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Cultural Fundamentalism: America’s Truthiness Crisis (1 of 2)

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Written by Corey McLaughlin for Common Culture and The Big Slice.

Many people these days appear liable to believe the very worst about their president and/or their government.

Bafflingly, they base their inclinations not on evidence or exacting scrutiny, but instead upon the hunches they feel in their gut. Somewhat presciently, Stephen Colbert labeled the phenomenon ‘truthiness’ back in 2005, and if anything, the development now dominates the mindset of the average American.

The truthiness crowd elevates hunches, instincts, and intuition to the same stature as hard data and empirical analysis. Such behavior, while often amusing, is absolutely irrational, serving only to corrode America’s collective spirit, to sap our strength, and to degrade our national character.

To remedy this condition, Many Americans desperately needs remedial lessons in both philosophy and history, because they have groundlessly adopted a philosophy of absolute skepticism; they have done so due to the infusion of fundamentalist evangelicalism into mainstream American culture and politics since the late 1970’s.

Part One of this essay details the philosophic aspects of this argument, while Part Two deals with the historical elements therein.

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The NSA Case

There is an uproar this week in the press and in the general population over the data-mining methods of the National Security Agency (NSA). The program in question (named PRISM) is not new, nor is it doing anything illegal, according to the federal court in charge of oversight.

Some facts of the case remain classified; however, standard compliance with the FISA court has been maintained throughout the program’s existence, and senior intelligence officials have stated that American lives have already been saved with PRISM’s assistance. Many of the original, outlandish claims were subsequently disproven, as the whistleblower continues to look less and less reliable as a source. Little remains undetermined, and yet in spite of all this, a lot of Americans are absolutely convinced that Obama and the NSA are guilty of every accusation levied against them.

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The Assumption of Innocence

Now in America, the rule of law is intended to be administered with a presumption of innocence, always. So the burden of proof is supposed to lie on the accuser, and not on the accused. This standard applies toward individuals as well as the groups, businesses, and the institutions that they create.

The presumption of innocence isn’t just some arcane rule of thumb, either. It is central to the American identity, and a fundamental principle of American Law – innocent until proven guilty – that’s as American as apple pie, right?

Since the federal government is being accused of wrongdoing, the presumption of innocence should undoubtedly apply to it as well; there are no exceptions to such a rule. And yet, the case against the NSA is based in its entirety upon unsubstantiated claims derived from questionable sources, while contradictory evidence is being ignored. The NSA’s culpability has already been presumed!

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A Third Red Scare?

Much of the press and the public are foolishly fixating on the federal government and our president for alleged misconduct, rather than letting the investigation turn up the truth on its own. Accusations are preceding evidence; the cart is getting out in front of the horse, so to speak.

Ordinarily, allegations such as these would be verified and thoroughly vetted in our courts of law as well as in our media; this is the rational process established over the 200-odd years of our nation’s history.

This is the American way of doing business, devised to deliver maximum liberty and justice for all – and this approach is being subverted from within.

America has suffered through at least two other periods like this present crisis, where enemies were seen around every corner, and infiltrators were imagined in the highest offices. The “Red Scare(s)” of 1919–1921 and 1947–1957 were shameful chapters in our nation’s history. Sadly, it would appear that such sensationalism and fear-driven sophistry are in season once again.

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The Golden Mean

Shifting gears, Aristotle taught about a concept called the Golden Mean. Here, a ‘mean’ is considered to convey something midway between two extremes – a happy medium, so to speak. Too little or too much of any particular virtue was to be avoided. For an easy example of the Golden Mean in action, consider acts of generosity.

The act of donating resources to the poor demonstrates some degree of virtue because it provides for (or improves upon) the general welfare of the giver, the recipient, and the society within which they both transact their lives.

But if you give more than you can afford, it diminishes the welfare of you and your household both physically and mentally; health and happiness do not reach their optimal levels, which necessarily indicates that a less-than-ideal degree of virtue was demonstrated. Likewise, if you give less than you can afford to give you are also behaving less virtuously, because the ideal ratio of health, peace of mind, and overall welfare are not attained in that instance, either.

There is, therefore, a happy medium to be reached when donating resources to the poor. Similarly, there are optimal balances to be reached when employing patience, kindness, cleanliness, skepticism, or any other virtue. Since skepticism is a virtue, then it follows that some degree of skepticism is always a good thing, but too much of it qualifies you as a cynic.

The difference between cynics and rational folk, then, is that a cynic employs too great a degree of skepticism when evaluating the merits of policies, people, or institutions, whereas rational folk’s aim is truer to the Golden Mean.

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Cynicism

In recent years many Americans have succumbed to a personal philosophy of absolute skepticism, which one might also call cynicism. Cynicism is the perfect complement to truthiness. Where cynicism tells you to distrust anything you don’t already believe, truthiness tells you to accept only the truths that feel comfortable to you. When cynicism and truthiness are demonstrated in the same person, or groups of people, they become obtuse to a fault.

No amount of evidence can persuade a cynic to switch positions or beliefs once they have made up their mind. Cynics insist that their feelings are truth itself, because their emotional states feel “true” to them. These supposed instincts seem true because such a conclusion already supports their preexisting beliefs; they accept the answer that presents the least amount of conflict.

Stated more succinctly, cynics won’t change their minds because their minds are already made up.

Psychological research has supported the argument that humans, regardless of political affiliation, are naturally inclined to accept opinions that dovetail smoothly with their established systems of thoughts. This is our natural tendency as human beings – it is just easier to believe what fits into your worldview.

Humans are also naturally skeptical creatures, but we can suspend our disbelief. Rational people will elect to curtail their skepticism in light of evidence and systematic scrutiny, whereas cynics cling to their beliefs stubbornly. All too often, this translates to a conflation of political ideology with religious faith.

Some cynics have made up their mind on religions, others toward a political party or issue, still others against a particular president (ahem). When one is already convinced, then nothing the leader or institution does can ever be correct; no other policy could be the “right” one; no other religion can be legitimate. We’re talking about a militant cynicism, here.

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Conclusion

We live in an age awash in pessimism, an time when those skeptical of authority and top-down institutions are as numerous as they have ever been before. We live in an era when three million people tune in daily to crackpots like Alex Jones, with an additional three and a half million devoted to the sophistry of Glenn Beck. We exist in a period of such skepticism that when a technician makes serious and unsubstantiated claims through a previously discredited blogger / activist / lawyer, even the journalists accept the narrative without question…or evidence.

The current NSA scandal-of-the-week owes its very existence to this absolute form of skepticism fused with truthiness. The incessant parade of accusations and sideshows threatens the health of our very Republic.

There tends to be a propensity toward such irrationality on the political fringes – and that holds true for both liberals and conservatives. This predilection now dominates – indeed, poisons – public opinion. It certainly cripples our institutions of state and nullifies the national will. All we can do when we get like this is bicker.

Our collective vision is plagued with a crippling cynicism, and the nation itself grows more dysfunctional with each disbelieving breath. In order to remedy this affliction, we will first need to understand its origins. Much of the current truthiness crisis owes its origins to fundamentalist evangelicalism, and the faith’s infusion into mainstream American culture in the late 1970’s.

Part Two of this essay will explore the historical underpinnings of the crisis.

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Written by Corey McLaughlin for Common Culture and The Big Slice.

ATTENTION MIDWESTERNERS! Be sure to Like the Common Culture on Facebook for all matters Midwestern. See you soon!

“The Origins of Midwestern Regionality”

The following passage has been excerpted from the book “The Origins of Midwestern Regionality.”

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“There were coherent regional stories in the United States by the 1840s and 1850s.

In political and literary discourse, Americans had begun to talk about their section as a peculiar variation on larger national themes, as a particular expression of American life and landscape.

Within imagined regional communities, there was of course considerable resistance to and dissent from emerging definitions.

Regional conversations mirrored the process of nationalism of which they were a part: a multitude of voices worked through issues of definition by focusing on the extent to which they felt included within or excluded from regional stories.

In the face of industrialization and immigration, some nineteenth-century New Englanders created a cozy world of pastoralism and domesticity, of white steeples and village greens, safe from the intrusions of urban hustle and working-class Catholics.

White Southerners had to fashion a tale around the issue of slavery, and many did so by celebrating the peculiar institution as the bedrock of a more humane society than that of Northern industrial cities.

In their broad outlines, these were stories about loss or potential loss, about dealing with the deleterious consequences of rapid change, about celebrating dissociation from national political and economic developments.

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In what we call the lower and eastern Midwest there emerged an altogether different tale from very different sources.

Here a remarkably diverse group of people from all over the eastern United States were brought together within a nationally created and administered framework outlined in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

Here, too, was a place that attracted large numbers of western European immigrants, most notably Germans and Irish, in the 1840s and 1850s.

Here was a place where the conversation about specificity in the national discourse promised to be especially contentious.

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Together, the many voices of the Old Northwest created a basic plot rehearsed again and again in regional newspapers, histories, fiction, and orations.

Obsessively interested in communicating with each other, the residents of the Old Northwest wrote and spoke at great length; they kept diaries, gave lectures, read books and newspapers, listened to sermons, and filled their days with discussions of the place in which they lived.

Those who had access to print dominated the regional conversation.

They were more Yankee than Southern, but there was no rigid separation of the regional migration streams.

Largely middle class in their occupations and manners, they were not defined exclusively by their wealth or profession.

They were, in general, people who not only liked to read and write but who thought it socially useful to do so.

They combined boosterism and morality in the creation of one of the most salient features of their landscape: the local college.

Hundreds of small sectarian schools appeared in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois in the 1830s and 1840s.

At once decentralized and democratized, they served the interests of God, capitalism, and the Republic by putting commercially viable towns on the map and training young men and women to participate in the body politic.

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Unlike its New England and Southern counterparts, the Midwestern story as it emerged in the middle of the nineteenth century was not about alienation from either the market or the nation.

On the contrary, it was about near total identification with both, for few whites in the Old Northwest wanted to escape from either.

Difficult as it is for us to remember in an age when the popular image of the Midwest is one of mediocre conformity, contemporaries thought of the territory north of the Ohio River as a promised land.

Remarkable was the extent of social and religious experimentation in communities throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. Shakers, Mormons, English reformers, African Americans and a host of others tried to mold parts of the landscape to their purposes.

Often harassed by their neighbors, they were nonetheless part of the extraordinary complexity of life in the region.

Many people saw the Midwest as malleable, as a place of liberation from tradition and a source of enormous energy for change, both of which were made possible by a unique combination of place, capitalism, and nationalism.

The fortunate residents of the Old Northwest had the power to perfect this world.

“If we do but try – try heartily and cheerfully,” the young and ambitious Ohio lawyer Rutherford B. Hayes asserted in his diary, “we can be, for all the purposes of every-day happiness, precisely what we could wish to be.”

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In a larger sense, according to the Cincinnati editor and poet William Davis Gallagher, the Old Northwest was home to “an Experiment in Humanity higher in its character and sublime in its results” than anything tried anywhere else.

Here were “the freest forms of social development and the highest order of human civilization.”

All sign pointed to “a Day…dawning upon this North-Western region,” which would awaken all “to a just sense of their real dignity and importance in the social scale, by proclaiming to them that they are neither slaves nor nonentities, but true men and women.”

Development was the main theme of public life in the Old Northwest.

Seeking access to markets, middle-class Midwesterners trumpeted canals and railroads with such abandon that they often neglected the details of who would pay for them.

What mattered was the promotion of commerce. And they celebrated with gusto their ability to do just that.

By the 1840s and 1850s, a whole host of people in the Old Northwest saw their history as one of rapid and inexorable progress: the arrival of hardy pioneers, the conquest of noble savages, the taming of a wilderness, the transformation of a landscape from forests to farms, the growth of civilization in churches, schools, and cities.

Indeed, Midwestern boosters positively celebrated the loss of simpler, rural times that many New Englanders and Southerners lamented.

By 1850, the regional narrative was so commonplace that an author introduced the popular story of the rough and tumble boatsman Mike Fink by assuming that his readers agreed that “the savage and the wild beast” and “dark forests” had given way to “villages, towns, and cities, rife with the bustle and progress of a vast and rapidly growing population of civilized and enlightened beings.”

Exaggerated and contested, the story of the Old Northwest was a narrative of success: We came, we saw, we conquered, we improved, we are deservedly enjoying the fruits of our labor. What the story lacked in irony and nuance it possessed in energy and optimism.

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By the 1850s, middle-class Midwesterners had flattened the complicated and contested history of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions into a linear narrative of unimpeded progress.

It was a story that extolled benefits without reckoning their costs.

The blood and treasure expended on conquest of land and native peoples, the grinding poverty of frontier life, the damage done to nascent commercial networks and transportation systems by two national financial panics and economic depressions – none of these was interpreted to mean that the social and economic development of the region had not flowed smoothly, but instead proceeded by fits and starts.

Utterly unapologetic, Midwesterners had no need to take refuge behind plantations or village greens; unabashedly unrefined, they celebrated the changes wrought by the market and national revolutions: a landscape of small towns and cities, in which banks, stores, and public buildings featured prominently.

To be sure, dealing with some of the same fears as native-born, white New Englanders and Southerners, Midwesterners were creating a history that would both obscure and discipline growing numbers of foreign and urban residents.

But the Midwestern tale was not solely nativist.

German Protestants were deeply implicated in formulating this story.

In Cincinnati, the headquarters of the Midwestern world of print, it was Germans who gave shape to the cultural refinements that the city’s early boosters had craved.

Elsewhere, in Chicago, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, prominent Germans became bulwarks of the Midwestern doctrine of materialism and morality.”

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Source:

The Origins of Midwestern Regionality,” written by by Andrew R.L. Cayton and Susan E. Gray, excerpted from pages 9 – 11 in “The Identity of the American Midwest”, edited by Andrew R.L. Cayton and Susan E. Gray, and published in 2001 by the Indiana University Press.

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The Roots of Gen X’s Political Cynicism

The Roots of Gen X’s Political Cynicism

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Written by Corey McLaughlin for Common Culture and The Big Slice.

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I can’t speak for others, but my generation isn’t exactly the most trusting bunch of voters out there. If you have ever wondered about the origins of Generation X’s undying political cynicism, then this column is for you.

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Generation X first appeared on the political stage as young voters in the 1980’s, but we were already soaked with 1970’s skepticism by that time. In the ‘70’s, the people’s faith in their nation and its government had begun to falter. This loss of faith started with the growing disappointment in President Johnson’s stewardship of the nation’s affairs.

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To be fair, Johnson had pretty big shoes to fill after President Kennedy’s assassination. Things got off to a good enough start for him, but quickly went sour. On the Right, they were furious over Johnson’s Civil Rights agenda; on the Left they were incensed over the travesties of the Vietnam War. The rising discontent set the stage for ardent Cold Warrior Richard Nixon’s ascension to the Oval Office.

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The nation hit the reset button again as Nixon took office, just as they had with Johnson – granting the office their full faith as the reins of power were transferred between stewards. But as history would show, Nixon failed to live up to the faith placed in him in his handling of the Vietnam War and again during the Watergate scandal.

As Nixon left the White House and President Ford took over, the nation wondered about the federal government in a new light. President Ford’s pardon of Nixon only served to deepen the distrust. Two consecutive men had just ascended to the presidency in nontraditional manners, and neither had fulfilled their duties quite like the public had expected. Both transitions were perfectly legitimate of course, but the U.S. had not yet returned to normalcy after the violence of the late 1960’s and the continued turbulence took its toll on the very credibility of government.

As it would happen, the 1970’s were also a time of economic contraction. America’s economy had just expanded for two full generations, but the boom was petering out by the middle of the decade. American business had thrived after WWII, when America was the only nation left with manufacturing capabilities. Domestic spending increased along with wages, and the future seemed bright indeed. But that expectation was unrealistic; eventually, the rest of the world would rebuild their manufacturing capabilities, and the great expansion would sputter to a trickle.

So American manufacturing began its long, steady decline. Unemployment rose. Wages stagnated and inflation skyrocketed, which created an ominous economic condition known as ‘stagflation.’ New President Jimmy Carter would be slow to act – only to clamp down with too much force when he finally did notice the economic peril at hand. Carter’s economic ineptitude obscured his foreign policy prowess, and the nation declined to give him another opportunity in office. In retrospect, Carter may have received more grief for his failures than he truly deserved, as America’s faith in government had already endured many staggering obstacles by the time of his electoral loss in 1980.

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And then there was Ronald Reagan.

Reagan ushered in an era of optimism to a great portion of the nation. A new conservative coalition was swept into power along with him, an alliance born from the blending of: Barry Goldwater-styled Cold Warriors, Libertarians both social and fiscal, the newly-minted ‘Religious Right’, and a group of hawkish defectors from the Democratic camp known as ‘Neo-Cons’. This marked a new age in American democracy, an era that conservatives hoped would “starve the beast” of big government and end the entitlement programs believed to irresponsibly placate racial minorities or to flagrantly ‘buy’ the votes of the impoverished. It also marked the beginning of a new age of bitterness and absolute cynicism among my fellow Gen X-er’s.

Reagan’s administration was mired in a genuine scandal during his second term. After a decade that had only exacerbated the plight of the poor and the elderly, President George H.W. Bush did little to soothe our conviction that government was more a hindrance than a blessing, but President Clinton reminded my generation of JFK’s ideals. Liberalism was newly inspired; it has a reinvigorated ideological center, but lacked an overarching agenda.

Political players had changed since the Reagan days as well. Many politicians now had precious little experience in legislating and the business of government, and their ignorance only served to diminish the federal government’s reputation. By Clinton’s second term, it became clear that the Republican Party was not going to demonstrate traditional civic decorum. Speaker Newt Gingrich’s federal shutdown, together with the Republican’s asinine attempt to impeach our president over tawdry and irrelevant charges, cemented their reputation in much of my generation, making permanent the endless cycle of partisanship that dominates the discourse among Gen X-er’s today.

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Nothing has improved much since Speaker Newt Gingrich launched that assault on democracy. It was an inevitable escalation of the conservative coalition’s “starve the beast” strategy, and until we can drive that mentality out of every state and federal office, the partisanship is doomed to continue.

Government cannot function if half the members of the legislature are intent to destroy our inheritance, and that is exactly what the Tea Party and their ilk aim to do to this great nation.

If we can defeat that ideology of absolute cynicism, then we can return this nation to its proper course, where ‘liberty and justice for all’ means something beyond ‘survival of the fittest’ or ‘might makes right,’ as they would have it.

Maybe then we can get on with the agenda Americans really want and need – jobs, growth, peace, and renewal.

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Written by Corey McLaughlin for Common Culture and The Big Slice.

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ATTENTION MIDWESTERNERS! Be sure to catch the Midwest Report every morning on the Common Culture Facebook page for all matters Midwestern! See you soon.

Blacks in the Midwest Face Rampant Discrimination in Marijuana Arrests

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The big picture

The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday released a scathing report detailing rampant racial discrimination evident in the enforcement of marijuana laws. Judging from the data, black and white Americans are experiencing the broader war on drugs in vastly disparate ways.

The ACLU reported that nationally, blacks who were arrested for marijuana possession were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites were in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates. This inequality had only intensified over the past decade, according to the data.

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The data was drawn from police records across the nation – the most comprehensive review of marijuana arrests (by race and by county) ever conducted. Additionally, a great deal of the data was independently reviewed by researchers at Stanford University.

The lead author of the ACLU’s report, Ezekiel Edwards, stated, “We found that in virtually every county in the country, police have wasted taxpayer money enforcing marijuana laws in a racially biased manner.” According to the researchers, the increasing racial disparity in marijuana arrests were even more striking because of the uniformity – even across counties with small or large minority populations.

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Making things worse…

Exacerbating circumstances, the public’s attitudes toward marijuana usage have only softened over the same span of time.

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First of all – for the first time in four decades – a majority of Americans now favor legalizing the use of marijuana. In March the Pew Center conducted a national survey and found that 52% of Americans say that the use of marijuana should be made legal; 45% said that it should not.

Furthermore, eighteen states now permit medical usage (plus DC); thirteen of those eighteen states legalized the plant over the past ten years. In the past year alone, two states have gone so far as to decriminalized the plant altogether.

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Marijuana arrests comprise a surprising portion of all arrests in the nation’s failed war on drugs; about half of all drug arrests in America during 2011 were on marijuana-related charges; the ratio was nearly the same in 2010.

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The cost of the war on drugs has increased steadily over the past decade, as well. States spent an estimated $3.6 billion in 2010 enforcing marijuana possession laws alone – representing a 30% increase from ten years prior. Over the same span, arrests for most other types of crime decreased at a regular pace.

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The data

Six different states had rates of disparity that were at least five times the rate for whites. These “worst of the worst” states were:

 Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa.

You might notice a pattern there – four of the six most discriminatory states were found in the Midwest. And the remaining two “worst-of-the-worst” bordered on the Midwest. Put another way, two-thirds of the most racially-discriminatory states in the nation (in terms of marijuana arrests only) are located in the American Midwest.

Gulp.

The rest of the data was not exactly redeeming for the region. There were fourteen other states where the rates were above the national average, but did not exceed a rate of five blacks arrested for every white. Five of those fourteen moderately-biased states were situated in the Midwest (only one bordering state earned the dishonorable status this round). This means that 35.7% of the 2nd tier violators were located in the Midwest.

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Adding it up

Altogether, nine of the twenty states where the rates of discrimination were above the national average are in the region. Let me reframe that statement as well:

Very nearly half of the states (45%) that discriminated the most were Midwestern states. If you include the three bordering states of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and New York, that rate rises to 60%.

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Breaking it back down

Looking closer, we see that blacks in Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois were around eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana usage. Iowa had the highest rate in the nation, where 8.36 blacks were arrested for every white.

DC had the second highest rate in the nation, followed by Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and then Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The Midwestern states in the 2nd tier of violators were Ohio, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

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Conclusions

While this sobering report shines a light on a problem that plagues all fifty states, it would appear that the Midwest is a center of inequity in America. What we do with that knowledge remains to be seen.

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Corey McLaughlin

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You can find the full ACLU report here.

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Thanks for stopping by and checking in. Be sure to catch the Midwest Report tomorrow morning for all matters Midwestern. And if you haven’t already, please be certain to follow Common Culture on Facebook for access to exclusive content and commentary throughout the day, every day.

Thinking Forward

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Liberals and progressives must build a new coalition for the 21st century. We will need to be proactive and forward thinking, if we hope to drive from power a conservative coalition that has dominated American politics since the late 1970’s. We must build an alliance that not only counters but reverses the destruction wrought by conservatives since the Reagan revolution began.

To build a coalition, however, we first must agree on things like platforms and agendas, and the left is well known for its disorganization – after all, it was Will Rogers who said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

This deficiency is derived directly from a lack of forward vision.

You see, progressives and liberals tend to be motivated by empathy for others, and they focus their compassion on individuals in the here & now, not in the far-off future. We very often rally around individual causes with great passion, embracing empathy in the present day, but we are less certain about what the plan should be moving forward.

Our collective vision for the future is fuzzy, unformed, and – to be brutally honest – overly idealistic.

Since we don’t have a liberal consensus to draw from, no set agenda, nor cohesive platform, the performance of Democratic incumbents – including Pres. Obama – inevitably tends to disappoint everyone across the political spectrum, left AND right. With no cohesive vision, Democrats govern from crisis to crisis, for better or worse. This short-sightedness is most apparent when one considers that the Democratic agenda, on the one hand, rarely reaches beyond the most recent humanitarian crisis, or beyond the next election cycle on the other. Without a shared vision that reaches beyond empathy in the immediate, we will continue to play second fiddle to the party with an agenda to promote.

From the Reagan revolution forward, conservatism has been guided by a philosophy that places reason below faith, instinct, intuition, hunches, and suspicions. They place appeals to logos (logic) below appeals to ethos or pathos (morality or emotion) when accessing the effectiveness of arguments. We should be the polar opposite of them in this regard.

However, a liberal counter-movement must not be merely the opposite of theirs in philosophical terms; we must apply that philosophy in our deeds and words, as individuals and as a group.

For example:

  • We must not be mean and disdainful toward the dominant religion (Christianity), but we should promote religious tolerance instead – by practicing it, loudly.
  • We must not stand in knee-jerk opposition to big business, corporations, and commerce, but we should endorse ethical standards of conduct and moral measures of accountability for those tax-avoiding, Cayman Island-account using, outsourcing corporate bad guys – but we must celebrate the upstanding corporate “citizens” whose merits presently go unsung – there must be some incentive for big business to play nice, after all.
  • We must support military readiness overall, while sweeping the old Cold War’s Military-Industrial complex out of power.
  • We must understand the actual origins, ideology, and intentions of today’s GOP – and I don’t believe many people really do understand these things.

We need to sweep this particular conservative coalition out of power – most especially in the American Midwest. But to succeed, we must adopt an attitude that hinges on our solemn duty to be better people, better citizens, and better stewards of a nation that has only temporarily been entrusted to our hands.

We need to issue a call for progressive renewal that speaks to the heart through reason, one that resonates in churches and community halls alike. We need to come together, to coalesce around a shared vision and a shared agenda.

What do we do besides protect those who cannot protect themselves, though? What does it mean to be a liberal or a progressive American these days? I believe we must show the nation what it means to be better people ALTOGETHER.

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FACTCHECK – How Accurate Is the Claim, “Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana GOP are cutting back on free school lunches so they can give money to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’?”

FACTCHECK – How Accurate Is the Claim, ‘Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana GOP are cutting back on free school lunches so they can give money to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’? written by Corey McLaughlin for Common Culture, and published on 05/30/13.

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Image Courtesy of: Stop the World the Teabaggers Want Off.

Have you seen this claim floating around Facebook yet? Have you wondered – like me – just how true the assertion actually is? If so, then please allow me to share my findings with you, and we can compare notes.

The meme I am fact-checking was posted on the Facebook page ‘Stop the World the Teabaggers Want Off.’ Similar claims have been made by numerous other sources, however.

What’s going on?

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First, let us establish the facts.

On April 27, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the state’s budget bill, which contained a provision to alter the method Indiana uses to tally low-income students in public schools; the figure is used to determine levels of poverty-based funding for school districts.

Rather than base their totals on the number of students enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) as in previous years, the legislature opted instead to tie the figure to the state’s textbook assistance program.

Critics allege this alteration will reduce the enrollment of eligible students who would receive benefits from the program, depriving them of nutrition during the school day.

Twelve days after the budget bill was passed, Governor Pence then approved legislation to provide a $100 million state loan to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in order to finance improvements to the venue.

After signing the statute, Pence indicated that the Speedway loan is an investment that “will further economic development in the motorsports industry while also protecting the interests of Hoosier taxpayers.”

Critics argue that the Speedway loan is akin to a preemptive – and a taxpayer-subsidized – bailout package, but in this instance the facts are abundantly clear.

The change in school-lunch standards, on the other hand, is a tad more involved.

Why are they switching standards?

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The GOP felt it necessary to make this alteration in the school-lunch program as they suspect rampant fraud and abuse – which is not dissimilar to their fascination with alleged voter fraud, one might add. In the years since 2008’s Great Recession struck, the school-lunch program has seen a dramatic increase in student enrollment nationally; this rise was mirrored in the Midwest as well – including the Hoosier state.

Before the recession in 2005, about 29 percent of public school children in Indiana were receiving free lunches through the NSLP. By 2011, it was up to 40 percent. If you include those students receiving reduced-rate lunches, the total rises to 49%.

Forty-nine percent of Hoosier kids in public schools are enrolled in the NSLP – a federal program intended as a “national security” measure which would provide impoverished children with the nutrition needed to give them an equal shot at success, and in so doing, to improve upon the nation’s prospects as our future unfolds.

This upsurge in NSLP enrollment seems suspicious to the Indiana GOP, who point out that the rate of enrollment in the NSLP more than doubles the number of poverty-stricken children in the state by some estimates. Furthermore, they are concerned that the program presently invites abuse due to its perceived lack of oversight.

Why does this change up matter?

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The switch from the NSLP methodology over to the textbook standard is significant because it gives the state more control to audit applicants and to scrutinize their eligibility, thus giving them more power to regulate the amounts of poverty-based funding that are granted to school districts in the state.

The NSLP is a federal program, and thus superior in authority to state government; states have no control over the process. By switching Indiana’s standard measure for impoverished students in public schools from enrollment in a federal program to participation in a state-level program, the legislature has now asserted control over a portion of the process. This switch in methods amounts to a minor power grab of sorts – but completely within their legal rights as far as I can tell.

During the 2011-12 school year, 5 billion meals were served nationally to 31 million students; because of the NSLP, 59% of those meals were free of charge, 9% were reduced in rate; 33% were paid in full by the student’s families.

During that same school year in Indiana, 40% of public school students were receiving free lunches, 9% were reduced in rate, and 51% were paid in full by the student’s families. The state’s rates of participation in the program are significantly lower than the national figures – and yet the Indiana GOP passed the legislation by arguing that many thousands of Hoosiers are probably guilty of fraud.

By the numbers: the NSLP

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According to the Indiana Youth Institute, general poverty rates are estimated at 17% of the population, while the child poverty rate hovers at 23%. In 2012, Indiana had 1,041,602 students in public schools overall. Calculating to determine the number of public school students living in poverty, we see that twenty-three percent of 1,041,602 is 239,568 students; 239,568 public school students in Indiana live below the poverty line.

To be fair, proponents of the change in methods calculate child poverty rates differently than the Indiana Youth Institute, arriving at 17% instead; seventeen percent of 1,041,602 students is only 177,072 – a substantial difference of 62,496 students.

As noted above, 40% of all public school students in Indiana receive free lunches from the NSLP, and an additional 9% receive reduced-rates. This translates to 416,614 public students receiving free meals, and 93,774 more students receiving reduced-rates.

With the NSLP, Students are entitled to free lunches if their household’s income is below 130% of the annual income poverty level (currently, this amounts to $21,756 for a family of four); one hundred and thirty percent of $21,756 is $28,283. The NSLP also provides reduced-rate lunches to students whose household incomes are below 185% of the annual income poverty level. One-hundred and eighty-five percent of $21,756 is $ 40,249.

Moreover, Children who are members of households that receive food stamp benefits (SNAP) or cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant (TANF), as well as migrant, runaway, and homeless children all qualify for free meals. There are 379,000 students receiving SNAP funds in Indiana, and 65,252 total receiving TANF funds.

To review, students qualify for free lunches in the NSLP if:

a)    Their household earns less than $28,283 per year (for a family of four), or

b)   Their household receives SNAP or TANF benefits, or

c)    They are migrants, runaways, or homeless.

And under the NSLP students qualify for reduced lunches if:

a)    Their household earns less than $40,249 per year (for a family of four).

 

Adding it all up

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At this point, it would serve us to note that 379,000 out of 1,041,602 is 36.9%; this means that nearly thirty-seven percent of all public school students in Indiana automatically qualify for NSLP benefits on account of their enrollment in the SNAP program.

Since 49% of all public school students in Indiana receive NSLP benefits altogether, if we subtract the 37% of them who are automatically eligible from their participation in the SNAP program, we only have a differential of 12% yet to be reckoned; twelve percent of 1,041,602 students is only 124,992. And even the low-ball GOP estimate of a 17% rate of child poverty in the state figures out to 177,072 students – 52,000 more than necessary to come up with the 49% rate of enrollment in NSLP that the Indiana legislature is so worked up about.

And there are a few other ways to qualify, as you will recall. By my estimates, there are about 1,500 homeless children in Indiana, and around 5,000 runaways still enrolled in school. And there are at least 2,000 migrant children in the state as well, although estimates are harder to make.

In summary:

a)    Between 177,000 and 239,000 students live below the poverty line, thus qualifying automatically for NSLP.

b)   Over 379,000 students qualify for NSLP via SNAP.

c)    Over 65,000 students qualify for NSLP via TANF.

d)   At least 1,500 students qualify for NSLP because they are homeless.

e)    At least 5,000 students qualify for NSLP because they are runaways.

f)     At least 2,000 students qualify for NSLP because they are migrants.

g)   These figures add up to at least 629,500 students out of 1,041,602 total; this amounts to over 60% of public school students.

h)   60% > 49%, Indiana GOP.

Furthermore:

a)    Students qualify for free meals when their household makes less than 130% of the poverty rate ($28,000 per year).

b)   Students qualify for reduced-rate meals if their household brings in less than 185% ($40,000 per year).

c)    The median household income in Indiana is $46,438 (using 2011 numbers).

d)   Based on these figures, it seems likely that at least 40% of all public school students qualify for NSLP benefits of some sort based solely on their aggregate household income.

The Bottom Line

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The meme in question made the claim that “Governor Mike Pence and the Indiana GOP are cutting back on free school lunches so they can give money to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.” Since there is no evidence of a this-for-that, quid pro quo exchange, the claim is absurd on its face. It cannot be interpreted as true in a literal sense of the word.

There is a deeper message hidden in the meme, however. Beneath the gloss, the creators of the meme want to demonstrate that the Indiana GOP values business revenues more than they do the health and well-being of our children.

In their defense, Hoosier Republicans counter that if fraud is not already rampant in the state, then at the very least the potential for widespread abuse is present, and should be remedied.

They argued that the number of enrolled students in the NSLP was excessive. They argued, in the wake of the Great Recession, that 49% enrollment was evidence of fraud in the system, simply because child poverty rates were much lower than enrollment rates.

Upon analysis, I can only conclude that their cries of fraud were just as untrue as the claim made that the Indiana GOP cut funding for school lunches specifically so that they may issue a business loan to the Speedway. There are numerous ways to account for the high enrollment in the state without resorting to accusations of wrong doing among your poorest constituents. But this wasn’t about correcting an existing problem, at its core. This maneuver was about who controls Indiana’s purse strings – will it be the state or federal government?

It would seem that, by switching the metric from the NSLP figures to the state’s textbook program’s numbers, the GOP was merely looking for a way to increase their leverage in determining how much additional money the state must grant schools to help educate the children who are most at risk. They want to distribute funds as they see fit, and have no problem cloaking their desire with projections of their own depravity upon the most downtrodden among us. And not just the downtrodden, mind you – they will be saving money by denying benefits to their children, while calling good people liars and cheats.

At the end of the day, the meme is preposterous – but no more preposterous than the justification Indiana’s GOP gave for the switch in standards in the first place.

Corey McLaughlin

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Sources:

Pence signs $100 million Speedway funding bill,” written for the Associated Press, and published on 05/10/13.

State won’t use free lunch program as poverty indicator: Funding to be based on state’s textbook program,” written by Maureen Hayden for CNHI, and published on 05/27/13.

Changes to meal program are food for thought,” written by Maureen Hayden for CNHI, and published on 05/28/13.

Federal School Nutrition Programs,” resource provided by the New America Foundation.

Public School Enrollment (Number) – 2012,” data provided by Indiana Youth Institute.

Children in poverty (Percent) – 2011,” data provided by National KIDS COUNT Program.

Spotlight on Indiana Poverty and Opportunity,” data provided by Spotlight on Poverty.

Child Population Under 18 by Age Group (Number) – 2011,” data provided by Indiana Youth Institute.

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Shock Jock DJ Expresses Desire to Kill Hillary Clinton, the Bushes, and Pres. Obama

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By now, you have probably heard about the violent comments from wannabe shock jock Pete Santilli. This post will flesh out:

  1. Who he is,
  2. What his political views are,
  3. What he said exactly, and
  4. How he has responded to the public’s scathing critique.

Corey McLaughlin

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Who is he?

According to website ‘Right Wing Watch,’ he is “an unhinged Internet ranter who exists somewhere to the crazier side of Alex Jones. Santilli’s broadcast…doesn’t even have Jones’ audience: he describes himself as ‘a radio talk show host ready to take my show to national syndication; that is, of course, if the FCC regulated AM/FM radio stations can handle my truth & honesty.’…

 On his show last week, Santilli went on a disgusting, violent rant in which he called for the entire Bush family and President Obama to be “tried, convicted and shot” for “treason” (and in George H.W. Bush’s case “involvement with his cronies in the John F. Kennedy assassination”) and for Hillary Clinton to be “tried, convicted and shot in the vagina.”

~~~

What are his political views?

Santilli’s website says:

“I am a recovering lifelong Reagan Republican who recently voted for Obama because I hoped for revolutionary change.  Now I am a full time a-political realist who is disgusted by left-right psychological warfare.  As I have researched deeper into our nation’s history, I now have so many questions about the JFK assassination, George H.W. Bush’s CIA ties to the assassination of JFK, the Reagan administration’s drug running; war mongering and as Charlotte Iserbyt personally witnessed, installation of communism through the Department of Education.  As I progressed in my research,  I discovered one of the pivotal points in our nation’s history was the Bush-era explosion of global mob and drug cartel control.  It is now widely known, yet conveniently unproven that George H.W. Bush’s legacy as a CIA C.E.O. laid the groundwork for the Clinton’s Dixie-Mafia drug cartel dynasty.  As I have observed and have been told, the Bush/Clinton drug cartels have been battling with the Obama Chicago mafia ever since…

I hate LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Ron & Rand Paul and Obama —- especially the drug and gun trafficking cartels that they’ve all built to keep them in power.

Call me a “conspiracy realist”, but never call me a theorist until you have had the chance to learn what facts I have learned.  For instance (this may be too much for the un-awakened mind), look at the falling World Center Towers on 9-11, and ask yourself; how does falling steel and concrete turn to dust in mid air?  What I have learned is something that has forever changed me as it will you.  The World Trade Center towers were turned to dust in midair by a very powerful energy source.

Do I know what source caused it; absolutely not, but I know that there is indisputable evidence of the following:

We’ve all been under a PSY-OP (psychological warfare operation) since 9-11.

The towers were turned to dust in mid-air, 2 were hit by planes and 7 buildings disappeared with little debris remaining on the ground.

Free energy technology exists, but the oil & war industry cannot afford to tell us.”

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What did he say exactly?

“I want to remind you that in Benghazi, Miss Hillary ‘the fricken’ biggest vagina on the face of the planet’ told troops to stand down and to not go in and interfere with the operation that they set up because they’re moving arms; Barack Obama is moving drugs through the CIA out of Afghanistan and Barack Obama needs to be tried, convicted, and shot for crimes against the United States of America. And if anybody has a problem with that, then you are an enemy of our state…

I want to shoot [Clinton] right in the vagina and I don’t want her to die right away; I want her to feel the pain and I want to look her in the eyes and I want to say ‘on behalf of all Americans that you’ve killed, on behalf of the Navy SEALS,’ … the families of Navy SEAL Team Six who were involved in the fake hunt down of this Obama bin Laden thing, that whole fake scenario – because these Navy SEALS know the truth, they killed them all – on behalf of all of those people, I’m supporting our troops by saying we need to try, convict, and shoot Hillary Clinton in the vagina.”

“Barack Obama needs to be tried, convicted, and shot for crimes against the United States of America, and if anybody has a problem with that, then you are an enemy of our state.”

~~~

How has he responded to the public’s outrage?

Fringe-Right, conservative website ‘Before It’s News’ reports:

“Pete Santilli believes, based on the preponderance of evidence that Hillary Clinton has committed treason against the United States, and she must be held accountable.  His words were passionate.  His choice of words have offended some. But most importantly, his words are being distorted by the Hillary Clinton propaganda machine so as to conceal the information which will be presented in this episode.

Although Pete will offer his sincerest apologies to those who have taken him out of context, and who were offended, he will also address the concerted effort by Hillary Clinton to stifle the evidence which has been mounting for 25+ years. Hillary Clinton is a criminal who should not be immune from prosecution.

Pete has literally been subjected to thousands of articles, emails, hundreds of death threats and hundreds of hate-filled telephone calls by people who have threatened to keep information away from the American people.   Pete and Team GMN will not be deterred by such a communist threat.”

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