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“It’s Hard To Be Too Exercised Over This”: Rachel Dolezal Proves Race Not A Fixed Or Objective Fact

Of the 60 people who co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, only seven were, in fact, “colored.” Most of the organization’s founders were white liberals like Mary White Ovington. Its highest honor, the Spingarn Medal, is named for Joel Spingarn, who was Jewish and white.

Point being, white people have been intricately involved in the NAACP struggle for racial justice from day one. So Rachel Dolezal did not need to be black to be president of the organization’s Spokane chapter. That she chose to present herself as such anyway, adopting a frizzy “natural” hairstyle and apparently somehow darkening her skin, has put her at the bullseye of the most irresistible watercooler story of the year. This will be on Blackish next season; just wait and see.

As you doubtless know, the 37-year-old Dolezal was outed last week by her estranged parents. In response, they say, to a reporter’s inquiry, they told the world her heritage includes Czech, Swedish, and German roots, but not a scintilla of black. In the resulting mushroom cloud of controversy, Dolezal was forced to resign her leadership of the Spokane office. Interviewed Tuesday by Matt Lauer on Today, she made an awkward attempt to explain and/or justify herself. “I identify as black,” she said, like she thinks she’s the Caitlyn Jenner of race. It was painful to watch.

Given that Dolezal sued historically black Howard University in 2002 for allegedly discriminating against her because she is white, it’s hard not to see a certain opportunism in her masquerade. Most people who, ahem, “identify as black” don’t have the option of trying on another identity when it’s convenient.

That said, it’s hard to be too exercised over this. Dolezal doesn’t appear to have done any harm, save to her own dignity and reputation. One suspects there are deep emotional issues at play, meaning the kindest thing we can do is give her space and time to work them out.

Besides, this story’s most pointed moral has less to do with Dolezal and her delusions than with us and ours. Meaning America’s founding myth, the one that tells us race is a fixed and objective fact.

It isn’t. Indeed, in 2000, after mapping the genetic codes of five people — African-American, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic — researchers announced they could find no difference among them. “The concept of race,” one of them said, “has no scientific basis.” The point isn’t that race is not real; the jobless rate, the mass incarceration phenomenon, and the ghosts of murdered boys from Emmett Till to Tamir Rice argue too persuasively otherwise.

Rather, it’s that it’s not real in the way we conceive it in America where, as historian Matt Wray once put it, the average 19-year-old regards it as a “set of facts about who people are, which is somehow tied to blood and biology and ancestry.” In recent years, Wray and scholars like David Roediger and Nell Irvin Painter have done path-breaking work exploding that view. To read their research is to understand that what we call race is actually a set of cultural likenesses, shared experiences and implicit assumptions, i.e., that white men can’t jump and black ones can’t conjugate.

To try to make it more than that, to posit it as an immutable truth, is to discover that, for all its awesome power to determine quality of life or lack thereof, race is a chimera. There is no there, there. The closer you look, the faster it disappears.

Consider: If race were really what Wray’s average 19-year-old thinks it is, there could never have been a Rachel Dolezal; her lie would have been too immediately transparent. So ultimately, her story is the punchline to a joke most of us don’t yet have ears to hear. After all, this white lady didn’t just try to pass herself off as black.

She got away with it.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, June 17, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | NAACP, Race and Ethnicity, Rachel Dolezal | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Edge Of Ruthlessness”: Scott Walker; Uncle Scrooge’s Lackey In Wisconsin

Economically speaking, all 237 GOP presidential candidates are selling the same magic beans.

Everybody knows the script by now: Tax cuts for wealthy “job creators” bring widespread prosperity; top off Scrooge McDuck’s bullion pool, and the benefits flow outward to everybody else, the economy surges, budget deficits melt away, and the song of the turtle dove will be heard in the land.

Almost needless to say, these “supply side” miracles have never actually happened in the visible world. State budget debacles in Kansas and Louisiana only signify the latest failures of right-wing dogma. Hardly anybody peddling these magic beans actually believes in them anymore. Nevertheless, feigning belief signifies tribal loyalty to the partisan Republicans who will choose the party’s nominee.

However, with everybody in the field playing “let’s pretend,” a candidate needs another way to distinguish himself. I suspect that Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, may have found it.

See, Walker won’t just put money back in “hardworking taxpayers’” pockets. Like a latter-day Richard Nixon, Walker will also stick it to people he doesn’t like: lollygagging schoolteachers, feather-bedding union members, and smug, tenured college professors who think they’re smarter than everybody else. If Walker lacks charisma, there’s an edge of ruthlessness in his otherwise bland demeanor that hits GOP primary voters right where they live.

No less an authority than Uncle Scrooge himself — i.e. David Koch of Koch Industries, who with his brother Charles has pledged to spend $900 million to elect a Republican in 2016 — told the New York Observer after a closed-door gathering at Manhattan’s Empire Club that Walker will win the nomination and crush Hillary Clinton in a general election “by a major margin.”

Viewed from a distance, the determination of prosperous, well-educated Wisconsin to convert itself into an anti-union right-to-work state like Alabama or Arkansas appears mystifying. To risk the standing of the University of Wisconsin system by abolishing academic tenure, as Walker intends, is damn near incomprehensible.

Attack one of America’s great public research universities for the sake of humiliating (Democratic-leaning) professors over nickel-and-dime budgetary issues? Do Wisconsinites have the first clue how modern economies work?

Maybe not. But Walker’s supporters definitely appear to know who their enemies are, culturally speaking. Incredulity aside, it would be a mistake not to notice the craftiness with which he’s brought off the transformation. Not to mention that Walker’s won three elections since 2010 in a “blue” state that hasn’t supported a Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan.

Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes don’t mean much by themselves, but throw in Michigan and Ohio, Midwestern states also trending similarly, and you’ve definitely got something.

Act 10, the 2011 law that took away collective bargaining rights for many public employees in Wisconsin (except, at first, for police and firefighters), brought crowds of angry teachers (also mostly Democrats) to the state capitol in Madison for weeks of demonstrations. As much as MSNBC was thrilled, many Wisconsinites appear to have been irked.

In the end, the state ended up saving roughly $3 billion by shifting the funding of fringe benefits such as health insurance and pensions from employer to employee, costing the average teacher roughly 16 percent of his or her compensation. Mindful of budget shortfalls, the unions had proposed negotiations, but that wasn’t enough for Gov. Walker.

For the record, Act 10 was an almost verbatim copy of a bill promoted by the Arlington, Virginia-based American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a think-tank largely funded by, you guessed it, the Brothers Koch.

Four years ago, a documentary filmmaker caught Walker on camera telling wealthy supporters that the new law was just the beginning. “The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public-­employee unions,” he said, “because you use divide-­and-­conquer.”

“If we can do it in Wisconsin, we can do it anywhere — even in our nation’s capital,” Walker wrote in his book, Unintimidated, notes Dan Kaufman in the New York Times Magazine. Elsewhere, Walker has boasted that as president, he could take on foreign policy challenges because, he’s said, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

Ridiculous, of course, but it plays.

Meanwhile, rueful trade unionists who endorsed Walker in 2010 are crying the blues, because they never imagined that having vanquished the women’s union he’d come after the ironworkers and the electricians in their pickup trucks. Divided, they’ve been conquered.

So right-to-work it is: diminished salaries, job security, pensions, health and safety regulations will inevitably follow.

More bullion for Scrooge McDuck’s pool.

So now it’s the professors’ turn. Walker, a Marquette dropout, has described his new law as “Act 10 for the university.” Tenure’s a dead letter in cases of “financial emergency… requiring program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection.”

So who gets redirected first? Left-wing culture warriors or climate scientists? Hint: Scrooge is a fierce climate-change denier.

Meanwhile, Democrats underestimate Scott Walker at considerable peril.


By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 17, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker, Supply Side Economics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Donald?”: The Republican Party Just Got A Giant Headache, With A Comb-Over On Top

For years now, Donald Trump has threatened to run for president. In the past it has been just a publicity stunt — he says he might run, he gets some attention, eventually he gives it up. And pretty much everyone, myself included, thought that’s what Trump was doing this time around, even as he scheduled an announcement today (the theory that made the most sense to me said that he would announce that he was creating the classiest, most high-end super PAC anywhere). But believe it or not, Donald Trump is actually running for president.

There’s no way to know how far this will go. Philip Bump recently took a look at Trump’s poll numbers, and he ranks somewhere between the U.S. Congress and foot fungus. (My favorite detail: Asked about why 58 percent of Republicans in Iowa said they’d never vote for him, Trump responded, “That’s because they don’t think I’m running. When they think I’m running, they go through the roof.”) But he has enough money to finance a campaign for as long as he likes, which essentially means until he gets bored. That could be quite some time.

Trump’s candidacy presents a problem for the news media. How do you report on someone like him? Is it even worth fact-checking the ridiculous statements he constantly makes, or should we not even bother? Given that he has zero chance of winning his party’s nomination, should reporters be assigned to cover him? Why does he deserve more attention than, say, Ben Carson?

The truth is that he’s going to be covered, and covered amply, because he brings entertainment value to the campaign. He is, without question, a unique American character. Most politicians have a heightened self-regard, but Trump is in a league by himself when it comes to delusional egotism, which is part of what makes him compelling to watch. It was apparent in the bizarre, stream-of-consciousness rant that passed for his announcement speech.

“Our country needs a truly great leader,” he said, speaking of himself. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created, I tell you.”

It’s Trump’s lack of self-awareness that makes him such a wonder to behold. The man who has brought vulgarity to new heights thinks he’s the epitome of class, and even if no sane person would sit through an hour of “the Apprentice,” it’s hard to look away when he starts talking.

But the ones with the real dilemma are the leaders of the Republican Party, which is why the Democratic Party is absolutely licking its chops at his entry. The DNC’s statement today said simply that Trump “adds some much-needed seriousness that has been previously lacking from the GOP field, and we look forward to hearing more about his ideas for the nation.”

Republicans have already been struggling to bring order to a race with as many as fifteen candidates, and while some people (I plead guilty) derisively refer to the primary contest as it existed before as a clown show, it now features one of the country’s foremost clowns. And according to the rules the RNC and the participating TV networks set to limit the upcoming debates to ten participants — a threshold of performance in recent polls — Trump would qualify to participate. And it’s likely to stay that way, since the bottom rungs are occupied by candidates who poll in the low single digits. Trump may not be the nominee, but he’ll probably be able to pull five or ten percent of Republican voters, putting him somewhere in the middle of the pack.

So at the debates, we may end up watching Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio try to get a word in while Trump goes on about his solid gold toilets, the models he’s dated, and his brilliant secret plan to defeat ISIS (maybe we’ll finally learn what it is!). That could make the real candidates look like sober leaders who can be trusted to take the country’s reins. Anything’s possible. But it may be more likely that Trump will make the party look more foolish than it already does. He may be a walking caricature, but is what he has to say about issues any less serious than what we’ve heard from the other candidates? Is Trump’s secret ISIS plan likely to be dumber than the idea that we just need to show “strength” and “resolve” and everything in the Middle East will turn out fine? Is what Trump has to say about the economy any less grounded in fact and experience than the other candidates’ belief that if we cut taxes for people like Donald Trump, the economy will get better for everyone?

The Republican Party just got a giant headache, with a comb-over on top.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June16, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP Presidential Candidates, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Democrats Being Democrats”: Adopting Ideas That Work And Rejecting Ideas That Don’t

On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.

These are, of course, related events. The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.

You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?

Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.

At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.

But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.

On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.

I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.

As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?

And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.

As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.

And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line.

Of course, changes in ideology matter only to the extent that they can influence policy. And while the electoral odds probably favor Mrs. Clinton, and Democrats could retake the Senate, they have very little chance of retaking the House. So changes in the Democratic Party may take a while to change America as a whole. But something important is happening, and in the long run it will matter a great deal.


By: Paul Krugman, Opinion Writer, The New York Times, June 15, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Conservative Voters Are Going To Get Mighty Picky”: Marco Rubio’s Problem Isn’t Gotcha Stories. It’s Still Immigration

Conservatives have risen up in defense of Marco Rubio over two mini-scandals that appear to call his character into question. That’s a good sign for Rubio’s chances in the GOP primary. These little contretemps may help to create loyalty between the candidate and primary voters, who apparently aren’t going to let Rubio pay for these supposed mistakes or indiscretions.

But if Rubio thinks a spat with the mainstream media will cause Republican voters to forget his past positions on immigration, well, he may be in for a surprise.

First was a silly report in The New York Times about his traffic violations. He had earned four in nearly two decades of driving around Florida. Politicians tend to be late and in a hurry, so Rubio probably rates better than average on this score. And the fact that the same report didn’t uncover any uncouth workarounds that were made available to him because of his political life actually speaks well of him. His supporters tweeted jokingly about Rubio going on rampages of trivial offenses, with the hashtag #RubioCrimeSpree.

The second story, about his personal finances, is a bit more complicated. Rubio has made a campaign virtue of the fact that debt — including college debt — has occasionally crimped his family budget. He admitted forthrightly in his biography that he was a sloppy accountant. The Times reported on his missteps but dropped in some facts that would make you question Rubio’s judgment. He was unusually bad at saving from his income. He even liquidated a retirement account, presumably at huge expense, to cover expenses. He also, after receiving a huge contract for his book, bought an $80,000 boat.

Conservatives downplayed it as a #MarcoBoat, and pointed out that $80,000 is a tiny fraction of the six- and seven-figure conflicts of interest that populate stories about Hillary Clinton.

But I noticed that it was flogged a bit by immigration hawks like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. It’s a reminder that Rubio’s problem may not be his character, but his position on immigration reform. The hardcore immigration hawks in the Republican Party have not bought into the image Rubio is trying to sell, of a politician who was chastened by his failure in securing comprehensive reform. And that can cost him.

Mitt Romney neutralized Rick Perry on this exact issue four years ago, saying that Perry had created magnets for illegal immigrants by providing their children with in-state tuition. He baited Perry into repeating the liberal’s criticism of immigration hawks, with Perry claiming that they “don’t have a heart.” More than anything — even the “oops” moment — this is what brought down Perry’s campaign.

Ann Coulter’s book Adios America! contains blistering arguments against Rubio’s preferred immigration policies, including the numbers and rhetoric he has used to sell it. While lots of people claim that the polling on immigration is ambiguous, sometimes the results surprise. A 2007 California Field poll stated the question in the most provocative way possible: Would you prefer a policy of “having federal immigration agents round up, detain, and deport immigrants found to be living here illegally?” The “yes” camp scored 46 percent, and the “no” answer won 43 percent.

It should be said that no politician supports this policy for dealing with the country’s more than 10 million illegal immigrants.

Coulter’s arguments include shocking numbers that indicate those on a path to citizenship wouldn’t be net contributors on income taxes, but would become eligible for federal aid and assistance:

[A] more detailed breakdown of the costs and benefits shows that college-educated Americans pay an average of $29,000 more in taxes every year than they get back in government services, according to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector. By contrast, legal immigrants, on average, get back $4,344 more in government services than they pay in taxes. Those with only a high school degree net about $14,642 in government payments, and those without a high school degree collect a whopping $36,993.27. Contrary to the claims of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s press secretary, Marco Rubio, making illegal aliens citizens will not result in the U.S. Treasury being deluged with their tax payments. The vast majority of illegal aliens — about 75 percent — have only a high school diploma or less, so legalization means they will immediately begin collecting an average of $14,642–$36,993 per year from the U.S. taxpayer. [Adios, America!]

You may say, I don’t trust those numbers, because Ann Coulter is using them. But how would GOP voters feel about them? Do you think that if Ted Cruz’s campaign started flagging, he wouldn’t try to do to Rubio what Romney did to Perry?

In a primary race crowded with so many candidates, conservative voters are going to get mighty picky about their champion. And this is an issue that can cost deviationists a lot. If Cruz or any other candidate chooses to do so, they can make Rubio pay much more dearly for immigration than for four traffic tickets — or even a nice boat.


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, June 11, 2015

June 17, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Immigration, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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