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Ever since election day, liberal pundits and activists have been buzzing about the success of marijuana decriminalization ballot measures in Washington and Colorado. The general consensus is that these election victories and polls showing that a majority of Americans support decriminalization of marijuana is harbinger of better days to come, and not just because we may one day all be able to light up without legal consequences.

Among the most frequently made arguments for legalization is that it is a step toward ending mass incarceration resulting from the war on drugs. Many also argue that the cost of marijuana enforcement is too high, especially given the evidence that marijuana is a less dangerous drug than alcohol.

On that second point, I agree. And if there were an opportunity to vote to legalize marijuana in New York, I would vote “yes” for that reason alone. I think that the drug war goes hand in hand with a tough on crime mindset that is too expensive to bear, both in dollars and cents and in terms of the social cost that is being paid by the communities targeted for enforcement.

However, on that first point, I beg to differ. Here’s why.

The war on drugs is a war on people. It is not now nor has it ever been just about drug enforcement. The war on drugs was declared under the Nixon administration and drug enforcement expanded dramatically under the Reagan administration at a time when illegal drug use was dropping, and before crack made it’s way into the public consciousness. The war is and always has been specifically targeted at destabilizing Black communities, from its beginnings as a strategy to confound the Black Power movement and other radical movements.

African American men have ever since been filling up our prisons, making the U.S. into the leading country on earth when it comes to incarcerating our own. When crack hit the media, the war on drugs became part of the U.S. political culture, but the war didn’t start in order to address the crack problem in the U.S. If it did, it would have targeted the largest group of crack consumers who are white. Of course, nothing like that happened as is evidenced by the grossly disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration of African American men in particular.

It is true that African-Americans and Latinos are arrested for marijuana possession at rates wildly out of proportion to their percentages in society, much less the rates of African American and Latino marijuana usage. But the fact that Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately punished while federal data shows that whites are more likely to use marijuana is just more evidence that the war on drugs isn’t about cracking down on drugs as much as it is about cracking down on certain people.

And the Black and Latino (and in some states Native American) racial profile of drug prisoners isn’t just about where law enforcement is active, as some have suggested, asserting that racial animus is less a factor than pressure to make arrest and prosecution quotas. It’s also about plain, old fashioned racism. A 2002 University of Washington study of Seattle law enforcement practices showed that, at least in that city, it is anti-Black stereotypes, not location, public safety priorities or citizen complaints that drives disproportionate targeting of Blacks in the war on drugs.

The study shows that complaints were far more likely to be made about deals callers suspected were going down indoors, where many have suggested most white drug crime takes place, yet police officers focused on open air deals, where it is believed more African Americans deal drugs, and in the one precinct least likely to be called out as the site of drug deals by those who called in complaints. And there, at this site, they targeted far more Blacks than whites even though whites were just as visibly dealing drugs.

So before we celebrate the end of the war on drugs, let’s consider why it started. Given that reason, we can hope that decriminalizing marijuana will cut down on drug arrests, but making it a priority strategy toward ending mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos is a mistake. Ending mass incarceration will require us to address the racism that allowed our prisons to become warehouses for men of color in the first place.

BTW, I don’t buy the idea that decriminalization will benefit states and small business entrepreneurs. The marijuana tax in Canada only served to drive the creation of an underground marijuana market in order to avoid taxation, forcing Canada to drop the tax. And if legal trade in marijuana really is a great business opportunity, companies like Philip Morris, who did a real job on low-income communities, especially children, with cigarettes, are the far more likely beneficiaries.


Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 12:42 PM PST

We All Live on Food Stamps

by scotnakagawa

About 45 million people in the U.S. receive food stamps. That's about 14% of the American population. For 6 million Americans, food stamps constitutes their only income. 55% of food stamp households include children. 14% include a disabled member. 9% include someone over the age of 60.  

And if you don't think protecting food stamps is a racial justice issue, about a quarter of food stamp households are headed by African Americans, making them the most over-represented group on the program. The largest group of recipients by race, about 41 percent, are white. But as a portion of the white population, only eight of every 100 whites receive food stamps compared with about a fourth of African American households.

Attacking food stamps is a play for suburban white middle class voters, just as is attacking Obamacare (a program that most benefits the uninsured, among whom just over half are people of color) by telling the lie that it is financed by stealing money from Medicare (a program that mostly benefits whites).

But, put the race politics aside and it's pretty clear that food stamps mainly benefit the most vulnerable parts of the population. We should be happy that a program exists to provide food assistance for so many. Obviously, a lot of us are not.

But maybe they would change their minds if they knew that about 10% of groceries in the U.S. are purchased with food stamps. In other words, food stamps subsidize farmers and grocers, something that should matter to us if we're concerned about bringing down the unemployment rate and reducing the deficit.

In the poorest communities, food stamps often constitute half or more of grocers' revenues. Those stores would go out of business without the program, creating food deserts, especially in rural areas, and exacerbating unemployment and poverty.

Moreover, contrary to popular belief, 41% of all food stamp participants in 2010 lived in a household with earnings. For many, food stamps make up the gap between what they are paid as workers, and what it actually costs to eat regularly. For employers of low-wage workers, food stamps supplement sub-livable wages, functioning as a form of federal subsidy to business owners.

Concerned about our men and women in uniform? The proposed budget for defense for 2013 is around $525 billion. Yet, many active duty military personnel don't earn enough to feed their families.

Active duty pay for an E1 (entry level enlisted person) is about $18,000 per year. A family of two earning $19,680 per year or less may qualify for food stamps. Even a Staff Sergeant with 2 years of experience earns less than the food stamps income eligibility level of just over $28,000 per year for a family of four.

The fact that we pay military personnel so poorly should be a national disgrace. Fortunately, food stamps are available to many in order to close the gap between what the military pays, and what it actually costs to feed soldiers and their families.

If none of that is enough for you, consider this. According to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's and a former campaign adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain, for each food stamp dollar spent, GDP grows by $1.74 one year later, making it the most effective of the various forms of federal stimulus spending.

We ought to be grateful for food stamps. If we care nothing for the families who desperately need the assistance, then we ought to at least appreciate the stimulative effect that food stamps have on our economy.

We should never forget that we all live in one economy. In that one economy, we all live on food stamps.


This week on the National Review Online, NRO editor Jonah Goldberg and National Review’s Editor At Large John O’Sullivan had a discussion about GOP outreach.

“I see that the way we will get the Hispanics and the other groups, the Asians, as part of the Republican Coalition is to get them first part of the great American Coalition. Make them think of themselves, not make but, persuade them to think of themselves primarily as Americans. Restore the overarching, all-encompassing concept of an American identity, which we used to have, which we knew how to bring about and which in the last 20 or 30 years very largely as a result of the democrats wanting to emphasize ethnicity rather than American-ness. We have lost that and frankly one of the reasons we have not regained it and doing very badly at the moment is because the Republicans have neither had the imagination nor the courage to think how they could appeal to these other ethnic groups as Americans and craft an appeal that won them over. They have got to do that.”
Thanks are due to both these gentlemen for this remarkable view into the white conservative mind, where “ethnicity” and “American-ness” are incompatible. And, needless to say, whites have no ethnicity, just American nationality.

And we wonder why Mitt Romney was so shocked to find that enough of us who don’t fit into this narrow view of “American” would vote against him to cause him to lose so decisively. Perhaps he was puzzled as to how to appeal to “other groups” as American.

Josh Marshall was at his understated best when responding to this “Republicans had neither the imagination nor the courage to think how they could appeal to these other ethnic groups as Americans…” drivel, saying of the GOP outreach strategy, “this might take a while.”

It’s like getting into a time machine and traveling back to when overt white supremacist politicking was so mainstream, equating American with white was considered the polite way of asserting white racial dominance.

I guess that’s why they think it takes courage “to think how they could appeal to these other ethnic groups as Americans…” When spreading fear and loathing is a staple of your political strategy, there’s always that danger of getting high on your own supply.


Last weekend on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC, Wade Henderson the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund said the following regarding the presidential election:


I found the interesting statistic to be the Asian American vote. Because the Asian American community doesn’t have the homogeneity, the cohesion that people have talked about. You’re talking about South Asian, Vietnamese and others. The fact that they gave 73% of their vote to the Obama presidency tells you that it really is about policies and not about demographics alone. They are the community that is most likely, it would seem, to align with the Republican party because their economic interests are very much the same.
That same weekend, on Up With Chris Hayes, Mr. Hayes made the following statement:


…almost no one has noticed what to me is the most shocking result, and that’s how the two candidates did with Asian-American voters….Asian-Americans are also, according to the latest census, the fastest growing racial sub category in America. In fact, the census projects that by mid-century they will make up 9% of the country. And as it happens, Asian-Americans are also the nation’s highest earning ethnicity, with median incomes even higher than those of whites.

    So you might have predicted that Mitt Romney would do well with them, since he won among voters making more than $100,000 a year.

    But he did not. He got creamed, losing Asian-American voters 73% to 26%. This is a shocking result not only because just 20 years ago George H.W. Bush carried Asian-Americans comfortably, or because the margin is so wide, but because the entire category of Asian-American is so obviously a construction there’s little reason to suspect members of the group would vote with each other in any discernible pattern…

This was one of the first times I’d heard Asian Americans discussed on a nationally televised program dedicated to politics. As I noted in a previous post, my firm, ChangeLab, pulled the transcripts of seven weekly political commentary programs televised between January 1-June 30 of this year including Face the Nation, Meet the Press, State of the Union, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Fox News Sunday, Up with Chris Hayes, and Melissa Harris-Perry (which wasn’t on for the whole period).

Over the course of that 6 month period, these programs aired 169 episodes. Only one featured discussion of Asian Americans, the May 27, 2012 episode of Melissa Harris-Perry. Other than that, in the entire 6 month period under study, the term “Asian American” was uttered only ten times. And one was a sports reference.

Since then in spite of programs focusing on race and the elections, and even race in America, Asian Americans were simply not part of the discussion.

But then, the election results came in and suddenly, there we were, relevant because we did something surprising enough to get folks’ attentions. Of course, we weren’t allowed to speak for ourselves. Nope, other people spoke about us. The single exception was Up’s inclusion of conservative Romney health policy adviser Avik Roy, who knows just about as much about Asian Americans as anyone who just happens to be Asian American.

I’m going to give folks some slack here and say that inexperience is the reason for the clumsiness. The inexperience, on the other hand, I’m not going to let slide.

In that spirit, here for the virgins are my five guesses as to why Asian Americans voted for Obama:

1) Asian Americans have been cast as perpetual foreigners, even when we are American-born. Given the way that race was used by the GOP to cast Obama as not quite American, even foreign and therefore dangerous or ineligible to be president, I’m guessing Asian Americans saw that their interests lay elsewhere.

2) We aren’t all wealthy. Most Asian Americans are wage earners who don’t benefit much from eradicating inheritance and capital gains taxes. In fact, the median income of Asian Americans is well under the $100,000 a year tipping point after which voters were more likely to support Romney.

3) Some of us, such as Vietnamese, Laotian, and Hmong Americans, are among the poorest people in the country. We are aware of that even if others aren’t. You might arrive at a more useful analysis of us if you didn’t first reference our diversity and then address us as a monolith.

4)As many as 1.5 million Asian immigrants in the U.S. arrived without documentation. When Republicans attack immigrants as “illegals” they are talking about us, too.

5) Asian Americans are people of color. In our own generation or in generations before us, we have benefited from programs such as affirmative action and many of us are one or two generations removed from desperate poverty and even peonage. This is part of our American story and, yes, we do have stories, as in histories, that started before you noticed us.

Of course, those are just guesses. But those guesses are based on actually having talked to and worked with Asian Americans in the context of Asian American communities. I’ve listened to their stories ad fought for their issues. And for that reason, Asian Americans are always on my mind when I hear the terms “American,” and “voters” and “people.” And that makes me more of an expert than just about any of the folk who have a platform on TV to talk about politics. And, those folk, in spite of their ignorance, tell a story about us all the time by simply acting as if we don’t exist.


Today's Huff Post story about KKK Grand Wizard and Bonner County, Idaho sheriff candidate Shaun Winkler hosting a cross burning got me on a rant today. Clearly, we've got a problem with populism of the right wing variety in America.

According to a 2011 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the U.S. has been steadily climbing for the last 10 years. White nationalist Patriot groups, first organized in reaction to the violent government crackdown on dissident groups at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas in the early 90s, went from 149 groups in 2008 to 1274 groups in 2011.

Add to that the recent stories of Idaho State's only black lawmaker receiving a hand addressed invitation to join the KKK, a couple of murder-suicide cases involving white supremacist leaders in Arizona and Pennsylvania, and the bust of 10 white supremacists in central Florida for stockpiling weapons and training for a "race war," and the evidence starts to pile up.

The 2010's is starting to look like the 1980s all over again.

According to veteran right wing watcher (and a greatly admired friend) Chip Berlet,

“We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history. We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety."

Continue Reading

Much has been written about Amendment 1, the referendum to change the North Carolina State Constitution to deny official recognition of domestic unions other than legal marriage between a man and a woman. The amendment was approved by 60% of North Carolina voters yesterday.

The passage of Amendment 1 is a serious defeat for pro-LGBT forces. 60% exceeds the polling estimates and, in the land of ballot issues, a 20% margin is pretty much a landslide.

I worked on a bunch of ballot measure races back in the 1990s, starting with serving on the campaign staff of the 1992 No on 9 Campaign against an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment in Oregon. That proposed amendment tried to equate LGBT folk with pedophiles. We defeated it, but not by much.

Ballots measure like North Carolina Amendment 1 and 1992's ballot measure 9 are as much about racism and bigotry in general as they are about how folks feel about LGBT people. Here's why:

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The enormous sums already spent, not to mention the giant pile of cash that is about to be spent in the race to the presidency has campaign finance reform on my mind.

I believe that where there is a political problem in America, you can usually trace that problem to racism. Wanna try me? How about the corrupting influence of money in politics? It means corporations control Congress, right? And because there's so much money in politics, getting into Congress nowadays is often not much more than a job interview for a lucrative future gig as a lobbyist for big business. Representatives don't even want to govern. They just want to win big for their potential future employers. And in 2008, when an unregulated, out of control financial sector crashed our economy, all that political money and greed played a huge role.

But what does this have to do with race?  Bear with me a minute and read on.

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Hallelujah! Mitt Romney has locked the Republican primary race! What, you didn't think I would feel that way?

I've been listening to liberal media pundits talk about the unlikely prospect of Rick Santorum winning the Republican presidential nomination as if it would be a "gift" to Democrats all season. Some liberals have even turned out Democrats to vote for Santorum in open primaries. And now, some of them are talking like they're actually a little sad that he dropped out, boohooing over how good it was for Democrats to have him in the race.

I say they're nuts. As conservative and elitist as Mitt Romney is, he's not a right winger. He may be pandering to the right wing, but he doesn't belong to that movement. He's neither a theocrat nor a libertarian, and, while it is true that Mormons once believed that Black people are cursed by God, Romney is not an ideological white supremacist.

As much as I disagree with Mitt Romney, I do not by any means consider Santorum a "gift." Misogyny, and racial fear and loathing are powerful motivators.  In the end, I'm not at all certain Santorum would have lost (which we should keep in mind since he seems to be hoping for another chance in 2016).

But if that's not enough to get you feeling grateful that all we got was Mr. Etch-A-Sketch, allow me to tell you a little story about Barry Goldwater, aka Mr. Conservative, and the impact he had on all of us by running for president and not just losing, but getting his ass handed to him.

Johnson's ass-kicking of Barry Goldwater in 1964 appeared to signal the end of racial conservatism in national politics. Sadly, it ended up being a new beginning. With Goldwater's campaign lists of highly motivated anti-civil rights voters serving as a resource, and his strategy of appealing to racism to win white Southern votes as a template, libertarian economic elites began to build the Republican's Southern Strategy.

Goldwater exposed the power of racism as a political tool by running against Civil Rights and winning big among white Southern voters, including Democrats who jumped the fence in order to support him. He ran on a platform of turning Social Security into a voluntary program, and eliminating farm subsidies among other schemes that were very unpopular in the South, much as limiting access to birth control is a very unpopular position today. But, because he ran against Civil Rights, he won Southern votes, even from white people for whom the programs he promised to destroy were the most popular.

Goldwater's strategy turned race into a partisan issue. In 1962, a national poll asked which party would more likely ensure Blacks got fair treatment in housing and employment.  22.7% answered Democrat compared to 21.3% who said Republican. 55.9% said there was no difference. By late 1964, another poll showed that 60% of those questioned said Democrats were more likely to ensure fairness and 7% said Republicans, with only 33% seeing no difference. Such was the suddenness and force of the backlash strategy.

In the 1950s, poor white Southerners were the third most liberal voters on issues of government intervention for full-employment, education, and affordable health care, right behind Blacks and Jews. By the early 70s, they did a values flip. When it came to poverty alleviation programs, they went from being liberals to being statistically indistinguishable from wealthy white Northerners, the traditional base of the GOP. Given the ongoing poverty of the South, this move was akin to poor white Southerners cutting off their toes for want of smaller shoes.

The Republicans, smelling blood, went about breaking the class basis of the New Deal Coalition by appealing to racism. In a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the South, GOP voter rolls shot up from 49% to 76% in Birmingham, Alabama's poorest white communities between 1960 and 1964. In Macon, Georgia, it went from 36% to 71%. Atlanta went from 36% to 58%, and so on.

The GOP was able to affect this shift by linking federal intervention on economic issues with federal intervention on civil rights. By 1980, Ronald Reagan's anti-government platform would begin a revolution in our political culture about federal intervention in general.

The current Tea Party protest language against government spending started out as coded language designed to build opposition to Civil Rights. Anymore, most aren’t even conscious of it. They just use the language and achieve the effect of mobilizing race sensitive whites who, themselves, often don’t understand they are responding to calls to racism: it’s just part of the political culture now.

So you think Rick Santorum is a gift to Democrats? Consider the legacy of Barry Goldwater and think again.

BTW: Credit is due to Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall for some of the stats above. I'm not sure I agree with all of the political conclusions they draw, but they do good research!

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