claim; they’re designed to prevent a Plaintiff from “sleeping on his/her rights” to the unfair detriment of the Defendant, who may not be able to mount a defense if records have been disposed or other evidence is lost. In North Carolina, for instance, the statute of limitations for most offenses is three years with one-year extensions in certain circumstances (such as when you don’t discover the injury until after the SOL date has passed).

In equally over-simplified terms, a Statute of Repose is kind of like a SOL on steroids. After the deadline set in the Statute of Repose you can’t file a lawsuit at all under any circumstances, even if you didn’t know you had a claim. These are most common in product liability cases, where a SOR is commonly set based on the date the product was manufactured or the date it was initially purchased by a consumer.

Both the SOL and SOR are essentially decisions by society (through our legislators) that certain offenses are more or less significant than others. Again using NC as my example, most misdemeanors have an SOL of 2 years while violent misdemeanors and felonies have no SOL at all (you might have heard the line in Law & Order episodes or other crime dramas that “There’s no statute of limitations on murder” in most jurisdictions).

Even if we assume the very worst about Ms. Sherrod — that her videotaped admission of not providing the “full force of what [she] could do” was true and a result of her personal bias toward the man seeking her help — it was an admission about something that happened over 20+ years ago. There are numerous crimes that society has decided aren’t significant enough to be prosecuted after 20+ years, along with nearly every tort in nearly every state. Had Ms. Sherrod committed professional malpractice in any other profession, the Statute of Repose in North Carolina would have passed in the mid-90s.

Unless there was some kind of indication Ms. Sherrod was still engaging in this kind of discriminatory conduct, as opposed to simply relating a story of personal growth, this particular instance in the 1980s should have been left alone as a dead issue and her job security shouldn’t have even been questioned. Instead she was thrown under the bus by her government employer and vilified by the NAACP out of fear of the political fallout if it appeared they were supporting reverse racism.

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3) …but that hardly makes her a paragon of civic virtue
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In a predictable fashion that only politics can provide, once the “full” video was posted the ensuing political commentary became totally unhinged from reality. Commentators started insisting that not only were Ms. Sherrod’s remarks “taken out of context” but that she had actually done nothing wrong in the first place.

Both claims make no logical sense.

If you haven’t already done so, go back to those entries I listed in #1 above — read the entry on BigGovernment.com and its video snippets, then watch the “full” video on the NAACP website. If you just want to listen to the farm-related story in the “full” video, it’s from 16:23 to 21:26.

I’ll wait until you get back ;)

Even in Breitbart’s original entry (the one that has since been blasted by the White House and the NAACP alike as “selectively edited”) it’s clear to even a cursory observer that Ms. Sherrod’s story is one of personal growth. She was admittedly derelict in her job duties because of racial bias, but later learned “it’s about poor versus those who have” as opposed to race. That context is right there at the 1:44 mark in BigGovernment.com’s first clip, which is the same as 18:23 in the NAACP’s “full” video.

Where’s the lack of context?

The idea that her conduct was exemplary is also bizarre. Ms. Sherrod says very clearly and unambiguously that she “didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough.” That alone was bad enough, but she compounded her original failing by voluntarily picking out a white attorney for the farmer to use for filing bankruptcy since she figured “his own kind would take care of him.” It’s right there at 1:26 to 1:43 of the BigGovernment.com clip, which is the same as 18:06 to 18:21 of the NAACP’s “full” video.

It’s roughly akin to me (the farmer) drowning in a pool (the farmer’s debt), but because the lifeguard (Ms. Sherrod) is biased against fat (white) people and assumes I’ll float (escape foreclosure), he (she) decides to throw me a defective life preserver (Ms. Sherrod’s limited help) instead of diving in to rescue me (the “full force of what [Ms. Sherrod] could do”). Then when I’m still drowning he (she) throws a defective life jacket (the incompetent white bankruptcy attorney). Then when I’m a few seconds (hours) from death (foreclosure), he (she) calls over to another lifeguard (the black bankruptcy attorney) who dives in for the rescue.

Generally when a government actor has done something wrong, there is no tort liability for negligence against them when it’s an issue of nonfeasance, meaning the government actor simply has failed to take an action they were supposed to take. Tort liability for negligence typically does arise, though, when it’s an issue of misfeasance, meaning the government actor has taken some affirmative action but did so negligently and harmed the injured party as a result.

Based on Ms. Sherrod’s remarks, the farmer was smart enough to notice his white attorney (selected for him by Ms. Sherrod) was not doing his job and he would need someone else. But had the farmer not been that vigilant in monitoring what was going on and his farm been foreclosed, is there any question that he’d have an actionable claim for negligence against Ms. Sherrod?2

I’m sure Ms. Sherrod is a nice lady, and I take her at her word in the speech that she no longer has her former misguided views on race that led her to not fully help a white farmer and then pick out a deficient white attorney for him. She shouldn’t have been fired.

But that doesn’t mean she should be deified instead.

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4) The “full” tape isn’t even the full tape
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There’s not much to say here other than wondering what’s going on behind the scenes. The “full” tape posted by the NAACP pretty clearly is not the “full” tape. If you watch it closely you’ll notice an obvious cross-fade at the 21:00 mark where something was clearly cut out.

Why would you post something for public review and claim it’s something it isn’t?

A bigger question, for me at least: why has no one in the media noticed the missing snippet, instead breathlessly repeating that it’s the “full” tape?

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5) But none of it matters, because this entire controversy is stupid
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I’m convinced everyone commenting on this manufactured controversy has lost their minds.

To my fellow conservatives: do any of you really think pointing out racism in the NAACP would somehow mitigate racism (if found) within the Tea Party movement? Supposedly that was Andrew Breitbart’s motivation in posting his initial entry on Monday, but I vaguely recall something called the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy — which I also vaguely recall being mentioned by Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:38-42).

Following up on that question, do you think it’s wise to issue an open challenge to folks to “prove” racist elements in the Tea Party? In Wake County alone, I’ve seen Republicans claim a black sheriff was releasing detainees because of their race, and I’ve seen Democrats justify the liberal Nanny State by claiming blacks weren’t intelligent enough to take care of themselves. I’d venture to guess that you can find racists in any mass movement in the country. It seems kind of dumb to instigate that discussion — especially when, if someone were to be pointed out using racist language, they’d just be dismissed as not being a true representative of the movement.

And to my liberal colleagues: do any of you really think government personnel are justified if they “didn’t give [someone] the full force of what [they] could do” as a result of personal bias, as long as they learn from it after the fact? Government employees at the local, state, and federal levels who merely “did enough” to barely comply with the letter of the law were often rightfully denounced during the Civil Rights era, and yet now one is being exalted because she had an epiphany after the fact.

Following up on that question, do you think it’s OK for the government to abuse one of its employees by forcing them to resign over a decades-old controversy? Claim remarks were taken out of context all you like, the fact of the matter is a good chunk of the liberal establishment in this country threw Shirley Sherrod under the bus without any investigation or critical evaluation because they were worried about electoral repercussions. The people who supposedly believe in defending “the little man” instead smeared one for the sake of political expediency.

To the media: who told you electing Barack Obama was going to lead to some “post-racial” society where race was no longer a topic of controversy? I’ve read this in so many news stories it’s comical. Huge chunks of the country don’t pay enough attention to politics to even know who the President is, much less that he’s black, much less that his blackness is supposed to influence their opinions on race. Your collective obsession with the transformative power of Big Government blinds you to the fact the overwhelming majority of voters and taxpayers prefer being able to go about their daily business without government intrusion — and that as a result the government has a very limited ability to shape their beliefs. I’ve got a litany of problems with President Obama’s politics, but the fact he didn’t usher in an illusory “post-racial” society isn’t one of them.

And to everybody: what exactly have we gained from this manufactured controversy? Sure we’ve “gained” a bunch of people getting pissed off at a bunch of other people and vice versa. And we’ve “gained” a fresh lease on life for a lot of really worn out political analogies (e.g. that opposing the unchecked expansion of a clearly incompetent federal government is tantamount to racism). And we’ve “gained” a collective recognition of the obvious point that we still live in a society where race is a Big Deal™.

But beyond that, this entire pseudo-scandal has been a waste of everyone’s time… and only highlighted the abject foolishness that now passes for racial discussion.

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That’s it from me —  I promise promise promise you this isn’t going to become a political blog, and I’ll have something law-related to write about soon :) Thanks for enduring the rant, and have a great night! :D

  1. As a former dues-paid member of the NAACP, I haven’t been impressed by President Jealous. His conduct with this incident confirms my disappointment in him and how he got (s)elected. []
  2. Assuming she was a normal government actor as opposed to a federal employee. I’m side-stepping discussion of the provision of the Federal Tort Claims Act exempting “discretionary function[s] or dut[ies]” from liability — the fact Congress hasn’t allowed a right of action where most states do is separate from whether Ms. Sherrod’s conduct was wrong IMO. []

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The Greensboro Sit-ins: 50 years later

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 1, 2010 in Randomness

Today marks the start of Black History Month here in the United States, but more importantly it also marks the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro Sit-ins — a movement that began when four freshmen at the Agricultural & Technical College of North Carolina (now N.C. A&T State University) decided to demand service at a segregated F.W. Woolworth’s lunch counter.

Photo of the Greensboro Four sitting at the Woolworth lunch counter

The Greensboro Four in 1960

Their non-violent protest would catalyze the civil rights movement in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South, inspire the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee months later, and provide political momentum for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which outlawed discrimination in “public accommodations”) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What a difference 50 years can make :)

This morning the International Civil Rights Center & Museum officially opened where that Woolworth’s once stood.1 The country finally elected its first black President in Barack Obama. Students across the country can focus on their academic studies without worrying if they’re going to be beaten or lynched. Interracial dating is almost passé. The list goes on.

When I learned about the civil rights movement in high school — an occasionally sensitive topic growing up in a state that elected the country’s first black Governor when I was 8 but also awkwardly commemorated Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all on the same day until I was 19 — I always wondered if I’d be able to demonstrate the same courage had I been in the same situation. Realistically: no.2

But I’m thankful for them just the same, especially when I get up in the morning for my daily drive to one of the most diverse law schools in the country.3

There’s always more to be done of course. Just last month Columbia’s School of Law released a study noting decreased minority enrollment in law school even as the number of seats available increased. All 5 of the HBCU’s4 in the University of North Carolina system are searching for ways to improve retention and graduation rates without limiting access by becoming more selective in admissions. Even the devastation in earthquake-stricken Haiti has roots in our historical racial divide.

If things can change so much in 50 years, however, I’m optimistic for what the next 50 will bring for all of us :D

More info on the ICRCM opening and the 1960 sit-in:

  1. I was hoping to make it out to the unveiling, but when I got up at 5am to make the drive for the 6am breakfast I was greeted with streets full of ice :( []
  2. You can see some of the violence sit-in protestors had to endure in the PBS documentary “February One”. []
  3. When it’s not snowing — we’ve got another 2-hour delay tomorrow, plus a forecast for even more wintry precipitation tomorrow night and Friday. You know you’re in the South when a little snow/ice shuts things down for days :beatup: []
  4. HBCU = Historically Black College or University. Contrast with PWI = Predominantly White Institution []

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7

TDot’s Mailbag v3.0

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 4, 2009 in Mail

I check the server logs here at law:/dev/null at least twice a day, primarily to keep a check on the source IPs and the search queries that lead folks here — most of them are innocuous enough,1) but if I notice an otherwise-arbitrary uptick in visits from the law school’s network I try to preemptively think of responses to anything a professor or classmate might inquire about.

And in going through the end-of-month log for September, I noticed I’ve totally been neglecting email :surprised: My apologies, dear readers! (all dozen of you :* )

For those of you who are new visitors to my little snippet of virtual real estate on teh intarwebs, every now and then I take the questions I’ve gotten via email / Facebook message / text / etc and throw them into a blog entry — usually when I’m either lacking 1) time or 2) content to write something better ;) I’m making an exception today because a couple of these questions are a bit old :beatup:

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Q: Mike, another 1L blawger who’s written in previously, sent in a non-question that needs “answering”:

You don’t have your email address posted anywhere on your blog. May want to fix that if you expect folks to write in ;)

A: Touché. When law:/dev/null got started it was basically just for close friends and family who already had my contact info on Facebook — I never expected people from other cities / states / countries to become regular readers! (P.S. thank you said unexpected readers :spin: )

If any of you want to send me an email, just take my name on this blog (TDot), throw in the @ symbol, and tack on the URL of the blog sans the ‘www’. Or just Facebook me :)

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Q: Rebecca recently found us through a Facebook post and asks:

Do you really send/receive thousands of text messages in a month??

A: Yep. It all started when I got elected Student Senate President at N.C. State back in April 2007.  I used to have a 12-button Motorola E815 — which had an über-hackable OS that I didn’t want to give up — and a “500 messages per month” data plan.  By the time school started in August, I had sent/received 854 messages… which led to a $35 overage charge on my phone bill.

Somehow the next month that had climbed to 1,959 messages, which prompted a visit to my local Verizon Wireless store and an almost-free upgrade to a BlackBerry 8830 with unlimited text messaging — a much better deal than the ~$150 overage I would have had to pay otherwise.

Then things just went crazy from there.

TDot's text messages over time

TDot's text messages over time. Each vertical hash is 1100 texts.

The following March I was reelected to a 2nd term as Student Senate President and a few weeks after that elected President of the statewide UNC Association of Student Governments, becoming the 1st person (so far as we know) to hold both the ASG Presidency and a major institutional office at the same time — and bringing a corresponding text message frequency with it.  I peaked at 10,821 messages in January, and have settled around the 7K mark for the past few months.

Back when I first switched to the BlackBerry, one of my Computer Science professors asked me to put a graph together showing my text message usage over time.  I’ve been keeping it up just for the giggles and post it here for you amusement :)

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Q: Gwen asks about the HBCU experience:

How are you adjusting to a historically black university like N.C. Central coming from a predominantly white school like N.C. State? Has it been difficult?

A: It hasn’t taken much adjustment at all, at least for me. The black community at N.C. State was one of the three core groups who put me into office along with CALS students and teh Netr00tz, if that offers any insight to my background.

The only significant change between N.C. State University and the N.C. Central University School of Law has been the technology.

The Computer Science Department at NC State is very *nix-heavy, so technology is platform-neutral and Linux + Mac users fit right in. By contrast NCCU Law, like most law schools, is a mostly-Microsoft shop. The tech support folks aren’t well-versed at all in anything beyond Windows, so I’ve played the role of “hey you, computer guy” on more than a few occasions.

And the wifi reception is spotty in the areas most conducive to studying. It drives me bonkers… :mad:

Other than those few technology annoyances, I have no complaints :)

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Q: Rebecca, in response to my recent commentary on TRPLS, is apparently crushed by my own political leanings:

omg please don’t tell me you’re one of the *them*. seriously? like, *seriously?*

A: Seriously :) I’ve been a conservative since high school and a registered Republican since I was eligible to vote.

My political views aren’t exactly orthodox though.

As an example, I believe in limited government, supply-side economics, firearms, a strong military and an interventionist foreign policy; my time being homeless left me with little sympathy for the poor; and I think most strident liberals are ideologically incoherent and hate America.

But I also have no problems with premarital sex, weed, illegal immigrants, or non-Christians; I’ve dated more black women than white ones; I have more close friends who are gay than are straight; and I recycle ;)

The net result is a guy who got himself elected as the youngest Vice Chairman in Wake County GOP history some years ago, got thrown out of the party entirely just 2 years later for being “too liberal”, then spent most of the years since working with politicians from both parties.

No need to worry though: the odds of someone like me getting elected to anything outside of college are pretty slim, and my political views won’t affect the quality of my legal representation if you ever need a lawyer ;)

And one final note on the impeccable timing of this question — check out today’s first entry on PostSecret :D

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That’s all I’ve got for this entry folks — have a great night! :D

  1. From yesterday: “what is the plain meaning rule? do you think that people would actually fight over the plain meaning of a statute?” If your client is paying you, yes ; []

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