Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Inherent Racism in Attacks on Biden's Commitment to Equity

Right-wingers are freaking out these days over President Biden's emphasis on racial equity. They take issue with the fact that he isn't talking about equality of opportunity, but equity in outcomes. As an example, here is the New York Posts's editorial board in an article titled, "In push for woke 'equity,' Biden abandon's equality."

Notice that repeated word, “equity.” Liberals used to call (rightly) for equality of opportunity — to have every American treated the same way before the law. “Equity” demands equal outcomes. If some group of Americans is doing better than another, no matter the reason, government must fix it...

Per the White House, Biden is bent on “embedding racial equity across his administration’s response to COVID-19 and the economic crisis.” That extends to de-facto quotas for small-business support — making federal aid depend on skin color.

That’s un-American, but the White House said these steps are “just the start.”

That take is spreading across right-wing media, with a lot of references to a piece by Andrew Sullivan titled, "Biden's Culture War Aggression." In it, he fanned the flames with an allusion to the central theme embraced by racists: "The paradox, of course, is that to achieve 'equity' you have to first take away equality for individuals who were born in the wrong identity group." That perpetuates the "us against them" kind of thinking that is rooted in a zero sum mindset.

Years ago we began to see a cartoon that attempted to capture the difference between equality and equity.

While that helps move the ball forward in understanding the difference, I agree with Heidi Schillinger—founder of Equity Matters—that it is still problematic

It is perpetuating the differences we are trying to address with equity are inherently biological. It continues this dangerous narrative that racial equity is “helping” people of color and communities of color because we are inherently and biologically deficient.

A focus on equity seeks to address the disparities that have been documented for people of color when it comes to everything from health to education to housing to wealth and involvement in the criminal justice system. Ignoring the impact of systemic racism on those outcomes reinforces a racism that is more subtle than simply calling someone the "n-word."

The subtle and insidious systemic racism wants us all to believe the reason race predicts these outcomes is because people of color don’t work as hard, don’t have as good of parents, don’t have enough grit, don’t spend enough time and money on the “right” things. This is why even in the name of “racial equity” schools, organizations, funder, government spend a lot of time trying to “fix” people of color and students of color. Teaching people of color to how write a resume or act in an interview. Or teaching students of color to have grit, better self-esteem, or social-emotional intelligence. Or philanthropic organizations to spend time teaching grassroots community of color organizations to write a grant or logic model. These are all important individual skills, but don’t address very real systemic barriers or biases based on race.

When it comes to the facts about racial disparities, we can chose to either blame them on some deficiency in people of color, or we can recognize the long-term impact of systemic racism. Those are the choices. 

As Schillinger notes, there is nothing inherently wrong with programs that are committed to "fixing" people of color because they are an attempt to fill the gap in what has been missing. But a focus on equity isn't about "fixing" people of color. It is about dismantling the systemic racism that has disadvantaged them for generations. We can measure our progress towards that goal by determining whether our efforts have reduced the disparities in outcomes. 

Just as Biden has taken a "whole of government" approach to climate change, he has committed to a "whole of government" approach to equity. Here's how he defines the term:

The consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.

That first line is critical: "the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals." In other words, he's saying that "all lives matter." But to fulfill that ideal, we must ensure that "Black lives matter," and that everyone who has been "adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality" is treated fairly. Contrary to what the New York Post's editorial board suggested, that captures exactly what it means to be American.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Democrats on COVID Relief: "Yes We Can!"

While Republicans cry crocodile tears and major media outlets wring their hands about the need for bipartisanship now that Democrats are in charge, the Biden/Pelosi/Schumer team is making their intentions crystal clear on what they plan to do about a COVID relief bill. Here's Biden:

Press secreatary Jen Psaki reiterated Biden's approach during her interview with Rachel Maddow.


Similarly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that the House will bring a budget resolution to the floor next week, the first step in using the process of budget reconciliation to pass a bill.
"I hope we don't need it, but if needed we will have it," Pelosi told reporters on Thursday about the option of using budget reconciliation, a maneuver that can be used to pass the bill with a simple majority in the Senate. "We want it to be bipartisan always, but we can't surrender."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer echoed those remarks.

"Our preference is to make this important work bipartisan, to include input, ideas, and revisions from our Republican colleagues or bipartisan efforts to do the same. But if our Republican colleagues decide to oppose this urgent and necessary legislation, we will have to move forward without them," Schumer said.

They couldn't be more clear—which is why I'm scratching my head trying to figure out what all of the handwringing is about. Democrats would welcome Republican support to control the pandemic and help Americans who are struggling. But whether they get that support or not, they are going to get a COVID relief bill done. 

The World Is Changing Right Before Our Eyes

On January 20th, the first Latina woman on the Supreme Court swore in the first woman of color to be Vice President of the United States. My reaction was much like the one Rev. Gordon Stewart described so beautifully when Barack Obama was sworn in as the first African American president.

Tears and vocal sobs gush up in me like a geyser of tears blocked up for years.

They are strange tears, like none other I have ever felt. It confuses me. I wonder what they're about. It feels like joy. A joy I have not felt for a long time. Joy… and hope… that something really new is happening...

For sure, the tears that rise up in me are tears of joy. But they're also about something else. They feel like the convulsing sobs of a prisoner released from prison. They come from a hidden well of poison -- the well of deep grief stuffed away over all the years...the well of buried anger -- the silent tears of grief over the America we had almost lost.

Then I realize: Only the appearance of joy and hope can release such deep grief...It is the joy and hope of a new generation that's able to take us where my generation cannot -- free of the taint of sore feet and scars and old grudges.

About that new generation...the world will always look very different to them.

Go get 'em, girls!

Friday, January 29, 2021

Joe Biden Is Assembling a Federal Government That Works

The so-called "Reagan revolution" was based on the anti-democratic proposition that the federal government was "them," not "us." That led to the claim that government was the problem, not the solution. For the opposition party, the opposite is true. The best way to promote a liberal agenda is to ensure that the government elected by the people works for the people. 

Donald Trump took the Reagan revolution to a whole new level. Not only did he nominate Cabinet members whose professional lives had been dedicated to undermining the very mission of the agencies they led, his White House counselor at the time, Steve Bannon, proclaimed that one of the major goals of the administration was the deconstruction of the administrative state. Via a gutting of federal employees, combined with the hiring of a breathtaking level of incompetence, this is one area where the former president largely succeeded. 

That is why Joe Biden is demonstrating that he might be the perfect man for the job when it comes to taking on the biggest challenge any new administration would face, as David Sanger explained.

When President Biden swore in a batch of recruits for his new administration in a teleconferenced ceremony late last week, it looked like the country’s biggest Zoom call. In fact, Mr. Biden was installing roughly 1,000 high-level officials in about a quarter of all of the available political appointee jobs in the federal government.

At the same time, a far less visible transition was taking place: the quiet dismissal of holdovers from the Trump administration, who have been asked to clean out their offices immediately, whatever the eventual legal consequences.

If there has been a single defining feature of the first week of the Biden administration, it has been the blistering pace at which the new president has put his mark on what President Donald J. Trump dismissed as the hostile “Deep State” and tried so hard to dismantle.

Sanger goes on to point out that "the Biden team arrived in Washington not only with plans for each department and agency, but the spreadsheets detailing who would carry them out." 

Biden was able to do that primarily because he is what some people suggest is a negative: an establishment politician. Not only did he serve as vice president for eight years, he was a United States Senator from 1973-2008. During those years he served as chair of both the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. In other words, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person who knows more about how the federal government is supposed to work. Norms that were so casually dismissed by the previous administration are wired into Biden's brain, as well as the cadre of experts who are advising him. 

All of that is invaluable knowledge that lays the groundwork for the competence this new administration has shown when it comes to being able to hit the ground running. What we are witnessing is that the "firehose of falsehoods" from the previous administration is being replaced by a "firehose of governing" to address the four crises Biden has identified:

  1. An out-of-control pandemic
  2. An economic crisis that is the result of the pandemic
  3. A climate crisis
  4. A crisis of racial inequality
The most important asset Biden has at his disposal is a government staffed by competent employees who are committed to the task. He's wasting no time assembling a cadre of people who can ensure that we have a federal government that works. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

How the Healing Begins (Part II)

I recently came across this quote from John O'Donohue's book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. 

When the mind is festering with trouble or the heart torn, we can find healing among the silence of mountains or fields, or listen to the simple, steadying rhythm of waves. The slowness and stillness gradually takes us over. Our breathing deepens and our hearts calm and our hungers relent. When serenity is restored, new perspectives open to us and difficulty can begin to seem like an invitation to new growth.
This invitation to friendship with nature does of course entail a willingness to be alone out there. Yet this aloneness is anything but lonely. Solitude gradually clarifies the heart until a true tranquility is reached. The irony is that at the heart of that aloneness you feel intimately connected with the world. Indeed, the beauty of nature is often the wisest balm for it gently relieves and releases the caged mind.

Those words pair beautifully with this song by Horace Silver, performed by Norah Jones.  

How the Healing Begins

One of my favorite quotes comes from Madeleine L'Engle: "Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find the truth."

If ever there was a moment when we needed a response to irrationality, it is in trying to figure out how our country can heal from the last four years. That is why the poem Amanda Gorman finalized on the night of the insurrection, "The Hill We Climb," resonated so powerfully for all of us on inauguration day.


But even before that, the Biden team was laying the groundwork for healing. On the day he was declared president-elect, they released this video.


And finally, as part of the inaugural day celebration, they brought us this view of America.


Most pundits will, at best, ignore these moments because they don't address policies or the horserace that has consumed political commentary. But after four years of watching how Donald Trump and his enablers poisoned the atmosphere with their hate and division, perhaps it is time to recalibrate all of that. 

Writing, singing, and dancing are not only the vehicles for healing. They are how we find our way back to the truth about who we are—or perhaps more importantly, who we want to be.

Republicans Continue to Expose Their Nativist Agenda

Four of President Biden's Cabinet nominees have been confirmed by the Senate. In not one case was the vote even close. Secretary of State Tony Blinken was confirmed by a vote of 78-22,  Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin  93-2, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines 84-10, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen 84-15. 

Those numbers should send a message to any Democrat—including Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—that there is more potential for bipartisanship when a supermajority is not required for confirmation. 

But there are a few nominees who are unlikely to get that kind of bipartisan support. Taking a look at which ones are coming under attack by Republicans tells us a lot about the GOP agenda. 

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson was the first one out of the gate to go after Biden's nominee to run the Civil Rights Division at DOJ, Kristen Clarke. Given that the Republican Party has a long history of attacking Democratic nominees to that position, that comes as no surprise. They have never supported the enforcement of civil rights laws, which is the mission of the Civil Rights Division.

Republican senators are attempting to slow down the confirmation of Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the first immigrant and Latino to be nominated for that position. According to CNN, the issue with Mayorkas is immigration.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri attempted to block Mayorkas' quick consideration after the hearing, arguing in a statement that Mayorkas had inadequately explained how he will secure the US southern border.

In a letter Tuesday, Cornyn led seven other GOP senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Hawley, in demanding a hearing for Mayorkas before their panel. They argued that Mayorkas spoke about "immigration priorities at length" during his January 19 hearing proving that immigration issues will be a "top focus" of his, and that the Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over immigration matters.

Finally, several Republicans in the House—led by Rep. Pete Stauber of MN—have written a letter to President Biden asking him to withdraw the nomination of Deb Haaland to be Secretary of the Interior, the first Native American woman ever nominated to a Cabinet-level position.  The representatives couch their objection to Haaland on the grounds that she supports the Green New Deal. But it is clear that the central issue is her opposition to the leasing of federal lands to the extraction industry—something that disproportionately affects Native American tribes. 

Since Republicans aren't likely to have the votes to stop the confirmation of these nominees, one has to wonder why they would spend time on these objections. The answer is that, not only does it provide them with the opportunity to attack a Black woman, a Latino man, and a Native American woman, it allows them to rile up their base with issues that inflame their nativist instincts. That has been the GOP agenda for years now. The attacks on Clarke, Mayorkas, and Haaland are just the latest examples. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

How Biden Is Walking His Talk on Unity

There are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States today. According to Pew Research, two thirds of them have been in this country for more than 10 years. 

Back in 2013, when Congress last considered passing comprehensive immigration reform, the CBO estimated that providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would reduce the federal deficit by $197 billion in the first 10 years and an additional $700 billion in the second decade. Additionally, the Center for American Progress calculated that such reforms would increase the earnings of all American workers by $470 billion over 10 years, increase tax revenue by $109 billion over a decade, and create on average an additional 121,000 jobs per year. Finally, over the next three and a half decades, legalized immigrants would add a net of more than $606 billion to the Social Security system. 

When President Biden prioritizes immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the arguments in favor of doing so aren't simply about allowing over 11 million people to come out of the shadows. The economic benefits of doing so would redound to all of us. 

But even Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio, who once advocated for immigration reform, have already stated that they will not support Biden's plan. 

Coming out of the 2012 election, there were still some Republicans who knew that immigration reform was something their party had to embrace. That is why the bipartisan "gang of eight" produced a bill that passed the Senate by a vote of 68-32. As had become typical of these kinds of negotiations, Republicans pressed for massive spending on border security in exchange for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers. But the lunatic caucus in the House threatened to oust Rep. John Boehner as speaker if he brought the bill up for a vote. That is how Republicans killed immigration reform in 2013. Three years later, they elected a president who had based much of his campaign on demonizing immigrants. 

Long before his first day in office, Biden knew that, having gone full-nativist over the last eight years, Republicans wouldn't support comprehensive immigration reform—even given the economic benefits of doing so. That is why he took a different approach than the one utilized by President Obama. 

Biden didn't pre-negotiate with Republicans. He produced his own plan that didn't include massive spending on border security. As Frank Sharry, founder and executive director of America's Voice, told Ron Brownstein,  Biden's approach differed in that it recognized that "Republicans demand way too much in the sausage-making and, in the end, still kill off immigration reform." Sharry went on to say that "Biden is presenting a bill that unifies and inspires the entire Democratic coalition. In effect, he's saying,  'Work with me in good faith, Republicans, to get to 60 votes, and if you don't...we'll find a way to get something done with our 51 votes.'"

That is a perfect example of how Biden is walking the talk when it comes to what he means by unity. 

The president knows that, according polling by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, 64 percent of Americans favor providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.  That indicates that there is unity on the issue—even if it is not bipartisan. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

For the GOP, It's the Gamers vs the Breakers

There's a lot of talk these days about the chasm that is developing in the Republican Party. No one has nailed the split better than Yale history professor Timothy Snyder. He contends that the battle is between the gamers and the breakers.

One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government...

Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy...For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, or even a lesson. For the breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future. 

Of course, the leader of the gamers is Senator Mitch McConnell, who initially went along with Trump's big lie about the election being stolen, only to eventually turn on the former president and say that, "The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.” 

Donald Trump was the ultimate breaker. That was obvious from the moment he entered the Oval Office. But his attempt to incite a group of insurrectionists to overturn the results of an election came as close to breaking our system of government that any of us have witnessed in our lifetimes. In those efforts, he was joined by people like Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both of whom have demonstrated that they are also breakers.

None of this is a new phenomenon.

In the four decades since the election of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have overcome the tension between the gamers and the breakers by governing in opposition to government, or by calling elections a revolution (the Tea Party), or by claiming to oppose elites. The breakers, in this arrangement, provide cover for the gamers, putting forth an ideology that distracts from the basic reality that government under Republicans is not made smaller but simply diverted to serve a handful of interests.

At first, Trump seemed like a threat to this balance. His lack of experience in politics and his open racism made him a very uncomfortable figure for the party; his habit of continually telling lies was initially found by prominent Republicans to be uncouth. Yet after he won the presidency, his particular skills as a breaker seemed to create a tremendous opportunity for the gamers. Led by the gamer in chief, McConnell, they secured hundreds of federal judges and tax cuts for the rich.

Exploiting the breakers worked fine for McConnell when it came to obstructing everything Democrats attempted to accomplish during the Obama years, followed by stacking the courts with extremists judges and getting tax cuts for the rich during the Trump administration. But on January 6, the monster got loose—threatening to break our republic. 

Adam Jentleson, a former top Democratic Senate aide and the author of “Kill Switch,” a new book about the Senate, told Jane Meyer that:

The glue that kept the Tea Party and establishment Republicans together during the past few years was tax cuts and judges. And McConnell can’t deliver those anymore...You need to marry the forty per cent that is the Trump base [breakers] with the ten per cent that’s the establishment [gamers]. McConnell is like a cartoon character striding aside a crack that’s getting wider as the two plates drift farther apart. They may not come back together. If they can’t reattach, they can’t win.

Notice that neither side is putting forth an actual agenda to address the issues we face as a country. The gamers want to exploit the system for power and the breakers are willing to sacrifice our democracy to gain power. 

The picture isn't as bleak as Jentleson suggests, though. The two sides will eventually unite against a common enemy: President Joe Biden and the Democrats. If that's the course they take, this is our new president's answer (emphasis mine):

I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real, but I also know they are not new. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.

Through civil war, the Great Depression, world war, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice and setbacks, our better angels have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us have come together to carry all of us forward. And we can do that now.

When it comes to the presidential race, are polls all that matter?

A little more than five months from the 2024 presidential election,  conventional wisdom  suggests that  Biden is losing . But according to ...