Archive

July 16th, 2016

A History of White Delusion

    In 1962, 85 percent of white Americans told Gallup that black children had as good a chance as white kids of getting a good education. The next year, in another Gallup survey, almost half of whites said that blacks had just as good a chance as whites of getting a job.

    In retrospect, we can see that these white beliefs were delusional, and in other survey questions whites blithely acknowledged racist attitudes. In 1963, 45 percent said that they would object if a family member invited a black person home to dinner.

    This complacency among us white Americans has been a historical constant. Even in the last decade, almost two-thirds of white Americans have said that blacks are treated fairly by the police, and 4 out of 5 whites have said that black children have the same chance as white kids of getting a good education. In short, the history of white Americans’ attitudes toward race has always been one of self-deception.

    Just as in 1963, when many well-meaning whites glanced about and couldn’t see a problem, many well-meaning whites look around today, see a black president, and declare problem solved.

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Free speech protects even ignorant tour guides

    My first paid job at age 14 was giving tours of historic Cambridge, Massachusetts. I did a lot of research and studied hard, but I still remember the moment, mid-tour, when I forgot the year an old wall was built. Then it dawned on me: my clients didn't know, either. They were completely dependent on me and had no way to check.

    The incident dramatizes a constitutional problem that haunts all efforts to license historic tour guides. Right now the problem is on display in Charleston, South Carolina, a place with a lot of history. A federal judge has to decide whether the city is violating tour guides' free-speech rights by requiring them to pass a 200-question written test, plus a follow-up oral exam, to get a license that would allow them to give tours.

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Will racial tensions tarnish Obama's legacy?

    It's been a long time since we've seen Republican lawmakers as concerned about bad race relations as they have been in recent days, especially when they can blame the whole mess on the nation's first black president.

    After all, "Blame Obama First" has been the unofficial motto of Capitol Hill Republicans since President Barack Obama's first election.

    So, after the killing of five white Dallas police officers by an apparently deranged black gunman who, according to police, wanted to kill white cops, some of those Grand Old Party pols didn't have to look far for someone to pin it on.

    "(T)he constant instigation by prominent leaders, including our president," said Rep. Roger Williams of Texas in a statement, "have contributed to the modern day hostility we are witnessing between the police and those they serve."

    "Instigation?" Is he talking about the president's promises to make sure the rights of victims in controversial police killings are protected? What a scandal.

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Why women are winning at the politics game

    Now that two of the world's five biggest economies -- Germany and Britain -- are headed by women, and the biggest one of all, the U.S., has a woman front-runner in its presidential election, the glass ceiling in politics can probably be declared broken, and it's time to consider what kind of change this brings to the world.

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Focus on police shootings misses larger story

    A new study shows that blacks and Hispanics in the U.S. are more than twice as likely as whites to "experience some form of force in interactions with police," but no more likely to experience the most "extreme use of force -- officer-involved shootings." That finding can be important to de-escalating the kind of violence that culminated with the tragedy in Dallas last week.

    Roland G. Fryer, a Harvard economist, says his anger about the killings of blacks by police drove him to look into the data. The resulting paper, unsurprisingly, showed that blacks and Hispanics have more violent interactions with police: being grabbed, pushed into a wall or onto the ground, having a gun pointed at them. The study looked at more than 1,000 shootings in 10 major police departments, and found that even after correcting for various circumstances of the encounters -- such as the crime rate in the areas where they occurred -- the race effect remains. And non-whites are likely to be subjected to force even when they are compliant with police requests.

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Dallas tests candidates' presidential mettle

    In a misguided effort to be fair, the headline in the Sunday New York Times, "Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Struggle to Be Unifying Voice for Nation," made it seem as if the two candidates were equally unsuited to the task. This is dead wrong.

    Trump and Clinton have some of the highest unfavorable ratings of any would-be presidential nominees in modern history. Yet if you need evidence that bad candidates are not all alike, take a look at the way they grappled with the outburst of racial tension and violence -- the great unsolved problem of our time.

    The Republican standard-bearer, Trump, has inflamed the country's racial divide. Since he tested the power of racial politics by supporting the birther movement and found it potent, he hasn't stopped blowing the dog whistle.

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When weapons of war come home to crime scenes

    Given the horror of the murder of the five police officers in Dallas last Thursday, it may seem absurd or distasteful to ask whether it was a good idea to kill the sniper with a bomb mounted on a robot. Surely anything that stopped the carnage was justified in the moment, and the police seem to have had no clear shot at the sniper.

    But the issue is more complicated, and it deserves to be considered carefully. There's a legal difference between targeting a crime suspect and targeting a wartime enemy. There's also a difference between using a weapon that can be aimed and using one that puts bystanders at greater risk. And a precedent set under emergency conditions can easily expand in future cases. The step from the robot bomb to a drone strike is barely even incremental: morally and technologically, they're basically the same.

    Bombs and missiles aren't new. There are reasons they are hardly ever used for domestic law enforcement in the U.S. Those reasons have to do with precision, scale, and the difference between apprehending criminals and fighting wars.

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Courts blur line between violent speech and crime

    Create a pro-Islamic State music video and post it on a known IS website and you could find yourself convicted of a crime, material support for terrorism. But according to a federal appellate decision issued last week, a music video featuring guns and violence can't be considered in criminal sentencing or else it would violate your free-speech rights.

    What's the difference between cultural advocacy of terror and cultural glorification of violence? The legal answer lies in the arcana of material support for terrorism as interpreted by the Supreme Court. But the deeper answer lies in our fractured thinking about the First Amendment. When it comes to contemporary gun violence, we distinguish action from artistic ideas. But when it comes to terrorism, we blur the differences -- for better or worse.

    Start with Friday's opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. It involved a Puerto Rican singer named Neftalí Alvarez-Núñez who was caught with a machine pistol and a bottle of Percocet. He was convicted on gun and drug charges.

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The (GOP) Party’s Over

    This column has argued for a while now that there is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy. At least a one-party autocracy can order things to get done.

    A one-party democracy — that is, a two-party system where only one party is interested in governing and the other is in constant blocking mode, which has characterized America in recent years — is much worse. It can’t do anything big, hard or important.

    We can survive a few years of such deadlock in Washington, but we sure can’t take another four or eight years without real decay setting in, and that explains what I’m rooting for in this fall’s elections: I hope Hillary Clinton wins all 50 states and the Democrats take the presidency, the House, the Senate and, effectively, the Supreme Court.

    That is the best thing that could happen to America, at least for the next two years — that Donald Trump is not just defeated, but is crushed at the polls. That would have multiple advantages for our country.

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The tough sell on remaking Trump

    Donald Trump's new strategist, Paul Manafort, is trying to soften his candidate's harsh image, but recent events in cities across the country are making that exceedingly difficult: the conflicts between police departments and those protesting their treatment of black men.

    Trump is known for cheering on those in the crowd at his rallies who resort to violence, even offering to pay legal fees they may incur in the process. Cheering on that kind of behavior obviously is not what the country needs right now from the presumptive presidential nominee of a major party.

    It's especially hard to defend in light of the report from Dallas Police Chief David Brown that the black man who shot and killed five police officers said he wanted to kill white officers.

    At a time the nation's president and its presumptive Democratic nominee are calling for a coming together of all Americans, Trump's racial comments about blacks, Mexicans and Muslims throughout his campaign have already badly marked him as a serial societal divider.

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