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“The Lives Of America’s ‘Others'”: Requires A Reassessment Of American Values And A Realignment With Reality Today

American discourse often splits along enduring fault lines: Republican and Democrat; majority and minority; citizen and foreigner. Yet our newest fault line is more troubling, intractable, and toxic.

Over the last year, America’s politics and social discourse have grown increasingly unsettled as an array of cracks and fissures became evident in the country’s social contract. Across a wide range of issues, Americans today are confronted by the vocal demands or concerns of “Others,” those sitting outside the cultural and political status quo who feel abandoned, ignored, or attacked by the country’s stakeholders.

These Others are not a cohesive group, nor do they necessarily have anything in common with one another, but their presence and the uncomfortable nature of the issues they raise has fractured the general national dialogue.

Prominent Others include the #BlackLivesMatter protestors challenging police brutality in inner cities and the students taking over college campuses to protest unfair racial norms. They include the Planned Parenthood employees targeted with violence and invective for doing their jobs. And they include Syrian refugees, fleeing a vicious, self-destructive war, who seek to build new lives in the U.S.

The shift in focus this year is uncomfortable for everyone who identifies themselves as being on the inside of the status quo, because it is not a matter of finding a legislative solution or developing a public-private partnership. Americans and our elected leaders would prefer to confront and debate generically universal issues such as unemployment, economic competitiveness, homelessness, and access to education, rather than issues defined by differences in identity, skin color and religion.

The schism wrought by the Others requires a reassessment of American values and a realignment with reality today. But except in isolated instances, we are failing to address these issues in a substantive, productive manner, choosing instead to retreat into to the warm security blanket of a prosperous status quo.

Nowhere is this unwillingness to understand or engage with the Other more starkly evident than in the Republican presidential primary, which has become a populist weather vane for blaming and demonizing the full array of “Others” for America’s ills. Complaints once aired exclusively on the Rush Limbaugh Show have now become talking points to denigrate legitimate concerns and grievances.

Yet pointing fingers at Republican politicians and primary voters alone is a partisan copout. Mainstream America–literally encompassing everyone who has succeeded within the current status quo, including President Barack Obama–is struggling to comprehend and keep up with the upending of a tacit agreement to avoid full-blown confrontations over the needs of Others. The historical passivity and tunnel vision perspective of America’s problems explains why we were caught off guard by the intensity of #BlackLivesMatter and related movements, by the continued existence of anti-abortion terrorists, and by the renewed rejection and demonization of an entire religion.

As recently as last year, firmly establishing a group as an Other made it easier to justify ignoring their needs or rejecting their American-ness. We cannot ignore this array of unrelated challenges to our social fabric; but we must recognize that there are no simple, easy solutions to any of these problems–we waited for them to resolve themselves and that didn’t happen.

In a Midwest restaurant last week, an Indian-American friend was derided by a stranger as a terrorist because of his skin color. The bigot who made the comment didn’t know that my friend was a lawyer. Or a military officer. All he knew was that he seemed like one of the Others. The consequences to keeping groups of people on the outside of the status quo extends far beyond the incomplete debate that ensues; it eventually trickles down to affect even those who are established within American society and do not see themselves as Others.

We are reaching a contemporary inflection point where a significant number of Americans or people who dream of becoming Americans no longer feel welcomed or understood in this country. There is a prevalent sense of alienation among many who could be categorized as Other. And it won’t be dealt with by a partisan sound bite, by giving in to fear and hatred, or by sticking our heads in the sand.

Confronting the wants and needs of Others is uncomfortable. It doesn’t necessarily end with full-blown agreement. We cannot expect to achieve racial harmony, social accord, or multicultural interfaith cooperation. But the comfort currently provided by the status quo will prove to be futile and fleeting if too many Americans or aspiring Americans believe the country refuses to look out for their needs and interests.

We don’t need to solve everyone’s problems. Some problems may not be ours to solve. But we do need to accept that the existence of these Others and their concerns is not itself a problem. Their issues should be mainstream issues. If we truly seek, in the words of Donald Trump, to “make America great again,” the lives of Others must once again become the lives of Americans.

 

By: Brian Wagner, The National Memo, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Republicans, The Others | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“History Is A Nightmare”: Why The Conversation About Race Can’t Be The Only Conversation

From sea to shining sea, college students seem determined to make us argue about race to the exclusion of all else. So here’s something I learned in college: Virtually every ugly stereotype applied to African-Americans by white racists was applied to my Irish-Catholic ancestors as well. Their English oppressors caricatured Irish peasants as shiftless, drunken, sexually promiscuous, donkey-strong but mentally deficient.

The Celtic race was good at singing, dancing, lifting heavy objects, and prizefighting. Red-haired women were thought sexually insatiable. We Celts also had an appalling odor.

Little historical imagination is required to grasp why slave owners needed to call their victims subhuman. Yes, I said slaves. During the 17th century, many thousands of native Irish were transported to the Caribbean and North America and sold into indentured servitude. During the Potato Famine of the 1840s, England sent soldiers to guard ships exporting food crops from Irish farms while the native population starved or emigrated.

Feeding them, it was believed, would compromise their work ethic.

But here’s the thing: At no point was I tempted to wonder if my ancestors were, in fact, inferior. Not once, not ever. Nor did I see any point in holding it against the Rolling Stones or The Who (although my grandfather Connors pretended to). It was ancient history to me, fascinating but of little import to my life as a first-generation college student.

My father, a donkey-strong man of fierce opinions, had a slogan he’d often repeat. It was his personal credo, a bedrock statement of Irish-American patriotism.

“You’re no better than anybody else,” he’d growl. “And NOBODY’S BETTER THAN YOU.”

It’s become my personal motto as well. You see, I don’t believe it of you or your ancestors either. That they’re inferior (or superior, for that matter). Never have. I used to joke that being Irish, I only looked white. But hardly anybody gets it anymore, so I quit saying it.

“History is a nightmare,” said James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, “from which I am trying to awake.”

I understand that it’s easier to resign from being Irish (in the political sense) than it is to resign from being black or Asian or Hispanic or whatever. But to me, the freedom to redefine yourself is the essence of being American.

We used to sit around in our freshman dorm at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, all us first-generation college boys with immigrant ancestors, comparing notes about the crazy stories our grandparents told us about the old country. Me and Czyza and Finelli and Sussman and Piskorowski and Sugarman and Grasso and Maloney… Well, you get the point.

Hardly a WASP in sight, although I’d actually dated one in high school.

So no, I won’t apologize for my “white privilege” either. Nor will I turn myself inside-out trying to prove my good faith to somebody who doubts it. I’m no better than you, and you’re no better than I am. If we can’t agree to meet in the middle, then maybe it’s best we not meet at all.

It will be seen that I’m temperamentally unqualified to be a college administrator, compelled as they are to remain solemn, as impassioned nineteen-year-olds demand — demand, no less — an immediate end to not only “white supremacy” but to “heterosexism, cis-sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, mental health stigma, and classism.”

That’s from a recent list of grievances presented to the president of Amherst College. Somehow, they left out the designated hitter rule.

Writing in The Nation, Michelle Goldberg complained about “left-wing anti-liberalism: the idea…that social justice demands curbs on freedom of expression.” She met fierce resistance from Rutgers professor Brittney Cooper in (where else?) Salon, who countered that “[T]he demand to be reasonable is a disingenuous demand. Black folks have been reasoning with white people forever. Racism is unreasonable, and that means reason has limited currency in the fight against it.”

No it doesn’t. Quite the opposite.

My view is that they’re being intellectually defrauded, all these idealistic kids who are being taught their race is destiny, and destiny is race.

Better by far that they should study entomology, urban planning, or 18th-century French literature — anything that fascinates them — rather than waste their college years pondering the exact color of their navels and compiling lists of fruitless demands.

End xenophobia? Wonderful. Tell it to ISIS.

However, the way it seems to work on many campuses these days, is that a tenured commissar like Cooper gets to make both ends of the argument: yours and hers. Needless to say, you’re wrong by definition.

Anyway, here’s what I’d tell her students if they asked me:

Yes, race can still be an obstacle. However, most Americans want to be fair. People will meet you more than halfway if you let them. As President Obama has shown, bigots no longer have the power to define your life.

Unless, that is, you give it to them.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | College Campuses, Race and Ethnicity, White Privilege | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Ted Cruz Tackles ‘The Condom Police'”: He’s Never Met “Any Conservative Who Wants To Ban Contraceptives”

Ted Cruz doesn’t usually stray too much from his usual campaign stump speech at various events, but last night in Iowa, NBC’s Vaughn Hillyard reported that the Texas Republican was asked about his position “on making contraception available for women.” Cruz seized the opportunity to share some unexpected rhetoric, calling the controversy surrounding Republicans and birth control “an utterly made-up nonsense issue.”

“Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America,” Cruz exasperatingly said to the rather boisterous crowd. “Like look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom. You put 50 cents in – and voila!”

Cruz added that he expects Hillary Clinton to run against “the condom police” in order to “try to scare a bunch of folks that are not paying a lot of attention into thinking someone’s going to steal their birth control.”

And if there were only one form of birth control available to American consumers, Cruz would almost have a credible point. At the Iowa event, the senator said he’s never met “any conservative who wants to ban contraceptives” – Cruz might want to chat with Rick Santorum – but the Texan’s focus was exclusively on condoms.

Cruz is right that there is no “rubber shortage.” What he’s wrong about is, well, literally everything else.

Part of the problem is that Republicans sometimes seem surprised by descriptions of their own policies. In one of my favorite moments of the 2012 debates, President Obama argued “employers shouldn’t be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage. That’s not the kind of advocacy that women need.”

Mitt Romney scoffed at the very idea, responding, “I don’t believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.”

Romney seemed repulsed by Obama’s description of Romney’s own position, but the truth of the matter was that both the Republican nominee and his running mate endorsed a policy that would leave contraception decisions for millions of workers in the hands of employers.

Cruz’s posture is similar, in that he seems baffled by Democratic rhetoric. If condoms are readily available, and there’s no meaningful effort to restrict their sales, why in the world are Democrats always running around complaining about a “war on women” and Republican hostility towards contraception?

The answer, of course, is that there are other forms of contraception, and women’s access to them would be curtailed by the GOP agenda.

Cruz really ought to know this. He not only personally voted against a measure to protect workers’ access to contraception, regardless of possible objections from their employers, but Cruz has also argued that he considers birth-control pills “abortifacients.”

What’s more, the Texas senator has endorsed a “Personhood” policy, which would have the practical effect of banning common forms of birth control.

In other words, Cruz would have voters believe that the entire issue is “nonsense” because Republicans aren’t actively trying to limit access to condoms, which necessarily means, in his mind, that there is no “war on women.” But the GOP senator is inadvertently proving his critics’ point with a myopic understanding of what contraception even is.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 1, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Birth Control, Reproductive Choice, Ted Cruz, Women's Health | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Not Outright Guilty, But Not Innocent Either”: Republicans Dance Close To Line In Regards To Planned Parenthood

Our question of the day: Who — or what — should take the blame?

The reference is to last week’s act of domestic terrorism at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs. Authorities say three people were killed and nine wounded by Robert Dear, an eccentric, 57-year-old recluse.

After his arrest, he is reported to have muttered something about “No more baby parts,” an apparent reference to a controversial hidden-camera video purporting to prove Planned Parenthood harvests and sells the organs of aborted fetuses for a profit, a charge the organization has strenuously denied.

So who is responsible for this atrocity?

It’s a question asked with numbing frequency in a country where you can pretty much set your watch by the random shootings. Nor are answers ever in short supply. We frequently hear that someone’s rhetoric is at fault.

This happened four years ago when a mentally ill man killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson. Jane Fonda blamed Sarah Palin.

It happened last year, when a deranged man ambushed and executed two police officers in Brooklyn. Erick Erickson, a Fox “News” contributor, blamed President Obama.

So one is hardly surprised, in the wake of this latest shooting, that Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, blamed the “toxic environment” created by Republican presidential candidates.

Truth is, if you want to blame someone for this shooting, start with the man who pulled the trigger. You might also investigate what roles were played by the mental health system and the legal system that allowed him access to a weapon of mass destruction.

Point being, in the rush to draw the larger moral lesson, one should be wary of absolving the guilty of their crimes, even if only by inference. That said, let us note that Laguens’ criticism is qualitatively different from that leveled by Fonda against Palin or Erickson against Obama. Meaning that it’s not absurd on its face.

After all, while one has a constitutionally guaranteed right to express one’s opinion, one has no such right to threaten or incite violence. There is, in other words, a fundamental difference between saying “Joe is a terrible person” and saying “Somebody should teach Joe a lesson” or “Joe needs to get what’s coming to him.”

Have Republicans crossed that line with regard to Planned Parenthood?

Probably not. But they have danced uncomfortably and undeniably close to it. When you habitually refer to abortion providers as criminals, butchers, Nazis, barbarians, and baby killers, you cannot be surprised if someone sees them as less than human — and acts accordingly. Carry lit matches through dry tinder and every now and again, you will start a fire.

One is reminded of how, years ago, before he himself became a TV cop, rapper and heavy metal singer Ice-T was asked if he thought his songs expressing hatred of police might cause acts of violence against them.

He said no. If somebody aspired to kill cops, he said, “All I did was make him a theme song.” He was right, except that he seemed to think himself morally exonerated by that reasoning.

But if you create an environment where violence against some person or group seems righteous — even if you don’t explicitly call for that violence — are your hands wholly clean when the violence comes? If you give hatred a theme song, what is your responsibility when a disaffected soul starts singing along?

You’ll find no pat answers here — only a question worth pondering for people of conscience in general and the Republican contenders in particular. No, they did not cause this shooting. They are not guilty.

Problem is, they’re not innocent, either.

 

By: Leonard Pitts., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Domestic Terrorism, Planned Parenthood, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is What I Call Un-Presidential”: Donald Trump’s War On People With Disabilities

Donald Trump, truth-manipulator-in-chief, has again run afoul of reality—this time when he spoke about his relationship with Americans with disabilities.

“Nobody gives more money to Americans—you know, the Americans with Disabilities Act—big act,” Trump confusingly said at a rally in Sarasota, Florida, on Saturday. “I give tens and tens of millions of dollars and I’m proud of doing it. I don’t mock people that have problems.”

This was his defense after Trump maliciously imitated a New York Times reporter with a physical disability and followed it up by saying he had never met him and requested that the publication apologize to Trump.

“I was very expressive in saying it, and they said that I was mocking him,” Trump told the crowd in Sarasota over the weekend. “I would never mock a person that has difficulty. I would never do that. I’m telling you, I would never do it.”

He previously also made fun of columnist Charles Krauthammer, who is paralyzed from the waist down. “I went out, I made a fortune, a big fortune, a tremendous fortune… bigger than people even understand,” Trump said in July after Krauthammer referred to him as a “rodeo clown.”

“Then I get called by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?”

Now, it is true that Trump has a pretty extensive track record with ADA.

His properties have been sued a number of times for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, including one instance where a man claimed that the buses to his Atlantic City casino were virtually impossible to access in a wheelchair.

James Conlon, the plaintiff in that 2003 case, alleged that he was told on two separate occasions that there were no “buses available for use by persons who use wheelchairs who choose to leave from the Long Beach, New York departure site.”

The case was later settled.

In the most egregious case, the U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene because the Trump Taj Mahal was nearly inaccessible for people with disabilities.

In 2011, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey conducted a compliance review of Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. They discovered an extensive list of problems.

There were no signs indicating handicapped parking in the self-park garage. A number of bathrooms lacked proper Braille for visually impaired people. The pipes in the bathroom were not insulated to prevent harm when contacted. The counter surfaces in the buffet were not at a proper height for individuals in wheelchairs. The list goes on, as these were only “some of the Department’s more significant findings.”

The terms of the settlement between the company and the federal government mandated that appropriate updates be made as soon as two weeks after the agreement in order to prevent further inspections thereafter. A representative for the Taj Mahal has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Beast about the status of these updates.

According to its official website, ADA compliance is required for “commercial and public entities that have “places of public accommodation.” There are clear instructions for accessibility certification on the website, including updates to the original requirements from the act’s inception in 1990.

Trump’s problems went beyond his properties. In 2005, attorney James Schottel Jr. sued producers of The Apprentice for discrimination by requiring “excellent physical” health to appear on the show. Schottel, who is quadriplegic, took issue with this requirement at the time and eventually got the show to change the language on its casting call.

David F. Jacobs, a representative of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, told The Daily Beast he couldn’t speak on the record about any existing ADA complaints related to Trump properties, some of which are no longer owned by Trump himself. He instead provided a link to their website, which listed cases including the 2011 one involving Trump Taj Mahal.

These cases notwithstanding, Trump has earned the ire of American disability organizations for his recent mocking of a New York Times reporter, who challenged Trump’s claims that “thousands” of Muslim people in New Jersey were cheering after the 9/11 attacks.

“Considering there are 56 million Americans living with a disability, you would think a candidate for president would be looking for opportunities to highlight their remarkable contributions to society, not mock them,” former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge told The Daily Beast. Ridge serves as the chairman of the National Organization on Disability, working alongside former president George H.W. Bush.

“Just ask any of the companies NOD works with and they’ll tell you people with disabilities are their best workers,” Ridge added.

“Mr. Trump would be wise to remember the words of NOD’s longtime honorary chairman, President George H.W. Bush, who after signing the ADA into law 25 years ago said to those in attendance: ‘We embrace you for your abilities and for your disabilities, for our similarities and indeed for our differences.’ That is what I call presidential.

 

By: Gideon Resnick, The Daily Beast, December 2, 2015

December 3, 2015 Posted by | Americans With Disabilities Act, Discrimination, Donald Trump | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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