Herman Cain’s bigotry

WASHINGTON — If we didn’t already know this, here’s what Herman Cain’s regrettable campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has taught us: Black Americans are as capable of ugly and inexplicable prejudices as any other group. Our collective history as victims of ugly and inexplicable prejudices has not made us immune to the virus of bigotry.

So you knew that already? So did I. Still, Cain’s reflexive animosity toward law-abiding Muslim Americans has served as an unnecessary reminder.

In a recent appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Cain told host Chris Wallace that the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to ban any mosque they don’t want built nearby. Having spoken out specifically against a planned mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Cain seemed oblivious to the fact that the people attempting to build the mosque are also entitled to First Amendment protections.

A retired Georgia businessman turned rightwing talk radio host, Cain had been building to …

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Why can’t our politicians handle the truth?

MONROEVILLE, Al. — The drought is severe here and the  weather miserably hot, with temperatures reaching triple digits frequently this summer. That’s what occupies ordinary folk in my small hometown.

My mom’s friends and neighbors talk about the crops that are withering in the fields — corn stalks turning brown, cotton seed too parched to sprout. They talk about Casey Anthony’s culpability in the death of her young daughter. They talk about jobs. Or the lack of them.

They don’t talk about the federal deficit or the debt-ceiling negotiations that consume the nation’s capital. They are too worried about their own household budgets to fret about the federal treasury.

Spending a week here has reminded me of the stark divide between ordinary Americans and the representatives they send to Washington to serve their interests.  Here in the real America — at least the part of it that is in decline — the inside-the-Beltway political gamesmanship, competing news …

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Why don’t we name victims of rape?

WASHINGTON — After weeks of professed certainty, New York City prosecutors have recently admitted significant doubts about the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the influential French banker accused of raping a hotel maid in May. In many ways, the controversy swirling about the case is no different from countless others in which the court of public opinion has rendered a verdict with which a jury might disagree. (Has anyone ever heard of Casey Anthony?)

But there is one profound difference between this case and many others that briefly consume public attention in the cable news age: The alleged victim has not been named by major U.S. news media organizations. We have read and heard much about her, including the country of her birth, her immigrant journey and her current associates. Still, her name and photograph, while readily found online, have not been routinely used in news stories.

Because of common mores and lingering misunderstandings about human sexuality, sexual …

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Here’s why health care “rationing” is old news

WASHINGTON — Last week, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), an obstetrician, trotted out a well-worn canard about the Affordable Care Act: It will kill old people. Gingrey had trained his overheated rhetoric on one portion of the new law — the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

“Democrats like to picture us as pushing grandmother over the cliff or throwing someone under the bus. In either one of those scenarios, at least the senior has a chance to survive. But under this IPAB, where a bunch of bureaucrats decide whether you get care. . .I guarantee you . . .that the patient is going to die,” Gingrey declared.

Gingrey’s gambit was a bit desperate. He managed to remind voters that the plan he favors — a proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program — has its own considerable political liabilities.

He also put the spotlight on what is arguably the smartest innovation in the new health care law — an independent panel of experts who will make decisions about cutting …

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Southern Baptists’ struggle over immigration

WASHINGTON — As a guide for law or legislation, the Southern Baptists’ new resolution on illegal immigrants is virtually useless. It’s vague, confusing and perhaps inherently contradictory. It wouldn’t help Congress pick its way through the political thickets associated with addressing the plight of the undocumented.

Nevertheless, the Baptists have done something very useful: They have established a moral marker for their congregants, some of whom are governors, state legislators and members of Congress. Since so many conservatives in public life like to point to their religious views as a guide for their political acts, the resolution ought to have a substantial influence on immigration debates.

Last week at its annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention called for “a just and compassionate path to legal status” for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented workers. The “messengers,” as the convention delegates are called, also denounced bigotry …

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Home ownership is overrated

WASHINGTON — It took a week for the technicians to fix the air conditioning unit, but I reminded myself that I had faced similar inconveniences in a house I actually owned. The spastic climate systems that go out during extreme weather — the temperatures were in the 90s when it went down — are no reason to doubt the wisdom of renting.

Still, I’ve had trouble getting used to my status as a tenant. I bought my first house when I turned 30 and reaped a tidy profit when I sold it. I bought another house after that, believing that home ownership was the foundation of stability, respectability and security.

You see, I grew up steeped in the property-owning ethic; I was told repeatedly that rent was money wasted. My parents were not only owners of their primary residence but also landlords. They believed in buying property to build financial security.

And they were right — back then.

But much has changed since my childhood. My mother and father lived in the same house for …

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GOP’s hostility toward the right to vote

WASHINGTON — In America’s tiny towns, isolated hamlets and rural enclaves, lots of poor folks manage to get by without an automobile or the driver’s license that goes along with it. They pay their utility bills in cash at local outposts. They ride to church and to the doctor’s office and to the grocery store with neighbors or nephews.

They never travel by airplane. Indeed, many never leave the county in which they were born and will almost certainly be buried. Having grown up in a small place in Alabama, I’ve known many of those folks and transported more than a few.

Yet, despite the limits of their lives, lots of those Americans are regular voters, taking pride in their active participation in a rite of citizenship. That’s especially true for the elderly black Southerners who lived through the stark repression of Jim Crow and the triumphant civil rights movement that, finally, laid him low. They show up at the polls on Election Day to cast their votes for …

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What Ron Paul gets right

WASHINGTON — It’s hard to take Congressman Ron Paul, perpetual presidential candidate, seriously. The Texas Republican is a committed libertarian — which means he doesn’t think government should do much of anything.

But his anti-war views and his attacks on military spending are beginning to resonate even among the GOP base, a constituency that prides itself on a muscular patriotism.

Their hawkishness is waning as Americans come to understand, once again, that war is costly.

You wouldn’t think that lesson would have had to be re-learned, but it did. For a decade after 9/11, Americans managed to ignore the costs of our military adventures — the profligate spending as well as the lost and tragically altered lives.
The national denial was greatly assisted by the rise of the highly-skilled, all-volunteer Armed Forces, staffed largely by working-class men and women without many professional options. It was easy for those of us without family members or close friends in …

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Christian right deifies an athiest — Ayn Rand

WASHINGTON — It was a cheap stunt captured on video camera, an ambush meant to embarrass a prominent Congressman, but it managed, nevertheless, to highlight an interesting subtext in the narrative of the religious right: Many of its members are enthralled by libertarian novelist Ayn Rand, a self-proclaimed “radical atheist” who mocked Christians. How is it that she has become the hero of so many social conservatives?

Last week, just after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan finished talking to an audience of religious conservatives here, he was confronted by Bible-wielding activist James Salt, who demanded that Ryan read the Gospel of Luke. Salt, who works for the left-leaning Catholics United, was protesting the budget cuts Ryan has proposed — cuts that will disproportionately affect the poor. Ryan rushed to a waiting vehicle rather than accept Salt’s proffered Bible.

Shortly after that, a small group of liberal clerics held a press conference to protest …

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Georgia’s big secret: State needs illegal workers

WASHINGTON — I’m going to let you in on a big secret, a closely-held and dirty truth about Georgia’s farmers: They depend on immigrants, some of whom are here illegally.

What’s that? You knew that already? Not such a secret?

Well, Georgia’s agri-business leaders are posing and posturing as if it is. They dare not admit that they need the sweat and toil of migrant laborers so much that they are not always fastidious about searching for legal documents.

But the gut-busting pressures of a harsh new Georgia law targeting illegal immigrants — modeled after a controversial law in Arizona — may force farmers to speak the truth out loud. At the very least, it may force them to campaign openly for a broad immigration reform proposal that grants legal status to illegal laborers.

It’s not looking like a good year for many of Georgia’s farmers, who were already struggling with a warming earth. As drought conditions worsen in some portions of the state — upgraded from …

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