It’s tragic but not surprising that the election of the nation’s first black president would accelerate a racist, nationwide movement to disenfranchise people of color, the poor and the elderly. A new map of states with restrictive voting laws indicates the scope of the problem: racism is not restricted to the former Confederacy.
Many conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, argue that 1965’s historic Voting Rights Act is obsolete and in need of repeal. The opposite is the case. The VRA, which currently applies to a limited number of states, counties and townships, should be expanded to include all 50 states.
Conservative arguments for repeal are based in part on the election of Barack Obama. The New York Times 2008 election-night headline, “Obama Elected President as Racial Barrier Falls,” says it all. Charles P. Pierce chides Americans about their “post-racial” wishful hallucinations with his repeated sarcasm, “It’s Not About Race because It’s Never About Race.” By 2011, though, even the NYT’s was forced back up a bit on the wish, running a piece by Toure′ pleading for an end to claims of a “post-racial America.”
We are not a nation devoid of racial discrimination nor are we a nation where race does not matter. Race and racism are still critical factors in determining what happens and who gets ahead in America.
Todd Donovan’s intriguing 2010 study, “Obama and the White Vote,” shows that racial context influences voting behavior. Obama did less well in states with large African American populations, confirming the “racial threat” theory that says racist attitudes among whites grow as the population of people of color increases. Donovan concluded:
Race was clearly a factor in the 2008 presidential election. Independent of innuendo about Obama that was associated with his race, there are reasons to expect that some white voters might still find it difficult to support an African American candidate for president.
The right-wing voter suppression movement is not new, but it has picked up steam. Every honest, thinking person knows that so-called “voter ID” laws are intended to suppress the votes of blacks, Latinos, the elderly, the infirm, and young college students – all constituencies that historically favor Democratic candidates.
Governor Rick Perry’s decision to refuse to participate in federal Medicaid expansion will not only condemn millions of Texans to ill health, suffering and unnecessary death. It will force local taxpayers to pay for the suffering of others. And it means Texans’ federal tax dollars will be used only in other states to improve health and lives.
There’s no political or government philosophy involved here. Perry and other GOP leaders are hurting real people to score political points against President Obama. Lives will be lost. Children will suffer needlessly. All in the name of Perry’s political advertisement.
Progress Texas PAC jumped on Perry’s inhumane decision quickly this morning. The full statement follows:
Texas Governor Puts Political Ambitions Above People by Refusing to Implement Key Tenets of Affordable Care Act
About 2 Million Texans to be Denied Medicaid by Rick Perry
(Austin, Texas) – Texas Governor Rick Perry has decided he will not accept the federal government’s free expansion of Medicaid in Texas or implement the health care exchanges called for by the Affordable Care Act (ACA.) Under the fully funded Medicaid law, a minimum of 1.8 million Texans could have been covered with health care. Instead, Texans will now see their federal tax dollars go to pay for the expansion of Medicaid in other states.
“Politics have always been more important than people to Rick Perry,” said James Moore, Director of Progress Texas PAC. “For political spite, Mr. Perry is condemning the uninsured to ill health and premature death simply because he doesn’t want to help President Obama. Texans already with health insurance will continue to pay for emergency care for the uninsured by having those costs rolled into higher premiums and local tax bills to fund hospitals because of Perry’s decision.”
Although the Texas governor seemed oblivious on national television today to how the ACA works, Texas will have a health care exchange funded by the federal government. Washington will institute the operation at a cost of about $7 billion. Medicaid care, however, will remain at its present levels under the law but could have expanded to cover almost two million more needy Texans and would not have required any federal or state tax increases.
“Rick Perry went on Fox News and said everyone in Texas has health care, which is an obvious lie, and by rejecting to establish our own exchange he’s asking the federal government to come do a job Texans could do,” said Moore.
According to the Republican State Comptroller, Texans are paying for $10.2 billion not compensated by insurance or direct care. Those are costs to local hospitals and clinics for providing care to the uninsured. The money is recovered through increased taxes at hospital districts or the state level. Uncompensated care in Texas is paid for out of increases in local property taxes. 1 out of 4 people in Texas is without health care, the highest rate in the nation.
“The situation for the insured and uninsured in Texas has grown completely absurd,” said Glenn Smith, Director of Progress Texas PAC. “We were just told that we have the worst health care system in the country and then a few days later the governor is turning down a federal program that could end suffering and provide a better life to millions of people in our state. Instead, our tax dollars are going to help people in other states get more affordable health care. Can anyone make sense of this? Is this Rick Perry’s idea of leadership? We need to stop planning for failure.”
You really don’t want to look under some rocks, but then sometimes the rocks are picked up by others and you have no choice. That happened to me this morning on Scott Braddock’s Houston talk-radio program (News 92 FM) . I was on with Cathie Adams, a board member and international issues chairman of the national Eagle Forum. She’s also president of the Texas Eagle Forum and a former chairman of the Texas Republican Party. The topic was Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke, and the (gasp) contraception controversy. Here are Adams’s words from under the rock:
“This young girl [Fluke] should be absolutely ashamed of herself. When she goes before a Congressional committee and then be off the record. C-span is going to show it. The whole world should know it. So what did the girl call herself, other than irresponsible?”
“As I matter of fact, I, as a woman, am very offended not by anything that Rush Limbaugh had to say, but that we have a coed at a Catholic University who goes before the United States Congress and testifies, and now her testimony is supposed to be taken off record. We’re not supposed to hold her to account for what she had to say. But she is demanding that you and I as taxpayers pay for her birth control. That is absolutely something that that woman ought to be taking care of herself.”
I think she means that because she testified Rush Limbaugh should get to call her whatever names he wants to. Now, I suppose it’s not surprising that the paragonettes of moral virtue at the Eagle Forum see non-Eagle Forum members as sluts and prostitutes. They’ve more or less argued that for decades, ever since Phyllis Schlafly entered the national circus tent. But I have to admit that when Adams decided that calling Fluke a slut and a prostitute was okay and that Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers shouldn’t mind (much less the rest of the civilized world), I was shocked, I tell you, shocked.
Adams went on to repeat other right-wing lies about President Obama’s contraception policy, making the contradictory claims that the policy forced people to purchase coverage they were morally opposed to and then saying the policy forced taxpayers to pay for the coverage for others. Oh, Adams also claims the policy will force taxpayers to pay for others’ sex change operations. Huh? Well, at least we won’t have to pay for their birth control, I guess.
Here are links to the audio of my little talk with Adams:
What social or psychological dysfunctions led UC-Davis police lieutenant John Pike to brutally assault some sitting, non-threatening protestors with chemical pepper spray?
Clearly unthreatened and acting with a sociopathic coldness, Pike had obviously dehumanized his targets. I just don’t think it’s possible to act in that fashion against other human beings if you regard them as sharing your humanity.
But I also think a concept of authority is growing in America which wants to justify any action by authority against anyone perceived as defying its power.
I can’t see any legitimate basis for police action like what is shown here. Watch that first minute and think how we’d react if we saw it coming from some riot-control unit in China, or in Syria. The calm of the officer who walks up and in a leisurely way pepper-sprays unarmed and passive people right in the face? We’d think: this is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population. That’s what I think here.
These twin evils – individual loss of empathy and social retreat to authoritarian absolutism– feed one another. Sociopaths seem “normal” in the midst of an anti-human milieu that condones dehumanization and violence.
In the aftermath of revelations about the ugly name of Gov. Rick Perry’s hunting lease, some Democrats and pundits, including some friends of mine, are pardoning Gov. Rick Perry on the question of race. I’m not certain how you issue such a blanket pardon to a sitting Southern governor who tossed out the idea of secession or who signed a Voter I.D. law everyone knows is aimed at disenfranchising minority voters.
It’s true that contemporary racism doesn’t look exactly like yesterday’s racism. In many social circles white people no longer use the N-word. Lynchings have disappeared it hate crimes haven’t. We can all eat at the same restaurants and use the same drinking fountains and restrooms. But this self-contratulating myth that we as a generation have magically transcended race is not just immoral, it’s destructive. It blinds us to a racism that continues to have terrible consequences.
Rick Perry’s policies punish people of color. He’s tried to walk back his talk of secession, but he mentioned in purpose multiple times in order to fire up right wing nuts who heard the code for just what it was: a harkening back to a time when white people ruled and people of color were considered less than human.
We are very reluctant these days to brand anyone a racist. Even racists. I suppose there’s some good in that. At least we realize that racism is so evil we shouldn’t toss the word around lightly. Is the name of a hunting lease enough to earn Perry the brand? I don’t know. But the rush to issue a blanket pardon — “Rick Perry is not racist” — seems a bit too much to take. A governor who plays upon racial prejudice as Perry did with his secession comments should not be pardoned for their racial implications.
Ten years later – here’s the third of my Slate.com diaries written in the wake of 9-11. I’m don’t have any vintage photos to post with this one because I’m on the Texas-Mexico border this evening with Joe Klein from Time Magazine and, ironically, the great photographer Lynsey Addario who was tough enough to endure her kidnapping in Libya earlier this year and continues to be one of America’s greatest news photographers. All three of us spent much of the decade since 9-11 filming, shooting photos and writing in a lot of crazy places around the world, and each of our journeys seemed to have been launched by the incredible tragedy of 9-11 and by America’s response to the attack on The World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Like the rest of America and the world, there’s no going back to who we were before. We can’t undo the falling of the towers or the growing tragedies of the Iraqi and Afghan War, but we’re still searching for the best way ahead through the stories we tell in words and pictures. Much of the diary below is about Willie Nelson and a voice that continues to fill a need in so many people. Willie’s still out there doing what he does. The rest of us can only follow his example to the best of our abilities. One happy note – the diary mentions our upcoming American Masters film on Willie which later premiered to great acclaim and was rewarded with an Emmy Award for the best non-fiction series. Thanks for all the music, Willie. We still love you; still need you.
So here’s my Slate Diary #3 – in the wake of 9-11
Slate.com Diary by Turk Pipkin
This has turned into the right week to be buried under a tall pile of work. When I’m talking on the phone about one project or another, I’m not watching my country edging toward a growing anthrax panic, our national consciousness flinching as we wonder where and how terrorism will strike next.
This afternoon, I tried to sit down to some serious writing, but the words wouldn’t come, so I decided to call someone I knew could lift my spirits. Most of us have that one person who can reliably bring you up. It may be your mother or your brother, your new best friend or a pal from long ago, but the bottom line is, you hear that voice and the world suddenly looks better. Or it may turn out thatthey need their spirit lifted, and the job of strength falls upon you. Not quite the same, but you do learn that perhaps you had it better than you knew. I’d been saving that phone call, and the time had come.
Willie Nelson and I have been occasional golf buddies for 20 years. I’ve written a few things for him and about him, but mostly we just like to shoot the shit. Lately he’s been fighting a nagging case of pneumonia but is still playing his gigs, so I called him on the bus that he calls home for a couple of hundred days a year. For a long time, when I called the bus I’d ask where he was. He’d look out the window at the passing countryside and say, “I see some fields,” or “Looks like America to me.”
So I already knew where he was, he was at home in America.
“Mr. Nelson, Mr. Pipkin,” I said.
“Hey!” he said, his mellifluous tone rolling back at me, strong enough for me to know he was feeling better. “I enjoyed that magazine story!”
A couple of months ago, we’d spent the day playing golf and chess, shooting pool and listening to his upcoming album The Great Divide, which I think is one of his best. I took notes all day and wrote a story for a new magazine called Fringe Golf. Lemme tell you, writing about your friends is no gimme. Willie’s a better golfer than most people suspect, but I couldn’t resist saying his swing looked like “fly-casting a frozen turkey,” so hearing that he liked the piece was all the lift I needed.
Just hearing his voice sent me back a couple of weeks when I’d watched him on TV singing “America the Beautiful” to close the “Tribute to Heroes” telethon. As Clint Eastwood’s speech morphed into Willie’s first guitar licks, I found myself fighting back my tears. Then Willie got to the line that got to all of us: “Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.” Like so many Americans, I just let it flow. Willie had given me permission.
Today we had some new business to go over. The Emmy-winning PBS documentary seriesAmerican Masters is producing a two-hour film on Willie. I initially took the project to American Masters, and it’s since taken on a wonderful life of its own. American Masters knows what they’re doing, and New York filmmaker Steve Cantor is directing. That leaves me as a producer whose main job is to make sure everyone’s happy. Willie sounded happy. We talked about filming his upcoming 10k race for Farm Aid in Austin and about the photo Texas Monthly is going to take of Willie and mystery writer Kinky Friedman posed as the farm couple in American Gothic.
“I get to hold the pitchfork; Kinky’s going to wear the dress,” Willie told me. “Kinky’s always been mad he wasn’t born a woman anyway.”
I was still laughing when, as they say in London, we rung off. A smile had found my face, and for the first time all day, I had the general idea that everything was going to be OK.
For the next couple of hours, I managed to put in some good work on a whole string of projects: the still-pending movie of my coming-of-age golf novel, Fast Greens; a first-look at the Web site, turkpipkin.com, that my sister-in-law is putting together, and a magazine pitch about the dam the government of Belize foolishly wants to build on the upper Macal River basin that will destroy much of the breeding grounds of the endangered scarlet macaw and Baird’s tapir. Good news and bad, the world was moving on.
I didn’t even let the round-the-clock anthrax coverage get to me. Not until my wife came in this evening to report why our 10-year-old daughter was so emotional tonight. She’d been having trouble sleeping and finally told her mom that it was because of bad dreams. In her dream, she was at a local market when a man asked if he could sit down with her and her friends.
“What was that chemical that they used to spray on crops that was so poisonous?” my daughter asked.
“DDT,” my wife answered.
“That’s it,” she said. “The man was mentally disturbed, but he looked normal, and he had this big tank of DDT that he started spraying on us.”
Believe me, this is as hard to write as it is to read. The worst part was, in my daughter’s dream, her best friend had died. Not too surprisingly, our girl was scared and sad. I think my wife came up with some pretty good answers for her, but let’s face it, they’re answers to questions we never wanted to hear.
“Sadness is a real emotion in your heart,” Christy told our first-born, “but fear is in your mind. And your mind you can control. If you live in fear that things might happen, it can be as bad as if they really did happen. You have to take strength from what’s real, even when it’s sad.”
When I was 10, my fears were that Communists were going to sweep across America, lock us in our stadiums, and torture us until we thought like they did. In the ensuing years, I somehow came to the conclusion that we’d done a better job in the world since then. But now my daughter is 10, and the world is falling down around her.
“Man has been faced with terrible tragedies and events throughout our history,” my wife reassured her, “and we’ve always come through it.”
“I know that,” our daughter said, “but this is the first time it’s happened tome.“
Our daughter is asleep now, her dreams beyond our reach. Tomorrow is another day, more bad news from far away no doubt, more fears from just around the corner, and more phone calls to the people we love.
Ten years later the hallucinogenic events of September 11, 2001, remain enigmatic and nightmare-like. There is no shared, uniform view because our experiences of that day are so disparate. There weren’t four planes, there were 300 million of them, and they slammed into our minds, not just our collective psyche (if there is such a thing), but into each of us.
Whatever else 9/11 is, it is an extraordinarily personal trauma. It comes to consciousness within its own hall of mirrors, images and thoughts appearing un-summoned and then disappearing before they are neatly understood.
It is the day we fell to earth, and with that thought my mind leaps and I’m in a limo on a New Mexico highway with David Bowie’s alien in Nicolas Roeg’s film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. I glance out the window at a white horse that seems winged as it glides beside our car. Like Bowie’s character, Thomas Jerome Newton, I ride the horse into memory fields as the song from The Fantasticks, “Try to Remember,” whispers like the ghost of irony on the soundtrack.
Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow
Try to remember the time of September
When love was an ember about to billow
Try to remember and if you remember
Then follow, follow.
The Fantasticks? It’s a musical about two fathers who pretend to hate each other to trick their son and daughter into pursuing forbidden love, a conspiracy among modern Capulets and Montagues to marry Juliet and Romeo. Like I said, the thoughts come unbidden. Maybe I’m thinking about the destructive power of manipulation, about the arrogant and terrible fools who toy with the hearts of others out of their own ambitions.
I recently made a trip to Galveston. I love some Texas Coast, and I had never visited the most notorious of Texas wharf towns.
Each summer my daughter and I try to have some sort of water holiday before AISD takes over our lives and, if we were Libertarians, our Freedom. Since things have been kind of rough this summer in that I have been broke more often than not, we had a one night’s stay in Galveston, for which I begged for state rate.
But that one night at the Hotel Galvez provided a magical 28 hours…
There was the saltwater pool of my daughter’s dreams. Ample time spent in the ocean (technically bay??) waves. An expectation to eat fried fish twice a day. And then….
The Poop Deck
The Poop Deck, a second story bar looking overlooking the seawall, was the setting for my Vacation Epiphany Moment. You know how sometimes, when you get out of town and you are actually really relaxed, you have a realization that brings a sense of tranquility and optimism to your overall outlook?
My realization was that I could end up at the Poop Deck…
And it would be sort of bitching.
I could sling domestics and breathe in salty gulf air. I could look out at the ocean any time. I could wear outfits that were really pushing it for my age. I could drink on the job.
My Poop Deck epiphany has offered me a strange solace. I tend to worry about never finding a life partner or not having another child. I’m pretty clear that Social Security will be gone when I’m old, and, even with compound interest, my retirement savings will most likely be a pittance.
But sitting on the balcony of the Poop Deck, drinking a Lone Star and staring at the sea, gave me the enchanting option of ending up in a gritty, pretty place, with plenty of canned beer and Texan coastal culture.
I believe grrrls and women should have adventures. And we should have the opportunity to experience the adventures of other grrrls and women through books, film, music and visual arts.
Too many times we have read books and watched films about a man or boy having an adventure while a woman sits at home and waits for him. In movies like LEGENDS OF THE FALL, the male protagonist (in this case Tristan, played by Brad Pitt) travels the world having adventures and sex in opium dens while his true love sits at home on the Tristan’s front porch and waits for his return.
In books like Paul Coehlo’s THE ALCHEMIST, the spiritually seeking man (in this case, the protagonist Santiago) goes on an odyssey while his true love, the woman in the desert, stays in the desert unmoving, unchanging until Santiago’s return.
Which brings us to the word “odyssey” itself, a word derived from the name of the adventurous Odysseus who went to war and traveled the world for twenty years, while his wife Penelope stayed at home.
And even in contemporary books with female protagonists written by women, the big choice for the young woman often remains as uninteresting as “Should I chose the werewolf or the vampire to be my boyfriend?”
We as women and girls can’t just demand more interesting and engaging female characters. We have waited too long already. And there’s no guarantee the male dominated film industry or the imploding-as-we-speak publishing or music industries will listen. We have to write the books and—if necessary—publish them ourselves. We must write the scripts and storm Hollywood with them and—if necessary—make the movies ourselves. We must write the albums and–if necessary—record them ourselves. We must paint the paintings and—if necessary—show them ourselves.
We will no longer stand for stories that offer no more than the woman who waits on the front porch or in the desert, who plays the auxiliary wife of the man of action. We will no longer compliantly consume such art; we will, at the very least, take notice of the messages such art contains.
Statistics about women in artistic industries are daunting.
Only 30% of producers of major motion pictures are women. Only 10% of screenwriters of major motion pictures are women. Only 4% of directors of major motion pictures are women.
In the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, only 3.5% of the works of art on display are by female artists.
The publishing industry seems anomalous in this regard. Female editors and agents dominate the publishing industry. And most book buyers, book group members, and literary bloggers are women. And yet, to quote Lakshmi Chaudry “the gods of the literary…remain predominately male–both as writers and critics.”
From 1921-2006, only 31 % of the Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction were awarded to women.
Does this mean women aren’t writing as well as men? Hardly. But it does mean their work does not receive the awards and acclaim more often bestowed upon their male counterparts.
Female fronted rock bands and female hip hop artists are still notable for their gender because rock and hip hop are also still male-dominated art forms.
These statistics and realities are daunting. But we will not spend too much time bitching about them; we will not become paralyzed by our complaints. We will instead notice them, pay attention to them; we will use our anger about them to drive dynamic and positive change. We will make that change ourselves.
We don’t ask permission (or at least not for long). We write the stories, the songs, the films. We paint the paintings. We record or publish or film them ourselves if need be. We throw our own art openings. We open our own gallery spaces.
Like Ani Difranco, we start our own record label, Righteous Babe Records, and sell our music out of the trunk of our car until our records and our label take off. And we will go on to write, record and release more than 20 albums on our own label, maintaining our artistic freedom even as we garner attention and acclaim.
Like Kathleen Hannah (former lead singer of Bikini Kill) we start the underground punk rock Riot Grrrl movement even though, “punk rock is for and by boys.” We express our collective anger and joy loudly, for all the grrrls too afraid to do so themselves.
Like Nicki Minaj, we quit our 9-5 office job—despite the disappointment it causes our mother–to work on our lyrics full-time and push our career as a hip hop artist. And we write songs that say:
In this very moment I’m king/In this very moment I slayed Goliath with a sling… I wish that I could have this moment 4 life/4 life, 4 life/’Cause in this moment, I just feel so alive/alive, alive
Like Amanda Hocking, we publish our own books and make them available on our blog until the sheer buying power of our fan base drives the publishing industry to us.
Like Shauna Cross, we become a roller girl; and then we write a novel about it called DERBY GIRL; and then we write the screenplay adaptation of the novel, which becomes WHIP IT, the first movie directed by Drew Barrymore, a female actor brave enough to take the reins and make her own film.
The internet and social networking have brought down the barriers that once existed between art and audience; they have rendered the gatekeepers much less relevant than they have ever been before. And so we create our work; and we take responsibility for putting it out into the world so that our audience can find it.
But most of all we keep having adventures ourselves.
We don’t ask for permission to be granted by our fathers, our mothers, our lovers, our brothers, our husbands, our wives, our bosses, or friends. Or even from our sisters, who sometimes worry and so might like to have us sequestered from harm.
We go out into the world and live. We run through rain forests at night; and swim in oceans; and kayak; and when we run out of money, we take the ferry from Seattle to Alaska where we wait tables at the Princess Hotel and ride our mountain bikes under the midnight sun. We busk on the streets in Bosnia. We work as cops in Palmer Lake, Colorado. We teach a boy to read or a girl to play the guitar. We give birth to or adopt a child. We take a call on the National Domestic Violence Hotline. We go to physical therapy school. We support the art other women make; we buy extra copies of books and albums we love; we give them to our friends as gifts.
We say, “You are talented.”
We say, “You can do it.”
We say, “Yes it can be done.”
We say this to ourselves. We say this to each other.
And then we use our adventures to fuel our art and we share our art with others; to show them the way; to let them know that they are not alone. And so women and girls can see that with or without permission our art and our lives will flourish. Our art and our lives will not be stifled by the music or publishing or film industries or by gallery owners or well-meaning loved ones.
We are women and girls; and we will make our art and have our adventures; and we will support each other.
If this manifesto spoke to you, please shared it with a friend.
Jonathon Swift went too far in his “A Modest Proposal” (1729) when he proposed the eating of human children as a solution to Ireland’s economic woes and the plight of the hungry poor. If we were looking for a solution to our own economic crisis that might be acceptable to more people, and so better suited to a democracy, wouldn’t it be efficacious to simply let the hungry youngsters starve to death?
There are 12 million hungry children in America. Statistics on the cost of raising and educating children in America (including private and public spending) show we will spend more than $2 trillion – that’s $2 trillion – on these 12 million insatiable mouths. (Because we are talking about kids in hunger, I’ve discounted by 75 percent the middle class average cost of raising a child.)
Think of the savings. Two trillion dollars! And we could add to these savings the wealth the children would consume as adults if they survived. We could cut public transportation, prisons, welfare, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare! The mind boggles. We simply replace the inefficient safety net with a safety scaffold, so to speak.
Basing his argument on Tertullian’s satiric masterpiece, the Apology, Swift unfairly exaggerated the depravity of those of great wealth and power. Tertullian said, “Man’s flesh goes belching, fattened on man’s flesh.” But that’s an impolite image, and it challenges the nettlesome taboo against cannibalism. We could erase that taboo with a focused advertising campaign, I’m sure. But that would cost money. This Even More Modest Proposal saves money and asks of us only a certain passivity and inaction.