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“A Nation Of Cultural Illiterates”: What’s Next In Ferguson? Let’s Try A Little Education

What next?

That’s what should concern us now. When the nightly dance of angry protesters, opportunistic criminals, and inept police clashing over the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown finally ends, what steps should civic-minded people take to address the ongoing abuse of African-Americans by the criminal injustice system? Not just in Ferguson, Missouri, but in America?

There will be no shortage of good ideas: dashboard cameras, community policing, the hiring of more black cops, the removal of military hardware from police arsenals, sensitivity training. To these, I would add a suggestion that is admittedly less “sexy” than any of those, but which I think has greater potential to make fundamental change in the long term. In a word: education.

Beginning as early as the latter elementary years, schools should offer — no, require — age-appropriate cross-cultural studies that would, in effect, introduce us to us. Meaning not some airy-fairy curriculum of achievements and accomplishments designed to impart some vague intra-cultural pride, but a hard-headed, warts and all American history designed to impart understanding of who we are, where we’re from and the forces that have made us — inner-city black, Appalachian white, barrio Mexican, whatever.

You might consider this a utopian idea. Maybe it is. But I’ve never been able to shake a conviction that if you walk the proverbial mile in another man’s shoes, you inoculate yourself against your biases toward him. I believe empathy follows understanding.

Surely we could use some empathy just now. As America races toward a future in which no one race is numerically dominant, it remains largely a nation of cultural illiterates content to interpret various Others through lenses of stereotype and canard. If this has been a bonanza for certain politicians (“Elect me and I’ll keep you safe from the gays/the Mexicans/the blacks!”), let us never forget that this ignorance, these unconscious biases for and against, have real-world impact.

Michael Brown lying dead in the street is seemingly one image thereof. Here’s another:

Last Thursday at 2:30 in the morning, seven teenagers, ages 18 and 19, broke into the home of basketball star Ray Allen. Allen, who played last season for the Miami Heat, was not home, but his wife was. Waking to find strangers in her bedroom, she screamed and they ran.

Police say the teenagers, who had been at a party at a house near Allen’s in the tony South Florida suburb of Coral Gables, didn’t think anybody was home and simply wanted to see what it looked like inside. The kids were questioned and released. Authorities have thus far declined to prosecute, saying — incredibly — that under Florida law, there was no crime with which the group could be charged.

It ought not surprise you to learn that these kids were white Hispanics. And I challenge you — I double-dog dare you — to tell me seven black kids who invaded a home in a wealthy neighborhood in the middle of the night would have likewise gotten off with a good talking-to. Black kids are strangers to such lavish benefit of the doubt.

And we have been too sanguine for too long about such inequality of treatment in a nation whose birth certificate says, “all men are created equal.” We have only the one country. And we can either tear it apart or figure out a way we can all live in it in justice and thus, in peace.

To do that, we must stop being moral cowards, stop embracing the idea that somehow, our racial and cultural challenges will resolve themselves if we just don’t talk about them. Ignore it and it will go away. Take a good look at the carnage in Ferguson and ask yourself:

How’s that working out so far?


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, August 20, 2014


August 22, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Ferguson Missouri, Racial Segregation | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The New Credential For 2016”: For Republicans, “Come And Get Me, Coppers”, More Politically Acceptable Than Expressing Contrition

We’ve heard the argument before with respect to Chris Christie and Scott Walker that the abuse-of-power investigations they’ve faced could actually help them as presidential candidates, so long as they stay out of the slammer and can blame their persecution on the godless liberals. But now that Rick Perry has joined the Shadow-of-the-Hoosegow club, RealClearPolitics’ Scott Conroy offers a general theory that they’ll all benefit from a presumption that legal problems mean The Left is afraid of them and wants them hauled off in chains before they can roar through the primaries like avenging angels.

It’s a strategy that may pay dividends in a 2016 primary fight, as all three would be courting conservative voters who will likely see the investigations as badges of honor.

Bob Haus, who helmed Perry’s 2012 campaign in Iowa and is poised to reprise that role in 2016, said the “overwhelming response” from activists in the nation’s first voting state has been strongly supportive.

“They see the actions against Governor Perry for what they are: raw politics,” Haus said. “I would also say that Governor Perry has shown great strength and resolve in this matter. He and his team have managed this issue exceptionally well, and have shown they will fight this aggressively.”

In other words, “come and get me, coppers!” is a more politically effective response than anything expressing contrition or an openness to a slap on the wrist.

Now this has to be deeply frustrating to other candidates seeking 2016 traction who don’t have the credential of being threatened with imprisonment. Consider Bobby Jindal, who’s tried every stunt imaginable to get whipped-up Con-Con activists interested in his presidential availability. As it happens, Bobby was just handed a judicial setback by a state judge who issued an injunction to block Jindal from killing implementation of Common Core education standards in Louisiana–he was the state’s premier Common Core supporter until he became its premier opponent, of course–pending a trial. You have to wonder if Bobby’s brain trust has discussed ways to secure a contempt of court charge to spice things up–you know, the governor entering the courtroom brandishing a Bible and shrieking “Get thee behind me, Satan!” at the judge or something. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 21, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rick Perry | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shake The Complacency”: Twelve Percent Turnout Is An Insult To Your Children

The Rev. Al Sharpton, host of msnbc’s “Politics Nation,” spoke at the Greater Grace Church’s services yesterday, and addressed the crisis surrounding Michael Brown’s death from a variety of angles. Of particular interest, though, was one of Sharpton’s challenges to the community itself.

“Michael Brown is gonna change this town,” he said, before criticizing the paltry voting record on the area. “You all have got to start voting and showing up. 12% turnout is an insult to your children.”

That was not an exaggeration. The historical and institutional trends that created the current dynamic in Ferguson – a largely African-American population led by a largely white local government – are complex, but the fact that black voters haven’t been politically engaged has contributed to the challenges facing the community. In the most recent elections, turnout really was just 12%.

Patricia Bynes, a black woman who is the Democratic committeewoman for the Ferguson area, told the New York Times that last week’s developments may shake the complacency that too often shapes local politics. “I’m hoping that this is what it takes to get the pendulum to swing the other way,” Bynes said.

To that end, Ferguson residents have had an enormous amount of work to do over the last several days – mourn, grieve, protest, and recover, all while struggling through moments of violence – but haven’t forgotten about the importance of civic engagement in general, and voter registration in specific.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a piece over the weekend that included a striking detail (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).

Rev. Rodney Francis of the St. Louis Clergy Coalition pointed to voter registration tent at the scene. “That’s where change is gonna happen,” Francis said.

Debra Reed of University City and her daughter, Shiron Hagens, were working at the registration tent. They said they set it up on their own.

“We’re trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things,” Reed said.

Note, some Republican-led states have made voter-registration drives far more difficult in recent years – Florida, for example, has imposed harsh restrictions without cause – but no such hindrances exist in Missouri.

State GOP policymakers have taken steps to restrict voting rights and curtail early voting, but none of this should be seen as an excuse to discourage Ferguson residents from registering and participating. The kind of systemic changes many in the community crave can be achieved through the ballot box.

To repeat Sharpton’s message: “You all have got to start voting and showing up. 12% turnout is an insult to your children.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 18, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Voter Registration, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Paying Back Campaign Donors”: Whose Presidential Campaign Will Your Pension Finance?

Wall Street is one of the biggest sources of funding for presidential campaigns, and many of the Republican Party’s potential 2016 contenders are governors, from Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Perry of Texas to Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. And so, last week, the GOP filed a federal lawsuit aimed at overturning the pay-to-play law that bars those governors from raising campaign money from Wall Street executives who manage their states’ pension funds.

In the case, New York and Tennessee’s Republican parties are represented by two former Bush administration officials, one of whose firms just won the Supreme Court case invalidating campaign contribution limits on large donors. In their complaint, the parties argue that people managing state pension money have a First Amendment right to make large donations to state officials who award those lucrative money management contracts.

With the $3 trillion public pension system controlled by elected officials now generating billions of dollars worth of annual management fees for Wall Street, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulators originally passed the rule to make sure retirees’ money wasn’t being handed out based on politicians’ desire to pay back their campaign donors.

“Elected officials who allow political contributions to play a role in the management of these assets and who use these assets to reward contributors violate the public trust,” says the preamble of the rule, which restricts not only campaign donations directly to state officials, but also contributions to political parties.

In the complaint aiming to overturn that rule, the GOP plaintiffs argue that the SEC does not have the campaign finance expertise to properly enforce the rule. The complaint further argues that the rule itself creates an “impermissible choice” between “exercising a First Amendment right and retaining the ability to engage in professional activities.” The existing rule could limit governors’ ability to raise money from Wall Street in any presidential race.

In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, a spokesman for one of the Republican plaintiffs suggested that in order to compete for campaign resources, his party’s elected officials need to be able to raise money from the Wall Street managers who receive contracts from those officials.

“We see (the current SEC rule) as something that has been a great detriment to our ability to help out candidates,” said Jason Weingarten of the Republican Party of New York—the state whose pay-to-play pension scandal in 2010 originally prompted the SEC rule.

The suit comes only a few weeks after the SEC issued its first fines under the rule—against a firm whose executives made campaign donations to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat. The company in question was managing Pennsylvania and Philadelphia pension money. In a statement on that case, the SEC promised more enforcement of the pay-to-play rule in the future.

“We will use all available enforcement tools to ensure that public pension funds are protected from any potential corrupting influences,” said Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “As we have done with broker-dealers, we will hold investment advisers strictly liable for pay-to-play violations.”

The GOP lawsuit aims to stop that promise from becoming a reality. In predicating that suit on a First Amendment argument, those Republicans are forwarding a disturbing legal theory: Essentially, they are arguing that Wall Street has a constitutional right to influence politicians and the investment decisions those politicians make on behalf of pensioners.

If that theory is upheld by the courts, it will no doubt help Republican presidential candidates raise lots of financial-industry cash—but it could also mean that public pension contracts will now be for sale to the highest bidder.


By: David Sirota, Senior Editor, In These Times, August 15, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Public Pension Funds, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Conversion On Political Rhetoric”: The Fascinating Political Evolution Of Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan’s new book The Way Forward is meant to be bought, not read.

You buy a book like this because you’re in a conservative book club, or you’re a big Paul Ryan fan, and you feel obliged. It’s like voting, but it costs money. Publishers commission these books hoping to get a big payoff if and when the author is nominated for president and suddenly a much larger share of the country feels obliged to vote, er, buy Ryan.

But there’s more to The Way Forward than that, largely because Ryan is an increasingly important and intriguing figure in Republican politics. His persona evolves — often, it seems — in tandem with the felt-needs of the GOP. Ryan has always been a little further to the right than the average elected Republican. But that didn’t stop him from corralling votes for Medicare Part-D when George W. Bush needed them. Then when the GOP constituents needed someone who looked good under a green eyeshade, he became a much sterner budget watcher, and strenuous fiscal conservative.

The first half of the Ryan book is a biography as starched and colorless as his collars. But the second half of The Way Forward is fascinating. It gives a view of what Ryan wants to be now and over the next two years, possibly as he contemplates a run for the presidency. And make no mistake: Ryan is transformed.

No longer is Paul Ryan the P90X-ripping, budget-slashing devotee of Ayn Rand that Democrats gleefully caricatured as someone who wanted to push grandma off a cliff. Today he’s the geeky white guy dancing badly at a black church, and then biting his lip and nodding to signal how much he is listening, and learning. He’s putting in an effort to expand his horizons personally. He is undergoing a political conversion, or at least a conversion on political rhetoric.

Quite literally, Paul Ryan experiences a kind of Come-To-Frank-Luntz moment when someone asks him who he is talking about when he refers to some people as “takers.” Ryan had in the past adopted the language of “makers and takers” to describe people who are paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits, and people who are receiving more benefits than what they pay. Ryan says this language was just in the air at the time he adopted it. And it was. A Nation of Takers was the scorching title to a sobering (and sober) book by Nicholas Eberstadt about the shape of America’s entitlement state. Eberstadt’s book is exactly the kind of doomsday look into the spreadsheets that Ryan was getting into then.

Today, Ryan won’t disavow the math, exactly, but he has discarded the implied insult he attached to it.

[W]hile the problem it depicts is real and worrisome, the phrase “makers and takers” communicated a lot more than just the dilemma I was trying to describe. That day at the fair was the first time I really heard the way it sounded. As I stood there, listening to the guy from the Democrats’ tent lay into me, I thought, “Holy cow. He’s right.” [The Way Forward]

Ryan also talks about his experiences of reaching out to constituencies where there aren’t many Republicans. In what is probably the most substantive political point in the book, Ryan says what many already suspect, that the 2012 election proved that “focusing heavily on simply turning out our traditional coalition is a losing strategy.”

Ryan does what a politician in this position should do — he takes his lumps just by showing up for constituent events among people who are not naturally aligned to him. Black constituents often tell him to his face that they disagree with him. “[A]t least they were telling me, personally, instead of just some pollster canvassing the neighborhood,” he writes. He says that these events communicate that a person who has conservative politics can still care enough to show up and talk to minority constituents.

This is the right thing politically, but it’s also the right thing to do, period. The GOP should follow Ryan’s example. It would be good for the country. Citizens deserve the competition for their votes that gerrymandering and polarization deny. No major party should effectively ignore an entire demographic or geographic group of Americans.

Now, there are no great revelations in this book. It’s filled with easy-to-understand anecdotes about the malfunctioning of the health-care system before and after ObamaCare, and the efficiency of market-oriented solutions. These will be repeated many, many times by Ryan in the medium-term of his political life.

Ryan also repeats Jack Kemp’s name over and over again, almost as much as he does Reagan’s. Kemp was a Republican who worked hard to make GOP principles appealing to urban and minority voters. He was HUD secretary under George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole’s vice presidential candidate. Kemp is an odd figure, combining the supply-side politics of a Dan Quayle with the social idealism of a George Romney. He referred to himself as a “bleeding-heart conservative.”

And a bleeding-heart conservative sounds great in theory. In a way, it’s what George W. Bush attempted with his “compassionate conservative” brand. But Kemp was never really a national figure, and his unique policy ideas never really got purchase among their supposed beneficiaries. He was admired more than followed. He made Republicans feel better about themselves, without winning great victories. Maybe the time is ripe for a return to Kempism. But I have my doubts.


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, August 21, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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