On the obsessive focus on poor people’s morality

03 Apr 2014 02:48 am
Posted by: Donna

Per Gawker:

Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic and Jonathan Chait of New York have, over the past week, been engaged in something equal parts duel and duet in the pixels of their respective magazine’s websites. Their debate has plumbed the depths of race and racism in America, working out the questions of civic and historical responsibility in a public forum with respect and grace. As readers and citizens we are privileged to bear witness to this dialogue. They’ve also thrown some damn good shade at each other, so let’s look at that.

The Gawker piece provides a quick synopsis of the debate (you should read all the links) and since then Coates (who is the clear winner in my opinion) has followed up with this and this, which I cannot recommend enough.

Coates and Chait are having a high-level intellectual version of a discussion, or rather an argument, taking place everywhere in the country about race and poverty. In question is whether or not poverty is a function mainly of poor choices made by poor people, and whether or not the crushing poverty and lack of opportunity that black people in America experience (not to mention a whole bunch of really horrible, oppressive shit) is due to, as Chait calls it, a “cultural residue that itself became an impediment to success”. My own positions are: 1. No problem poor people have wouldn’t be solved by more money and 2. Just shut up, Jonathan Chait, and all other Caucasian-Americans who presume to lecture African Americans on anything. Try listening for once. Maybe read the many, many sources Coates has generously provided for you.

Ross Douthat of the New York Times is not an intellectual, but he pretends to be one and for some inexplicable reason, the top newspaper in the nation has given him a column in which he coats reactionary moralizing with a genteel gloss. Minus the Ivy League degree and the sweet pundit gig, Douthat would be a random guy standing outside the abortion clinic in his hometown of New Haven, CT screaming at the women entering. Naturally, Douthat has Thoughts™ on the Coates-Chait exchange:

In this landscape, certain ways of talking about culture and poverty really are inappropriate, and for roughly the reasons Coates suggests — because they essentially involve a flight into the more comforting (for white people) patterns of the recent past, into a reassuring Othering of social pathology, into a conversation that has why can’t those poor black people get their act together? written over and over again between its lines. In this landscape, it’s usually a mistake — no, not a “racist” mistake, but still a mistake — for white Republican politicians interested in poverty to overstress the “inner city” in their rhetoric. In this landscape, forms of moral exhortation around sex and marriage and work and responsibility that are really just outsiders’ critiques of “black culture” are even less defensible than usual.

But the problem with Coates’s argument is that in rejecting this kind of lazy, racialized moralism for thee, he appears to almost rule out moral exhortation altogether. Or at least that’s one way to read his earlier critique of President Obama’s rhetoric of responsibility, in which he invited readers to imagine the president offering the same kind of arguments in front of non-black audiences

Yeah, it’s not a ‘”racist” mistake’ for Republican politicians to pound on the “inner city” over and over on TV interviews and on the speaking circuit. Douthat simply ignores that it’s completely deliberate – standard Southern Strategy dog-whistle politics. Paul Ryan is not interested in ending poverty. He’s pushing a cruel budget that hurts everyone who isn’t in the 1%, but especially the poorest Americans of all races, using the same old rhetoric that riles up middle class white voters and affluent white donors.

So the kind of budget they want is where one could characterize both Ryan and Douthat as mostly race-neutral. The kind of “moral exhortation” Ryan and Douthat are doing is definitely not directed toward rich people, many of whom have done some decidedly immoral things to attain their wealth. For Ryan and Douthat to say “eat marriage, paupers” is to say they’ve made the choice to preference moralizing at the paupers over anything that would burden rich people. To wit, here’s more Douthat:

I don’t think that’s where Coates would actually come out [on moralizing about poor people's life choices], if pressed. But if that is his underlying contention, then this isn’t really an argument about the specifics of the black experience in America, the weight of slavery and segregation, the persistence of structural racism, and the like. It’s just a much more general debate about human freedom, economic determinism, and the role (or lack thereof) of culture, agency, and choice. I mean: If the only way to unravel a culture of poverty is to expand a government program, then of course the president’s rhetoric to black audiences is inappropriate, useless, insulting! But if that’s what’s at the bottom of things here, then I don’t feel like I just followed an debate between Jonathan Chait, racial optimist, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, racial pessimist; I feel like I just followed a debate between a liberal and a radical reductionist, from which nothing terribly illuminating was ever going to emerge.

In suggesting that Coates is arguing that “the only way to unravel a culture of poverty is to expand a government program”, Douthat neatly erases Coates’ entire well-argued thesis on racism, despite giving lip-service to the bullet points. (And seriously, I’ve heard better arguments from shouters outside abortion clinics.) Basically, Douthat is demanding that Ta-Nehisi Coates join in Ross Douthat’s creepy “terribly illuminating” vagina-policing crusade before he will even entertain Coates’ thoughts on race.

Centrists are certainly not off the hook here, given their own sordid history with “welfare reform”.

Republican lawmakers really don’t like hearing the truth

01 Apr 2014 12:12 am
Posted by: Donna

When you think of lobbyists in Arizona you’re bound to think of people in expensive shoes and haircuts peddling bills handwritten for the corporations that pay them. It’s true of a lot of them but there are also some valiant souls who go to the Capitol regularly to plead on behalf of the people in our state who don’t have piles of cash to influence legislators. One such person is Kristin Gwinn, executive director of Protecting Arizona’s Families Coalition (PAFCO), who testified before a Senate committee on Monday about the how their proposed budget does not come close to meeting the needs of abused and vulnerable children. She pulled no punches:

When questioned about this budget proposal in the last week, I have heard members make statements about living within our means, spending only what we can, and wishing they could do more. Child safety is NOT a luxury item we fund at any level we like. Children are either safe or they aren’t. If we don’t have enough money to keep our most fragile citizens safe, we need to find more money. Perhaps in the $450 million dollar rainy day fund that remained untouched during the worst recession Arizona has faced in decades, arguably one of the worst rainy days in Arizona’s history. What is it there for if not for a moment like this? We’ve moved well beyond rainy days and our child welfare system is now facing a Category 5 hurricane. I say again, child safety is not a luxury item.

I ask each of you to consider what would happen if I did in my own home what you are proposing to do here today. If CPS knocked on my door and I told them “I’d like to make my children safe, but I just don’t have the money. I promise it’s a priority and I’ll take care of it eventually, but I can’t do it today because there’s just not room for it in my budget.” If I did that, CPS and most other rational people would consider that a case of abuse or neglect. I didn’t do that, but you’re about to.

Of all the horrible things we’ve learned about Arizona’s child welfare system in the last few months, perhaps the most disturbing is the realization that the single greatest perpetrator of abuse and neglect on Arizona’s children is the Arizona State Legislature.

It needed to be said. Needless to say, of course, some of the GOP Senators took umbrage at Gwinn for telling the actual truth about what they are doing to children with this budget. Gwinn says she was grilled by some peeved Senators after she spoke and then there were Tweets:

$121 million of the amount of which Senator Ward speaks is federal funding. Some.

Man, that “half the country are a bunch of takers!” thing refuses to die, doesn’t it? Except it’s completely untrue in the states. The study Kristin linked to is from 2009 (I did a post about it a few years ago), but Arizona’s tax system has not gotten more progressive since then, when it was ranked the seventh most regressive state in the nation. The lowest quintile in Arizona pays over twice as much, as a percentage of income, as the top quintile in combined state and local taxes.

Kristin Gwinn’s description of GOP Senators being outraged at her comments in the committee hearing (here’s the video of the hearing) tracks with my own observation of Republican legislators on the floor during the SB1062 and recent budget votes: Democratic lawmakers would rise to make truthful comments about how SB1062 could be used to deny people service on the basis of race, gender, or religion, or on how the budget was awful for children. This would be met with outraged calls that the Democrats were out of order by the Republicans. How dare you say we want to discriminate against people?! How dare you say that we don’t care about children?! Didn’t matter that the bill they passed did allow discrimination or that the budget they want to pass would harm children. The Democrats said those things out loud in that chambers and the rules of the body, as arbitrarily interpreted by the majority, don’t allow that. Therefore those Democrat lawmakers had to apologize because reasons.

The cool thing for most of the rest of us is we don’t have to stifle ourselves like that. I promise you that no matter how politely or rudely you speak out against right wing nonsense, they’re going to act, indignantly, like you farted in church. So you should speak up. Kristin Gwinn does. I do. You should. It needs to be said, so say it!

In which I express my fervent wish that Laurie Roberts will shut up forever about child abuse

27 Mar 2014 08:11 pm
Posted by: Donna

There’s a terrible, awful story in the news right now about a Phoenix couple who starved their baby nearly to death. So it’s no surprise that Phoenix’s own Nancy Grace, AKA Laurie Roberts, was quickly on the scene to flare her nostrils about it on her column. I mean, I totally could see it coming but, dear sweet Christ on chimichanga platter is this thing dreadful.

What profound insight does Laurie have to add to this horrible situation? why, slut-shaming, of course.

The case of Veronica Marie Diaz showcases much about what is wrong with our society, about why CPS is so overrun and just how daunting the task will be as the state rebuilds our child-welfare system. Here’s a 27-year-old woman with multiple children and no father apparently in sight. But, of course, there is a boyfriend.

There’s always a boyfriend.

I certainly won’t defend the couple spending money on other things instead of food for the child but Laurie seems to think that child abuse is caused primarily by poor women having boyfriends instead of reading their Bibles with an aspirin between their knees. I guess that would be one way to stop the problem but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

I do wish Laurie Roberts would stop writing about most things but I especially don’t want to hear a damn thing from her about child abuse ever again. (I know she’s not going to grant that wish but a girl can dream.) The reason I think Laurie has zero credibility holding herself up as the crusading avenger of abused children is her frequent habit of supporting and promoting anti-choice Republican politicians. If you don’t want children to be abused and neglected, then you don’t vote for people who make it harder for women to control their reproduction. Period.

You do the opposite of that if you care about children. You support legislators and candidates who are pro-choice. You support abortion on demand and covered by Medicaid, as well as full access to contraception and comprehensive sex ed, as those things are proven to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies. It also helps if those politicians also support things like health care, a living wage, and a social safety net for both adults and children so people can get help if they’re struggling with parenting. It’s also very cool if they’re keen on funding the public schools and not gun nuts. Luckily, there are many such politicians available! They are called “the Democrats”.

If you care about children and want to reduce child abuse and neglect you don’t support anti-choice Republicans even if they’re your nice “moderate Republican heroes” who occasionally vote against an especially egregious abortion bill or to let (some) ladies have the birth control. Even if they promise they’ll join with the Dems to support a less shitty austerity budget (except they appear to be going with the shittier right wing austerity budget after all, oops). Far as I’m concerned, you basically don’t get to say fucking boo about child abuse if you support and vote for anti-choicers.


GOP majority = ALEC

27 Mar 2014 01:04 am
Posted by: Donna

Big kudos to my pal Robbie Sherwood for getting the goods on the recent lavish wine-and-dine of Republican legislators by corporate lobbyists at the pricey Biltmore-area steakhouse Donovan’s.


Even Laurie Roberts stopped swooning over “moderate Republicans” for a minute to express her dismay at this. Which is good, because if the self-appointed saviors of Arizona like Laurie (who simply refuse to see the obvious answer that is right before their faces, which is “elect Democrats”) really want to do something it helps if they understand what is causing our problems.

I’ve been over this before but, in case you’re not familiar, the American Legislative Exchange Council was started in the 1970s by a religious nut named Paul Weyrich, who is famous among us lefty political junkies for plainly stating in public that conservatives benefit from fewer people voting. ALEC has grown into an organization of hundreds of state legislators (the vast majority of whom are Republican) with numerous corporate sponsors, including many that are household names. Mark Pocan, who served in the Wisconsin legislature and was recently elected to Congress, was a rare Democrat who joined ALEC and attended an annual convention. He described what he saw there as a “dating service” between lawmakers and corporate lobbyists seeking to get their bills passed in the states.

ALEC is believed to be the true source of SB1070 and is known to be the force behind Stand Your Ground gun laws and voter suppression laws. ALEC has done very well in Arizona because so many Republican legislators have joined it and have eagerly signed onto their bills. This is true whether they ran with Clean Elections public funding or didn’t. Or whether they were in safe Republican districts or not. Or whether they were, or are, viewed as moderate or highly conservative.

ALEC appears to be the more likely candidate for Patient Zero Of Why We Can’t Have Nice Things In Arizona than anything else. Elect Republicans and get lawmakers who are likely to join ALEC, where they are force-fed radical “free market” doctrine, along with the expensive steak and bourbon. They then sponsor and vote for terrible bills, which will tend to be signed by any Republican Governor. Which gets back to my original point that “elect Democrats” is really the only way to improve things here.

Women’s lives are not an olive branch for a truce in the culture wars

26 Mar 2014 01:26 am
Posted by: Donna

Imagine living in a country with same-sex marriage equality, legalized marijuana, and women of childbearing age relegated to ward-of-the-state status because abortion is banned and fertilized eggs have been granted legal status as human beings. If that seems a bit incongruous – a bit one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others to you, then I hope you’re paying careful attention to the Hobby Lobby case.

Read Ian Millhiser’s excellent coverage on the Hobby Lobby oral arguments before the Supreme Court to understand why pro-choice activists are deeply worried about the pending decision.

WASHINGTON, DC — Justice Anthony Kennedy thinks gay people are fabulous. All three of the Supreme Court’s most important gay rights decisions were written by Justice Kennedy. So advocates for birth control had a simple task today: convince Kennedy that allowing religious employers to exempt themselves from a federal law expanding birth control access would lead to all kinds of horrible consequences in future cases — including potentially allowing religious business owners to discriminate against gay people.

Kennedy, however, also hates abortion. Although Kennedy cast the key vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upholding what he called the “essential holding of Roe v. Wade,” he’s left no doubt that he cast that vote very grudgingly. Casey significantly rolled back the constitutional right to choose an abortion. And Kennedy hasn’t cast a single pro-choice vote in an abortion case in the last 22 years.

So Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the two companies claiming that they should be exempt from the birth control rules had an ace in their pocket as well. Their path to victory involved convincing Kennedy that their cases are really about abortion — and it looks like Kennedy convinced himself of that point on his own.

Kennedy has convinced himself it’s about abortion, not because he believes the lie that certain types of contraception snuff out fertilized eggs, but because he thinks it could lead to employer health plans being required to cover actual abortions, which makes him sad. It’s unlikely it would lead to that because the ACA’s mandate only covers contraception but I guess it’s theoretically possible, which appears to be enough for Justice Kennedy. In other words, Justice Kennedy is signalling that he’s willing to open the door to business owners opting out of any health insurance coverage, or really any law they don’t like, by claiming a “sincere religious belief” because Justice Kennedy is worried about the theoretical possibility that abortion might have to be covered at some time in the future.

Some will attribute Kennedy’s position on abortion to his Catholic faith, which may be true, but Kennedy is not consistently following Catholic doctrine when he supports LGBT rights. While I’m sure Kennedy comes by his opposition to abortion sincerely for whatever reason, I’m equally sure that he is devoted to centrism. Centrism does not necessarily posit that the correct position on a given issue is smack dab between wherever the right and left stand on it at a particular time. A centrist may instead decide to take a liberal position on something like gay rights and feel that he is obliged to, or at least can get away with, taking a more conservative position on another issue, such as abortion rights.

Culture war centrism is also the strategy of Republican politicians trying to appear moderate or libertarian, such as Sen. Rand Paul on drug legalization or Arizona State Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson, for whom we are supposed to overlook his consistently anti-choice voting record because he voted to protect LGBT rights that one time and medical marijuana that other time.

There seems to be a general consensus among many of the privileged and powerful people in this country that the fractious debate over “social issues” can be calmed by throwing the foaming-at-the-mouth reactionaries a bone. It should be obvious by now whose rights are that bone* (women’s reproductive) and we all know why (slut-punishing and the desire to curtail women’s independence never go out of style). Obamacare absolutely had to accommodate the anti-choicers – first with Rep. Bart Stupak’s amendment to the ACA reiterating the Hyde Amendment and then the churches that showed up to demand a carve out from the ACA contraception mandate for their own employees. Those of us who complained were told to shut up and take one for the team.

Culture war centrists expect women to watch our hard-fought reproductive rights be compromised away with a smile because, hey, look over there at how quickly things are getting better on other human rights issues! This is not only deeply offensive, it’s bound for failure. There is simply no way to have a healthy, progressing society when half the population can’t even decide when and whether to have babies.

*There was another hot-button issue that was accommodated in the ACA: denying undocumented immigrants access to health care.

“Moderate” Scott Smith on Obamacare

24 Mar 2014 01:03 am
Posted by: Donna

Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, who is running for Governor, has a petition out asking people to oppose Obamacare, in which he’s very proud of this quote of his.

“I think it’s a bad idea that’s been implemented even worse,” said Scott Smith, the Republican mayor of Mesa, Ariz., who’s seeking the GOP nomination for governor of Arizona this year. Smith, who also chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said he’s not lifting a finger to help the feds on health care.

“It’s their program. It’s their exchange. It’s their responsibility,” he said.

Well alrighty then, Scott Smith is not going to lift a finger to make the health care law work in Arizona. Isn’t he just the polestar of pragmatism and statesmanship! The next time someone describes Smith as “moderate” to me I’m going to ask them if their definition of that term includes someone who thinks that I and thousands of other Arizonans getting the health insurance we had been denied before is a “bad idea”. And good to know that Smith is basically admitting that Arizonans should trust the feds with important issues like their health care instead of him.

In fairness, I did send a message to Smith’s website asking what his alternative to the Affordable Care Act is. We’ll see if I get a response.

What happened to not wanting to subsidize people’s sex lives?

21 Mar 2014 01:04 pm
Posted by: Donna

After spending most of the morning being deluged with tweets by an angry anti-choice man letting me know that birth control is wrong and unnatural (as he typed his words into a computer in a climate controlled room), I see that the Supreme Court has ruled that school vouchers, that is public tax dollars for tuition, are legal in Arizona (and presumably everywhere else) even if they are for religious schools.

On paper, the lawsuit dealt only with a small-scale version of vouchers, one enacted in 2011 for students with special needs.

But the decision effectively ratifies the decision of lawmakers to expand eligibility to any student enrolled in a school rated D or F.

Potentially more significant, it removes any legal hurdle from a legislative effort this year to remove virtually all limits on who can get a voucher. A bill to do just that is awaiting a House vote.

The vast majority of K-12 students attend their local public schools. Most parents are not interested in vouchers because they are useless to them, as they do not typically come close to covering the entire costs of most private schools. Right wing interests groups want vouchers so that conservative parents can siphon money from taxpayers and use it to inculcate their own children. Of course, the long goal is to dismantle public education and force all students into religious schools or no school at all for them, but this is where it starts.

Which is funny to me because I’m constantly told by right wingers that contraception and abortion should not be covered by insurance or public health plans – despite the fact that women pay insurance premiums and taxes too – because that’s “paying for your sex life”. Well, are not children the result of sex in the vast majority of cases? Why are conservative parents expecting me to subsidize their sex lives? Let’s be consistent now. If you can’t afford to educate your children privately without a substantial amount of public money, then perhaps you should put an aspirin between your knees!