According to a package of three studies released by Pew Charitable Trusts and discussed on the front page of today's Washington Post, here, "Nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults, according to a new study -- a perplexing finding that analysts say highlights the fragile nature of middle-class life for many African Americans. ... Forty-five percent of black children whose parents were solidly middle class in 1968 -- a stratum with a median income of $55,600 in inflation-adjusted dollars -- grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners, with a median family income of $23,100. Only 16 percent of whites experienced similar downward mobility. At the same time, 48 percent of black children whose parents were in an economic bracket with a median family income of $41,700 sank into the lowest income group."
This is a terrible problem for American society; it's the American Nightmare, not the American Dream. We like to kid ourselves that we are the most mobile society in the world, but we're not even close. Not only is every country in Scandinavia ahead of us in this respect, so even is hidebound, class-riven Britain.
This is true at nearly every level of society. According to two separate studies based on a set of data collected over a period of five decades, the Nordic countries enjoy considerably greater degrees of social mobility than do Americans. In the United States, a son's earnings are more than twice as likely to be closely related to that of his father's than in most Nordic nations, and even Britain does a much better job at offering second-generation earners a higher probability of economic improvement than does the United States. This is true across the board, but it is at the bottom rung where the failure of the American system is most apparent. In the Nordic nations, for instance, three-quarters of those on welfare had moved up and out of the system by the time they reached their 40s, but barely more than half of their American counterparts had. As the editors of The Economist (subscription required) put it, "In other words, Nordic countries have almost completely snapped the link between the earnings of parents and children at and near the bottom. That is not at all true of America." In Britain, too, fully 70 percent of those enmeshed in the welfare system had moved out within a single generation, again -- a higher percentage than in America. The magazine points to the generous tax and welfare provisions for families as "the obvious explanation for greater mobility in the Nordic countries ... especially when compared with America's."
But when you tie it together with the problems of race, it's an explosive situation that leads to oppression in the name of personal security and crackpot racist theories about black genetic inferiority (and Jewish genetic superiority) promoted by the likes of Charles Murray and his voluntary publicists, Andrew Sullivan, Marty Peretz, and the entire Podhoretz mispucha over at the Commentary Dry Cleaning and Neoconservatism.
Part of the problem is that most white people, save the best educated -- and this is borne out by studies as well; it is not simply class snobbery -- will not accept the fact that racism continues to stymie black progress. They blame all of black America's problems on the breakdown of the black family; as a cause, rather than a symptom.
As both individuals and corporations grow more sophisticated in their ability to mask deliberate racial discrimination, the phenomenon becomes harder to demonstrate as a matter of law, or even journalism. But almost every day, those of us who are impressed by evidence find ourselves confronted by extremely worrisome examples of pervasive racial and ethnic discrimination in the United States. Absent the continuing power of institutional racism, Florida Republicans would never have been able to disenfranchise black voters during the 2000 elections by, in Doug Massey's words, "systematically allocating older, error-prone voting machines to black precincts; by illegally purging black voters from registration rolls through a variety of ruses; by systematically blocking the access of African Americans to polling places through police activity; and by blanketing black precincts with direct mail and fliers announcing that it was illegal for anyone arrested for a 'crime' (as opposed to convicted of a felony) to vote and that 'illegal' voting would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (thus frightening many would-be voters)."
And again, absent the continuing power of both personal and institutional racism, would the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, staffed by Bush appointees, have found that the Kodak Corporation was paying black workers less than similarly situated whites, promoting them less frequently and when they complained, either harassing or firing them? Sure, Kodak may have been an exception to the rule, but a black job seeker might well have considered such treatment to be the norm rather than the exception. Author Andrew Hacker notes that in studies of black and white job-seekers with identical résumés who apply for publicly advertised jobs, we find incontrovertible evidence of "systemic discrimination that cannot be attributed to differences in skills between comparably educated blacks and whites." In one study, undertaken by the Urban Institute in Chicago and Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s, applicants were trained for jobs with nearly identical résumés to present themselves in exactly the same way in interviews. The result: Black males were three times as likely to be rejected as white males. Other studies have found that among applicants who were offered jobs, whites were offered higher salaries. Another study discovered that whites' applications were more successful than blacks' even when the whites had criminal records and the otherwise identical blacks did not. And when we read a story about say, a sorority at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, ejecting every single black, Korean, Vietnamese (and overweight) member from its group residence, does anyone really think that racism plays no significant role in the lives of its potential victims?
Not surprisingly, statistical evidence demonstrates continuing legacies of racism in virtually every aspect of our education system. Black and Hispanic high school students, for instance, continue to read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school, a gap that has remained in place despite the implementation of the so-called "No Child Left Behind" law. Unless one is willing to embrace the racist pseudoscience of the likes of Charles Murray, which posits the intellectual inferiority of blacks and Hispanics to whites (and particularly Jews), then one has to ask what factors are at work here. And while no liberal would argue that cultural patterns inside communities of color do not have an effect -- including particularly absentee parenthood, the lack of positive role models in ghetto communities, and the glorification in rap music of anti-social behavior -- one cannot escape the conclusion that the contemporary manifestation of hundreds of years of white racism continues to play a significant role in the achievement gap. It's no coincidence, after all, that the schools with the largest minority student bodies are also the ones with the weakest tax base and the poorest families attending. And this, too, is no coincidence.
Part of the problem, to be sure, can be found in the media's portrayal of racial issues. As Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki demonstrate at length in their study The Black Image in the White Mind, a sampling of the network news from 1997 shows blacks in basically three ways: "entertainer, sports figure or object of discrimination." A more detailed study of just ABC News shows found that the network "mainly discusses Blacks as such when they suffer or commit crime, or otherwise fall victim and require attention from government." As a result, "the news constructs African Americans as a distinct source of disruption." The authors note that since Caucasians are rarely featured in this way -- relative to the number of times they appear -- "The news can easily imply a baseline or ideal social condition in which far fewer serious problems would plague the society if only everyone in the United States were native-born whites."
All of these problems contribute to the horrible situation in which we find ourselves, in which black ghettos constitute a permanent underclass and breeding ground for social pathologies that are then exploited by the likes of Murray, Peretz, Sullivan, and Podhoretz, together with the Glenn Becks, the Imuses, the Rush Limbaughs, etc., to ensure that our society remains one where the poorest are the victims of the poor and near poor -- and vice versa, while the wealthy live behind gated communities, retaining all available privileges for themselves, all the while preaching the virtues of hard work and "playing by the rules."
Click on FreeRice.
Speaking of Little Roy, he writes, here: "It's worth recalling: just because their enemies were often vile doesn't mean the Clintons didn't give them plenty to work with -- often needlessly. Another term of the two of them could well lead to the same kind of sexual scandals that distracted and near-paralyzed affairs of state in the 1990s. If you don't believe that, then you simply haven't grasped the depth of Bill Clinton's needs and compulsions and Hillary Clinton's life-long enabling of them."
I gotta say: You gotta admire the guy's chutzpah. I mean, he complained when others sought to make his private life public, even though he was advertising in a public space -- something I never wrote about by the way and mention in generic terms here only because of its relevance -- and yet he was quite properly and justifiably upset about that. But here, Andrew is insisting on the right to delve into the Clintons' private life because well, because he -- together with his former comrades on the nutcase right -- are personally obsessed with it. Well, Andrew is a public figure, with a powerful platform, and cannot deny that he is trying, mightily, to influence public policy. Can he really argue that his obsession with the Clintons' marital life is fundamentally and categorically different than say, Michelangelo Signorile's interest in Andrew's own private life just because nobody votes for him? And really, the idea that the nutty right wing should be able to determine who our president is because of their disreputable tactics is craven beyond words; it's exactly why some liberals argued that Bush should be allowed to steal the 2000 election during Florida, and for God's sake, I thought we were done with that nonsense by now.
I mean, look at the results. Leaving aside Iraq, etc., take a look at Joseph Stiglitz's article, "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush": "In breathtaking disregard for the most basic rules of fiscal propriety, the administration continued to cut taxes even as it undertook expensive new spending programs and embarked on a financially ruinous 'war of choice' in Iraq. A budget surplus of 2.4 percent of gross domestic product (G.D.P.), which greeted Bush as he took office, turned into a deficit of 3.6 percent in the space of four years. The United States had not experienced a turnaround of this magnitude since the global crisis of World War II.
"Agricultural subsidies were doubled between 2002 and 2005. Tax expenditures -- the vast system of subsidies and preferences hidden in the tax code -- increased more than a quarter. Tax breaks for the president's friends in the oil-and-gas industry increased by billions and billions of dollars. Yes, in the five years after 9/11, defense expenditures did increase (by some 70 percent), though much of the growth wasn't helping to fight the War on Terror at all, but was being lost or outsourced in failed missions in Iraq. Meanwhile, other funds continued to be spent on the usual high-tech gimcrackery -- weapons that don't work, for enemies we don't have. In a nutshell, money was being spent everyplace except where it was needed. During these past seven years the percentage of G.D.P. spent on research and development outside defense and health has fallen. Little has been done about our decaying infrastructure -- be it levees in New Orleans or bridges in Minneapolis. Coping with most of the damage will fall to the next occupant of the White House."
Marty Peretz, 11/21/06:
What [Bush] did not grasp -- and what, for that matter, Baker and those for whom he speaks also do not grasp -- is the sheer and relentless butchery of which both Sunni and Shia are capable. The fiendish barbarism of decapitated heads and mutilated bodies is now a reflex of the warriors and nothing exceptional, a commonplace. Even the bare rudiments of civilization will not soon come back to the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
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Posted by M. Duss
After four and a half years of unremitting bloodshed and vast refugee flows, news has recently been coming out of Iraq indicating a clear decrease in violence -- whether against Americans or Iraqis. Various partial explanations have been offered for this (or sometimes none at all), but no one has put this changing moment together better, or more provocatively, than Robert Dreyfuss, author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.
In this remarkable post, Dreyfuss puts the new information in context, asking who exactly the "enemy" now is in Iraq. He points out that Americans "aren't fighting the Sunnis. Not any more, anyway. Virtually the entire Sunni establishment ... is either actively cooperating with the American military or sullenly tolerating what it hopes will be a receding occupation." Nor are we fighting the Shia. The army and police of the Shia elite are, after all, "armed and trained by the United States. The far more popular forces of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army aren't the enemy either. In late August, Sadr declared a ceasefire, ordering his militia to stand down; and, since then, attacks on U.S. forces in Shia-dominated areas of Iraq have fallen off very sharply, too." And we certainly aren't fighting the Kurds, our closest allies. Nor at this point, he suggests, are we exactly fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq any more. The U.S. military has just recently announced that the organization has been smashed, at least in and around Baghdad.
It is, Dreyfuss points out, exactly the moment for genuine reconciliation and political settlement -- "Problem is, the United States cannot broker the deal. Having spent five years boosting sectarianism in Iraq, killing innocent Iraqis, busting down doors in small villages, and trying to turn Iraq into an American colony, the United States simply has no credibility left."
Instead, he suggests various possible paths toward a settlement in Iraq and points out to war critics that this is a key moment to react. Here's what the good news, however limited, from the disaster in Iraq means: "There is a critical window of opportunity opening for the United States to withdraw and for Iraq to hold itself together and rebuild."
Name: Ben Miller
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Is someone going to ask how Mr. 9-11 Rudy Giuliani could have recommended a man with little experience, alleged ties to organized crime, questions of corruption and tax evasion to be the head of the Dept. of Homeland Security? How could the former prosecutor, who crushed the mob, have been so unable to see in his close friend all of Mr. Kerik's wrongdoing and corruption. Don't you think that Mr. 9-11 would want someone more qualified and less of a criminal in charge of Homeland Security? Or is he OK with placing a criminal in charge of the department with the role of helping to keep America safe?