It starts like an itch. Something happens in our lives that causes us to question what we know and our understanding of it. We open our eyes, our minds in order to seek the truth we can not see. The more we discover, the hungrier we are for a deeper reckoning. But the world isn’t perfect, humans less so, and there is a lot of pain, suffering and deception going on. We have the burning desire to do more to stop the pain. We read, a lot. We start protesting, questioning. Our families labels us as being too sensitive, too negative, our friends start to pull away, our families and spouses reject us and our way of thinking. We are labeled as hippies, anarchists, angry kids, conspiracy theorists and terrorists. We are beaten by the police and mocked for our caring by the media in the news. Yet we can’t help ourselves, we are the cursed liberals the world warns about, those town criers who have become obsessed with spreading the truth. It becomes a very solitary journey for many are not obligated to participate and you don’t get an invite to this way of life, you can’t train for it, you see wrong hurt and automatically step up as life calls upon you from somewhere within your soul and the rough ride stays with you until your last breath feeling that with all you gave it still wasn’t enough to stop the pain and wishing for one more moment to step and say; Hey, What The Fuck Are You Doing, Stop That! You can’t do that…
ASKING NOT WHAT OUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR US, BUT WHAT WE CAN DO FOR OUR COUNTRY!
We are not against Capitalism and profit, but against its potential for abuse.
We are not against any religion, but against its manipulative use as a political weapon.
We are not against democracy, but declarations of not being patriotic when we disagree.
We are not against the democratic process unless the corporate world uses it against us.
We are not against the American Dream, but tired of being excluded from it.
We are not against those who have obtained wealth, but against those who would keep us from joining them.
We are not against defending this most grand country of ours, but the use of our military for corporate interests and most assuredly, against private armies.
We are not against national defense, we’re against spending on weapons of destruction, when our children need education, our infrastructure is falling apart and the quality of life in America deteriorates.
We are not against our beautiful America, but against the lost of the American ideal and dream that other countries in existence much longer have yet to achieve.
We are not against a strong America, we don’t believe that it can exist without respect for all who are American.
We are not against anyone making profits, but against making profits at the expense of and the detriment to, the health and well-being of American families no matter the composition.
We are not weak. We are not traitors. We are not unpatriotic. We are not elitist.
We are Democrats by way of the political process by choice.
We are proudly Liberals because we were taught caring for each other is an American ideal.
We are fiercely Progressive not for those came before, but all of those in the future yet to come this way.
This is our America as well and we will fight just as fiercely because we love America too!
© 2014 – 2015, agentleman.
Paul Krugman Definitively Shows How Slavery Still Haunts Us
A state’s history of slaveholding predicts opposition to gun control, unions, Obamacare and better wages.
By Janet Allon
Paul Krugman opens his Monday column by acknowledging that America is a less racist country than is used to be. But, and you know there is a big “but” coming, we are still plagued by subtle racial discrimination and potent racial hatred, “as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And,” he continues, “I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens.”
Knowing full well that conservatives will deny this plain fact, Krugman has amassed his evidence, a couple of definitive academic papers:
The first, by the political scientist Larry Bartels, analyzed the move of the white working class away from Democrats, a move made famous in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Mr. Frank argued that working-class whites were being induced to vote against their own interests by the right’s exploitation of cultural issues. But Mr. Bartels showed that the working-class turn against Democrats wasn’t a national phenomenon — it was entirely restricted to the South, where whites turned overwhelmingly Republican after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Richard Nixon’s adoption of the so-called Southern strategy.
And this party-switching, in turn, was what drove the rightward swing of American politics after 1980. Race made Reaganism possible. And to this day Southern whites overwhelmingly vote Republican, to the tune of 85 or even 90 percent in the deep South.
The second paper, by the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, was titled “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-style Welfare State?” Its authors — who are not, by the way, especially liberal — explored a number of hypotheses, but eventually concluded that race is central, because in America programs that help the needy are all too often seen as programs that help Those People: “Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.”
Now, that paper was published in 2001, and you might wonder if things have changed since then. Unfortunately, the answer is that they haven’t, as you can see by looking at how states are implementing — or refusing to implement — Obamacare.
Overwhelmingly, the 22 states that have refused the Medicaid expansion that would give their residents access to Obamacare are former slaveholding states. Coincidence? Krugman thinks not. “And it’s not just health reform: a history of slavery is a strong predictor of everything from gun control (or rather its absence), to low minimum wages and hostility to unions, to tax policy.”
All, Krugman argued, have an ugly racial component. But still, the columnist does not think we are doomed forever to live in slavery’s long shadow, or at least, he’d like to think not. Increasing ethnic diversity is slowly making the black-white polarity outdated. Dog-whistle politics has to decline, eventually.
© 2015, agentleman.
Liberals Just Had An Amazing Week At The Supreme Court
SUPREME COURT GAY MARRIAGE Dave Jamieson
WASHINGTON — The conservative Roberts Supreme Court just gave American liberals the most joyous judicial week they could have asked for.
In a span of just two days, the rightward-leaning court all but settled Obamacare as the law of the land; reaffirmed key components of housing discrimination law meant to protect minorities; and granted gay Americans the right to get married in any state they wish.
The string of progressive victories left officials hugging and high-fiving at the White House, gay couples crying tears of joy on the courthouse steps, and hardline conservatives wondering on Twitter whether their erstwhile judicial heroes were now traitors.
In King v. Burwell, decided Thursday, the court ruled 6-3 to reject a lawsuit brought by conservatives that would have stripped Obamacare subsidies from people who purchased their health coverage on the federal exchanges. A ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor threatened to unravel the system created by the Affordable Care Act, potentially causing millions to lose their health care coverage and wreaking havoc on state insurance markets.
The ruling marked the second time in three years the court had rejected an existential threat to Obamacare. As in the previous case, 2012’s NFIB v. Sebelius, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the liberal wing of the court, this time along with Justice Anthony Kennedy, to keep the president’s signature law intact. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing in a typically scathing dissent, lambasted the majority’s reasoning as “interpretive jiggery-pokery” and “pure applesauce.”
In Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities, also decided Thursday, the court handed a victory to civil rights groups with a 5-4 decision that upheld so-called disparate impact claims. Joined by Kennedy, who often plays the swing vote, the liberal justices ruled that someone suing under fair housing law doesn’t need to prove that a developer or the government knowingly discriminated — only that the policy had a disparate impact, something that can often be demonstrated with statistics.
Had the conservative wing prevailed, plaintiffs bringing claims would have had the far more difficult task of proving intentional discrimination, which typically isn’t documented by those who practice it. Civil rights groups so feared an unfavorable ruling in such a case that the Obama administration sought to keep the question of disparate impact away from the Roberts court.
Finally, in Obergefell v. Hodges, issued Friday, the justices ruled 5-4 to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, marking a triumph for the gay rights movement decades in the making. The liberal justices, who were joined again by Kennedy, determined that the Constitution grants anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, the right to marry, effectively invalidating the bans against same-sex unions that still exist in 13 states. “No longer may this liberty be denied,” Kennedy wrote in his highly quotable decision for the majority.
Scalia penned another memorably incredulous dissent, opening by saying he chose to write separately from Roberts in order to “call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy.” Insisting his concern was not the merit or lack thereof of gay marriage, he wrote that the majority’s “pretentious” and “egotistic” opinion lacked “even a thin veneer of law” and was chock full of “mummeries and straining-to-be-memorable passages.” “[W]hat really astounds is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch,” he seethed.
The good news for liberals wasn’t confined to just the high-profile cases. In Friday’s Johnson v. United States decision, which was overshadowed by the Obergefell case, the court ruled 8-1 that a section of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which is used to extend prison sentences, is “unconstitutionally vague.” The ruling may compel Congress to address the language of the law as thousands of prisoners seek to have their sentences reduced.
The majority opinion in the Johnson case was written by Scalia, giving progressive court watchers another reason to celebrate. As ThinkProgress’s Ian Millhiser explains, the Johnson opinion makes Scalia one of just two justices who’ve penned as many as eight majority opinions this term. If tradition is any indication, then Scalia probably won’t be writing another majority opinion before the court breaks, likely leaving the duty to one of his less conservative colleagues.
© 2015, agentleman.
- 77Christian Right Bigots Destroyed LGBT Lives for Decades: Now They Claim to be Victims? Sorry guys, you are not victims. You never were. By Alvin McEwen As a gay man, I admit that I am enthused and encouraged by what I see as a more LGBT-inclusive American society. While we still have some…
- 70The 9 most awkward moments in the Supreme Court's gay-marriage arguments From Ancient Greek sex to ‘plural marriage’ to 12-year-old child brides, things got a little weird on Tuesday. By JOSH GERSTEIN Many of the Supreme Court justices came to the arguments on same-sex marriage Tuesday armed with a slew of colorful, wild and…
- 56How Religious 'Liberty' Has Been Used to Justify Racism, Sexism and Slavery Throughout History Using religion to deny people rights is an old routine that harms both the church and the state. By Zaid Jilani There has been an enormous backlash from Indiana's decision to enact a law that would allow businesses to discriminate…
- 55This Week in Religion: Christians Continue Their Assault on the LGBT Community Fundementalists make it very clear that the alternative lifestyle is an affront to their 'values.' By Dan Arel If you’ve ever pondered the best method for converting teenagers to your way of thinking, you probably haven't put physical abuse — like punching…
- 54Here Are Five Surprising Ways Iran Is Better Than Israel By Juan Cole This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page. I think I’m one of the few Americans who has been to both Iran and Israel. I like both countries and have a lot in common with thinkers in both. I…
Dylann Roof’s Manifesto Discovered By Online Activists, Lays Out ‘Race War’ Motivation
The website contains new photos and a lucid breakdown of Roof’s ideology.
By Adam Johnson
Around 9 a.m. eastern Saturday morning,Twitter users Emma Quangel and Henry Krinkle simultaneously tweeted out for the first time what appears to be Dylann Roof’s online manifesto (warning: graphic content.)
User HenryKrinkle (who told AlterNet over Twitter direct message he wishes to remain anonymous) tweeted out at 8 a.m. Eastern an open proposition for anyone to cover the cost of a reverse DNS search to see if Roof had ever registered a website.
Communist writer Quangel agreed and after running a search, it was revealed that on Feb 9th of this year, a ‘Dylann Roof’ had registered the domain lastrhodesian.com.
The above screencap was provided to AlterNet by Quangel.
The url name is consistent with earlier photos showing Roof wearing patches of the flag of Rhodesia, the white supremacist apartheid name for the country now called Zimbabwe.
Other accounts have since corroborated that the website was registered to a South Carolina address — ostensibly that of Roof’s.
The site contains two links, one with “text” where Roof apparently wrote his 2,444 word manifesto, the other, a “photos” section where one can download a .zip file full of pictures of Roof. In the zip file is roughly 60 pictures – all previously unpublished – showing Roof with confederate flags, guns, and other white supremacist iconography.
The text of the manifesto is fairly straight forward, mostly detailing Roof’s dime-store white supremacist ideology and how he came to believe it. It’s organized by an introduction, a list of commentary on different “races”, an appeal to “patriotism”, and finally, an explanation for why he attacked AME Church in Charleston, SC.
I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.
Roof insists his transformation was his own doing rather than being raised in the south where he says every white person has a “small amount of racism”. The turning point, he claims, was during the Trayvon Martin trial when he witnessed what he believed to be the media covering up “black on white” crime.
“Black on white crime” is a common trope among white nationalists, as well as mainstream rightwing press.
The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case. I kept hearing and seeing his name, and eventually I decided to look him up. I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was. It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right.But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens.There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong. How could the news be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?
The validity of the website has not been independently verified.
Writer’s note: Some will no doubt criticize the amplifying of Roof’s repugnant views in our covering it. After consideration, we determined the news value of tracing the genealogy of his hate was worth it. Many of the themes he obsesses over – “black on white crime”, an “inevitable race war” , black activists conspiring with media to harm whites – are, in fact, entirely mainstream opinions on the right. The degree to which these themes influenced his radicalization is something, we feel, is of great political consequence and ought to be openly discussed in the coming weeks.
© 2015, agentleman.
REFUSAL TO CALL CHARLESTON SHOOTINGS “TERRORISM” AGAIN SHOWS IT’S A MEANINGLESS PROPAGANDA TERM
BY GLENN GREENWALD
CHARLESTON: DYLANN ROOF’S COUSIN CLAIMS LOVE INTEREST CHOSE BLACK MAN OVER HIM
REVEALED: HOW DOJ GAGGED GOOGLE OVER SURVEILLANCE OF WIKILEAKS VOLUNTEER
REFUSAL TO CALL CHARLESTON SHOOTINGS “TERRORISM” AGAIN SHOWS IT’S A MEANINGLESS PROPAGANDA TERM
WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA MASSACRED MEMBERS OF THE CHARLESTON EMANUEL AME CHURCH
THE SUNDAY TIMES’ SNOWDEN STORY IS JOURNALISM AT ITS WORST — AND FILLED WITH FALSEHOODS
In February 2010, a man named Joseph Stack deliberately flew his small airplane into the side of a building that housed a regional IRS office in Austin, Texas, just as 200 agency employees were starting their workday. Along with himself, Stack killed an IRS manager and injured 13 others.
Stack was an anti-tax, anti-government fanatic, and chose his target for exclusively political reasons. He left behind a lengthy manifesto cogently setting forth his largely libertarian political views (along with, as I wrote at the time, some anti-capitalist grievances shared by the left, such as “rage over bailouts, the suffering of America’s poor, and the pilfering of the middle class by a corrupt economic elite and their government-servants”; Stack’s long note ended: “the communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed”). About Stack’s political grievances, his manifesto declared that “violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”
1 The attack had all of the elements of iconic terrorism, a model for how it’s most commonly understood: down to flying a plane into the side of a building. But Stack was white and non-Muslim. As a result, not only was the word “terrorism” not applied to Stack, but it was explicitly declared inapplicable by media outlets and government officials alike.
The New York Times’s report on the incident stated that while the attack “initially inspired fears of a terrorist attack” — before the identity of the pilot was known — now “in place of the typical portrait of a terrorist driven by ideology, Mr. Stack was described as generally easygoing, a talented amateur musician with marital troubles and a maddening grudge against the tax authorities.”
As a result, said the Paper of Record, “officials ruled out any connection to terrorist groups or causes.” And “federal officials emphasized the same message, describing the case as a criminal inquiry.” Even when U.S. Muslim groups called for the incident to be declared “terrorism,” the FBI continued to insist it “was handling the case ‘as a criminal matter of an assault on a federal officer’ and that it was not being considered as an act of terror.”
By very stark contrast, consider the October 2014, shooting in Ottawa by a single individual, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, at the Canadian Parliament building. As soon as it was known that the shooter was a convert to Islam, the incident was instantly and universally declared to be “terrorism.” Less than 24 hours afterward, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared it a terror attack and even demanded new “counter-terrorism” powers in its name (which he has now obtained). To bolster the label, the government claimed Zehaf-Bibeau was on his way to Syria to fight with jihadists, and the media trumpeted this “fact.”
In his address to the nation the day after the shooting, Harper vowed to learn more about the “terrorist and any accomplices he may have had” and intoned: “This is a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world.” Twitter users around the world en masse used the hashtag of solidarity reserved (for some reason) only for cities attacked by a Muslim (but not cities attacked by their own governments): #OttawaStrong. In sum, that this was a “terror attack” was mandated conventional wisdom before anything was known other than the Muslim identity of the perpetrator.
As it turns out, other than the fact that the perpetrator was Muslim and was aiming his violence at Westerners, almost nothing about this attack had the classic hallmarks of “terrorism.” In the days and weeks that followed, it became clear that Zehaf-Bibeau suffered from serious mental illness and “seemed to have become mentally unstable.” He had a history of arrests for petty offenses and had received psychiatric treatment. His friends recall him expressing no real political views but instead claiming he was possessed by the devil.
The Canadian government was ultimately forced to admit that their prior media claim about him preparing to go to Syria was totally false, dismissing it as “a mistake.” Now that Canadians know the truth about him — rather than the mere fact that he’s Muslim and committed violence — a plurality no longer believe the “terrorist” label applies, but believe the attack was motivated by mental illness. The term “terrorist” got instantly applied by know-nothings for one reason: he was Muslim and had committed violence, and that, in the post-9/11 West, is more or less the only working definition of the term (in the rare cases when it is applied to non-Muslims these days, it’s typically applied to minorities engaged in acts that have no resemblance to what people usually think of when they hear the term).
That is the crucial backdrop for yesterday’s debate over whether the term “terrorism” applies to the heinous shooting by a white nationalist of nine African-Americans praying in a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Almost immediately, news reports indicated there was “no sign of terrorism” — by which they meant: it does not appear that the shooter is Muslim.
Yet other than the perpetrator’s non-Muslim identity, the Charleston attack from the start had the indicia of what is commonly understood to be “terrorism.” Specifically, the suspected shooter was clearly a vehement racist who told witnesses at the church that he was acting out of racial hatred and a desire to force African-Americans “to go.” His violence was the byproduct of and was intended to publicize and forward his warped political agenda, and was clearly designed to terrorize the community he hates.
That’s why so many African-American and Muslim commentators and activists insisted that the term “terrorist” be applied: because it looked, felt and smelled exactly like other acts that are instantly branded “terrorism” when the perpetrator is Muslim and the victims largely white. It was very hard — and still is — to escape the conclusion that the term “terrorism,” at least as it’s predominantly used in the post-9/11 West, is about the identity of those committing the violence and the identity of the targets. It manifestly has nothing to do with some neutral, objective assessment of the acts being labelled.
The point here is not, as some very confused commentators suggested, to seek an expansion of the term “terrorism” beyond its current application. As someone who has spent the last decade more or less exclusively devoted to documenting the abuses and manipulations that term enables, the last thing I want is an expansion of its application.
But what I also don’t want is for non-Muslims to rest in their privileged nest, satisfied that the term and its accompanying abuses is only for that marginalized group. And what I especially don’t want is to have this glaring, damaging mythology persist that the term “terrorism” is some sort of objectively discernible, consistently applied designation of a particularly hideous kind of violence. I’m eager to have the term recognized for what it is: a completely malleable, manipulated, vapid term of propaganda that has no consistent application whatsoever. Recognition of that reality is vital to draining the term of its potency.
The examples proving the utter malleability of the term “terrorism” are far too numerous to chronicle here. But over the past decade alone, it’s been used by Western political and media figures to condemn Muslims who used violence against an invading and occupying force in Afghanistan, against others who raised funds to help Iraqis fight against an invading and occupying military in their country, and for others who attack soldiers in an army that is fighting many wars. In other words, any violence by Muslims against the West is inherently “terrorism,” even if targeted only at soldiers at war and/or designed to resist invasion and occupation.
By stark contrast, no violence by the West against Muslims can possibly be “terrorism,” no matter how brutal, inhumane or indiscriminately civilian-killing. The U.S. can call its invasion of Baghdad “Shock and Awe” as a classic declaration of terrorism intent, or fly killer drones permanently over terrorized villages and cities, or engage in generation-lasting atrocities in Fallujah, or arm and fund Israeli and Saudi destruction of helpless civilian populations, and none of that, of course, can possibly be called “terrorism.” It just has the wrong perpetrators and the wrong victims.
Then there is all the game-playing the U.S. does with the term right out in the open. Nelson Mandela, now widely regarded as a moral hero, was officially a “terrorist” in U.S. eyes for decades (and the CIA thus helped its allied apartheid regime capture him). Iraq was on the terrorist list and then off it and then on it based on whatever designation best suited U.S. interests at the moment. The Iranian cult MEK was long decreed a “terror group” until they paid enough influential people in Washington to get off the list, coinciding with the U.S. desire to punish Tehran. The Reagan administration armed and funded classic terror groups in Latin America while demanding sanctions on the Soviets and Iranians for being state sponsors of terrorism. Whatever this is, it is not the work of a term that has a consistent, objective meaning.
Ample scholarship proves that the term “terrorism” is empty, definition-free and invariably manipulated. Harvard’s Lisa Stampnitzky has documented “the inability of researchers to establish a suitable definition of the concept of ‘terrorism’ itself.” The concept of “terrorism” is fundamentally plagued by ideological agendas and self-interested manipulation, as Professor Richard Jackson at the the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Zealand has explained: “most of what is accepted as well-founded ‘knowledge’ in terrorism studies is, in fact, highly debatable and unstable” and is “biased towards Western state priorities.” Remi Brulin is a scholar who specializes in the discourse of “terrorism” and has long documented that, from the start, it was a highly manipulated term of propaganda more than it was a term of fixed meaning — largely intended to justify violence by the West and Israel while delegitimizing the violence of its enemies.
What is most amazing about all of this is that “terrorism” — a term that is so easily and frequently manipulated and devoid of fixed meaning — has now become central to our political culture and legal framework, a staple of how we are taught to think about the world. It is constantly invoked, as though it is some sort of term of scientific precision, to justify an endless array of radical policies and powers. Everything from the attack on Iraq to torture to endless drone killings to mass surveillance and beyond are justified in its name.
In fact, it is, as I have often argued, a term that justifies everything yet means nothing. Perhaps the only way people will start to see that, or at least be bothered by it, is if it becomes clear that not just marginalized minority groups but also their own group can be swept up by its elasticity and meaninglessness. There is ample resistance to that, which is why repulsive violence committed by white non-Muslims such as yesterday’s church massacre is so rarely described by the term. But that’s all the more reason to insist on something resembling fair and consistent application.
© 2015, agentleman.
- 60Dylann Roof's Manifesto Discovered By Online Activists, Lays Out 'Race War' Motivation The website contains new photos and a lucid breakdown of Roof's ideology. By Adam Johnson Around 9 a.m. eastern Saturday morning,Twitter users Emma Quangel and Henry Krinkle simultaneously tweeted out for the first time what appears to be Dylann Roof's online manifesto…
- 48America's Willful Ignorance of Our History of Lynching Feeds Racial Hatred Instead of confronting the realities of our past head on, we are increasingly turning away from them. By Christen A. Smith, Melissa N. Stuckey National condemnation of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma has a cruel irony that…
- 46Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out About Race 'White fragility' is a defensive response to real conversations about race. By Sam Adler-Bell Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Last year, a white male Princeton undergraduate was asked by a classmate to “check his privilege.” Offended by this suggestion, he shot…
- 44Once White in America By Jane Lazarre For Adam and Khary Black bodies swingin’ in the summer breeze strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees It was 1969 and 1973, both times in early fall, when I first saw your small bodies, rose and tan, and fell in love for the second and third time with a black body,…
- 38Noam Chomsky: White America's Cruelty to Black People Far Worse Than South Africa White supremacy in America was even more extreme and savage than in South Africa, says the noted scholar. By Amy Goodman Noam Chomsky weighs in on the Black Lives Matter movement across the United States, calling it a response to the…
Dylann Roof Is Not Alone: Racism Persists Across Generations
If anyone thought that having a black president was going to make a difference in attitudes, think again.
By Chauncey DeVega
On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof allegedly massacred nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
This is one more example of black America being assaulted, laid under siege. A sense of racial battle fatigue has been reinforced. Black Americans are upset, like all decent people of conscience, that nine innocent people were murdered in what is a repeated pattern of mass shootings in the United States, where a fetish for guns and the gross power of the gun lobby overrides commonsense legislation designed to protect our communities from such violence.
Black America is angry that black life is cheap in America, and that the necropolis of black bodies killed by the United States’ police departments will now have additional victims placed in its tomb. Black and brown folks are routinely subjected to gross and unjust violence by America’s cops; black Americans are, in the post-civil rights era, not even safe in their churches from white racial terrorism.
Black America is disgusted by how media will, as it always does, depict Dylann Roof as a lone shooter with mental health issues, as they humanize him in order to put the murderous violence in some type of context. By comparison, the American corporate news media is not neutral in how it depicts white criminals as compared to blacks, Latinos, Asians, First Nations Peoples, Arabs, or Muslims.
White people who run amok and commit mass murder and violence are to be understood; they are rarely if ever treated as representatives of the white community or the rotten fruit of whiteness and white privilege that is poisoning the common good. Non-whites and the Other, when they commit foul deeds, are almost always depicted as a reflection of some type of pathology or problem exclusive to that group.
Alas, many in black America are resigned to the fact that for most of the United States’ history, violence against people of color has been a means of policing the boundaries of white democracy. Stealing resources, land and labor from black Americans has been the norm. The post-civil rights era and the age of Obama are outliers in American history.
America can elect a black man as president, but black Americans are routinely subjected to unjust, unwarranted and disproportionate violence in the United States. Unarmed and innocent black men and women can be killed on video by the police; the white racial paranoiac gaze somehow finds a way to make excuses and legitimize such violence. Black American culture is American culture; the United States remains racially hyper-segregated, with current research suggesting that 75 percent of white Americans have no friends of a different race. The United States has made clear progress in terms of justice along the colorline; Yet, in many ways and too many moments America of 2015 feels like the American apartheid regime of Jim and Jane Crow.
And of course, there is the absurdity of these last few weeks, with too much precious energy expended on the racial tragicomedy of Rachel Dolezal instead of real issues of public concern such as a racist criminal justice system, the race and wealth/income gap, and the persistent threat posed to the common good and public order by white right-wing domestic terrorists and hate groups.
And then there is the central figure in the Charleston church massacre. In a recent photo Dylann Roof is possessed of a vacant and disturbing stare. He told the black people he was slaughtering that they “were raping our women” and “taking over our country.” His father is rumored to have given him a gun for his 21st birthday. He had a criminal record. Dylann Roof also wore the emblems of hate on a jacket, the flags of the dead Herrenvolk white supremacist apartheid countries of South Africa and Rhodesia. Moreover, one cannot overlook the ugly intersection of symbolic (and real) violence as Dylann Roof committed mass murder and white racial terrorism in a black church in the state of South Carolina, which still flies the American swastika, a symbol of white supremacist violence against African Americans.
Dylann Roof was obsessed with the past. He wore flags of countries that no longer even represented the racist values he killed for. Roof channeled his own version of the white right and the Republican Party’s 2008 and 2012 racist slogan “We want our country back!” as he fired volleys of bullets into black people’s bodies, their flesh and personhood symbolic poisons in the white body politic, the “real America” worshiped by movement conservatives and that they clamor for in their nativist primitivism, birtherism, Fox News delusions of a “war on Christians,” conspiranoid delusions, and fears of “the browning of America” and “demographic suicide.”
Roof is 21 years old, born in the 1990s. His generational experience is supposed to be one of multiculturalism and diversity; necessary values for a corporate, neoliberal, globalized interconnected world. While there is much to celebrate in terms of the racial attitudes (as well as those about gay marriage and other “progressive” political causes) of America’s (white) young people, Roof’s racist murder spree hints at some deeper societal and political troubles.
In an era where there is “racism without racists,” it is very difficult to talk in a direct and clear way about systems of privilege, white supremacy and inequality in the United States. Young people (with notable exceptions among black and brown youth) born after the civil rights movement often do not even have the language to accurately describe or understand racism and white supremacy. They have been socialized into a bizarre world where to talk about race means one is “racist” and given a dishonest vocabulary that includes phrases such as “reverse discrimination,” which in turn gives life to white victimologist fantasies.
Research by the National Opinion Research Center highlights how young white people are almost as racist as their parents and grandparents. When it comes to explicit prejudice against blacks, non-Hispanic white millennials are not much different than whites belonging to Generation X (born 1965-1980) or Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). White millennials (using a definition of being born after 1980) express the least prejudice on 4 out of 5 measures in the survey, but only by a matter of 1 to 3 percentage points, not a meaningful difference. On work ethic, 31 percent of millennials rate blacks as lazier than whites, compared to 32 percent of Generation X whites and 35 percent of Baby Boomers.
Beyond generational comparisons, the poll suggests substantial minorities of white millennials hold racial prejudices against blacks. Over 3 in 10 white millennials believe blacks to be lazier or less hardworking than whites, and a similar number say lack of motivation is a reason they are less financially well off as a group. Just under a quarter believes blacks are less intelligent, while fewer express opposition to interracial marriage or living in a 50-percent black neighborhood. Holding these attitudes is not the same as making racist comments in public or even among close friends, but there’s clearly an audience for race-based judgment among the millennial generation.
The difference across generations is one where white racism has moved to the backstage,, i.e. private spaces, as well as the Internet, social media and other digital spaces. What researchers such as Jesse Daniels have described as cyber racism is now one of the primary means through which young people of color are marginalized and harassed in online spaces, and how many white youth are radicalized into white supremacist norms and values.
As I wrote in an earlier essay, some of the most important questions that need to be asked about Dylan Roof are: Who radicalized him? Did he learn his racist hatred in the home or online? From what wellspring did Roof’s violent racism spring forth?
There is no vocabulary for “white crime” in America. The idea of white right-wing domestic terrorists is verboten and unacceptable to the corporate news media. Because of those delusions and decisions, the American people are made less safe and not more. White supremacy is a demon in the body politic, culture and collective consciousness of the United States. The Charleston massacre is one more reminder that it has not been exorcised from the country’s soul.
© 2015, agentleman.
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Free-Market Boosters Just Don’t Get It: Why Do They Cling to Discredited Ideas?
Free-market theory may be at odds with reality, but it fits the needs of the rich and the powerful.
By Jeff Madrick
Despite the practical failures of free-market economics, too many mainstream economists have continued to embrace simplistic ideas about how the economy works. Such ideas are often rooted more in ideology than in evidence. These beliefs and the policies that follow led directly to the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession. They also centrally contributed to the nation’s subpar performance beginning in the late 1970s, and to our widening inequality. They continue to endanger America’s economic health.
The mainstream of the profession claims to qualify oversimplified free-market ideas. But when it comes to key policy choices, the premise that markets are efficient usually trumps a more complex analysis. Thus, most mainstream economists are usually for less regulation even when more is required. They argue for reducing deficits even when expanded public outlay is indicated. They favor letting markets set wages without many safeguards for workers, even when the result proves neither equitable nor efficient. The consensus in the profession is that widening inequality must be the result of deficiencies in the skills of the workforce, rather than the result of structural disadvantages inadequately addressed by government.
To be sure, there are dissenting economists. A few even win Nobel prizes. But in the academy, free-market ideas are still the dominant ones.
The neoclassical insights at the core of standard economic thinking were once exciting intellectual breakthroughs. These ideas could still be useful, if adapted to the times, with their limitations understood, and tempered by other kinds of economic thinking. But the profession has largely turned its key ideas into faux-scientific rules of thumb that in fact reflect (and reinforce) the conservative political attitudes of the time. Disguised in technical terms, these ideas have increasingly become mainstream justifications for a reduced role for government in the economy.
The central propositions of free-market economics boil down to these:
The Invisible Hand. The premise of Adam Smith’s invisible hand is that buyers and sellers, free of any government interference and merely following their self-interest, will arrive at an optimal distribution of goods and services at the “right” price, as if guided by an unseen hand.
Mainstream economists often say they don’t literally believe in the invisible hand. They concede that many assumptions must be made for free markets to produce optimal outcomes. These include transparent access to information and product prices, no undue power for oligopolistic corporations to set prices or control distribution, highly rational buyers and sellers pursuing their self-interest, etc.
But in fact, for the economic mainstream, the invisible hand is the default principle whether or not these assumptions are met. Why, for example, do so many economists oppose increases in the minimum wage? Over the past 10 to 15 years, empirical evidence began to show that an increase in the minimum wage in many communities did not result in more than a trivial number of lost jobs and may have actually resulted in more jobs, as demand for goods and services increased with higher purchasing power. In the real world, a hike in the minimum wage did not perform according to the invisible hand, yet economists assumed it would.
People Get What They Deserve. If labor markets worked according to Adam Smith’s principles, you could explain inequality not as a market failure, but as an efficient market mechanism. Some economists do worry about the social costs of unequal wages. But most economists believe a rise in inequality is a signal of the economy’s technological progress. The claim that unequal education and skills explain unequal wages is an invisible-hand argument. If people with more education are better qualified, the market will justifiably pay them better. This premise allows mainstream economists to ignore the role of power shifts in labor market institutions and the fact that educational opportunity itself increasingly reflects hardened class lines—who your parents were, principally—more than the acquisition of skills. In a nation of fewer opportunities, whom you know and what social skills you have become an entrée to a job, not learned skills. This is all beyond the grasp of the invisible hand.
Sure, investing in education matters. But recognizing that unequal opportunity begins at birth—or earlier—and devising compensatory policies is more important. Labor markets often compound these disadvantages; they don’t compensate for them.
Say’s Law and Austerity Economics. A close cousin of the invisible hand is Say’s Law, legacy of the 19th-century economist Jean-Baptiste Say. In shortened form, it argues that supply creates its own demand. In other words, if you make it, people will buy it. John Maynard Keynes devoted his classic General Theory to dismantling the idea. Say’s Law is the corollary to Smith’s premise that economies are self-adjusting as long as government steps out of the way.
Closely related to this proposition is another assumed accounting identity—the claim that savings equal investment. This is true only retrospectively, but too many still accept the proposition that more savings will generate more investment. With more savings, the price of investment—the interest rate—will fall; due to the invisible hand, business will invest more. Not so, said Keynes. If more savings come at the expense of more buying, investment will likely fall, especially in a weak economy.
Again, some economists will tell you they know better than to believe Say’s Law without qualification. There are diminishing returns to savings, for example, so the general gain from more saving peters out in the end. In an Adam Smith world of self-adjusting economies, people would reduce savings as the interest rate falls. But in a recession, worried people ignore these market signals. They often increase savings because they fear they will soon be out of a job. Individual behavior does not aggregate to general efficiency.
But read the literature, and few mainstream economists acknowledge that point. More savings are always good. This thinking is behind austerity economics. Government deficits reduce national savings, so these deficits must be minimized, even if that means tax hikes and reduced social spending during a prolonged slump. Democratic economists, it is largely forgotten, loudly called for reduced deficits in the 1980s under Republican Ronald Reagan. A Say’s Law–type of argument was used by President Clinton’s economists to channel budget surpluses to reduction of the national debt rather than, say, increases in public investment. Advisers to President Obama in 2010 called for deficit reduction long before the economy was on the mend. Of course, not all economists believe this; and there are times (during full employment, for example) when even Keynesians favor deficit reduction. Yet simplistic ideas about deficit-reduction as cure-all dominate the profession. They seep into the public consciousness and are not easy to reverse, especially when both Democratic and Republican economists and presidents have advocated them at one time or other. Keynes defeated Say’s Law only temporarily.
Financial Markets Are Efficient. One of the more extreme abuses of the invisible hand has been efficient markets theory. Economists like Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago claimed that markets for stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments were so rational that they accurately reflected the future value of the underlying company. In such a rational marketplace, there could be no lasting speculative bubbles. Moreover, you could tie a CEO’s compensation to the stock price and get better managerial results.
Rational financial markets require minimal regulation. But financial deregulation, which began in the 1970s and was reinforced by Reagan and Clinton, led directly to the subprime bubble and the 2008 collapse. Many economists now know better. Robert Shiller of Yale has been arguing for decades that bubbles exist. But do most economists appreciate the overwhelming evidence for bubbles? As the Dodd-Frank Act is slowly eviscerated, there is no groundswell within the mainstream profession calling for more effective re-regulation of finance.
Inflation Targeting and Price Stability Are Holy. Ben Bernanke, the former Federal Reserve chairman, was a leading theoretician in favor of targeting a low inflation rate as a primary government policy. Low and predictable inflation is said to remove uncertainties about the future, and thus allows the invisible hand to work its miracles. Market efficiency in turn will lead to prosperity.
Right up until the eve of the 2008 collapse, mainstream economists were convinced that inflation-targeting was the main justifiable intervention; the free market would do the rest. They even created their own self-congratulatory measure of success, called The Great Moderation. From the early 1980s to 2007, the U.S. gross domestic product fluctuated less than it had in prior decades. The stability was taken as proof that economists knew what they were doing at last.
But consider what else happened during these supposedly ideal years. Income inequality rose to the heights of the 1920s; debt soared as consumers tried to maintain living standards by borrowing; men’s wages fell dramatically. Median income for the bottom 90 percent declined to levels of the 1960s; public investment was tragically neglected; and there was one financial crisis after another: 1982, 1987, 1990, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2000, and finally 2008.
What’s more, growth was on average slower in this period than it was in earlier decades. If slower growth is the price paid for stability, what is the purpose of economics? If the conditions are created for a market crash, inflation targeting can’t be the summa of policy.
More Cross-Border Trade Is Always Good. In the 1990s, Western nations developed a set of policies known as the Washington Consensus which involved not merely free trade but also the free flow of capital around the world. It was a classic invisible-hand argument. One-size-fits-all policies should be adopted everywhere, no matter the developmental stage, educational attainment, or culture of a nation.
But the Washington Consensus badly failed in the 1997 East Asian financial crisis. In fact, there is a great deal of doubt that free-trade agreements have created the jobs that economists claim for them. Moreover, widespread assertions that free-market reforms led to enormous reductions in global poverty foundered on a hard fact: Most of the reduction occurred in China, and to a lesser degree in India—countries that did not adopt the Washington Consensus.
Yet simple free-trade agreements are still backed aggressively by many economists. These agreements often favor rich nations, or the elite in poor nations. We don’t even know what is in the new 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal, organized by the U.S. government and its corporate allies. The secrecy is apparently needed to reduce likely controversy. We do know that the intellectual property of big companies in rich nations is likely to be well protected; that “trade” norms are intended to be used to undermine domestic regulation; and there are doubts that workers in either poor or rich nations will be similarly protected.
We should learn a few non–invisible-hand lessons about trade. First, nations need space to develop their own industries and institutions. This might require subsidies and other supports that violate trade agreements. Second, free trade should be adopted gradually—no shock therapies, please. Third, we should admit that there are losers in free trade, and the social safety net should always be expanded accordingly.
Markets Invariably Work Better than Governments. Mainstream economics has no strong theory of government, except that it is a corrector of market failures (which are presumed to be rare). We might call this a negative theory. The Fed can intervene to save the economy from collapse. Or anti-trust authorities can make sure markets are competitive (which they don’t do much of these days). Governments are also supposed to fill the hole for social goods that markets don’t provide, like highways and schools and clean air and water. But in free-market economics, failures like these are hard to define; they make mainstream economists uncomfortable because they depart from core theory. The nation needs a positive theory of government, which recognizes how valuable social policies and public investment have been, and how much more of them we need.
Invisible-hand purists often love to oversimplify economic history, claiming, for example, that in the 19th century America lived by the invisible hand of laissez-faire. This is simply not true. Transportation, education, health care, wage protection—all these were the work of government. Today, fears of a big federal deficit block adequate government investment. But the nation won’t grow without more government. The dominance of bad mainstream thinking, which leads to resistance to public investment, has been especially damaging because it undermines the foundation of future prosperity.
What, then, is behind the strong hold these ideological principles have on mainstream economists? There are three main explanations: faux science, careerism, and political acceptability.
Faux Science. The acceptance of the invisible hand is taken as a close approximation of reality not only for a single market but also for the whole economy. This is known as general equilibrium. With that assumption taken almost as scientific fact, economists can build highly complex models. Some economists, even on the left, will say that the invisible hand is much like Galileo’s law of falling bodies, which states that heavy and light objects will fall at the same rate of acceleration to earth, air friction aside.
But the invisible hand, as I observe in my book, Seven Bad Ideas, is not in any way comparable to such verifiable physical phenomena. It is a compelling metaphor, but not a scientific one. The authority it provides economics is a false one because there are many immeasurable frictions that keep the invisible hand from producing the best outcome for all. We don’t even know how the magic price where the supply and demand curves allegedly meet is arrived at. Leon Walras, one of the first theorists who postulated that there was a general equilibrium, argued the price was found through an imaginary auction process, but there is no serious proof that a general equilibrium exists.
From these assumptions, however, it logically follows that an economy is almost always self-adjusting—and the politically conservative assumption that government interference is almost always bad becomes axiomatic. The extreme form is found in rational expectations theory, which argues government stimulus is almost always unnecessary or damaging. On these assumptions complex mathematical models can be built, which divert attention from the real world of work, investment, and wages, and allow economists a studied ignorance of economic history and real-world phenomena. As Robert Lucas, the father of rational expectations theory, put it: “Economic theory is mathematical analysis. Everything else is just pictures and talk.” The faux-scientific principles make a clean theory out of a dirty world.
Careerism. Another reason mainstream economics retains its magnetic hold is that it provides a safe basis for career advancement in academic institutions. Mathematical methodologies can be evaluated. These are often complex and sometimes brilliant, but they are based on foundations that may not relate to the real world. Contradictions in outcomes of economic research are ignored, because the evaluation is of methods, not outcomes. This is hardly science.
For example, Alberto Alesina of Harvard and his co-authors long argued that austerity economics could generate economic growth, even in a weakening economy. IMF economists, led by Olivier Blanchard, more recently showed persuasively that this was not true. But Alesina’s career continues to thrive. As Keynes famously wrote, it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally. As noted earlier, Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago remains skeptical of speculative bubbles because markets are too rational. His prestige remains undiminished. Robert Shiller argues that there clearly are such irrational bubbles. They simultaneously won the Nobel Prize in 2013. Can this be science?
The lack of a model-building methodology resulted in the reputational suppression of Hyman Minsky, now among the most cited of economists for his work predicting the inevitability of speculative bubbles and the damage they can do. He was more historian and psychologist than technical economist, but now mainstream economists are paying attention. One wonders for how long. Similarly, John Kenneth Galbraith’s championing of public investment over tax cuts was neglected because of his lack of modern methodologies. On the other hand, Joseph Schumpeter, who was also an old-fashioned narrative economist, is still heralded because he was basically a conservative.
Political Reward. Finally, the movement toward simplified ideological economics has had great appeal to increasingly conservative policymakers, think tanks, and business organizations. By its very nature, a firm belief in the invisible hand means a faith in laissez-faire policies: reduced taxes and regulation. The less government, the better. Markets, as noted, will reach the right price on their own. If a stock is priced too high, a smart market participant will sell it. It just happens that these principles provide scientific grounding for the policies that business elites prefer. No wonder mainstream economists are showered with support, prestige, and well-lubricated career trajectories.
The turn in the nation’s attitudes against government began with the high inflation of the 1970s, which many economists, led by Milton Friedman, pinned on government deficits. Ronald Reagan sealed the political argument in a debate with Jimmy Carter when he said: “We don’t have inflation because the people are living too well. We have inflation because the government is living too well.”
Arguments for free-market solutions, rather than social spending, followed as night follows day. Social programs were afterwards mostly tied to tax incentives, like the earned income tax credit, not to cash outlays. Industrial policies, where government invested in technologies and new business, were scoffed at. Invisible-hand thinking fit this new political environment perfectly. In an interview in 2001, Larry Summers, then Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary and Obama’s future chief economic adviser, told PBS, “There is something about this epoch in history that really puts an emphasis on incentives, on decentralization, on allowing small economic energy to bubble up.”
To win the ears of government officials and the public, economists not coincidentally fit their theories to the new elite attitudes in America. Believing that markets solved social problems and that expensive social programs did not was music to the ears of business and right-wing politicians. Research could be produced that big government and high taxes diminished economic growth. The research was flawed, but no matter.
The dominating policy ideas of the invisible hand have failed. Combined with deregulation, the Great Moderation and inflation-targeting created a bubble economy. Neglect of public investment in infrastructure, clean energy, and education, a consequence of Say’s Law–type thinking, has undermined the nation’s foundation. All these ideas were compatible with the prevailing conservative economic ideology of the time, and earned economists the attention of Washington and the media, but they failed America. The media in particular fell hard for the putative scientific nature of economics and hardly picked up on the ideological foundation of the economic advice.
Science is universally true. The premise of economics as science was a great cover for conservative ideology. But one-size-fits-all economics, which best describes economic advice over the past 30 years, is a practical failure. Anti-government economics failed, pure and simple.
Only a little seems to be changing. Targeting absurdly low inflation rates is still alive. One wonders whether regulation of finance will ever be adequate. The pressure for globalization is over-simplified, where one-size-fits-all policies are particularly damaging. We need economists who revise their theories based on evidence, but there is little room for reformers—few prestigious universities make space for heterodox thinking.
It is hard to be optimistic about economics. Being an economist has become a career, though not an intellectual profession. Money talks loudly in their academic hallways, and a small-government philosophy still rules the nation, despite the calamities that began in 2008.
© 2015, agentleman.