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“2013, The Year In Whiteness”: Grievance Mongering Became An Uglier And Even More Lucrative Racket

Maybe it was the very fact of enjoying a wonderful Christmas with my family and friends, against the manufactured backlash to a nonexistent “War on Christmas,” that let me appreciate the perilous mental state of a small but noisy and paranoid swath of white America. Somehow over the holiday it became clear: 2013 was the year white grievance mongering became an uglier and even more lucrative racket.

Fox News has been peddling the phony “War on Christmas” for years, of course, but it took new Fox phenom Megyn Kelly to give it an explicitly racial cast. Not only did Kelly wage war against the menace of a black Santa – declaring nonsensically that the fictional character of Santa Claus “just is white” – but when she was called on it, she made herself out to be the victim of politically correct bullies, race-baiters and Fox haters. Suddenly it was clear: The imagined war on Christmas has become an equally farcical war on whiteness in the minds of those sad right-wing warriors.

The next week, “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson also became a martyr for the white right, after A&E briefly suspended him for holding forth on the nastiness of gay sex while insisting African Americans were happy in the Jim Crow South.

The new hysteria and hypocrisy was crystallized by one surreal fact: While paranoid white righties were fighting for their allegedly endangered right to celebrate Christmas (with their white Santa), they could watch a “Duck Dynasty” Christmas marathon on A&E, underscoring that there’s neither a war on Christmas nor on bigoted pseudo-Christians like Robertson. But there’s a lot of cash to be made, and fear to be stoked, by claiming both.

Kelly and Robertson and kindred spirits like Sarah Palin charted a bold new civil rights frontier in 2013: fighting for the right of white people to say false, stupid and bigoted things without facing criticism, let alone paying any real penalty. Palin has long made herself out to be a victim of mean liberals, but this year her anger-mongering took on a more explicitly racial tinge. She bashed Jeb Bush for casting aspersions on the fertility of white people — Bush did make an admittedly stupid remark about immigrants being “more fertile,” but if you thought that would get him in trouble with immigrant groups, not whites, you thought wrong – and later in the year declared her inviolable right to equate the federal deficit she wrongly blames on our first black president with “slavery.” She closed the year announcing she stands with Phil Robertson, even though she had to confess to Fox’s Greta Van Susteren that she hadn’t read the GQ interview that got him in minor temporary trouble.

2013 was also the year that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense, becoming a cultural hero to some of that same paranoid white right. If you have the misfortune of stumbling into the Twitter sewer that is TheRealGeorgeZ’s timeline, you’ll find an exaggerated sense of white grievance (please spare me the insistence that Zimmerman is Latino; he has seemed uninterested in identifying as such, at least publicly, and in any case his Latino heritage wouldn’t necessarily erase his whiteness).

TheRealGeorgeZ alternates between tweeting Bible verses and attacks on his “haters.” Of course, like Sarah Palin he’s a big Phil Robertson supporter, tweeting Dec. 20:

I guarantee everyone 1 thing, Phil Robertson is not losing sleep over getting to spend more time fishing, loving his family and The Lord.

— George Zimmerman (@TherealGeorgeZ) December 21, 2013

Robertson has come in for more criticism of his anti-gay remarks than his inanity on race, although it’s a little hard to take any of it seriously. Apparently the Robertson boys are yuppies dressing up as rednecks for profit, and A&E is laughing with them all the way to the bank. But the way the right has made Robertson a hero for his crude racial and homophobic remarks shows the way victimhood has become a crucial part of the white grievance industry.

Of course the stoking of white grievance is nothing new. It was at the heart of the GOP’s so-called Southern strategy, which always had a crucial Northern component: deliberately inflaming the anxieties of white working-class Southerners and Northern “ethnics” about racial and economic change. I have been someone who tried to see and point out the elements of those grievances that weren’t racial, but real: the genuine erosion of economic stability and opportunity for the white working and middle classes. (I wrote a book about it.) And early in 2013 I endured my own mini-backlash for suggesting, in “How to talk about white people,” that sometimes Democrats and social-justice advocates talk about race in ways that are unnecessarily divisive and punishing to whites.

I was honestly unprepared for the criticism, but I understand it better now. To suggest that there’s any way that the rhetoric of either “people of color” or racial liberals is to blame for white paranoia and racism seems like the essence of victim blaming. Of course that wasn’t my intent; I would argue that it stemmed from a very human impulse to try to feel you have some kind of control over forces you don’t. Sadly, or not, I realized this year that liberals have very little control over the way white people respond to racial change (though I will always argue that economic populism has more power to build cross-racial coalitions than the pro-Wall Street, multiracial neoliberalism practiced by too many Democrats over the last 20 years.)

I’m optimistic nonetheless. A little under a year ago I wrote an obituary for former New York Mayor Ed Koch, outlining how the formerly liberal Democrat rode a wave of white fear and grievance into Gracie Mansion in 1977. I couldn’t know it at the time, none of us did, but New York was about to elect its first Democratic mayor in 24 years, a staunch progressive on racial issues with an African American wife and two biracial children. An ad that tried to depict Bill de Blasio as an anti-police lefty who’d lead New York back to the crime and chaos of the ’70s and ’80s backfired; so did the ravings of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which did so much to help elect Koch.

De Blasio’s landslide win, among every racial and ethnic group, showed that white New Yorkers are ready to embrace the city’s multiracial future and tackle its lingering racial and class inequities. The mayor-elect’s influential “tale of two cities” is largely, though not exclusively, a tale of white and non-white New York. Red state demagogues can mock New York as a lonely blue island irrelevant to the rest of the country. But the city helped invent both liberalism and the backlash that tore it down. I’m going to bet that the de Blasio coalition has more influence, in the end, than Phil Robertson or George Zimmerman, Megyn Kelly or Sarah Palin. A noisy, paranoid white backlash against racial change may be inevitable, but it will also pass. That’s what scares them.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 31, 2013

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Thanks For Nothing Republicans”: Unemployment Benefits, The Cruelest Cut Of All

To 1.3 million jobless Americans: The Republican Party wishes you a Very Unhappy New Year!

It would be one thing if there were a logical reason to cut off unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work the longest. But no such rationale exists. On both economic and moral grounds, extending benefits for the long-term unemployed should have received an automatic, bipartisan vote in both houses of Congress.

It didn’t. Nothing is automatic and bipartisan anymore, not with today’s radicalized GOP on the scene. In this case, a sensible and humane policy option is hostage to bruised Republican egos and the ideological myth of “makers” vs. “takers.”

The result is a cruel blow to families that are already suffering. On Saturday, benefits were allowed to expire for 1.3 million people who have been unemployed more than six months. These are precisely the jobless who will suffer most from a cutoff, since they have been scraping by on unemployment checks for so long that their financial situations are already precarious, if not dire.

Extending unemployment benefits is something that’s normally done in a recession, and Republicans correctly point out that we are now in a recovery. But there was nothing normal about the Great Recession, and there is nothing normal about the Not-So-Great Recovery.

We are emerging from the worst economic slump since the Depression, and growth has been unusually — and painfully — slow. Only in the past few months has the economy shown real signs of life. Job growth is improving but still sluggish, with unemployment hovering at 7 percent — not counting the millions of Americans who have given up looking for work.

An extension of long-term unemployment benefits should have been part of the budget deal between Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) but wasn’t. Democrats tried to offer an amendment that would extend the benefits for three months, and they identified savings elsewhere in the budget to pay for it. But House Speaker John Boehner refused to allow a vote on the proposal.

In terms of economic policy, this makes no sense. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that extending long-term unemployment for a full year would cost about $25 billion, which would add to the deficit. But the measure would boost economic growth by two-tenths of 1 percent and create 200,000 jobs. Given that interest rates are at historical lows, and given that the imperative right now is to create growth and jobs, refusing to extend the benefits is counterproductive as well as cruel.

Sadly, cruelty is the point.

The Republican far right perceived the budget deal as a political defeat — even though it caps spending for social programs at levels that many Democrats consider appallingly low — because it does not slash Medicare and Social Security. For some in the GOP, accepting an unemployment extension would have been too much to swallow, simply because it was favored by Democrats.

For some other Republicans, unemployment isn’t really about spending, growth, deficits or even politics. They see it as a moral issue.

To this way of thinking, extended benefits coddle the unemployed and encourage them to loll around the house, presumably eating bonbons, rather than pound the streets for any crumbs of work they can find, however meager.

This view is consistent with the philosophy that Mitt Romney privately espoused during his failed presidential campaign. It sees a growing number of Americans as parasitic takers who luxuriate in their dependence on government benefits — 47 percent was the figure Romney came up with. The makers who create the nation’s wealth are not really helping the down-and-out by giving them financial support to make it through tough times, this philosophy holds. Much better medicine would be a kick in the pants.

I wonder if these Ayn Rand ideologues have ever actually met a breadwinner who has gone without a job for more than six months. I wonder if they know that some jobless men and women — and I know this is hard to believe — don’t have well-to-do parents or even a trust fund to fall back on. I wonder if they understand that unemployment benefits don’t even cover basic expenses, much less bonbons.

The Republican establishment doesn’t want this to be a campaign issue for Democrats, so it’s quite likely that the benefits will eventually be extended. Until then, more than 1 million households are being made to suffer privation and anxiety — for no good reason at all. Thanks for nothing, GOP.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 30, 2013

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fiscal Fever Breaks”: 2013 Was The Year Journalists And The Public Finally Grew Weary Of The Boys Who Cried Wolf

In 2012 President Obama, ever hopeful that reason would prevail, predicted that his re-election would finally break the G.O.P.’s “fever.” It didn’t.

But the intransigence of the right wasn’t the only disease troubling America’s body politic in 2012. We were also suffering from fiscal fever: the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment that budget deficits were our most important and urgent economic problem, even though the federal government could borrow at incredibly low interest rates. Instead of talking about mass unemployment and soaring inequality, Washington was almost exclusively focused on the alleged need to slash spending (which would worsen the jobs crisis) and hack away at the social safety net (which would worsen inequality).

So the good news is that this fever, unlike the fever of the Tea Party, has finally broken.

True, the fiscal scolds are still out there, and still getting worshipful treatment from some news organizations. As the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted, many reporters retain the habit of “treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political.” But the scolds are no longer able to define the bounds of respectable opinion. For example, when the usual suspects recently piled on Senator Elizabeth Warren over her call for an expansion of Social Security, they clearly ended up enhancing her stature.

What changed? I’d suggest that at least four things happened to discredit deficit-cutting ideology.

First, the political premise behind “centrism” — that moderate Republicans would be willing to meet Democrats halfway in a Grand Bargain combining tax hikes and spending cuts — became untenable. There are no moderate Republicans. To the extent that there are debates between the Tea Party and non-Tea Party wings of the G.O.P., they’re about political strategy, not policy substance.

Second, a combination of rising tax receipts and falling spending has caused federal borrowing to plunge. This is actually a bad thing, because premature deficit-cutting damages our still-weak economy — in fact, we’d probably be close to full employment now but for the unprecedented fiscal austerity of the past three years. But a falling deficit has undermined the scare tactics so central to the “centrist” cause. Even longer-term projections of federal debt no longer look at all alarming.

Speaking of scare tactics, 2013 was the year journalists and the public finally grew weary of the boys who cried wolf. There was a time when audiences listened raptly to forecasts of fiscal doom — for example, when Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of Mr. Obama’s debt commission, warned that a severe fiscal crisis was likely within two years. But that was almost three years ago.

Finally, over the course of 2013 the intellectual case for debt panic collapsed. Normally, technical debates among economists have relatively little impact on the political world, because politicians can almost always find experts — or, in many cases, “experts” — to tell them what they want to hear. But what happened in the year behind us may have been an exception.

For those who missed it or have forgotten, for several years fiscal scolds in both Europe and the United States leaned heavily on a paper by two highly-respected economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, suggesting that government debt has severe negative effects on growth when it exceeds 90 percent of G.D.P. From the beginning, many economists expressed skepticism about this claim. In particular, it seemed immediately obvious that slow growth often causes high debt, not the other way around — as has surely been the case, for example, in both Japan and Italy. But in political circles the 90 percent claim nonetheless became gospel.

Then Thomas Herndon, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, reworked the data, and found that the apparent cliff at 90 percent disappeared once you corrected a minor error and added a few more data points.

Now, it’s not as if fiscal scolds really arrived at their position based on statistical evidence. As the old saying goes, they used Reinhart-Rogoff the way a drunk uses a lamppost — for support, not illumination. Still, they suddenly lost that support, and with it the ability to pretend that economic necessity justified their ideological agenda.

Still, does any of this matter? You could argue that it doesn’t — that fiscal scolds may have lost control of the conversation, but that we’re still doing terrible things like cutting off benefits to the long-term unemployed. But while policy remains terrible, we’re finally starting to talk about real issues like inequality, not a fake fiscal crisis. And that has to be a move in the right direction.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 29, 2013

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, Financial Crisis | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Happy New Year, Losers”: The “Supreme Court Gap” In Unversal Health-Care Coverage

Chief Justice Roberts wishes a Happy New Year to all those losers who will not get health care insurance, thanks to his clever reading of the Constitution. There are 4.8  million of these losers and 2.6 million of them are people of color, black and Hispanic mainly. Not that the Chief Justice and his right-wing colleagues on the Supreme Court would make racist distinctions. No, no, no. They assure us their decision is solely driven by a matter of high comstittional principle—States Rights.

The problem with these people is that they are low-income adults without dependent children—not quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid nor old enough to qualify for Medicare. President Obama’s original legislation took care of them by expanding Medicaid coverage and putting up the federal money to pay for it. The Roberts decision insisted that state governmednts have a constitutional right to reject this financial aid from Washington. And twenty-five states took him up on the offer.

This odd failure will probably be blamed on Obama but should rightly be called the “Supreme Court gap” in unversal health-care coverage. Because these folks do not not quite earn enough to qualify for Obamacare’s tax credits to help people purchase health insurance. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation outlined the consequences. “Most of these individuals have very limited coverage options and are likely to remain uninsured,” the foundation explained.

Of course, they could get a job that pays more. Or maybe get married and have children that would qualify them for Medicaid. State governments set many of the rules for Medicaid coverage and some conservatives think fedeal aid saps individual initiative and rewards indolence. It is not entirely a coincidence that many of these rejectionist states are the same states that defied the Supreme Court half a century ago and resisted racial integration and equal rights for minorities. Some of them are the very states that went to war to defend slavery. Republicans are sometimes called a “neo-confederate party.” After the Supreme Court gutted the voting-rights act, the neo-confederates were free to pass restrictive laws designed to shrink minority voting, and so they did.

The Kaiser Foundation doesn’t get into any of that but simply observed, “These continued coverage gaps will likely lead to widening racial and ethnic as well as geographic disparities in coverage and access.”

Don McCanne of Physicians for A National Health Program circulated the Kaiser report with this comment: “What a terrible way to start the first of the year of what is essentially the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. It seems pretty obvious what our New Year’s resolution should be. Let’s bring health care to everyone through an improved and expanded Medicare for all.”

Democrats ought to call out Republicans on these questions. And citizens generally ought to call out the Roberts court. The Supremes have done quite a lot in the last fifteen years to mess up our already weakened democratic system. They stole the presidential election in 2000. They cut loose big money to swamp elections by destroying lawful restraints. They are trying step-by-step to restore hoary old legalisms that favor capital over labor, corporations over individuals. Shouldn’t we be talking about how to stop them?

By: Wiliam Greider, The Nation, December 31, 2013

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Stunning New Report Undermines Central GOP Obamacare Claim”: The Arguments Made By Republicans Simply Lack A Firm Factual Basis

A crucial GOP line of attack against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is that millions of people will supposedly lose coverage thanks to shifting requirements on the health insurance exchanges — a flagrant violation of President Obama’s infamous “if you like your plan, you can keep it” proclamation. The truth has always been more complicated, of course. Republicans are constantly blurring the line between people who lose a plan and people who lose coverage. That is, many people might lose a particular insurance plan but immediately be presented with other options.

Now, a new report from the minority staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has destroyed the foundation of that particular GOP claim. It projects that only 10,000 people will lose coverage because of the ACA and be unable to regain it — or in other words, 0.2 percent of the oft-cited 5 million cancellations statistic.

The report starts with an assumption that 4.7 million will receive cancellation notices about their 2013 plan. (Notably it doesn’t endorse that figure, just takes it on for the sake of argument.) But of those, who will get a new plan?

  • According to the report, half of the 4.7 million will have the option to renew their 2013 plans, thanks to an administrative fix this year.
  • Of the remaining 2.35 million individuals, 1.4 million should be eligible for tax credits through the marketplaces or Medicaid, according to the report.
  • Of the remaining 950,000 individuals, fewer than 10,000 people in 18 counties will lack access to an affordable catastrophic plan.

“This new report shows that people will get the health insurance coverage they need, contrary to the dire predictions of Republicans,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking committee member.  “Millions of American families are already benefiting from the law.”

The report is somewhat speculative, of course, since there is no central repository of data on the individual health insurance market. But the methods are clear, and the onus is now on Republicans to explain why it isn’t true.

As we’ve noted, Republicans have had an awful hard time finding people who completely lost coverage because of the ACA. (Think of the man who starred in Americans for Prosperity ads last week and whose story still hasn’t been fully explained.) Perhaps it’s because there just aren’t that many of them.

Of course, there’s no doubt that for those 10,000 people, the health-care law left them worse off than before. And by no means is the rocky political ride over for Democrats — back-end problems still present a serious threat to implementation. But as is sadly too often the case, the arguments made by Republicans simply lack a firm factual basis — and deserve much more scrutiny that they’ve received in many sectors of the mainstream press.

 

By: George Zornick, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 31, 2013

January 1, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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