Tea Party thoughts

Friday 16 April 2010

I was going to make today some (likely) pretty controversial and assured remarks, but doing some more reading and thinking, I decided to tone it down a few notches, but hopefully still make my point and jump start some conversation.

15 April was tax day, and it also marks an important anniversary for the current Tea Party movement, as it was the day of the first true and major Tea Party protests.  A recent NY Times/CBS News poll raises some interesting questions and issues about the makeup of those who consider themselves Tea Party supporters.  (You can see the full report, or general trends, in addition to a descriptive NY Times article on the poll.)

A conversation was also held on the NY Times “Room For Debate” page (fast becoming one of my favorite places to read about trends and topics), titling the discussion, “What Tea Party Backers Want.”  Contributors looked at some of the  basic findings of the poll — which include racial and class background — and tried to infer (as we all do) larger ideas going on inside the Tea Party movement.

From the poll itself, I wanted to pull out question #72 for specific examination:

72. In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?

Too much Too little Just right Don’t Know/NA
All Respondents 28 16 44 11
Tea Party Supporters 52 6 36 6

I also particularly liked a few comments by Alan Brinkley, the Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University, is the author of “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century,” a forthcoming biography:

The other striking finding in this poll is the importance of race and diversity, something that Tea Partiers do not emphasize in their rallies and literature. But they show very clearly the racial anxiety that many of them appear to feel. This is not traditional racism, although there are almost certainly traditional racists within the movement.

The real issue, I believe, is a sense among white males that they are somehow being displaced, that the country is no longer “theirs,” that minorities and immigrants are becoming more and more powerful within society. And, of course, they are right about that. They just fear it more than many other Americans.

In particular, let’s look at a phrase Mr. Brinkley used: “traditional racism.”  I think what he means is bigotry, the overt feelings and declarations that whites are better than others, and certain rights should only be allowed to a particular group.  This “traditional racism” brought us things like separate water fountains, “white’s only” clubs, and the illegality of interracial marriages, to name of a few.  While some great civil rights laws prohibit these kinds of things, there are probably still those around who wouldn’t mind of some of those things were back.

But the larger problem here is the systematic racism that pervades society.  Looking at question #72 from the survey, I’m curious how one could say too much has been made of the problems of any group.  If there are problems, there are problems, and they need to be dealt with.  I guess the argument might come that one believes the amount of attention given to “the other group’s problems” are too large proportionally compared to “my problems.”

And here we get to what’s happening: internalized racial superiority.  As defined on the website for the People’s Institute For Survival and Beyond, IRS is:

The acceptance of and acting out of an superior definition of self, rooted in the historical designation of one’s race. Over many generations, this process of empowerment and access expresses itself as unearned privileges, access to institutional power and invisible advantages based upon race.

As Mr. Brinkley, I think, rightly posits, the Tea Party movement is a largely white movement based on those concerned with losing the privileges they hold based on their white race (and similarly their class status).  This is, however, an issue for all of U.S. society to deal with (while 52% of TP supporters answered “Too much” to question #72, so did 22% of the rest did, too — see below).  Practically, who would want to lose privileges they have?  If you have a company car or extra vacation days, to see them go away would not be enjoyed.  Similarly, many seniors have spoken up about cuts to Medicare — if you have something, you don’t want to lose it.

However, if we desire to be a place where all are treated equal, we must come to terms that the current structure (capitalist as it may be) privileges whites and oppresses black.  Much of this has to do with the economic that favors the haves (generally whites) and oppresses the have-nots (generally people of color).  It’s a cycle that many people are trying to end, but it is also one that isn’t know by many and often not talked about.

If some or all of this is news to you and you’re white (or anyone curious about all this), your next step is to read the article (just click on the title) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It will help you recognize the ways you gain privilege in ways that probably go unnoticed to you every day.  When you see how much you get without even realizing it, maybe you’ll think more clearly about the ways we’re oppressing people of color by failing to recognize the problems and issues of others are really the problems of all.

**(The calculation that 22% of non-Tea Party supporters answered “Too much” to question #72 was found by showing 52% of the 19% of TP supports who said “Too much” was about 10% of the total.  That meant 18% of the total who said “Too much” were not TP supporters, and 18% of the whole relating to the 81% of the group remaining leads, by ratio, to 22% of the non-Tea Party supporters responding “Too much.”)**


tax day!!!

Thursday 15 April 2010

As hopefully my readers in the U.S. are aware, 15 April is tax day!  Because it falls on a weekday this year, you won’t get any extra days.  If you still haven’t filed your taxes, you should do that!  Even if you’re late, it’s OK.

I, personally, got a few refunds this year (based on my locations of employment), including a nice bonus from the federal government!  I still paid taxes, mind you, in terms of medicare and social security (not to mention sales taxes all the time!), but I was part, as an article I read notes, Nearly half of US household escape income tax (if  you can call me a “household”).  I’d make some comments about this fact, but I think it’s already been done well at another blog called the “Hillbilly Report,” for all you rural progressives out there, apparently c:

Instead, I want to talk about what all those income taxes that are collected are used for!  Perhaps one might say that only those 53% who pay income taxes should decide how they are used, and that might be an interesting way to go, but until that day, I’ll have my say.

There is a nifty little chart/flyer put out by FCNL that shows how income tax revenues are distributed.  As we continue to think about health care, we should not be surprised to see that 17% (or $532 billion) of such taxes go to health care costs (and that doesn’t include medicare!) — as the flyer notes, this “Includes Medicaid, public health, Indian Health,
National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and related programs.”  We also know that tax money goes toward things like transportation, education, and other “basic needs” we have in the lives we live.

However, what gets me is that 1/3, or 33%, or $1 trillion (also written as $1,039.5 billion) goes toward Pentagon spending for current and past wars!  That far exceeds the minimal 1%, or $36 billion, that goes toward “Diplomacy, Development, and War Prevention.”  And actually, the “war” percentage is lower than usual because we spent so much money on the bailout and government economic relief — that number was 43% a year ago and is expected to rise to 38% again in two years, even with our current President Obama.

What we see here is continued belief that what makes the U.S.  safe and secure, not to mention a country not to be trifled with, is our military strength.  They say “fences make good neighbors,” but I think having friends around you is even a better strategy in the end.  Instead of spending (wasting) money on wars and war machinery, we need to transform our country into one working for peace and reconciliation with countries around the world, recognizing that our differences need not mean hostility and war.  Especially in these tough economic times, we need to reduce war and military related spending and step into the world of diplomacy and peacemaking.  If not now, when?


more tragic consequences of war

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Here is a short 6 minute video report from Democracy Now! you can watch or read, showing U.S. soldiers in Iraq firing from a helicopter, during which they killed at least three unarmed persons, including two reporters and a father (with children in the back seat injured).

Families of Victims of 2007 US Helicopter Killing React to Leaked Video

I’ve also included link to a longer report on this incident, which includes an interview with a soldier in this unit (no present on that day of combat) that says this is simply how soldiers are trained, and if it’s a problem, it’s part of a much bigger problem.

“This Is How These Soldiers Were Trained to Act”–Veteran of Military Unit Involved in 2007 Baghdad Helicopter Shooting Says Incident Is Part of Much Larger Problem

If you have some time, take a look to watch or read these reports and see what you think.  What are we doing wrong?  What needs to change?  Is there something in the military culture, or maybe something even in our culture as a whole, that makes these kinds of things happen?


preventative medicine: what a thought!

Tuesday 13 April 2010

UnitedHealth Tries New Approach to Fighting Diabetes (type 2, that is)


another health care post

Sunday 11 April 2010

I started reading T.R. Reid’s book “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care” this week, which I picked up at the library after talking about it in a past post, so I hope to write more on that later.  So far, it’s a pretty easy read, not too dense or technical but contains a lot of readable information (which should be true for a good journalist’s writing), so I still recommend it.

What starting that book has helped me realize is that what I care most about is health care being universal for all people.  There are many countries doing it in many different ways, but they cover everyone with some kind of basic care that allows people not to have to worry about general health care costs ruining their life.  You would think people could get behind that much and then it just be the “devil in the details,” but I still wonder if everyone believes health care coverage is a right and not a privilege.  Perhaps that’s the debate we need to be having now that a bill has been passed — winning the hearts and minds of people regarding the issue about universal health care so we can be better able to make more changes that will (almost assuredly) need to happen.

I read two articles this week that I wanted to share in relation to health care.  The first article is simply Governor Mitt Romney on Health Care, regarding his take on the health care bill and how it relates to what was passed in his state of Massachusetts, a bill he backed.  His big beef, at least how he wants to portray it, is that he thinks health care is a state issue and should be treated that way as opposed to a national mandate to carry coverage.  However, because there is so much mobility of people within the U.S., and because you’re a citizen not of a state (only a resident there), I have to disagree and say this is rather a national issue.  If the U.S. were more akin to the E.U., then maybe I could get behind that argument, but from what I can tell, all I needed was transportation to move from Ohio to Illinois to Wisconsin (and on and on, like I have), whereas  trying this from Germany to Italy to Spain, etc., would take visa upon visa upon visa, and simply living in Germany wouldn’t get me free health care any more than me showing up in Boston tomorrow would get me free health care there.  The U.S. is one country (for the foreseeable future), and health care needs to be looked at in that way.

The second article that sparked my interest was another in the NY Times “Room for Debate” series, titled “Stupak’s Abortion Deal and His Exit.”  It gives an interesting debate on how abortion policy and positions affect politics.  I’ve always been the kind of person who felt like not much would change in the political spectrum because of the views of whatever politician I was electing, so I never really even take their views on the topic into consideration.  However, many people do, and many people will not vote for someone who does not hold convictions regarding abortion they can support.  If you believe that laws banning abortion will end abortions, you need to watch Vera Drake or 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (or both), movies about those who have and carry out illegal abortions in various societies and time periods (1950s Britain and 1980s Romania, in particular).

Having never been a situation where I had to think about whether or not to have an abortion, I  find it very hard to think about what I might do if put in a situation where abortion might be seen by some as the best option.  And because I’m not really one to tell others what to do, I don’t want to say what is or isn’t the right decision in such situations.  I think if it came right down to it, I don’t think I could go through with an abortion, but instead of forcing others to do that themselves by law, I think we need to discuss the issue in a way that helps people first avoid as much as possible putting oneself in a situation to make that decision, and also to help people realize there are other options beyond abortion.  Perhaps that puts me in the middle ground that the article notes may be fading, but I think that instead of moving toward the edges, we all really need to be finding ways to grow closer together.


globally, women anything but equal

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Sunday night, I posted about the wealth inequality for women of color here in the U.S.  Another report I was turned on to is from October 2009, and it tells the tale of women in general, in the U.S. and around the world.  The 2009 Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum provides a ranking of countries around the world.  According to the report itself:

“The Index benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups…

“There are three basic concepts underlying the Global Gender Gap Index. First, it focuses on measuring gaps rather than levels. Second, it captures gaps in outcome variables rather than gaps in means or input variables. Third, it ranks countries according to gender equality rather than women’s empowerment.”

Using their methodology, they created rankings for 134 countries around the globe.  The top five in their list were Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.  Before you get to the U.S. at #31, you pass by South Africa (#6), Lesotho (#10), Sri Lanka (#16), Mongolia (#22), and Cuba (#29), to name a few.  (Remember — it measures gaps, not levels, so this doesn’t mean a woman’s life in Cuba is necessarily better than that of a woman in the U.S., but the gap is greater.)

According to the U.S. country profile, education and health are strong points, with equality more or less being established (ranking #1 overall for educational attainment). However, economic and political equality leave something to be desired (the U.S. ranked #61 in political empowerment, with 1 female for every 5 males in “parliament,” as they denote it).

So what does all this mean for us here in the States?  Well, for starters, it shows that while we may say men and women are equal, the end results don’t point that out.  We may educate women equally, and they may even live longer (on average) than men, but women here do not possess the same economic resources  and wealth as men and are not represented in government even close to equally.  We must again recognize the systematic structures in place creating these disparities and work to truly make women and men equal, in this country and around the world.

(As a side note, I found out about this report though an article that appeared in The Nation.  As readers wrote in response to that article, there are some areas for critique of that article and the report itself, but regardless of comparing the U.S. to other countries, the fact of continued inequality in certain areas of society here in the U.S. still needs to be noted and addressed.)


wealth disparity for women of color

Sunday 4 April 2010

A few weeks ago, I heard of a report that looked at the differences of wealth for white women and women of color.  The report is titled Lifting as we Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future and was conducted by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.  It  contained some very troubling facts.  Here are just a few, pulled from the Executive Summary (it should be noted that wealth here excludes vehicles)
(also, remember median means “middle” — half the women/people are above that vale, and half are below it):

  • Single black and Hispanic women have a median wealth of $100 and $120 respectively, which is approximately 1 percent of the wealth of their same-race male counterparts.  It is only a fraction of one-percent of the wealth of single white women.
  • Nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero, or negative wealth (negative wealth occurs when the value of debts is greater than the value of assets).
  • Never-married women of color have a median wealth of zero.  In comparison, never married white women have a median wealth of $2,600, never married men of color $4,020, and never-married white men $16,310.
  • Divorced women of color have a median wealth of $4,200, which is 26% of the wealth of divorced men of color ($16,100), 8% of the wealth of divorced white women ($52,120), and 5% of the wealth of divorced white men ($80,000).
  • Black and Hispanic mothers with children under age 18 have a median wealth of zero.  Black and Hispanic fathers have a median wealth of $10,960 and $2,400, respectively.  White mothers have a median wealth of $7,970 and white fathers have $56,100.
  • Prior to age 50, women of color have virtually no wealth at all.

This is what systemic racism looks like.  Obviously there is disparity here, and it might be easy enough to claim that women of color don’t work hard enough or that they do or don’t do certain things to bring such statistics on themselves.  However, there are much greater and more powerful structural components to this problem that create this issue and allow such racism to continue.  Again, the Executive Summary puts things in context:

“The earnings of women of color are not converted to wealth as quickly because they are not linked with the “wealth escalator” — fringe benefits, favorable tax codes, and valuable government benefits.”

I would add that the opportunities of education and work are not equally afforded to women of color.  The report notes these statistics:

  • Women of color are more likely to work in service occupations — 28% of black and 31% of Latina women compared to 19% of white women and only 12% of white men.  These jobs are the least likely to provide wealth-enriching benefits such as retirement plans, paid sick days, and health insurance.
  • Women of color benefit less from tax advantages such as the home mortgage interest deduction because they are less likely to own homes.  Due to residential segregation, their homes typically have less value and appreciate less quickly.
  • Women of color depend more on Social Security because they lack other sources of retirement income.  In fact, Social Security is the only sources of retirement income for more than 25% of black women.  But women of color receive lower Social Security benefits because of their lower earnings and because they are less likely to receive benefits as wives of high-income beneficiaries.
  • Women of color are less likely to meet eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance since part-time workers (primarily women) are often ineligible for benefits.
  • Women of color have been hard hit by predatory lending practices.  Of low- and moderate-income borrowers, Hispanic women were almost one and a half times more likely and black women more than twice as likely to receive high-cost home loans as white women.
  • Many women of color who received subprime home loans could have qualified for conventional lower-cost mortgages.  Subprime home loans cost a borrower between $50,000 and $100,000 more than a comparable prime loan over the life of the loan.

Aside from the startling statistics, I wanted to share this as an example of institutionalized racism.  The word “racism” has been thrown around a lot lately, especially in relation to the health care bill.  Often when people say it, they are referring to personal acts perpetrated by individuals.  However, we need to recognize that U.S. society is structured in many ways to benefit whites and oppress people of color,  and we all (but especially us whites whom the structure already benefits) must work toward changing the system to create equality for all people

The personal bigotry may always remain, but the structures that perpetuate oppression and racism must go.

(See here a 20-minute discussion on the topic from Democracy Now! with guests Mariko Lin Chang, the chief author of the report, and C. Nicole Mason, Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network.)