“Waiting For Excuses For The Inexcusable”: When Talking About The Third Rail Of American Conscience, Brace For Dumb Excuses
What excuses will they make this time?
Meaning that cadre of letters-to-the-editor writers and conservative pundits who so reliably say such stupid things whenever the subject is race. Indeed, race is the third rail of American conscience; to touch it is to be zapped by rationalizations, justifications and lies that defy reason, but that some must embrace to preserve for themselves the fiction of liberty and justice for all. Otherwise, they’d have to face the fact that advantage and disadvantage, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, life and death, are still parceled out according to melanin content of skin.
So they become creative in their evasions.
They use made-up facts (Trayvon Martin was actually casing the neighborhood) and invented statistics (black men and boys commit 97.2 percent of all the crime in America), they murder messengers (“You’re a racist for pointing out racism!”) they discredit the source (Can you really trust a government study?).
One waits, then, with morbid fascination to see what excuse those folks will make as federal data released last week reveal that African-American children are significantly more likely to be suspended — from preschool. Repeating for emphasis: preschool, that phase of education where the curriculum encompasses colors, shapes, finger painting and counting to 10. Apparently, our capacity for bias extends even there. According to the Department of Education, while black kids make up about 18 percent of those attending preschool, they account for 42 percent of those who are suspended once — and nearly half of those suspended more than once.
Armed with that information, there are many questions we should be asking:
Are black kids being suspended for things that would earn another child a timeout or a talking-to?
If racial bias pervades even the way we treat our youngest citizens, how can anyone still say it has no impact upon the way we treat them when they are older?
What does being identified as “bad” at such an early age do to a child’s sense of himself, his worth and his capabilities?
Does being thus identified so young play out later in life in terms of higher dropout rates and lower test scores?
How can we fix this, build a society in which every one of our children is encouraged to stretch for the outermost limits of his or her potential?
Those are the kinds of smart, compassionate questions we should ask. But again, we’re talking about the third rail of American conscience. So one braces for dumb excuses instead.
Maybe someone will claim African-American preschoolers are 73.9 percent more likely to fail naptime.
Maybe someone will contend that they thuggishly refuse to color inside the lines.
And you may rest assured someone will say that for us even to have the discussion proves hatred of white people.
What a long, strange road we have traveled from the high land of idealism and hope to which the human rights movement brought us 50 years ago, down to the swampy lowland of justification and circumscribed horizons we find ourselves slogging through now. It is noteworthy that this story of institutional bias against children barely out of diapers scarcely skimmed — much less penetrated — an American consciousness presently preoccupied by basketball brackets and the mystery of a doomed jetliner.
Small wonder. Those things ask very little of us, other than a love for sport and a capacity to feel bad for other people’s misfortune. This, on the other hand, cuts to the heart of who we are.
Last week we learned that their schools routinely bend little black boys and girls toward failure. And the people who make excuses should just save their breath.
There are none.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Miami Herald; Published in The National Memo, March 26, 2014
Despite the worst roll-out conceivable, the Affordable Care Act seems to be working. With less than two weeks remaining before the March 31 deadline for coverage this year, five million people have already signed up. After decades of rising percentages of Americans’ lacking health insurance, the uninsured rate has dropped to its lowest levels since 2008.
Meanwhile, the rise in health care costs has slowed drastically. No one knows exactly why, but the new law may well be contributing to this slowdown by reducing Medicare overpayments to medical providers and private insurers, and creating incentives for hospitals and doctors to improve quality of care.
But a lot about the Affordable Care Act needs fixing — especially the widespread misinformation that continues to surround it. For example, a majority of business owners with fewer than 50 workers still think they’re required to offer insurance or pay a penalty. In fact, the law applies only to businesses with 50 or more employees who work more than 30 hours a week. And many companies with fewer than 25 workers still don’t realize that if they offer plans they can qualify for subsidies in the form of tax credits.
Many individuals remain confused and frightened. Forty-one percent of Americans who are still uninsured say they plan to remain that way. They believe it will be cheaper to pay a penalty than buy insurance. Many of these people are unaware of the subsidies available to them. Sign-ups have been particularly disappointing among Hispanics.
Some of this confusion has been deliberately sown by outside groups that, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, have been free to spend large amounts of money to undermine the law. For example, Gov. Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, told Fox News that the Affordable Care Act was “the biggest job killer ever,” citing a Florida company with 20 employees that expected to go out of business because it couldn’t afford coverage.
None of this is beyond repair, though. As more Americans sign up and see the benefits, others will take note and do the same.
The biggest problem on the horizon that may be beyond repair — because it reflects a core feature of the law — is the public’s understandable reluctance to be forced to buy insurance from private, for-profit insurers that aren’t under enough competitive pressure to keep premiums low.
But even here, remedies could evolve. States might use their state-run exchanges to funnel so many applicants to a single, low-cost insurer that the insurer becomes, in effect, a single payer. Vermont is already moving in this direction. In this way, the Affordable Care Act could become a back door to a single-payer system — every conservative’s worst nightmare.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 22, 2014
You may have heard about how last week, Paul Ryan made some unfortunate remarks about poverty, blaming it at least partly on, well, lazy black people: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular,” Ryan said, “of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” The reason many people got angry about this is that when we talk about poor white people, nobody suggests that it’s a product of a pathology that lies within those particular people. Republicans may think persistent poverty in rural areas is a regrettable thing, but they aren’t delivering lectures to those people about their “culture.” It’s kind of a generalized version of the fundamental attribution error—people like me are poor because of conditions outside themselves, while people unlike me are poor because of their inherent nature.
Ryan’s words set off a predictable round of “Is Paul Ryan racist?” contemplation (see here, for example), and in response to that we have to remind ourselves that that is always the wrong question. It’s impossible to know with certainty whether anyone is racist, because that requires looking into their heart. But much more importantly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what people say and do, not what lurks within their souls. You can say to Paul Ryan, “Here’s what’s wrong with what you said” without shouting “You’re racist!” which not only doesn’t convince anyone of anything, it only leads everyone who doesn’t already agree with you to shut down and refuse to listen to anything else you have to say. Before we get to today’s chart about race and poverty (oh yes, I do have a chart), you should play this classic from Jay Smooth every time you’re tempted to call a politician a racist.
Now, on to our chart. Everyone knows that minority populations in America, particularly blacks and Hispanics, suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty. For the moment, we don’t have to go into why that is and what can be done about it. I just want to note something that seldom gets mentioned: the actual racial makeup of America’s poor. In fact, when I tried to find a chart laying it out to paste into this post, I couldn’t find one. So I took poverty data and population data and made one myself (this is as of 2012):
The point of this chart is that even though blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately poor, the largest group of poor people in America is … white people.
Despite that fact, when you say “the poor,” what pops into most people’s heads is an image of a black person, probably due in no small part to the fact that poverty in America is represented in the media as a largely black phenomenon (I’m not just saying that; there’s research backing that up).
I’m not saying there aren’t different kinds of poverty that might demand different solutions, given the particular economic challenges that characterize particular areas where certain people are concentrated. Though it’s worth noting that many of the states with the highest poverty rates among whites also have the highest poverty rates among blacks. These are largely in the South, where Republican economic policies of low taxes and light regulation have, weirdly enough, not resulted in economic nirvana for all. But the point is that when we talk about “the poor,” the image of a white person should be just as likely to come to your mind as the image of a black or Hispanic person. But I’ll bet it isn’t.
Finally, a programming note. All this week I’ll be guest-blogging for Greg Sargent at the Washington Post, so my posting here will be somewhat lighter. Be sure to check both places!
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Writer, The American Prospect, March 17, 2014
“Texas Strikes Again”: Whatever Happens In Texas Has A Way Of Coming Back And Biting The Rest Of The Nation In The Butt
Election season in Texas! They’re voting right now in the primaries. And I know you are interested because whatever happens in Texas has a way of coming back and biting the rest of the nation.
For instance, Gov. Rick Perry is retiring and threatening to run for president. (He’s been to Israel!) So is Senator Ted Cruz. And now, in answer to the great national outcry for more candidates named George Bush, Texas Republicans appear ready to nominate George Prescott Bush for land commissioner.
“My friends and family call me George P, so feel free to call me P,” the 37-year-old energy consultant and son of Jeb told CNN. This was one of his more expansive interviews during a campaign that has mainly involved driving around the state in a bus while keeping as far away from reporters as humanly possible. P’s genius for avoiding the media is so profound that, in a primal moan of despair, The Austin American-Statesman endorsed his primary opponent, a businessman who advocates barring children of illegal immigrants from public schools.
Texans really love elections. Well, not the voting part — turnout is generally abysmal. But they have a ton of elective offices — land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, state school board. (There are a couple of conservative-versus-crazy Republican school board primaries, and the results may influence a pending war over requiring social studies students to learn how Moses impacted the founding fathers.)
Also, it’s really easy to get on the ballot. There are 12 Republicans running to replace Representative Steve Stockman, who is in a field of seven Republicans running against Senator John Cornyn. You may remember that Stockman is the one whose campaign office was condemned by the fire marshal. We suspect Cornyn will survive. In an editorial endorsing the incumbent, The Dallas Morning News wearily listed the other alternatives, including a businessman who “told this editorial board that ranchers should be allowed to shoot on sight anyone illegally crossing the border on to their land, referred to such people as ‘wetbacks,’ and called the president a ‘socialist son of a bitch.’ ”
Well, it’s not boring. And on the positive front, experts in Texas say there’s absolutely no chance that the guy who legally changed his name to SECEDE is going to win a nomination for governor.
The primary voting culminates on March 4, after which there will be run-offs in May for the races in which no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote. Conventional wisdom holds that by March 5 the world will know that the race to succeed Rick Perry will pit Democrat Wendy Davis against Republican Greg Abbott.
Abbott, the current attorney general, recently made national headlines when he appeared at a rally with Ted Nugent, the right-wing rocker who once referred to President Obama as a “subhuman mongrel.” Nugent, whose last hit record is older than Beyoncé, has recreated himself as a celebrity ranter. Mostly, he rants about gun rights, which is as difficult in Texas as taking a strong stand in favor of oxygen. But his vow to be either “dead or in jail” if Obama was re-elected earned him a visit from the Secret Service. One of his more printable references to Hillary Clinton was “two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.”
Abbott told The Houston Chronicle that he was unaware of what Nugent “may have said or done in his background.” Since Nugent is as impossible to ignore in Texas politics as the heat, this may have been a fib. Otherwise, Abbott is an attorney general with an astonishing lack of interest in the world around him.
What we are seeing here is a microcosm of the national political scene. Texas Republicans are terrified of two things — the angry white, mostly male Republican far right and the state’s huge population of young Hispanics. Nugent is a sop to the first. George P. Bush, whose mother is Mexican-American, is a Hail Mary pass thrown in the general direction of the second.
Although Texans as a group are not particularly crazy when it comes to the immigration issue, the Tea Party folk have been pushing it hard. Dan Patrick, a state senator who’s currently one of the leading candidates for lieutenant governor, has been campaigning against the “illegal invasion,” which he once claimed was threatening Texas with “Third World diseases” like “tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy.” (Patrick, an equal opportunity offender, also once boycotted the opening prayer in the Senate because it was being delivered by a Texas cleric who happened to be a Muslim.)
Immigrant-bashing is a shortcut to a runoff in a Republican primary. Meanwhile, it’s a continuing offense to the voter base of the 2020s. What do you do?
P! We have seen the future, and it’s running for land commissioner.
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 21, 2014
House Republicans’ latest revolt against immigration reform spells potential trouble for the party’s 2016 presidential candidates. The last thing the GOP needs in 2016 is another primary season marked by debate and dissension over the fraught issue.
The party’s handling of immigration-reform legislation since President Obama won reelection with 71 percent of the Hispanic vote reprises a decades-long pattern that has weakened the GOP in the competition for Hispanic votes. On the one hand, there is a recognition that the party needs to do more to attract Hispanic votes. On the other, there are repeated actions, both individual and collective, that send the opposite signal.
That is what has happened over the past few weeks. At one point, House leaders, led by Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), issued a list of principles for reform legislation that included a path to legal status but not to citizenship. That suggested a collective determination to pass something this year. Then, after a backlash from the outside groups that have long been Boehner’s nemeses, the speaker did an abrupt about-face, saying that a lack of trust that Obama would enforce the law made passage this year a heavy lift.
Perhaps the speaker is playing an exceedingly clever game to keep everyone guessing, a perils-of-Pauline soap opera in which he has already sketched out the scenario that ends with the passage of some notable piece of legislation this year. After all, he’s given every indication that immigration reform is something he wants to do, something he believes is good for the country and good for his party.
More likely, he is reflecting the views of the party’s most conservative members and those outside groups, who in turn reflect the views of many rank-and-file Republicans. Comprehensive reform, including a path to citizenship, enjoys majority support nationally. But conservative Republicans continue to oppose a bill that includes any path to citizenship.
Some Republicans are suggesting that they should not clutter up the midterm elections with an issue that divides their party and instead try to energize their voters by focusing on the issue that most unites Republicans, Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Many House Republicans hate the bipartisan bill that was passed by the Senate last year. If the GOP could win control of that chamber, it might be able to write legislation more to its liking and force the president to accept it.
There is no question that the politics of this are difficult for Boehner. Could he wait to push forward this year until it would be too late for conservative challengers to mount primary campaigns against incumbent House Republicans? Will there be a better opportunity next year? Will Republicans trust Obama more next year? What is the maximum Boehner can get now as opposed to then? Would support for legal status, rather than a path to citizenship, be enough to position Republicans better to start courting Hispanics on other issues?
But another question that Republicans should be asking is: What are the consequences of inaction? Can they afford another presidential nomination contest in which immigration reform plays a central role, as it did in 2012? There is debate inside the party over how much immigration hurt Mitt Romney in the general election. But no one is arguing that it helped him, and few would say a fresh debate in 2016 would be a net plus for their nominee, unless that nominee had run forcefully in favor of comprehensive reform.
A year ago, it looked as if most of the likely GOP presidential candidates in 2016 would be advocates of comprehensive reform. The task force created by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — a group that was weighted toward the establishment wing of the party — recommended support for such a measure. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took a lead role in helping produce a bipartisan Senate bill. Others who are considering running in 2016 made statements indicating at least some level of support for comprehensive legislation.
Today, that support is far more muted, if it exists at all. The conservative intelligentsia is split on what to do. The base is clearly opposed to comprehensive reform. Given the prospective field of candidates for 2016, it’s likely that those running will include outright opponents of a path to citizenship. Whoever becomes the nominee will risk having been pushed further to the right than is politically safe for a general election.
Romney said after the 2012 election that he had recognized the potentially debilitating impact an intraparty debate on immigration could have on the nominating process. He had hoped there was a way for the party to come together on some set of principles to at least prevent the issue from being front-and-center during the primaries, he said, but that didn’t happen. Romney then mishandled immigration during the GOP primaries, as his advisers later admitted (though he had a different, somewhat contrarian view of that).
Romney’s advisers discovered that, whatever problems were caused by the former governor’s talk of self-deportation and the hard line he took on immigration reform, their biggest obstacle to reaching Hispanic voters in the general election was health care. Hispanics strongly supported Obama’s health-care initiative.
That points to another problem. Republicans have long argued that they can appeal to Hispanics on issues other than immigration. So far, they have yet to prove it. Appeals to the patriotism of the Hispanic community have not worked consistently. Appeals to Hispanic small-business owners haven’t done it. Efforts to reach socially conservative Hispanics on issues such as abortion have produced few dividends. The party is still looking for an effective message for Hispanics.
Immigration remains a gateway issue. Passage of immigration reform won’t necessarily win the next presidential nominee significantly more Hispanic votes. But its absence as a divisive issue in the nomination contest would give Republican candidates an opportunity to talk to Hispanic voters about new ideas or issues.
Republicans already face significant problems winning the Rocky Mountain states in a presidential election. Growing Hispanic populations in Nevada and New Mexico have made those two states major challenges for the party. Colorado is still competitive but could become more difficult for the GOP in future elections. Arizona, which has remained in the Republican column, could become a competitive state because of Hispanic population growth.
Perhaps an immigration reform bill will be enacted before the presidential primaries begin in 2016. What Boehner did this week in bowing to pressures from the right was to underscore that Republicans continue to think more like a congressional party than a presidential party. It will be interesting to see whether any of the prospective presidential candidates is ready to challenge that orthodoxy.
By: Dan Baltz, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 8, 2014