It may be well and proper, that a man of worth, honesty, industry, and respectability, should have the rank of a white man, while a vagabond of the same degree of [negro] blood should be confined to the inferior caste.
-- Justice William Harper of the South Carolina Supreme Court
State v. Cantey (1835)
This week's featured post is "Are You Sure You're White?", a review of Daniel Sharfstein's The Invisible Line: a secret history of race in America.
This week everybody was talking about the Ukraine
As I've said before, a one-man blog is not the ideal operation for covering breaking news, so I mostly don't try. But the wall of fire during the Kiev protests was impossible to ignore.
And when Olympic skier Bogdana Matsotska left Sochi intending to join the protests, she raised even more attention.
By Saturday, President Viktor Yanukovych had been voted out of office and left the capital. New elections are planned for May. For the moment it looks like the good guys have won, but as we saw with the Arab Spring demonstrations in Egypt, it's hard to turn street protests into a functioning democracy. Best of luck to the Ukrainians.
ThinkProgress provides background on what this was all about.
BuzzFeed reports that the Yanukovych government had been trying to buy favorable coverage from right-wing blogs. This fits the pattern I discussed in "Keeping the Con in Conservatism".
For the record, I received no money to mention Ukraine in this post.
and (oddly) not Venezuela
A new reader pinged me with his hope that I'll explain what's going on in Venezuela, which left me too embarrassed to say "Is something going on in Venezuela?" It weird how little coverage this is getting.
As in Kiev, there are massive street protests in Caracas. Here's some background from BuzzFeed. And the latest from Reuters.
The current president, Nicolás Maduro, has been in office ten months after succeeding the late Hugo Chavez.
and Ted Nugent
I try to stay away from the outrage-of-the-week, but this week I failed. The front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor in Texas campaigned with Ted Nugent, who recently called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel", a phrase that had more zing in the original German. (Subhuman is untermenschen and mongrel is mischling.)
Nugent is a clown who doesn't deserve my attention or yours, but a state attorney general and potential governor of Texas is another matter. Wolf Blitzer (who is Jewish and knows how the phrase translates to German) reacted with as much reserve as he could muster:
Shockingly, Abbott's campaign brushed aside the criticism, saying they value Nugent's commitment to the second amendment issuing a statement, "Ted Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights, especially the second amendment rights cherished by Texans. While he may sometimes say things or use language that Greg Abbott would not endorse or agree with, we appreciate the support of everyone who supports protecting our constitution."
The incident raised the question of whether there is any criticism of Obama that conservatives will denounce, or any right-wing personality who is too hateful to associate with. Fortunately, Rand Paul and John McCain decided the line had been crossed. But it was sad to watch Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and other Republicans dance around a clear condemnation.
If anybody wants to do a liberals-do-it-too comment, start with who the Ted Nugent equivalent is and what they said that equals "subhuman mongrel". Then find me a Democrat as highly placed as Greg Abbott who campaigned with them.
and a raft of discrimination-against-gays-is-OK bills
A bunch of states are passing laws to meet the "religious freedom" needs of people whose God demands that they treat gays badly. The most extreme is Arizona, where Governor Brewer is weighing whether or not to sign the bill. (The business community is against it, perhaps fearing another boycott similar to what happened after Arizona passed its anti-immigrant law.) But similar bills are being debated in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, Kansas and Oklahoma.
The text is here. It's short and sweeping, and does not directly mention gays at all. The key section is:
A person that asserts a violation of this section must establish all of the following:
1. That the person's action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief.
2. That the person's religious belief is sincerely held.
3. That the state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person's religious belief.
"State action" has been expanded to mean a court's enforcement a civil rights claim. Proponents are trying to fix what they see as the injustice of a New Mexico case, in which a photographer was sued and lost after refusing to deal with a gay couple.
Reading the Arizona law, I fail to see why it wouldn't apply to a restaurant owner who wanted to turn away black people, if his white supremacism were religiously based. (There are certainly churches you can join if you want to claim that right.) And even if I'm missing some legal distinction, I don't see the moral distinction. The only justification I can see for separating the anti-gay bigot from the anti-black bigot is to argue that religious white supremacism is wrong, but religious rejection of homosexuality isn't. And I don't think the government should be empowered to decide whose religion is true.
In the larger view, I've stated my opinion before: I think this is all passive aggression.No one sincerely believes that his or her immortal soul is imperiled by taking pictures of gay couples or putting two grooms on the top of a wedding cake. It's an exaggerated sensitivity invented to control the actions of others and justify acts of bigotry.
and looked back at the stimulus
It's been five years since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was signed into law, so it was time to restart the argument about what it accomplished.
The point hardly anybody appreciates is that when you combine state and federal spending, there was no stimulus. Federal spending just replaced state cutbacks. The graph below shows the number of employees at all levels of government. (The blip in 2010 is temporary workers for the census. You can find a similar blip during the previous census in 2000.)
Overall, federal employment has been down slightly during the Obama years. State and local employment dropped drastically when the recession hit, and would have fallen much further if not for money in the stimulus that went to the states. People ask: "Where are the jobs from the stimulus?" A lot of them are the teachers, police, firefighters, and nurses who didn't get laid off.
So the main thing the stimulus did was prevent a massive deflationary cut in government, like what happened so disastrously in Europe.
but I'm still thinking about racism
"What Should 'Racism' Mean?" became the fifth post in Weekly Sift history to go over 10,000 page views. Last I checked, it had over 19,000, which made it the fourth-most-popular Sift post ever.
It's been drawing a number of comments, including objections, which I've been trying to answer as best I can.
Here's the thing that has struck me in the negative comments. It would be entirely possible to look at the examples I gave (of President Obama and his family being denounced for things previous presidents have done without incident) and say: "Yeah, there is a small group of racially motivated folks who claim to be conservatives so that they can attack the black president, but that’s not really who we are. Real conservatives have plenty of legitimate objections to Obama and don’t have to stoop to this stuff."
Instead, many commenters identify with anyone criticizing Obama for whatever reason and circle the wagons around them. As a result, it becomes easier to paint all conservatives as racists, which is not at all what I claimed.
This week I continued to focus on race in Are You Sure You're White?, a review of Daniel Sharfstein's The Invisible Line. I also ran across this great video illustrating the implicit bias I talked about last week.
In a hidden-camera experiment, three young people try to steal a bicycle in a well-traveled public park. The young white man draws a few questions but no one makes a serious effort to stop him or call the police. The young black man draws a crowd and the police are called. But most hilarious is what happens to the young white woman: Men stop to help her. That poor girl, she'll never saw through that chain on her own.
Here's a similar hidden-camera test where black and white men try to steal a car in broad daylight.
and you also might be interested in ...
This 99-year-old Bulgarian spends every day on the street begging, but not for himself.
I love Rachel Maddow, but I have to agree with Bill Maher in this conversation when Rachel was a guest on his show: MSNBC is over-covering the Chris Christie scandal. Like Bill, I think BridgeGate is a legitimate scandal and I want to get to the bottom of it, but there's not a whole segment (or more) worth of new developments every night.
I regularly tune in to Rachel's show or Chris Hayes' or Steve Kornacki's , but these days I often think "Jesus, not this again." Partly it's the generic cable-news tendency to over-hype stories and try to get us hooked on every new detail. And I'm willing to be convinced that Rachel is accurate when she says that she covered Democratic governor Rob Blagojevich's scandal just as intensely. But I found Blago's villainy more amusing, and even so, I remember getting sick of that story too.
If you are similarly ignoring MSNBC and/or Bridgegate these days, I'll let you know when something important happens.
Salon's Brian Beutler blows up another ObamaCare horror story, and then suggests the obvious question:
I know the right is heavily invested not just in ignoring Obamacare success stories, but in cultivating the very horror stories they then use to attack the law. This, at least, doesn’t appear to be a case of the latter. I’m perfectly willing to believe that the Affordable Care Act has really left some people in categorically horrible situations. Given the numbers involved, I’d be pretty surprised if such people didn’t exist. But at some point it’s worth asking whether the apparent difficulty conservatives have finding them suggests that maybe the law isn’t wreaking all the devastation they want you to believe it is.
Wonder why other countries have faster, cheaper internet? Big cable companies like the proposed Comcast/Time-Warner monolith, and an FCC that caters to them.
Michael Sam won't be the first openly gay player in a major American professional sport after all. The Brooklyn Nets picked up Jason Collins' contract, and he played briefly Sunday. ESPN New York reports how strangely normal it all was.
Sure there was applause, and a few folks who stood up to recognize the magnitude of the moment, but if you didn't know what was happening, you really would've had no idea something historic had just happened.
Economist Jared Bernstein challenges the idea that jobs are going unfilled because Americans aren't trained for them.
When you hear employers complaining about how they can’t find the skilled workers they need, remember to plug in the unstated second part of the sentence, “…at the wage I’m willing to pay.”
Atlantic's Garrett Epps points out that the Hobby Lobby case is open-and-shut if the Supreme Court follows its own precedents:
If so, Hobby Lobby and the other challengers don’t even get out of the starting gate. The Burger, Rehnquist, and Roberts Courts have all been clear: These plaintiffs have not suffered any injury worthy of redress under the Constitution.
However, that's not how this Court's conservative majority behaves. Witness the ObamaCare decision of 2012. In prior cases, the Commerce Clause clearly allowed such laws; constitutionality was not even seriously discussed when the law was being passed. But magically, a new legal theory appeared just in time to disallow the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause, and five Supreme Court justices signed on to that brand new interpretation. Chief Justice Roberts had to find a different justification to avoid invalidating the law completely.
Maybe the same thing will happen here. Law isn't supposed to be suspenseful like this.
and let's end with something fun
I never knew NBC's Brian Williams did a cover of "Rapper's Delight". (Compare to the original.)