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“Moving Past The Awkwardness With Respect”: Learning To Talk About Harriet Tubman, Slavery And Racism

Slavery and race are awkward and uncomfortable subjects for many Americans. As a result, we often find awkward and uncomfortable ways to talk about them. That was my conclusion earlier this week when, as a means of debuting his new channel All Def Digital, hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons posted a video parody titled, “Harriet Tubman’s Sex Tape.” In the video, the iconic “conductor” of the Underground Railroad is shown secretly recording sexual relations with her “Massa” in an attempt to blackmail him into allowing her to start her now famous freedom train. Almost as soon as it was released the three-minute video prompted a wave of condemnation and a petition. It wasn’t long before the NAACP asked Simmons to take it down. He offered an apology—”For all those I offended, I am sincerely sorry”—and removed the clip from his website.

Simmons’s satirical approach represents one extreme. (“I’m a very liberal person with thick skin,” he explained.) On the other is the trend of introducing children to slavery with traumatic role-playing exercises. For example, in 2008, a middle school social studies teacher in suburban New York, who is white, bound the hands and feet of two black girls and instructed them to crawl underneath a desk to simulate the conditions of a crowded slave ship. In 2011, an elementary school student in Ohio described himself as having been “humiliated” after he was forced to play the role of a slave at a mock slave auction and his white classmates were urged to degrade him during the exercise. That same year in Virginia, the Washington Post reported that a fourth grade teacher also held a mock slave auction in her class and that the white children took turns buying the black and mixed-race children.

It’s not just in school classrooms that this reality show approach to slavery is taking place.  At Connor Prairie Interactive History Park in Indiana, the public is asked to pay $20 to “Come face-to-face with slave hunters, see fear and hope in the eyes of a fellow runaway and… experience life as a fugitive slave during your journey through one of the most compelling periods in Indiana’s history. “ 60% of the visitors to the park are school children. According to a 2009 article from the Organization of American Historians’  Magazine of American History by historian Carl Weinberg, white visitors to the park often say they are getting quite a lot out of the experience of the reenactment, but it is not uncommon for African American visitors to feel uncomfortable about fully immersing themselves in the experience. Is this really a surprise to anyone?

Just for a moment, imagine if the holocaust was taught by either of these methods—a satire of Anne Frank, for example, trading sexual favors, or a fourth grade class of children being separated into jews and gentiles with the latter leading the former off to their death. It is hard to visualize either of those things happening. Slavery is the most profound mistake this country has ever made—”the great and foul stain upon the North America Union,” as John Quincy Adams said. We need to learn how to move past the awkwardness and talk with each other about it respectfully before we can laugh about it or relive the experience.


By: Noliwe M. Rooks, Time Magazine, August 17, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Race and Ethnicity, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stop Lying!”: GOP Congressman Daniel Webster Called Out By Constituents Over His Multiple Votes To Repeal Obamacare

Things got heated for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) during a town hall question-and-answer session in Winter Haven, Florida on Thursday. His constituents called him out over his multiple votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and his misleading claims that the law’s consumer protections are being dismantled by the Obama administration.

Webster was responding to several constituents’ questions about the consequences that repealing Obamacare — which House Republicans, including Webster, have voted to do on 40 separate occasions — would have for the people in his district. Attendees asked Webster if he had any plans to replace consumer protections included in Obamacare, such as guaranteed insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions and free preventative health screenings for seniors:

QUESTIONER: What happens to us when Obamacare is repealed? What happens to people with pre-existing conditions that can’t get health care? What happens to those of us who finally have access to health insurance for the first time in nine or ten years? What happens to us? And you want to make this local, I’ll make this local. I’m a constituent, right now I can’t get health care. I’m waiting for this [insurance marketplace] to open and I’d like to know why we keep repealing [Obamacare]?

The congressman defended his repeal votes by saying the law would drive up Americans’ health care costs by requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions. He then claimed that President Barack Obama himself thinks his signature law is unworkable. As evidence, Webster implied that the law’s protections — such as its cap on consumers’ annual out-of-pocket medical costs — were being dismantled by the Obama administration. That prompted an outcry from the audience, as people booed and countered Webster’s claims.

An event official interrupted at that point, asking the audience to be respectful and give Webster a chance to speak. One audience member replied by saying, “Well, tell him to stop lying!”

Watch it, courtesy of advocacy group Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and its local Florida partner Organize Now.

The Obama administration did, in fact, delay the health law’s cap on Americans’ out-of-pocket costs through their co-payments and deductibles. But as the audience correctly pointed out, it is a temporary one-year delay that only applies to certain employer-based insurance plans. The cap still applies for health policies sold through Obamacare’s statewide marketplaces beginning in October.

Webster isn’t the first GOP congressman to get flak from his constituents over his opposition to the health law. Last week, constituents confronted Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) over his many votes to repeal Obamacare and asked why he wanted to take away protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. One grieving mother in the audience had told reporters before the town hall that her own son had died of colon cancer after being denied coverage for having a pre-existing condition.

Obamacare critics who have incessantly demonized the reform law and pushed for its repeal have been brushing up against a growing number of people that support its consumer protections. A recent poll from the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm that was ostensibly meant to show Obamacare’s unpopularity by over-surveying Republicans inadvertently showed that it is actually popular. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) admitted that a “handful of things” in the law are “probably OK” in an interview on Wednesday.


By: Sy Mukherjee, Think Progress, August 16, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Marginalized By Louder Fringe Voices”: Barely A Blip On The National Radar, The Tea Party Is Losing August

August 2009 was the month of the Tea Party town hall.

We were just eight months into the Obama presidency, and Democratic congressmen headed home for recess only to get ambushed by mobs chanting their opposition to ObamaCare. As The New York Times reported at the time, “members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy, and taunted by crowds.” The August 2009 town halls certainly created obstacles on the road to health care reform, and in many ways, gave birth to the national Tea Party movement.

Now here we are in August 2013, when some observers thought that Tea Party groups would actually derail the tenuous legislative push for immigration reform. The anti-immigration group NumbersUSA is certainly trying, posting “Town Hall Talking Points” along with lists of congressional events at which to reel them off.

But midway through August, the Tea Party is barely a blip on the national radar. What happened?

1. The anti-immigration Tea Party crowd is being out-crazied
Despite the heroic efforts of Rep. Steve “Cantaloupe Calves” King, the anti-immigration faction of the Tea Party is being crowded out by voices even farther out on the fringe.

The news out of the town halls has featured Oklahoma’s “Birther Princess” and a Republican congressman casually musing about impeachment. Outside of the town halls, Republicans are publicly feuding with each other over whether to agitate for a government shutdown and conservative talk radio hosts are expending their energies defending the wisdom of turning a Missouri rodeo into a minstrel show.

The right wing’s summer cacophony is muffling the noise of the anti-immigration forces, as well as deepening the Republican image problem among moderates and people of color.

2. The Republican leadership wants no part of Tea Party agitation
For all we know, the Tea Party fizzle may be exactly what the Republican leadership wants. According to Politico, “House Republican leaders have spoken about immigration only when asked during the August recess.” That suggests Speaker John Boehner and his allies are looking to lower the temperature, creating a climate that eventually will allow compromise to win the day.

But it’s not just the formal Republican leadership that is refusing to join the anti-immigration crusade. Tea Party favorites like Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz haven’t been leading the anti-immigration parade either, despite their opposition to the bipartisan Senate bill. The Daily Caller‘s Mickey Kaus lashed out, saying, “If Amnesty Wins, Blame Cruz,” as Cruz is siphoning off conservative grassroots energy for his fight against ObamaCare.

The best NumbersUSA could book for its Stop Amnesty tour is Rep. King. A recent rally led by King, held in the congressional district of the second-highest ranking House Republican, attracted a mere 60 people. Meanwhile 1,500 pro-immigration-reform activists held a Wednesday rally in the heavily Latino congressional district of the third-highest ranking House Republican.

3. Republican money is on the other side
The 2009 town hall outbursts were nationally organized in part by conservative groups FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, which were funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

But the Kochs support immigration reform, as do Karl Rove and 100 other major Republican donors. As of June, pro-immigration groups had outspent opponents more than 3-to-1.

These three factors are connected. Because the anti-immigration squad is so poorly funded and lacking in leadership, it is vulnerable to being marginalized by louder fringe voices and better organized mainstream voices.

The louder the fringe voices become, the stronger the case mainstream Republicans can make to their leaders to accept immigration reform, on the grounds that the party can’t survive if it remains associated with birthers and bigots. At the same time, since the Tea Party can’t get the conservative grassroots riled up now, they won’t have much of a case to make to incumbent congressmen that they will face fierce primary challenges next year if they agree to a compromise with Democrats.

Score August as a big win for immigration reform.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, August 16, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Tea Party | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Moment Of Truthiness”: Stuck With Politicians Who Gleefully Add To The Misinformation And Watchdogs Who Are Afraid To Bark

We all know how democracy is supposed to work. Politicians are supposed to campaign on the issues, and an informed public is supposed to cast its votes based on those issues, with some allowance for the politicians’ perceived character and competence.

We also all know that the reality falls far short of the ideal. Voters are often misinformed, and politicians aren’t reliably truthful. Still, we like to imagine that voters generally get it right in the end, and that politicians are eventually held accountable for what they do.

But is even this modified, more realistic vision of democracy in action still relevant? Or has our political system been so degraded by misinformation and disinformation that it can no longer function?

Well, consider the case of the budget deficit — an issue that dominated Washington discussion for almost three years, although it has recently receded.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that voters are poorly informed about the deficit. But you may be surprised by just how misinformed.

In a well-known paper with a discouraging title, “It Feels Like We’re Thinking,” the political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels reported on a 1996 survey that asked voters whether the budget deficit had increased or decreased under President Clinton. In fact, the deficit was down sharply, but a plurality of voters — and a majority of Republicans — believed that it had gone up.

I wondered on my blog what a similar survey would show today, with the deficit falling even faster than it did in the 1990s. Ask and ye shall receive: Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, offered to run a Google Consumer Survey — a service the company normally sells to market researchers — on the question. So we asked whether the deficit has gone up or down since January 2010. And the results were even worse than in 1996: A majority of those who replied said the deficit has gone up, with more than 40 percent saying that it has gone up a lot. Only 12 percent answered correctly that it has gone down a lot.

Am I saying that voters are stupid? Not at all. People have lives, jobs, children to raise. They’re not going to sit down with Congressional Budget Office reports. Instead, they rely on what they hear from authority figures. The problem is that much of what they hear is misleading if not outright false.

The outright falsehoods, you won’t be surprised to learn, tend to be politically motivated. In those 1996 data, Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to hold false views about the deficit, and the same must surely be true today. After all, Republicans made a lot of political hay over a supposedly runaway deficit early in the Obama administration, and they have maintained the same rhetoric even as the deficit has plunged. Thus Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, declared on Fox News that we have a “growing deficit,” while Senator Rand Paul told Bloomberg Businessweek that we’re running “a trillion-dollar deficit every year.”

Do people like Mr. Cantor or Mr. Paul know that what they’re saying isn’t true? Do they care? Probably not. In Stephen Colbert’s famous formulation, claims about runaway deficits may not be true, but they have truthiness, and that’s all that matters.

Still, aren’t there umpires for this sort of thing — trusted, nonpartisan authorities who can and will call out purveyors of falsehood? Once upon a time, I think, there were. But these days the partisan divide runs very deep, and even those who try to play umpire seem afraid to call out falsehood. Incredibly, the fact-checking site PolitiFact rated Mr. Cantor’s flatly false statement as “half true.”

Now, Washington still does have some “wise men,” people who are treated with special deference by the news media. But when it comes to the issue of the deficit, the supposed wise men turn out to be part of the problem. People like Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairmen of President Obama’s deficit commission, did a lot to feed public anxiety about the deficit when it was high. Their report was ominously titled “The Moment of Truth.” So have they changed their tune as the deficit has come down? No — so it’s no surprise that the narrative of runaway deficits remains even though the budget reality has completely changed.

Put it all together, and it’s a discouraging picture. We have an ill-informed or misinformed electorate, politicians who gleefully add to the misinformation and watchdogs who are afraid to bark. And to the extent that there are widely respected, not-too-partisan players, they seem to be fostering, not fixing, the public’s false impressions.

So what should we be doing? Keep pounding away at the truth, I guess, and hope it breaks through. But it’s hard not to wonder how this system is supposed to work.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 16, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Now If Congress Could See The Light”: A Fully Private Mortgage Market Is Good For Nobody

Let’s be clear about one thing: just about everyone agrees that the federal government is providing too much direct support to the mortgage market today. That support should be scaled back over time, but it cannot be eliminated entirely.

We believe, as do many others across the political spectrum, that a modest level of government support is necessary to promote a stable, accessible and affordable housing market. That includes an explicit guarantee on certain kinds of mortgage debt – but not the financial institutions that issue that debt.

Rather than keeping taxpayers on the hook for every dollar of loss on mortgage-backed securities – as we do now with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – we would rather see private capital take losses first. Financial institutions should have the opportunity to buy limited government insurance on those securities in exchange for a fair and financially responsible fee, much like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. offers on bank deposits.

Regardless of whether you own or rent, a government guarantee is critical to your economic well-being. Here are two reasons why.

First and foremost, the guarantee plays a crucial role in preventing and lessening the intensity of boom-and-bust cycles in the housing market. When private capital retreats from residential mortgages during a downturn, government-backed entities stay open for business, ensuring that money keeps flowing into housing. First-time homebuyers can still get a home loan. Homeowners can still refinance or find a buyer if they’re looking to move. Developers can still access the capital they need to start construction on new apartment buildings. Each of these activities sends ripples throughout the economy – new construction jobs, more demand for household goods, stronger and more stable home values – which improves everyone’s bottom line.

In the most recent example, purely private mortgage lending basically ground to a halt when the financial crisis began in 2008. Ever since Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration have backed roughly 9 in 10 mortgages made in the U.S., saving the market from even worse collapse.

According to a recent analysis from Moody’s Analytics, a fully private market would have “difficulty providing stable mortgage funding during difficult financial times.” The authors concluded that “the resulting credit crunch further undermines housing demand, driving down prices and unleashing a vicious cycle.” That’s not good for anybody.

Second, it’s important to note that government-backed mortgages don’t just help homebuyers – who benefit from lower interest rates and access to longer-term, fixed-rate mortgage products. They also help the one-third of the U.S. population that rents.

In addition to their homeownership operations, Fannie and Freddie guarantee so-called “multifamily” mortgages, which finance apartment buildings with five or more units. That guarantee plays an important role in ensuring that quality, affordable rental options are available for low- and middle-income families. In 2009, the first full year of the financial crisis, Fannie and Freddie backed 85 percent of new multifamily mortgages; today that number is closer to 50 percent.

According to a recent analysis from Freddie Mac, if the government guarantee on multifamily mortgages were to go away, the market would shrink significantly. New construction on rental housing would plummet by as much as 27 percent, while average rents would rise by as much as 2 percent.

It’s clear that America’s families, regardless of their housing situation, benefit from an explicit, limited and paid-for government guarantee on mortgage debt. And a growing bipartisan consensus agrees: of the 25 plans for housing finance reform reviewed by the Center for American Progress, all but five preserve some sort of government guarantee.

Now, if only Congress could come to a similar agreement.


By: Andrew Jakabovics and John Griffith, Analysts at Enterprise Community Partners, U. S. News and World Report, August 13, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Financial Institutions, Home Owners | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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