Racism and Noble Virtues

DDWhat is racism? Is it a universal idea? A judgment about biological identity? A group of dysfunctional behaviors in a culture? Persistent myths about a community’s strength and weaknesses? Does it belong equally to white and black, and yellow and tan?

Is racism a political idea? A wedge for advantage? Does it exist? Is it an excuse? Do statistics verify its presence? What role does it play in society? How does it change individual lives?

Racism does exist; it always reflects the role race plays in society. For instance, the structures and forms of racism during slavery have virtually no role in society today. The laws, punishments, limits and ideas that governed race then were very different and many have been erased.

Since these ideas have lost their viability, does that mean racism has ended? In modern society with its pledge to equality, has racism been eliminated? No. But it has changed forms. Remember, each era produces its version of racism. Remember, the construct of racism is based on the role race plays in the social milieu.

Before looking at modern racism, let’s ask: How does race fit into today’s society?

In America today, race has become the major standard and measure for equality and equal opportunity. Collectively, through numbers and statistics; individually, through incidents and events, race provides the details and the rough measure of fair play and justice. Race sets the bar for social and economic improvement, the standard for civil liberties, but is also the target of anger for those in and out of power, and a source of constant confusion. This positivist function of race is rarely mentioned; race is most often framed as a problem or a source of friction, or as a factor of mistreatment.

But race has noble virtues. It is the source used to reflect how far America has come in resolving internal tyranny and it measures America’s social progress. It is also a measure of how far apart Americans stand on many social issues. It has been the bubble at the center of the builder’s level.

Race, in part, is the weight of a group response, for both blacks and whites. The shooting of whites by police, while tragic, doesn’t alert the nation to the attack of police violence and misconduct aimed at the American Promise; race is a sentinel for the entire country—not just for blacks. Race puts blacks in the vanguard of social change, yet also makes blacks one of society’s most vulnerable groups. The paradox leads to scepticism and ignorance about the fix for social problems as race as a change agent is caught in a fluid whirlwind of individual and indirect forces.

That is why whites were always visible and angry in the Ferguson protests, every night, in every frame, side by side with blacks. Race is America’s active metaphor for character and justice, for liberty and criminality, for alarm and good riddance. It is not a discussion about blacks or whites, but about the vision and substance of America and the content of the American character, not just of the individuals whose roles shape the discussion.

In the same way, America’s educational success is measured by race. The differences in student test scores reflect race as a means of distributed wealth.

Race as an American idea is always in motion; different than last year, changed by new experiences, redefined by the culture it represents. Unfortunately it is often tied to omissions, deficiencies and neglect more than success, and its noble side is missed.

From this view, I propose racism plays three key roles in today’s America, all three tied to politics and culture:

  1. To unify race appearance (by skin color) into a common culture of values and desired qualities (i.e., loyalty, defense, ideology) that lead to mutual and joint actions for power and privilege limited to and controlled by a group.

  2. To install social barriers supported by legal frameworks and individual decision makers that limit life chances and prospects for many of those outside of the group.

  3. To deny the advantages that racism inherently seeks to make permanent.

The three are easy to understand with examples.

1. At the diner where I often eat, we wondered during the 2012 election how long it would be before Mitt Romney screamed, “I’m white!” to pander for votes. The opposite nearly occurred. Romney’s campaign adviser John Sununu approached that edge, claiming someone needed to teach the President “how to be an American.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich skirted the same precipice: he cited Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial world view” “as the the most accurate, predictive model for his [Obama's] behavior,” calling it “a profound insight.” “The food stamp President” was another of Gingrich’s contributions.

Rick Santorum came within a syllable of an offensive racial slur before he caught himself. Recently, a New Hampshire police chief uttered the word publicly (saying the President “met and exceeded” his criteria). He refused to back down, resigning but never apologizing.

My oft-cited example is the empty chairs that appeared after the 2012 Republican National Convention, tied to tree limbs on private property, often with roped nooses hung over chair backs—performance art that starkly expressed the dark dread of justice as lynching. These spontaneous racial installations were a reminder that the media never reported in 2008 the high degree of fear in the black community for Barack Obama’s life; people were frantic and the hysteria went unnoticed.

Racism is tasteless and invisible—until the first tug of attitude pushes one of its many structures into place to block progress—and to strangle black success. Members of Congress have said Barack Obama was only elected because he is black. Others say he won due to white guilt.

These conversations and actions call white people to band together under a banner of skin: a favorite principle of racism is to unite to defend and defeat the idea of the other. The other is different—and also more dangerous, more deadly, more deficient. The most important other in America is race. Its group tensions involve a history of violence, lynching, lawlessness, blame, poverty and social control.

I think that race as a social measure should change. Women and children are suffering greater attacks than African-Americans in this historical moment; women and children need a movement worthy of the anti-war and Civil Rights movements, yet they remain on the edge of America’s conscience. Thankfully, ending domestic violence has become a noble virtue. So should ending the murders of children by their peers.

2. Examples of social barriers abound. The most prominent and dangerous, as US House member John Lewis rightly recognizes, are the state-level bills that are redefining the right to vote. The new tactic recognizes it is not necessary to disenfranchise minority voters en masse (the old, pre-1960s tactic). Trimming voter turnout  by 3 to 10 percent will often be enough to swing close national elections.

Remember, racism fits the role of race in society. In politics, that’s votes. After the Civil War, bills sought to disenfranchise the entire Negro vote, which ended with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Now, in this era, with this Supreme Court, the same outcome can be achieved with a more limited, targeted effort to restrict early voting, raising the bar to voter access by requiring more paperwork and reducing polling hours. Continue reading Racism and Noble Virtues

Gay Marriage and Deliberate Speed

The Supreme Court never seems to see its own reflection in the law. I wonder if any of the current justices participated in a popular 1970s self-awareness training exercise, Johari’s window.

The exercise, whose roots go back to Karl Jung and his archetypes and reflects the later influence of the popular Myers-Briggs assessment, replied on four windows that were intersections between self-knowledge and society, and the known and unknown. The facade window was unknown to society and known to you. The internet has turned the facade into a negative space; it is now the space in which you are known to others by dark secrets or ignorance, by insulting absurdities, vitriol and hatred, masked by a cute avatar and narcissistic screen name. Flaming in chat rooms has given way to trolls who are relentless in replacing logic with personal attacks, stereotypes, and repeated failures of common sense flaunted as searing insights, protected by their rights. It is closer to what Johari’s window labeled the arena, a place of shared exposure.

The exercise assumed certain psychological and personality customs that the internet has stripped away as it tossed the old facade aside. The exercise did not see this future.

Johari’s window also had a blind spot. It was a frame where others knew things about us that were oblivious to our own self-awareness. In the internet media today, its equivalent is a place of spin and denial. Denial not as a psychological defense, but as a social strategy of deceit and misdirection, positive or negative, that conceals real intent.

My favorite blind spot was Herman Cain’s. Framing opportunity and merit as entitlements, he shouted out in the last campaign about African-Americans being on Democratic plantations. He subverted the history of the institution from the horrific tragedy of enslavement to a place where its room and board was a poison pill that killed motivation and freedom! In the logic of Cain’s world, sleeping and eating—rest and community—broke the spirit and chained the enslaved in a way that the exploitation and supposed ownership of their labor did not!

That ownership, and the involuntary extraction of labor by force and law, was approved unequivocally by the institution of the American Supreme Court, then lead by Maryland-born Roger B. Taney, considered one of its greatest Chief Justices and the first Roman Catholic Chief Justice. In the 1857 Dred Scott decision, Taney and six other justices saw no contradiction in a creed of freedom that permitted the ownership of human families, or between human liberty and human property—and said so, from the highest court of the land.

In fact, in his dissent, Justice Benjamin R. Curtis, the Massachusetts-born son of a merchant vessel captain, painstakingly points out that the Dred Scott decision denies the court decisions that Africans and persons of African descent were given legal citizenship in the several states, and this legal grant of citizenship gave them standing before the Court—a standing that Taney, in his majority decision, denies, calling it “unagreeable.” Curtis then points out how ludicrous it is to declare Scott is without standing before the Court, and then to have ruled anyway!

If it looks at its own reflection, the Supreme Court would see how it avoids the institutional evidence of its own magnanimous failures, going back to Dred Scott. Perhaps we, too, forget that the Court was not intended to be an institution of democracy, or rather of democratic interests: the expansion of individual liberties and rights, the ending of discrimination, the leveling of the ever-expanding playing field. The Court did not rule in support of equal protection prior to an inclusion in the Constitution by amendment, nor for women’s voting rights prior to its inclusion, nor for civil rights prior to a Congressional act, or for ending slavery before a Constitutional amendment. Continue reading Gay Marriage and Deliberate Speed

Opportunity! Health Care, Jobs, and Race

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Blue Room of the White House, July 4, 2010, before delivering remarks to military families during a Fourth of July celebration. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Jobs, Growth, and Recovery

Is President Obama accountable for the slow economic recovery? Did the size of the crisis–the biggest since Hoover–have something to do with the US’ weak fundamentals? Or the ongoing saga of Europe, at the brink of collapse every week? Canoes don’t paddle well on dry beds. An American president of any party finds it hard to “fix” a national economy when every idea is labeled and rejected as partisan, even when confronted with empirical proof, theoretical verification, and country examples.

US Job Growth (non-farm), July 2011 - 2012, under President Obama

Globally, the US leads all economies in the recovery!

Accusing someone doesn’t make them guilty. First, choices, players, conditions, opposing forces, and standards must be assessed. The initial stimulus sent money to the states to provide for the increased demand for basic services, health, unemployment, education, public safety during a time when revenue fell dramatically. The money helped cushion the sudden shock of people who lose jobs in the tailspin. This aid to states was essential. Even those guilty of criticizing it requested and received the money for a variety of projects and programs.

Should the success of the stimulus be measured solely by job creation? That ignores that fully one-third of the stimulus was a payroll tax cut to put more money in the hands of families. It also helped families who couldn’t find jobs.

The recession was international. Where does the US rank globally, among all nations? Globally, the US leads all economies in the recovery!

The US has a higher per-capita GDP than Germany, Europe’s leading economy. China, the world’s second largest economy, had a strong 2011, but now, its year-over-year GDP is falling and its growth rate is slowing.

US GDP growth in constant dollars has trended consistently upward since the recession’s end. In contrast, our most prosperous neighbor in the hemisphere, Brazil, whose economy is now larger (6th in the world!) than Britain and Canada’s, saw its GDP (in constant dollars) drop significantly last year.

In 2011, US corporate profit hit record highs. The aggregate? $824 billion. Profit margins (profit after expenses and taxes) also accelerated to an all-time high. In fact, profits recovered quicker and grew faster after the recession than anytime in US history. Conversely, wages are down. Obama has promised to address the inequity of the middle class’ income and wealth. Wages are revenues for other companies, and as long as wages are low, the recovery will be inhibited, creating a negative feedback cycle of job losses, low wages, and low demand.

Germany’s unemployment is lower than the US, at 6.5% having fallen since February from 7.5%. Brazil, Canada (7.5%) and England match the US rate at 8% (for Brazil, a metropolitan-based rate). Mexico’s unemployment? 5.5 percent, the hemisphere’s best, is severely undercounted. Our economy is still almost a third larger than China’s and 15% larger than Eurozone’s.

Finally, US interest and inflation rates are at all-time lows. Inflation-indexed 10-year treasuries have negative returns! (You pay the government to park your money!) Currently, fixed-yield securities (constant maturities for 10 years) return 1.63 percent.

It’s hard for a single country, even one the size of the US, tied to so many markets, to outpace the world! Sometimes, for reasons or events beyond political control, times are hard. As the US de-leverages from the housing bubble and banking crisis, demand will not return until private debt levels (not public!) provide an impetus to spend.

US Job Growth (non-farm), July 2007 - 2008, under President Bush

Looking at the global details, the benchmarks, GDP comparisons, the rates of growth worldwide by verified standards and measures, the US is still the number one economy in the world and leads the global recovery.

Slowly, the US is shaking off the effects of a deep crisis without falling back into a double dip, as England did. Add record corporate profits and lower taxes to the US’ leadership record, and Barack Obama has done an outstanding job resetting the economy in a world still stalled, trying to recover its punch.

 

President Barack Obama hugs Stephanie Davies, who helped keep her friend, Allie Young, left, alive after she was shot during the movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. University of Colorado Hospital, July 22, 2012. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Health Care and the Savings Debate

The President’s plan expands and protects services for seniors and the uninsured

Rising costs? Cuts in Medicaid services? Taking away seniors paid-in benefits to pay for expanding Obamacare? Under the President’s plan, seniors keep their full range of services while coverage is expanded.

In his speech Mitt Romney said no:

His [Obama's] $716 billion cut to Medicare to finance Obamacare will both hurt today’s seniors, and depress innovation – and jobs – in medicine.

Here’s an insight from a New York Times reader in San Francisco that explains why Medicaid clients will keep their coverage and tells how the savings work.

I’m a little worried that the worst lie is not being pointed out completely. It is not that Ryan, hypocritically calls for the same cuts in Medicare reimbursements to hospitals as Obama; but rather Obama doesn’t really cut the total reimbursement to hospitals at all–while Ryan would.

Everyone keeps missing the Medicare point. Reimbursements to hospitals are overpaid because hospitals carry the extra expense of providing care to the uninsured for which they aren’t reimbursed. The Obama plan essentially insures that hospitals continue to get the same amount of total reimbursement–less from medicare but more from the previously uninsured because they will be required to have insurance under Obamacare (shouldn’t be ashamed to call it that).

The Ryan plan is an actual cut–because they are not going to require the uninsured to get insurance. HUGE difference that seems to be ignored in the sea of Ryan prevarication.

The President’s plan expands and protects services for seniors and the uninsured.

Soon doctors will get out of practicing medicine? With the provisions in the ACA to cap and deter frivolous lawsuits, malpractice costs should drop. But adjustments can be made–as Bush did with Part D, and with the Advantage program.

The Democrats have a plan! Their plan for cost savings is included in the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare) and is already showing great results. Its major thrust targeted fraud. Last fiscal year, the Attorney General announced a record total annual recovery: $4.1 billion in fraud. In February, he brought the single biggest case against fraud, taking down an extended network that bilked $375 million in illegal payments by, in some cases, going door to door to sign up recipients for false claims. No small change! Continue reading Opportunity! Health Care, Jobs, and Race