"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“That Old-Time Whistle”: The Kind Of Things Conservatives Say To Each Other All The Time

There are many negative things you can say about Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the G.O.P.’s de facto intellectual leader. But you have to admit that he’s a very articulate guy, an expert at sounding as if he knows what he’s talking about.

So it’s comical, in a way, to see Mr. Ryan trying to explain away some recent remarks in which he attributed persistent poverty to a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working.” He was, he says, simply being “inarticulate.” How could anyone suggest that it was a racial dog-whistle? Why, he even cited the work of serious scholars — people like Charles Murray, most famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Oh, wait.

Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

We are told, for example, that conservatives are against big government and high spending. Yet even as Republican governors and state legislatures block the expansion of Medicaid, the G.O.P. angrily denounces modest cost-saving measures for Medicare. How can this contradiction be explained? Well, what do many Medicaid recipients look like — and I’m talking about the color of their skin, not the content of their character — and how does that compare with the typical Medicare beneficiary? Mystery solved.

Or we’re told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it’s hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts, of huge bonuses paid to executives who were saved from disaster by government backing and guarantees. Instead, all the movement’s passion, starting with Rick Santelli’s famous rant on CNBC, has been directed against any hint of financial relief for low-income borrowers. And what is it about these borrowers that makes them such targets of ire? You know the answer.

One odd consequence of our still-racialized politics is that conservatives are still, in effect, mobilizing against the bums on welfare even though both the bums and the welfare are long gone or never existed. Mr. Santelli’s fury was directed against mortgage relief that never actually happened. Right-wingers rage against tales of food stamp abuse that almost always turn out to be false or at least greatly exaggerated. And Mr. Ryan’s black-men-don’t-want-to-work theory of poverty is decades out of date.

In the 1970s it was still possible to claim in good faith that there was plenty of opportunity in America, and that poverty persisted only because of cultural breakdown among African-Americans. Back then, after all, blue-collar jobs still paid well, and unemployment was low. The reality was that opportunity was much more limited than affluent Americans imagined; as the sociologist William Julius Wilson has documented, the flight of industry from urban centers meant that minority workers literally couldn’t get to those good jobs, and the supposed cultural causes of poverty were actually effects of that lack of opportunity. Still, you could understand why many observers failed to see this.

But over the past 40 years good jobs for ordinary workers have disappeared, not just from inner cities but everywhere: adjusted for inflation, wages have fallen for 60 percent of working American men. And as economic opportunity has shriveled for half the population, many behaviors that used to be held up as demonstrations of black cultural breakdown — the breakdown of marriage, drug abuse, and so on — have spread among working-class whites too.

These awkward facts have not, however, penetrated the world of conservative ideology. Earlier this month the House Budget Committee, under Mr. Ryan’s direction, released a 205-page report on the alleged failure of the War on Poverty. What does the report have to say about the impact of falling real wages? It never mentions the subject at all.

And since conservatives can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the reality of what’s happening to opportunity in America, they’re left with nothing but that old-time dog whistle. Mr. Ryan wasn’t being inarticulate — he said what he said because it’s all that he’s got.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 16, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Just Desert Adherents”: Why The Conservative Defense Of Inequality Makes No Sense

Harvard economist Greg Mankiw is notorious for trying to justify the income of the very rich on the grounds that it’s what they deserve. In this column, for example, he uses the example of Steve Jobs as a person who deserves his wealth, having been in charge of a company that built some hugely popular electronic devices. The idea is plausible at first blush: Jobs’ products are indeed very popular.

But it quickly runs into enormous problems. This “just deserts” way of looking at the world is perennially tempting for conservatives — the flip side being that poorer people also deserve what they get — but they will have to do better than this to justify and valorize the existing social structure.

Consider the case of economic growth. As Matt Bruenig points out, the mysterious “Solow residual” — the source of productivity that can’t be directly attributed to capital, labor, or land — almost certainly consists at least in part of knowledge, which has been piling up for centuries:

If we are being good “just desert” adherents, then we need to divorce out the massive chunk of the total output that constitutes the Solow residual and ensure it makes it to its rightful contributor. All of our national product attributable to the world’s accumulated knowledge of algebra — which includes much of Mankiw’s work it should be noted — rightfully belongs to ancient Babylonians, ancient Greeks, and a whole host of other long-dead historical figures. All of our national product attributable to electricity technology rightly belongs, not to anyone living, but to people like Nikola Tesla and and Thomas Edison. In short, the view that individuals should receive only their marginal product actually generates the conclusion that the substantial part of our national product resulting from inherited technology and knowledge belongs to no living person, or more reasonably to everyone in general. [Demos]

Even that isn’t going far enough! As Thomas Kuhn demonstrated in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions, nearly all major scientific breakthroughs were made by multiple people simultaneously and independently, and were critically dependent on certain background conditions in society. In other words, if we could somehow figure out how much of economic output stems from the discovery of calculus, even Newton would not deserve full credit for it.

We can take it even further: what about the English language itself? That is to say, practically every single economic activity depends on a foundation of literacy that has been built into society. No business today can operate without a functional language as a bedrock condition. That is quite obviously the result of thousands of years of communal creation and evolution. Today’s Job Creators can’t possibly claim to have “built that,” and the very idea of trying to single out individuals in the creation of English is ridiculous on its face, with the possible exceptions of Shakespeare or William Tyndale.

Finally, merest existence means being ensnared in a web of obligation that it would be futile to map out. Every person alive is built at great effort and pain from the flesh and blood of another person: your mother. How could one possibly begin to even “repay” such a debt? Presumably, she deserves all of your income less what it takes to keep you alive, since she is literally responsible for your creation. But that’s not even the end — before your mother, there was her mother, and so on, in an unbroken chain of life creating life stretching 3.6 billion years back to the primordial sea. Remove just one of the links, and you wouldn’t exist.

Anyway, one could continue in this vein, but I’ll leave it there. In my view, the sheer impossibility of ever allocating desert in any sort of systematic or consistent way means we should guarantee a minimum of safety and security for every person. But at a minimum, Mankiw and his fellow 1 percent apologists would do well to abandon this line of reasoning.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, March 14, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Economic Inequality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Catholic Nuns Back Obamacare Contraception Access”: It Isn’t Freedom When Women Are Held Hostage

The National Coalition of American Nuns has announced their support for women’s right to access contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the historic Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases. While the plaintiffs in these cases are Mennonites and evangelical Christians, opposition to the contraceptive mandate was largely spearheaded by the Catholic bishops. Several key cases of Catholic non-profits, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are making their way through the lower courts and may well end up in the Supreme Court themselves.

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives,” said the 2,000-member group in a statement.

“This has gotten out of hand,” Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, told RD. “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

The nuns are seeking support for their stand through an online petition. The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute is helping NCAN coordinate the effort. “When I saw the brave stand these nuns were taking on the mandate, I started to think about what we could do to amplify their voices. So we launched a social media campaign asking people to ‘Stand with the Nuns’,” she said.

“We really need to counter the idea that faith is opposed to family planning,” said Haffner, who’s also helping to coordinate a Faith Rally at the Supreme Court on March 25, the day of the oral arguments for the mandate challenges. “All too often the media only shows a Catholic bishop to offer the faith perspective. More than 14 major religious denominations have statements supporting birth control and birth control access. People need to understand that this is not only an affront to women’s moral agency but opens the door to denying a whole range of services, from other kinds of reproductive health care to services to LGBT people,” she said.

NCAN has a long history of reproductive justice and Catholic reform activism. Quinn has volunteered as an abortion clinic escort and was one of the leaders of a delegation of women religious to Rome 1994 to hold a parallel discussion about the role of women religious during the bishops’ synod on religious life, which largely excluded women.


By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, March 14, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Contraception, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Socialized Education”: Another Republican Who Thinks It’s Time To Close The Doors At Public Schools

Once in a great while, a conservative policymaker will condemn the existence of public schools in the United States. They’re usually not quite as direct, though, as Ohio state Rep. Andrew Brenner (R), who recently published an online item insisting, “Public education in America is socialism.”

In the post, titled “Public education in America is socialism, what is the solution?,” Brenner laid out his argument. He noted that the Tea Party, which “will attack Obama-care relentlessly as a socialist system,” rarely brings up “the fact that our public education system is already a socialist system […] and has been a socialist system since the founding of our country.” […]

Brenner’s solution: more privatization. “In a free market system parents and students are free to go where the product and results are better,” he wrote.

Did I mention that Brenner is the vice-chair of the Ohio House Education Committee? He is.

For what it’s worth, the Ohio Republican apparently looked up “socialism” on Wikipedia and found that the word means “a social and economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy.” And since he sees public education fitting this bill, and because he believes all socialism must always be bad in all instances, Brenner seems to think it’s time to close the doors at public schools.

Of course, the same could be said for public police departments and fire departments, which would also have to be privatized, but one assumes Brenner and his allies will get to this on another day.

To be sure, even most far-right policymakers rarely talk this way publicly – most Americans celebrate the nation’s public-school system as an important institution and would generally oppose candidates eager to close them all down – but it’s worth noting that Brenner isn’t entirely alone.

Indeed, former senator and presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, just a few years ago, made very similar noises about public education. “Just call them what they are,” Santorum said in 2011. “Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.”

In early 2012, CBS’s Bob Schieffer asked Santorum, “Are you saying that we shouldn’t have public schools, now? I mean, I thought public schools were the foundation of American democracy.” The Republican didn’t back down, reemphasizing his belief that federal and state governments should not be involved in public education.

Republican pollsters have frequently suggested that it’s a mistake for party officials to call for shutting down the federal Department of Education because it gives the appearance of hostility towards public education.

But this apparently doesn’t stop some GOP candidates and policymakers from going even further.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 14, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Education, Public Schools | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Early Voting Under Attack In Wisconsin”: Republicans Putting Up Even More Obstacles To Civic Participation

It may soon get a lot harder to vote in Wisconsin.

State and federal courts are currently deliberating the outcome of Wisconsin’s enjoined strict photo ID law. Governor Scott Walker this week said he would call a special legislative session to modify the law if it’s struck down, so voter ID could be in effect for the November 2014 election. And, this Wednesday, Senate leadership muscled through a bill, SB 324, which would cut back on early in-person absentee voting in that state. The measure passed 17-16, with one lone Republican joining the state’s Democratic Senators in casting nay votes. If the vote in the Assembly falls along party lines like it did in the Senate, the rollbacks could very well become law. Governor Walker has stated that he is open to instituting cutbacks on early voting if the measure reaches his desk.

In Wisconsin, all voters who apply may vote absentee in advance of Election Day, either by mail or in-person at the local municipal clerk’s office. Early in-person absentee voting starts the third Monday before the election, and is available through the Friday preceding Election Day. The bill passed by the Senate would eliminate early voting on weekends, and require that all early voting during the week conclude no later than 7 p.m. The bill also proposes a 45-hour weekly cap on early voting. Under the current law, which has no such restrictions, two communities that are home to nearly 15 percent of the state’s total population and nearly half of the state’s non-white population, Milwaukee and Madison, offer extended hours to serve more voters.

Cutting back on early voting puts up obstacles to civic participation. Voters like it, and they use it. When people can choose to vote on a day and time that does not conflict with work, family care, or other obligations, they are more able to wait in lines and undertake the other administrative costs involved in voting. Over the last three presidential elections, an average of 14 percent of voters in Wisconsin cast early ballots. Despite what some lawmakers are doing to make it harder to vote, citizens around the country support increasing access to the ballot. For example, a recent Iowa poll found that people there overwhelming believe that ensuring every eligible voter gets to cast a ballot outweighs concerns over ineligible voters. And, as the Brennan Center found in its comprehensive 2013 study of early voting, it’s also popular with the people who administer elections, because it reduces stress on the voting system on Election Day, leads to shorter lines, and allows for more opportunity to discover and correct problems before the polls close.

In producing our report, we looked into which jurisdictions have most successfully implemented early in-person voting, and were able to distill a set of seven best practices. Wisconsin does begin its early voting period a full two weeks before Election Day, which is one of the identified best practices for administering early voting. Another is to offer early voting on weekends, including the last weekend before the election. In fact, in eight of the nine states with the highest early voting turnout in recent elections, jurisdictions are required by law to offer early voting on at least one weekend. Not only does current Wisconsin law not mandate any weekend hours—instead leaving that decision up to the individual jurisdictions—but under the proposed changes weekend voting would be actively prohibited. A third best practice is to offer extended early voting hours during the week outside of business hours. The bill approved by the Wisconsin Senate, conversely, limits how many early voting hours may be offered each week, and likewise prohibits evening early voting after a certain hour.

Given the popularity of early voting among those who vote and those who administer elections, it’s hard to understand why Wisconsin lawmakers are intent on limiting early voting systems and throwing up more and more obstacles to the franchise. Their efforts would be better spent making elections more free, fair, and accessible for their constituents.


By: Jennifer L. Clark, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, March 14, 2014

March 17, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: