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Don’t Expect Much Diversity from “President” Romney

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Contributor

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sooner or later, presumptive GOP presidential nominee frontrunner Mitt Romney will have to publicly answer which Romney will show up on the issue of race and diversity, if he indeed gets the GOP nomination and snatches the White House in 2012. Will it be the Romney who claimed in an interview on Meet the Press in 2007 that he got teary-eyed when he heard his Mormon church’s ruling that blacks would no longer be barred from the Mormon priesthood. Romney didn’t directly say it, but he strongly hinted that the moment stirred strong emotions in him because he never went along with his church’s decade’s old racial bar.

“I was anxious to see a change in my church,” Romney said. My faith has always told me that, and I had no question that African Americans and blacks generally would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.”

Now contrast that with the Romney that former GOP congressman J.C. Watts, a staunch black conservative, recently ripped for having a virtually lily white campaign staff. Romney was unmoved by the knock and flatly said that he hires the best persons he can find. He underscored that with the rhetorical emphasis “What’s the charge? Is there something wrong with that?”

Nothing, nothing, that is, if Romney’s political ambitions didn’t extend any further than seeking to win a GOP seat in a GOP friendly congressional district in the GOP’s hard core voter geographic vote base in the Heartland and the Deep South. The presidency is a far different matter. The teary-eyed Romney who chaffs at racial bigotry can’t trump the Romney who glibly condones it in picking his campaign staff.

Romney’s record on diversity as Massachusetts governor gives a strong hint of what his White House would look like. When it came to appointing minorities and women to judicial posts, his record was atrocious. The Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association repeatedly lambasted him for his near-exclusive white male state house. Romney partly in response to the public pounding, and partly with an eye on a presidential run where he knew his state record on diversity would be closely scrutinized, made a slew of appointments of minorities and women to the state bench in his last year in office.

Romney’s successor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and the state’s first African-American governor, wasted no time in knocking Romney for his blatant race and gender blind spot on appointments. In his inaugural address, he made it clear that he would make diversity and inclusion a huge part of his administration. Romney, not surprisingly, did not attend Patrick’s inaugural.

Late night comedian-talk show host Jay Leno was bothered enough by Romney’s blind spot on diversity to ask him point blank in an interview during the 2008 GOP presidential primary campaign what he thought about diversity. Romney gave the GOP formula answer and said that he supported it in government and corporations. Leno wasn’t satisfied and pressed him on what his administration would do to promote diversity. Romney wouldn’t budge from the stock retort that discrimination is wrong. That’s even less than the bare minimum response to racial bigotry that any candidate for public office is required to give.

The embarrassing litany of Romney race-tinged gaffes that include the metaphorical reference to hanging Obama, a joke about Obama’s birth certificate, using the racially offensive word “tar baby” to describe a public works project, and an animal reference in a pose with an African-American doesn’t tag Romney as a racist. He apologized or pleaded ignorance in every case. But it does touch off warning bells on race.

The loudest bell is what Romney will have to do, or more particularly who he’ll have to satisfy, to seal the GOP nomination. Romney will have to do a massive sell job to Christian evangelicals, ultra-conservatives and Tea Party leaders that he’s really at heart one of them. To appease them, he has little wiggle room on race. The mere mention of race, let alone diversity, emblazons red flags among conservative hardliners. They relentlessly bait him as a flip-flopper and closet moderate who will not dump conservative principles at the drop of a hat. There’s no likelihood that Romney would pick the nettlesome Watts as his VP running mate as the influential ultra conservative blog, redstaterusa.org, dared him to do in 2007 when Romney was fighting hard for presidential nomination. The Watts for VP call though was done more to needle Obama than any serious interest in promoting diversity in a GOP White House.

Romney’s actions, not tears about Mormon Church bigotry and protestations against discrimination, tell much about what to expect with a Romney in the White House. And that’s not much.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media.

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Democrats Play Dangerous Game in Shunning Obama

New America Media, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Contributor

LOS ANGELES –The excuses some Democrats give for their chill toward backing President Obama’s reelection bid would fill up a legal pad. He’s made much too nice with the GOP. He’s put Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block. He hasn’t pushed aggressively enough for a full-blown FDR style jobs program. He let Wall Street and banks off the hook with a placid, terribly compromised financial reform bill. He hasn’t done enough on home foreclosures.

The Blue Dog and moderate Democratic congresspersons and senators representing shaky swing and conservative districts are scared stiff that if they rub shoulders too close to Obama they will be signing their political obituary for reelection.

Their frost toward Obama is far more worrisome than the pesky, nuisance rants of Ralph Nader about finding some progressive, pro-labor Democrat to run against Obama. This is, of course, beyond ludicrous, and not much more than a cheap momentary headline-grabbing ploy to feed the naive and delusional thinking of some radicals that a challenge to Obama would somehow shove him and the Democratic party to embrace an unabashed anti-corporate, anti-war, anti-poverty, pro-union, bank and financial crackdown agenda.

This talk quickly faded into the news dustbin. But it was revived for a hot moment when it seemed that Occupy Wall Street might actually become an organized movement with visible leadership, tangible goals and might actually target Obama as much as protestors targeted the corporations and GOP for aiding and abetting corporate pillage. This didn’t happen.

But the talk and action by entrenched, well-connected Democrats is another matter. If even a handful of the Democrats expressing wariness of the president don’t give Obama their full campaign support, endorsements, and a voter platform for him in their states and districts during the campaign, it would be tantamount to an endorsement of the GOP. The effect would be to create party paralysis and division at worst, and uncertainty at best. This would be disastrous to a presidential campaign.

This was amply proven when Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford in 1976 and when Sen. Ted Kennedy challenged President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Their challenges weakened both presidents, divided the party and ultimately helped make possible Carter’s win over Ford and Reagan’s win over Carter possible.

At the lower rung on the political ladder, a Democrat member of Congress, who refuses to vigorously push their constituents to support their party’s presidential standard bearer sends the strong message that the party’s standard bearer’s policies and actions are questionable or outright harmful to their constituents.

The inescapable conclusion that voters would draw from this is that Obama’s GOP opponent might actually have something better to offer voters on the crucial make-or-break issues of the jobs and the economy. This is especially dangerous with polls consistently showing that a solid majority–including a lot of Democrats–gives Obama low marks on his handling of the economy.

The other great danger in the Democrats’ pushback at the president is that it waters down even more the critical enthusiasm level for Obama. This was the biggest factor that powered him to the White House in 2008.

Independents and youth voters were fired up by Obama’s message of hope and change, and fed up with the GOP’s corruption, bungling, blatant cronyism and scandals, and Bush’s fumbles and ineptitude. They stampeded to the polls in droves to back Obama. This made the crucial difference in the must-win swing states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia.

Bush won three of these five states in 2000 and 2004. Obama won all five in 2008. In 2012 they are up in the air. Obama and his GOP opponent will fiercely fight over them. The slightest stoke of voter disillusionment by wary Democrats would further damp down enthusiasm from the very same voters that Obama will again need to turn out in big numbers.

The burden on an incumbent president is terrible, and unfair, but real, and that’s what Obama will have to contend with. He will have virtually no margin for error to ward off the distraction of Democrats that have a beef with him and threaten to fold up their tents and not fully support him.

It’s not enough for Obama and Democrats to bank on the GOP to self-destruct in their rancor and division to ease Obama’s path back to the White House. It will take tight-fisted unity by the Democrats behind the man who is their party’s presidential standard-bearer. Anything less than that by Democrats is playing a dangerous game.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com

Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/earlhutchinson.


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“The Help” Isn’t Helping

By Donny Lumpkins, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO — Last night, I went to see the movie The Help and walked out about an hour into it, not long after a fried chicken joke between a black maid and her white boss.

I walked out of the movie half way through it because I’ve made a pact with myself that as soon as the fried chicken and the N-word start to get thrown around, I will remove myself from the situation.

As a young black man, I tend to cringe when white people try and address the complexity of race relations and the plight of black folks in America. They almost always get it wrong. I don’t even think Hollywood should try.

The Help is a movie set in the 1960s South and it’s about a young white reporter who gets some black maids to talk to her about their lives working in the households of white families. I wasn’t really sure what to expect — I didn’t read the bestselling book and I try to stay away from movies where race is a theme. Any kind of movie where white people are “helping” black folks succeed puts a thorn in my paw. It seems a little self-serving to me.

But I like January Jones from Mad Men and the girl with the swoopy bangs in Superbad, Emma Stone, so I kept an open mind.

I saw the movie in downtown San Francisco, at the Westfield at 8:30 PM. I see movies there fairly often and the crowds tend to be diverse, but when I took a look around in the dark theatre, I realized I was the only black person in sight. I didn’t expect it to be packed with black folks like a Spike Lee movie, but still…

This is a movie about black people for white people, I thought, and already began to get very offended.
It’s been my experience in the city with some white folks that they think they understand more about black people then they really do and it can get uncomfortable.

The script was scoff-worthy and I felt particularly uncomfortable every time the crowd laughed at anything the black characters did, even if it was supposed to be comic relief. I wasn’t sure if the crowd was laughing at or with them. At some points, I would even find the crowd laughing when there was no joke at all – just some homely-looking black folks on screen.

The way the black characters were portrayed was definitely a sore point for me. I hate the shuck and jive way the black ladies spoke and I just get furious any time I see a black woman in a maid outfit. It makes me think of my mother and sisters, who are all strong, successful black women, and who would have had to be maids to endure those times.

The white characters weren’t much better. The main character, played by Emma Stone, spent most of the film being pursued by a WASPy-looking, pig-headed white guy who she kisses as the sun sets in the backdrop, just a few scenes after a race riot broke out where the lead black character, played by Viola Davis, had to run home in fear of being murdered by a blood-thirsty mob, as her son had been.

And I must say I really didn’t enjoy hearing January Jones use the N-word. She’s such a sweetheart and to hear it come out of her mouth with such force might have been intended as good acting, but I don’t think she’s that good.

I knew it was close to my time to leave as soon as one of the black maids sat down to eat some fried chicken with one of the housewives she worked for proclaiming in some slave-type English “I never burn my fried chicken!” and the crowd erupted in laughter.

The scene that broke the camel’s back for me was when one of the maids was arrested for stealing a ring from a house she worked at and is put in handcuffs and hit across the face with a Billy club by a portly, Southern-drawled policeman.

At that point, I had seen enough to know that even though there were fantastic black actresses in the film, black folks like me who cringe when they hear anyone say nigger or nervously laugh when white people do black impressions or say “Fiddy” Cent instead of Fifty Cent, would not find it amusing.

I find that Hollywood is way too bone-headed and self-absorbed to tackle any subject as convoluted and complex as racism. Instead, The Help just throws every stereotype at you at once about black people and white people. Whenever black people have to “act like black people” in movies, there seems to be a disconnect between the reality of the culture and the movie version of black lives.

And it’s not just white filmmakers that have this problem. It’s the same issue I have with Tyler Perry movies: they are just stereotype after stereotype and I think they do more harm for the perception of black people than good. Whenever one of my white friends talks about Tyler Perry movies and what they found funny in the movie, I realize a disconnect between me and them that is only there when race comes into play. It seems to me, sometimes white folks are laughing at us rather than with us.

From what I could tell, the impact of a film like The Help is that white folks get to go in a theater and feel all warm and fuzzy about a time that was horrid for black people. I think it’s way too simple to think all the help back then were scared black women who lived under the oppression of racist self-absorbed desperate housewives, as the movie made them out to be.

It upsets me that people so freely travel back to those times and some even miss them. Trying to find nostalgia in those ugly days is dangerous and potentially harmful for the future. That was a time where people like me could not live in peace and I’m happy that we as a country have moved past it. I would hope most whites have, too.

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Writing the Tea Party Epitaph is Not Just Premature but Absurd

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Contributor

Moments after President Obama put his John Hancock on the debt-ceiling deal, a Northern California Tea Party member claimed that when he proudly wore his Tea Party t-shirt to his local grocery store, half a dozen people immediately asked him how to join.

If one believes the legion of pundits who claim with smug assurance that the Tea Party, and by extension the GOP, cut its political throat by holding the White House, Congress and the nation hostage for weeks until it got its way on the debt deal, the Tea Party member in the grocery store is either the biggest liar on the planet or suffers from advanced political dyslexia.

Unfortunately, there’s really no reason to think anything of the sort. A quick look at the checklist of what Congress gave up tells why: 
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block; no extension of unemployment insurance benefits; no tax loopholes closed; no new tax and revenue hikes approved; no guarantee that any substantial military spending will be cut; creation of a so-called super-committee that can virtually unilaterally chop off billions more in spending from vital education, health, transportation, and infrastructure development programs that Congress is powerless to do nothing more than take it or leave it; no spending authorization to create jobs; and worst of all, the real possibility that within a few months Congress and the White House will be locked again in another round of fiscal sumo wrestling.

The manufacture of the phony debt-ceiling and fiscal crisis, the gutting of federal spending and by extension the federal government, the mocking of the political process to engage in this financial charade—all this was the handiwork of the Tea Party, a party that its short existence has managed to play the nation, the White House, Congress, and the media like a finely tuned Stradivarius. The Tea Party marvelously hijacked the political process with one goal in mind, a goal that it never bothered to hide: to hector, harass, embarrass, and ultimately insure that President Obama is a one-term president.

The seeds of the Tea Party’s hijacking of the Congressional budget were planted the instant President Obama took the oath of office. Tea Party leaders shrewdly reached back three decades and revived a simple theme from the Reagan years. Liberal Democrats had constructed a wasteful, out-of- control, and inefficient Big Government that had bloated the budget with deficit crushing spending on education, health, and infrastructure programs. The underlying implication was that the spending was lavished almost exclusively on minorities and the poor. And the people forced to bear the cost for the alleged Big Government spending spree were the hard-pressed, overburdened, overtaxed white middle and working class.

This was of course pure mythmaking. The Congressional Budget Office put debt and debt servicing costs at less than 2 percent of America’s economic output (aka the gross domestic product, or GDP). That figure is lower than at any point since the 1970s. The payments on federal debt under Reagan, Bush Sr., and Bill Clinton presidencies were above 3 percent of GDP. Only under G. W. Bush did that figure dropped.

There was no talk of a federal debt collapse in those years. But within one year of the Obama adminisration, the hysteria began, and now the U.S. was said to face financial Armageddon if trillions weren’t hacked from the budget. This, of course, was almost exclusively the talk of the Tea Party, which made their views the talk of Congress and the nation, with only scattered dissent from a handful of lawmakers. The Tea Party got its way not merely because it adroitly waylaid an issue to politically sabotage a president, but because it out-screamed, out-marched, and out-organized Democrats and its own GOP mainstream.

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that Tea Party adherents were twice as likely as other Americans to be engaged in the debate over the budget, blitzing their elected representatives with faxes, emails, and phones calls to stand firm. By a near 2-to-1 margin, Tea Party backers followed the news about the budget deliberations more intently than those who opposed the Tea Party.

Yet despite the Tea Party’s obvious budget triumph, some are foolishly crowing that this victory actually marks the party’s demise. That’s the kind of demise that established political parties would salivate over. Far from writing the epitaph for the Tea Party, pundits should focus on the ugly truth. The Tea Party has forced the White House, and Congress and a nation to look over its shoulder in nervous jitters at every overblown, clownish, and destructive scheme that its backers decide to dump on the nation’s plate. And make no mistake—there are more, many more, of those schemes to come.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter:http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

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Time Magazine Apologizes for Joel Stein’s Op-Ed

India West, News Report, Sunita Sohrabji

Time magazine issued an apology last week for a July 2 op-ed piece by writer Joel Stein, which lampooned Indian culture in Edison, New Jersey.

“We sincerely regret that any of our readers were upset by this humor column of Joel Stein’s. It was in no way intended to cause offense,” said the magazine in a statement in the July 9 issue.

Lamenting the changing color of his hometown in a piece entitled, “My Own Private India,” Stein wrote: “For a while, we assumed that all Indians were geniuses. Then in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so poor.”

Stein parodied the “Dot Buster” attacks of the late 1980s in which Indians were attacked by youth gangs. Bank manager Navroze Mody died in such an attack in 1987.

“In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if ‘dot heads’ was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose.”

Stein ended the piece by terming the new breed of young Indians in Edison “Guindians,” noting that they resembled “Italian Guidos” with their gold chains, gelled hair and unbuttoned shirts.

“Their assimilation is so wonderfully American that if the Statue of Liberty could shed a tear, she would. Because of the amount of cologne they wear,” ended Stein.

Several Indian American organizations immediately issued statements condemning Stein’s piece. Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, wrote to Stein directly, saying: “While the intention of the piece may have been satire, the actual content and its impact perpetuate the xenophobic sentiments that community members in the state have long endured.”

“The column’s reliance on rhetoric that is used all too often to isolate or scapegoat immigrants demeans the invaluable contributions that South Asians have made to the cultural, social and economic landscape of Edison, New Jersey,” she said.

Iyer noted last month’s fatal attack on New Jersey resident Divyendu Sinha, who was brutally beaten near his home by a group of juveniles.

SAALT requested a meeting with Time magazine’s editors and noted that more than 1,300 people had signed an online petition condemning Stein’s article.

Actor Kal Penn, who served for a year with the Obama administration, took aim at Stein’s piece in the Huffington Post.

“Growing up a few miles from Edison, I always thought it was hilarious when I’d get the crap kicked out of me by kids like Stein who would yell ‘go back to India, dothead,’” wrote Penn.

“Critics might call Mr. Stein’s humor super-tired or as played out as the jokes about that cheap Jewish car that stopped on a dime to pick it up, or that African American kid who got marked absent at night school. Unlike Stein’s piece, in 2010 those other jokes don’t show up in mainstream media like Time magazine,” wrote Penn.

Stein also apologized in the July 9 issue. “I feel truly stomach-sick that I hurt so many people,” he said. “I was trying to explain how, as someone who believes that immigration has enriched American life and my hometown in particular, I was shocked that I could feel a bit uncomfortable with my changing town.”

“If we could understand that reaction, we’d be better equipped to debate people on the other side of the immigration issue,” said Stein.

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A Doctor’s Word: Uneasy About the Real Beneficiaries of Obama’s Health Care

New America Media, Commentary, Erin Marcus, M.D.

I don’t know about you, but as I watched coverage of President Obama signing the health care bill last month, it was hard not to notice the constant ads for power wheelchairs. Emblazoned across the ads was a flashing notice reminding viewers: Medicare may cover this!

Don’t get me wrong. As a primary care doctor who takes care of low-income patients, I was glad to see something being done to address the appalling health disparities that exist in this country. But as the president signed the legislation, I had the queasy feeling that he was essentially writing a big fat check to several hugely influential, multi-billion dollar interest groups – including, most notably, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

And so, the persistent flashing ads for power wheelchairs seemed a bit ironic. As heavily marketed devices that cost the system thousands of dollars individually – and earn millions in profits for their parent companies – power wheelchairs exemplify what’s wrong with the system. Individually, they’re a small part of the overall picture, but in aggregate, they cost a lot. And though they’re clearly necessary for patients whose arms and legs are paralyzed, they’re often prescribed inappropriately for people who would be better off getting intensive physical therapy and using a manual wheelchair instead.

(To be fair, under the new healthcare law, Medicare will only pay for renting, and not purchasing, power wheelchairs in many situations – which should cost the system slightly less money).

From my vantage point in the trenches of public primary care, here are a few of the good things about the new health plan.

It pours more money into neighborhood health centers, which have a long track record of making primary care accessible to low-income people.

It will put more doctors, dentists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants in these clinics by expanding the National Health Service Corps.

It will encourage primary care doctors and general surgeons to work in low-income areas by offering a bonus.

The law also promises to make it easier for low-income people to get general medical care by paying primary care doctors the same amount for patients with Medicaid as for those with Medicare. (But it won’t do anything to raise Medicaid payments for specialists, meaning primary care providers will still be scrambling when our patients need a cardiac catheterization or other intervention).

The law also raises the Medicaid income cap to 133 percent of poverty level . Many governors are kicking and screaming about this provision, but it will help a lot of people who do jobs that, while important, pay poorly. For example, under the new rules, a single home health aide with two kids who earns $21,500 annually (approximately the average wage for that job ) should qualify for Medicaid coverage. Under present rules, only 10 states, and the District of Columbia, provide Medicaid to a single mother with that income. More than half of the states in this country don’t provide Medicaid to adults without children.

On the flip side, the law will push millions of people to buy expensive insurance policies from private companies. Many of these policies will have steep deductibles, so having insurance won’t necessarily protect people from financial ruin if they develop a serious medical condition. It’s also likely that expanding the private insurance system will make people’s care even more fragmented and difficult to navigate, since, in my experience, the private companies are far more likely than public programs to restrict what tests and medications the patient can get, and where they can get their lab tests done.

To subsidize these policies, the government will pay millions to private health insurance companies, many of which are for-profit. This is a bitter pill to swallow, when you consider these companies’ chief executive salaries and when you keep in mind that these companies make their profits by minimizing what they pay health providers and denying payment for as many services as possible. Just this week, a surgical colleague told me of a heavily marketed local Medicare HMO (with a multimillionaire chief executive) that routinely denies coverage for complicated cancer procedures. “They make it impossible,” he said.

The law is also a triumph for the pharmaceutical industry, which blocked efforts to allow Medicare to negotiate what it pays them for medications. (In contrast, Medicare can negotiate with hospitals and doctors by telling them exactly what it will pay for specific services – and requires lots of documentation to prove that those services were provided). One policy analyst told the Associated Press that he predicts a $30 billion increase in revenues over the next decade for the drug industry, adding, “I don’t see how they could have done much better.”

And so, my feelings are mixed. I’m really hoping that after the law goes into effect, I won’t see more cases like the nurse’s aide who declared bankruptcy after the bills came in for her CT scans, or the mechanic who couldn’t pay the upfront costs for the colonoscopy to figure out why he had blood in his stool. But I’m not so sure. And I worry that the plan is just an expensive, complicated way to address the symptoms of our broken health system, not a daring cure.

Dr. Erin Marcus is associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. A Doctor’s Word is supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

Related Articles by Erin Marcus

A Doctor’s Word: How to Keep Your Blood Pressure Down

A Doctor’s Word: Take Food Without a Grain of Salt

A Doctor’s Word–Tips from Al on Managing Diabetes

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