This Week in Poverty and Race
Poverty used to be something we thought of in regard to inner cities and isolated rural areas. No longer; now poverty is growing fastest in the suburbs. Ferguson, MO is just one example of this trend--an example, unfortunately, that exploded into unrest and violence when a police officer shot an unarmed black teenager at least six times.
We here at TWiA World Headquarters have no sympathy for people who throw molotov cocktails or loot stores. But as bad as those acts are, the actions of the local police have been, from the start, far worse. There's a systemic distrust of police in many black communities, and with good reason--blacks are stopped more often, harassed more often, arrested more often, incarcerated more often, and beaten and shot more often by police than members of any other race. While many of us look at cops as our protectors, in those communities they can be seen more as occupiers. Instead of taking that into account, the police have made every wrong move they could think of. Their conduct has been amateurish, and they give law enforcement a bad name--or, depending on where you live and what color your skin is, a worse name.
Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, of the MO Highway Patrol, on the other hand, appears to be an exemplary cop and human being. Yes, the two can, and should, go together. Unfortunately, his remarks did not prevent the scene from exploding again that night, and it grew worse the night after, only beginning to settle near the end of the week. What's going on in Ferguson now has taken on a life of its own, and it's a troubling reminder that race remains one of the fundamental issues of American life that we haven't figured out how to deal with. (And no, reactionary media, Capt. Johnson has not been photographed throwing gang signs, but the fact that you would think so is indicative of our national problem with race.)
One of our finest writers on race--and any other topic he sets his sights on; he really is a prodigious talent--is Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes for The Atlantic. Here he explains why, to black Americans, the police don't necessarily mean the same thing they do to white Americans. "Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions."
Side Note 1: We haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere, but given that distrust between this country's minority populations--particularly African-Americans--and law enforcement, it might have been a stroke of genius for our first African-American president to appoint an African-American attorney general. Yes, to some of the white population, it might feel like they're being ganged up on. But the white population has not, by and large, had the same sort of experience with authority figures that the black population has, literally since the first African was brought here in chains, centuries ago. to most non-criminal whites, cops aren't the enemy--at worst, they're a nuisance when they write a traffic ticket, but that's about as bad as it gets. If Barack Obama and Eric Holder can stand as examples of what African-Americans can achieve, and if they can bridge the gulf between minority communities and law enforcement, they will have done us a great service as America becomes a minority-majority nation. The arc of the moral universe is long, Dr. King reminded us, but it bends toward justice. Ferguson offrers a painful lesson, but it might be a necessary point on that arc. And Obama and Holder just might be able to bend it a little more. (Here's an op-ed Holder published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this week.)
Side Note 2: Vox.com explains the military gear being employed against American civilians by law enforcement officers in Ferguson.
Side Note 3: In this must-read piece, Richard Reeves writes, "The stain of racism is a stark, depressing reminder of how far short of its founding ideals the nation still falls. Even with the legal scaffolding of American racism dismantled—and even with an African-American in the White House—black children live in the poorest neighborhoods and attend the worst schools; they have the lowest chance of graduating college, and the highest risk of incarceration." Poor whites aren't much better off. Reeves describes in detail how America's self-perception of being a meritocracy is largely a myth. Social mobility here is lower than in most European countries; with few exceptions, being born into poverty means staying there for life (as does being born into wealth).
The problems he describes are not just the wealth gap, but the opportunity gap, the rise in single-parent households, and other social factors that impede mobility. His prescriptions are few--it's a problem that's long existed but is growing worse, and fixing it won't be easy. He does make some suggestions, though. "Wealth inequality is a direct threat to a society that aspires to be ordered by merit and marked by social mobility. So proposals to tax the wealthy and use the revenues to fund opportunity-enhancing strategies are far from 'un-American.' They are, in fact, quintessentially American. If the estate tax were returned to the level of the President George H.W. Bush years, for example, it would raise an additional $300 billion to $400 billion over the next decade—twice as much as we need to fund universal pre-K."
Side Note to Side Note 3: Rep. Paul Ryan (R/WI) is supposed to be a numbers wonk, according to popular mythology, but he doesn't understand economics. According to an article in the Weekly Standard, "Some conservatives have argued that reducing the top rate is less urgent now than it was during the Reagan administration, when the top rate was cut from 70 percent to 50 percent and then cut again from 50 percent to 28 percent. But Ryan says that cutting the top rate is 'even more pressing now" than it was back then "because the American economy was so dominant in the global economy and capital was not nearly as mobile as it is today.'"
Yeah, no. When the biggest economic, political, and moral issue of the day is extreme inequality--which hampers economic growth and threatens to cause another collapse if it's not addressed--the solution is not to make the rich richer and hope it will trickle down. That's been tried. It has failed. It's a discredited economic theory that only people who don't know any better take at all seriously. If Ryan were really a numbers wonk, he would know better. He's an extremist ideologue trying to make us all live in his Ayn Randian nightmare, and he should just go away.
This Week in Gun Safety
Speaking of "racial disparity in law enforcement," the American Bar Association has released a report they did of states with "stand your ground" laws. Their findings? "The nation’s widely adopted “Stand Your Ground” laws may be driving up homicide rates and fueling racial bias in law enforcement, a new preliminary report from the American Bar Association warns." The full report is here.
Where there are more guns, more Americans die. Where people are given license to use guns, more Americans die. These conclusions are unmistakable, and all the lies told by all the morally reprehensible groups trying to boost gun-industry profits by telling the fearful that their tooled lumps of metal are more precious than human lives don't change those facts.
The fearful--those who buy into the myth that they need a gun for self-defense--are the people responsible for things like this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and so tragically, this... If you have a gun in your house, you don't need to wait for trouble to enter. You've already invited it in.
This Week in Political Courage
Or the lack thereof. According to a study by Bloomberg News, many elected Republicans believe that climate change is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in a serious way. But they refuse to say so. Why? "In Bloomberg BNA interviews with several dozen former senior congressional aides, nongovernmental organizations, lobbyists and others conducted over a period of several months, the sources cited fears of attracting an electoral primary challenger as one of the main reasons many Republicans choose not to speak out."
They're more concerned with keeping their jobs than they are with doing their jobs. Sounds like a good reason to fire them.
This Week in Real Courage
Photojournalist James Foley risked his life to bring the reality of war and suffering home to us, to people who didn't have to experience it but who nonetheless are better people for knowing the truth that others have to face. Foley thought front-line journalism was important, and he vowed to keep doing it even after spending weeks in captivity in Libya. And he did, even though it ultimately led to his barbaric murder.
In a statement this week, President Obama said, in part:
"Jim Foley’s life stands in stark contrast to his killers. Let’s be clear about ISIL. They have rampaged across cities and villages -- killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery. They have murdered Muslims -- both Sunni and Shia -- by the thousands. They target Christians and religious minorities, driving them from their homes, murdering them when they can for no other reason than they practice a different religion. They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people.
"So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision, and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.
"And people like this ultimately fail. They fail, because the future is won by those who build and not destroy and the world is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him."
It wouldn't hurt to read Dr. King's reminder again. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Savagery and barbarism fade and come back, fade and come back. But as insane as much of the world appears today, gone are the days when almost anybody in any nation could be killed at any time. Violent death is far less common than being taken by illness or age. We no longer have to teach schoolchildren to duck and cover, as if that would mean a thing in the event of an atomic blast. The butchers of ISIS are terrible people, but they are fighting in a doomed effort to hold onto a world that's slipping from their grasp, and as the president says, they are bound to fail.
And the president, unlike the rest of us, can back up his anger with air strikes.
This Week in a Republican Senate
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R/KY) has promised that, should Republicans take over the Senate in November, as Majority Leader, he'll force more government shutdowns.
Yes, you read that right. After all, there's every indication that Republicans will hold the House this year, despite how unpopular (and expensive--it took $24 billion out of our economy) last October's government shutdown was (particularly unpopular here at TWiA headquarters, where we had to forgo our paychecks for the duration). McConnell figures if the House wasn't punished for it, then it must be a good strategy after all.
McConnell is, of course, offering one small out. Although President Obama was elected twice with more than 50% of the vote--something very rare in presidential elections--and Democrats were duly elected to a Senate majority, and with a Democratic president and Senate an impressive legislative record was established, McConnell says we can avoid those government shutdowns if we just agree to undo that legislative record. If we spin back the clock to when more Americans were dying because they didn't have health insurance, when women had little recourse if they were paid less than men for the same work, when gay people serving in the military had to hide their true natures, when economic policies led to a massive recession, and so on, then he'll let government stay open. But if we insist on allowing American democracy to operate the way the founders intended--we the people elect those who represent us, and then they do what they were elected to do--then he'll shut it down.
We suppose McConnell should be thanked for making the choice crystal clear. Electing Republicans to the Senate is a guarantee of more economic disaster, more political disaster, and more dysfunction in Washington. McConnell promises.
This Week in Success
For the first time in history, a nation in conflict's entire arsenal of a particular weapon of mass destruction has been removed and destroyed. The destruction of Syria's declared chemical weapons stockpile has been completed ahead of schedule, and while Syria continues to be in a state of war. It's possible that Syria is holding some in secret, unknown to the international observers working there, of course. But it's also possible that they aren't. Either way, it's an enormous win for the Obama administration. Rather than commit soldiers to yet another impossible armed conflict in the Middle East, we tried diplomacy, working with allies and questionable allies (Russia) and non-allies (Syria), reached a deal, then carried it out. Sens. John McCain (R/AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R/SC) should make the rounds of the Sunday talk shows wearing "I was wrong" T-shirts and celebrating this accomplishment.
This Week in Health Care
During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, and the numerous attempts by House Republicans to repeal it after it passed, opponents threw out all kinds of attacks, many of them based on nothing at all. The ACA would increase the deficit. People wouldn't be able to keep their doctor. Premiums will skyrocket. And so on.
Those charges were not grounded in any kind of reality, but were simply partisan lies intended to scare the American people. Repeated often enough, and echoed by Fox "News" and other conservative media outlets, they worked. The ACA has, so far, been a decided success. Most Americans still don't seem to know that.
Michael Tomasky takes on "The Five Biggest Lies About Obamacare," and sets the record straight on each one. It's worth a few minutes of your time.
This Week in Moving Left
Thomas Ricks is a journalist and author who's spent much of his career studying and writing about the American military. He's a smart guy who knows what he's talking about; we often look to him to explain matters of defense and foreign policy. He says that during his newspaper days, he was a "detached centrist" who didn't vote, because he was covering the people he would have had to vote for or against. But lately, he finds himself moving leftward, politically, in some crucial areas. His reasoning makes for an interesting read.
This Week in Arizona
With Arizona's primary elections rapidly approaching, we here at TWiA World Headquarters have been watching the barrage of TV ads with amusement (and horror). Is there any other state in which a confessed felon ran for attorney general, and won? Now Tom Horne, the state's chief law enforcement officer (the irony, it burns), forced again to defend his questionable ethics and under investigation for new, campaign-related crimes, is trying to buttress his claims of honesty by touting the support of America's Most Corrupt Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. In 2010, Arpaio claimed Horne was pro-amnesty for illegal immigrants, and endorsed his primary opponent. When Horne won the primary, Arpaio threw his anti-amnesty principles out the window, because, as the Phoenix New Times puts it, "Arpaio always likes to have a prosecutor or two in his hip pocket."
Just last week, Arpaio launched yet another politically motivated "criminal investigation" against a former colleague--a common Arpaio tactic. And this week, the attorneys who won a racial profiling case against Arpaio and his office are asking for $7.3 million in legal fees--on top of the millions and millions Arpaio has already cost Maricopa County taxpayers in legal costs ($86.7 million, according to this report, with another $23.6 million on the horizon, not counting this week's possible $7.3 million). Earning the title of America's Most Corrupt Sheriff doesn't come cheap.
Brian Sands, Arpaio's former Chief Deputy, has just released an e-book called Arpaio de Facto Lawman, detailing his time in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. As this review says:
"Sands describes a dysfunctional law enforcement agency where PR flacks make law enforcement decisions, aged action heroes are granted carte blanche, and operations are organized primarily for the head honcho's self-aggrandizement.
"Arpaio is depicted both as a narcissist obsessed with publicity to the exclusion of all else (surprise, surprise), and an artifact of another era in law enforcement, one unconcerned about such niceties as "probable cause," which Sands claims he's had to explain to the sheriff more than once.
"Sands describes Arpaio as an 'aficionado of procuring controversy,' someone who could 'develop anything into a press release.' Sands writes, 'Everything with Arpaio has to have something to do with him directly or he is completely apathetic.'"
Tom Horne relying on Joe Arpaio as a character witness is akin to Charles Manson asking Jeffrey Dahmer to speak up for him at a parole hearing. And yet--sadly--this being Arizona, it just might work.
Side Note: Speaking of Arizona primaries, you see some strange things in the candidate pamphlet the state sends out. We won't detail them all, but we will mention a candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction. We won't name her, because she probably isn't embarrassed, given that she provided the information, but she should be, because the information she provided paints her as uniquely unsuited for any job involving education.
She includes in her statement: "I am the only candidate endorsed by Michelle Malkin," as if that hyperventilating harridan of hate's endorsement should carry the slightest weight. She goes on to say, "President Obama is trying to subvert our schools like he has done with health care, the IRS, and our military." She doesn't detail what she objects to about millions of people having health insurance and Americans' lives being saved, or what it is about the lack of a scandal at the IRS she doesn't understand. As far as the military, we here at TWiA know plenty of military folks who don't feel at all subverted, and are in fact quite proud of their service. A little later, she goes into more detail: "I want to return local control to our elected school boards and free them from overbearing federal mandates, especially Obama's Common Core diktat."
That's where she really steps in it. Anyone running for the state's top education post should probably study the issues at least a little deeper than reading the emails sent by her local tea party group. Had she done so, she would know the real history of Common Core--how it came from governors of both parties, working with educators, and is not remotely an "Obama diktat." Instead, she is declaring, in black and white, right there in her candidate statement, that she values ideology over education and can't be bothered to do the slightest bit of research on what she wants to make one of the main topics of her campaign.
Reasonable people can disagree, but it takes a special kind of person to wave a flag saying "I don't have the slightest idea what I'm talking about, so put me in charge of the area I'm so ignorant of." She is, apparently, that kind of person.
This Week in Texas
We've finally discovered why Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) started wearing glasses all the time: They let him see things that aren't there.
This Week in Plagiarism
Fareed Zakaria, a center-left pundit who has written extensively for Time, the Washington Post, CNN, and other outlets, was accused of plagiarism in 2012. He admitted to it then, and was briefly suspended from his various gigs. He was quickly back at work, though. Maybe not for long. Zakaria has always seemed like a pretty smart guy, so if these charges are true, we wonder what could have compelled him to do this. At TWiA we take intellectual property ownership seriously, no matter which side of the political aisle the guilty party comes from. (We also question the judgement of anybody who steals from Wikipedia, and hope that Zakaria was at least double-sourcing any "facts" he might have found there.)
Zakaria denies the charges vehemently. The bloggers who made the original accusation promise that more examples are on the way. We're withholding judgment for now, but we'll keep an eye on the story.
This Week in Drug Abuse
The deadliest drug in America? Alcohol, by a wide margin.
This Week in Bears
Well, yeah. Who wouldn't? There's a doughnut at stake.