Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Saturday, May 31, 2003  

Neo-Confederate watch

*Workplace is not place for Confederate symbols

A Southern appeals court has suggested that displaying symbols of the Confederacy in one's work area at a privately owned business may not be a good idea.

RICHMOND, Va. -- A federal appeals court Friday upheld a South Carolina dairy's firing of a mechanic who displayed Confederate flag stickers on his toolbox.

Matthew Dixon claimed that Coburg Dairy Inc. in Charleston violated his First Amendment rights and state employment laws when it fired him in 2000 for refusing to remove the stickers after a black co-worker complained. The dairy said the stickers violated its policy against harassment.

If I did not know that encouraging people to post Confederate iconography in their offices at work and schoolchildren to wear Confederate flag tee-shirts to school is part of a broad neo-Confederate scheme to foment conflict among the races, I would consider this minutiae. However, I do know that. A sticker on a toolbox may seem like a small thing. But, it is an episode of the camel sticking its nose in the tent. The rest of its body will follow. The Court explained why it considers Dixon's claim unconvincing.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Dixon has a constitutional right to display the flag, but said that right is not unlimited. For example, his employer could not fire him for attending a pro-flag rally at the state capitol on his own time.

"Dixon, however, chose to display the Confederate flag on the tool box he used at his workplace," Judge Roger Gregory wrote. "For Dixon to prevail, this court would be required to find that the First Amendment gives him the right to move the flag rally from the capitol to the Coburg Dairy garage. Such a finding would lead to the absurd result of making every private workplace a constitutionally protected forum for political discourse."

The ruling in this case applies only to private workplaces in the court's jurisdiction. What if Dixon had chosen to carry a large Confederate flag into his local Starbucks or shopping mall? Could the management of those venues have asked him to leave or had him arrested? The answers to such questions are more complex than most people realize.

*You go, Colonel Reb

Speaking of symbols, the University of Mississippi's sports mascot may soon be gone with the wind.

The University of Mississippi's Colonel Reb, the old Southern gentleman who serves as the Rebels' sports mascot, could be in for a makeover to reflect the 21st century.

"It doesn't fit anything we do," Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone said Monday. Colonel Reb is "an 18th-century person," and it's not logical to keep that mascot around representing Ole Miss sports teams, he said.

But coming up with an alternative has been a problem, so Colonel Reb will stick around at least through the 2003 football season, Boone said. It's possible there could be a change for the 2003-04 basketball season, though, he said.

Need I say the neo-Confederates are not pleased? Many of them still lament that the Confederate flag can no longer be waved or even carried onto the football field at Ole Miss as was traditional until relatively recently. Now, the Colonel may be about to say, 'Bye, y'all.'

*Earnhardt earns neo-Confederate ire

The Rebels are also in a lather over the behavior of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the race car driver who has said he considers Tyra Banks the ideal woman. He also has made comments about his Southern heritage that appall them.

Back in the Civil War, when they flew it, it was just a flag. Now people are using it for other reasons. I was in Richmond, onstage in front of about 340 people, and there was a Confederate flag. I was doing a Q&A session with these people in the crowd, and this guy's like, "Turn around. What do you think about that flag right there?" I turned around and I was like, "I don't think it means the same to me as it does to you." I just left it at that, but anybody who is trying to show that flag is probably too ignorant to know what the hell he's doing.

The controversy began because of an interview with Earnhardt and his "Southern Comfort" co-star, rapper Ludacris, in the hip hop flavored Complex Magazine. Neo-Confederate groups are asking that their members complain to Earnhardt's sponsors.

posted by J. | 12:39 AM

Thursday, May 29, 2003  

Second thoughts

Often, after I have completed a blog entry, I will have additional thoughts about the subject discussed. This entry consists of some second thoughts I've had about recent topics discussed in the blogosphere. I also consider whether a conservative blogger will be having some second thoughts of his own.

*'Mom's' voice study stereotypes women

I said I was wary that the recent research claiming about to be born fetuses can recogize their mother's voices would be misused by the anti-abortion movement. I've thought of a second aspect of the conclusion that also strikes me as apt to be misused.

What can be made of the 'mommy's voice' research in regard to what it says about women? I believe evidence of this sort can be used to support the view that motherhood and nurturing are the 'natural' talents of women. Anti-feminists may latch on to it for that purpose. If our offspring recognize us before they are born, it can be said that elevates the mother-child link. The problemmatic aspect of the nurturing women school of thought is that it includes all women. All women -- including those who are not interested in motherhood and those who make terrible mothers. It also imposes an expectation of having nurturing qualities on every female, and, simultaneously denies them to men.

I am not saying the study will be misused, only that it can be. Those of us who support women's rights need to be vigilant in regard to the often backhanded compliment, 'women are nurturers.'

*Ruffini's embarassing 'analysis'

Sophomoric blogger Patrick Ruffini has claimed that bloggers of the Right are better bloggers than their counterparts on the Left.

Part of the disparity also seems to lie in subject matter. The four top lefty bloggers focus pretty exclusively on political or Administration (sic) news. The six top "righties," InstaPundit (France, nanotech, "crushing of dissent"), Sullivan (The New York Times, gay rights), Volokh (law), LGF (Arafat), Lileks (life), and Den Beste (general global strategy), are all beautiful prose stylists but tend to be more over-the-board and are sometimes lacking in the hardcore political coverage we all crave from time to time. Is this because nonliberals are more likely to find opportunities for social change and self-fulfillment outside of government? Could be.

His puerile blather has repudiated by better bloggers than he will ever be, including a non-Leftist or two.

An aspect of Patrick's 'reasoning' that struck me late is his inability to distinguish among the purposes of blogs. For example, the InstaPundit is a collector of links to other blogs and news sources, with a slant to the Right. DailyKos' objective is completely different. He seeks to gather information about the electoral system and present it to the general public, both in its raw form and through analysis. How can someone not grasp the difference in purpose among members of the top ten and bloggers in general? Perhaps this is so noticeable to me because I've read and linked to good analysis of how the blogosphere works by bloggers on the Right such as Dean Esmay and Venomous Kate.

Not only would they never make the huge error of ignoring the objective of a blog, they don't entertain the notion the blogosphere is a microcosm of reality, political or otherwise, that Patrick does either. Each of them recognizes the blogosphere is a very social entity. For example, Little Green Footballs is a popular blog not because it is well-written or because its bloggers are profound thinkers, but because it provides a place for extreme Right Wingers with a Zionist bent to gather or at least drop in for their daily dose of self-justifying bile. The huge lists of links of some Right Wing bloggers, which Patrick is so proud of (though he is a veteran two-year blogger with a ranking similar to that of a succesful two-month old effort) is not a measure of the quality of the bloggers, either. Right Wing bloggers have been around longer and have built a larger social network than centrist and Left Wing bloggers. That largely explains the discrepancy in number of links between the groups.

*Pickering's man in Bloggersville?

I am wondering if Mississippi blogger Chris Lawrence of Signifying Nothing will be having second thoughts. As of May 11, he was still mouthing the Bush administration's lies about Charles Pickering like an automaton.

Sid Salter writes in today's Clarion-Ledger about the heat State Rep. Phillip West is taking from his fellow legislative black caucus members for daring to break with the party line on the Charles Pickering nomination. Salter draws a damning parallel between the state's current civil rights establishment and the segregationists who attacked Pickering when he testified against Klan leaders in the 1960s:

Pickering's courage, integrity and morality were questioned publicly by the radical fringe of white Mississippians, just as West's courage, integrity and morality are now being questioned by the radical fringe of black Mississippians.

Why? Same reason.

Both West and Pickering had the courage to do and say what was right on a controversial topic.

The SCLC and Black Caucus ought to be ashamed of themselves for continuing to spread lies about Pickering's record. If they don't like his judicial philosophy, that's what they should say, and leave the invented racism charges out of it.

We've discussed the vile and duplicitious Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering often, most recently here. Much of what appeared in Monday's Washington Post article is not all that new. Bloggers including Joe Conason, Atrios and Mac Diva wrote about some of it earlier this year. However, the reporter pulled it all together and added more damning information he dug up himself.

As you know, the testimony against the Klan being cited by Lawrence above consisted of two words. "It's bad," and occurred in a conflict among the racists who ran and still, to a surprising extent, run Mississippi, among them Charles Pickering. It may have been against the Klan, but it was not for civil rights. Pickering was a segregationist then and has only modified his views enough to fly under the radar most of the time. It is bizarre that Lawrence believes the testimony proves Pickering to be courageous while dismissing the members of the Black Caucus, some of whom did risk their lives during the civil rights movement, as radicals. Not that it is unusual for white men from Mississippi to be bizarre.

The man Lawrence cites, Sid Salter, is a member of that white-collar Klan club, also. He probably jokes with Pickering about 'keeping the niggers down' in private. Salter did his darnedest to defend Trent Lott and prevent his demotion. Is cozy with the neo-Confederates. Only relatively recently did his paper begin to hire African-American reporters, and, those hired are rarely allowed to cover significant news.

The black legislator being patted on the head by Salter and Lawrence? He broke ranks with the rest of the Black Caucus in hope of scoring some kind of quid pro quo from Mississippi's white power structure. Hardly heroic behavior.

The WaPo's article did not leave anywhere for Pickering's defenders to run or hide. So, is Lawrence having second thoughts? I will continue checking his blog to find out and let you know the outcome.

posted by J. | 7:10 PM

Triple whammy: Poor will not get child tax credit

Sunday, we discussed how the just signed tax cut legislation will have no impact on low-income workers, and, the threat a cap on Medicaid as envisioned by the Bush administration is to them. Via Atrios' Eschaton, I've learned from the New York Times that the most vulnerable of Americans will also be denied the child tax credit.

Most taxpayers will receive a $400-a-child check in the mail this summer as a result of the law, which raises the child tax credit, to $1,000 from $600. It had been clear from the beginning that the wealthiest families would not receive the credit, which is intended to phase out at high incomes.

But after studying the bill approved on Friday, liberal and child advocacy groups discovered that a different group of families would also not benefit from the $400 increase ? families who make just above the minimum wage.

Because of the formula for calculating the credit, most families with incomes from $10,500 to $26,625 will not benefit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group, says those families include 11.9 million children, or one of every six children under 17.

There is nothing incidental about this occurrence. Congressional leaders decided to drop these low-income families from the bill in order to cut taxes on dividends for wealthy families.

Blogger Ralph Brandi at There is No Cat explains how and why it happened.

Robin Hood in Reverse

Just in case you needed one more piece of data to convince you of where the current administration's priorities lie, tonight comes news that the tax giveaway the Resident signed withholds the much-vaunted child tax credit from the poorest taxpayers. The provision that ensured they would get it was removed at the last minute in committee so that the bill would stay under the illusory $350 billion figure so that the Republicons could maximize the reduction in the cut on taxes on dividends...If you needed it to be any clearer that the people running looting our country are stealing from the poor to give to the rich, if you need it shoved in your face, here it is. It just couldn't be any plainer. Those pricks call it class warfare if you complain about this, but they're the real class warriors, and the class they've declared war on is everyone but the rich.

The triptych of policies, assuming the Bush administration gets the cap it wants on Medicaid, will have the effect of offering no refund check to many of the working poor, refusing them the child tax credit and possibly depriving their children of health care. If this is what Compassionate Conservatism looks like, I would hate to meet its brother, Coldhearted Conservatism.

The Slacktivist, Fred Clark, makes an interesting comparison.

According to a calculation by Bloomberg News, Bush himself would save $26,739 in taxes under the new law.

Bush's personal windfall: $26,739

Annual income threshhold below which families will receive no child credit in Bush's tax plan: $26,625

Yes, Mr. President, there are many, many families who live on less income in a year than the nice little lagniappe you just presented yourself with. One out of every six American children lives in such a family. And your tax plan makes sure that such families won't receive the largesse you're so eager to bestow on wealthier families -- and on yourself.

Stealing formula from babies. That is the man the Supreme Court appointed President.

posted by J. | 2:47 AM

Tuesday, May 27, 2003  

Women's department

*His mother's voice

I'm a bit of a biology voyeur. Though I have no special training in the field, I follow new information about understanding the human body closely. So, this report of a study on about to be born fetuses was a must read.

U.S. researchers found that heart rate in full-term fetuses increased when a recording of their mothers' voices was played, but decreased in response to the voice of a female stranger.

This shows that the fetus can distinguish between the voices of its mother and other women before it is even born, study author Dr. Barbara S. Kisilevsky of Queen's University in Canada told Reuters Health.

The study is, of course, disputable. The size of the sample may not have been sufficient to reach the conclusion. And, the conclusion itself could be faulty. The researchers focus on a change in the fetus' heart rate to faster upon hearing his mother's recorded voice to conclude he recognizes her. Perhaps, the increase in heart rate is caused by something else. Or, the fetus could respond that way to any familiar voice, such as a father's or a co-worker's of the mother, not just her voice.

Another aspect of this that interests me is how the conclusion can be interpreted politically. Anything that humanizes the fetus can be used by the anti-abortion movement to argue that the fetus is a person from conception. However, late term fetuses like these are already protected under Roe v. Wade, so claims made in regard to them are already answered to an extent. Abortion of a late-term fetus (usally five or six months old) is subject to more scrutiny because of society's interest in births, but still allowed.

Peggy of Pilgrimage cites the study as evidence against abortion.

NO! The fetus can identify his mother. No! No! It's not supposed to be alive or have any human properties! This is just tissue I tell you! [sarcasm intended]

James Joyner of Outside the Beltway is more graphic and more in error.

Yahoo!News/Reuters reports that "shortly before birth, a fetus may be able to distinguish mom's voice from others." But, paradoxically, it apparently can't feel when scissors are jammed into its skull.

Like Peggy, he evades the matter of the fetuses in the study being late third-trimester and about to be born, i.e., not candidates for abortion.

I am very much in favor of legitimate research. However, attention should be paid to the use or misuse it is put.

*Misogynist blogger spews

The physically and mentally unattractive blogger at Gut Rumbles, Rob, has quite a few things to say about women bloggers, and women in general.

1) Men write better blogs than most women do. Other than guys who blog about their fucking, shit-ass cats and guys with MONKEYS on their page, men generally write better than women do. There are exceptions, but they simply prove the rule. Women don't write many humorous blogs at all. They lack the ability to laugh at themselves. They worry constantly about someone else laughing at them.

. . .3) Women are meaner in real life than men, but they don't admit it on blogs. Women are the most vicious, throat-cutting, back-stabbing, sell-you-down-the-river breed of humankind on the face of the planet, but they DENY THE FACTS. They write "sensitive" blogs. They put flowers on their pages and really like having lot's of "skins" (most of which they peeled from ex-husbands and hung on the wall like a throphy) (sic). I don't buy that crap. A woman is a dog that bites you after you pet it.

Ladies, this one doesn't qualify to take out our garbage.

*Even-handed or ham-handed?

After playing well the first day, Annika Sorenstam failed to make the cut for the PGA. Afterward, chastened, she said something I hope she will recant.

"It was a great week but I've got to go back to my tour, where I belong," Sorenstam said. "I'm glad I did it, but this is way over my head."

Maybe so. Maybe not. It is doubtful she can tell after one attempt under trying circumstances. I believe she should try again. Blogger Eric of Educated Guesswork believes she now knows her place.

I think it's reasonable to say that you're outclassed when it's really clear that you are and that you have no chance of making up the difference. Now, it's no doubt easier to say that if you just won, but it's certainly arguable that that makes you more of a wimp, not less, since you've proved that you can compete, at least at some level, if not the highest possible level. That's not my view, however. It's critical to know your limitations.

But, would he apply the same reasoning to a man? It seems to me that women are too often told to know their limitations and what those limitations are by men who want to limit competition -- for education, for jobs and for the PGA tour.

posted by J. | 11:48 PM

Pickering finally exposed

The true story of Judge Charles Pickering, scion of Laurel, Mississippi, friend of the neo-Confederates and keeper of white supremacy, has emerged. Previously, the Bush administration was pretty successful at creating an image of Pickering as a man who supported civil rights in a part of the country where the ground is soaked with the blood of African-Americans. They spun his testimony in an intra-white supremacist court case between Klan supporters and members of the White Citizens Council, its wealthier cousin, into a claim Pickering was pro-civil rights. Now, a reporter for The Washington Post, R. Jeffrey Smith, has gone national with the truth the civil rights community has known for at least a year. Pickering is a defender of bigotry.

One of Pickering's most notorious cases was that of Daniel Swan and two other cross-burners. After harassing an interracial couple, including one of them shooting into their home on one occassion barely missing their child, the trio burned a cross in their yard. Pickering signed off on no jail time for two of the defendants. When a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years was to be imposed on Swan, he went beyond his powers to obtain a shorter sentence.

But Pickering was so incensed about the length of the sentence that he telephoned a friend at the department's headquarters in Washington, and demanded in a sealed order that Attorney General Janet Reno review the case. According to a Justice Department memo obtained by The Washington Post, he also threatened to overturn the jury's verdict even though he agreed it was lawful.

Pickering's pressure on the government in the case -- highly unusual for a federal judge -- has sown controversy over his nomination by President Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit; Senate Republicans are hoping to schedule a hearing on the nomination in the coming weeks. A detailed review by The Post outlines Pickering's activity in the case and shows a discrepancy between court records and his publicly stated rationale for intervening.

Blogger Brad at Silentio looks leerily at Pickering after reading the Post's story.

This article simply has to be read in order to be believed. I know that, supposedly, Mississippi African-Americans don't regard Judge Charles W. Pickering as a racist, but, uh, it's really kind of difficult not to find warrant to be really really really wary of the man, who, we shouldn't forget, has been nominated twice by Junior Bush for the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Before we're finished with this discussion you might be leery of Pickering, too.

He was successful in getting Swan's sentence reduced from seven years to 27 months, a period much shorter those than he has sentenced some defendants, many of whom were black, to for much less serious offenses. Not that I believe Pickering considered Swan's conduct serious. He has described him as "a young man who just got drunk," as if drinking and cross-burning go hand-in-hand.

The Senate debate over Pickering hinges partly on his links to the racial legacy of the South, and of Mississippi in particular. Pickering's birthplace, Jones County, became notorious in the 1960s as the base of operations for Sam Bowers, who organized a violent wing of the Ku Klux Klan that enjoyed remarkable impunity then for murders, arsons and hundreds of assaults.

Pickering, the son of a dairy farmer, graduated first in his class at the University of Mississippi law school in 1961 and joined a private firm with two other local attorneys, including J. Carroll Gartin, a former lieutenant governor and self-described "total and complete advocate of absolute segregation." Gartin was also a founding member of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, a state-funded group that spied on opponents of segregation and sometimes sanctioned violence.

Part of Pickering's effort to morph his past has been the forementioned claim of having risked his life and livelihood by testifying against a member of the Klan in 1967. Actually, the prosecutor asked Pickering if the man's reputation was good or bad. "It's bad," he replied. The rest? There was no rest. At least a dozen other white citizens testified for the prosecution in the case, so Pickering was not exposing himself to danger.

TBOGG, another blogger taken aback by Pickering's audacity, will not be defending him around the water cooler.

While you may not come away from this article on Charles Pickering with the impression that he's a racist, you have to admit that he is a liar, ethically corrupt, sloppy, and therefore unfit for the bench.

The facts of the cross-burning are also quite different from the way they are presented by Pickering and his supporters. Swan, the supposed innocent who just can't hold his Budweiser, has never seen anything wrong with his activities that night.

A friend of Swan's, Laurie Milton, testified that Swan said afterward he "just didn't like niggers."

But Swan denied saying that, explaining that "I was just pulling a prank. I wasn't meaning anything by it." He also said that "to hear all the old men talk about it, it wasn't" any worse than trespassing. In a recent interview, he said the federal charges made "everybody around here mad."

He now paints himself as the victim of the interracial couple he harassed and says his business is suffering as the result of the publicity.

Pickering has expressed the same sentiment in slightly different words. He said a light sentence was justified in order not to upset white people in the area. So, he went all out on the behalf of the young ruffian for the sake of positive race relations.

On Jan. 4, Pickering signed the sealed order demanding that Reno review the case and repeating that "the record is devoid of any general attitude of racial animosity" by Swan. He called the affair "the most egregious instance of disproportionate sentencing recommended by the government in any case pending before this court."

The feds buckled. They should have stood up to Pickering, but didn't. So, we should save some of our oppobrium for them.

We are at the point in the story where 'good' neo-Confederates everywhere must be feeling conflicted. Their man 'did the right thing,' but none of this was supposed to be aired publicly. Susan Nunes of Random Thoughts wouldn't offer them any comfort, I'm afraid. She believes nominations such as those of the mossback from Mississippi could hurt George W. Bush's credibility.

After he bullied the federal prosecutors into withdrawing a charge post-conviction, Pickering had a pleasant chat with Swan.

"Sometimes, youthful pranks under the influence of alcohol on a cold winter night can get you in a heap of trouble. And that's what happened," Pickering told Swan at his sentencing that day.

He may already have been planning his ascenscion to higher courts.

George Mason University law prof David Bernstein is bothered by by another aspect of Pickering's behavior, the solicitation of letters of recommendation for the judgeship on the Fifth Circuit from lawyers and litigants who appear before him.

Equally troubling, though in a different way, is this: "The Judiciary Committee has received letters from Mississippi lawyers endorsing Pickering that the judge has said he solicited directly, a practice that attracted criticism at his hearing. Pickering requested that the letters, including some from present or former litigants in his court, be faxed directly to his chambers." To solicit letters from past, present, and potentially future litigants before your court seems coercive on the one hand, and also will give rise to an appearance of impropriety on the other. Would you want to be represented by the attorney who declined to send a letter on Judge Pickering's behalf, when your opponent was represented by someone who did send such a letter?

It would be hard to find a person less suited for the position. Pickering's record as a judge is mediocre at best. The Fifth Circuit is the civil rights court of the U.S., with more than 40 percent of the citizens in its jurisdiction minority Americans. It hears more of the kinds of cases Pickering has referred to as a waste of time than any other. All of this will be ignored by the Bush administration and its adherents as they try to force Pickering's nomination on the American people again. Only a stalwart refusal to back down will prevent his dream of sitting on a higher court and further soiling the image of justice from coming true.

posted by J. | 5:33 AM

Monday, May 26, 2003  

Some logs and a bottle of wine

Jeff Hauser had an entry at the Hauser report May 19, that I have been meaning to discuss, along with a companion piece from Alas A Blog by Barry, from May 6. Both are about something that seems like a good topic for a slow long weekend. Dishonesty. I could say crime, but the actions we are talking about though considered misdemeanors if prosecuted, are hardly what most people envision when they hear that word. No blood. No weapons. Rarely even a shove or slap.

We will look at Jeff's entry first.

Moral Dilemma. Okay, I decide to pick up some groceries at the uber-trendy (by DC standards, that is; coolness mileage varies by context) Whole Fields on the way back to the HR's international HQ from DuPont Circle.  I get on line behind a somewhat trendy looking mid-30s-ish married woman.  I set up one of those things which separate out groceries.  It keeps falling, and I think that's why the cashier doesn't notice that the woman's last item, a bottle of wine, was actually not mine but the woman who she was ringing up.  The cashier then has to go deal with something for a second, during which time the woman in front of me. .  . . grabs the [wine] and places it into one of her already filled up bags.

Should I have said something?  Is it some weird fear of confrontation generally, or with strangers?  Was there a gender dynamic at work?  Totally unclear to me. 

It may be more clear to me. I wonder if Jeff would have responded the same way if the woman had been black or Hispanic or perhaps male and black or Hispanic or maybe any race, but poor looking. Poor looking? I know the phrase is stereotypical. But, most people have a picture in their minds about what a poor person looks like. Unkempt hair. Bad teeth. Jeans from Kmart or Target instead of Levi's or the Gap. Probably with a couple young kids along because low-income plus offspring equals poverty in the U.S. of A. So, the person looked like that instead of being the well-coifed, business suit from Ann Taylor wearing and probably SUV driving person she was. Would Jeff have said, 'That's not your wine,' to the person of the 'wrong' color or class?

This is not an attack on Jeff Hauser, who I don't know and who could be a stand-up guy. He is just standing in for white, middle-American Everyperson in the scenario. My guess is that Every man or woman would not only be more likely to speak up if the shoplifter were our stereotypical poor person instead of someone like him or her. I also believe the observer would be more likely to alert an employee or store security.

As Jeff notes, gender might have had something to do with the outcome, but I believe race and class would have outranked them.

Barry had a confession to make.

Years ago, when we lived in Boston, we were broke and (by and large) unemployed. It was a very cold winter, and our heat had been cut off. We had a fireplace - but we didn't have wood to burn. I therefore became fairly expert at shoplifting those faux-log things from the nearby Caldor's. I didn't feel bad about it then, and thinking back on it I still don't feel guilty. It's okay to shoplift from large corporations to get things you actually need. The harm to Caldors of losing the faux-logs is considerably less, realistically, than the harm to us of having nothing to burn in our fireplace.

He goes on to say he does not believe it is immoral to shoplift. The entry generated 143 comments. Some people suggested he should have found work somehow or applied for charity. A few, typical of the folks who are increasingly taking over his comments section, egged on the theft is beneficial, property is a crime, perspective.

This is not an attack on Barry. In the same way Jeff represents white, middle-class Everyperson as witness Barry represents Everyperson as actor. Bad actor? You decide.

Examples of events like those that happened to Jeff and Barry can mean many things at once. The aspect I want to focus on is my belief they are evidence of race and class privilege.

Jeff did not intervene in the theft of the wine. Other people did not intervene in Barry's thefts of the logs, though I am sure some saw him steal them. I believe that in both situations, the observers deferred to the race and class of the perpetrators. If Barry had been nonwhite or recognizably poor, instead of a middle-class man temporarily unemployed, he would be telling us about jail in Boston and the sleaziness of bondsmen.

The two examples strike me as paradigmatic of how white privilege and class privilege work. People engage in the same act, 'liberating' an item from a store. One group gets a warm house or free wine for dinner. The other gets at least a night in jail and a trip through the criminal justice system. People on the Right love to point out the high incidence of incarceration for young African-Americans and Hispanics. While not doubting that people repeatedly accused of criminal acts over a period of time are probably committing them, I wonder how many of those incarcerated for minor infractions are being penalized for their race and class more than the acts they were convicted of. Would they have even been accused if they had not been the 'wrong' color and/or class?

As far as I can recall, whenever I've seen someone steal something in a store, it was a white person, with one exception -- a homeless black man in Seattle. He walked out of the Bon Marche wearing a brand new suit and barefoot. Security failed to notice. Most recently, I watched a fellow, white and middle-class in appearance, put a can of soup in the pocket of his jacket at Fred Meyer's, our largest retailer. I thought his action ridiculous because he had a cart full of groceries he would be paying for and did not look poor. In addition, he was accompanied by a wife or girlfriend. Call me a prude, but I still think of stealing as the kind of thing you would not want other people to know you do.

Furthermore, I believe the response in the blogosphere to a black or Hispanic blogger making the same admission Barry did would be quite different. A few champions would say, 'So what? He has moved beyond that.' Some liberals would mount a half-hearted defense while most remained silent. Many on the Right would attack the person either on their blogs or through email. His admission of wrongdoing, no matter how small, would be seen as proof 'there's something wrong with those people.' Meryl Yourish would declare him immoral, while associating with some of the most bigoted bloggers in Bloggersville.

When I began reading blogs, in late December of 2002 and early January of this year, I noticed Oliver Willis, despite bending over backward to do so, was unable to please many of the white bloggers and blog readers he believes he needs to have a successful blog, especially the conservatives. He was lambasted by a 'scientific' racist for daring to mention the lack of diversity at a bloggers conference. His blog was subjected to service attacks. If I remember correctly, someone circulated emails with spoofed headers in which Oliver appeared to say mean things about liberal bloggers. Later, his conservative readers went out of their way to find fault with him for complaining about being stopped and questioned by the police while walking down the street. However, I doubt that only people on the Right are involved. His success has likely engendered some jealousy and resentment among white bloggers who believe they deserve it more. Even though most of us in the blogosphere will never meet each other or even speak on the phone, the same unthought loyalties apply.

Again, this entry is about more than petty theft -- some logs and a bottle of wine. It is about how most people unthinkingly favor some of their fellow citizens and disfavor others.

On another channel

•What is a civet cat and what does it have to do with SARS?

•Is fining senders of spam under state law feasible?

•Why can't you take pictures if you celebrate a memorable event at Starbucks?

posted by J. | 4:35 AM

Sunday, May 25, 2003  

'Compassionate' conservatism:
Medicaid cap will harm most vulnerable

Chief executives of the states are concerned about the Bush administration's proposal to firmly limit payment for health care for the poor.

The New York Times reports the governors are reluctant to try to cap costs that are not easily predicted.

Negotiators emphasized that it was not just Democrats resisting Mr. Bush's proposal to give each state a fixed allotment of federal money to cover all Medicaid costs in each of the next 10 years.

The basic concern, set forth in documents from the National Governors Association, is that the president's proposal does not protect states against unforeseen costs that might result from changes in the economy, natural disasters, outbreaks of disease or the development of expensive drugs and other treatments.

Apparently misreading the significance of the matter, the administration had hoped to have the governors' signatures by May 15. Instead, it has met opposition from most health care organizations, including the American Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the governors and groups representing the disabled.

The conflict reminds me of just how far removed people like George W. Bush and his henchmen are from the average American, who earns less than $40,000 a year. Any substantial medical problem can be a setback, forcing her family into at least partial reliance on Medicaid, the safety net for American's who become seriously ill and can't afford to pay market costs for care. I have seen middle-class families financially devastated by accidents that left members paralyzed or brain damaged. The low-income rely on the program to subsist. I doubt a Bush or a Cheney has ever received anything other than elite medical care -- even when drying out.

The governors association requires two-thirds of its membership to agree before a decision is made. Pressure will doubtlessly be brought to bear on the governors the Bushites consider most malleable. Whether Americans who need health care will be ignored when a preset level of Medicaid expenditures is reached will be determined by how those governors respond.

Some folks will suggest the tax cut Congress just passed will offset the planned cap on Medicaid. It won't.

About 36 percent of taxpayers will see no change, according to an analysis of the bill by the Washington-based Tax Policy Center, which is co-sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute. Most of those who will be unaffected are single, childless wage-earners in the 10 percent tax bracket whose only dividends or capital gains come from investments in IRAs, 401(k) plans or similar tax-protected savings accounts.

Many of those who most need Medicaid fall into the ten percent tax bracket, if they earn enough to be taxed at all.

Only six percent of the tax cut package will consist of aid to the states. Though Congress authorized funding for Medicaid as part of the plan, it is not clear the projected caps, if agreed to, would not reduce payments to some states.

The importance of Medicaid to low-income citizens cannot be overstated.

The negotiations are immensely important. Medicaid, the nation's largest health insurance program, pays for one-third of all births, covers one-fourth of all children and finances care for two-thirds of nursing home residents. It is also the fastest-growing item in most state budgets, rising 13 percent last year, even though state revenues were virtually flat.

Medicaid is expected to cost $277 billion this year, of which $158 billion is the federal share and $119 billion comes from the states. The federal share of Medicaid spending varies with a state's per capita income, ranging from a high of 77 percent in Mississippi to a low of 50 percent in 12 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The tax cut will have no impact on most working-class people. But, the loss of Medicaid benefits, or the inability to get them when they are needed, could literally make the difference between life and death.

posted by J. | 1:00 AM