Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Facebook Discussion -- Free Community College & Minimum Wage

Update: Within hours of this post the idea has already been abandoned by the White House. Too much political opposition. Too many self-absorbed, short-sighted rich Democrats along the Eastern coast, I suppose. Too bad. It was a good idea. (And the report I heard said the GOP had already started putting together a similar proposal or counter-proposal. Who knows? Maybe the Republicans will do it anyway and get the credit. Whatever...


President Obama's post-mid-second-term-elections persona has become the one many of us hoped to see in 2008. Six years later is better than never, so I'll take what I can get.

Meantime, one of his many initiatives includes a proposal to make the first two years of Community College free for students who qualify. Naturally, he has to propose a way to "pay for it" (since Congress has neglected in bipartisan fashion to balance a budget for years, audit the Pentagon or update the world's most byzantine tax code) which he has done by removing tax-deductions for 529 college savings plans. That would (on paper) generate enough tax revenue to pay for his proposal. One of my good web-buddies and Facebook friends posted a somewhat snarky swipe at the plan, which generated an interesting comments thread.

Some Facebook posts allow embedding but this one for some reason does not, so the hot link above may or may not work. In any case, I am capturing below a couple of comments to keep them from sinking into a quagmire which is the Facebook archives.
Opening comments led to this exchange...

JB: Your suggestion to means test for the deduction is a good one. It would be an excellent GOP negotiating comeback, but adjusting the deductibility threshold is very different from implying that the principle is being taxed, which is the thrust of the arguments against the idea.

I recall early in my working life when I first waded into the world of filing my own taxes and tracking deductions, I was sometimes shocked at how much I was paying in taxes. But I remembered something I heard about borrowing money. "I would be honored to sign my name to a note for a million dollars." In other words, if I were considered that credit-worthy by anyone or some institution willing to lend me that much money, I would very likely have demonstrated some remarkable aptitude for repaying the loan, even if I were penniless at the time.

Likewise, as I watched my taxes get deducted all those years I told myself that most of the people around me in the cafeteria would be honored to be paying that much in taxes. Why? because their earnings were so low, and the earnings prospects for the future, were so bad that taxes at that rate would always be unimaginable.

Your remarks about dirty politics and cronies are spot on, by the way. But let's not let those bastards contaminate rational discussions between us.

MW:  Where are you getting your numbers, Brian? The numbers I am finding do not show 50% of the working class with 529's. And number I am finding for those who will benefit from them is 80%, with a $250K of income. This is about the middle class, not the top 3% (which if you earn 250K, this is your percentile group). People who earn less than 100K (which is a generous definition: more than most tables show a cutoff of around 78K) have very few 529's. And let's be real; if you make 250K you can afford college. Now I did find a stat from the GAO and reported int the WSJ stating that 50% of 529 owners made less than 150K.... but not the working class. I think we can assume that is not the working class or even the middle class? Because 100K is in the top 20% and 150K is in the top 8-9%. So I ask how do you refer to those as middle-class economics, and proclaim the working class 50% owners of 529's.....?If it was just a poorly worded, I understand. Or a different definition of middle class, I understand. Romney was famous for suggesting that the middle class was $250K. But in reality, this is not the case. And I would also like to now how the header of the article is the first thing you read and is a completely different topic than what is addressed in paying for the break with 529's...I know that is how he wants to pay for it..... what does that have to do with someone making "bad choices"?

JB:  Don't be too hard on Brian, Michael. He's pretty well-read and has a wide range of interests. He's something of a dyed-in-the-wool Libertarian, though, and they tend to have a few blind spots. Thanks for your research, though. It's spot on. And welcome to the comments threads.

MW:  He is a decent and good man also. I have always liked Brian since we went to school. And indeed a very intelligent man. Which was why I was surprised at the header comments. And do not get me wrong; Libertarians aren't bad. I happen to support a couple of their positions myself, including the flat tax. But as an old, dyed in the wool liberal, I chuckle at some of the things i read and must comment.....LOL!

JB:  There have been a variety of flat tax proposals, but the one most talked about here in Atlanta is called the "Fair Tax." I'm not sure where it was hatched but it has an interesting feature (aside from repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment) called a "prebate." Presumably after it is in place everybody gets a monthly prebate consideration -- I suppose in the form of cash, card or other form -- to offset the necessities of living. This is the Flat Tax equivalent of the "standard deduction" or itemized deductions of our current system. It sounds okay until you realize in order to manage it, some incredibly huge clerical task would be in place to ID and track everybody in the country who would be affected! I suppose it might be made optional for those who don't mind absorbing the "tax" from the first dollar spent, but still... It strikes me as a pretty nutty idea.

In my case, I'm an old unreconstructed Sixties Liberal with roots almost in childhood -- starting about 1959 when I was still a teen.

MW:  Yes... I agree. The proposal sounds almost self-defeating...No, the flat tax I am talking about is the one that Libertarians actively pursued as a part of policy: the Friedman view. Very simple, very fair, and very little bureaucracy. I don't recall the exact figures, but I believe it was like 15% across the board for the first 50K, then would go up slightly as the income increased. Which seems to me to be fair, though those who are in the 1% would argue that they pay more. And they have a point. 

But my position is that they have more use of public projects and benefits that the average working-class man does not, such as railroads, for instance. Or shipyards, etc. The average common man will never ship things by rail or boat..... he more than likely will never ship in mass quantities ever. So with your wealth accumulation is an ever-present increasing use of the public infrastructure that you should pay more for. If a common man only uses the highway to go to work, he should pay a small amount of tax. But if a magnate uses that same highway for a nationwide fleet of thousands of trucks, then he should pay more. Even though each is a single taxpayer, the burdens would be different, and each rewarded accordingly. The common man pays less in taxes but uses less; the magnate pays more in taxes and uses more. 

Seems simple to me. I can't recall the Libertarian who first supported this, but it sounded reasonable to me. On another note, I am a child of the 70"s with 60"s hippie liberalism founded in 80's reality. I believe in peace, love and equality for all. What Republicans call a "long-haired, Commie Pinko race lover who hates America"..... though they claim to be very Christian when calling me that..... And it is not true, BTW....LOL!

JB:  I misunderstood your "flat tax" reference. I took it to be flat as opposed to progressive. What you describe retains progressive taxation, which is good. "Flat" then means the elimination of deductions. Other countries use the VAT (value added tax) which is imposed from the first step of any economic progression. The supply chain furnishing the making of a product, then, is taxed every step of the way which spreads the burden along the line. I have no idea how that is administered.

In any case, if changes are not made in how the economy works, the gap separating rich and poor will continue to grow. The most straightforward remedy is raising the minimum wage (which a number of states have already done). As it is, public assistance to those already employed full-time (and still not making ends meet) is a de facto subsidy for the employer.
No one earning the current minimum wage of about $15,000 per year can aspire to live decently, much less raise a family. As a result, almost all workers subsisting on those low earnings need panoply of taxpayer-supported benefits, including the earned income tax credit, food stamps, Medicaid or housing subsidies. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government spent $316 billion on programs designed to help the poor in 2012. 
That means the current $7.25 minimum wage forces taxpayers to subsidize Wal-Mart Stores Inc.and other large employers, effectively socializing their labor costs. This is great for Wal-Mart and its shareholders, but terrible for America. It is both unjust and inefficient. 
MW:  Yes, my mistake. I have always heard it referred to as a flat tax, but it is progressive, isn't it? My bad. But I agree with you also on the minimum wage increase, though that will probably be off-set to companies by inflation of prices. I really think it is more of a band-aid to a wound and we need more control over the free market in order to permanently come up with solutions. I am a free market guy, but we need restrictions. The National Debt is out of control, because of very few free market restrictions designed to eliminate the rising costs of the poor and the inability to stop profiteering at the cost of the taxpayer or the country. 

There are things that we can do, such as the tax mentioned above, penalties for offshore havens, jail and forfeiture for crooks who scam and swindle, breaking up the monopolies of banks and such....etc. But alas, who is going to do it? Right now, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are the only two politicians that I trust; and there is little they can do. Even when they pass a law like Dodd-Frank, Citigroup writes a rider in on the budget that guts part of it. Until we reverse Citizens United or somehow get money out of politics, then we will continue to drive up debt to pay for the poor and to run the country while the 1% own 48% of it's wealth.....Again, I agree with you; unjust and inefficient.

JB:  I see Brian already liked your comment, beating me to it. Something you wrote must have rubbed one of his conservative/libertarian sweet spots. I generally agree with all those free market arguments. After all, I spent my whole working life, from the time I finished college until retirement, in retail management. Prior to Piccadilly I was actually in what might be called middle or upper management, but the company was too little when it went Chapter Eleven to merit "middle" management (35 locations both company-owned and franchised, scattered from New England to South Florida -- and I was with the main office). All that time I should have been Republican, the party of business and free enterprise. I learned to despise the interference and inconsistencies of sanitarians, their bosses and the inconsistencies of regulatory oversight from one place to another. But all that time a heart for the common man, our customer (and source of revenue), kept my Democrat soul dominant.

All that time also gave me a healthy regard and respect for the free market. But I came to realize that the very openness that gives it life also gives rise to monopolies and selective pricing models that fudge the market or undercut competition. There is good reason that prices of food are higher in poor neighborhoods and healthcare facilities are concentrated in the most affluent parts of most metro areas. Free market enterprises are like Willie Sutton -- they go where the money is. They do whatever they need to do to get it. And they resist limitations and oversight for the same reasons that made Willie Sutton a criminal -- government intrusion into their behavior.

That said, it's important to realize that the labor "market" behaves exactly like all the others. I use scare quotes because most observers fail to realize (or are in denial) that the availability of more people looking for employment has the same effect on wages that an oversupply or under-demand for products or services has on prices. So the relationship between wages and prices is not contrary but identical. Higher wages does not, in fact, lead to higher prices. If anything, higher wages (particularly at the bottom of the scale) has the opposite effect by giving more money to the very people most likely to spend it, injecting it into the economy. People working for minimum wages are more likely to be borrowing than investing -- which may benefit payday lenders, check-cashing scams and rental businesses (hence the term "rentier class"). They are not in any position to buy an ice=cream store but they can afford to buy more ice-cream.

Rising unemployment exerts a downward force on wages in the same way that oversupply makes goods and services less costly. The result is a self-feeding downward loop pushing the minimum wage ever lower. The only reason many jobs even pay that much is that employers cannot pay even less because the law forbids it.

The principle is clear in places like Lebanon where even the children of refugees are spending their days working for fractional wages in the farms and grunt work of the Lebanese economy -- instead of going to school or staying at home where they might care for younger siblings enabling a parent to go to work. (And the heartbreaking part of that picture is that most refugees are women, their men either too old or left behind to fight.) Prior to child labor laws in America, the same exploitation of children was commonplace and widespread in both agricultural and industrial environments. (Children of migrant laborers still work the fields in America, incidentally.)

So that is why I am in favor of raising the minimum wage. That is why many states have legal state minimums higher than the federal minimum. And that is why until Congress passes legislation to increase the federal minimum the country will continue to make anything looking like an economic recovery nothing more than a sluggish effort, falling way short of the potential it might otherwise have.

In other words, the way out of our economic problems is more people paying more taxes. (I'm sure that is a position those paying high taxes would support.) The sooner more people get rich, the faster the taxpaying portion of the population will grow. Those at the bottom of the wage scale need to earn their way out of EITC and public assistance, and into the ranks of taxpayers. It's ridiculous that ACA needs to subsidize incomes up to 400% of FPL. That's crazy when you think about it.

 I agree wholeheartedly. I am in the crazy position of seeing the extremely wealthy and the absurdly poor every day. I deliver to Kiawah and Seabrook Islands in South Carolina. Kiawah is called the "Hamptons of the South". Thousands of multi-million dollar mansions ranging from 1 million for a 2 bedroom villa, to 19.5 million for the new estate off the Ocean Course. 

I talk to CFO's and CEO's and people ranging from NFL players like Dan Marino to CFO's of Honeywell and Wells Fargo. But on the way there, I deliver to huge plantations, where you see migrant workers in the fields by the hundreds, and who live in these overcrowded shacks with deplorable conditions and maybe 2 portalets and a big communal kitchen. No transportation or laundry or baths other than a couple of outside showerheads on the side of the kitchen. And the wage? Maybe $10 or $15 dollars a day. 

Immigration doesn't show up, because no one else will do the job. But these are the same folks who want to deport illegals....Hypocrisy in action. Anyone who tells you that slave-like conditions don't exist can call me and I will verify that they do. These people are off the grid entirely. They get no healthcare, or government checks, or food stamps, or education, or assistance of any kind. But the money they earn goes to feed them and their families and buy clothes at Goodwill and such. They are surviving, with no help, and yet still putting into the economy. It restores faith in humanity to see it, while at the same time, makes me ashamed that my country allows this to happen in the first place. 

And yet 5 miles down the road is paradise. Private islands, golf courses, tennis clubs, country clubs, Ferraris and Maseratis, golf carts costing more than I make in a year. It is an amazing display on the wealth gap in actual human terms. And the epitome of what is wrong. The minimum wage is a great thing and I support it, but I have seen the cost spread across the services, or the consumer. 

I saw an interesting piece a few weeks ago where the cost of giving every worker for McDonalds a raise nation-wide to $10.10 would raise the cost of a big Mac by...... 25 cents. Yep, 25 lousy cents. I would be glad to pay that. But McDonald's will not do it. It is a corporate mind-set that we got in to during Reaganomics, and it has just gotten worse. Same with the progressive income tax. They will not do it. This is why there is a Populist movement again, and it is growing by leaps and bounds. It started just before Occupy and is spreading through Ferguson protests and other areas as well. The message is starting to get out there. 

You are completely right when you say that the that the bottom needs to earn their way into the middle class, and then the "entitlements" can start ending.... but the right does not see that because it interferes with profit margins now.... and tomorrow. They do not see the big picture of the consumer spending increasing by leaps and bounds, as will the tax base, while driving demand. They only care about today. But we will see how it pans out. It is going to be very interesting in the next 10 years.....

JB: Very eloquently put. You validate important points well.
May I have permission to use that comment as one of my "status reports"?
I need not use your name (unless you prefer).

Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK Day Remembrances

Just a few days ago a tape recording of King speaking was discovered after fifty years in storage. The story is now available many places so I won't take up space here other than this link to UCLA.
A long-lost audio recording of a 50-year-old speech delivered at UCLA by the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has been unearthed in a storage room in the communication studies department, which will put it online. The 55-minute speech (embedded [at the link]) will go live today on King’s birthday, four days before the national holiday honoring him. 
“It’s a speech of importance that deserves to be released on a day of importance,” said Derek Bolin, a 2013 UCLA graduate who found the recording while working as a contract archivist. Over the years, King’s visit to UCLA became a proud part of campus lore. The spot where the civil rights leader stood to deliver his speech, at the base of Janss Steps, is now marked with a plaque and is a stopping point on some campus tours. 
The speech, recorded originally on 7-inch, reel- to-reel tapes, will become part of the UCLA Communication Studies Speech Archive, an online collection of more than 400 speeches delivered on campus by politicians, activists, entertainment personalities and other newsmakers primarily during the 1960s and ’70s. Like King, the speakers were brought to campus by UCLA's now-defunct Associated Students Speakers Program. With donations from alumni, the department began last year to digitize the speeches and upload them to YouTube. So far, more than 180,000 listeners have tapped into the online archive.
In 2009 I posted this at my first blog:

Two personal remembrances: King and Gandhi
[Make that "Three Remembrances..."
Leila Abu-Saba's mom was part a civil rights activist who spent honorable time in jail and received a letter of appreciation from Dr. King. Go read.  I do hope this link remains active in future years. I haven't time to transcribe it here, but it's another great personal remembrance. The late Leila Abu-Saba blogged as The Dove. She died of cancer in 2009, soon after this post. ]
Yesterday's King holiday evoked two personal remembrances from unrelated sources worth noting. On All Things Considered last evening, Michael Rose, director of the Atlanta History Center spoke with Michele Norris about having seen Dr. King in Miami in 1965...
I was with my friend, Gary Herwald. We and a bunch of high school buddies had come down from the North for out last Spring Vacation (it wasn't yet called "spring break") before going off to college. 
Gary and I were standing in a little shopping concourse at the hotel just wandering around. There was a man looking in a window of one of the stores. Among all the people in casual resort wear, he was the only person wearing a business suit. He also was the only African-American.

Gary said to me, "Is that who I think it is?" 
I said I thought so. And so we walked over. Gary was the one who worked up the nerve to ask him, "Excuse me, sir. Are you Martin Luther King?" 
And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that yes, he was. He wasn't that hard to spot. He was coming off a pretty good year. He had started 1964 on the cover of Time Magazine as Man of the Year. He had ended 1964 by being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On this day in the Florida hotel he was thirty-six years old.

He was alone. Gary and I were the only people to approach him. Gary said, "I just want to tell you how much we admire you." 
Dr. King, smiling and making a small joke, said "You boys aren't from Florida, are you?"
We talked for a few minutes. Nothing earth-shattering. And there was no way to know, of course, that three Springs later he would be dead....
This little eight-minute clip is worth that much of your time. (After all I took longer than that to find it, blog it, and type out part of the transcript). It illustrates how deeply just a momentary encounter can effect someone for a lifetime. Could there be any connection between this encounter and Michael Rose's current job?

The connection between Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi needs no explanation. And long ago, as a young man stationed in India, Mort Reichek recalls the time he was able to catch a glimpse of Gandhi... (Mort passed away in 2011.) In the 
I recall walking on Chowringhee one day in the fall of 1944 when the atmosphere was anything but tranquil. As I passed the Maidan I encountered an enormous mob of people crowded into the park. The noise was overwhelming. The following day, the local newspapers estimated that at least a million people had been crammed into the Maidan. 
I cautiously approached the crowd to find out what has happening. I quickly learned that a thousand or more yards in front of us, the legendary Mahatma Gandhi was standing on a raised platform and making a speech. Gandhi, the major political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, had been released from a British prison several months earlier. He rarely visited Calcutta, and his scheduled appearance that day had produced the enormous audience that I saw. 
Scores of loudspeakers had been installed across theMaidan's grounds so that the crowds far removed from Gandhi's platform might hear him speak. I assume that he was speaking in Bengali or Hindi. But I doubt whether the locals packed in at the edge of the park near me could possibly hear Gandhi's words. Nor was it even possible for any of them to clearly see "the Mahatma" so far off in the distance. (Gandhi's first name was actually Mohandas, but he was popularly called Mahatma--meaning "great soul"--a fitting title for a man who was worshipped by India's masses as a living saint.) 
A man standing next to me offered me the use of his binoculars so that I might catch a glimpse of Gandhi, who was standing on the platform so far away. At 5'10" I was taller than most of the people crowded around me. I was therefore able to see this great man in person, although the view was not exactly well focused. 
Gandhi was famed for preaching the doctrine of non-violence as the means of gaining India's freedom from British rule. (I am writing this as the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which seems so appropriate since Gandhi was the inspiration for Dr. King's own political philosophy.) 
Indeed, the next day's newspapers reported that Gandhi's speech called for the Indian people to avoid violent action in their struggle for independence. Ironically, his message meant nothing to the young Hindu fanatic who assassinated the 79-year old Gandhi four years later because of the Mahatma's conciliatory attitude towards India's Muslim minority.
As in the case of Michael Rose's encounter with Dr. King, this other equally famous man was to be assassinated four years later. These two stories, though from very different origins, seem to have striking similarities. And in the Cotton Patch  tradition I offer them to my readers as Living Epistles about Saints that still walk among us. I am ecumenical enough to believe that the Word of God is not always transmitted by preachers, or even Christians. These two stories illustrate that belief.

An afterthought:

The Octogenarian mentions Mother Theresa in passing and her work in Calcutta. I have the privilege even now of knowing a wonderful woman who served in India many years ago as a medical missionary of the Church. She told me that when Mother Theresa began her ministry she had to learn, among other things, how to do hypodermic injections and it was to the medical missionaries she came to learn that skill. You don't have to go far to find a saint, you know. You just have to pay attention and look for clues.

Whenever I am tempted to abandon principles that the rest of the world might dismiss as being unrealistic or overly-idealistic, I remind myself that in an overwhelmingly evil world God is still at work.

In the comments Mortart said..."Thanks for your kind words."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Yemen Snapshot

if I don't capture this link no one will believe me. 
This is Believe it or Not stuff.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Mormon Notes (2011)

Here are notes collected during Mitt Romney's previous campaign. They appeared at another blog, now closed.

Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is in the news and large swaths of people claiming to be Christian are working hard to find a non-Mormon alternative for the GOP. Mormonism, they say, is a cult. I have the impression that many would prefer an atheist to a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Secretly they love the sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but that's about as far as their affection for anything Mormon can risk.) It should be noted that Jon Huntsman is also Mormon, although his position in the race for the Republican nomination is way down toward the bottom. I find it fascinating that the two most impressive candidates of the GOP lot are Mormon. 

Aside from my lifelong identity as a Yellow Dog Democrat, I have always had a healthy respect for anyone of any political persuasion who is intelligent, sincere and open to negotiation when it comes to resolving differences. Unfortunately those qualities are in short supply this season with candidates signing pledges never to have a change of heart or negotiate in good faith if it involves several items important to a hard-headed segment of single-issue voters. It's been a long time since Emerson said a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines, so they must have forgotten (assuming they ever knew). But I digress... Here is a little collection of links for readers looking at Mormonism from the outside, without the perverted tilt of biased critics.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey is one of those self-help books that's been around for a long time. Last time I was in a book store I noticed that the author is still making money from a successful venture into the self-help how-to cottage industry. I read the book years ago and was very impressed. I found it challenging enough that I had to put it down halfway through and reflect on the message before finishing the last couple of chapters.

Anyway, Stephen Covey is a Mormon and this book is apparently a non-religious presentation of core Mormon beliefs or practices. Check out the reader comments at the Amazon link for a string of opinions from one extreme to the other. The number of stars will indicate which end of religious rainbow is being presented. (Many of the same readers who find Covey's book something of a tool of Satan will also feel the same way about the Harry Potter series.) There are over a hundred screens of comments so don't get bogged down.

Mormon Fashion Bloggers is a list at Clothed Much blog, [now closed] linked by a post at Killing the Buddha which readers may also find interesting. This list is a fascinating look at fashion through Mormon eyes. 
Welcome to Clothed Much, a modest fashion blog! I'm Elaine and I dress modestly because I am a Mormon so I aim to feature modesty by Mormon/LDS fashion standards. I'm not an expert on modesty or fashion but I love being creative with what I have within my values. Modesty means different things to different people and this is just my story. Even if you don't share my views, I hope you at least get some cute modest outfit ideas!!!
The 100 Hour Board is a place where students at Brigham Young University can ask questions on line and they will be answered withing a hundred hours. I don't recall where I first came across it but I recognized a repository of purity and innocence that seems to have been lost or deliberately destroyed in most institutions of higher learning. Pocket your urge to be cynical and go take a look. There are still places in America where young people are still writing and interacting with courtesy and good manners, not preoccupied with the vices widely depicted of their generation in movies and TV shows. 

Check out this quesiton and answers...
Season's greetings! What are your some of your favorite Christmas ornaments? What about your least favorite? Do you have pictures? Happy Holidays --Salty Dog
"Life Dances Inside a Circle Made By Living, They Say"  This story I found at Group News Blog will take a few minutes to read but it is worth every minute it takes. Don't skim it. Take time to read it for the full effect. The Mormon element is central to the story but the importance has more to do with doing what is right than doing what is Mormon. I'm not sure which of the contributors at GNB wrote it. I should know but I haven't followed them enough to know each by name and this is not attributed. Here is a snip.
The winter of 1958 on the White Mountain Apache Reservation was hard. Unusually heavy snowfalls, very low temperatures and a sudden freeze all contributed to the dangerous misery there. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was not responding to the pleading of the people for help and aid. They ignored the missionaries who were trying to keep our tiny school going. It was a Mormon year that time. One of the "teachers" was from a Mormon Ward in Mesa. 
Their Bishop, his family has asked that I not name him, because they are old school Mormons who believe that doing good, and caring for your fellow human beings is something that should be expected, it is not something to be celebrated, so I'll just call him The Bishop, hearing of the plight on the rez, opened his Bishop's stores. This is something that the Mormons take very seriously. They encourage their members to keep a year's supply of canned and preserved foods, and each Ward's Bishop has control of an even larger storage. 
The Bishop opened his stores. He directed the members of his Ward to gather at the storehouse, bringing their trucks and vans. They loaded them down with food, blankets, and warm clothes. They drove 350 miles from Mesa to the rez. They began to distribute those badly needed items. They did this without preaching or doing anything but try to find out where what the greatest needs were. When they had finished, they drove back to their home, loaded up again, and drove back.
"Pennies From Heaven" by Bernard Avishai  Avishai splits his time between Jerusalem and Wilmot, New Hampshire. He is adjunct professor of business at Hebrew University. He's taught at Duke, MIT, and was director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. From 1986 to 1991 he was technology editor of Harvard Business Review. He's written dozens of articles and commentaries for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Harvard Business Review, Harper’s and many other publications.

A Jew looks at this Mormon, a first-person impression that appeared a few weeks ago. Do read the whole piece if time permits. I hold Bernard Avishai in high regard. His impressions and observations are solid. 
When I joined Monitor Company (now Group) in the spring of 1992, the first party its directors, my new colleagues, invited me to was at Mitt Romney's mansion in Belmont. Romney was at the time still with Bain Capital, but his political ambitions were clear. The party, in fact, turned out to be a fundraiser for a friend of his who was planning a run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Utah.
Make no mistake. Romney and his wife Ann could not have been more gracious--or attractive. Their sons (I think I met three out of the five) were about as good-looking as it was possible to be outside of a Land's End catalogue, yet they were warm, respectful, and the huge, imposing home-on-a-hill had an unmistakably lived-in air about it. Homework was being attended to around the kitchen table. You got the sense that they were good and grateful people, who simply assumed their wealth was earned, deserved, yet a blessing, something to be put to the fullness of life. They seemed middle class, only more so. 
I should add that I had just finished five-year stint as the Harvard Business Review's technology strategy editor, and found the karma familiar. The Romney home seemed a kind of extension of the business school's architectural principles, not just the physical space, with its understated but firmly established elegance, but its implied social architecture as well. 
This post is not an endorsement of Mitt Romney or Mormonism. I put it together simply because I hate seeing so much stupidity around me and no one seems to know how to come against it. Or if anyone does, they are not doing so very effectively. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Steve Harris' Facebook Status

This is worth keeping.
In case anything happens to the Facebook link, here is the content...
Hey Roger. I appreciate your willingness to be a part of the conversation. You sincerely asked me what I think, and I offer the following. As you read, I ask that you simply read it to try and understand it, not to think about arguments against it. I offer my thoughts as an explanation, and I’m afraid it’s a bit lengthy.

During my legal career I went to a variety of courthouses for various things well over 100 times. Every time I went I was wearing a suit and tie. With great regularity, (I’d estimate 75% of the time) I was either asked, “do you have your attorney with you?” or restrained in some way by a bailiff. I would often have to show my bar card to prove that I was allowed to go past “the bar” (the divider) in the courtroom. This happened to none of my white colleagues (yes, I asked them). It was clear that my race made me “defendant” in the eyes of the judicial system. The clear message for me is that my race makes me suspect – that it makes me lesser. I don’t believe that those people set out to target me because I’m black… I believe that their treatment of me is the conditioned response to blacks that this country’s history has instilled in us.

In college I was a “campus host” so 2 or 3 times a month I would spend time guiding a visiting guest around campus. We always had to make small talk, and inevitably, I would get asked if I was on athletic scholarship or what sport I played. I was never asked if I had an academic scholarship. The stereotypes are ingrained in us.

With regularity, I get followed through stores. Last month it was at a Target. I can only assume that the security officers believe that I am the person in the store mostly likely to steal something, solely because of my race, and so they follow me.

I have been stopped a number of times by the police (15-ish or so times). Sometimes it was because I was doing 1 or 2 over the speed limit, sometimes it was because I “seemed to be lost” (in a white neighborhood). In every case when I was stopped for what I believe to be driving while black, there were a couple of things that happened. First, the police officer drove beside me and looked at me before pulling me over, and second, there was a long conversation about something unrelated to the stated reason they pulled me over. The conversations were either about why I was in that neighborhood, or about the nice car I was driving. In each of those instances I put on my “happy negro” face and did absolutely nothing that might get me killed, because in my mind I knew that was a possibility.

When I cross a border into the US in a car, I am nearly always interrogated. Last spring, on my way to Boston I stopped in Detroit to see a dear friend. From Detroit I drove across Canada to Niagara Falls, because it saves about 2 hours on the drive. Coming into the US, I showed my passport, and he asked me where I was going. I debated in my head whether to tell the truth, because I knew where this was going, but I decided to. He asked where I was headed, I told him Boston. He asked why, and I told him I was teaching a class at Harvard. He clearly thought I was lying. He then searched my car. He asked me if I had a letter proving that I was teaching at Harvard, and then started asking questions about my car. I gave him the complete history of my time at Harvard, including my student ID, and after 30 minutes he let me go. I can only assume that had I been white, that would not have happened.

The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg. There have been times when I called to look at apartments that had vacancies, but when I showed up they suddenly did not. I often get ignored in higher end stores when the sales people are gracious and friendly to the white customers. Nearly every time I have bought a car it has been an extremely condescending experience. In most of my graduate school experiences, I have been excluded from study groups, assumed that I was there because of affirmative action, and mistaken for either food service or the custodial crew. I know these things because people told me. “I’m glad you’re here even though you bumped my friend out of a spot in law school…” “We only asked the people we knew would do well to be in the study group.” “Are you going to vacuum in here?”

I could go on and on, but the point is that nearly every day, I have an interaction with someone who says or does something that lets me know that person perceives me as lesser based on the color of my skin. It may be how I am treated by a cashier compared to the white person in front of me, or the looks I get for being in the wrong (meaning white) neighborhood, women clutching their purses or people crossing the street, or locking their car doors when they see me… It may be from hateful stuff that people post on facebook or on twitter… not about me necessarily, but about blacks in general, or calling the president nigger, or monkey, or some other racial slur and using lynching imagery to talk about him. All of these, overt and subtle, day in and day out, serve to send me (and most blacks) the message that to this society, I am not as smart, not as valuable, not as deserving of respect as the white people in this society.

I am as educated as one can get, and I am squarely in the upper middle class, but I know that when I leave the house, in this society I am seen as “lesser”. I have complete control of my temper, and as an attorney, I know exactly where all of the legal lines fall when I do interact with law enforcement, but every time it happens I wonder if this will be the time when I get beat or killed.

Lets just assume for argument’s sake that most black people in America are having the same types of interactions with the larger society that I do. That the interactions they’ve had with the police have been at least as negative as mine, if not moreso. How many times do I have to get stopped for doing nothing before I am allowed to express my anger? (And for the record, I usually get a name and badge number and report it, but as best I can tell it doesn’t make a bit of difference). How often do I have to get searched or harassed, or detained by law enforcement before I have a right to stand up for myself and say, “enough”?

So if I get stopped for “looking like I was lost” and I’ve had enough, and decide not to show the officer my ID, what happens? I get arrested, and maybe beat for being uncooperative, and after the fact, charged with something stupid like “hindering an investigation”, and then resisting arrest, when the officer should not have stopped me in the first place. But, I got stopped because I looked suspicious by virtue of the color of my skin.

Roger, this happens all the time. This happens, in part, because there is an unconscious bias (sometimes conscious) in American culture that blacks are up to no good, and of lesser value. So, when these negative police interactions occur, there are some police officers who are perfectly willing to immediately escalate to full force, even when it is not necessary.

One of the disconnects for many whites is that it is difficult to believe that this may be happening with any regularity, but it is. And if, for argument’s sake that you believe me when I say it happens all the time that police harass, intimidate, and wrongfully arrest black people, especially black men (often because they protest being harassed) then some of the reaction to the Ferguson shooting makes more sense.

There are some who say Michael Brown broke the law as if that excuses the whole interaction. The questions that come up for me are things like, if the officer had more respect for Michael Brown would he have gotten out of the car to address him instead of just yelling at him from his car window. If the officer had actually gotten out of his car to address Michael Brown, would the interaction have gone differently? The issue for me isn’t whether Michael Brown broke the law, I’m perfectly willing to say yes, he did. The issue is whether the police officer could have approached the situation in such a way that Michael Brown would not be dead, and if the police officer had seen Michael Brown as having more value, would he have treated him differently from the beginning of the interaction.

In theory, the police are supposed to protect and serve, and are specifically trained to de-escalate a situation. In the situation with Eric Garner he didn’t attack the police, he didn’t run, he just didn’t want to be arrested, but the officers didn’t try very hard to have a conversation with him, they just jumped him and put a choke hold on him, for allegedly selling cigarettes. That clearly could have been handled differently, but if the police have little regard for a black man, why bother spending time trying to deescalate… simply wrestle him to the ground and don’t concern yourself with whether he can breathe or not.

The above examples are clouded for some by the underlying crime, so I would point to a few other examples that happened recently and were caught on tape. In September Lavar Jones was shot by a police officer. Mr. Jones had stopped at a convenience store and gotten out of his car. The officer followed him into the parking lot and asked him for his ID. When Mr Jones leaned back into his car to get his ID, the officer panicked and shot him.

In August, John Crawford III. went to Walmart to buy a bb gun for his son. While in the store, holding the bb gun he was on the phone. Someone in the store called the police, and when they showed up, they ran in and shot him.…/sep/25/ohio-shooting-walmart-v…

In both of these cases, I would argue that the police could have approached it differently, but did not in part because of the race of the individuals (which is the larger issue). This is the experience of many black people in America, and the Brown and Garner cases are just extreme examples of what we experience every day.

There are protesters who damaged property – they are wrong. That doesn’t excuse the behavior of the police. There is black on black crime. It is an issue. It doesn’t excuse the behavior of the police. This is a single issue that needs its own attention, and the other issues can be dealt with separately, and they do not justify or excuse this issue.

The Justice department just released the report of a 2 year investigation of the Cleveland Police Department. This is a majority white police department in a majority black city. The report
( documents the pattern and practice of using excessive force.

There are lots and lots of examples that I could cite, and lots and lots of statistics that I could point you to, but ultimately I believe that the issue comes down to stepping outside of ones own experience and trying to understand the experiences of others. If most black people have had the experience of being treated as lesser based on race, then perhaps there is something to it, and it needs to be addressed.

Here is some research on perception data:…/chapter-1-i-have-a-dream…/…

Here is some research on how bias works in our brains:…/02/science-cops-shoot-young-black-…/