The Gridlockpocalypse

by Patrick Appel

Cassidy heralds its coming. He contends that “the G.O.P. is likely to gain the six seats it needs to capture the Senate, which could well usher in a two-year standoff with the White House that would make the current gridlock look like a model of benign administration”:

It’s not just that nothing would get done about things like climate change, gun control, and long-term budget reform. With the Republicans exercising a legislative veto through their majority in the House of Representatives, we have already been stuck on these issues, and many others, for three-and-a-half years. If the G.O.P. takes over the Senate, it will also gain the power to block Presidential appointees much more easily than it can do as the minority party—and a good deal of day-to-governance will probably grind to a halt. Judgeships and ambassadorships will remain vacant for want of candidates acceptable to both parties. Cabinet members and other nominees to the executive branch will have an even harder time getting appointed than they do now—and the situation is already so dire that it’s an international embarrassment to the United States.

But John Dickerson wants the GOP to take the Senate and be forced to govern:

For the moment, partisanship provides an excuse and impediment to action. House Republicans pass legislation, but their views never have to be sharpened or reconciled with those of their Senate colleagues. Control of both houses could force clarity in the GOP on issues like immigration, which leaders have ducked so far, claiming they didn’t have a trusted partner in the president. That is a dodge to keep from starting a fight in the party over a contentious issue.

When you control both houses, this kind of inaction can’t be allowed if the goal is to be taken seriously as a governing party. Republicans would also have to provide more concrete votes on issues like health care, tax reform, and implementing portions of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. Republican strategists know the GOP has to shake the “Party of No” label, which means producing actual accomplishments—that is, unless you want the governors in the GOP 2016 field using you as a foil. (Of course they’re already doing that anyway).

An Accounting Of American Racism, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

Dan Savage has effusive praise for TNC’s reparations article:

Gay marriage went from inconceivable to laughable to an existential threat to obviously just in a few short decades. I expect that reparations for slavery (and Jim Crow and redlining) will do the same—and I epxect that we will one day look back at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 piece in The Atlantic the same way we look back at Andrew Sullivan’s 1989 piece in the New Republic (“Here Comes The Groom: A (Conservative) Case For Gay Marriage”). This is an essay that could jumpstart a movement. It’s certainly a piece that everyone is going be talking about.

John McWhorter is more critical:

Despite frequent claims that America “doesn’t want to talk about race,” we talk about it 24/7 amidst ringing declamations against racism on all forms. Over the past year’s time, I need only mention Trayvon Martin, Paula Deen, Cliven Bundy, and Donald Sterling. Over the past few years, three of the best-selling and most-discussed nonfiction books have been Isabel Wilkerson’s chronicle of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns, Rebecca Skloot’s book about the harvesting of a black woman’s cancer cells (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), and Michelle Alexander’s invaluable The New Jim Crow. And let’s not forget recent major release films such as The Help, 12 Years a Slave, and The Butler.

Can we really say that these are signs of a nation in denial about race, racism, and its history?

Yet for writers like Coates, somehow none of this is enough. A shoe has yet to drop. We remain an “America that looks away,” “ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” But what, exactly, is the suggestion here? Surely not that no racism exist anywhere in the country—but what, then? In exactly what fashion could 317 million people “reckon” or come to certain eternally elusive “terms” with racism? Especially in a way that would satisfy people who see even America’s current atonements as insufficient?

William Jacobson points out that “Coates never gives the answer as to who gets what and how”:

And that’s ultimately the problem with reparations arguments that are not based upon the people causing the harm paying the people directly harmed by specific conduct soon after the conduct is remedied.

If you can’t answer the question of why a Vietnamese boat person has to pay reparations for the conduct of white plantation owners more than a century earlier, then you can’t make the argument. If you can’t answer the question of why two successful black doctors living in a fashionable suburb should get reparations paid for by the white children of Appalachia, then you can’t make the argument. If you can’t answer the question of why the adult black recent immigrant from Paris should be pay or be paid reparations based on the color of his skin for crimes committed in a land he did not grow up in, then you can’t make the argument.

And what about the increasing number of children of mixed race?

Bouie sees the purpose of the article differently:

Wisely, Coates doesn’t try to build a proposal for reparations. At most, he endorses a bill—HR 40—that would authorize a government study of reparations. Instead, his goal is to demonstrate the recent origins of racial inequality, the role of the federal government, the role of private actors, and the extent to which the nation—as a whole—is implicated. Even if your Irish immigrant grandparents never owned slaves, or even lived around black people, they still reaped the fruits of state-sanctioned—and state-directed—theft, through cheap loans, cheap education, and an unequal playing field. If anything, what Coates wants is truth and reconciliation for white supremacy—a national reckoning with our history.

Ezra weighs in:

“The popular mocking of reparations as a harebrained scheme authored by wild-eyed lefties and intellectually unserious black nationalists is fear masquerading as laughter,” Coates writes. It’s also the intellectually unserious response of people who believe that because they never owned slaves or drank from a whites-only water fountain and so they weren’t the beneficiaries of American racism. They may not be the villains of American racism, but they are the beneficiaries of it. The average white southerner in 1832 was far poorer than the average white southerner today, and part of that vast increase in wealth and income and knowledge and social networks is the result of compound interest working its magic on what the slaveowners and the segregationists stole.

It’s as simple and clear as a child’s math problem. The people who benefitted most from American racism weren’t the white men who stole the penny. It’s the people who held onto the penny while it doubled and doubled and doubled and doubled.

Emily Badger considers the impact of the discriminatory housing practices TNC focuses on:

Schemes like this illustrate why homeownership has been a much more precarious prize for blacks. They also explain why the racial wealth gap remains so wide today. Wealth in America, as it’s passed from one generation to the next, is intimately tied up in housing. And blacks have systematically been denied the chance the build that wealth. Just earlier this week, the Center for Global Policy Solutions released a report looking at the racial wealth gap in America today. It found that the average black household in America owns 6 cents for every dollar in wealth held by a typical white family. It found in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area that whites have a homeownership rate that’s still 20 percentage points higher than blacks.

Lastly, PM Carpenter declares, “I’m all for Coates’ cause, but as a part-Native American and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, I want what’s mine and my brothers’ and my mother’s, too”:

I also want American women to be compensated for their years of unpaid grueling toil as they raised the next generation. And I want compensation for the millions of Jews, Irishmen, Italians and all other minorities who suffered from systematic discrimination in both civil society and the workplace. In fact I want reparations paid to every American who sprang from the loins of oppressed proletarians, for the slavery of class hierarchy is, historically, very real.

I’m not trying to make light of Coates’ pain, or to conflate black slavery with “Irish need not apply.” But the world doesn’t work in the way Mr. Coates believes it should. And almost everybody has a history of major hurt, against which endless cases for reparations could be made.


Map Of The Day

by Patrick Appel

Marriage Map

Only one state hasn’t had its marriage ban contested:

Six couples filed a federal lawsuit against South Dakota’s gay marriage ban [yesterday], leaving North Dakota as the only state in the country with an unchallenged same-sex marriage ban. … This is, of course, subject to change, possibly very soon. Josh Newville, the lawyer representing the South Dakota couples, told the AP that he’s been approached by several gay couples from North Dakota and is “seriously considering” taking their case on.

The Key To Emptying Prison Cells

by Patrick Appel

Tough On Crime

Researcher Peter K. Enns finds a relationship between the incarceration rate is going down and Americans getting less punitive:

[T]o understand the rise of mass incarceration in the United States, we must look to the American public. In recent research, I show that the U.S. public’s support for being tough on crime—i.e., the public’s punitiveness—has been a fundamental determinant of changes in the incarceration rate….

[The figure above] plots the public’s punitiveness and the change in the incarceration rate. Strong similarities emerge. The correlation is an impressive r=0.82. Statistically, this relationship holds even when controlling for the crime rate, illegal drug use, economic inequality, and the strength of the Republican Party. Based on this statistical model, if the public’s punitiveness had stopped rising in the mid-1970s, we would expect approximately 185,000 fewer incarcerations each year—about 20% of the incarceration rate. The expected influence of the public’s attitudes is larger than any of the other variables in the statistical model. Furthermore, an analysis of the public’s punitiveness and congressional hearings on crime suggests that public support for being tough on crime precedes congressional attention to this issue.

What’s Race’s Impact On Biology?

by Patrick Appel

While trashing Nicholas Wade’s book on race and genetics, Jonathan Marks points out that Wade ignores epigenetics:

It is hard to find a book on evolution today that fails to mention epigenetics—the ways in which DNA can be modified in direct response to the environment, and those DNA modifications can be stably transmitted—but this is one such book. Flexibility and reactivity are not in Wade’s evolutionary arsenal. To acknowledge the plasticity and adaptability of the human organism—which has framed most scientific work in human biology over the last century—would be to undermine Wade’s theme of the independent, unforgiving external world exacting its selective toll on the human gene pool.

Relatedly, Anne Fausto-Sterling reviews Richard C. Francis’s Epigenetics: How Environment Shapes Our GenesAnn Morning’s The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference, and Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First CenturyHere’s a quote from Roberts that explains her thesis:

Race is a political category that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact of social inequality on people’s health. Understanding race as a political category does not erase its impact on biology; instead, it redirects attention from genetic explanations to social ones.

Fausto-Sterling takes this argument and runs with it:

Morning and Roberts argue convincingly that race is a socially produced set of categories that has profound and often terrible biological consequences. Without putting words into Francis’s mouth, since he doesn’t discuss race per se, he would, I think, agree that epigenetics provides a well-understood tool that ought to be used more frequently in studies of biological correlates of racial inequality in health. If our goal is not just to understand race, but to improve health, then we don’t need research to find genes that cause essential hypertension as much as we need to address the sources of chronic stress. … Understanding race as a producer of health outcomes, but not a result of genetic programming, doesn’t suggest that we abandon biomedical research as it relates to race, but it does suggest that looking for race-oriented genetic precursors of disease is a fruitless labor. We need a different kind of investigation.

It’s true that epigenetics “ought to be used more frequently in studies of biological correlates of racial inequality in health.” But that doesn’t preclude looking for genes that influence health. And some of those genes may well be concentrated in populations with genetic simularies. Just because those populations are not races doesn’t mean that we should focus entirely on epigenetics.

Previous Dish on Wade here.

Must Animal Shelters Kill?

by Patrick Appel

Brian Palmer defends shelters that euthanize hard-to-adopt animals:

No-kill is an appealing idea. But before condemning U.S. shelter managers as barbarians, look at a country like India, which prohibits the killing of unwanted dogs. The country’s 25 million stray dogs live in deplorable conditions—emaciated, diseased, surviving on trash, and in constant conflict with humans. The country suffers 20,000 human deaths from rabies annually, which represents more than 35 percent of the global total. Contrast this with the situation in the United States. Stray dogs are incredibly rare, and one or two Americans die annually from rabies, invariably transmitted by a wild animal.

The debate between no-kill advocates and traditionalists comes down to this question: What kind of life can we give animals that are surrendered to shelters? And would that life be better than a quick death?

When that life isn’t so great:

The conditions in some no-kill shelters are awful. “If you don’t euthanize animals due to over crowding, they get into fights,” says [PETA’s Daphna] Nachminovitch. “They injure each other. They kill each other. They spin around and throw themselves against the cage. They stop eating. They get sick, and they eventually die. This is the reality.”

PETA’s support of animal euthanasia has come under fire in the past.

Sharing The Bottom Line With Workers

by Patrick Appel

Seth Stevenson recommends open-book management:

Some owners or managers might be reluctant to share numbers with employees. One concern is that workers might leak information to competitors. But if employees have been sufficiently motivated by equity stakes or bonuses that are entwined with company performance, the last thing they’ll want to do is harm the company by aiding a rival. An employee of Square, the privately held San Francisco–based payments company, tells me that over the multiple years that Square has been sharing financial numbers with its employees, there’s never been a single leak—despite operating within the incestuous, cutthroat realm that is the Bay Area technology sector.

Another worry is that sharing numbers might fuel employee resentment over how budgets are distributed. But according to [Open-Book Management author John] Case, most low-level workers vastly overestimate how much of their company’s revenue is profit. When they learn how thin the margins truly are, they develop far more respect for attempts to limit needless expenditures. In situations where layoffs become necessary, opening the books can help workers understand why the company was forced to cut jobs. Case credits open-book management for frequently defusing adversarial relationships between labor unions and management.