Far too much media coverage of politics focuses on the horserace angle--who's ahead, who's behind, who's up or down. It relies on false equivalency: if Politician A says X, then the reporter goes to Politician B, who's sure to say Y. That's lazy journalism, and it doesn't actually inform the public about which position (if any) is actually true, or adheres to the facts as we know them. At TWiA, our mission is to discuss politics through the prism of policy--to look, in other words, at the real-world implications of the things that politicians say and do, to make connections others might miss, and to explain it all in language a lay person can understand. Also to offer suggestions of how you can help somebody in need, to report on what's awesome, and to keep tabs on bears. If you like TWiA, share or repost or tell a friend, and be sure to leave comments, even if they're arguments. Especially if they're arguments.
This Week in Wise and Understanding Hearts
This week, four of our five living former presidents are converging on the LBJ Library in Austin,Texas, to celebrate the single most important piece of legislation passed during my lifetime: the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
For a hundred years following the Civil War, black people in this country were, in many places, not able to enjoy the fruits that emancipation promised the slaves. To vote, in some counties, an African-American had to be able to recite the Constitution. At the height of WWII, some restaurant owners in the South would serve meals to German prisoners-of-war but not to the black US soldiers guarding them. Separate bathrooms and water fountains were commonplace. Hotels could bar blacks from entering. Schools rejected black students. Blacks couldn't go to movie theaters, or public swimming pools. Job notices could specify that black applicants were unwelcome.
These same circumstances applied to Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, Catholics, Jews, women, and more, but African-Americans experienced the most overt discrimination.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, courageous Americans of every stripe rose up in protest against this injustice. Freedom riders in the South lost their lives. A black church in Montgomery, Alabama was bombed, killing innocent young girls. Firehoses and attack dogs were used against people in Selma, marching for the simple right to vote. Despite these obstacles, people kept fighting for their rights.
These people were citizens, but they were not full citizens before the law.
The Civil Rights Act changed that. It did not, as President Johnson stated, offer anybody special rights, but it promised equal rights for all. Johnson said, "Those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public." The law banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin.
It took a while to be fully implemented, and it had to be buttressed with other legislation, like 1965's Voting Rights Act (recently largely gutted by the Supreme Court, on the plainly nonsensical grounds that some laws are no longer needed if they prove effective), and 1968's Fair Housing Act. We're still struggling in this country with understanding that every American is entitled to the same rights as every other. But the difference it made is enormous.
President Johnson's domestic agenda was an aggressive one. He envisioned a more perfect union, and took steps to help create it. The Civil Rights Act was the cornerstone of that effort, the piece that had to be in place before the rest could build upon it.
Upon signing the bill into law, Johnson made remarks that still echo today, finishing with: "Let us close the springs of racial poison. Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our Nation whole. Let us hasten that day when our unmeasured strength and our unbounded spirit will be free to do the great works ordained for this Nation by the just and wise God who is the Father of us all."
This formerly segregated water fountain is in Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, KS.
Side Note 1: The law's passage had a profound effect on our major political parties, too. Congress was largely controlled by southern Democrats, who opposed integregation. Johnson had been one of them, until his views underwent a sea change, swayed by the moral force of the civil rights movement. The law passed the Senate 73-27. Republicans (who only had 33 Senators) cast 27 of the votes for the bill; all 18 southern Democrats opposed it.
Johnson predicted, correctly, that by forcing the issue he had ensured that Democrats would lose the South. Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" capitalized on that loss, ignoring the region's minority voters while playing to the fears and prejudices of southern whites, and the South has been solidly Republican ever since. Kevin Phillips, a Nixon political strategist, described the strategy in a 1970 interview: "From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that...but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats."
Side Note 2: The southern strategy might still be paying dividends. A brand-new study shows that white Americans become more conservative when they're told that they're becoming a minority. Jamelle Bouie writes about why increasing racial polarization at the ballot box is dangerous: "That [the 'browning' of America] would be great for Democratic partisans excited at the prospect of winning national elections in perpetuity, but terrible for our democracy, which is still adjusting to our new multiracial reality, where minority groups are equal partners in political life. To accomplish anything—to the meet the challenges of our present and future—we’ll need a measure of civic solidarity, a common belief that we’re all Americans, with legitimate claims on the bounty of the country."
Side Note 3: The struggle for civil rights is a neverending one, because attacks on those rights never let up. The impetus of today's effort is largely coming from the Moral Mondays movement that began in North Carolina and is spreading across the nation. This is a true grassroots movement, and we support their fight.
This Week in Dynasties
Whites are losing majority status in the country, and that change is happening faster in some states than others. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush took heat from the right this week when he spoke about illegal immigration, saying, "It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. There should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”
Bush wasn't making policy prescriptions. He doesn't support a path to citizenship for the undocumented. But he governed a state that's rapidly turning Hispanic, and he understands that his party can't continue to alienate those voters and expect to win national elections.
Another read on this is that he's testing the waters for a presidential run. If he can make statements like that--calculated to show compassion, as his brother George W. did during his 2000 run--and survive the onslaught from the far right, then he can hope that his version of compassionate conservatism will sway the great middle that decides national elections. Of course, the hard part is that he first has to make it through the Republican primaries, in which the voters tend to be more right-wing than the rest of the party, much less the rest of the country. The difficulty for Republican candidates these days is mastering the trick of tacking right for the primaries, but allowing yourself the latitude to swing toward the center once you have the nomination.
Bush has another problem, unique to him--his last name. George W.'s presidency was an unqualified disaster on almost every level. He expanded government instead of shrinking it, and wasn't conservative enough for the far right. Despite his support from the evangelical community, in policy matters he disappointed them at every turn. His "compassion" turned out to be mostly illusory, as we saw in his Hurricane Katrina bungling (though he has to be credited for his efforts to combat AIDS in Africa). His economic policies (combined with deregulation efforts that began well before his election, but which he supported) led to the Great Recession. He began two long, expensive wars, one of which was entirely a war of choice that left the region more volatile than it was before. He approved the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention in the name of national security. He left office deeply unpopular. If Jeb runs, he'll have to walk a tightrope, distancing himself from his brother's many policy failures without being seen as disrespecting his brother on a personal level.
The enormity of that task might be enough to keep Bush on the sidelines, at least until 2020. While there would be a certain epic quality to a Clinton vs. Bush race in 2016, we won't be surprised if he decides to wait until the memory of his brother's disastrous presidency has faded a little more.
This Week in Health Care
According to a new Gallup survey, the number of Americans without health care has dropped to its lowest point since President Obama took office (a moment, remember, at which many, many people had lost the jobs that provided them with health insurance). Since that time we've regained all those private-sector jobs, and then some, and now we're insuring more people than we were. Charts and explainers are here. Thanks, Affordable Care Act!
Side Note 1: How the ACA will transform health insurance as we know it--and not a moment too soon.
Side Note 2: Congressional Republicans, and Republican candidates across the country, continue to call for repeal of the ACA. What they haven't done is suggest an actual, practical replacement for it. Why not? Because, as one GOP Hill staffer admits, anything that replaces the ACA and comes anywhere near addressing the same problems looks an awful lot like the ACA.
Side Note 3: While spending millions of dollars to spread the word about the evils of the ACA, the Koch brothers took more than a million taxpayer dollars from an ACA subsidy for businesses. Many other businesses that contribute heavily to anti-ACA Republican politicans also took subsidy money. A little hypocrisy here, maybe?
Side Note 4: Jonathan Gruber was one of the principle architects of Mitt Romney's health care system in Mass., and then played a similar role in developing the ACA. He understands the policies about as well as anybody in the country and better than most, and he's upset about the failure of many states to embrace Medicaid expansion:
"Really, a life-costing tragedy has taken place in America as a result of that Supreme Court decision. You know, half the states in America are denying their poorest citizens health insurance paid for by the federal government.
"So to my mind, I’m offended on two levels here. I’m offended because I believe we can help poor people get health insurance, but I’m almost more offended there’s a principle of political economy that basically, if you’d told me, when the Supreme Court decision came down, I said, 'It’s not a big deal. What state would turn down free money from the federal government to cover their poorest citizens?' The fact that half the states are is such a massive rejection of any sensible model of political economy, it’s sort of offensive to me as an academic. And I think it’s nothing short of political malpractice that we are seeing in these states and we’ve got to emphasize that.
"They are not just not interested in covering poor people, they are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness."
(Gruber's not just blowing smoke: Low-income people in the states that have accepted Medicaid expansion are demonstrably healthier than those in states that haven't. The people who are most in need are the ones being left behind.)
This Week in Math
We here at TWiA World Headquarters would never be considered mathematicians. But while we're not good at doing math, it seems that we're better at understanding it than House Republicans are. This week, they passed a bill that requires "dynamic scoring" of major legislation before it can be voted on.
Dynamic scoring is a nifty stunt Rep. Paul Ryan used in his new budget document, which we discussed in some detail last week. It hypothesizes the economic impact of a bill not based upon current realities or realistic projections, but based upon what whoever wrote the bill believes the economic impact will be. In other words, with his budget--and if this bill passed and was signed into law (which won't happen), all legislation before the House--Ryan believes, with no evidence, that the austerity measures he proposes will create a huge economic boom; therefore, the things that do cost money in his budget (mostly defense spending) will be paid for because that boom will generate so much revenue.
Moreover, their dynamic scoring bill requires the CBO to extend these magical predictions over a 40-year span, instead of the 10-year timeline they use today. To see how incredibly foolish that is, think back 40 years. Could anyone in 1974 have predicted with any degree of accuracy whatsoever the shape of our economy now? How would Facebook earnings have compared to the flying car earnings they would have factored in?
Currently, the CBO takes a conservative approach, not trying to determine the impact of the proposed policies on GDP growth. There are very good reasons they don't use dynamic scoring. Imaginary numbers are imaginary. Working from the assumption that Ryan's tax cuts will produce economic growth is like believing a good, hard rainstorm will dry out the laundry hanging on the line.
Side Note: The House passed Ryan's meaningless (because spending for 2015 has already been set, and because the Senate will never vote on this) 2015 budget plan on a party-line vote, 219-205. All but 12 Republicans voted for it. Demonstrating remarkably good sense, no Democrats did. The plan calls for a massive redistribution of wealth, from those who have precious little now to those who already have plenty. It makes no sense except in Ryan's warped view of the world, in which people are only as important as their bank accounts.
This Week in Science
Aaron Miller, a Republican candidate for Congress in Minnesota, has some unusual reasons for wanting to go to Washington. Among them:
"He also called for more religious freedoms. He repeated his story about his daughter returning home from school in tears because evolution was being taught in her class. He said the teacher admitted to not believing in the scientific theory to his daughter but told her that the government forced him to teach the lesson. 'We should decide what is taught in our schools, not Washington D.C.,' Miller said."
First, we have to feel compelled to point out that if Mr. Miller wants his daughter to grow up ignorant of scientific reality, that's his right. It could be considered a special kind of child abuse, but it's his right. But he shouldn't try to force the rest of her classmates to be equally ignorant.
Second, we should also point out that Minnesota school curricula are established in Minnesota, not Washington D.C. If he thinks otherwise, he probably needs to spend some more time in introductory civics classes before being elected to an actual congressional seat. What we don't need in Congress are more anti-science yahoos who don't even understand the basics of their own jobs.
Finally, if Miller's daughter's science teacher doesn't believe in evolution, he's in the wrong job, too, and someone ought to have a chat with the school board immediately. We're more inclined, though, to think Miller's making the whole thing up. As the article says, "Miller has declined to provide any more information to verify his story."
Side Note 1: Miller also says he wants to go to Congress to lower the budget deficit and repeal the ACA. Since the CBO and virtually every independent economist who's looked at it says the ACA will itself lower the deficit, and repealing it would increase the deficit, Miller would have a hard time doing both. We can only speculate that his math skills are as bad as his science ones.
Side Note 2: Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a science teacher has been suspended for teaching science.
This Week in Climate
And whle we're on the subject of science, the Union of Concerned Scientists has done a study of the 2013's climate change coverage by the three most-watched cable news channels. It should surprise no one that Fox "News" had the least accurate coverage by far. Only 28% of their climate coverage was accurate (which is a step up from the 2012 total of 7%). CNN, as usual, lands in the middle, with 70% accuracy. CNN likes to host guests representing opposing points of view--the trouble being, when you have someone on TV saying the science isn't settled or climate change isn't real, you have somebody who's just not telling the truth. MSNBC scored pretty well, with 92% accuracy (the other 8% was where they overstated the effects, linking climate change with things like killer tornados, when in fact that's not a link that can yet be made).
This Week in Wealth
You don't have to read Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century (unless you like economics books that are 700 pages long, translated from the French), but you should, at the very least, read this summary of it. Seriously.
This Week in Gun Safety
Once again, your crazy uncle might have sent you a link to a terrifying news story, this one about Attorney General Holder's plan to make gun owners wear "gun tracking bracelets." Once again, it's nonsense. Tell your uncle to take your email address off his distribution list.
Speaking of crazy, Florida legislators (and isn't it funny how natural it sounds to say, "Speaking of crazy, Florida...") hope to pass a bill allowing anybody with a "clean criminal background" to carry concealed weapons during emergency situations like riots or floods (and, not incidentally, allows local officials to declare states of emergency.) Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has it right: "“To allow people to go into a riot while concealing a gun without a permit is the definition of insanity. The bill is crazy. It’s absurd.” Unsurprisingly, the NRA and other pro-gun death groups support the proposed legislation.
This Week in Vox
A few weeks ago, I introduced (some of) you to Nate Silver's new ESPN site FiveThirtyEight.com. Now another skilled political journalist has launched his new site--former Washington Post writer Ezra Klein, now the boss man at Vox.com. Klein is particularly good at explaining complicated issues of policy and economics, something we try to do here with occasional success. For that reason, we'll no doubt be linking to Vox.com articles on a fairly regular basis. Vox, like FiveThirtyEight, is becoming a new stop on our daily tour of the interwebs. You might want to make it one of yours, too.
Side Note: Another interesting digital journalism startup is The Marshall Project, which will focus on America's criminal justice system, under the leadership of editor-in-chief Bill Keller (formerly of the NYT) and publisher Neil Barsky.
This Week in How You Can Help
Sexual assault is nothing new, but it's increasingly in the news, especially with the military trying and failing to come to grips with the issue in its own ranks. This week, we'll draw your attention to the good work of Rainn.org, "the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization." Give some time, give some money, spread the word.
This Week in Bears
We're not recommending that you try to make friends with one (although we totally want to), but you're far, far more likely to be killed by a fellow human being or a dog than by a bear.