Thursday, April 15, 2021

Why Kristen Clarke Scares the Shit Out of John Cornyn

One of the campaign promises President Biden has already kept is the one about nominating the most diverse cabinet in U.S. history, better representing the make-up of the country. As such, much has been written about how Republicans have focused their attacks on the women of color Biden has chosen. I have occasionally joined that chorus

One of the ways that racism often rears its ugly head is the insinuation that a commitment to diversity means elevating less qualified women and people of color over competent white men. But based on my own personal experience in hiring, it actually has more to do with adjusting the qualifications you're looking for. As we watch the nominees Biden has chosen, that is the message coming through loud and clear.

For example, I recently reveled in the fact that this is our Secretary of Interior.

The woman of color that is currently coming under fire from Republicans is Kristen Clarke, Biden's nominee to run the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. During her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, we all got a good look at how intelligent, poised, and gifted she is. Take a look at how she handled an attempted smear from Sen. John Cornyn.

Right wingers are in a bit of a tizzy over recent remarks by UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. While speaking about the Biden administration's decision to rejoin the UN's Human Rights Council, she talked about the need for some humility on our part. 

I am struck by the fact that we have a UN ambassador who talks openly about how this country's racial history is personal for her - having grown up in the Jim Crow south. She also talked about "not forgetting our past or ignoring our present, but keeping both firmly in mind as we push for a better future."

Those are just three of the impressive women of color who, assuming Clarke is confirmed, will be leaders in the Biden administration. Pretty impressive, aren't they?

All of this reminded me of something Eric Wattree wrote back in 2013 in a post titled, "Why I Love Being Black."

Being Black in America gives one an education and perspective on life that you can't get anywhere else. That's not widely recognized, because public attention is often focused on the most dysfunctional in the Black community. But contrary to popular belief, that might not be an altogether bad thing, because it allows the excellence within the Black community time to incubate, untainted by the public eye. That's what allowed Barack Obama to explode upon the world stage as a fully developed powerhouse, and there are hordes of others just like him who are currently incubating in Black cocoons in suburbs and inner cities all over America...

So this is an exciting time for Black people, because we recognize that the world is about to discover what we already know - that there is nothing in the human experience more impressive than watching the development of a Black child, who's been dragged through the pits of Hell and the brutal experience of “American Exceptionalism,” then emerge on the other side as a well adjusted, uniquely eclectic, resolute, and learned product of his or her environment.

These are society's unsung heroes, and there are many more to come. They've been tested by fire, and they've prevailed. By the time they've reached thirty, they've faced down more adversity than the average American at eighty...So when I come into contact with the "strivers" in the Black community, I may not say it, but my heart whispers, "Thank you for your service."

As we are seeing with the Biden cabinet, those who have been incubating in cocoons all over American are stepping into leadership positions. A woman like Kristen Clarke has overcome challenges that make the one posed by Senator Cornyn pale in comparison. She has already been tested by fire and prevailed. 

Even if on a subconscious level, women like Deb Haaland, Kristen Clarke, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield scare the shit out of those whose power and identity are dependent on the status quo of white patriarchy. That is because these women's very existence exposes the lie that has formed the foundation of their world view. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Deb Haaland Is the Answer to the Prayers of Her Grandmothers and Grandfathers

Alexander Stuart served as the U.S. Secretary of Interior from 1850 to 1853. He once declared that the United States’ mission was to “civilize or exterminate” Native people. 

Almost 170 years later, Deb Haaland is this country's first Native American to serve as Secretary of Interior. Last week she traveled home to New Mexico for her first trip outside D.C. in that new role. She held a listening session with a delegation of nine pueblo governors of the All Pueblo Council of Governors. Perhaps you will understand why these words from Wilfred Herrera Jr., former governor of Laguna, brought tears to her eyes.

Today you return home, a symbol of our fulfillment of our faith, the answer to the prayers of our grandmothers and grandfathers over many generations. That prophetic time has come in our time and we are grateful.

From there, Haaland traveled to Utah. This, ladies and gentlemen, is your Interior Secretary. 

Despite her history of being a 35th generation New Mexican, Haaland is focused on the future. 

Haaland's trip to Utah was designed to inform her recommendations to the president based on an executive order he signed for a 60-day process to review the reduction of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments. To recap, President Obama signed a proclamation in 2016 to protect those lands as a national monument. Here's why that was so important to Native Americans.

The 1.35-acre sacred site in Southwest Utah encompasses archaeological records such as petroglyphs, ancient cliff dwellings, ceremonial sites and artifacts dating back thousands of years, making it historically and culturally significant to the Navajo and Hopi Nations that still use the land.

The sacred area offers healing powers to the people that have inhabited it since time immemorial. Bits of land within the area where the sun doesn’t touch are known as places to heal those who are sick, Maryboy—whose great grandfather lived on Bears Ears—said. Listening, star gazing, and placing offerings in certain locations are also made to heal the community and its residents There are also specific plants and herbs collected from the area that contain healing properties.

Of course, Trump did everything he could to reverse that designation by reducing the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent.

Reporting later revealed his administration placed access to oil and gas reserves at the center of the decision. And a uranium-mining company led by the soon-to-be-appointed Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler, lobbied the Trump administration to reduce the monument so it could mine uranium within the original boundary.

Since the shrinking of the monument, it has been overrun by motorized vehicles and tourists, threatening significant cultural artifacts.

While in Utah, Haaland met with politicians, tribal leaders, and staff who manage public lands. She also visited the monuments herself.

I have no doubt that Haaland's recommendations to Biden will be grounded in history with an eye towards providing a path for future generations that honors the power of the earth. That will be a gift to us all...and an answer to the prayers of her grandmothers and grandfathers.

"White Lives Matter" Protests are a Total Flop

The insurrection that took place on January 6th was perhaps the biggest news event of the year. On the other hand, most journalists aren't prepared to cover a story that didn't happen. But that's the news that caught my eye yesterday. As we are subjected to warnings about the next American insurgency, everyone was geared up for "White Lives Matter" protests all over the country. But they were a total flop.

In semi-private, encrypted chats, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists planned rallies in dozens of cities Sunday to promote their racist movements and spread their ideologies to larger audiences.

Hyped by organizers as events that would make “the whole world tremble,” the rallies ran into a major problem: Hardly anyone showed up.

The “White Lives Matter” rallies, the first major real-world organizing efforts by white supremacists since 2018, were planned on the encrypted app Telegram after many aligned groups were alleged to have taken part in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S Capitol.

Twitter told the tale.  

So what happened? The federal government is in the process of prosecuting 369 insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol on January 6th. In addition, the groups planning Sunday's events were infiltrated and disrupted.

The “White Lives Matter” rallies were disrupted in several cities after activists infiltrated their online groups and leaked internal chats to journalists. Those chats were reported to have indicated that the events were being planned by the extremist group the Proud Boysand by self-described fascists and Nazis who framed the rallies as peaceful events unaffiliated with known hate groups to recruit more mainstream members.

Organizers in several cities canceled events because of sabotage by antifa activists. Raleigh’s organizer called off a rally Friday, telling subscribers, “It turns out that the 11th is a disaster.”

Two of the largest Telegram channels dedicated to events in Philadelphia and New York City were shown to be traps created by anti-fascist activists. Another local activist tweeted screenshots of the plan's reveal with a warning Saturday to would-be rallygoers: “Given how riddled these chats are with antifascists ... it might be time to rethink whether you really want to trust a bunch of anonymous internet weirdos to show up with you in your city."

That's what I call "effective activism."

None of this means that these violent right-wing groups no longer pose a threat. Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino says that the risk now can be found in “loners and cells, who act on their own combination of hatreds and idiosyncrasies often cobbled together from a constant all-you-can-eat buffet of stereotyping and conspiracies that still populate online discourse.”

But it is important to know what's working to silence these efforts and avoid the kind of panic that is exactly what these terrorists hope to instill. That's the big story from Sunday!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Prosecutors in the Chauvin Trial Have Made a Very Strong Case

I've been keeping an eye on Derek Chauvin's trial over the last few days. I keep telling myself that we shouldn't jump to any conclusions yet because, at this point, the prosecution is still presenting their case. Things could change next week when the defense begins to call their witnesses.

But so far, it is hard to envision how a jury would conclude anything other than Chauvin is guilty of at least second degree murder. Here is some of the evidence that stood out to me.

1. One of the criteria for justifying the use of force against a suspect is the severity of the crime. George Floyd was in the process of being charged with passing a counterfeit $20 bill - a minor nonviolent felony. According to testimony from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, officers are trained to detain a suspect only in the case of a violent felony. In other words, the entire incident with Floyd was outside department policy from the get-go. 

2.  Once a suspect is in police custody, the officers involved have a "duty of care" that requires them to provide basic medical care. According to videos presented at the trial, at one point another police officer told Chauvin that Floyd had no pulse. Rather than attempt CPR or chest compressions, Chauvin continued to keep Floyd in the prone position with a knee on his neck for an additional 2 1/2 minutes.

3. Multiple police officers, including Chief Arradondo, stated that Chauvin didn't follow police department policies when he held Floyd in the prone position after he was handcuffed and ceased to resist.

4. Multiple expert witnesses, including pulmonary specialists and medical examiners, reviewed the evidence in this case and came to the conclusion that the cause of death was asphyxiation due to the actions of the police officers involved. They all disputed defense claims that Floyd's death was the result of his heart condition or drug use.

Of course, all the defense lawyers have to do is convince at least one juror that there is "reasonable doubt" that Chauvin cased the death of George Floyd. But at least at this point, they don't seem to have reached that bar with their cross examination of prosecution witnesses. We'll have to wait and see what they come up with next week.

An indication that perhaps the prosecution has made their case quite successfully is demonstrated by articles published at the Washington Examiner both before and after the trial began. In an column from two weeks ago titled, "Convicting Derek Chauvin of George Floyd's murder won't be easy," Eddie Scarry pointed to the fact that the medical examiner's report showed that Floyd had heart disease and found that he had both methamphetamine and fentanyl in his blood. Scarry also noted that the medical examiner found no injuries on Floyd's neck or throat. All of those issues were dealt with substantively by experts witnesses for the prosecution. 

But Scarry also wrote something that amounts to a lie of omission. He claimed that the medical examiner said that Floyd wasn't suffocated, "his heart simply gave out." Here is the testimony of Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County Medical Examiner, about the conclusions he reached in his autopsy report.

Baker ruled Floyd's death a homicide. He listed the cause of death as "cardiopulmonary arrest" (a fancy way of saying his heart and lungs stopped) brought on by law enforcement subdual, restraint, and neck compression.  Baker made it clear that Floyd's heart disease and drug use were "complicating factors," but not the cause of death. 

In an editorial published Friday titled, "Only Derek Chauvin is on trial—not our justice system and not the police," writers at the Washington Examiner took a totally different tone. 
What exactly is on trial in Minneapolis right now?

It is not the nation’s justice system. It is not the practice of trial by jury. It is not the Fifth, Sixth, or Seventh amendments to the Constitution. It is not even police operations.

Rather, the trial is of a former police officer, Derek Chauvin. And he is on trial not for his character or his aptitude as a police officer but for the specific, infamous, filmed arrest that ended with George Floyd’s death...

If the jury decides Chauvin caused Floyd’s death, it should rule accordingly. It should not rule based on any hyped-up media narrative about police shootings.

The entire article reads like a pre-emptive strike against using a guilty verdict as a call for police reforms. In other words, the editorial staff at the Washington Examiner is telegraphing what they think the outcome of this trial will be and preparing their next argument. Take that for what it's worth. But a guilty verdict would be a historic milestone for justice.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Right Wing News Consumers Are Being Fed a Constant Diet of Racism. How Should We Respond?

Demonstrating that many conservatives are abandoning the use of dogwhistles in favor of deploying the bullhorn, Tucker Carlson actually defended the Great Replacement theory on his show Thursday night. Keep in mind that this is the theory that not only motivated the Charlottesville protesters, but was also embraced by the terrorists responsible for the shootings in Christchurch and El Paso (among others).

Only a bit more nuanced is a piece by Larry Elder blaming this country's first African American president for the death of George Floyd.
George Floyd might be alive had former President Barack Obama not, for eight years, consistently played the anti-cop race card...[T]he political Obama knows that Black anger and resentment translate into Black votes. How many routine police encounters with Blacks escalate into something far more serious because young Blacks believe the "systemic racism" lie pushed by Black Lives Matter and their sympathizers?

Kevin Williamson attempted to defend the GOP's obsession with voter suppression by asking, "Why Not Fewer Voters?" He utilizes the more coded language of referring to "better" voters. 

Much of the discussion about proposed changes to voting laws backed by many Republicans and generally opposed by Democrats begs the question and simply asserts that having more people vote is, ceteris paribus, a good thing.

Why should we believe that?

Why shouldn’t we believe the opposite? That the republic would be better served by having fewer — but better — voters?

As Julian Castro pointed out, that is straight out of the Jim Crow playbook. 

Whether couched in coded language (ie, dog whistles) or blared from a bullhorn, consumers of right wing media are being fed a daily dose of outright racism in a way that is unprecedented over the last few decades. 

In the midst of all of that, Fox News has demonstrated that they recognize exactly what is happening and have assigned Greg Gutfeld the job of making fun of what will be the appropriate response.

Greg thinks that calling out racist hate is really funny. That is a great example of why conservative humor is always so bad. 

But perhaps you see what they've done here. Conservatives spread their racist hate and then mock anyone who calls them on it. Or, as Elder did with Obama, they claim that accusations of racism are examples of "playing the race card" and blame the accuser for the actions of racists. 

Back in 2010, Julian Sanchez gave us a name for that kind of closed feedback mechanism: epistemic closure. It is intended to shut down all reasonable attempts to have a conversation about the role of racism in our culture. Sanchez identified why that is so important for maintaining the insurgency (emphasis mine).

This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile...If disagreement is not in itself evidence of malign intent or moral degeneracy, people start feeling an obligation to engage it sincerely...And there is nothing more potentially fatal to the momentum of an insurgency fueled by anger than a conversation.

Frankly, when it comes to my friends and family, I gave up trying to engage the insurgents in conversation quite a while ago. But I still occasionally leave crumbs scattered around that might ignite a bit of cognitive dissonance. If any of those ever flower into actual questions someone want to pursue, they know where to find me.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Trump Supporters Are Driven by Status Anxiety. How Should Democrats Respond?

Ever since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, a debate has raged about whether his white working class supporters are motivated by racism or economic anxiety. That debate has persisted, even after the Public Policy Research Institute found that:

  • White working-class voters who say they often feel like a stranger in their own land and who believe the U.S. needs protecting against foreign influence were 3.5 times more likely to favor Trump than those who did not share these concerns, 
  • White working-class voters who favored deporting immigrants living in the country illegally were 3.3 times more likely to express a preference for Trump than those who did not, and
  • Being in fair or poor financial shape actually predicted support for Hillary Clinton among white working-class Americans, rather than support for Donald Trump. Those who reported being in fair or poor financial shape were 1.7 times more likely to support Clinton, compared to those who were in better financial shape.
Here is what Emma Green concluded after reviewing that research.
Besides partisan affiliation, it was cultural anxiety—feeling like a stranger in America, supporting the deportation of immigrants, and hesitating about educational investment—that best predicted support for Trump.

Buttressing that conclusion is research recently released by Robert A. Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats. He analyzed the 377 insurgents who have been arrested for storming the Capitol on January 6th.

[T]he study would appear to connect Jan. 6 not only to the once-fringe right-wing theory called the Great Replacement, which holds that minorities and immigrants are seeking to take over the country, but also to events like the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 where crowds of white men marched with torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”

“If you look back in history, there has always been a series of far-right extremist movements responding to new waves of immigration to the United States or to movements for civil rights by minority groups,” Mr. Pape said. “You see a common pattern in the Capitol insurrectionists. They are mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class whites who are worried that, as social changes occur around them, they will see a decline in their status in the future.”

Based on all of that, it is clear that what motivates Trump supporters isn't necessarily captured by terms like "economic anxiety" or simply "racism." What we should be talking about is their "status anxiety." 

Back in December, Thomas Edsall unpacked what that terms means by talking to a lot of experts about it. He learned that it is a subjective perception that is tied to a person’s sense of identity. As such, it represents how individuals gauge their status based on the cultural hierarchies we’ve constructed around things like class, gender, race, religion, geography, education, etc. 

Some of the experts Edsall consulted for his piece pointed out that the loss of social status is not something Trump supporters actually experience. It’s something they fear. For example, here is how Peter Hall, a professor of government at Harvard, described those who are affected:
The people most often drawn to the appeals of right-wing populist politicians, such as Trump, tend to be those who sit several rungs up the socioeconomic ladder in terms of their income or occupation. My conjecture is that it is people in this kind of social position who are most susceptible to what Barbara Ehrenreich called a “fear of falling” — namely, anxiety, in the face of an economic or cultural shock, that they might fall further down the social ladder,” a phenomenon often described as “last place aversion."

The reason why it is important to be clear about all of this is that our understanding of what motivates Trump supporters becomes the basis of whether a political agenda can appeal to them. Those who assume that Trump supporters are driven by economic anxiety make the case that if Democrats embrace policy proposals aimed at addressing the economic concerns of white working class voters, they can win their votes. But if Trump supporters are primarily driven by racism, they are simply deplorable and can't be reached. 

But what about status anxiety? Is there a political agenda that can address that? No. The truth is that what these folks are experiencing is actually more psychological than political. Their identities have been built on a foundation of supremacy—which is on a collision course with change. The anxiety they are experiencing is not related to what is actually happening, but what they fear might happen. In that sense, white supremacists Richard Spencer was actually the first one to identify Trump's appeal during an interview with Evan Osnos in 2015 (emphasis mine).

He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have – that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon.”

That same anxiety about what might happen is what drives men who fear being emasculated by women and Christian nationalists who fear religious persecution. A simple thing like hearing someone speak Spanish at the grocery store triggers white supremacist fears that their entire culture is in the process of being annihilated. 

Of course, right wing politicians and media play on those fears every day. They fan the flames in order to maintain power and influence. As long as that continues, it is difficult to imagine how status anxiety can be allayed. That's why there aren't any grand solutions on the horizon. 

What Democrats shouldn't do is allow this drama to influence their policy decisions. As the Biden administration is doing, they must analyze real-world problems and propose pragmatic policies to address them. That includes everything from stimulating the economy via infrastructure to immigration reform.  Someone needs to be the adult in the room while these folks throw their tantrums about imagined fears. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

On the Right Wing's Attempt to Cancel Wokeism

According to Steve Hilton, host of The Next Revolution on Fox News, the biggest threat facing this country is "wokeism." That means that it beats out things like climate change, income inequality, fascism, and even the latest obsession among conservatives...China. 

Before delving into what Hilton had to say about "wokeism," lets keep in mind that he's also the one who picked up a conspiracy theory from WorldNetDaily which claimed that the coronavirus was created by research tied to Dr. Fauci. 

That is a lie.  

On Sunday, Hilton suggested that wokeism is America's new religion.

This new religion is Wokeism. It has core beliefs like "the world is out to get you," "victimhood is sainthood," "if you are not a straight, white male you are oppressed."...

Wokeism has its own version of 10 commandments: "Thou shalt not think for yourself," "thou shalt not hold an opposing view," "thou shall definitely hold false witness against a neighbor if thy neighbor is not woke."

The punishment for nonbelievers: Canceled, cast out to the wilderness, financial and social ruin.

Like most arguments from conservatives these days, that is clearly a massive projection. But he did manage to get the right's favorite new word in there: "canceled." 

I'm going to guess that from there, Hilton might have lost his Fox News audience when he became positively academic in reciting his version of the roots of wokeism. He traces it back to a group of Marxists (of course) in the early 20th century from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt. They developed something called "critical theory," which eventually led to "critical race theory." The original is an approach to social philosophy that critiques society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. According to its early theorists, it "may be distinguished from a 'traditional' theory according to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent that it seeks human 'emancipation from slavery,' acts as a 'liberating … influence,' and works 'to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers of' human beings." But according to Hilton, it's nothing more than "an effort to tear down the values, ideals, and freedoms this country was built on."

In their view, family, faith, and culture were their building blocks of bourgeois society used by the elite to keep the masses oppressed, so they invented a new theory that explained all this and how to dismantle it -- Critical theory.

So according to Hilton, an effort to satisfy the needs and powers of human beings is seen as an attack on family, faith, and culture. But let's be perfectly clear. He's talking about a white patriarchal view of family, faith and culture. I was reminded of something Derrick Jensen wrote about how hatred becomes masked.

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, "normal," chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

I'm also reminded of a profound comment from an anonymous blogger who went by the name keres.

And I would argue that to dismantle partriarchy you would need to dismantle society in it's totality, and start over. It's no good just letting women in as "pseudo men" to societal structures so long formed by and to men's wants and desires.

Our societies are not "OK", except for the sexism, racism, heterosexism, ablism, etc. Our societies are intrinsically those things - they cannot be removed without a complete revisioning of the social compact. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, in an apartriachal society would look, sound, or feel even remotely the same as to what we have now.

Back in my younger days, a process like that was referred to as "consciousness raising." Today we talk about "wokeism." 

In a way, Hilton is right. "Wokeism" demands that we all contemplate the ways that biases have become embedded in our beliefs about family, faith, culture, tradition, economics, etc. That is what scares the shit out of people like Hilton. 

On a lighter note, Clyde McGrady looked into the origins of words like "wokeism" and "canceled" and found that they originated (of course) in Black culture. Being "canceled" was first introduced in a song written by Nile Rogers, "Your Love is Canceled" about a date gone bad.  It later showed up in "New Jack City," a 1990s Black Gangster classic. Then it really caught on, showing up in songs by 50 Cent and Lil Wayne.

Here's the irony in a nutshell:

“Cancel” and “woke” are the latest terms to originate in Black culture only to be appropriated into the White mainstream and subsequently thrashed to death. Young Black people have used these words for years as sincere calls to consciousness and action, and sometimes as a way to get some jokes off. That White people would lift those terms for their own purposes was predictable, if not inevitable...
Terms such as “lit” and “bae” and “on fleek” — or, if you’re a little older, “fly” and “funky” and “uptight” — have been mined by White people for their proximity to Black cool. The word “cool” itself emerged from Black culture...With “canceled” and “woke,” there’s a twist: Not only have these words been appropriated from Black culture, but they have also been weaponized to sneer at the values of many young Black liberals.

So the very words Hilton used to describe what he views as the greatest threat we face were actually appropriated from the culture he wants to "cancel." 

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Two-Fer in Biden's Infrastructure Plan

Perhaps more than any other commentator, Ron Brownstein has chronicled the political impact of this country's changing demographics. I remember being particularly struck by something he wrote back in 2012 titled, "The Gray and the Brown: The Generational Mismatch."

In an age of diminished resources, the United States may be heading for an intensifying confrontation between the gray and the brown.

Two of the biggest demographic trends reshaping the nation in the 21st century increasingly appear to be on a collision course that could rattle American politics for decades. From one direction, racial diversity in the United States is growing, particularly among the young. Minorities now make up more than two-fifths of all children under 18, and they will represent a majority of all American children by as soon as 2023, demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution predicts.

At the same time, the country is also aging, as the massive Baby Boom Generation moves into retirement. But in contrast to the young, fully four-fifths of this rapidly expanding senior population is white. That proportion will decline only slowly over the coming decades, Frey says, with whites still representing nearly two-thirds of seniors by 2040.

One of the places Brownstein anticipated this confrontation playing out was a competition for taxpayer dollars.

Although cultural disputes often generate the most heat, government budgets are likely to become the central point of conflict between younger minorities and older whites...At the national level, Congress faces...the competition between investing in education and other programs that benefit children, or spending on those that benefit seniors, primarily Medicare and Social Security.

But the truth is, the issues that face these two groups are—like everything else—interconnected. As Brownstein tweeted recently, "There is no economic security for the gray without more economic opportunity for the brown."

One of the provisions in Biden's infrastructure plan takes all of that into account. It calls for spending about $400 billion over eight years on “home- or community-based care” for the elderly and people with disabilities. 

There are two reasons why this is, as Biden would say, "a BFD." First of all, the number of seniors is projected to grow by more than 40 million, approximately doubling, by 2050, while the population older than 85 will nearly triple. As Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, told the Washington Post, "We have the largest older population we’ve ever had and really no infrastructure in place to support dignified care and services."

Secondly, when it comes to the people providing home health care, 87 percent are women, 60 percent are people of color, 54 percent have a high school diploma or less, and 51 percent get some form of public assistance. That last one is directly related to the fact that the median salary for a home-care worker is approximately $17,200 per year.

What Biden has done with this $400 billion in his infrastructure plan is therefore, a real two-fer when it comes to addressing some of the issues facing both the gray and the brown. That is what it means to be a "uniter."

Friday, April 2, 2021

Why I'm Impressed with Biden's "Whole of Government" Approach to the Challenges We Face

Since the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden has been saying that the U.S. faces four major crises:

  1. A global pandemic,
  2. An economic recession caused by the pandemic,
  3. A climate crisis, and
  4. A reckoning with racial injustice. 
Passage of the American Rescue plan was an effort to deal with the first two. And now Biden has turned his attention to infrastructure. We might ask what that has to do with the crises he identified. The title of the bill he introduced is the American Jobs Plan, so obviously infrastructure projects are designed to create jobs and stimulate the economy. 

But as introduced, the bill is also a climate change plan. For example:
Biden’s plan lays out a large investment in clean-energy and environmental priorities. The programs include $100 billion to bolster the country’s electric grid and phase out fossil fuels, in part by extending a production tax credit for 10 years that supports renewable energy.

Investing in electric vehicles ranks among Biden’s top climate-spending priorities, with $174 billion designated for that market alone...

The plan will also replace 50,000 diesel transit vehicles, while switching some 20 percent of the classic yellow school bus fleet to electric engines...

In an effort to transition fossil fuel workers to other jobs, Biden’s plan devotes $16 billion to employing Americans to plug abandoned oil and gas wells and restore land that has been used for coal, hard-rock and uranium mining.

The president has also used it to address racial inequalities.

In addition to dedicated funding for neighborhoods split or splintered by past infrastructure projects, the proposal also includes money for the replacement of lead water pipes that have harmed Black children in cities like Flint, Mich.; the cleanup of environmental hazards that have plagued Hispanic neighborhoods and tribal communities; worker training that would target underserved groups; and funds for home health aides, who are largely women of color.

A theme is emerging in the Biden administration. When it comes to tackling the biggest challenges we face as a country, they are consistently taking a "whole of government" approach. That means that they recognize that these crises aren't individual discrete issues, but are inextricably connected to each other. That is most obvious when we talk about things like environmental justice where climate change and racial inequities overlap. A whole of government approach means that every agency and department of the federal government will be engaged in addressing the four crises we face.

The challenge with this approach is that action and progress on each individual issue can get lost. For example, the title of the infrastructure bill doesn't mention climate change or racial inequality—even though addressing those issues is a major goal. 

That is precisely what happened with the 2009 American Recovery Act during Obama's presidency. Other than journalist Michael Grunwald, almost no one noticed that it made the largest single investment in clean energy in history, driving the deployment of clean energy and promoting energy efficiency.

What most impresses me about Biden's approach is that his administration is demonstrating that, when it comes to both the natural world and our social milieu, it is important to recognize the systemic nature of how things are organized: what effects one effects all. In other words, we can't fully address racial inequality without taking environmental justice into account. The same is true for economic inequality. As Rev. William Barber told the United Steel Workers: "wages are a civil rights issue." Failure to recognize the interconnectivity of these challenges can lead to solutions that result in unintended consequences. 

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