Amanda Teuscher

Amanda Teuscher is The American Prospect's managing editor.

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The Mizzou Scandal Shows Why Black Colleges Are Still Vital

University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s resignation Monday underscores how even in 2015, majority-white institutions remain potentially unsafe places for black students.

The events leading up to Wolfe’s resignation—the racist verbal assaults on campus, the swastika written in feces in a residential hall, and ultimately the administration’s inadequate response to students’ concerns—are all too familiar to longtime advocates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

As Darrick Hamilton argues in the Fall issue of The American Prospect, tenacious campus discrimination demonstrates the ongoing and urgent need for HBCUs. Such institutions offer students an environment free both from institutional biases and overt hostility, Hamilton and his coauthors note. Yet HBCUs face the danger of extinction amid mounting financial strain.

“Despite the promise of integration, black students frequently report feelings of isolation and the burden of representing their race in alien spaces,” Hamilton writes. “Some spaces are not only alien, but explicitly hostile.”

In “Why Black Colleges and Universities Still Matter,” Hamilton and his co-authors describe recent incidents at other college campuses that, in the context of the recent Missouri scandal, have an eerily familiar ring. In December of last year, he notes, “members of the Clemson chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity threw a gang-themed ‘Cripmas’ party. The university placed SAE on probation in April 2015 for two years.”

In March at the University of Oklahoma, the same fraternity made headlines after, as Hamilton describes it, “video surfaced of University of Oklahoma SAE chapter members singing, ‘There will never be a nigger at SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger at SAE.’ The chapter was immediately shut down, but the damage from this egregious case, which just happened to be caught on video, is done.”

Tensions at Missouri had been brewing for a while (for a timeline of the events, see here), but a catalyzing event was a September Facebook post from Missouri Students Association President Payton Head, written after passersby had called him the n-word.

It wasn’t the first time. A similar incident during Head’s sophomore year was what galvanized him to first seek student office.

“I realized I had a decision to make,” Head told the student news source The Maneater after the Facebook post went viral. “I could go back down South to the historically black college that was still offering me a scholarship, but then I realized, what would I be doing if I left?” he wrote. “This place is my home, but I want my home to be better.”

Only about 7 percent of Mizzou students are black. However, as Dave Zirin pointed out in The Nation, more than two-thirds of the school’s beloved football team, the center of a loyal sports culture and a huge cash cow, are black. It was those athletes who ultimately forced administrators to respond.

At historically black colleges and universities, discrimination takes a financial, if not a social toll. Loss of state support and declining revenues for public and private HBCUs are putting their existence at risk, Hamilton and his colleagues note. Private HBCUs received far less revenue per student than their traditionally white counterparts, and HBCUs rely more on government funding. Black students in turn rely more heavily on loans, many of them predatory or risky.

While the postwar GI Bill infused unprecedented amounts of money in higher education, blacks were still shut out of many historically white schools and had far more limited access to federal aid. The student group behind many of the protests at Missouri in the past few months is Concerned Student 1950, a reference to the first year the university admitted a black student. Sixty-five years later, disparities still exist.

McCarthy's Exit Sparks Liberal Schadenfreude and GOP Disarray

At about noon today, political Twitter and news junkies were offered a gift: Representative Kevin McCarthy, the presumed successor to House Speaker John Boehner’s throne, abruptly withdrew from the leadership contest.

McCarthy’s election was by no means certain—just yesterday, the conservative Freedom Caucus decided to back Representative Dan Webster instead—but things were looking pretty good for the California Republican. “How the dusty, deep red Bakersfield, California, shaped his life—and might shape his speakership,” said the subtitle for a Politico magazine story posted today, anticipating the outcome of today’s Republican conference vote (which Boehner has now postponed).

There’s been a few ideas as to why McCarthy made the sudden decision to drop out of the race, from unsubstantiated rumors of an affair to the Freedom Caucus decision. And of course, there was McCarthy’s ill-advised comment last week, which seemed to acknowledge that the Benghazi committee was a political tool meant to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The decision left some Republicans “audibly crying” in the cloakroom and gave liberal observers cause for glee.

Clinton demonstrated her own delight in the news, by posting this video:


Journalists and Twitter users highlighted the chaos of the Republican Party and its failure of leadership, and some typically wild speculations:


But John Nichols of The Nation had a particularly stirring condemnation of the GOP and the politics of “no” that have led to the party’s unsurprising disarray:

But the greater surrender is that of the Republican Party. It has given up on a premise as old as the party itself: that Republican speakers (like the best of Democratic speakers) would lead the whole House and seek to keep the chamber functioning. … But [Boehner’s] tepid regard for governing was too much for his caucus. And for a party that has no real need for a speaker of the House because it has lost interest in what Republicans historically understood as governing.

What the Federal Poverty Line Leaves Out

The federal poverty line was first developed in 1963, and since then has been updated for inflation. Beyond the fact that it does not vary by geography (it’s a lot more expensive to live in New York City than in Tennessee), there are a number of flaws in the measurement. For instance, it was calculated by multiplying the cost of groceries by three (which consumed a larger portion of a family’s budget in the 1960s), while neglecting to factor in exact costs like housing, health care, child care, and transportation. But the costs of necessities like these have changed significantly in the past five decades.

In 2011, the Census Bureau released the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which was meant to improve our understanding of the state of U.S. poverty by accounting for regional variances as well as other costs such as child care. It also factors in assistance programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is important for demonstrating how federal policy can play a role in alleviating poverty.

But an even more nuanced measurement of economic well-being is the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, which was updated yesterday to include 2014 numbers. The EPI calculator estimates how much it costs to “attain a secure yet modest living standard,” and provides data on ten different family sizes (one or two parents, with zero to five children) across 618 distinct geographic areas and cities. The new tool factors in community-specific expenses for housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes, and the numbers it yields are startling.

For instance, in Morristown, Tennessee, which has the lowest cost of living, a two-parent, two-child family has a budget of $49,114—more than twice the 2014 poverty threshold of $24,008 for that size family. And forget economic security if you’re making the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in Morristown, even if you’re single with no children: Your monthly budget of $23,458, according to the calculator, is still well above the $15,080 in wages you’d take home in one year.

(Courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute)


One of the key findings of the updated calculator is the wide range of child-care costs across different regions, highlighting a limitation of the SPM, which applies geographic variability only to housing. According to the EPI calculator, a family of four in 500 of the 618 areas can expect to pay more for child care than for housing.

(Courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute)


Perhaps surprising to only a few, Washington, D.C., had the highest cost of living, according to the EPI calculator. That same family of four would need an annual budget of $106,493, which even the city’s higher minimum wage (set to increase to $11.50 an hour in 2016) would fall far short of. Another prominent calculator of living wages, that of MIT, finds similar discrepancies between actual costs of living and federal poverty thresholds, which can determine eligibility for certain assistance programs and provide a picture of how many Americans live with severe economic instability.

Even still, these calculations do not include such middle-class luxuries as saving for retirement or job loss, or paying for summer camp or sports programs for children—or even saving for college. It’s a more secure standard of living than our current poverty levels, but the emphasis is still on “modest.”

Conan O'Brien Wants to Help Lincoln Chafee's Campaign

Here at the Prospect, we had intended to be your No. 1 place for Lincoln Chafee news. You know, Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island governor (and former Republican) who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination?

If we’ve been neglecting our duties, it’s only because, well, it wasn’t clear anyone actually wanted to read Lincoln Chafee news. In a 1,001-person poll last month, Chafee received absolutely zero votes, and his perhaps most well-publicized social media incident happened when his wife posted to his campaign’s Facebook page, asking if anyone on staff knew the password. He’s still polling at 0.0 on Real Clear Politics.

In answer to the glee many are feeling regarding Chafee’s long-shot campaign, comedian Conan O’Brien is making it his mission to get Chafee from 0 percent to 1 percent, at least in polling results. “Let’s be honest, I’m not trying to get him elected,” he said on his late-night show on Wednesday.

O’Brien offered his audience some facts about Chafee, including the candidate’s support for affirmative action, same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, and adopting the metric system. “So that should easily win over African American lesbian stoners who are also CEOs of companies that manufacture measuring cups,” O’Brien joked before noting that Chafee is also a professional ferrier (which is a bit reminiscent of Mitt and Ann Romney’s Olympic dressage horse ownership).

The O’Brien effort to get Chafee at least on the board also includes a campaign song, performed by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo to the tune of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.” Here’s the video of the Chafee-devoted Conan segment, and the lyrics to the song:

Used to be Republican

Switched to Dem in 2010

The pride of Rhode Island

His horse’s hooves were stylin’

Wants the metric system for the U.S.

A plan with zero gram’s chance of success

He’s Lincoln Chafee

For president

You don’t have to vote for him

Just get him to 1 percent

He’s only got 12 Facebook friends

He looks like Chris Matthews on a juice cleanse

He’s Lincoln Chafee

Let’s get him 1 percent

He’ll never be president

Just get him 1 percent

Chafee showed himself to be a good sport in responding to the segment, thanking O’Brien for the attention, and offering to “come on the show to help his ratings.”

I’d say stay tuned for more Lincoln Chafee news, but unless O’Brien’s plan is more effective than the “Colbert Bump,” it might be a while before we have more to write about.

From #BlackLivesMatter to the Bureau of Land Management, Oath Keepers Aim to Intimidate

In the early morning on Tuesday, about half a dozen men armed with assault rifles began walking the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, which was under a state of emergency following protests on the August 9 anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown.

They were members of Oath Keepers, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group,” and they said they were there to “keep the peace”—as if their presence was meant to be anything other than intimidating. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said their arrival was “both unnecessary and inflammatory,” but apparently no police officers confronted the group. The men were all white, of course—as if they could have possibly been met with the same response if they were black or brown.

(Photo: AP/Jeff Roberson)

Heavily armed members of the Oath Keepers arrive in Ferguson early on Tuesday, August 11, to "protect people and property."


CNN was gracious enough to grant one member, John Karriman, the chance to explain his organization’s mission in Ferguson. “We had a calming presence on the crowd because they remember us from last year,” he said. “We were here for them, protecting people and property.” In the interview, Karriman said the Oath Keepers made their presence known to police, who simply asked that they not get in the way. Before the militiamen arrived, the police had told protesters to disperse, arresting those who did not comply.

Oath Keepers interpret political reality through the same prism as the tinfoil-hat-wearing, black-helicopter crowd, except with a special emphasis on using their weapons to disobey and resist unconstitutional government overreach and the imminent and tyrannical imposition of martial law.

They’ve also been freelancing their paramilitary and weapon-wielding skills to mining companies in the West. Just last week, Intermountain Mining requested the group come to the White Hope Mine in Lincoln, Montana, to stage a “security operation” and protect the mine from “unlawful action by the United States Forest Service.” The Forest Service and the mine owners are in a dispute over who controls the surface rights to the mine, with Intermountain Mining claiming ownership under the original 1872 General Mining Law and the Forest Service citing noncompliance regarding a structure built on the property.

It’s worth talking a bit about this 1872 law, which is, incredibly, still on the books: Passed by President Ulysses S. Grant—yes, Grant—to encourage western development, the law lets mining companies buy land (at 1872 prices) and extract valuable minerals from public lands without paying any royalties (an estimated $100 million a year, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts). The taxpayers are left with the bill for environmental damage and abandoned mine cleanup, which is considerable. Last week’s dam breach in Colorado that leaked millions of gallons—and counting—of contaminated wastewater into the Animas River happened when the EPA was performing a cleanup of the Gold King Mine, abandoned since 1923.

It is this industry Oath Keepers are defending in Montana, just as they defended rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to recognize the federal government or pay years’ worth of fees for having allowed his cattle to graze on public land. A report released on Tuesday by the Center for Western Priorities, which describes itself as a nonpartisan conservation group, linked the efforts of extremist groups like Oath Keepers to Western state lawmakers who use anti-government rhetoric in their efforts to transfer ownership of federal lands—and the minerals underneath them—to state and local government.

But rhetoric is one thing, and assault weapons are another. The founder of Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, wrote on the group’s website after the shooting in Chattanooga that Oath Keepers should “Go armed, at all times, as free men and women, and be ready to do sudden battle, anywhere, anytime, and with utter recklessness.” The group has denied that its mine protection in Montana is a “standoff,” though if I were a Forest Service employee, I would be a bit reluctant to approach armed men who not only believe my agency is unconstitutional, but also are prepared to “do sudden battle” with supposed agents of tyranny.

And if I were a protester in Ferguson, or one of the countless unarmed victims of police violence, I would also be more than reluctant to believe this country has an accurate idea of what constitutes a threat, or of who or what needs protecting.