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“When Whites Just Don’t Get It”: After Ferguson, Race Deserves More Attention, Not Less

Many white Americans say they are fed up with the coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. A plurality of whites in a recent Pew survey said that the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News reflected that weariness, saying: “All you hear is grievance, grievance, grievance, money, money, money.”

Indeed, a 2011 study by scholars at Harvard and Tufts found that whites, on average, believed that anti-white racism was a bigger problem than anti-black racism.

Yes, you read that right!

So let me push back at what I see as smug white delusion. Here are a few reasons race relations deserve more attention, not less:

  • The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data. The gap has worsened in the last decade, and the United States now has a greater wealth gap by race than South Africa did during apartheid. (Whites in America on average own almost 18 times as much as blacks; in South Africa in 1970, the ratio was about 15 times.)
  • The black-white income gap is roughly 40 percent greater today than it was in 1967.
  • A black boy born today in the United States has a life expectancy five years shorter than that of a white boy.
  • Black students are significantly less likely to attend schools offering advanced math and science courses than white students. They are three times as likely to be suspended and expelled, setting them up for educational failure.
  • Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nearly 70 percent of middle-aged black men who never graduated from high school have been imprisoned.

All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.

Some straight people have gradually changed their attitudes toward gays after realizing that their friends — or children — were gay. Researchers have found that male judges are more sympathetic to women’s rights when they have daughters. Yet because of the de facto segregation of America, whites are unlikely to have many black friends: A study from the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that in a network of 100 friends, a white person, on average, has one black friend.

That’s unfortunate, because friends open our eyes. I was shaken after a well-known black woman told me about looking out her front window and seeing that police officers had her teenage son down on the ground after he had stepped out of their upscale house because they thought he was a prowler. “Thank God he didn’t run,” she said.

One black friend tells me that he freaked out when his white fiancée purchased an item in a store and promptly threw the receipt away. “What are you doing?” he protested to her. He is a highly successful and well-educated professional but would never dream of tossing a receipt for fear of being accused of shoplifting.

Some readers will protest that the stereotype is rooted in reality: Young black men are disproportionately likely to be criminals.

That’s true — and complicated. “There’s nothing more painful to me,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson once said, “than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery — then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

All this should be part of the national conversation on race, as well, and prompt a drive to help young black men end up in jobs and stable families rather than in crime or jail. We have policies with a robust record of creating opportunity: home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership; early education initiatives like Educare and Head Start; programs for troubled adolescents like Youth Villages; anti-gang and anti-crime initiatives like Becoming a Man; efforts to prevent teen pregnancies like the Carrera curriculum; job training like Career Academies; and job incentives like the earned-income tax credit.

The best escalator to opportunity may be education, but that escalator is broken for black boys growing up in neighborhoods with broken schools. We fail those boys before they fail us.

So a starting point is for those of us in white America to wipe away any self-satisfaction about racial progress. Yes, the progress is real, but so are the challenges. The gaps demand a wrenching, soul-searching excavation of our national soul, and the first step is to acknowledge that the central race challenge in America today is not the suffering of whites.

 

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, White Privilege | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Some People Never Learn”: What Happens When You Listen To Conservatives And Allow Them To Control Our Foreign Policy

It’s surprisingly easy to compose a list of the 25 stupidest things Bush administration officials said about the invasion of Iraq, and no such list can be remotely comprehensive. For example, the list I just referenced has President Bush assuring Reverend Pat Robertson that he doesn’t need to prepare the public for casualties because we won’t have any casualties, and it has Donald Rumsfeld dismissing concerns about looting because “free” people are free to do dumb things, but it makes no reference to Paul Wolfowitz saying in Congressional testimony that, “There’s a lot of money to pay for this. It doesn’t have to be U.S. taxpayer money. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.” It doesn’t include his testimony that “It is hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam’s security forces and his army — hard to imagine.” It doesn’t include his testimony that “I can’t imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be there for another 12 years.”

The Bush administration said countless stupid things, told an uncountable number of lies, and made so many horrible predictions that it is a herculean challenge to try to document them all. But even their strongest critics didn’t predict just how wrong things would go.

Nearly half of Syria’s population has been displaced either internally or externally as refugees in the worst humanitarian crisis to strike the Middle East in at least a century, according to new data released by the International Rescue Committee.

The complex civil war, which has now morphed into a three-way free-for-all among rebels, the Syrian regime and a caliphate of Islamic extremists attacking virtually everyone, has driven at least 3 million people from Syria into neighboring countries. The movement is stressing already fragile nations such as Jordan and Lebanon, who have born the brunt of the exodus even as both deal with their own unstable internal political situations.

Turkey also has received hundreds of thousands of refugees and continues to struggle to control its own border; thousands of foreign Jihadi fighters have used Turkey to access the Syrian battlefield. They offset the tens of thousands of Syrian fleeing the fighting, leaving southern Turkey awash in desperate refugees and militants of all stripes.

In terms of world history, the IRC, considered one of the world’s most effective aid organizations, says the situation has reached a level of disaster not seen worldwide since the Rwandan genocide, more than 20 years ago that saw fewer people – about 1.5 million _ displaced but nearly a million killed.

Yeah, I didn’t even get to Iraq, where it is estimated that over a million people have been “freedomed” from their homes.

I don’t think the American people are focused enough on the lesson here, which is what happens when you listen to conservatives and allow them to have control of our foreign policy apparatus and the most lethal military in the history of mankind.

It’s a lesson we should all heed as the present administration tries to figure out how to triage all the crises that have resulted from the Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Conservatives, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Workers Are At The Mercy Of Markets”: The Great Recession Shifted Bargaining Power To Employers

The questions hanging over Labor Day 2014 are whether and when the United States gets a pay raise. Ever since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the job market has been in a state of heartbreaking weakness. But the worst seems to be over. As Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve Board, recently noted, monthly increases in payroll jobs have averaged 230,000 this year, up from 190,000 in 2012 and 2013. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in July from 7.3 percent a year earlier and a peak of 10 percent in October 2009.

Gains are also reflected in cheerier (or less gloomy) popular attitudes, says public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. A year ago, Gallup found that 29 percent of workers feared being laid off; that’s now 19 percent. (Millennials are exceptions; their unemployment fears rose slightly.) In March 2010, 85 percent of Americans judged jobs “difficult to find,” a Pew survey reported. In July this year, the figure was 62 percent. Although confidence hasn’t returned to pre-recession levels, there’s been a genuine improvement in mood, says Bowman.

What’s missing are wage increases. Since late 2009, hourly earnings have risen at an annual rate of about 2 percent, but when corrected for inflation, “real” wage increases vanish, reports the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. The EPI says that median hourly wages were actually 0.4 percent lower in the first half of 2014 than in 2007. Using a different inflation adjustment (the “deflator” for personal consumption expenditures instead of the consumer price index) produces a 1.7 percent gain over the same period, says Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute. Either way, wages are basically flat.

We should do better.

The Great Recession shifted bargaining power to employers. With jobs scarce, “workers just take what they can get,” says economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal think tank. Companies have controlled costs through layoffs, skimpy wage increases and greater reliance on independent contractors, jobs which often pay less and provide fewer fringe benefits. The unwritten post-World War II labor contract — in retreat since the late 1970s — finally expired. That contract presumed that large companies would provide workers with stable jobs and “real” annual increases in wages and fringe benefits.

Forget it. Wage increases aren’t guaranteed, and longtime workers are regularly dismissed. “There really is no security in the labor market,” says former Fed economist Stephen Oliner, now at AEI. On the labor market’s edges, firms like Uber (an on-call transportation company) and TaskRabbit (an online service that allows customers to solicit bids for specific jobs) have created digital markets for freelance workers. The temporary jobs provide cash and flexibility — but not much certainty or security.

Too many workers have chased too few jobs, weakening wages. But now the pendulum may be swinging in workers’ direction. Some economists contend that it already has. Two bits of information are routinely cited: the unexpectedly fast fall in unemployment; and the rise in reported job openings to 4.7 million in June, more than double the recession low and slightly higher than the pre-recession peak.

The worry is that the growing supply of openings and the shrinking pool of available workers might trigger an inflationary wage-price spiral. This concern seems premature. Other economists, including Yellen, have argued that there’s still substantial labor market “slack” (surplus workers wanting jobs), keeping a lid on wage gains. Their evidence seems stronger. Consider the U-6 jobless rate (U-6 includes the officially unemployed, discouraged workers and part-timers who want full-time jobs). In July, it was 12.2 percent, down from a monthly peak of 17.2 percent, though still higher than 2007’s 8.3 percent, before the recession.

But suppose we are nearing an inflection point, where worker supply and demand are in closer balance. That certainly wouldn’t be bad. Workers’ bargaining power would improve with tighter markets: markets where businesses have to pay a bit more to keep employees; where younger workers might have competing job offers; and where someone could quit with a reasonable expectation of finding another job. (Note that unions aren’t a plausible alternative to markets because they represent only 7 percent of private workers. The minimum wage suffers from a similar scale problem.)

A wage explosion seems unlikely; companies were too traumatized by the Great Recession to let costs get out of hand. Even in 2007, wage increases — unadjusted for inflation — were running only at about a 3.5 percent annual rate.

What’s ultimately at stake is the Great Recession’s lasting effect on labor markets. Are they in the process of reverting to their modern role, promoting steadier employment and higher living standards? Or has there been a major break from the past, ushering in a harsher, more arbitrary system whose outlines are still faint? On this Labor Day, the verdict is unclear.

 

By: Robert Samuelson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Great Recession, Labor Day, Wages | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Big Money, Big Mouth”: How The Megadonors Of The Right Think

Let’s be clear about who the political enemy is in this country:

Three years ago, Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone helped lead an unsuccessful effort by a group of GOP megadonors to persuade Gov. Chris Christie to make a run for president in 2012.

Now Langone, who remains a Christie cheerleader, said he is convinced the New Jersey governor is the “guy who can win” the 2016 presidential election — and that the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy is in his rear-view mirror.

“If he decides, and I’d be more inclined to say when he decides to throw his hat in the ring, I think he’s going to be a formidable competitor,” Langone said in an interview. “People I talk to are still high on him. He looks fabulous. He looks healthy. He’s energized.”

Ken Langone is the same billionaire who told CNBC in January that Pope Francis ought to watch his mouth.

Pope Francis’ critical comments about the wealthy and capitalism have at least one wealthy capitalist benefactor hesitant about giving financial support to one of the church’s major fundraising projects.

At issue is an effort to raise $180 million for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York being spearheaded by billionaire Ken Langone, the investor known for founding Home Depot, among other things.

Langone told CNBC that one potential seven-figure donor is concerned about statements from the pope criticizing market economies as “exclusionary,” urging the rich to give more to the poor and criticizing a “culture of prosperity” that leads some to become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”

Langone said he’s raised the issue more than once with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, most recently at a breakfast in early December at which he updated him on fundraising progress.

“I’ve told the cardinal, ‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country,’ ” he said.

I’m going to take the Pope’s side on this one. And I’m going to get my hardware elsewhere.

 

By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Home Depot, Kenneth Langone, Megadonors | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Obama And The Warmongers”: The Drums Of War And The Chants For Blood; The Politics Of The ISIS Threat

We seem to be drifting inexorably toward escalating our fight with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, as the Obama administration mulls whether to extend its “limited” bombing campaign into Syria.

Part of the reasoning is alarm at the speed and efficiency with which ISIS — a militant group President Obama described as “barbaric” — has made gains in northern Iraq and has been able to wash back and forth across the Syrian border. Part is because of the group’s ghastly beheading of the American journalist James Foley — which Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A., called “ISIS’s first terrorist attack against the United States” — and threats to behead another.

But another part of the equation is the tremendous political pressure coming from the screeching of war hawks and an anxious and frightened public, weighted most heavily among Republicans and exacerbated by the right-wing media machine.

In fact, when the president tried to tamp down some of the momentum around more swift and expansive military action by indicating that he had not decided how best to move forward militarily in Syria, if at all, what Politico called an “inartful phrase” caught fire in conservative circles. When responding to questions, the president said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

His aide insisted that the phrase was only about how to move forward in Syria, not against ISIS as a whole, but the latter was exactly the impression conservatives moved quickly to portray.

It was a way of continuing to yoke Obama with the ill effects of a war started by his predecessor and the chaos it created in that region of the world.

In fact, if you listen to Fox News you might even believe that Obama is responsible for the creation of ISIS.

A few months ago, the Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro told her viewers that “you need to be afraid” because of Obama’s fecklessness in dealing with ISIS, adding this nugget:

“And the head of this band of savages is a man named Abu al-Baghdadi — the new Osama bin Laden — a man released by Obama in 2009 who started ISIS a year later.”

That would be extremely troubling, if true. But the fact-checking operation PolitiFact rated it “false,” saying:

“The Defense Department said that the man now known as Baghdadi was released in 2004. The evidence that Baghdadi was still in custody in 2009 appears to be the recollection of an Army colonel who said Baghdadi’s ‘face is very familiar.’

“Even if the colonel is right, Baghdadi was not set free; he was handed over to the Iraqis who released him some time later. But, more important, the legal contract between the United States and Iraq that guaranteed that the United States would give up custody of virtually every detainee was signed during the Bush administration.”

Fox, facts; oil, water.

But the disturbing reality is that the scare tactics are working. In July, a Pew Research Center report found that most Americans thought the United States didn’t have a responsibility to respond to the violence in Iraq.

According to a Pew Research Center report issued last week, however: “Following the beheading of American journalist James Foley, two-thirds of the public (67 percent) cite ISIS as a major threat to the United States.”

The report said that 91 percent of Tea Party Republicans described ISIS as a “major threat” as opposed to 65 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents.

The report also said:

“Half of the sample was asked about ISIS and the other half was asked about the broader threat of ‘Islamic extremist groups like Al Qaeda,’ which registered similar concern (71 percent major threat, 19 percent minor threat, 6 percent not a threat). Democrats were more likely to see global climate change than ISIS as a major threat.

Americans were thrilled by our decision to exit Iraq when we did, but support for that decision is dropping. In October 2011, Gallup asked poll respondents if they approved or disapproved of Obama’s decision that year to “withdraw nearly all United States troops from Iraq.” Seventy-five percent said they approved. In June of this year, the approval rate had fallen to 61 percent.

Yet 57 percent still believe that it was a mistake to send troops to fight in Iraq in the first place.

Now, Republicans are beginning to pull out the big gun — 9/11 — to further scare the public into supporting more action. Senator Lindsey Graham has said on Fox News that we must act to “stop another 9/11,” possibly a larger one, and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has warned, “Sadly, we’re getting back to a pre-9/11 mentality, and that’s very dangerous.”

Fear is in the air. The president is trying to take a deliberative approach, but he may be drowned out by the drums of war and the chants for blood.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 31, 2014

September 1, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Middle East, War Hawks | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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