Friday, March 20, 2015

Religion, Racism & the Consequences of Republican Policy: Poverty, Obesity & Incarceration

Religion, Racism & the Consequences of Republican Policy: Poverty, Obesity & Incarceration
According to the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and their American Values Atlas report released last month, there is a significant rise in America of those who say they are unaffiliated with any religion. According to the organization's research director, this shift is "fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture".
There are more religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. today than ever before. Starting in the 1980s, a variety of polls using different methodologies have come to the same conclusion: people who do not identify with religious labels are on the rise, perhaps even doubling in that time frame.
Sociologists and religious organizations have been tracking this trend for decades. But a cursory glance at these numbers does not come close to explaining the political and sociological ramifications this epic shift will have on the future of our country and on the planet. Knowing this is happening should be worrisome to the Republicans who for years have hidden behind their apron of piety to leverage white evangelicals, racists and the rich into a coalition that has been waging an asymmetrical war for political control of this country since the Reagan administration. The extent to which they are concerned about declining religiosity is evidenced by the sheer volume, in both numbers and decibels, of complaints by the right that godless liberals are waging a war on religion (i.e. Christianity).Americans who answer "none" when asked for their religious affiliation are the fastest growing "religious" group in the United States. About two-thirds of them say they are former believers. Americans raised in Christian households are turning away from the religion of their parents. CJ Werleman credits "the advancement of human understanding: greater access to information; the scandals of the Catholic Church; and the over-zealousness of the Christian Right,"  for this trend. Allen Downey, a professor of computer science at Massachusetts’ Olin College of Engineering, postulates that people become "nones" mainly because of lack of religious upbringing and access to information on the Internet.
Every denomination in the U.S. is losing both affiliation and church attendance. In some ways the country is a half-generation behind the declining rate of Christianity in other western countries like the U.K., Australia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, France, and the Netherlands. Wall Street Journal
Now for the first time, Protestants have lost their majority status in the Institute’s annual report, making up only 47 percent of those surveyed. Unaffiliated responders, are this year at 22 percent, just about even with American Catholics. "Unaffiliated" is the second-largest group in the country and the top group in 13 states, with Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire topping the list, while states in the deep south had far fewer people who identified with this group, like Mississippi where they make up only 10 percent of the population.So what is the significance of this — other than making "nones" feel more popular at parties? Well the data shows there are indeed some important political implications.
Nones tend to be more politically liberal — three-quarters favor same-sex marriage and legal abortion. They also have higher levels of education and income than other groups. While about one out of five Americans is unaffiliated, the number is much higher among young people: Pew research shows that a third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation.
Okay so this would seem to bode well for the future of the progressive cause. All we have to do is wait another decade or so for this sociological trend to combine with the inevitable population shifts and the Grand Old Party is retired from national relevance. But can we wait that long? In the meantime the harm Republicans can and will wreck on the country and the Earth will be catastrophic.Senator James Inhofe, one of the nation's most bombastic climate change deniers and ironically the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, infamously brought a snowball onto the Senate floor as proof that climate change is a hoax. Even though his stunt was widely ridiculed he remains in his position with jurisdiction over the supposedly mythological climate problem. He both defends and finds comfort in his ignorance, not with science but through faith in God. In his book The Greatest Hoax Inhofe quotes one of his favorite passages from the Bible, Genesis 8:22:
As long as the earth remains
There will be springtime and harvest
Cold and heat, winter and summer
In other words, since God is in complete control, and he is allowing the climate change (hoax) to happen, we need to just chill and enjoy the ride. It's all good. Thanks Senator, but I prefer to keep my faith in science.  Evangelical Christians and their willingness to force their beliefs on the rest of us through vociferous political activism and promotion of Biblically based public policies are a huge problem for the future of the planet. They believe that the Bible is the ultimate truth, and that the "laws" of God supersede the laws of state and science. The headwaters of their logic stream begins with a leap of faith, which requires a suspension of reality. Arguments based on facts and science are not required to earn their support at the polls.  They are easy pickings for scoundrel politicians and are happy to be exploited. They take the Bible literally. They believe all other religions are false; that science is only good so long as it doesn't contradict a literal interpretation of the Bible, that the Constitution is a Christian document and all non-believers are going to hell. Therefore they vote faithfully for candidates who will govern accordingly. Republicans and even some Republican-lite Democrats, are only too willing to pander to this constituency. White evangelicals, who represent only 18 percent of the population, wield disproportionate influence on the Republican Party. Even though the ultra-rich who actually bankroll the GOP pay more allegiance to money and profit than to their country or any religion, the party still needs the religious right to turn out and vote.
. . .while monied elites tend to be secular, selling free-market pillage to the people getting robbed is not a very effective strategy. So they still have to mask their agenda behind appeals to popular religion so the non-rich will vote against their economic interests in places like Tennessee, which has the highest share of white evangelicals, at 43 percent. (White mainline Protestants account for 14 percent of the population nationally.)
The GOP's leveraging of white evangelicals into Republican votes fits right in to the divide and conquer playbook of the Southern Strategy, which was designed and implemented 40 years ago by Richard Nixon. This strategy of stoking the fires of ignorance and racism has delivered the southern states to the Republicans ever since.An internet search of pretty much any demographic data regarding the South, quickly reveals the harm this Southern Strategy has inflicted upon the region. In addition to being highly religious, racist and Republican, the region also suffers the blight of poverty, obesity, incarceration, and almost any other social malady you care to type into your browser. Of course these maladies exist in the other states, some in high ratios, but none rival the depth and intensity of the southern infection.
Evangelicals and racists have walked hand-in-hand for over two centuries. The region has had a strongly entrenched evangelical movement since the nation's founding, long before being referred to as the Bible Belt by American journalist and social commentator H L Mencken in 1924. And racism has obviously been around since long before Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, effectively ceding propriety of the old Confederacy to the Republicans.
While the practice of Christianity, unlike racism, has redeeming qualities the evangelical practitioners have often been complicit in the holy blessing of slavery, lynching and institutional discrimination. Slaveholders justified slavery by citing the Bible: "slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling" (Ephesians 6:5), or "tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect" (Titus 2:9).
Defenders of slavery argued that the institution was divine, and that it brought Christianity to the heathen from across the ocean. Slavery was, according to this argument, a good thing for the enslaved. John C. Calhoun said, "Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually." US History
Georgia Gov. Allen Candler defended unequal public schooling for Africans in 1901 by stating “God made them negroes and we cannot by education make them white folks”. After Brown v. Board of Education, segregationists continued to cite their faith as justification for institutional racism. Ross Barnett won election as Mississippi’s governor in a landslide in 1960 by claiming “the good Lord was the original segregationist.”And the most recent iteration of white southern evangelicals became exercised when the IRS revoked the tax exempt status of Bob Jones University because they prohibited interracial marriage among students.
This decision, that the IRS would no longer give tax subsidies to racist schools even if they claimed that their racism was rooted in religious beliefs, quickly became a rallying point for the Christian Right. Indeed, according to Paul Weyrich, the seminal conservative activist who coined the term “moral majority,” the IRS’ move against schools like Bob Jones was the single most important issue driving the birth of modern day religious conservatism. According to Weyrich, “[i]t was not the school-prayer issue, and it was not the abortion issue,” that caused this “movement to surface.” Rather it was what Weyrich labeled the “federal government’s move against the Christian schools.”  Think Progress
The former Party of Lincoln has had its grips on the South since 1968 and no doubt owns the abject misery of the region. The maps and graphs below the fold reveal in stunning visual relief the desperate circumstances in which many of the citizens of the former Confederacy find themselves.
1. Southern states are the most religious:
Earlier this month, Gallup released a survey based on more than 175,000 interviews that asked residents of each state how often they attend a weekly religious service. What they found was that the most religious states were in the South, which was home to all but one of the top 12.
2. Southern states are the most evangelical:Evangelical Christians are the base of the Republican party and of that group the Southern Baptists are the dominant sect in the region. Baptists themselves apparently are a diverse group and fellow Kossack, SouthernLeveller who wrote an excellent diary, On Raising Anti-Racist Children in a Racist Society, pointed out to me that "Bill Clinton, Newt Gingerich, Jesse Jackson, and Jesse Helms were all Baptist. So is (or was) Bill Moyers, John Lewis, etc." But since the 1980s-90s the Southern Baptists had been pretty much taken over by the fundamentalist conservatives. These are Christians who believe the Bible is the ultimate source of all truth, who believe all non-believers need to be converted and who are expected to be activists and sharers of the "good news" of Christ. (From: Black, White and Gray)
3. Southern states have the most racist residents:Analysts at Floating Sheep, a website run by a group of independent cyber-geography researchers, found there was a spike of racist tweets on Twitter during and after President Obama’s 2012 re-election.
To normalize states across population levels, the team then used a location quotient-inspired measure or LQ score — an economic derivation used to analyze norms across geographical locations — to compare a state’s racist tweets to the national average of racist tweets. So, per the team’s model, an LQ score of 1.0 indicates that the state’s proportion of racist tweets to non-racist tweets is the same as the overall national proportion. A score above 1.0 indicates that the proportion of racist tweets to non-racist tweets is higher than the national proportion. The results are seen in the map above. The LQ score was added to the number of Ku Klux Klan organizations known to operate in the state, according to a list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog organization that monitors hate groups. The states with the highest combined scores were considered the most racist states in the country. The process was not scientific nor can it be claimed that it gives the most accurate ranking of racism by state. However, it offers some insight into where some of the most racist people in the United States reside.
The resulting top ten list of states is as follows:1.  Texas
2.  Mississippi
3.  Georgia
4.  Alabama
5.  North Carolina
6.  Tennessee
7.  Arkansas
8.  Louisiana
9.  Florida
10. Illinois
4. Southern states are controlled by Republicans:
The Republican Party is the chef that stirs the pot of racism and evangelical religiosity in the south, and as you can see, where those ingredients are strong so is the GOP. This is no accident. This is the insidious result of "The Southern Strategy".
It was Nixon who devised and pursued what came to be called the Southern strategy. This was, in the admirably concise wording of Wikipedia, an appeal “to racism against African-Americans.” Nixon was hardly the first Republican to notice that Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legislation had alienated whites both in the South and elsewhere — Johnson himself had forecast that Southern whites would desert the Democratic Party. . . Johnson and the Democrats had wooed the black vote; Nixon would do the same for the white vote.Even-steven, you might say, except the Democrats were expanding rights while the Republicans wanted to narrow them or keep them restrictive. NY Daily News

While Democrats were kicking the racists out the front door the Republicans were bringing them back in through the pantry, welcoming their siblings the evangelicals (creationists, right-to-lifers and homophobes), xenophopes and gun nuts while they were at it.
What follows below are the disastrous results of this cynical and pragmatic strategy.5. Southern states have the lowest wages:
In 2010, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas had the largest share of people earning sub-povery wages, EPI [Economic Policy Institute] found. Here's a look at the 10 states with the highest share of workers making less than $23,000 [blue bars]. I've also included, in the RED bars, the share of workers in each state making between $23,000 and $46,000. The upshot is that, in these ten states, between 70% and 80% of workers are earning less than $46,000. The Atlantic
6.  Southern states are the most impoverished:This is an obvious side effect of low wages.
7.  Southern states have the highest food stamp usage of any region:An obvious side effect of poverty. In fact, contrary to what Republicans would like you to think, of the 32 states that receive more federal dollars than they contribute, 27 of them are controlled by Republicans, which includes 15 southern states. (Ref:AATTP)
8.  Southern states have the highest rates of teen pregnancy:Also contrary to what the teen-mother-shaming Republicans want you to believe, teen pregnancies do not cause poverty, rather poverty causes teen pregnancy.
Teens who get pregnant tend to come from more disadvantaged families than those who do not become pregnant. Moreover, among pregnant teens, those who choose abortion tend to be more advantaged than those who opt to carry the baby to term. “As a result, teen mothers are more likely than women who delay childbearing to come from poor families, to be black or Hispanic, and, before they become pregnant, to be behind in school, and to have lower academic test scores,” write the authors of the DOH report. RH Reality Check
9.  Southern states have the highest rates of obesity:Obesity is a risk for all groups of Americans, but is especially high among Americans with the lowest levels of education and the highest poverty rates (see item 6 above and items 12 and 13 below).Scholar Strategy Network 
Purple is very high and red is high.
10.  Southern states have higher rates of heart disease and stroke:Studies have consistently shown that people with low incomes and less education generally have higher rates of heart disease than their more-educated, higher-income counterparts.
In a recent study by Dr. Eric B. Loucks, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, research showed that lifelong poverty may translate into an "accumulation of risk" for heart disease.
The study found that among more than 1,800 U.S. adults in a long-term heart-health study, greater lifetime exposure to poverty was related to increasing heart disease risks. Those who were disadvantaged as children and adults were 82 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those who were comparatively well off in childhood and adulthood. Reuters
11.  Southern states have higher rates of cancer mortality:
According to Dr. Samuel Broder, former director of the National Cancer Institute, "Poverty is a carcinogen". Research cited in the annual Cancer Facts and Figures 2011 released by the American Cancer Society, showed that poverty rivals both tobacco and obesity as a carcinogen.
12.  Southern states have generally fewer high school graduates:This statistic is also driven by poverty. Children living in poverty have a higher number of absenteeism or leave school altogether because they are more likely to have to work or care for family members. Dropout rates of students aged 16 to 24 who come from low income families are seven times higher than those from families with higher incomes. Ref: Facts about Education and Poverty in America
The lighter the color the fewer graduates:
13.  Southern states have fewer residents with college degrees:While people with college degrees can generally expect to make more money in their lifetime, a college degree does not guarantee economic success, especially when considering the cost of a degree, return on investment and the student debt crisis. But studies have shown that college degrees for disadvantaged populations help more than just the student by breaking the cycle of poverty. Ref: Shriver Report

14.  Southern states have the highest rates of incarceration:Since the 1980s the attitude of many law and order types has been lock 'em up and throw away the key, "three strikes and you're out" that will solve the problem. But actually this policy of increased incarceration has actually exacerbated the problem of poverty, which has been shown to be the root of so many other miserable statistics.
The shift to tougher penal policies three decades ago was originally credited with helping people in poor neighborhoods by reducing crime. But now that America’s incarceration rate has risen to be the world’s highest, many social scientists find the social benefits to be far outweighed by the costs to those communities.“Prison has become the new poverty trap,” said Bruce Western, a Harvard sociologist. “It has become a routine event for poor African-American men and their families, creating an enduring disadvantage at the very bottom of American society.”
Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job. NY Times
Prisoners per 100,000 population:1 Louisiana 867
2 Mississippi 686
3 Oklahoma 654
4 Alabama 648
5 Texas 648
6 Arizona 572
7 Florida 556
8 Arkansas 552
9 Missouri 508
10 South Carolina 495
11 Georgia 479
12 Idaho 474
13 Nevada 472
14 Virginia 468
15 Kentucky 458
Let's review.
Southern states:
1.  are the most religious
2.  are the most evangelical
3.  have the most racists
4.  are controlled by Republicans
5.  have the lowest wages
6.  are the most impoverished
7.  have the highest regional use of food stamps
8.  have the highest rates of teen pregnancy
9.  have the highest rates of obesity
10. have higher rates of heart disease and stroke
11. have higher rates of cancer mortality
12. have fewer high school graduates
13. have fewer residents with college degrees
14. have the highest rates of incarceration
Considered alone, each of these fourteen points could be sloughed off as an anomaly, but considered in their totality they tell the story of a self perpetuating tragedy, like a never-ending blues progression where the singer keeps coming back to an abusive lover. There are non-southern states that pop in and out of the list of misery to be sure, some even controlled at least in part by Democrats. But the pattern is clear. This is no coincidence. These are the states that consistently show up either at the top of a bad category or at the bottom of a good one. These are the consequences of sustained Republican control.
The good news is that we know America is becoming less religious — and we can hope less racist — and in a generation this sociological trend should combine with the other demographic shifts, like the rise of minority populations, to retire the GOP eventually from national relevance. The bad news is we can't wait that long. Irreparable harm is being done now.
Evangelical snake oil peddlers like former Bible salesman, David Lane, are calling evangelical clergy to action. And in Iowa where conservatives traditionally have an inordinate influence in the state’s Republican presidential caucuses, evangelicals are preparing to shape the field for 2016.
In what he says is his effort to restore “our Christian heritage”, Mr. Lane’s American Renewal Project has already shown its influence in Iowa by helping to unseat three State Supreme Court justices who voted to allow same-sex marriage. NY Times
People are entitled to believe what they want and practice their faith in their church or in their home however they choose, but the rest of us don't want to live in the cesspool of consequences that are the waste water of faith driven public policies. We can no longer just accept the fact that the Republican Party is exploiting evangelicals and racists in the south for political advantage and that there is nothing to be done about it. Republicans intend on spreading their poison throughout the nation. They have hijacked state houses in many states that traditionally vote Democratic in presidential elections because Democrats have failed to turn out in midterm elections. Also in the works in states like Michigan are plans to rig the 2016 presidential election by awarding more electoral votes to the loser in popular votes through a sort of Electoral College gerrymandering. Democratic leaders have not forcefully called out the GOP for their Southern Strategy and faith-based idiocy, possibly fearing offending moderate Christians. Well it is time to start offending people. Democrats need to put Republicans on the defensive by pounding on the disastrous results of Republican policies over and over and over again, instead of getting drawn into false equivalency debates on Sunday morning talk shows.

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