Belonging Where?

By David Trend:

Throughout its existence the United States has shown a strange tendency to turn against itself, dividing citizens against each other with a vehemence rivaling the most brutal regimes on earth. Some have rationalized the resulting crisis of “belonging” in America as an understandable consequence of cultural diversity, economic stress, and global threat. After all, haven’t there always been “insiders” and “outsiders” in every culture? Aren’t competition and aggression wired into human nature?  Or is there something peculiar about the personality of the U.S.?  Could it be that prejudice is the real legacy of the “American Exceptionalism,” in traditions dating to the genocide of indigenous populations, the subjugation of women, the rise of slavery, the scapegoating of immigrants, and more recent assaults on the poor or anyone falling outside the realm of normalcy?

I discussed selected aspects of America’s divisive pathology in my book A Culture Divided: America’s Struggle for Unity, which was written in the closing years of the George W. Bush presidency.  Like many at the time, I had completely given up on the idea of “common ground” amid the residue of post-9/11 reactionary fervor and emerging economic recession. Media commentators were buzzing constantly about red/blue state polarization.  Opinions varied about the cause of the divide, attributing it to factors including regionalism, media sensationalism, partisan antipathy, or all of these combined. Also joining the fray were those asserting the divide was fabricated, with evenly divided elections showing most people in the middle of the curve on most issues.  My somewhat contrarian view was that the “problem” shouldn’t be regarded problem at all. After all, America always had been divided––through war and peace, boom and bust. Division was the country’s national brand.  But as a book about politics, A Culture Divided didn’t get to the roots or the lived experience America’s compulsive divisiveness.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, President Barack Obama described America as an incomplete project––a nation caught between ideals of a perfect union and the lingering realities of their failure. While citing advances in civil liberties since the bloody apex of the Voting Rights Movement, Obama also spoke of a federal report issued just days earlier documenting structural racism and misbehavior toward African Americans by police in Ferguson, MO, where months before law enforcement officers had killed an unarmed black teenager. “We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won,” the President stated, adding, “We know that reaching that blessed destination requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.” Continue reading “Belonging Where?”

Obama to order gender identity protections

President Barack Obama announced Monday that he’s preparing an executive order to ban workplace discrimination against federal employees based on their gender identity, the Huffington Post reports

“The move comes after a 2012 ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the federal ban on sex discrimination covers transgender discrimination. Those affected by that rules change say the government hasn’t been enforcing it and they continue to be discriminated against. Specifically, transgender federal employees have been paying tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket health care costs related to their gender transition.

“Sarah Vestal, a transgender woman in California who works for the Treasury Department, told The Huffington Post in April that an Obama executive order would help because it would show he’s serious about stemming discrimination within the government.

“It would help eliminate the structural discrimination,” Vestal said. “Transgender people in the federal government are pulling their hair out.”

“The president’s announcement comes two weeks after he signaled plans to sign another executive orderbarring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors. He referenced that executive order on Monday, but has yet to say when he’ll sign either of them.

“Obama made his remarks during a White House reception marking June as LGBT Pride Month’.


Obama moves on gender identity

imgresTucked away in a document on reducing sexual assault at school – part of an unprecedented effort by the Obama administration to address such abuse – the Department of Education included a historic guideline extending federal civil rights protections to transgender students on Tuesday.

Title IX – the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities – also bars discrimination on the basis of gender identity, announced the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, marking a major victory in the fight to codify LGBT protections into federal law.

“Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition extends to claims of discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity and OCR accepts such complaints for investigation,” reads the 46-page document. “Similarly, the actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity of the parties does not change a school’s obligations. Indeed, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth report high rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence. A school should investigate and resolve allegations of sexual violence regarding LGBT students using the same procedures and standards that it uses in all complaints involving sexual violence.”

Though aimed at clarifying how Title IX relates to sexual violence, the guidance carries far broader implications. LGBT advocates note that transgender students will not just be explicitly protected from physical or sexual abuse under Title IX, but from all forms of discrimination in education.

“It certainly would be our view that transgender students should be given the ability to participate in sex segregated activities, like sports teams, consistent with their gender identity,” said Ian Thompson, legislative representative at the American Civil Liberties Union, to msnbc. “Failure on part of the school to allow that would be discrimination against that student.” Continue reading “Obama moves on gender identity”

Oops, NEA budget to be cut

Today the Obama administration announced reductions in the proposed budget of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) from $154-million to $146-million.  images-1

Writing in the New York Times, Patricia Cohen discusses this historical role in light of a new study on the NEA’s impact:

“Ever since the late 1980s, when the performance artist Karen Finley started playing around with yams and chocolate, the National Endowment for the Arts has come under fire from some conservative lawmakers. Back then the agency was castigated for giving grants to provocative artists like Ms. Finley, whom some critics called obscene.Now House Republicans charge that the endowment supports programming primarily attended by the rich, causing “a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” A new study to be released on Wednesday challenges that assertion, however, and concludes that federally supported arts programs attract people across the income spectrum; the wealthy, yes, but also many below the poverty line.

“The study, by the National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, was specifically intended to test lawmakers’ propositions about arts funding. Last year the House Budget Committee, led by Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, issued a proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which eliminated all funding for the arts endowment as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Continue reading “Oops, NEA budget to be cut”

Protecting the public from for-profit colleges

The Obama Administration announced today new steps to address growing concerns about burdensome student loan debt by requiring career colleges to do a better job of preparing students for gainful employment—or risk losing access to taxpayer-funded federal student aid.

The proposed regulations released by the U.S. Department of Education “will help to strengthen students’ options for higher education by giving all career training programs an


opportunity to improve, while stopping the flow of federal funding to the lowest-performing ones that fail to do so.

“Higher education should open up doors of opportunity, but students in these low-performing programs often end up worse off than before they enrolled: saddled by debt and with few—if any—options for a career,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The proposed regulations address growing concerns about unaffordable levels of loan debt for students enrolled in these programs by targeting the lowest-performing programs, while shining a light on best practices and giving all programs an opportunity to improve.”

“To qualify for federal student aid, the law requires that most for-profit programs and certificate programs at non-profit and public institutions prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. Some of these programs, whether public, private, or for-profit, empower students to succeed by providing high-quality education and career training. But many of these programs, particularly those at for-profit colleges, are failing to do so—at taxpayers’ expense and the cost of students’ futures.

Students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13 percent of the total higher education population, but about 31 percent of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults. In the most recent data, about 22 percent of student borrowers at for-profit colleges defaulted on their loans within three years, compared to 13 percent of borrowers at public colleges. Continue reading “Protecting the public from for-profit colleges”

Anteaters pursue Obama

Five years ago, UC Merced students successfully persuaded First Lady Michelle Obama to speak at their commencement ceremony that spring. imagesThey had bombarded her with hundreds of valentines and pulled every possible political string between Central California and Washington. To their delight and surprise, she accepted and addressed what was the new school’s first graduating class.

Now, UC Irvine is hoping similar tactics will work with her husband, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“The Orange County campus has asked President Obama to deliver the school’s commencement address on June 14, possibly at Angel Stadium in Anaheim. An anticipated 10,000 invitation postcards from students, alumni and staff are scheduled to be delivered to the White House soon.

“Plans are in the works to also send a special video from the campus basketball team, aiming at the president’s love of watching and playing hoops.

“UC Irvine spokeswoman Janet Wilson said a presidential visit would be appropriate because then-President Johnson spoke at the dedication ceremony for the campus on June 20, 1964. “We’d like to kick off our 50th anniversary celebration with another visit from the president of the United States,” she said.UC Irvine officials understand that there is a lot of competition among universities, but the school is “very hopeful” to receive a positive response in April, Wilson said. Last spring, Obama delivered three graduation speeches: at Morehouse College in Georgia, Ohio State University and the U.S. Naval Academy.”,0,7621620.story#ixzz2tjxPexxh

Obamacare HIV problems

Hundreds of people with HIV/AIDS in Louisiana trying to obtain coverage under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform are in danger of being thrown out of the insurance plan they selected in a dispute over federal subsidies and the interpretation of federal rules about preventing Obamacare fraud, Reuters reports

“Some healthcare advocates see discrimination in the move, but Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana says it is not trying to keep people with HIV/AIDS from enrolling in one of its policies under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“The state’s largest carrier is rejecting checks from a federal program designed to help these patients pay for AIDS drugs and insurance premiums, and has begun notifying customers that their enrollment in its Obamacare plans will be discontinued.

“The carrier says it no longer will accept third-party payments, such as those under the 1990 Ryan White Act, which many people with HIV/AIDS use to pay their premiums.

“In no event will coverage be provided to any subscribers, as of March 1, 2014, unless the premiums are paid by the subscriber (or a relative) unless otherwise required by law,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana spokesman John Maginnis told Reuters. The dispute goes back to a series of statements from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the lead Obamacare agency. In September, CMS informed insurers that Ryan White funds “may be used to cover the cost of private health insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-payments” for Obamacare plans. In November, however, it warned “hospitals, other healthcare providers, and other commercial entities” that it has “significant concerns” about their supporting premium payments and helping Obamacare consumers pay deductibles and other costs, citing the risk of fraud. The insurers told healthcare advocates that the November guidance requires them to reject payments from the Ryan White program in order to combat fraud, said Robert Greenwald, managing director of the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, a position Louisiana Blue still maintains. Continue reading “Obamacare HIV problems”

The Obama divide

The American public remains split by gender, race and age in how they view the 44th President as Barack Obama begins his sixth year in the White House and bones up for Tuesday’s State-of-the-Union speech, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.images

As the Seattle PI, summarizes, “Overall, 51 percent of Americans have a favorable view of Obama, while 45 percent share an unfavorable opinion of Obama. Michelle Obama remains more popular than her husband with a 68-24 percent advantage to the “favorables.” But then the divisions begin.

“GENDER — Obama has a 54-41 percent favorable advantage among women, but is viewed unfavorably 49 percent of men.  Just 47 percent of men have a thumbs-up view of the president.

“AGE — Obama is strongest among America’s young people, seem favorably by a 55-42 percent margin by those aged 18 to 29, with a 52-43 percent favorable margin among voters 30 to 49 years in age. By contrast, among those over 65, he gets a thumbs down from 52 percent while only 44 percent take a favorable view.

“RACE:  Obama is seem favorably by 90 percent of African-Americans polled along with 62 percent of Hispanic Americans.  Among whites, however, just 41 percent view him favorably, and 56 percent unfavorably.

“The 44th president gets lower marks on the job he is doing:  Just 43 percent approve, with 59 percent disapproving. The poll gives little comfort to the Republican opposition. By a 54-35 percent margin, Americans view Republicans as the more extreme of the two political parties, according to Pew. A 52-27 percent margin see Democrats as the party more willing to work across the aisle and get things done. On which party is more concerned with the problems of “people like me,” Democrats enjoy a 52-32 percent advantage. Continue reading “The Obama divide”

Ranking schools by student happiness

The Obama administration wants to produce new ratings that will allow prospective college students to identify institutions with high graduation rates, solid job placement records and generous student aid. But what if students just want to be happy?imgres

“A study discussed in Insidehigher Ed today documents the statistically significant impact of several Princeton Review rankings of colleges on quality-of-life issues. A”t least according to the study, applicants may be be swayed not just by academics (or the qualities the Obama administration wants to highlight) but by rankings that indicate that students are happy, and think that their campus is beautiful.

“The quality-of-life ranking of the Princeton Review that receives by far the most press attention (party school), however, does not appear to have much of an impact on the applicant pool, with the exception of a decline in applications only evident among out-of-state students.

“Princeton Review rankings are fairly well known in admissions circles for their limitations. The rankings are based entirely on student surveys at their own institutions. So students are reacting to how they feel about student happiness, interaction with professors and the quality of food — without any basis for comparison to other institutions. No part of the ranking actually involves anyone comparing institutions. But the study being released today — being published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis — says that these rankings matter to prospective students. (The article abstract is available here.) Continue reading “Ranking schools by student happiness”

Barack and Hillary win again in 2013

Don’t believe the pundits.

For the sixth consecutive year, Barack Obama ranks as the Most Admired Man among Americans, and Hillary Clinton is again the Most Admired Woman. The Gallup Poll organization reports that for 2103 both won by comfortable margins.

“Sixteen percent named Obama, compared with 4% each for former


President George W. Bush and Pope Francis; Clinton (15%) finished ahead of television personality Oprah Winfrey (6%), first lady Michelle Obama (5%), and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (5%).

“Each year, Gallup asks Americans to name, in an open-ended format, the man and woman living anywhere in the world they admire most. This year’s poll was conducted Dec. 5-8. Obama has won Gallup’s Most Admired Man designation each year since 2008, the year he was elected president. However, similar to his declining job approval rating this year, the percentage naming him fell to 16% from 30% in 2012. The remainder of the top 10 Most Admired men includes three former presidents (Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter) and two religious leaders (the Rev. Billy Graham and Pope Francis). The sitting pope has finished in the top 10 each year since 1977. In addition to Pope Francis, actor, director, and political activist Clint Eastwood and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz finished in the top 10 for the first time. This year’s poll was conducted at the time of South African human rights leader Nelson Mandela’s death. The widespread news coverage of his death helped make him top of mind for many Americans, and 7% named him as Most Admired Man. However, because the question wording specifically asks for the name of a living man or woman, Gallup does not rank deceased figures who are mentioned. Hillary Clinton has been named Most Admired Woman a total of 18 times, more than any other woman in Gallup’s history, including each of the last 12 years. Clinton first won the distinction in 1993, when she was first lady, and has continued to rank at or near the top of the list while serving in a variety of public roles including as U.S. senator and as secretary of state. The 15% naming her this year is down from 21% last year and is the lowest figure for her since 2006. Continue reading “Barack and Hillary win again in 2013”

Atheists at Christmas

Christmas is a special time for atheists.

But as Mother Jones reports, “Americans don’t like atheists much. It’s something we get reminded of every December, as Fox News commentators decry a secularist “war on Christmas.” But the distrust spans the seasons: Barely half of Americans say they would vote for an atheist for president; 48 percent, meanwhile, would disapprove of their child


marrying one. Still, atheist America is growing: One-fifth of the public has now joined the rank of the so-called “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated.

“So how do you build an atheist? Or a whole country of them like the Czech Republic, where 78 percent of people describe themselves as either not religious or an outright “convinced” unbeliever?

“In the last decade, a growing body of psychology research has begun to home in on an answer to that question. Not surprisingly, the psychology of religion and the psychology of atheism are closely intertwined; on the whole, these studies tend to show that for most people, religion comes pretty naturally. “It seems like religiosity, or religious beliefs, are encouraged by a number of basic intuitions that we have about the world that seem to be built into our brains,” explains Ara Norenzayan, a pioneering researcher on the psychology of religion at the University of British Columbia, on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream above).

“But there are large exceptions to that statement: Some half billion people worldwide, according to one estimate, reject God. Who are they? Here are three major factors, based on Norenzayan’s research, that tend to produce a secular mindset:

“Less “mentalizing.” One of the most surprising scientific findings of the research on the causes of religiosity (or the lack thereof) involves a trait called “mentalizing.” “This is the idea that we have a basic social cognitive capacity to infer and read the minds of other people,” explains Norenzayan. Continue reading “Atheists at Christmas”

Obama will not attend Sochi games

Barack Obama is sending Russia a clear message about its treatment of gays and lesbians with his choices to represent the United States as delegates at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The tennis great Billie Jean King will be one of two openly gay athletes in the US delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies. For the first time since 2000 the US will not send a president, former president, first lady or vice-president to the games, reports LA Times.

“Russia has come under fierce criticism for passing national laws banning “gay propaganda”. Though the White House did not specifically address the Russian laws in making its announcement on Tuesday, spokesman Shin Inouye said the delegation “represents the diversity that is the United States” and that Obama “knows they will showcase to the world the best of America diversity, determination and teamwork”. The White House said Obama’s schedule would not permit him to attend the games.

“It’s a positive sign to see openly gay representatives in the delegation,” said Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy group that recently sent a letter urging Obama to include gays and lesbians in the delegation. “Hopefully it sends a message to the Russian people and the rest of the world that the United States values the civil and human rights of LGBT people.” King said she was “deeply honoured” to be named to the delegation. Continue reading “Obama will not attend Sochi games”

Obama meets Castro

After so many stops and starts in the ruptured, tortuous U.S.-Cuban relationship, it can be difficult at times to muster any hope for change. And so, as The Havana Note reports, “even after watching the historic handshake between President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro at the memorial for former President Nelson Mandela today, it would be easy enough to conclude that the handshake was just a handshake.images-1

“Maybe it was a momentary stunt by a beleaguered White House eager to shake the media – even for a moment – off of our national conversation about the botched Obamacare rollout. Given this administration’s halting, almost fearful approach to Cuba policy for most of the last five years, it’s hard to imagine that this is the beginning of a real and intentional rapprochement.

“But it’s also been a long time coming. President Obama has long believed our policy to be a failure – he said as much during his 2004 run for the Senate.  During his first campaign for president he famously expressed (and walked back, somewhat) a willingness to meet with President Raul Castro, and just months into office, Obama called for a “new beginning” with Cuba. Though Obama left most of the policies in place that he inherited, he has notably presided over an historic rebuilding of the Cuban and Cuban American communities’ ties – and in the process, winning nearly 50% of Cuban Americans’ votes in the 2012 presidential election. Continue reading “Obama meets Castro”

Worries about fed college rating system

As Education Department officials fan out across the country to hear feedback on the administration’s proposed college rating system, the associations that represent colleges are starting to stake out firmer stances against some parts of the plan, reports InsideHigherEd

“After offering a relatively restrained response early on, higher education associations are beginning to more clearly articulate their concerns about the administration’s ratings plan, even


though it’s still not clear what such a ratings system will look like. President Obama in August proposed that colleges be rated based on metrics measuring their affordability, accessibility to low-income students, and student outcomes. The administration plans to publish those college ratings by the 2015 academic year and eventually persuade Congress to allocate federal student aid based on how institutions perform.

“The department holds the last of its four public hearings Thursday at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. But officials have been meeting privately with student advocates, college presidents and other stakeholders.

“The leaders of private nonprofit colleges gathered in here last week, in part, to map out their response to the proposed ratings system and meet with department officials.

“David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the college presidents on his board were in agreement in principle with the administration’s goals but took exception to a federal ratings system.    Continue reading “Worries about fed college rating system”

Mandating coverage for mental health and addiction

The Obama administration today completed a generation-long effort to require insurers to cover care for mental health and addiction just like physical illnesses when it issues long-awaited regulations defining parity in benefits and treatment, as reported in the New York Times

“The rules, which will apply to almost all forms of insurance, will have far-reaching consequences for many Americans. In the White House, the regulations are also seen as critical to President Obama’s program for curbing


gun violence by addressing an issue on which there is bipartisan agreement: Making treatment more available to those with mental illness could reduce killings, including mass murders.

“In issuing the regulations, senior officials said, the administration will have acted on all 23 executive actions that the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced early this year to reduce gun crimes a

fter the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. In planning those actions, the administration anticipated that gun control legislation would fail in Congress as pressure from the gun lobby proved longer-lasting than the national trauma over the killings of first graders and their caretakers last Dec. 14.

“We feel actually like we’ve made a lot of progress on mental health as a result in this year, and this is kind of the big one,” said a senior administration official, one of several who described the outlines of the regulations that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, will announce at a mental health conference on Friday in Atlanta with the former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

“While laws and regulations dating to 1996 took initial steps in requiring insurance parity for medical and mental health, “here we’re doing full parity, and we’ve also taken steps to extend it to the people covered in the Affordable Care Act,” the senior official said. “This is kind of the final word on parity.” Continue reading “Mandating coverage for mental health and addiction”

Fed college rating system due in Spring

images-1Unsatisfied by the college ratings generated by popular news magazines, the Obama administration expects to have a first draft of its college rating system by this spring, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said. As InsideHigherEd reports:

“After soliciting public input at town hall discussions and hearings at college campuses across the country this fall, the department will convene a “technical symposium” early next year to discuss ratings methodology before releasing a preliminary version for public comment at some point in the spring, Duncan said. The administration’s goal is to implement the ratings system in the 2014-15 academic year and eventually persuade Congress to link federal student aid funding to the ratings system.

“It is an ambitious timeframe,” Duncan conceded on a call with reporters on Wednesday, in which he again emphasized that the administration has not yet decided on the metrics that will make up the federal college rating system that the president proposed in August. “We’ve seen some articles [about] people who are already opposed to the ratings plan, which is a little bit funny to me because it literally doesn’t exist,” he said. Many college and university leaders — and the associations that represent them in Washington — have been skeptical, if not critical, of measuring student outcomes based on metrics such as earnings and graduation rates. Some have also decried the availability and quality of data needed to carry out a ratings system.

“Data is always imperfect and we will use the best data we have,” Duncan said, adding that the administration would produce new iterations of the metrics “as better data becomes available.” Education Department officials also said Wednesday that they planned to host, in collaboration with the White House, a “datapalooza” in the early spring that will bring together innovators and app designers to look at better ways to package and provide access to existing federal data on colleges and students, such as the government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, known as IPEDS.  Continue reading “Fed college rating system due in Spring”

Racial divide persists in U.S.

Once upon a time, millions of people seemed to believe that electing Barack Obama president would automatically improve race relations in America, reports today’s Daily Beast.images-1

“Jason Wilhite, an African-American from Charleston, S.C., was one of them. “I did a jig around the house I was so happy,” Wilhite says. “I thought Americans really had made progress in how they viewed black people as a whole.” His assessment now? “Man, did I read that wrong.”

“Wilhite isn’t alone. Nearly four years into the Age of Obama, many Americans are coming to the conclusion that choosing a black man as commander in chief has done little to speed up racial progress or soothe racial tensions. In fact, some even suspect that Obama’s presence in the Oval Office may be slowing us down—and pushing us farther apart.

A new Newsweek poll puts this remarkable shift in stark relief for the first time. Back in 2008, 52 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center that they expected race relations to get better as a result of Obama’s election; only 9 percent anticipated a decline. But today that 43-point gap has vanished. According to the Newsweek survey, only 32 percent of Americans now think that race relations have improved since the president’s inauguration; roughly the same number (30 percent) believe they have gotten worse. Factor in those who say nothing has changed and the result is staggering: nearly 60 percent of Americans are now convinced that race relations have either deteriorated or stagnated under Obama. Continue reading “Racial divide persists in U.S.”

The “Ownership Society” downside

More than four years ago, President Obama assumed office promising dramatic reform to the housing market.imgres

After all, it was the housing market that triggered the financial crisis, and the vast proliferation of low-quality loans that had fueled the housing bubble, state a piece in today’s The Atlantic.

“But politics delayed those reforms, and now the president is reopening the issue with a call to wind down the two main federal mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “For too long, these companies were allowed to make big profits buying mortgages, knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be left holding the bag,” the president said this week. “It was ‘heads we win, tails you lose.'”

“Well, not entirely. The U.S. government and taxpayers did rescue these agencies in 2009 (to the tune of nearly $200 billion), and, after injecting them with capital and essentially nationalizing them, these companies started to turn a profit as the housing market slowly recovered. This month, they contributed more than $15 billion to the U.S. Treasury, and have been one factor in sharply reducing government deficits.

“Even more, Obama’s targeting of Fannie and Freddie is part of a larger narrative — on both the left and the right — that banks and government colluded to produce the financial crisis and the continuing drag on the United States. To be fair, Obama in the same speech this week acknowledged that much of the housing crisis was the product of “banks and the government…[making] everyone feel like they had to own a home, even if they weren’t ready and didn’t have the payment.” But that chord is a decidedly minor one in a general atmosphere of blame. Continue reading “The “Ownership Society” downside”

Transgender employment remains unprotected

The are only 16 states where one can’t be fired for being transgender.

In the modern era of LGBT civil rights, transgender inclusion in employment nondiscrimination bills has been the proverbial elephant in the room, writes  Brynn Tannehill in Huffington Post: “The subject drove a deep wedge between the transgender community and the LGB community in 2007, when the Employment Non-images-2

Discrimination Act (ENDA) bill was stripped of gender identity language in order to get it to the floor for a vote. Proposed ENDA bills since then have included gender identity but have not had the support necessary to make it to a vote in the House or Senate.

“There has been some progress in the past decade for transgender people in the workplace. In 2002 only 5 percent of the companies that participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI) had gender identity included in their corporate equal opportunity statement. By 2013 it has risen to 84 percent. Since 2002 a host of legal cases have begun to clearly establish that discriminating against transgender people falls under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex. Smith v. City of SalemBarnes v. City of CincinnatiSchroerer v. Library of Congress and Macy v. Holder have more or less established this as the dominant narrative in case law. Glenn v. Brumby took it a step further, with the 11th Circuit ruling that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment also applies.

“Those who oppose ENDA or oppose transgender inclusion in it for political purposes ask why we need it when it seems like the transgender community has all these things going for it as it is. The short answer is that we desperately need it because what we have in place is not preventing massive and widespread discrimination against transgender people.

” Transgender people are more than twice as likely to hold advanced degrees as the general population. They’re 50-percent more likely to hold an undergraduate degree. And they’re also making far, far less money than the rest of the population. The same study also revealed that the transgender unemployment rate is twice the national average

“Better-educated but making much less? It is not supposed to work like that. Statistically, there is usually a strong correlation between education and income level, but not for transgender people. The system is broken, and Occam’s razor tells us that the answer is likely what we would expect: Bias against transgender people prevents us from getting jobs, gets us laid off when we transition and keeps us from being paid our fair market value.”


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The nameless war

For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name? This question is posed in today’s edition of Le Monde: “It did at the outset. After 9/11, George W. Bush’s administrationimages-2

wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT. With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.

“Upon succeeding to the presidency in 2009, however, Barack Obama without fanfare junked Bush’s formulation (as he did again in a speech at the National Defense University last week). Yet if the appellation went away, the conflict itself, shorn of identifying marks, continued.

“Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much so.

“Names bestow meaning. When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about. To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations. With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the horrendous fraternal bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War. Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even the War of Northern Aggression). The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought — preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states’ rights — had been worthy, even noble. So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.Schoolbooks tell us that the Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended in August of that same year. The name and dates fit nicely with a widespread inclination from President William McKinley’s day to our own to frame U.S. intervention in Cuba as an altruistic effort to liberate that island from Spanish oppression. Continue reading “The nameless war”