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Sowell on What Makes Poor Folks Poor – Liberal Racism and Inferior Culture

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Thomas Sowell is a conservative “scholar” at the Hoover Institute and author of a new book, Intellectuals and Race. I haven’t read his book yet, but I did watch Sowell’s interview with Peter Robinson of the Wall Street Journal. I found Thomas Sowell’s interview disturbing in that it seems to boil down to an old conservative argument that the poor have no one to blame but themselves and the liberals who made them helpless. You can watch his WSJ interview on You Tube.

ThosasSowell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6ImP-gJvas

Several points stand out in Sowell’s arguments on the negative impact that ” liberal/progressive” intellectuals have had on our attitudes towards race vs. racism. First, he conflates liberalism with progressivism. These are two separate dynamics in their scholarly meaning. The opposite of progressive is conservative, but the opposite of liberal, in its classical meaning, is totalitarian. Within the actual social context of these two dynamics it is entirely possible to hold both liberal and conservative policy positions or progressive and totalitarian positions. For example, it would not have seemed inconsistent during the Progressive Era, in the early twentieth-century, to be for union rights but opposed to woman’s suffrage, Progressives then were not as liberal as most progressives are today. By treating these terms interchangeably, in their current colloquial sense, he maligns the liberal movement that seeks to empower today’s poor or marginalized people and make America more inclusive.

Secondly, he seems to conflate race with culture. These are also separate elements of sociology. The former is a largely subjective classification system based on superficial physical attributes associated with continent of origin. The latter is a complex set of rituals, customs, values, norms and shared history by loosely associated clans or social groups. There are as many different cultures within each race as there are among the races, even just within North America. Generalizations based on race as a culture are inherently flawed.

Thirdly, when distinguishing this amalgam of race based culture from “racism” he incorrectly identifies racism as primarily perceptual in nature. His concept of racism doesn’t incorporate the many physical racist acts that socially marginalized people endure every day. These foundational fallacies allow Sowell to make his larger points, the same ones often raised by other conservative thinkers. The first is that there are, and have always been, better and more adaptable cultures in the world. This is an accurate statement but he leaves it there, as if it were an immutable law. He offers no hint as to why this is so. He fails to mention our human capacity to alter social institutions in ways that improve the outcomes of individuals from variant cultures.

The other major point he raises is that marginalized people allow themselves to be defined by the racist perceptions against them by others. The “others”, he argues in his example, are liberal intellectuals, especially during the “progressive era”, who blamed the economic plight of African-Americans (among other groups) on broad social factors and government policies, rather than on the their mal-adaptive culture. This shift in the causal roots of their less successful living standards, according to Sowell, absolves the marginalized from responsibility for their own self-improvement and causes them to see themselves as helpless victims of a society organized against them.

The explicit argument here is that every person has within themselves the power to rise above all obstacles and prejudices set against them. It is the familiar argument of taking personal responsibility as the only condition for economic or personal success. The proof offered (as is so often the case) is the personal experiences of the writer and anecdotal examples of other success stories. The obvious logical fallacy is that these exceptions prove that everyone else can do what these few have done. Unfavorable social conditions are only controlling factors if individuals allow it to be so. The failing is theirs. It is their own fault. It is a weakness in their character or collective culture.

The empirical truth is that for the vast majority of those who are subjected to social or institutional discrimination, their chances for success in life are seriously harmed. All the physical racist acts they suffer cause immeasurable personal damage and have an accumulating effect on them as individuals. That there are rare exceptions who become successful doesn’t prove that the majority of marginalized people are flawed individuals. In fact, it proves the opposite, that the infrequency of exceptions is a measure of the extent of the damage discrimination causes.

If equal opportunity can’t produce equal personal outcomes under the best of circumstances, as most would agree, then why would unequal opportunity offer the same chances of success? And if policy  can benefit one group of individuals (as is certainly true), why is it an individual’s personal failing when policy choices disadvanges then. It makes no sense.

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The Great Abortion Divide

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The abortion debate is mixed up and convoluted to the point that it seems it can’t be sorted out, but let’s try. Let’s step back from the edge and consider how it began.

For the anti-abortion movement it has always been a moral issue. For the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade was a constitutional question about the limits of government and the privacy rights of women. The question before the court was essentially this: Does government have a right to impose a Christian moral value on individual citizens?

Ignore that the “Christian moral value” involved is a belief that life is sacred from its inception and the framework of the question itself is one most conservatives would still accept today. Roe v. Wade was about limiting big government. In this narrow sense, the decision didn’t make abortion legal so much as placing it beyond the reach of politicians to govern.

The initial recourse for those who passionately believed that abortion is a sin was to build a consensus for their views across all political and religious lines while condemning the practice in their churches. This was the initial focus of anti-abortion activists. It required acceptance of the ruling while working to alter America’s social norms. This did not remain the focus of the anti-abortion activists for long.

It became apparent that changing social norms is a long, uphill battle. A majority of Americans, including majority of Christians, continued to see Roe v. Wade as a question of personal liberty. The result was a growing moral imperative for Christian activists that became too powerful to wait for social change. Accepting that the abortion decisions could be a “legally protected” private choices was too much to bear, so they took a different next step . They began to run for public office. They decided to take matters into their own hands and directly influence the law.

This was an unprecedented change in American Politics. It was the beginning of the Christian Conservative movement. It required believers to suspend the separation between church and state. The leap to impose a Christian moral law on a recalcitrant society required developing an ideological view of America as a Christian nation. Secular government became the enemy.

This change of strategy was a shock to pro-choice activists and to a majority of citizens alike. It hastened formation of both the pro-choice and pro-life movements and dramatically escalated the polarization of American politics. Establishment Republicans quickly welcomed the Christian Conservative movement and nurtured their development. The Republican party elite somewhat cynically added conservative Christians to their otherwise dwindling political base and adopted family values as wedge issues to win elections. This gave the GOP a new life and a new focus to stay vital. At the same time, the focus of the anti-abortion argument moved from refuting a woman’s right to choose to protecting the rights of the unborn fetus. In effect this extended the inclusiveness and full protections of our constitution from adults to the unborn. This is not a concept considered by our founding fathers who never even attempted to define children’s rights.

Fast forward to today and we see a backlash in the Republican party between social conservatives and the GOP establishment who failed to deliver on all the cynical promise made to Christian conservatives in exchange for their votes. Today there is a large contingent of uncompromising Christian right conservatives in Congress who believe their positions on policies are the will of God. A recent Public Policy Polling survey revealed that 44% of the Republicans now believe we should make Christianity the official religion of the United States.

So we find ourselves hopelessly deadlocked with a large portion of the population believing abortion is murder in both a religious and legal sense and about half the country still believing it is an issue of personal morality to which government has no business enforcing a different ideology. Holding that the U.S. Constitution confers on a fertilized egg the right to be born may be a legal stretch, but others hold that at some point the fetus becomes viable and constitutional protections may then apply. The remainder of the population still sees a live birth as the point where constitutional protections begin. In effect, we are having two separates debates on the subject. What the constitution intended is one debate and what is morally unacceptable for humanity is the other.

The great abortion divide has polarized us like no other issue since slavery. As was true then, the abortion divide has severely damaged our institutions and our ability to self-govern. It has impacted all aspects of our politics and our society. Even our fidelity to the Union and our commitment to majority rule are being tested. How we eventually resolve the abortion issue may be over the horizon right now, but an effort to reconnect with the true nature of our differences would be a good start. It doesn’t help to think of anti-abortion activists as terrorists or of pro-choice activists as murderers. We have to stop talking past each other to achieve a new national consensus on the limits of government and the role of religion in public life. Most certainly that will involve renewed patience and a willingness to accept some degree of compromise on all sides. The alternative to a solution is unthinkable.

Big Media the Big Loser in Democratic Debate

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

According to a headline at Alternet.com:

“Bernie Won All the Focus Groups & Online Polls, So Why Is the Media Saying Hillary Won the Debate?

Good Question! Let’s first see some of the more objective measures on how well Bernie Sanders did with ordinary people during the debate:

  • In the Salon live debate poll Bernie won by 72% to Hillary’s 12%
  • The Time Magazine poll had Bernie winning by 56% with Jim Webb coming in second at 31%. Hillary came in at 11% in their poll.
  • A US News and World Report live blog poll conducted on Facebook had Bernie winning the debate by 85% to Hillary’s 12%
  • A majority of CNN’s own focus group felt Bernie Sanders won the debate.
  • On Fox News, the Frank Luntz focus group in Florida unanimously felt Bernie won the debate. Half the group of 28 Democrats supported Hillary at the start of the debate and less than half of those supporters continued to support her after the debate.
  • On Facebook, Bernie Sanders was mentioned 107,000 times to Hillary’s 131,000 mentions
  • On Twitter Bernie was mentioned 407,000 times, the most of any candidate. His name was mentioned in 12,000 tweets per minute compared to Hillary’s 8,300 tweets per minute.
  • A content analysis of tweets for Bernie and Hillary showed that 69% of his tweets were positive compared to 56% positive for Hillary.
  • During the debate people Googled Bernie Sanders twice as often as Hillary Clinton.
  • On Facebook, Bernie attracted 24,000 new followers to Hillary’s 7,700 new followers.
  • On Twitter Bernie attracted 42,730 new followers to Hillary’s 25,000 new followers.

So what were the corporate media newspaper headlines the day after the debate?

The New York Times: “Hillary Clinton Turns Up Heat on Bernie Sanders in a Sharp Debate”

The Washington Post: “Hillary Clinton won the debate”

The Boston Globe: “Hillary Clinton wins, with an assist from Bernie Sanders

The Business Insider: “Everyone’s declaring Hillary Clinton the big winner of the debate

The New Yorker: “Hillary Clinton Wins Big in Vegas”

The Guardian: “Hillary Clinton won the Democratic debate, simply by saying ‘no'”

The New Republic: “Hillary Clinton Nailed It in the Democratic Debate”

So what is going on here?

I listened to Chris Matthews on MSNBC extolling the way Hillary dominated the debate during his show that immediately followed it. The next day, on his own show, he expressed real doubt about who won. He said that on the night of the debate he was listening to what the producers were saying in his ear. Wow!

I believe that Hillary Clinton was pitch perfect in the debate. She gave the best performance of her life. This was very reassuring to her big donors and to those who are already among her ardent supporters. But despite her outstanding performance it is clear that she didn’t win the debate. Bernie Sanders performance was also very good. The match up of their good debate styles, however, only served to amplify Senator Sanders’ ideas, and his passion clearly caught the public’s attention. For the “establishment media” this was an incongruent moment. It isn’t what they expected, and it is now very clear it isn’t what they wanted either. I believe that the corporate (establishment) media has finally tipped its hand:

  • It is not an independent and neutral party in American politics.
  • It serves the for profit interests of its owners and its advertizing clients.
  • It takes an active hand in shaping public opinion and framing our public debates.
  • It is responsible for the rise in political polarization and the sharp divisions we have experienced in recent decades.
  • It is responsible for the unhinging of the Republican Party and the entertaining, carnival like atmosphere that characterizes it today.

The Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision was a windfall for the main stream media. All that money pouring into political PAC’s from anonymous wealthy donors ends up in the media’s pocket. The have every incentive to grab as much of it as they can and very little incentive to remain faithful to their journalistic mission.

I talked about how Bernie Sanders represents a double threat to the establishment media and establishment politics in a recent post. In an article entitled “Covering Politics For Profit Has Warped Our Democracy” I said:

“Many of the issues Sanders holds, such as the need to break up big banks and tax billionaires to pay for free college tuition, hurt the financial interests of the mainstream media’s biggest corporate clients. This creates a conflict of interest for the corporate owned media. Covering the Sanders campaign on his terms forces them to report on issues that don’t serve the financial interests of their advertisers.

The Sanders campaign also poses another challenge to the corporate media’s business model. Much of the organizational work by his campaign is organized from the bottom up. It makes extensive and creative use of free or low cost social media platforms. This means the Sanders campaign is spending less money on media buys than any other candidate except for Donald Trump, who is getting his media attention for free.  [snip]

Senator Sanders, on the other hand, attracts even more actual voter attention than Trump without the help of the mainstream media. Major news outlets are just starting to cover the Sanders campaign as news events in order to preserve their legitimacy as news organizations.”

And then, when it was clear to viewers that Bernie Sanders has something important to say that doesn’t fit the establishments narrative, main stream media outlets simply pivot and declare their preferred candidate the winner.

Is Obamacare Helping Anyone Stay Healthy?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Let’s say you really want to know if Obamacare has had a positive effects on keeping people healthy. Partisan politics makes it difficult to get any concrete or objective answers to this or any questions regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA). So how would you go about finding the answer?

You could find out by designing your own study. You might start by looking at diseases that are silent killers because these have permanently damaging effects long before there are physical symptoms.

Diabetes is just such a disease. According to medical sources, as many as one person in four have diabetes and don’t know it. The longer it goes undetected the more it damages your internal organs, yet a simple blood test and doctors visit is all it takes to uncover and control this disease.

Now imagine that you have results of 400,000 diabetes blood tests nationwide from which you could pull out all the newly diagnosed cases. First you sort the new case in 2013, before any Medicaid expansion, from the 2014 cases after the expansion. Next you sort the new diabetes cases from each period by the 26 states that expanded Medicaid from the 24 states that refused. A concrete measure of an improved healthcare outcome would be finding that there was an increased rate of diabetes detection in the expansion states over the non-expansion states.

Just such a study was done and published this week (March 21, 2015) by Qwest Diagnostics, a national medical laboratory. What their analysis discovered was a 23% increase of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes in the states that expanded Medicaid in 2014. There was only a 0.4% increase in new diabetes cases from states that did not expand Medicaid. What’s more, they were able to see a trend towards earlier detection of diabetes in the expansion states. Earlier detection means fewer heart attacks, strokes, kidney transplants, amputations, blindness and premature deaths. This, in turn, means a healthier population and lower health care costs over time.

Thousands of people will now lead healthier lives and live to their full potent in those 26 states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA. The number of people who could have been covered by the expansion roughly equals the number who got coverage in 2014. This means an almost equal number of people will likely experience needlessly declining health due to undiagnosed diabetes. The states that don’t expand Medicaid will have higher healthcare costs in the future resulting from a less healthy population.

The news isn’t all bleak for the poor or elderly in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. A report by the Avalere Health organization recently found that there are 550,000 new enrollees in standard Medicaid in 15 states that have not expanded Medicaid. They attribute this rise in enrollment to the “woodwork effect,” caused by increased public awareness and publicity surrounding Obamacare. These are individuals who were eligible for standard Medicaid but hadn’t applied. It is safe to presume that some of them will benefit from the early detection of diabetes.

From this one Quest diagnostics study alone the answer is clear. The Affordable Care Act is having a positive effect on the health and well-being of citizens in those states that expanded Medicaid. There are other silent killers that can easily be detected early while treatments and cures are still possible, such as high blood pressure and many types of cancer. If earlier detection of these diseases are also resulting from Medicaid expansion, this would be overwhelming evidence that the ACA is improving health outcomes.

Expanding Medicaid doesn’t cost the states any additional revenue for the first few years. After that there is significant reimbursements from the Federal Government. Refusing Medicaid expansion actually costs states millions of dollars in uncompensated care right now. Doing this on ideological grounds is not a principled position, not when it clearly results in a less healthy population and increased medical expenses for the foreseeable future.

I close with a quote from the actual Quest Diagnostics study findings:

Actual Study Findings:

“We identified 215,398 and 218,890 patients who met our definition of newly diagnosed diabetes within the first 6 months of 2013 (control period) and 2014 (study period), respectively (a 1.6% increase). We identified 26,237 Medicaid enrolled patients with new diabetes in the control period vs. 29,673 in the study period: an increase of 13%. The number of Medicaid-enrolled patients with newly identified diabetes increased by 23% (14,625 vs. 18,020 patients) in the 26 states (and District of Columbia) that expanded Medicaid compared with an increase of 0.4% (11,612 vs. 11,653 patients) in the 24 states that did not expand Medicaid during this period. Similar differences were observed in younger and older adults and for both men and women.”

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Quest Diagnostics Diabetes Study: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2015/03/19/dc14-2334.full.pdf+html

Avalere Health Report: http://avalere.com/expertise/managed-care/insights/avalere-analysis-medicaid-non-expansion-states-experience-up-to-10-enrollme

Republicans Having a Selma Moment

by Brian Lynch, MSW

It’s been fifty years since marchers seeking voting rights were beaten on the Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, yet Republican leaders still can’t join hands with African Americans on that bridge without offending bigots in their base. Fifty year later and a show of unity on that bridge is still the wrong message coming from the Republican Party? Really?

Edmund Pettus Bridge Pic

This begs further questions. Just how much of Republican politics is driven by the desire to preserve white privilege? What percentage of their base feel hostile towards inclusion and justice for all? And who can be surprised after this missed opportunity to learn that 90% of African Americans vote for Democrats, or that Latinos are increasingly turning to the Democratic Party?

Media pressure was put on the Republicans when it was learned that no leaders were planned to go to Selma. At the last minute House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced he will to join in the 50th anniversary events. McCarthy is a close friend of Democratic Congressman John Lewis who was beaten on that bridge 50 years ago. The cynical view is that McCarthy is the best Republican representative since his attendance can be forgiven by the bigots on the grounds that he is Lewis’ personal friend. This isn’t to impugn McCarthy’s motives for attending, which I’m sure are genuine.

Political spinners can say whatever they want, but no rational citizen who wants our society to advance can accept any more excuses from those who hold us back. The Republican Party has clearly chosen the wrong side of history. This time it is Republicans who are beating themselves on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

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Historical foot note: The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named for Edmund Winston Pettus, a former Confederate brigadier generalU.S. Senator from Alabama and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan.

The Plot to Kill Public Employee Pensions

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

In war and politics, if you pick your battlefield you win. The current pension fight in New Jersey is a classic example. Nearly everyone in the state sees it as a battle between a broken pension system and cash strapped citizens, but this is all just a setup.

Governor Chris Christie cut $1.5 billion in pension payments from the latest budget proposal while also cutting modest tax increases on the rich to pay for it.  When the unions squealed, he offered the public a false choice between tax hikes on the middle class or cuts to popular and essential programs.  His framing of the problem this way pits average citizens against civil servants and their unions.  This is the battlefield of choice for national conservatives.

This fight could have been between government solvency and any other public obligation of the state, but it’s not.  It’s against public employee unions because killing public sector unions and fix pension systems has been a conservative priority for decades.  This is a grand plan playing out in many other states.  Starving public pensions was always a choice, not a necessity.  If all those missed pension payments had been made the system would be awash in cash today given the huge growth in the investment markets over the past twenty years.

But Gov. Christie almost blew this plan to destroy public pensions in New Jersey when he enacted pension reforms that might actually fix the system.  His reform plan could still fix it if implemented, but not without seriously upsetting his potential conservative backers.

In order to keep his presidential hopes alive Governor Christie had no choice but to sabotaged his own reforms and further degrade the state pension system by not paying what he promised.  A state judge has seen through his shallow plan and ordered him to restore the cuts, and he has appealed. I hope the New Jersey Supreme Court will uphold the lower court’s decision.

I hope everyone else in New Jersey sees though his sham and demand that that he stick to the pension reform plan he has been boasting about on his trips out of state.  And if the reader here happens to live in a conservative state with public pension woes, take a lesson from New Jersey.  Take a step back and look around to see in whose battlefield you are standing.

Why Democrats Keep Losing!

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

May I rant? It helps me to think out loud. Maybe you will find it helpful too. (or just ignore this if you like.)

voting

 

 

Democrats are loosing in state after state and in federal elections because they are acting too white and wealthy for their base, the REAL latent base of the party. And this base is NOT its liberal donors. Dem donors are nice folks, but they can’t compete with the GOP donor machines. (Nor should they try)

According to OpenSecrets.org, from the prior election, two-thirds of corporate donations go to the GOP and one-third to Dem’s. That’s more than enough money to distract Democratic candidates.  But that’s not the whole story.

We already have a party of wealthy white guys, so we don’t need another party of wealthy (relative term here, not pejorative) white gals or guys to oppose them. As badly as the GOP is exploiting and marginalizing woman (treating them like subordinates), woman’s issues are not winning over woman like it should, not even female Democrats. But that’s not the whole story either.

We need a Democratic party that gets intimately in touch with the needs of the ordinary people who haven’t been voting lately, people who, from their distal vantage, can’t tell the two parties apart. Their issues are literally bread and butter, not theoretical or ideological economics. They live in a deflationary universe where wages are flat and a dollar keeps shrinking. Their daily sweat has been sanitized and turned into a market commodity. There is no profit left in labor for them. They know their children will have no inheritance because everything they own can be sold at a flee market.

The middle class that we usually picture in our mind is not the middle income folks of today. Popular culture’s view, reinforced by network TV’s portrayals of middle-class lifestyles, matches people making more than $100,000 a year, twice the median wage. Which politicians for federal office speak openly and bravely for this half of our hard working citizens who make less than $50,000 per year? You can’t reach them by talk of job creation! Most of them have more jobs than they can handle.

If we think of the lower half of wage earners as being made up of those who are working and those looking for work, then 7% unemployed minus the 50% who earn less than a middle wage leaves 43% of the wage earners who are not being represented by either party. Of this group, those who call themselves Democrats aren’t showing up to vote. Why should they? What will change when no one seems to notice them?

Republican in this same low income group do show up to vote, but that’s because they are cynically manipulated by the wealthy wing of the GOP. They are voting out of fear, anger and pain. The wealthy wing of the GOP hears their pain even as it twist the knife.

Democrats in public office, or running for office, don’t want to ruffle the feathers of the powerful minority groups (Wall Street, CEO’s, Billionaires, etc.) even though these folks aren’t voting for them.  Money is tight. I get that.

Let me give you just two examples from two New Jersey congressional races that were below the national radar, The incumbent Republican, Rodney Frelinghuysen, raise 7 times more money than his Democratic challenger, Mark Dunec in the 11th District. Incumbent Republican Leonard Lance raised 8 times more than his Democratic challenger, Janice Kovach in the 7th District. All this money did not come from the 43% of hard working American’s who still need some form of government subsidy to survive.

And what help did these Democratic candidates get from their party elders? Very little! A decision was made to write off these districts. The slick election strategy that carefully targets resources to the most competitive races writes off the needs of millions of people who have every right to be represented. The big get out the vote strategy touted by the party fizzled because they didn’t have an explosive message to motivate the 43%ers.

People who live below the median wage level have one thing in common with the richest billionaires… their vote is just as powerful. One person! One vote! It isn’t how corporations operate; It’s how democracies operate. And until Democrats start collecting those uncast vote, instead of appeasing the rich, Democrats will continue to loose.

It is time to stop playing the Republican’s game.

 

Here is a helpful article by Robert Reich that says in fewer word what I am trying to say above.

http://m.dailykos.com/stories/1342950

 

Anyway, I’m done with my rant. Thanks for listening, even if you didn’t make it this far. All the best in the future.

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Image Credit: http://news.yourolivebranch.org/2011/05/24/iec-declares-election-free-and-fair/