Archive

April 28th, 2016

Make U.S. dollars as diverse as our history

    If I didn't know better, I would have expected today's conservatives to love Harriet Tubman. After all, she was a pistol-packing black Republican who repeatedly risked her life to lead slaves to freedom. What's not to like?

    But real life isn't that simple. Reaction to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew's plan to put Tubman's likeness on the front of the $20 bill sometime after 2020 clearly fell along racial and political lines.

    Eighty-one percent of Democrats polled Thursday by SurveyMonkey support putting Tubman -- who helped hundreds of slaves find freedom via the "underground railroad" -- on the $20, reported Politico, while 50 percent of independents and only 34 percent of Republicans agree.

    Among supporters of the Grand Old Party's frontrunner Donald Trump, seven out of 10 opposed the plan, which would move Andrew Jackson -- a war hero and populist, but also a Democrat and, let's face it, a genocidal racist -- to the flip side of the $20 bill.

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A discussion that goes beyond bathroom talk

    Into the overheated, under-informed bathroom wars comes a well-timed intrusion of sanity in the form of a decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    The court's ruling in the case of Virginia high-school junior Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy, was correct -- and groundbreaking, with implications beyond the school setting. Yet the decision also creates the legal framework for situations more challenging -- and perhaps more unsettling -- than what should be the routine matter of letting people use their restroom of choice.

    Grimm was born a girl but has changed his name, has undergone hormone therapy, and identifies as a boy. When Grimm and his mother told school officials of this fact, they took it in stride. He used the boys' restroom. No big deal.

    Then the school board got involved, with community meetings that sunk to predictable levels, with warnings of impending sexual assaults and straight boys donning dresses to infiltrate the girls' bathroom.

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Five myths about Harriet Tubman

    We think we know Harriet Tubman: former slave, Underground Railroad conductor and abolitionist. But much of Tubman's real life story has been shrouded by generations of myths and fake lore, propagated through children's books, that has only served to obscure her great achievements. The truth about the woman who will be the new face of the $20 bill is far more compelling and remarkable.

 

    1. Tubman was the Moses of her people.

    This is a common sobriquet for Tubman, popularized by an early biography written by Sarah Bradford. The phrase is typically used to conjure the enormous scope of Tubman's efforts to lead fellow slaves to freedom. Bradford wrote that Tubman freed more than 300 people in 19 trips. That claim is repeated on plaques and monuments. But while Tubman is indeed a giant of American history, her Underground Railroad missions were more limited, though much more complicated and dangerous, than they are often made out to be.

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Tubman fits the bill

    Conservatives should be delighted that Harriet Tubman's likeness will grace the $20 bill. She was a Republican, after all, and a pious Christian. And she routinely exercised her Second Amendment right to carry a gun, which she was ready to use against anyone who stood in her way -- or any fugitive slave having second thoughts. On her long road to freedom, there was no turning back.

    Instead, we've had mostly silence from the right. Donald Trump did mouth off, of course, opining that slated-to-be-displaced Andrew Jackson "had a great history" and that substituting Tubman -- who, he allowed, was "fantastic" -- amounts to "pure political correctness." Ben Carson defended Jackson as "a tremendous president" who balanced the federal budget.

    Both men suggested that Tubman instead be put on the $2 bill, which nobody uses. That would be a great recipe for tokenism. I'm glad that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew made a bolder and more meaningful choice.

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Trump could wrap it up before the convention

    J. Randolph Evans, an expert on Republican nominating rules, is the kind of person who in past years would toil in obscurity and rarely see the light of day, much less the front of a camera.

    These days, as a member of the party's nominating committee, he is much in demand as Republicans wrestle with the prospect of a contested convention and consider ways to thwart Donald Trump. Evans already had helped ensure that the primaries started in February instead of January and that the convention was held earlier in hopes of smoothing the process. So much for that.

    Now he says that all the talk of changing the rules is beside the point. That's not because the Republicans are inclined to be more transparent, but because it will be too late.

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This is what happens when you bury a mass murderer in a small town

    Three days before I met Samih Mohamed, a wooden sign marking the first fully Muslim cemetery in California, which his father founded in 1998 and where he was buried six years later, was pulled up from the dusty Antelope Valley soil and cut to pieces. With a jigsaw, Mohamed told me, the word "Islamic" had been carved out of "American Islamic Institute of Antelope Valley," the name of the organization his father established to bring together the Muslim community residing in the broad, dry land basin an hour and a half north of Los Angeles. It was as if the vandal could not tolerate the words "American" and "Islamic" next to each other.

    The latest source of Islamophobic tension, which has ebbed and flowed in the Antelope Valley since Sept. 11, 2001, is the fact that the bodies of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the shooters who killed 14 in San Bernardino, Calif., last December, are interred in the same cemetery as Mohamed's father, according to death certificates obtained by the Antelope Valley Press.

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April 27th

The Supreme Court asks its four questions. Well, two of them.

    It's been a busy week in executive politics, what with impeachment in Brazil and Hillary coming up Trumps in New York. But we shouldn't lose sight of the Supreme Court's most recent tour of the administrative state. The venue? The Obama administration's controversial immigration initiative, in the form of U.S v. Texas.

    Recall that back in November 2014, President Barack Obama proposed to make it easier for many individuals now living in the U.S. illegally to stay and to work. The largest and most divisive piece of this was a program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). Under DAPA, the secretary of Homeland Security issued guidance reshaping its "removal priorities."

    The upshot: The deportation of as many as 4 million parents of U.S. citizens would be deferred, and in the meantime they would be able to work legally.

    Texas (joined by officials from 25 other states) sued to block the program, and won in the lower courts. The administration appealed, and in agreeing to take the case, the Supreme Court asked four questions:

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The federal workforce is not too big

    If House Republican leaders push through their 2017 budget, just 1 in 3 federal workers who retire will be replaced. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich also have touted plans to reduce the federal workforce. On his campaign website, Kasich promises to "shrink and dismantle the Washington bureaucracy to keep spending under control." On the Democratic side, neither Hillary Clinton nor Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has been outspoken against cutting the federal workforce.

    Because these office-seekers are competing to faithfully execute the nation's laws, this might be a good moment for the media to find out what each of them knows (or doesn't know) about how the federal government actually works. The place to start is with 10 facts about the federal bureaucracy in relation to government spending and government performance.

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The 20 is the perfect bill for Harriet Tubman

    The U.S. Treasury's decision to portray the great anti-slavery warrior Harriet Tubman on the face of the $20 bill is symbolic on many levels. The fact that she'll replace Andrew Jackson -- the country's seventh president, and a man who owned more than 100 slaves -- is especially sweet. What's even more remarkable, though, is how significant the $20 denomination would be for Tubman throughout her life.

    That's the precise amount Harriet's elderly father, Ben Ross, a timber harvester, paid his employer Eliza Brodess in 1855, to buy his wife, Rit, her freedom. Eliza was the widow of Edward Brodess, the owner of a small plantation in Dorchester County, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The Brodesses used to hire out Harriet to neighboring farms, where she was brutally flogged as a child. After she ran away to Philadelphia in 1849, afraid of being sold like her sisters, Eliza was the one who offered a reward for her return.

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Paul Ryan Can't Escape the Republican Ghetto

    Since his swearing-in as House speaker, Paul Ryan has maintained his sunny, gung-ho disposition, hobnobbing with his party's guerrillas while gently trying to lure them back to the comforts of civilization.

    Wouldn't it be fun to have a comprehensive legislative agenda? Some trinkets for the "accomplishments" page of their campaign web sites? Maybe even a shiny new budget?

    Apparently not.

    On Thursday, Ryan acknowledged what already seemed apparent: He doesn't have the Republican votes to pass a budget. He still intends to roll out something Republicans can run on while they're busy running away from Donald Trump in the fall. But the chances this program will rise above the demands of short-term propaganda seem slim. Ryan's once ballyhooed Path to Prosperity is looking like a rocky road.

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