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“A Few More Thoughts On Thug”: The Words We Use Are Often Encoded With Racial Presumptions And Expectations

“I hate that thug music.”

This, according to Rhonda Rouer’s testimony last week, is what her fiancé, Michael Dunn, said when they pulled into a Jacksonville, FL gas station next to an SUV full of black kids who had the stereo up high, pumping some obnoxious, bass-heavy rap.

Rouer was inside the convenience store when she heard the shots. Dunn, who is white, had gotten into an argument with the young men about their music, had gone into his glove box for his pistol, and started shooting. As the SUV tried to get away, he fired still more rounds. At least one of those rounds fatally struck 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

Dunn drove to his hotel. He did not call police. He ordered pizza. The next morning, he drove home to Satellite Beach, 175 miles south, where police arrested him. Dunn claimed he shot at the SUV because Davis threatened him with a gun. Davis was unarmed.

Dunn is now on trial for murder. He’s claiming self-defense in the November 2012 shooting, saying he felt threatened, though his victim wielded nothing more dangerous than the aforementioned “thug” music.

And we need to talk about that word a moment. But first, let’s try a thought experiment: Close your eyes and picture a California girl. Close your eyes and picture a chess prodigy.

Chances are, you saw the former as a sun-kissed blonde in a bikini running along a beach in slow motion and the latter as a studious-looking boy in owlish glasses. Chances are you saw both of them as white.

Now, close your eyes and picture a thug.

It is exceedingly likely the person you pictured was black, like Jordan Davis.

The point is, the words we use are often encoded with racial presumptions and expectations. Thus, your image of a California girl is more likely to resemble Farrah Fawcett (born in Corpus Christi) than Tyra Banks (born in Los Angeles) and your idea of a prodigy will not include Phiona Mutesi, a teenage chess champion from Uganda.

And thus “thug” becomes the more politically correct substitute for a certain racial slur. This is why Stanford-educated black football player Richard Sherman was called a thug for speaking loudly in an interview, but singer Justin Bieber was just a “bad boy” while facing charges of vandalism, assault and DUI.

And it is why, in jailhouse letters released to the media, Dunn uses that word to describe the boy he shot. But he doesn’t stop there. “The jail is full of blacks,” he writes, “and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots, when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.”

In other letters he decries the lack of sympathy from the “liberal b—–ds” in the media, and takes heart that the counties surrounding Jacksonville are dominated by white Republican gun owners. He writes, “The jail here is almost all black prisoners. You’d think Jacksonville was 90-95 percent black judging by the makeup of the folks in jail here!”

What he describes, of course, is the great Catch-22 of African-American life. They decide you’re a thug from the moment you’re born, so they lock you up in disproportionate numbers. Then they point to the fact that you are locked up in disproportionate numbers to prove that you’re a thug.

Michael Dunn is a hateful man, condemned as a racist by his own words and deeds. But that’s his problem. Ours is that this sickness is not confined to him. And that it causes blindness, rendering sufferers unable to see what is right in front of them.

So one can only wonder with dread how many of us gaze upon this man who shot up an SUV full of unarmed kids, then fled the scene, and see a victim.

And how many will see a “thug” in a teenager just trying to dodge the bullets.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, February 12, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Gun Violence, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ideology Versus Pragmatism”: Republicans Consider Stripping Health Insurance From Tens Of Thousands Of Arkansans

In Arkansas, approximately 83,000 low-income residents are in danger of losing their health insurance as early as July 1.

In 2013, Arkansas’ Republican-controlled legislature devised an alternative plan to expand Medicaid while still protecting the state’s poorest residents and hospitals. Through the plan, commonly referred to as the “private option,” Arkansas distributes federal funds — provided under the Affordable Care Act — to eligible recipients, who then use the funds to buy private health insurance plans. Proponents note that the plan offers private coverage to residents who would otherwise be unable to obtain it.

As The Washington Post reports, Governor Mike Beebe (R) welcomed the plan, saying it would save taxpayers nearly $90 million this year. The Obama administration later approved the plan, adding two necessary conditions: that cost-sharing and recipients’ benefits remain the same as the traditional Medicaid program, and that the total costs of the private plan do not exceed those of implementing traditional Medicaid expansion.

Over the past year, the private option has become so popular that variations of it are now being adopted in several states, like Pennsylvania and Utah.

“In crafting the ‘private option,’ Arkansas has provided a pathway for other states. They truly are trailblazers,” Deborah Bachrach, a partner with consulting firm Manatt Health, told  the Post.

In recent weeks, however, Republicans have threatened to jump ship on the plan, jeopardizing the program that offers protection to tens of thousands of Arkansans.

With the state’s May primaries quickly approaching, Republican lawmakers facing more conservative challengers are feeling the pressure to vote against a renewal of the program’s financing.

“You’ve got a very small minority of people who can derail this,” explains Governor Beebe, who says that the sudden lack of support has to do with “ideology versus pragmatism.”

“If we lose one or two votes, it’s critical,” he added.

Considering that Arkansas requires 75 percent of the members of both houses to pass appropriations measures, “one or two” GOP votes are certainly critical to the program’s future. And in recent weeks, two Republican state senators have voiced their opposition to extending the private plan.

Senator Missy Irvin, who voted for the program last year, announced she would no longer support it, citing a decision made by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield – Arkansas’ dominant health insurance company – to cut reimbursement rates by 15 percent to specialists who participate in its federally run online insurance exchange plans. Irvin might have had another motive, however; she is currently facing a primary challenge from Tea Party candidate Phil Grace, who pointed to Irvin’s support for the private option as one of the main reasons he chose to run.

The argument against the plan made by Grace and other conservatives like him is rather vague, but it still has the power to sway other GOP votes.

“Right now, Washington is broken and trillions of dollars in debt. We can’t count on D.C. to keep promises for any funding and Arkansas certainly can’t foot the bill. The only way to deal with D.C.’s issues is for states to band together and push back,” Grace says.

Grace’s opposition to the private program – which has been echoed by other conservatives running in 2014 — steers clear of the GOP’s typical “big government” arguments, leaving it seeming rather arbitrary.

State Senator John Cooper, another Tea Party favorite, also says that he will not vote to reauthorize the plan’s funding — which is not a surprise, since he won the state’s special election by running against the program. Cooper argues that it will not save Arkansas money in the long term, despite reports to the contrary.

If Republicans vote against the private option – a vote that come could as early as next week – the implications for the state’s poor residents are burdensome and great. Before the private option existed, Arkansas had one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the nation, which made it especially difficult for struggling individuals and families to obtain coverage.


By: Elissa Gomez, The National Memo, February 11, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Health Insurance, Medicaid | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Clarence Thomas’ ‘Sadness’ On Race”: How Things Have Changed, The Views Of “My Grandfather’s Other Son”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas gave a speech in South Florida yesterday, where the jurist, one of only two African Americans to ever serve on the high court, reflected on racial issues.

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference-conscious than I was in the 1960s when I went to school. To my knowledge, I was the first black kid in Savannah, Georgia, to go to a white school. Rarely did the issue of race come up,” Thomas said during a chapel service hosted by the nondenominational Christian university [Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach].

“Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex, somebody doesn’t look at you right, somebody says something. Everybody is sensitive. If I had been as sensitive as that in the 1960s, I’d still be in Savannah. Every person in this room has endured a slight. Every person. Somebody has said something that has hurt their feelings or did something to them – left them out.

“That’s a part of the deal,” he added.

At a minimum, the Justice’s comments appear to be at odds with his 2007 autobiography, which paint a different picture of Thomas’ youth. Yesterday, Thomas said race was “rarely” an issue growing up in Savannah,” but as Adam Serwer noted, Thomas wrote several years ago that as a kid in Savannah, “No matter how curious you might be about the way white people lived, you didn’t go where you didn’t belong. That was a recipe for jail, or worse.”

Thomas even said he left his seminary in 1968 after feeling “a constant state of controlled anxiety” over being a racial minority.

That said, Thomas’ broader point about Americans being more conscious of racial issues may be true, though it’s not entirely clear why he, or anyone else, would consider this a discouraging development.

Jamelle Bouie’s take rings true.

Let’s say that Americans are more sensitive about race (and gender, and sexuality) than they were in the 1960s. This is a good thing. If blacks in Jim Crow Georgia were willing to answer to “boy” and shrug at “ni**er,” it’s because they risked danger with any other reaction.

But that’s changed. We’ve made progress. And now blacks, as well as other minorities and women, feel entitled to public respect in a way that wasn’t true in the 1960s. In turn, there’s a public recognition that we should be sensitive to the concerns of these groups. This isn’t a setback – it’s progress.

Jon Chait added:

Maybe the reason race came up rarely is that the racial situation in 1960s Georgia was extremely terrible.

For instance, for the first 14 years of Thomas’s life, Georgia had zero African-Americans in its state legislature. Majority-black Terrell had a total of five registered black voters – possibly because African-Americans were so satisfied with their treatment that they didn’t see any reason to vote, or possibly because civil-rights activists in Georgia tended to get assassinated.

So maybe “reluctance to bring up racial issues” is not, in fact, the best measure of a society’s racial health.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, February 12, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Party Of One”: Ted Cruz Flips Off The GOP And The Country

Only a week ago Politico introduced us to a new Ted Cruz. The freshman senator who brought his party to historic public-approval lows by forcing last fall’s government shutdown had since worked on “thawing” his relationship with fellow Republicans. In “Ted Cruz plays nice,” we learned the effort was paying off: The firebrand was already “getting along reasonably well with most of his GOP colleagues.”

That was then. Now Cruz is promising to filibuster the debt-ceiling bill passed by House Democrats with 28 GOP votes. He wasn’t expected to scuttle the deal, but he will force at least five of his GOP colleagues to join the Senate’s 55 Democrats to get it passed. Already, as the Senate votes, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell and Texas’ John Cornyn, both facing primary challenges from their right, had to flip no votes to yes to defeat the filibuster. The actual measure still hasn’t passed. (Update: The Senate evaded the filibuster with additional Republicans joining Cornyn and McConnell to make the final vote to advance the bill 67-31; then all 43 Republicans voted against it.)

“Under no circumstances will I agree to the Senate’s raising the debt ceiling with just 50 votes. I intend to object and force a 60-vote threshold,” Cruz told reporters Tuesday. “They don’t have to vote for it, I think Republicans should stand together and do the right thing. We should have every Republican stand together and follow the responsible course of action, which is to insist on meaningful spending reforms before raising the debt ceiling.”

So what happened to Politico’s new Ted Cruz? Well, he’s probably looked over at Chris Christie and realized that another 2016 contender has self-imploded more spectacularly than he did. Although Cruz saw his own national-poll standing drop after his shutdown histrionics, it was nothing compared with Christie’s plunge. Tragically for Christie, he now trails Hillary Clinton, in a hypothetic 2016 matchup, by more than the wildly polarizing Cruz does.

In a February Texas Monthly profile, Cruz hardly seems worried about the enmity of his fellow Republicans. He’s unapologetic about his role in the hugely unpopular government shutdown. He considers himself vindicated by the Affordable Care Act troubles that emerged after the shutdown, from glitches in the website to the controversy over canceled plans. And he remains the most popular statewide figure in Texas politics.

Politico’s case for a kinder, gentler Cruz was never convincing anyway. The only evidence mustered was that he’d dined with Sen. John McCain, who famously called him a “wacko bird” last year, and cracked jokes with Sen. Lindsey Graham, who subsequently praised him to reporter Manu Raju.

It’s clear that Cruz has 2016 fever again, and a debt-ceiling filibuster is just what he needs to cement his status as the Tea Party standard-bearer (he’s in a virtual tie with Sen. Rand Paul in the latest Tea Party polls). Cruz is heading to Iowa yet again next month, and in April he’ll visit the first-primary state, New Hampshire, for a “Freedom Summit,” along with Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee.

A few Republicans have criticized Cruz’s debt-limit showboating. “Maybe Ted Cruz should spend a little time trying to win the Senate instead of attacking his fellow Republicans,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said Tuesday.  “I thought that Ted Cruz was past [that], but maybe he isn’t.”

On CNN’s “Crossfire” Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller also opposed Cruz’s filibuster plan. “I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to pass a clean debt ceiling increase with Ted’s or without Ted’s support, with my support or without my support. But at the end of the day, there’s going to be a debt ceiling increase and it’s going to be clean.”

That’s true. We now know one thing: Ted Cruz is no longer playing nice. He forced 12 of his fellow Republican senators effectively to go on record in favor of hiking the debt limit, votes that will put them on the bad side of Tea Party primary challengers and the nihilistic right-wingers at Heritage.  Ted Cruz has proved that he’s a party of one, unable to work effectively with his fellow Republicans, or on behalf of his country.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, February 12, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Makes a Scandal Stick?”: Why Scott Walker’s Proponents Aren’t Paying Attention To His Misconduct

Scott Walker is one of the few GOP figures in a position to benefit from Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. The Wisconsin governor is uniquely appealing as a potential presidential candidate to both the moderates in his party and its far-right members. Walker is also the first governor in United States history to win a recall election, so if he wins reelection this year, he will have won three times in five years.

But Walker’s prospects aren’t totally rosy. Charles P. Pierce at Esquire has a good rundown of the lurking scandals: Aides from Walker’s first campaign went to jail for using his Milwaukee County Executive office to campaign for him for governor, another former aide was convicted of stealing money from a fund for families of U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Walker’s administration gave raises that skirted state limits after a series of phantom job transfers took place. Another corruption probe is ongoing.

For now, however, the myriad of corruption charges against his administration are being largely ignored by both the right-wing sites that love the Wisconsin governor and the mainstream media. Why hasn’t Walker’s questionable past been addressed in much of the national coverage he has received?

I put the question to Dr. Amelia Arsenault, Assistant Professor of Communication at Georgia State University and author of the article “Scandal Politics in the New Media Environment.” Arsenault told me that in cases like these, there are multiple explanations that often interact. For one thing, there’s what she calls “impact journalism”—a kind of domino effect in media coverage.  “If CNN is covering it, or if The New York Times is covering it, then they all pile on, and it becomes this cycle,” she said. “Some scandals are just sexier than others, and Christie is a huge personality. He has more charisma than Scott Walker in a lot of ways in terms of being a media personality.”

Apart from the personality factor, there’s also a more deliberate element at play. Lesser known right-wing news sites often serve as the springboard for determining which scandals will enter the mainstream, according to Arsenault. “Even though they don’t have high readership, sites like The Blaze and really glom onto a particular scandal, and they’re very good at activating particular scandals and then pushing them forward, so they have to be covered by [outlets] like Fox News,” says Arsenault. “People on either side of the political spectrum are going after Christie, whereas Scott Walker has sort of been the darling of the online scandalmongers.”

Then there’s the matter of various incentives on either side of the political spectrum: Far-right conservatives don’t want a pro-gun control Northeasterner as their leading presidential hopeful; Democrats are similarly eager to discredit a compelling GOP candidate, and it may work in their favor for now to ignore Walker’s skeletons in order to keep the focus on Christie.

Should Walker decide to run, however, opposition researchers would have plenty to work with. What does it say about the GOP that their next-best potential contender has scandal aplenty of his own?


By: Lane Florsheim, The New Republic, February 12, 2014

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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