Elizabeth Warren Just Showed Democrats How to Talk About Race in America

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 2:48 PM EDT

In the modern-day fight against racial inequality, activists and policymakers alike should look to the past to change the present.

That's the message Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent on Sunday in a stirring speech at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. Warren called for wide-ranging civil rights reforms to combat racial inequality, from the restoration of voting rights to changes in policing practices.

In a year marked by public outcry over police brutality, Warren echoed the sentiments of the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing connections between the group's push for social-justice reforms and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

"None of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets," Warren said. "This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter." 

Here are five issues Warren covered in her speech, which starts at the 12:25 mark in the video above:

On violence against African Americans:

Fifty years later, violence against African Americans has not disappeared. Consider law enforcement. The vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. They are part of an honorable profession that takes risks every day to keep us safe. We know that. But we also know—and say—the names of those whose lives have been treated with callous indifference. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. We've seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air—their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protestors have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets. And it's not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church. We must be honest: Fifty years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared.

On voting rights:

And what about voting rights? Two years ago, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates ever wider for measures designed to suppress minority voting. Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed—voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disfranchisement through a criminal-justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens. The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process.

On economic inequality:

Violence. Voting. And what about economic injustice? Research shows that the legal changes in the civil rights era created new employment and housing opportunities. In the 1960s and the 1970s, African American men and women began to close the wage gap with white workers, giving millions of black families hope that they might build real wealth.


Today, 90 percent of Americans see no real wage growth. For African Americans, who were so far behind earlier in the 20th century, this means that since the 1980s they have been hit particularly hard. In January of this year, African American unemployment was 10.3 percent—more than twice the rate of white unemployment. And, after beginning to make progress during the civil rights era to close the wealth gap between black and white families, in the 1980s the wealth gap exploded, so that from 1984 to 2009, the wealth gap between black and white families tripled. 

On policing:

Policing must become a truly community endeavor-not in just a few cities, but everywhere. Police forces should look like, and come from, the neighborhoods they serve. They should reach out to support and defend the community—working with people in neighborhoods before problems arise. All police forces—not just some—must be trained to de-escalate and to avoid the likelihood of violence. Body cameras can help us know what happens when someone is hurt. 

On housing discrimination and predatory lending:

The 2008 housing collapse destroyed trillions in family wealth across the country, but the crash hit African Americans like a punch in the gut. Because middle class black families' wealth was disproportionately tied up in homeownership and not other forms of savings, these families were hit harder by the housing collapse. But they also got hit harder because of discriminatory lending practices—yes, discriminatory lending practices in the 21st century. Recently several big banks and other mortgage lenders paid hundreds of millions in fines, admitting that they illegally steered black and Latino borrowers into more expensive mortgages than white borrowers who had similar credit. Tom Perez, who at the time was the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, called it a "racial surtax." And it's still happening—earlier this month, the National Fair Housing alliance filed a discrimination complaint against real estate agents in Mississippi after an investigation showed those agents consistently steering white buyers away from interracial neighborhoods and black buyers away from affluent ones. Another investigation showed similar results across our nation's cities. Housing discrimination alive and well in 2015.

You can read Warren's full remarks here.

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Lie of the Year: Donald Trump's Tax Plan Will Cost Him a "Fortune"

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 1:44 PM EDT

From Donald Trump, bragging about his new tax plan:

It’s going to cost me a fortune.

Let's see. I think Trump says he makes $400 million per year. Is that regular income? Investment income? Dividends? Hot air? Who knows. But that's what he says. If it's regular income, he'll save $60 million right off the top thanks to his huge cut in the top marginal rate. If it's investment income, he'll come out even. Let's just say that it's a combination of both, so he'll save $30 million. Fair?

I don't think any of his proposed tax increases would affect him except for the "other loopholes" he's allegedly going to close. So for this to cost him a "fortune," he'd need to pay $40 million more from his loss of deductions.

Does anyone think this is remotely feasible? Anyone?

Let's make this clear: Trump's claim that he's raising taxes on the wealthy is the baldest kind of lie. No one should report this with a straight face. And if Trump doesn't like it? All he has to do is offer up the details to prove his case and show me what a loser I am. Let's see 'em.

Social Media or Not, a Primary Is Still a Primary

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 1:12 PM EDT

I'm going to pick on my friend Ezra Klein today. He begins an essay about changes in American politics with a list of four recent developments in this year's presidential primary race:

  • First, Scott Walker, who looked to be the conservative establishment's pick for the GOP nomination, dropped out of the race.
  • Then John Boehner unexpectedly resigned from Congress....
  • Then an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll was released showing Bernie Sanders merely 7 points behind Hillary Clinton....
  • The same poll showed that Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina — the GOP's true outsider candidates — have reached a combined 52 percent in the polls, while Jeb Bush, the GOP's top insider candidate, has plummeted from 23 percent to 7 percent.

"Let's state the obvious," says Klein. "No pundit anywhere predicted any two of these things back in June. Hell, I'm not aware of a pundit who predicted even one of them....The models we typically use to understand American politics are breaking down."

Before we get to those models, let's talk about whether they're really breaking down in the first place. Klein is surely right that nobody predicted precisely the four things he mentions. But that sets the bar way too high. Nobody's ever pretended that a model of politics can do that. Instead, let's go through them in a more general sense:

  • Every observer of primaries has written about the "winnowing" effect. This is exactly what it sounds like: some candidates will turn out to be worse than expected and will lose the support of donors and voters. Then they'll drop out. Nobody ever knows exactly who this will be—that's why we run actual races—but everyone expected that at least one or two seemingly strong candidates would drop out before the Iowa caucuses.
  • Pundits have been talking about the possibility of Boehner resigning for at least a year. He has a thankless job these days and was basically forced out by the tea party. But speakers have lost support before—Newt Gingrich is the most dramatic recent example—and what happened to Boehner, though unusual, isn't unheard of.
  • Outsider candidates—Eugene McCarthy, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley—have a long history of spiking in the polls and giving establishment leaders fits. Sometimes they even win their primary battles, as George McGovern and Barack Obama did.
  • OK, this one is pretty unusual.

Klein's theory is that party insiders have lost a significant amount of influence in our brave new world of internet news sources and social media. And that might be true. But parties have been losing power for a long time, and changes in media infrastructure are nothing new. Candidates who took advantage of the rise of radio (FDR), then the rise of TV (Kennedy, Nixon), and then the rise of the web (Obama) have always done well. In terms of infrastructure, candidates have had to adapt to the rise of primaries, the rise of direct mail, the rise of microtargeting, and much more. Nothing ever stays the same.

Has social media fundamentally changed the landscape of presidential campaigns? I'm not really convinced. It's certainly changed things, but I'm not sure it's changed things any more than the routine-yet-seismic shifts that have been documented about once a decade in campaign tomes going back to Theodore White in 1960.1 Our traditional models of presidential politics need to keep up with the times, but my guess is that they're not quite ready for the graveyard yet.

1Off the top of my head: television in the 60s; convention/nominating rules in the 70s; direct mail in the 80s; talk radio/cable news in the 90s; web/microtargeting in the 00s; social media in the teens.

POSTSCRIPT: But I admit that there has been one big change this year: the rise of the first name. We have Bernie, Hillary, Carly, and Jeb. Has there ever been a primary campaign with more candidates going by their first names? What's up with that?

Donald Trump Releases Tax "Plan" the Rich Will Love

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 11:53 AM EDT

Good news! Donald Trump's tax plan is out. He claims it's revenue neutral, and, remarkably, doesn't claim that this is because of dynamic effects that will supercharge the economy. It's just plain revenue neutral. But let's put aside this extremely unlikely claim for the moment and look instead only at how Trump's plan affects his rich golfing buddies. Here are all the aspects of the plan that benefit the rich:

  • Cut the top marginal rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent
  • Eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax
  • Eliminate the estate tax
  • Cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent

You will note that these are all very specific proposals. When it comes to lowering taxes, everything is described in loving detail, with exact numbers attached. Now let's take a look at the aspects of Trump's plan that will hurt the rich:

  • Steepen the curve of the Personal Exemption Phaseout and the Pease Limitation on itemized deductions
  • Phase out the tax exemption on life insurance interest for high-income earners
  • End the current tax treatment of carried interest for speculative partnerships that do not grow businesses or create jobs and are not risking their own capital
  • Reduce or eliminate other loopholes for the very rich and special interests

That's…considerably less detailed, isn't it? Revenue-wise, the first three are small potatoes anyway, so it hardly matters. All the action is in the fourth one. There is exactly zero detail there, except for this: "Charitable giving and mortgage interest deductions will remain unchanged for all taxpayers." Trump can be specific when he wants to be, but he only wants to be when he's describing the way taxes for the rich will go down or be unaffected.

Here's the bottom line: The sum total of Trump's plan to offset his huge tax cuts for the rich is this: "Reduce or eliminate other loopholes for the very rich and special interests"—except for two of the biggest ones, of course. Take that, you pencil-necked geeks at the Tax Policy Center, who want to use "arithmetic" and "logic" to score Trump's plan to see if it adds up. You can't! Hah!

NASA Scientists Just Discovered Liquid Water on Mars

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 11:37 AM EDT

Scientists have known for several years that there is ice on the surface of Mars. But liquid surface water—which many believe would be a prerequisite for life—has remained elusive. Until now.

This morning, NASA scientists announced that satellite images have revealed traces of liquid water on Mars' surface. The water is salty, which keeps it from quickly freezing or evaporating.

From the New York Times:

The researchers were able to identify the telltale sign of a hydrated salt at four locations. In addition, the signs of the salt disappeared when the streaks faded. "It's very definitive there is some sort of liquid water," [lead scientist Lujendra] Ojha said…

Liquid water is considered one of the essential ingredients for life, and its presence raises the question of whether Mars, which appears so dry and barren, could possess niches of habitability for microbial Martians.

Here's a bit more detail from the Guardian:

Liquid water runs down canyons and crater walls over the summer months…The trickles leave long, dark stains on the Martian terrain that can reach hundreds of metres downhill in the warmer months, before they dry up in the autumn as surface temperatures drop. Images taken from the Mars orbit show cliffs, and the steep walls of valleys and craters, streaked with summertime flows that in the most active spots combine to form intricate fan-like patterns.

Scientists are unsure where the water comes from, but it may rise up from underground ice or salty aquifers, or condense out of the thin Martian atmosphere.

Obama Issues Strong Condemnation of Russia in UN Speech

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 11:32 AM EDT

President Barack Obama issued a strong condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's use of force in Ukraine in an address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, warning world leaders of "dangerous currents" that stand to threaten international stability.

"We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated," Obama told world leaders at the 70th annual session at the United Nations.

"Imagine if instead Russia had engaged in true diplomacy and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected," Obama said. "That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia and better for the world. This is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved."

Obama's criticism of the Kremlin comes ahead of a scheduled meeting with Putin later today, where the two leaders will sit down to discuss their approaches to Syria.

In his remarks on Monday, Obama also focused his attention on Syria, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a "tyrant."

"We're told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder, that it's the only way to stamp out terrorism and prevent foreign meddling," he said. "In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children because the alternative is surely worse."

The president's speech pressed for international cooperation to help the United States combat rising dictatorships around the world. In appealing for peaceful negotiations, he touted the Iran nuclear deal and recent steps by the United States to ease relations with Cuba as examples of diplomacy's triumph over the use of force.

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Two Quotes of the Day to Get Your Week Started

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 11:04 AM EDT

From a visibly dubious Scott Pelley, after listening to Donald Trump's plan to fix every problem in the country without paying for any of them:

You know, the heart of all of your plans seems to be we're going to be rich.

Trump agreed. He's going to have universal health care, better Social Security, an expensive immigration plan, a bigger military, better infrastructure, and lower taxes—and the deficit is going to go down anyway because "we are going to do great." So there.

And this comes from Washington Post reporter Emily Rauhala:

Not to be outdone, U.S. Twitter users responded with a similar mix of mindless put-downs.

The context here is—oh, something or other. Who cares? It would fit pretty much any context, wouldn't it?

John Oliver Slams Fox News for Reducing Migrant Crisis to "One Single Stereotype"

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 10:00 AM EDT

On the latest Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the current migrant crisis in Europe to call out the troubling way some world leaders, including "noted swine fellatio enthusiast" David Cameron, and the media choose to characterize the situation.

"When you're dealing with a mass of people that large, you really want to be a little careful with how you describe them," Oliver said.

"Here in the US, some in the media have chosen to reduce the migrant population to one single stereotype," he adds, before showing a Fox News clip featuring the misleading caption, "Terrorists Inbound? Taking refugees could open door to jihadists."

The segment, while continuing to illustrate the extreme racism and economic hardship refugees face when attempting to come to Europe, then turned to the story of a young, wheelchair-bound refugee, Noujain Mustafa, who learned English by watching Days of Our Lives for two years straight.

Watch the segment above for the heartwarming surprise reunion Oliver managed to pull off for Mustafa.

Yet Another Look at How Our Kids Are Really Doing in School

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 8:30 AM EDT

So how are our kids doing? I mean, really doing? In particular, how are our black high-school kids doing at math?

A few days ago I showed the results for the Long-Term NAEP math test. This is a version of the NAEP that's stayed fairly similar over the years so that it's possible to see long-term trends. But Bob Somerby isn't buying it. Why not look at the Main NAEP instead, since that's the standard version of the NAEP that usually gets all the headlines?

There are two reasons. First, the Main NAEP starts in 1990, so if you want to see longer-term trends, it's useless. More to the point, it's not even that useful for medium-term trends because there was a major break in 2005: the test changed and the scale changed, from a 500-point scale to a 300-point scale. So what happened between 2000 and 2005? No one knows. There are no official comparisons.

Still, you can do this: look at the change from 1990-2000 and the change from 2005-2013. That should give you a reasonable idea of what's happened over the past 25 years. When Somerby does this, he gets 6.11 + 5.24 = +11.34 points. That's a pretty good gain. By contrast, when you look at the Long-Term NAEP scores over that same period, you get a drop of -1 points. That's a huge difference. What's going on?

Let's take a crack at figuring this out. The long-term scores are easy: neither the test nor the scale have changed, so you just look at the numbers and multiply all of them by 3/5 to norm them to a 300-point scale. For the main test, we need to norm the 1990-2000 scores to a 300-point scale and then paste them together with the 2005-2013 scores. The chart on the right shows what you get.

On the long-term test, scores are still down by about 1 point. Nothing much has changed. But on the main test, scores are up by only 1 point instead of 11 points. What happened? Two things:

  • The 6-point increase from 1990-2000 becomes a 3.6-point increase when you renorm it to a 300-point scale.
  • There's an unrecorded drop of 7.4 points between 2000 and 2005.

Altogether, this shaves about 10 points from the raw 11-point gain. If that's accurate, it means there's no mystery. One test is up by a point and the other is down by a point. Since these tests have a margin of error of about one point, that's close enough to identical not to worry about.

Needless to say, this leaves us with some questions. Is it acceptable to casually renorm scores by simple multiplication? Is the drop between 2000 and 2005 real? Or is it because the test got harder? Why do scores on the main test bounce around considerably while scores on the long-term test stay pretty stable? There hardly seems to be any correlation between scores on the two tests at all.

Almost certainly, experts would be aghast at all this renorming and extrapolation. But I think it gets us closer to the truth. And one way or another, you have to account for that 2000-05 gap. If you ignore it, you're ignoring what could be a substantial part of the story.

In any case, this is why I think you're better off looking at the long-term test if you want to see long-term trends. That's what it's designed for, and you don't have to monkey with the data. Either way, though, we end up with pretty much the same story: black test scores (and white scores and Hispanic scores) have been pretty stagnant since 1990 for high school seniors. This doesn't mean the gains in earlier grades are nothing to celebrate. They are, and reporters should pay more attention to them. In the end, though, it doesn't matter what the score is in the sixth inning if your bullpen consistently blows big leads. What we care about is how well educated our kids are when they leave school and enter the world. Until our high schools are able to build on the big gains they're inheriting from middle schools, we're not going to see any improvement on that score.

POSTSCRIPT: If you want to look at the raw data yourself, there are plenty of ways to do it. However, the following printed reports provide easy access to all of it:

For what it's worth, two more notes. First, the main test is given to 12th graders. The long-term test is given to 17-year-olds, who are both 11th and 12th graders. Also: since 2000, the two tests have been given a year apart. Neither of these is likely to affect scores or trends in any material way.

Los Lobos Comes Back With Scorching Boogie and Psychedelia

| Mon Sep. 28, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Los Lobos
Gates of Gold
429 Records

Is there a more versatile outfit in rock? Since the '70s, the LA quintet Los Lobos has displayed a staggering stylistic range beyond the reach of most other great bands, and done everything with soulful verve. On its first album of new material in five years, the group shows its age in the best possible way, segueing effortlessly from scorching boogie to wistful psychedelia to tender Mexican folk, never straining for effect. As always, David Hidalgo tends to sing the romantic songs, while César Rosas tackles the rowdier ones, but either way, Los Lobos runs like the musical equivalent of an impeccably maintained classic car. Long may they roll.