Monday, March 21, 2005

A distressing example of "target marketing" in action. And the Republicans have the gall to accuse the left of dividing the country along lines of race....
The Soft Bigotry of Life Expectancy
Different Social Security messages for blacks and Latinos.
By William SaletanPosted Wednesday, March 16, 2005, at 1:08 PM PT

Different strokes for different folks?Why is President Bush's Social Security reform plan heading south inthe polls? Maybe because he's selling different messages to differentaudiences and some audiences are overhearing messages meant forothers. He's telling older people that nothing relevant to them willchange. Meanwhile, he's telling the younger people who are propping upthe system that it's a dead end and he'll help them get out.

This iswhy Republican "town halls" that were supposed to boost the plan inthe polls failed so miserably. The town halls were for the youngerfolks, but the older folks showed up. Oops!It turns out the young and the old aren't the only groups gettingdifferent pitches. Bush is narrowcasting to blacks and Latinos, too.

The message to blacks is that Social Security screws them because theydie younger. By all accounts, that's what Bush told black business andcommunity leaders at a two-hour private meeting on Jan. 25. It's alsothe centerpiece of black community town halls and speeches to blackaudiences by GOP chairman Ken Mehlman, according to the Los AngelesTimes.

At one forum, Bush told a black executive, "African Americanmales die sooner than other males do, which means the system isinherently unfair to a certain group of people." The executive,referring to black male life expectancy, said to Bush, "If you'retelling me that it's 69, and the [retirement] age is going to go to67, you do the math." Bush replied, "Right."Bush was encouraging a misconception.

As Paul Krugman has explained,remaining life expectancy for a 65-year-old black man is 14.6 years,not two. It's true that black male life expectancy at birth is only69, but black-white mortality differences trail off throughout life.(By the late stages, black men outlive white men of the same age.) So,while blacks are likely to spend fewer years taking money out, they'realso likely to spend fewer years paying in.

What's more interesting, however, is another misconception Bush seemsto have floated. On Dec. 21, he met with Kweisi Mfume, the outgoingpresident of the NAACP. According to a Federal Document Clearing Housetranscript, Mfume told reporters afterward that in the meeting Bush"was very strong in his belief that some communities in particular,because of low life expectancy rates, don't get a chance to get outmuch of what they put in all their lives." Black men and women "havedisproportionately lower life expectancies," said Mfume. "And so myassumption is that that group, along with Latinos, may be what thepresident was referring to."

Mfume said he hadn't pressed Bush to clarify the reference to "somecommunities." But the reference did its job. The next day, the Coxnewspaper chain reported that "Mfume said they discussed how toaccount for groups, such as African-Americans and Latinos, that havelower-than-average life expectancy rates and, as a result, don't drawretirement benefits commensurate with what they pay in payroll taxesover the course of their working lives."

There's no record of anyeffort by the White House to correct this account. Indeed, three weekslater, the White House issued a "fact" sheet claiming that "Hispanics,African-Americans, and unmarried elderly women are even more relianton Social Security." The sheet added nothing to suggest that therationales for making this claim about the three groups might differ.A couple of weeks ago, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles-based newspaperLa OpiniĆ³n, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez reportedly argued thatbecause of their disproportionate reliance on Social Security, Latinosstood to lose disproportionately if Bush's plan were defeated. (Theop-ed can't be found online, and I've asked the Commerce Departmentfor a copy of it but haven't received it, so for now I'm relying on aMarch 4 Los Angeles Times account of it.)

What Gutierrez and the White House seem not to have mentioned is that,contrary to the impression Bush gave Mfume, Latinos can expect tooutlive whites. According to a report issued five years ago by what isnow Gutierrez's department, life expectancy for Americans of "Hispanicorigin" in 1999 was 77.1 years among men and 83.7 years among women.That's a 2.4-year surplus for Latino men over white men and a 3.6-yearsurplus for Latino women over white women.So, here's the situation. In an op-ed written in Spanish and not madeavailable in English on any federal Web site, the administrationargues that Latinos, who live longer than whites do, should supportBush's reform plan because upon retirement they relydisproportionately on Social Security.

Meanwhile, in forums andprivate meetings aimed at blacks, the administration argues thatblacks, who upon retirement rely disproportionately on SocialSecurity, should support Bush's reform plan because they don't live aslong as whites do. Only once has Bush slipped up and alluded to onegroup in the course of making his pitch to the other. And on thatoccasion, at best, he seems to have conveyed?and failed to correctafter its publication?an impression that helped him politically butwas contrary to the truth.

The only other ethnic groups analyzed in the 2000 Commerce Departmentreport on life expectancy?or apparent in any other such governmentreport?are Asian-Americans and American Indians. Asian-Americans werebeating white life expectancy by six years among men and 6.5 yearsamong women. American Indian men were trailing white men by two yearsin life expectancy, but American Indian women were exceeding whitewomen by the same amount.

So, here are two questions for PresidentBush: When you told Mfume that some communities in particular were getting shafted by Social Security due to low life expectancy, which communities were you talking about? And if you're telling the wholetruth to blacks and Latinos, why aren't you telling them the samething?

William Saletan is Slate's chief political correspondent and author ofBearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.Photograph of George Bush by Roger L. Wollenberg/UPI Photo

Monday, March 07, 2005

Stop the Right's Attack on Academic Freedom!
An Open Letter From Concerned Academics

March 2, 2005

URGENT: The University of Colorado Board of Regents will be making
its recommendations about Ward Churchill in the week of March 7.

We call on all those who teach and research at colleges and
universities to raise their voices in opposition to this inquisition.
Sign and act on this open letter. Circulate it widely. Inform the

As an immediate step, we call on our colleagues to pass emergency
resolutions in faculty and professional associations and send them to
the University of Colorado Board of Regents. We offer the following
as a template for such resolutions:

Resolved, that the attempt, escalated by government authority, to
fire Ward Churchill and the trial by media which he is undergoing
amount to a serious assault on dissent, critical inquiry, and
academic freedom, and a heightening of the repressive atmosphere in
American society overall. This attack is intolerable and must stop
now. The precedents already set in this case - that a professor can
be publicly pilloried and threatened with dismissal for what he
writes - must not be allowed to stand. The University of Colorado
Board of Regents must drop any effort to fire Churchill, cease its
spurious investigation into his body of work and repudiate its
actions up to now; and all colleges and universities must reaffirm,
in word and deed, their commitment to defend critical thinking.

The past month has witnessed a chilling turn in American political
and intellectual life. Ward Churchill, a tenured professor and
former chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of
Colorado, has been made the object of an unprecedented nationwide
attack for an essay he wrote three years ago. Two governors,
including the governor of Colorado, have called for his firing. The
national and local media have not only misrepresented his work and
views, but have increasingly vilified and slandered Ward Churchill
himself. Some of Churchill's speaking engagements have been
cancelled. Death threats have been made against him. In response,
the University of Colorado Board of Regents not only "apologized" for
Churchill's remarks - itself an utterly gratuitous and inappropriate
action - but initiated an investigation into his entire body of work
to search for mistakes and supposed evidence of "fraud." During the
week of March 7, the Board of Regents will conclude its 30-day review
of all of Churchill's writings and statements.

One must go back to the "scoundrel time" of the McCarthy years to
find anything even close to this. And now, as an unmistakable sign
of what this portends, just a week ago the University of Colorado at
Boulder announced an investigation into campus records to make sure
that every faculty member has actually signed his or her
state-required loyalty oath!

All this is intolerable and must be reversed--immediately.

To be clear: the issues here have nothing to do with the quality of
Ward Churchill's scholarship or his professional credentials. However
one views his choice of words or specific arguments, he is being put
in the dock solely for his radical critique of U.S. history and
present-day policy in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001.
Apparently, 9/11 is now the third rail of American intellectual life:
to critically probe into its causes and to interrogate the
international role of the United States is treated as heresy; those
inquiring can be denied forums, careers, and even personal safety.
And now Churchill's persecutors have gone further, repeatedly
ridiculing his scholarly argumentation that the United States
committed genocide against the indigenous people of this continent,
and that the FBI systematically attempted to disrupt and destroy the
movements and leaders of the 1960s. Rather than debate or disprove
such theses, Churchill's attackers attempt to render them beyond the
pale of respectable discourse. Through all this, new ground rules
are being established: any criticism or even questioning of the
institutional foundations of the United States, or of the motives and
interests behind its policies, will be treated as essentially
treasonous. Left unopposed, this trajectory will lead to a situation
of uncontested indoctrination enforced by the state.

The Churchill case is not an isolated incident but a concentrated
example of a well-orchestrated campaign launched in the name of
"academic freedom" and "balance" which in fact aims to purge the
universities of more radical thinkers and oppositional thought
generally, and to create a climate of intimidation. While the
right-wing claim that the universities are "left-wing dictatorships"
is specious beyond belief, it is unfortunately true that the campus
remains one of the few surviving refuges of critical thinking and
dissent in this country. This is something to defend and strengthen.

It would be hard to overstate the serious nature of what has already
happened, let alone what it would mean should the Regents fire
Churchill. If this assault on academe succeeds, the consequences for
American society as a whole will be nothing short of disastrous.

The response from the academic world has thus far fallen short of
what is required. Voices have been raised in opposition, but many
have been intimidated. What is needed is an outpouring of faculty
resolutions condemning this witch-hunt. Teach-ins. Protests.

We propose that emergency faculty resolutions be passed and sent to
the University of Colorado Board of Regents (secretary:, cc: and major media outlets. We further
propose that if the Colorado authorities continue their persecution
of Churchill, we mount major nationally coordinated protests on
campuses all over America - and internationally - as soon as
possible, and that we begin to join efforts to reverse this dangerous
direction in American political and intellectual life

The hour is very late; this case is nothing less than a watershed. We
must act, and act now.

Initial Signatories:

Steven P. Best, Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Texas-El Paso

Henry A. Giroux, Global Television Network Chair Professor in English
and Communications, McMaster University

Ruth Y. Hsu, Associate Professor of English, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

Alan Jones, Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs,
Pitzer College

Bruce Lincoln, Caroline E. Haskell Professor of the History of
Religions, University of Chicago

Raymond Lotta, author and lecturer

Henry Silverman, Professor and Chairperson Emeritus, Michigan State University

Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University

Allen W. Wood, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Stanford University

Robert M. Baum, Director of African Studies, Iowa State University

Prasenjit Duara, Chair, Department of History, University of Chicago

Allen F. Roberts, Director, James S. Coleman African Studies Center,
University of California, Los Angeles

E-mail this letter to colleagues, as well as people and institutions
in other walks of life. Please get back to us with your ideas and let
us know what you are doing. Send us copies of resolutions and
statements. Add your name to this Open Letter.

E-mail to: