Posted tagged ‘American Exceptionalism’

Yup. Holder Goes There. (About Damn Time Too)

February 11, 2014

Here’s Eric Holder on the systematic elimination of political rights from millions of Americans:

“It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values.” [Via TPM]

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_037

And just who might be disproportionately represented among those barred from giving their consent to their governing?

African-Americans represent more than a third of the estimated 5.8 million people who are prohibited from voting, according to the Sentencing Project, a research group that favors more liberal sentencing policies. And in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, more than one in five African-Americans has lost the right to vote. [link in the original]

And the last question in this mockery of a catechism, what lies behind the desperate push to of keep ex-cons from resuming full participation in our polity? The question answers itself:

Studies show that felons who have been denied the right to vote are far more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. In 2002, scholars at the University of Minnesota and Northwestern University concluded that the 2000 presidential election “would almost certainly have been reversed” had felons been allowed to vote. [link in the original]

In Florida, the state that tipped that election, 10 percent of the population is ineligible to vote because of the ban on felons at the polls, Mr. Holder said.

Denying those who’ve completed the sentences the law requires for their acts the right to vote is nothing new.  It’s just the latest in a guerrilla campaign running more than a century now, one aimed at reversing the results of the shooting war that only nominally ended in 1865.  Bad enough that African Americans could no longer be bought and sold, but heaven forfend that they actually exercise the essential rights of any citizen.  Or, as Holder put it in terms suited to the meanest understanding:

“Although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African-Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable” he said….

The sad truth is that Holder and the Department of Justice can’t do much here.  States retain the right to set election law, and, as the Times noted,

The question of how people vote is contentious, particularly since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act last year. That decision allowed states to pass voting laws that would otherwise have needed federal approval.

But still, good on him for getting this out there, and in the terms he used.  Racism isn’t a residue of times gone by, eroding with each passing year.  It’s not a state of mind, something that is or isn’t in someone’s heart.  It inheres in the actual decisions made, consequences sought and embraced, that result in harm done to specific individuals and groups.  It lies at the heart of the choices being made right now, overwhelming by one political party, the GOP, as it attempts to return to the pinnacle of power.

Holder’s making that clear in surprisingly  (to me) uncompromising language.  Good.  This is how both Overton Windows and, over waaaaay too much time, actual policy shifts.

Image: Vincent van Gogh, Prisoners Exercising, 1890. (Yeah. I’ve used this one before. You gotta problem with that?)

Tyranny of the Gun/Night Thoughts Of A Parent On Tucking In His Child

December 14, 2012

What can I say?

How to express the sorrow I feel for the families and friends in mourning after the Newtown school murders?

As many of you know, I have a young son, twelve now.  Every day I walk him to his public school in a suburb of Boston.  As I write this paragraph, I’m just about to head home to take him to his martial arts club — the kind of ordinary thing parents do.  The notion that I could have hugged him at the school door at 8 a.m. and then at lunch received that unspeakable phone call?

I have no words.

Fra_Angelico_-_Massacre_of_the_Innocents_-_WGA00610

I’ve spent the afternoon trying to think of something other than the raw misery of the day.  The way my mind works, though, I couldn’t stop coming back to the same old question:  what to do about the damn guns.  I started by reading Fallows on this near-weekly exercise in American exceptionalism, and then I came across this essential Ezra Klein  piece, “Nine facts about guns and mass shootings.” 

The whole post is worth your attention, but here’s what is to my mind the money quote:

7. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.

Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive:

“The map overlays the map of firearm deaths above with gun control restrictions by state,” explains Florida. “It highlights states which have one of three gun control restrictions in place – assault weapons’ bans, trigger locks, or safe storage requirements. Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation. Though the sample sizes are small, we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48).”

And yes, just in case there are any gotcha gun nuts reading this:  I’m aware that Connecticut with its relatively strong gun laws was the site of today’s tragedy.  That’s (part of) the problem — the most rigorous gun laws in this country are a shadow of what they are in other, less murder-stricken lands, and the state-by-state patchwork of laws combined with the interstate highway system means that even the strongest local protections are leaky as hell.

So, as I say, check out all that Ezra has to offer on all this; this is one of his good ones.

The only other thing I want to say right now is that I think it’s important to politicize the hell out of this event…but towards particular policy goals.
I’m not really ready to write coherently anything more than to note that it is intolerable — immoral, in my view — to simply accept as the cost of being American a gun culture that results in both the murder of children and a rate of death by gun that took about 30,000 lives in 2011, roughly two-thirds of them suicides. (PDF).  We’ve got to get to a better circumstance — and if that means taking out NRA candidates state assembly rep by rep — that’s a challenge we can talk through over the next little while

But for now…well I’ve been pecking at this between kinder-transport duty and dinner and dishes, and I’ve just come downstairs again from a longer-than-usual bedtime cuddle.

My son and I talked a bit about the shootings, and he took the news on board without really letting me know what he thinks about it.   He does that — he guards his counsel until he’s decided what his parents need to know.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew why I squeezed him tonight harder than usual.

It sounds hollow as hell to say it, but fuck it — here goes:

Stay safe, everyone, and hold close those you love.

Image:  Fra Angelico, The Massacre of the  Innocentsbetween 1451 and 1452.

For rage and sorrow…

September 16, 2011

…You might want to check out Susan from 29’s diary over at GOS, in which she writes on the moral horror that was a Republican Presidential debate in which the audience cheered the death of an uninsured man — Susan’s brother, Steve Patience.

I won’t say that the moment — or that audience — defines America.

But America is a place where poor — and not so badly off, in fact — suffer and die with what a medical student I once knew termed “financial arrest” within a badly broken medical system.

It’s a place where we know we can do better, and are in fact beginning to do so — not enough, but it’s a start — as long as the health care bill survives.

At the same time, America is indeed the place in which the “I’ve got mine, Jack” crowd that gets loud at the news of Steve Patience’s death could define who we all are for decades to come.

So when you think of all the ways Obama has betrayed you  this week, or how the Democratic congressman or senator representing you or the next door district or state just hasn’t gotten on top of what this country needs, or really, how both major parties are tied in way too tightly with the monied interests — there’s reality to be found there.

As a practical matter, for the next thirteen months, whatever truth there is to any of our grievances with our Democratic leaders doesn’t matter.  Not one damn bit.  (I.e. – what Tim F. says.)

Bonus video:  Susan of 29 in her own words, courtesy of Move On:

<div align=”center”></div>

Deutschland Uber…if not Alles, Then Us

June 7, 2011

David Leonhardt is sounding mighty shrill these days:

After performing worse than the American economy for years, the Germany economy has grown faster since the middle of last decade. (It did better than our economy before the crisis and has endured the crisis about equally). Just as important, most Germans have fared much better than most Americans, because the bounty of their growth has not been concentrated among a small slice of the affluent…

…Unlike what happened here, German laws and regulators have also prevented the decimation of their labor unions. The clout of German unions, at individual companies and in the political system, is one reason the middle class there has fared decently in recent decades. In fact, middle-class pay has risen at roughly the same rate as top incomes.

The top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent of all income, virtually unchanged relative to 1970, according to recent estimates. In the United States, the top 1 percent makes more than 20 percent of all income, up from 9 percent in 1970. That’s right: only 40 years ago, Germany was more unequal than this country.

Read the whole piece. Leonhardt points to German benefit reforms that he thinks we should pay attention to, and to the role of government in creating the conditions for economic and social success.

How about the United States?  Well, Leonhardt tries to paint a optimistic picture at the end of his column, but this penultimate thought kind of dashes any foolish hopes:

And us? Well, lobbyists for the mortgage bankers and the N.A.A.C.P. have recently started pushing for less stringent standards for down payments. Wall Street is trying to water down other financial regulation, too.

Some Democrats say Social Security and Medicare must remain unchanged. Most Republicans refuse to consider returning tax rates even to their 1990s levels. Republican leaders also want to make deep cuts in the sort of antipoverty programs that have helped Germany withstand the recession even in the absence of big new stimulus legislation.

Some days, it seems like the only thing to do is stock up on canned goods.  But I’ve got a kid, and I just can’t quite bring myself to abandon all hope. This bit of Leonhardt’s message does stick:  if the Germans can do it, we can’t be wholly without a chance.

Right?

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Sampling Officials, 1662.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,133 other followers