How much is it worth to be Black?

Interesting column this week from the Post's Shankar Vedantam about how whites way misperceive the negative consequences of being Black in this country.  To wit:

Imagine that you are waiting in line to be born . . . Presently, you
are scheduled to be born white. However, you are offered an alternative
arrangement. In exchange for a cash gift, to be deposited in a bank
account for you when you are born, you can choose to instead be born

Social psychologists Philip Mazzocco and Mahzarin Banaji once asked
white volunteers how much money would cover the “costs” of being born
black instead of white. The volunteers guessed that about $5,000 ought
to cover the lifetime disadvantages of being an average black person
rather than an average white person, in the United States. By contrast,
when asked how much they wanted to go without television, the
volunteers demanded a million dollars.

Mazzocco and Banaji were taken aback: The average black person in
America is 447 percent more likely to be imprisoned than the average
white person, and 521 percent more likely to be murdered. Blacks earn
60 cents to the dollar compared with whites who have the same education
levels and marital status. The black poverty rate is nearly twice the
white poverty rate. Blacks tend to die five years earlier than whites;
the infant mortality rate among black babies is nearly 1 1/2 times the
rate among white babies. And because of long-standing patterns of
inheritance, blacks and whites begin life with substantial disparities
in family wealth.

“The point we were making is, whatever the cost of being black might
be, whites are vastly underestimating it,” said Mazzocco, of Ohio State
University at Mansfield. “You throw in the 5-to-1 wealth gap . . . if
you wanted to put a dollar-and-cents value on the difference, you would
come up with a number much larger than $5,000.”

I found this kind of depressing.  What amazing willful ignorance to think that the lifetime difference between Black and white in this country is only $5000.  Personally, I'm thinking closer to the value of life without TV.  Anyway, the full column has some more interesting examples of experiments looking at racism and racial attitudes. 

Family Time and birth order

The Post ran a really interesting story this past weekend about how firstborns get much more quality time with their parents than later-born siblings.  The article discusses the possibility that this quality-time differential may help explain studies that show that firstborns are more likely to be successful adults than later-born siblings (as for me, since my sister is 8-years older, that makes me pretty much like a firstborn).  Anyway, what I found most interesting about the story was this accompanying graph:

What really stuck out to me, was that you are going to get a lot more parental attention as the first of several children than if you are an only child.  Why?  The article does not really address this issue, so I thought I would use this forum to go with my theory.  Basically, I think you are seeing a selection bias.  On average, persons who choose to have multiple children are simply more into being parents than those who stop at one.  Obviously, this does not apply to everyone, but enough to make some big statistical differences.  One interesting way to test my theory would be to look at the numbers for those persons who had only one child, but had wanted more (fertility problems, etc.).  While most persons who are parents really love and enjoy being parents and wanted to be parents, that is surely not the case for all.  Some people aren't going to figure out that parenting really is not for them until after they've had that first child.  Others, perhaps were somewhat ambivalent but finally give in to the extensive social pressure of “so, when are you going to have a baby.”  Once that barrier is crossed, there's a lot less pressure along the lines of “so, when are you going to have another baby.”  These persons, naturally, would spend less time with that firstborn that those multiple-child parents who really love parenting. 

Anyway, so, that's my naive theory on the matter.  I'd love some feedback on this one.  And, if you should happen to be one of my friends who have only one child (and you know who you are), I realize of course that you are among the most dedicated parents I know and that surely none of my comments apply to you.

Denouncing and Renouncing

I've never ben a big fan of Stnaly Fish (from back when he was quite the controverisal Duke English professor while I was there), but I really loved his comments in the Times today.  Speaking on the subject of Wright and Obama, Fish writes:

In politics, and in much of the rest of life, being held responsible
for your own words comes with the territory. Once you?ve opened your
big mouth, others have a perfect right to ask, ?Do you really mean
that?? or ?What did you mean by that?? or ?If you say that, would you
also say??? (a question that usually has you frantically disassociating
yourself from Hitler). But why should you be held responsible for words
spoken by someone else, even if that someone else is a person you work
with or share a bed with? I frequently say things that make my wife
cringe, but whatever blame attaches to my utterances certainly should
not be extended to her, and it would be entirely inappropriate to ask
her to denounce me or to fault her if she didn?t.

I must admit, that above line really grabbed me when I read this.  If Kim felt she had to be accountable for my many questionable utterances, she would have left me long ago.  Fish continues…

Yet this is the position we routinely place our public figures in.
The demand that Barack Obama denounce and renounce his pastor, who
delivered himself of sentiments a million miles from anything Obama has
ever said, is only the latest and most publicized example…

This denouncing and renouncing game is simply not serious. It is a
media-staged theater, produced not in response to genuine concerns ? no
one thinks that Obama is unpatriotic or that Clinton is a racist or
that McCain is a right-wing bigot ? but in response to the needs of a
news cycle. First you do the outrage (did you see what X said?), then
you put the question to the candidate (do you hereby denounce and
renounce?), then you have a debate on the answer (Did he go far enough?
Has she shut her husband up?), and then you do endless polls that
quickly become the basis of a new round.

Meanwhile, the things the candidates themselves are saying about
really important matters ? war, the economy, health care, the
environment ? are put on the back-burner until the side show is over,
though the odds are that a new one will start up immediately.


The Richardson endorsement

It's such an unusual thing for me to actually get a request to blog on a topic, thus, I've got to say a few words about Bill Richardson's endorsement of Obama.  Obviously, there's not many voters out there who are going to say, “oohhh, now I'll vote for Obama,” but still I do think this endorsement is of important symbolic importance.  Among other things, it's been well-reported that Obama does not fare well among Hispanics, and Richardson is far-and-away the most prominent Hispanic politican. 

More importantly, it is saying somethig that Richardson is willing to stand up to the Clinton establishment.  Here's a little tidbit from Jason Zengerly I came across over at TNR discussing Clintonite (and former DNC chair) Terry McAuliffe:

All that said, the most interesting thing
about Richardson's endorsement, to me at least, is thinking about just
how much it must piss off Terry McAuliffe. Here's one of my favorite
bits of campaign reportage this year, from a piece Crowley wrote way back when about the mood on the Clinton campaign plane right after her defeat in Iowa:

The preternaturally jolly McAuliffe is a good
man to have spinning for you in a pinch. But his good cheer dimmed when
I asked him about Bill Richardson, who appears to have made an
11th-hour deal to throw his supporters to Obama. ?How many times did
[Clinton] appoint him?? McAuliffe marveled. ?Two? U.N. Ambassador and
Energy Secretary?? He looked at me, half-glaring, awaiting
confirmation. ?I don?t know,? I joked, ?but who?s counting?? ?I am,?
McAuliffe said firmly.

Imagine what McAuliffe's thinking now.

One thing that has always troubled me about Hillary's campaign is wondering how many of her staff and supporters generally wanted her to be president versus how many thought they could not turn their back on Bill (especially after reading this excellent Josh Green profile of Hillary some time ago).  Reading McAuliffe's comments you really have to wonder just how widespread this is.  Richardson has the stature where he can buck the Clintons, but many politicians are surely (and quite legitimately) fearful.  Anyway, I am pleased that my original choice for the nomination has backed my current choice.

What is Hillary doing??

Great observation today from Ezra piggybacking on the Politico:

I keep trying to figure out Clinton's path to the nomination. But I
can't. She's not going to win with delegates, she's not going to win in
the popular vote, and Michigan and Florida aren't revoting. Today, Jim
VandeHei and Mike Allen walk the same path:

One big fact has largely been lost in the recent
coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton
has virtually no chance of winning.

Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish
ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if
Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic
proportions from the party?s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote ?
which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle ? and use
that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario
for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told
that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to
someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.

As it happens, many people inside Clinton?s campaign live right here
on Earth…

it's a game of make-believe that's keeping the likely nominee locked in
a useless and damaging deathmatch with Clinton, and keeping the party
from turning its attention to John McCain.

So, just what is Hillary doing?  She's clearly smart enough to know all this.  How does she think she's really going to win, and doesn't she recognize the damage she's doing in her increasingly quixotic quest?

Even local Fox news is bad!

Back in Raleigh, our local Fox affiliate has simply farmed out their news operation to the local CBS affiliate, WRAL.  So, if you want early news, you get WRAL news on Fox 50.  All well and good.  In Springfield, VA, we get the Washington, DC Fox affiliate, which runs its own news operation.  My mom had the early news on last night and I was shocked (I guess I shouldn't have been), that their lead story about the ongoing problems Obama's campaign faces, now that there's some ridiculous youtube video juxtaposing Jeremiah Wright's remarks with clips from Obama.  In other words, the lead story was basically an advertisement for a partisan hit-job video against a Democratic candidate.  It's thus pretty clear that the local Fox news is taking its marching orders from the big guys.

Obama’s speech

Rather than have my own reaction to Obama's race speech (which I haven't actually watched), I just wanted to make note of what I thought were the most interesting observations on it that I came across (yes, late, but blame travel for Easter). 

TNR's Jonathan Chait writes that Obama's race allows him to give a thoroughly intellectual speech in a way a white Liberal Democrat may not be able to:

My first reaction is that the speech was
extremely smart and intellectually subtle. It's very unusual for a
politician to give a speech that works at such a high intellectual
level. At every turn he resisted simplifications and added nuance.

This in turn reminds me of one of the things I like about Obama's
candidacy. He may be liberated to operate at a high intellectual level
in public because he's black. I'm not trying to be Gerry Ferraro here;
let me explain. Candidates like John Kerry and (even moreso) Al Gore
were also very smart, but constantly forced to dumb it down lest they
be tagged as out-of-touch elitists. Since the egghead image is so at
odds with the prevailing stereotypes about African-Americans, he has
much less to fear by speaking at a high intellectual level.

I cannot remember quite where I read it, but in a similar vein, I also thought it was interesting that Obama being Black allows him to legitimize white concerns over race in a way that a white politician never could.  Along the only Nixon could go to China lines. 

Finally, I think Kevin Drum has a great point that it is important that Obama did not just throw Wright under the proverbial bus:

There's a lesson here. Republicans have a reputation for standing by
their colleagues through thick and thin. It's a reputation that may or
may not be deserved (they usually find ways to quietly get rid of their
albatrosses once the cameras move on), but their public posture is
almost always to defend their allies, attack their enemies, and insist
that they won't abandon their friends. And people respect them for it.
Most of us prize loyalty even if we don't always admit it, and most of
us recognize politically motivated firings for the cowardly acts they
often are.

Finally, given the generally rave reviews from elite media types, I don't think this issue will disappear, but at least the media feeding frenzy around it should.

McCain’s cluelessness on the Middle East

Despite Hillary's ridiculous claims of late that she and John McCain are ready for that 3am phone call and McCain is not, McCain has recently been exhibiting his confusion on the basic state of ethnic politics in the Middle East.  Shia and Al-Qaeda do not work together.  Al Qaeda is thoroughly and radically Sunni.  An excerpt from what my favorite blogs seem to agree is the best commentary on the matter. 

“Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote
his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which
broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from

He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country,
was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact,
officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said
he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be
concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training
them and sending them back.”

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was “common knowledge and has
been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and
receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well
known. And it's unfortunate.” A few moments later, Sen. Joseph
Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered
in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: “I'm sorry, the
Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.””

It's important to be clear about exactly how clueless this is. It's
like saying that some neo-confederate group is secretly funneling money
to Louis Farrakhan, and then having an aide have to whisper: no, no, it's the Aryan Nation; wrong extremists!
It's like suggesting that McCain is making a play for Kucinich voters,
and having to be told that, no, you really meant Ron Paul: wrong losing
candidate! No one who had any understanding at all of Iraq, or for that
matter about the Shi'a/Sunni split and which side Iran was on, would
get confused about this, any more than someone with any knowledge of US
politics would get confused about whether neo-confederates were likely
to be supporting blacks, or conservatives were likely to be supporting
the Socialist Workers' Party. It is exactly that clueless.

At least Hillary knows John McCain is ready to face the problems in the Middle East.  I'm not so sure.

My day with EJ

Yesterday, the NCSU Political Science department sponsored EJ Dionne as a featured speaker as part of our annual “American Values” lecture series.  Since Dionne has long been one of my favorite columnists, I was very excited that he agreed to come and give two talks based on his new book, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right.  From reading his columns all these years, I already knew that Dionne was a smart, thoughtful, Liberal Catholic (like me– well, at least the latter two terms).  After basically spending 10 hours straight with him yesterday, I have to say that he is genuinely one of the nicest people I have ever met.  Virtually, every single faculty member and student he met left impressed by just how down-to-earth and friendly he was.  And, of course, his comments on politics were smart and thoughtful.  I don't have any particularly great insights to share– you can always read the book (or the nice discussion over at TPM Cafe), but I did think it was interesting just how impressed he is by Obama.  It was also really great to overhear the finishing touches put on today's column over the phone.  The strong conclusion:

But in the enthusiasm for deregulation that took root in the late
1970s, flowered in the Reagan era and reached its apogee in the second
Bush years, we forgot the lesson that government needs to keep a
careful watch on what capitalists do. Of course, some deregulation can
be salutary, and the market system is, on balance, a wondrous
instrument — when it works. But the free market is just that: an
instrument, not a principle.

In 1996, back when he was a Republican senator from Maine, William Cohen told me: “We have been saying for so long that government is the enemy. Government is the enemy until you need a friend.”

So now the bailouts begin, and Wall Street usefully might feel a bit
of gratitude, perhaps by being willing to have the wealthy foot some of
the bill or to acknowledge that while its denizens were getting rich, a
lot of Americans were losing jobs and health insurance. I'm waiting.

So, if you haven't been reading Dionne's columns, but you like my blog, give it a try.  He has probably influenced my political views as much as any political writer out there.  And, he's a damn nice guy.

Bush to Americans: More smog is good

In what should come as a surprise to absolutely no intelligent person who has followed Bush's presidency, Bush has overruled the recommendations of EPA scientists in order to allow more smog-causing ozone in the air.  Details:

The Environmental Protection Agency weakened one part of its new limits on smog-forming ozone after an unusual last-minute intervention by President Bush, according to documents released by the EPA.

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EPA officials initially tried to set a lower seasonal limit on ozone to
protect wildlife, parks and farmland, as required under the law. While
their proposal was less restrictive than what the EPA's scientific
advisers had proposed, Bush overruled EPA officials and on Tuesday
ordered the agency to increase the limit, according to the documents.

“It is unprecedented and an unlawful act of political interference
for the president personally to override a decision that the Clean Air
Act leaves exclusively to EPA's expert scientific judgment,” said John
Walke, clean-air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an absolutely shocking development, administration lawyers are doing their best to pretend that this is all good:

he president's order prompted a scramble by administration officials
to rewrite the regulations to avoid a conflict with past EPA statements
on the harm caused by ozone.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement
warned administration officials late Tuesday night that the rules
contradicted the EPA's past submissions to the Supreme Court, according
to sources familiar with the conversation. As a consequence,
administration lawyers hustled to craft new legal justifications for
the weakened standard.

Do what you want without regard for the rule of law and then have presidential lawyers reinterpret the law to pretend you are not doing anything wrong.  Just another day in the Bush White House.

Obama’s good news in PA

Hillary Clinton has maintained a solid lead over Obama in Pennsylvania polls, averaging about a 13% margin lately.  Nonetheless, the latest Strategic Vision polls have some good news (courtesy Noam Scheiber). 

11. Who is your choice for the Democratic Presidential
nomination in 2008? (Democrats Only)
Hillary Clinton 56%
Barack Obama 38%
Undecided 6%

13. If the election for President were held
today and the choices were John McCain, the Republican, and Hillary
Clinton, the Democrat for whom would you vote?
John McCain 48%
Hillary Clinton 42%
Undecided 10%

14. If the election for President were held
today and the choices were John McCain, the Republican, and Barack
Obama, the Democrat for whom would you vote?
John McCain 47%
Barack Obama 44%
Undecided 9%

As you can see, Hillary handily wins among Democrats, yet Obama is the superior candidate when the whole electorate is brought into play, Obama appears to be the superior candidate, running closer to McCain than Hillary.  This would seem to seriously undermine Hillary's argument that her victories in Democratic primaries in big states suggests that she's the one more likely to carry them in the general.  As Scheiber puts it, “A poll showing that Obama can get blown out
in the Pennsylvania primary and still hold his own there against McCain
suggests working-class white Democrats simply prefer Hillary, not that
they find something inherently objectionable about Obama, whom they're
apparently happy to support in the general.” 

The ultimate outcome of the Democratic primaries

There's all this talk now of how the Democratic nomination may not be resolved until the convention in late August, but I just don't see that happening. My prediction is that within a week of the last primaries (June 3), we'll know who the nominee will be.  Once the campaign has been run and all the primaries and caucuses have occurred, there's really no rational basis for the superdelegates to wait until the convention before declaring for either Clinton or Obama.  Consequently, there will be tremendous political and media pressure on the superdelgates to declare their support.  Once enough of them do, the nominee will be a sure bet and the other will have no choice but to drop out.  I think that the bulk of the undecided superdelegates will declare for Obama for a number of reasons:
1) I suspect that most that were inclined to declare for Hillary have already done so,
2) Obama will have the lead in pledged delegates.  Even though it is perfectly reasonable for the superdelegates to overturn a very modest pledged delegate advantage– especially when you consider how arbitrary a lot of the delegate assignment is (e.g., Clinton wins Texas, Obama leaves with more TX delegates)–the political ramifications of this would be huge.  I suspect that you would see African-American turnout drop 40-50% in the general election.  The superdelegates realize the Democratic party could not afford that.  Fair or not, there would be overwhelming negative publicity of the superdelegates overturned the “will of the people.”  They are smart enough to know this (I think). 
3) There seems to be a fair amount of evidence that Obama will help out Democrats more in “down ballot” races (e.g., Congress, governors, etc.) in many places, whereas Hillary might be a drag on these races.
4) Obama has consistently been faring much better against McCain than has Clinton in national polls.  Though I think these hypothetical match-ups this far out need to be taken with many grains of salt, it is nonetheless a powerful piece of evidence in Obama's favor.

So, there you have my prediction: 1st week of June Obama becomes the nominee.

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