Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Question of Racism . . . and Easy Labels . . .

First a bit of bio . . .
I come from the "South" - Northeast Texas up close to the Arkansas border - and just returned from a trip back home recently. So as dyed in the wool as I am, I've also lived in Europe for over 20 years. Came over to fight the Cold War, got married to a "local" and stayed . . . which is the short version.

I grew up at the end of Jim Crow, experienced desegration as a Sixth grader, heard lots of old and horrific stories from old men (some of whom were ex-Klansmen) about the "good ole days".
We as children were taught by Southern matrons who attempted to keep the ideals of the South alive in us. Most of what they passed on to us was very positive, about service and responsibility. Also, I was taught as a child that Memorial Day was not "our memorial day" since it commemorated only Union losses . . .
Of course there was a noticeable thread of racism through the entire society, like a poison. Read William Faulkner to get more on that . . .
But I would add that the South today is nothing like that what it was growing up in the 1960s. My generation failed to carry on and transfer those old attitudes - both among Southern whites and blacks. To condemn the South as "racist" based on its history is to ignore that history and the changes that have taken place over the last 40 years.

What is far closer to the truth is that America is a racist society. We're very much into the pecking order view and living abroad brings that out. When you first meet other Americans in a foreign country, often the first topic of conversation goes to ethnic background and where you "fit in" . . . Any "redneck" or "Mexican" for example scores kinda low.

So how to explain “Joe” Wilson and his outburst?
There is an element of racism, but it is the same level of "cultural racism" present in the country as a whole. What Wilson's outburst brings out is actually something worse imo. More on that at the close.
What makes Obama a target is not his race, but the whole complexus of things he represents, perhaps the least of all is his race. Had Colin Powell been elected as the first black president on the GOP ticket, do you think we would be having this discussion? Why did Bill Clinton (arguably the most successful Southern president in US history) and Al Gore - both white Southerners - both get taken apart the way they did? Racism? What a hoot!
The radical right has been able to frame the political discussion in our country in very simple terms and have been attacking the legitimacy of Democratic political leaders for some time now. In terms of the nature of the attacks consider that Clinton was accused of murdering people, running drugs, "hanging coke spoons from the White House X-mas tree" and in the end was impeached for (you know the rest) . . . Al Gore was ludicrously tarred as a "serial liar" based on a series of lies propagated about him . . . former Alabama governor Siegelman is still sitting in prison on trumped up charges . . . and former NY governor Spitzer was targeted and brought down barely a month after having made very serious and substantive corruption charges against Bush's economic policies. If you believe that it was all about “hookers”, then you haven’t been paying attention . . .

These attacks are not about race, but about gaining, retaining and using absolute power, without even the fig leaf of any accountability.

What is really driving the anger and confusion in the South is that people there are overwhelmed with change. Much of the change has been positive, and people will admit that, but much is also very negative and economic-driven in various ways. Southerners feel that the country is going to the dogs and they are angry, but like the vast majority of Americans they are angry at the wrong people.
People have to lash out at something and "liberals" are the target that they have been conditioned to go after and see as the cause of their problems.
That "liberals" promote certain social issues that most Southerners find contrary to their values does not help the matter.

Finally, what made Joe Wilson's outburst so reprehensible imo was his target - the weakest social group in the US today - illegal immigrants - who do most of the heavy lifting in the US economy. What angered him and his followers was the possibility that this unofficial subclass might actually get a flu shot on the government dime. There is a growing anger in the South against this group, who essentially operate at the edge of our society. While they usually maintain those values most cherished by Southerners (religiosity, hard-work, family-orientation, frugality) they are at the same time perceived as not having to bare certain responsibilities. The most often heard complaint concerns auto accidents were the illegal (usually drunk in the story) is let go by the cops since he is illegal and shipped back home, the poor American "victim" having to shoulder all the damages. A version of this seemingly has become part of our national narrative.
The contradiction comes in when you point out to the "victims" that those same illegal workers are here due to "the system" that we have allowed to take root, keeping consumer prices low and gutting out worker benefits, that is their condition is due to our own lack of responsibility . . .
Had Joe Wilson really wanted to do something about the problem of illegal workers, he could have sponsored legislation imposing heavy fines on for instance the poultry and pork industries for hiring undocumented workers . . . not much chance of that though, which in my book makes Joe a gutless coward: first for attacking the weakest and second by not taking responsibility for a glaring problem that he seemingly acknowledges. Other than that his outburst was just the latest example of what the radical right has been doing in regards to Democratic political leaders for some time.
If there is any real "racism" present in this whole sorry episode, it is the deliberate exclusion of a politically and legally-marginalized group which is then systematically exploited for economic purposes: what could be argued to be our new "slave class" . . . but that exclusion is not limited to the Joe Wilsons . . .

But then any Democrat should know that.


  1. Having lived in the North or Europe all of my life, apart from relatively brief Army-related stays in the South I have a very different impression of the region. One of my Army buddies was from Mississippi and I was Best Man at his wedding. I was astonished by the steady undercurrent of racism I found down there. Absolutely different culture in many ways from Minnesota. Acquaintance of mine recently returned from living in Alabama for a year. He went down there a Republican and returned a Democrat after having his eyes widely opened by what to him were the incredibly racist attitudes of the people he worked with.

    There are racists everywhere, yes, but I really don't think the South hasn't shed its Jim Crow garb as completely as you suggest.

  2. Rick-

    Thanks for the comment. So, what are you telling me? That those Mississippi or Alabama boys, if pulled over by a black Alabama highway patrolman are not going to pull to the side of the road and say only "Yes officer" and "No officer"?

    To grasp that is to understand a bit of the social revolution that has taken place in the South.

    What you're talking about seems to be a lot of "talk" (currently politically motivated), and thus cheap - but not action - or do you have specific examples?

    Just wondering . . . How many black folk did you know growing up? How many of those do you consider friends today? Do you think the "average black family" having lived in the Twin Cities for say at least 30 years would say that the society they have lived in is not racist?

  3. I agree that it isn't traditional racism.

    I think the fundamental problem is the discordance between the myth of social mobility (i.e. the great American dream) and the fact that the USA has quite limited social mobility.

  4. The North Carolina I knew in the Eighties had lots of little towns where Jim Crow was still pretty much in effect. But...

    Having said that, just yesterday I passed a big ol' redneck pickup complete with gun dog in the truck bed with a sticker on the bumper reading "Send the monkey back to Kenya where he was born."

    In Oregon City. Oregon.

    So to say that the South is racist is like saying that only the southern part of the Pacific Ocean is wet. You can get pulled over for DWB, BWM or DWA just as quickly in Salem or Portland as you can in Selma or Atlanta. If you're accused of a crime in Seattle or Sacramento you're probably black or Hispanic, just like if you lived in Houston or Memphis.

    Slavery and the resulting racism has fucked up pretty much every place in this country. Southern racism is more upfront, but racism in general pretty much comes with about 60% of the meal around here.

    Wilson is a tool. But he's a tool in the same way that a hell of a lot of white folks in our country are tools.

  5. FDChief-

    I think we agree on this. What passes for racism today is "cultural" and the overt kind in the vast majority of cases is restricted to idiots, whereever they be, stoked at the same time by the radical right.

    Real, "ole timey racism" I'll call it, where a black man wasn't really a man is dead. Gone. Any remnants you might find are essentially zombies.

    I think the label of "racism" is used in current politics to cover what the real problems are. One of Pluto's "bait and switches" . . .

  6. I'd say that racism is still a problem, in the sense that I think a hell of a lot of this "birther" crap and the kind of anger that brought the wingnuts out last weekend protesting...who the hell knows, but it seems to have a lot to do with some vague notion that Obama & Co. intend to "take" something from them and give it to scary brown and black people.

  7. I'll mention a few things and then head back to the bench because I'm not real strong on this topic but am certainly ready to listen to others.

    1. I've lived a long time in the Twin Cities and there's definitely something racist going on here. The one black man that I know well maintains that the Twin Cities is profoundly racist but tends to refer to rumor and gossip rather than quoting the newspaper when I press him for details to support his viewpoint.

    We've got a small black community that fractured in the 70's, a few went to college and got their degrees and moved back to the area, the rest never went to college and never left the area. A few blacks live in the suburbs but most live in the poorest, most crime-ridden, ghetto part of town.

    Education is essentially frowned upon in that part of town and you only leave in one of three ways: sports, entertainment, or feet first. The third is by far the most typical.

    We've got two other major racial minorities, Vietnamese/Hmong and Somali. The SE Asians showed up in big numbers starting about 30 years ago; did the usual immigrant thing, worked their butts off while sending their hyper-competitive kids to school and then to college. They did their time in these same ghetto neighborhoods but moved out as fast as they could and they're doing pretty darned well.

    The Somalis arrived starting 10 years ago and are mostly following the standard immigrant track but haven't achieved full acceptance yet. A lot of them are now living in the same ghetto and are trying to escape it but are facing a lot of friction in fulfilling the immigrant dream that the SE Asians didn't face.

    So we've got two black communities sharing the same space. One black community seems to be permanently stuck in low gear, doomed to lose its best and brightest to broken dreams and crime while the other lives in a completely different mental world where they still stand a chance to become something. The first community resents the hell out of the second and takes it out on them every chance they get.

    The Somali's, being Muslims, never heard Jesus' "turn the other cheek" message and have responded in kind. They've mostly agreed to a truce where they completely ignore each other but we still get flare-ups. What a wasted opportunity for two groups of people to learn from each other.

    2. About 15 years ago I did a consulting gig down in Atlanta. It is a fine and friendly town that I liked quite a bit but I was jarred by two things.
    a) I was working with a black engineer and suffered an emotional shock every time he walked into the room. I eventually realized that something down deep in me had major troubles accepting that the company had found a talented, well-educated black man and placed him in a leadership position. I wouldn't have had any trouble accepting a white or Asian engineer; I realized at that time that I had some more growing up to do.

    b) I went out to Stone Mountain over the weekend and heard about the Battle of Atlanta from the Southern point of view as presented by the National Park Service. It was a very odd lecture, mostly concentrating on how all the old wounds have completely healed and everybody is happy being part of the US these days. There were some boo's when they mentioned that Atlanta was captured and even more when it was burned. It's possible that the National Park Service was a little optimistic about the healing of old wounds.

    While I was traveling around the park I noticed several large groups of well-dressed white young men, obviously intoxicated, driving around at high speeds in pickup trucks, waving Confederate battle flags, and screaming at passers by while the rangers just watched. There wasn't a single black or Asian person at the park the entire day which struck me as a REALLY good idea consider the high and drunken spirits of the young men in question.

  8. Joe Wilson is my congressman. He knows me and I know him. I don't think Joe likes me very much. He knows he'll never get my vote and that I'll never pass up a chance to tell others why they shouldn't vote for him.

    Joe is kind of typical of his class here in South Carolina. Not overtly racist in the sense of a Limbaugh, but clearly uncomfortable with the changes taking place in the nation. The way it works with educated white Southerners is that they've always been in charge and just don't like change. Most would vehemently deny that they're racist, and from their perspective they're not. They treat blacks with respect and they do not discriminate in hiring or in enforcing the laws. Curiously, there is far more harmony between the races here than there is in California. And people in Charleston and Savannah—the nearest larger cities—display nothing like the attitudes found in Boston, that bastion of northeastern liberalism, which has long been considered the most bigoted city in the US.

    I'm not going to dwell on rednecks. As FDChief notes, rednecks are rednecks, no matter where they come from. We have a lot of them here, but many aren't natives. They seem to find their way here from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan. And, I hate to say it, southern haters, but I really think those guys are worse than native South Carolina or Georgia crackers.

    Educated southerners really are different than educated northerners (including the west). They really are more conservative and far less willing to embrace change. But this doesn't mean they're inherently racist; it just means they're conservative and resistant to change. They're also very patriotic, which means they're going to be less skeptical about military action when it's presented as vital to national security. They respect members of the military and they're really conflicted when someone like me opines that they've been duped.

    The south, or at least my part of it, is changing, partially because of the influx of people like me, but also because more and more natives are beginning to question basic assumptions. Our local newspaper, which covers Beaufort County, the wealthiest in South Carolina, has been running letters about Joe Wilson's moment of glory. Based on my reading, I'd say more than 60% of the writers have been critical of Wilson. He didn't win by that much in '08 and I'd say he's going to be in a dogfight next year. A lot of people I encounter are sick and tired of Wilson and his ilk.

    On balance, I'm going to support Seydlitz in his basic thesis. It's all about change and Obama is a change that came upon too many people more rapidly than they would have liked. Couple that with the economic woes, overseas wars and Obama's own foul-ups in the health care goatscrew and I think resistance is to be expected. Face it, we're in trouble, most people know it, and Obama—along with a pathetic Democratic majority in Congress—hasn't done a particularly good job in addressing peoples' concerns. I know I'm very dissatisfied with Obama's performance; I'm also fed up with the Democrats in Congress.

    Yes, as FDChief notes, there is certainly racism involved—I don't dismiss that as Seydlitz apparently does—but why has Obama made himself such an easy target? Why are some saying this is George Bush's third term?

  9. On Clinton, you must have been out of the country, because he was considered the first black president by both sides. DougJ comments on this theme:

    It's about dehumanizing the democrat, and race helps.

    As for Colin Powell, his uniform helped, but if he'd been a democrat, Glenn Beck would be talking about My Lai nonstop.

    The south has made very great strides, no doubt, and lily-white liberal Minnesotans can be incredibly racist (while at the same time thinking they're more enlightened than white southerners). In most of the urban south, you can't go around all day using the n-word w/o getting frowned upon if not beaten up. Racists will be much more diplomatic about their codewords (foreigner, Mexican, Kenyan, "I want my country back", etc). Part of that is certainly moving from raw-bigotry to a somewhat dehumanized "problem" that just happens to be of another color. Just how non-racist that trait is has always been a big question for me, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But I won't for the non-Army military. My family lives in a TX exurb, 3 USAF officers. They are the only three public dems in a neighborhood of dozens of USAF/USN retirees. I attended a happy hour there this summer, and they got past the codewords after a few drinks.

    My brother-in-law put it this way. He was on a bus coming back from college the night MLK was shot. The black driver was so afraid to leave a white kid at the terminal in Richmond that he drove the bus near Fredricksburg so his mother could meet him there.

    He looks at his neighbors, and is more afraid today than he was in 1968.

  10. A friend here captured the phenomenon quite well. He said that the politics of fear arise directly from the fears of the politicians themselves. Thus, if someone is motivated by fear, he will see that as the motivation to offer to others. There is probably more than a grain of truth in his comments.

    How sad that a significant portion of the population lets their lives be directed by fear.


  11. Chief,
    once again i gave a long comment and it just disappeared.
    This is really frustrating.

  12. Social mobility is key.

    Living in a hole is a lot more tolerable if you (or even your kids) are going to be able to climb out someday.

    If some people can profit by keeping other people stuck in a hole, a lot of resentment can build up.

  13. I went to college during the civil rights era. 'Nam didn't explode as an issue until my senior year, and even then my generation was somewhat passive.

    High school friend went to college in Minnesota, where there were then few blacks. Most locals were all for the freedom riders. However, don't you dare bring up the subject of Native Americans....

  14. Great discussion so far gentlemen-

    I'm not arguing that racism doesn't exist in America, or that it is not a problem. Haven't said anything like that.

    Rather that the Joe Wilson outburst is just more of the same that we have been seeing in GOP attitudes towards the legitimacy of Democratic political leaders for some time (as with Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Siegelman, Spitzer . . .). If the deciding factor of how the first black president is accepted is based on him being a Democrat or GOP - as the common view of how Colin Powell would have been treated indicates - then it can't be race.

    Where racism comes in imo is "the deliberate exclusion of a politically and legally-marginalized group which is then systematically exploited for economic purposes: what could be argued to be our new 'slave class'" in other words the illegal immigrants who make up our "shadow economy".

    The Demos are avoiding this topic like the plague and the Reps only care to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria, while avoiding the actual particulars.

  15. A few comments from the other side of the planet...

    I recently spent 4 months in Kenya, a very interesting society. While I will not disagree with hardly anything said in this thread, I will be the Pollyanna to say, "It could be a lot worse."

    I never fully appreciated how far we've come, or how "integrated" our society is until I experienced Kenya (and Africa for that matter). Kenya, being a former British colony, still has many of the scars of colonial rule. It is a society where the majority have no social mobility at all, and are beyond any hope (which makes it easy to keep them down). Tribes are more important than skin color, as evident in the 2007 election riots. Kenyan Asians (Indian immigrants, many of whom have been in Kenya for 4-5 generations) have no political standing in the country because they have no tribal affiliation (yet, they probably own 70% of the businesses).

    So when I bought a new pair of shoes for my housekeeper because her old pair broke, i was told by a Kenyan Asian that I was "spoiling my house staff for the rest of them." When I gave an extra 100 Shillings (about $1 dollar) tip to a waiter, I was told I was going to upset their delicate society.

    You have a society where political jobs equal incredible, untouchable power. Your predestined position in life (tribe) determines the limit of your fate. The number one dream of every Kenyan I met (who was not in political power) was to live in the US (despite my warnings of what the US was really like).

    I am not saying that our society is perfect, and I am sure there are some Utopian societies on the planet (past or present) that have been more homogenous and more tolerant. But I still feel pretty good living in this one. We still need some fine tuning, but that will continue to take time and perhaps a kick in the ass every once in a while. That is where we need government, to do the ass kicking when needed. That is the problem, we don't have a government capable of doing that.

    I avoided commented on either political parties stance or actions of racism because I believe that both parties are equally guilty of exploiting racism to grab and maintain power, and neither party has the balls or the political power to do anything truly constructive about it (and neither probably want to do anything about it because it will probably hurt them, after all, sometimes I feel like Rep and Dem labels are as racist as Black and White).

    This is what bothers me more than anything. The constant bickering and infighting between the two parties who are attempting to govern our country. They are both terrible in their own ways. Checks and balances is a good thing, but what is happening today is near criminal.

  16. Chief,
    We wwrote another long reply yesterday and it got lost in space.
    I'll pare it to bare bones.
    Why is Wilson's outburst being marketted as racial but the Gates incident and the POTUS remarks about Cops not a racial thing?

  17. Jim -

    You evidently don't read enough FoxNews! The POTUS remarks about cops was spun almost exclusively as a racial thing over there.

    One of the things I dislike about the current political/media situation is that the various media outlets are aligning themselves toward their preferred revenue stream and are increasingly slanting the news until you can hardly tell which country you live in.

    Yesterday I saw a story in the Wall Street Journal stating that it's tough to be unemployed right now but that the workers who still have jobs are experiencing some pretty nice wage growth. Two minutes later I read a story on CNN stating that wages are still falling.

    Who's right? I can't tell because the news media doesn't care, they are just paid mouthpieces these days.

  18. Pluto,
    One reads conflicting outlooks even in the same source.
    Lisa often points out these inconsistancies out in our discussions of the days news. Interpretation of stats is the best example that comes to mind.

  19. Jim-

    I think the "racism" label is being used to distract people from how the president has botched the healthcare issue . . . essentially how he has sold out to the system . . .


    Good to see you posting. I have gained a lot from your insights . . .


    I wish to add this, which was new to me until today when I came across it . . . the current distinction between "interrogator" (which was my job description on numerous official documents and citations) and "debriefer" . . . this did not exist 8 years ago.

    Is there any question why I really %$#3/*§ hate these bastards? THIS is a perversion of the entire profession. WE cannot let this stand. I would be interested in comments from Publius, Fasteddiez, mike, andy or anyone with a Humint background . . .

  20. Jim: curiously, I didn't think of the Wilson outburst as "racist"; he's a jackass, and he was doing what jackasses do, shooting his damn mouth off. Plus, he's a R, so he doesn't REALLY believe that any D gets to be President, it's just not to mouth off to Obama, well, whatever...

    But I think that the answer to the larger question - is "racism" still alive and well here in the US of A - would have to be at least qualified yes. Yes, but we're better off than Kenya. Yes, but things have improved since 1964. Yes, but...

    But let's look at my home state for a moment. Until something like 1940 it was literally illegal to be black in Oregon. You couldn't live here; you were required to be escorted out of town by the sheriff. In WW2 a relatively small number of blacks migrated north to work at the Kaiser yards, typical of a lot of northern cities in the Forties. These people were warehoused in manufactured housing in Vanport, largely, until 1948 when the flood wiped the entire community out. Realtors effectively steered every single black family who wanted to remain to NE Portland, where the black ghetto was confined for another 20-25 years.

    OK, so - what have we done since then?

    The best schools in Portland, from little Bridlemile Elementary to Lincoln and Wilson High Schools are 70-80% white. The worst - from Rigler Elementary to Jefferson High - are 70-80 percent black. The Fire Bureau, PD, all the city bureaus were notoriously brother-free until well into the 1980s. Unions? Don't make me laugh - Oregons trade unions worked their asses off to exclude blacks. Black homeownership is STILL largely concentrated in NE Portland, unless gentrification has forced the residents into the even nastier areas of Parkrose and the far NE. Blacks get arrested WAY above their demographic, even though most of the crime here is done by us honkies (usually by our fucking tweakers, but that's a whole 'nother story).

    Oregon should be a test case for us whiteys; there's no way in hell that a black man or black people could EVER get any sort of real political, social or economic power here, their numbers are just too small. So what would we lose if we REALLY tried integrating black Oregonians fully into our state?

    But we haven't, and we don't. We're doing a little, no doubt, but that little is only enough to cream off the best, brightest and most motivated people in the black community. We haven't tried, really tried, to commit enough time, money and energy into breaking up the toxic stew that is "black street life" for a lot of the kids here in Portland. To convince those kids that they WON'T get arrested for Driving While Black, that some cop won't bust their head for looking at him sideways in a way a white kid wouldn't.

    Are we trying? I think we are. Are we succeeding? Hard to say. But it think it's a little early to say aw, hell, that racism stuff is SO over...look and listen to the teabaggers, to the Beck and Limbaugh shouters, to the Palin rallies. There's a LOT still out there.

    So I think the reason that Wilson gets slammed and Obama gets a pass is that Obama is an outlier. Hardly anyone really believes that Bad Scary Negroes are going to Hurt Us. But the notion of powerful white people - or groups of white people - with ill intent towards black people? All too believable.

  21. We certainly have established that Southerners are mighty defensive about charges of racism. :) My old army buddy of 30 years ended our friendship after I insulted the Confederacy. I expessed my distate for his highly praised photo of a prom girl wearing the stars and bars as a dress. Oh lordy.

    You guys seem to be dancing a pretty jig. On the one hand the South isn't racist anymore because there aren't lynch mobs on every corner, but the North is chock-full of racists. Especially those lilly-livered liberal one's I am constantly confronted with at the Wellstone memorial.. frothing at the mouth about how the blacks have ruined everything. Sure there are plenty everywhere, but we just don't have the tradition of it all. Hasn't been a lynching up here for a long time.

    Pluto...not sure which Twin Cities you live in, but it can't be the Minneapolis/St Paul Metro are where I reside. Growing up in the sixtes there were virtually no blacks in the suburbs, but that just isn't so any more.

    Normandale college in Bloomington was like 13th grade for white high school students in the early 80's and before, but now it's like the UN. You can hear half a dozen different languages in 5 minutes walking down the hall.

    Well, I better close, gotta get down to the lilly-livered clan meeting.


  22. Rick98C -

    Yeah, we seem to live in the same town but are experiencing it in different ways and I probably overstated the case a bit to prove a point.

    You're absolutely right that there were no black students in the suburbs in when I was going to high school.

    Now the kids of the high achieving blacks of the 1970's and 1980's are going to school in the suburbs but their numbers are a tiny minority compared to the black population in North Minneapolis or even South Minneapolis.

    Side note for non-local readers, South Minneapolis has a lot of really wonderful old Victorian housing that was broken up into really cheap apartments in the 1970's and 80's and mostly inhabited by blacks and new imigrants. In the recent housing boom the owners of the Victorians sold them back to rich white people who restored them to their former glory.

    The best students among the black kids are now seeping through open enrollment out of the inner city school districts into the inner ring school districts but still live in Minneapolis. The kids are usually a little fried their first year in the new school district because they discover they are a year or more behind the rest of the class. They usually seem to overcome the disadvantage and do okay but it leaves me scared to think what was left behind in the Minneapolis school district.

    I've got to go now but I'll be back with more observations.

  23. Chief/Pluto
    The question imho -is Obama lying or is he simply not telling the truth? The entire issue has been hidden under the term racism when in fact the question is-what if Wilson is correct??
    The question begs- how can this issue not add to the deficit? This seems clearly evident that if the gov't gets involved then it'll cost the taxpayer-one way or another.
    I personally believe we need to have health care reform but we don't need it whitewashed. No pun intended. We simply can't do it all with the resources at hand.

  24. First I'll finish my observations for Rick98C and then I'll answer Jim's question in a separate post.

    Rick comments that he has noted that when he enters the local community college he hears a lot of different languages. Haven't been there recently so I can't answer his question directly but I have a question to ask him.

    When he scans the student body at said college, what percentage of the students appear to be black whose families have lived in the US for at least 30 years?

    I would agree that we in MN have generally done a good job of handling recent immigrants but we haven't been at all successful in incorporating the non-immigrant black population in the Twin Cities society. Far too much of that population (60-75% at a WAG) feel educationally, socially, and economically isolated and repressed.

    Over time these feeling become self-fulfilling prophecies that lead to a whole bunch of long-term social issues that are expensive and painful to fix.

  25. Jim, you've asked an excellent question on the affordability of Obama's health care plans.

    First I need to ask, "Which health care plan?" There are three plans in the House and at least one plan in the Senate (not sure if Max Baucus' plan was previously counted or not). The D's don't seem to be able to rally around a single plan and it's tearing apart D unity in Congress and giving the R's tremendous amounts of propaganda ammunition because the plans are not very similar to each other.

    I've heard rumors that Obama is getting fed up with D internal bickering and is going to draft his own plan. This would make sense (should have done it in the first place) but presents him with the opportunity to be seen as having REALLY screwed up if nothing passes.

    You've perceptively noted that the plans that Obama seems to favor all tend to be expensive and don't seem to cut costs that much. Obama is trying to walk a thin (perhaps non-existent) line where his plans won't change how a patient experiences US health care but reduces the rate at which costs increase to the rate of inflation (or even below that).

    Mostly he is relying on informal agreements that he'll keep down government interference in a given industry (which is what most of the members of the industry fear more than anything else) if they will cut patient costs by $X hundred million in the next 10 years.

    These agreements aren't going to work because there is no enforcement mechanism if one or both parties find that they can't hold up their end of the bargain.

    There are three ways in which health care costs can be brought under control in the US:

    1. A system where the government is either the only insurer or would owns a very large percentage of the insurance market (at least 50+%) but the rest of the health care system stays the same.

    There would be no costs to the government because income would have to match outgo but the decisions as to which procedures are covered would be even more political than they currently are. The government would lower costs simply by refusing to pay more for them. Taiwan and Japan use variations of this system and it works for them.

    2. The European system, nationalize health care and insurance companies and dictate costs without any capitalist niceties. We'd have to scrap Medicare, the VA sub-system, and Tricare to pay for it but this option wouldn't cost any more than we are already spending and would freeze spending at current levels.

    There are lots of benefits and disadvantages to this system. For example, I've got a pen-pal in Britain who had to wait 18 months for a relatively minor surgery to clear a blockage from his nasal cavity. Read the rest before you snear.

    He got 3 full weeks paid time off to recover that didn't impact his already generous allotment of vacation time. He was feeling great after 2 days and had a wonderful time in Spain for the rest of the three weeks. How does that sound? I could do it if I had to.

    3. Continue down the current road until people fall into one of two categories:
    A) The naturally fit who never get very sick and don't have chronic illnesses. We've all heard stories of people who never got cancer even though they smoked 3 packs a day and were able to hike 5 miles a day in their 90's. I'd estimate that these people are about 5-15% of the population
    B) The uninsured (85-95% of the population)

    Medicare is in the process of going bankrupt (started last year because of the economic downturn) and the boomers are just beginning to enter their peak medical spending years. Either we find a solution and implement it in the next 5 years or fall into the third option be default.

  26. Seydlitz, in my experience, there has always been a distinction drawn between "debriefing" and "interrogation. "Debriefing" is the term of art used to describe the process activated when a case officer recovers an asset and "debriefs" the individual for items of intelligence interest. In the context with which I'm familiar, it is a clan process and much preparation and tradecraft goes into making it work. Interrogation skills are essential in order for the case officer/debriefer to (1) wring the individual dry of information; and, (2) ensure that he/she is still on the home team. WRT (2), it's important to realize that these individuals do go to strange areas, do sometimes have contact with bad guys and do sometimes change teams.

    The debriefing I've described is supposed to be a collaborative process between case officer and asset; we always hope it ends with a great meal, some fine wine and congratulations all around. Unfortunately, the process can sometimes go awry because something the source says or does sets off alarm bells. It's at this point that a "debriefing" can turn into an "interrogation," and maybe a damned intense and hostile one at that. This is when the work ceases to be fun and it is why case officers need to be accomplished interrogators and also know a little about the law. Although rare, prosecution would not be out of the question. With one exception (Vietnam), I am not aware of any questionable interrogation techniques ever being used by any US personnel, but remember, I'm discussing strategic assets.

    CIA and the military services long had a formalized program called "strategic debriefing" wherein legal travelers to areas of interest were "debriefed." Based on the logical assumption that foreign intelligence services would assume that we would do this with such travelers, these were overt collection efforts. Case officers were rarely involved. DIA actually had a strategic debriefing course wherein overt service intel officers were trained to do this type of work.

    Recall that in the intelligence lexicon, every interview, every encounter with a source of information is actually an interrogation. But we pretty that up with the use of terms such as "interview" and "debriefing," which do actually have different connotations. However, case officers and "debriefers" still need to be trained interrogators because of the need to ensure that they get every single bit of information. And, as I've noted, folks on the clan side have other concerns as well.

    I'm pointing all of the above out to get to the nuanced bottom line: "debriefing"=collaborative; "interrogation"=not collaborative and potentially hostile. In my experience, the term "debriefing" should NEVER be used with someone who's been picked up as a potential terrorist and who may be subject to legal (or, as it appears, extra-legal) action. That's an interrogation, pure and simple. We used both terms in Vietnam, but they weren't used interchangeably and they weren't applied to the same people, although as noted, a debriefing can turn into an interrogation.

    All these CIA guys were doing was employing the old "Mutt and Jeff," or good cop-bad cop routine. This is an old standby because it actually works. It appears CIA may have used the threat or actuality of questionable interrogation techniques to drive the prisoners into the waiting arms of the "debriefers," the good guys who would protect them, and get information. That's how it's supposed to be done, but of course the "bad cop" isn't supposed to use torture.

    Lots more, but space limitations loom.

  27. Pluto,
    We can be assured that whatever happens will be a mixed blessing at best.
    Your cmts re Medicare prove my point, we can't have it all. Even HOPE will not cover the costs.
    If we can't properly fund DVA med care and medicare , and ssa face future meltdowns then how possibly can we enter one more plate into the juggling act?
    Maybe the Europeans/Koreans/Irq/Afgh/Japs/Cinese/ Pakis will help us out!

  28. Publius-

    I agree with what you have commented, but did you read the link I cited. . . ?

    It says, "An interrogator is a person who completes a two-week interrogations training program, which is designed to train, qualify, and certify a person to administer EITs ["enhanced interrogation techniques."]. An interrogator can administer EITs during an interrogation of a detainee only after the field, in coordination with Headquarters, assesses the detainee as withholding information. An interrogator transitions the detainee from a non-cooperative to a cooperative phase in order that a debriefer can elicit actionable intelligence through non-aggressive techniques during debriefing sessions. An interrogator may debrief a detainee during an interrogation; however, a debriefer may not interrogate a detainee."

    Thus, under Cheney, an interrogator is a trained to torture, that is by definition a war criminal in my book. It is this very distinction - Cheney's sanction to torture - which defines an interrogator, makes him or her distinct from a debriefer . . .

    Or am I reading Cheney's definition wrong? Funny, the same crude fool who gutted DOD Humint in the early 1990s has destroyed the profession of Humint interrogation, in essence made us all war criminals by definition . . . where is the outrage?

  29. Pluto-

    Great comments. I've learned a lot from what you've said. . .

    I find it interesting that the only cultural Southerner here is me (?). Publius could claim it but doesn't. Culture defined as a more rigid set of shared values, which don't change that much over the short term. In the South, I think most thinking people have put racism "behind" us, in that we have accepted that we do look at things through a racist lens . . . which doesn't mean we have to act on it. It is a constant battle, and all too often those closest to us betray the sentiments of base beliefs . . . but we must get beyond this.

    I'm still waiting for a comment on my view of the racism blatant in the Joe Wilson outburst from both sides . . .

    I think the "South" - black, white and brown - has the mode of thought necessary for our closest American concept yet of a multi-cultural/racial society, or rather one that actually works.

    If we're the best game in town, then think about what that tells ya . . .

  30. Oh, yeah, Seydlitz, I read the link. And I tend to agree with your interpretation: Cheney's version of "interrogator" is a war criminal.

    Of course, Cheney himself is a war criminal, so there is no surprise there.

    The net result of all of this will be that Cheney will escape any retribution and the intelligence business will be further tarred by its inability to know the law and to actually say, "no," to politicians. CIA is especially susceptible to this because it's always led by politicians eager to please more senior politicians. That even goes for 4-star military officers.

    Assuming a more rigid application of standards, CIA is also going to end up with a bunch of employees (thugs, if you will) who aren't qualified to do much of anything in the intel business. From my perspective, couldn't happen to a better agency. They've been bending over for many years now; it's no wonder their reputation has long been in the dumper. They're a bunch of clowns, and a bunch of lawbreakers. Don't waste any sympathy on them.

  31. Publius-

    OK, granted we're talking about the "Agency", now. And I agree as to their rep, which is bad. We used to say that they were 50/50 back in the 1980s which is probably around 10/90 now . . . and I don't feel sorry for them . . . even their good ones acted very arrogant.

    But, what when my greatgrandkids go poking around in my stuff and find some of my old papers? . . . "Gee was greatgrandpa a warcriminal? They've been lying to us all these years. . ."

    Which means simply as in just about everything, what defines an event is what is remembered. The truth is in the telling. So, how this comes out and is remembered depends on those in command of the narrative telling the truth.

    So far I haven't seen much evidence of that. Which means maybe WE should be addressing this subject right about now . . .

  32. "But, what when my greatgrandkids go poking around in my stuff and find some of my old papers? . . . "Gee was greatgrandpa a warcriminal? They've been lying to us all these years. . ."

    Seydlitz, you'll be dead and you won't give a shit. It's up to the survivors to tell our tale. Train 'em properly and they'll know the truth.

    And WRT the rest of it, well, shit, I just lie sometimes. You know, I didn't spend all of my working life as a uniformed dude on active duty. I've done a lot of things in my life, some of which I enjoyed, some of which I didn't. But I never crossed the line. I'm not a war criminal and I'm comfortable with myself. Frankly, I'm not in the business of caring about other peoples' opinions, even those who might be related to me.

  33. Jim -
    "If we can't properly fund DVA med care and medicare , and ssa face future meltdowns then how possibly can we enter one more plate into the juggling act?"

    Great question. Only one good answer. Drop all the other inefficient plates and use the resources allocated towards them to keep a single, all-inclusive, more efficient plate in the air.

    The question of whether the sad remnants of our government is capable of designing this super-efficient plate and getting it up and spinning in the air is one beyond my ability to answer.

  34. Publius-

    You're right. One should look at things in a more practical way. I guess reading that link kinda spooked me, like they had robbed something from me, from all of us.

    Still, it's hard to see how we as a country will be able to get on the right path again.