Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Reading

“A Dream Undone” — From the New York Times magazine, Jim Rutenberg reports on the efforts to bring back Jim Crow.

On the morning of his wedding, in 1956, Henry Frye realized that he had a few hours to spare before the afternoon ceremony. He was staying at his parents’ house in Ellerbe, N.C.; the ceremony would take place 75 miles away, in Greensboro, the hometown of his fiancée; and the drive wouldn’t take long. Frye, who had always been practical, had a practical thought: Now might be a good time to finally register to vote. He was 24 and had just returned from Korea, where he served as an Air Force officer, but he was also a black man in the American South, so he wasn’t entirely surprised when his efforts at the registrar’s office were blocked.

Adopting a tactic common in the Jim Crow South, the registrar subjected Frye to what election officials called a literacy test. In 1900, North Carolina voters amended the state’s Constitution to require that all new voters “be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language,” but for decades some registrars had been applying that already broad mandate even more aggressively, targeting perfectly literate black registrants with arbitrary and obscure queries, like which president served when or who had the ultimate power to adjourn Congress. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know why are you asking me all of these questions,’ ” Frye, now 83, recalled. “We went around and around, and he said, ‘Are you going to answer these questions?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not going to try.’ And he said, ‘Well, then, you’re not going to register today.’ ”

Sitting with me on the enclosed porch of his red-brick ranch house in Greensboro, drinking his wife’s sweet tea, Frye could joke about the exchange now, but at the time it left him upset and determined. When he met Shirley at the altar, the first thing he said was: “You know they wouldn’t let me register?”

“Can we talk about this later?” she replied.

After a few weeks, Frye drove over to the Board of Elections in Rockingham, the county seat, to complain. An official told him to go back and try again. This time a different registrar, after asking if he was the fellow who had gone over to the election board, handed him a paragraph to copy from the Constitution. He copied it, and with that, he became a voter.

But in the American South in 1956, not every would-be black voter was an Air Force officer with the wherewithal to call on the local election board; for decades, most had found it effectively impossible to attain the most elemental rights of citizenship. Only about one-quarter of eligible black voters in the South were registered that year, according to the limited records available. By 1959, when Frye went on to become one of the first black graduates of the University of North Carolina law school, that number had changed little. When Frye became a legal adviser to the students running the antisegregation sit-ins at the Greensboro Woolworth’s in 1960, the number remained roughly the same. And when Frye became a deputy United States attorney in the Kennedy administration, it had grown only slightly. By law, the franchise extended to black voters; in practice, it often did not.

What changed this state of affairs was the passage, 50 years ago this month, of the Voting Rights Act. Signed on Aug. 6, 1965, it was meant to correct “a clear and simple wrong,” as Lyndon Johnson said. “Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote.” It eliminated literacy tests and other Jim Crow tactics, and — in a key provision called Section 5 — required North Carolina and six other states with histories of black disenfranchisement to submit any future change in statewide voting law, no matter how small, for approval by federal authorities in Washington. No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote. Johnson called the legislation “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom,” and not without justification. By 1968, just three years after the Voting Rights Act became law, black registration had increased substantially across the South, to 62 percent. Frye himself became a beneficiary of the act that same year when, after a close election, he became the first black state representative to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly since Reconstruction.

In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements. The story of that decades-long battle over the iconic law’s tenets and effects has rarely been told, but in July many of its veteran warriors met in a North Carolina courthouse to argue the legality of a new state voting law that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School has called one of the “most restrictive since the Jim Crow era.” The decision, which is expected later this year, could determine whether the civil rights movement’s signature achievement is still justified 50 years after its signing, or if the movement itself is finished.

Upping the Outrage — James Hamblin in The Atlantic on how the internet fuels the response to something and then moves on.

Now is the point in the story of Cecil the lion—amid non-stop news coverage and passionate social-media advocacy—when people get tired of hearing about Cecil the lion. Even if they hesitate to say it.But Cecil fatigue is only going to get worse. On Friday morning, Zimbabwe’s environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri, called for the extradition of the man who killed him, the Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Muchinguri would like Palmer to be “held accountable for his illegal action”—paying a reported $50,000 to kill Cecil with an arrow after luring him away from protected land. And she’s far from alone in demanding accountability. This week, the Internet has served as a bastion of judgment and vigilante justice—just like usual, except that this was a perfect storm directed at a single person. It might be called an outrage singularity.Palmer didn’t just kill a lion. He killed an especially good-looking and “beloved” lion in an ostentatious and gruesome fashion that culminated in decapitation. To make things worse, that lion had a human name. To make things worse still, that name was Cecil.

[…]

The Internet has served to facilitate outrage, as the Internet does: the hotter the better. And because the case is so visceral and bipartisan in its opposition to Palmer’s act, few people stepped in to suggest that the fury, the people tweeting his home address, might be too much. That argument wins no outrage points.Instead, the people who hadn’t jumped on the Cecil-outrage bandwagon jumped on the superiority-outrage bandwagon. It’s a bandwagon of outrage one-upmanship, and it’s just as rewarding as the original outrage bandwagon. Anyone can play, like this:

It’s fine to be outraged about one lion, but what about all of the other lions who are hunted and killed every year?  There are 250 Cecils killed annually across Africa as trophies, and that’s what you should really be outraged by. But good job caring now.

Actually, what about all of the animals? All of the cattle and fish and brilliant pigs who are systematically slaughtered for human consumption every day? Were you eating a hot dog when you posted that thing about Cecil on Facebook? Anyone who is not vegan is no better than the dentist Walter Palmer. That is what you really should be outraged by.

Actually, you only care about Zimbabwe when a lion is killed? Great of you. Killing animals is part of the circle of life, but you know what’s not? Human trafficking. People are bought and sold as slaves today all over the world. Why are you talking about one aged jungle cat in a place where the relationship between impoverished pastoralist communities and wealthy foreign tourists is more complicated than you actually understand?

And I’m glad you’re so concerned about human trafficking, but there will be no humans at all if we don’t do something about climate change. Reliance on fossil fuels and industrialized farming is the real problem, and that’s what you should be outraged by. You don’t know what to care about. I know what to care about.

The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. Even when a dentist kills an adorable lion, and everyone is upset about it, there’s better outrage ground to be won. The most widely accepted hierarchy of outrage seems to be: Single animal injured < single animal killed < multiple animals killed < systematic killing of animals < systematic oppression/torture of people < systematic killing of humans < end of all life due to uninhabitable planet.

To say that there’s a more important issue in the world is always true, except in the case of climate change ending all life, both human and animal. So it’s meaningless, even if it’s fun, to go around one-upping people’s outrage. Try it. Someone will express legitimate concern over something, and all you have to do is say there are more important things to be concerned about. All you have to do is use the phrase “spare me” and then say something about global warming. You can literally write, “My outrage is more legit than your outrage! Ahhh!”

Jon Stewart, Patriot — An appreciation in The New Yorker by David Remnick.

Political life in America never ceases to astonish. Take last week’s pronouncements from the Republican Presidential field. Please. Mike Huckabee predicted that President Obama’s seven-nation agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Ted Cruz anointed the American President “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” Marco Rubio tweeted, “Look at all this outrage over a dead lion, but where is all the outrage over the planned parenthood dead babies.” And the (face it) current front-runner, the halfway hirsute hotelier Donald Trump, having insulted the bulk of his (count ’em) sixteen major rivals plus (countless) millions of citizens of the (according to him) not-so-hot nation he proposes to lead, announced via social media that in this week’s Fox News debate he plans “to be very nice & highly respectful of the other candidates.” Really, now. Who’s writing this stuff? Jon Stewart?

Over the decades, our country has been lucky in many things, not least in the subversive comic spirits who, in varying ways, employ a joy buzzer, a whoopee cushion, and a fun-house mirror to knock the self-regard out of an endless parade of fatuous pols. Thomas Nast drew caricatures so devastating that they roiled the ample guts of our town’s Boss, William Marcy Tweed. Will Rogers’s homespun barbs humbled the devious of the early twentieth century. Mort Sahl, the Eisenhower-era comic whose prop was a rolled-up newspaper, used conventional one-liners to wage radical battle: “I’ve arranged with my executor to be buried in Chicago, because when I die I want to still remain politically active.” Later, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, and Joan Rivers continued to draw comic sustenance from what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk.”

Four nights a week for sixteen years, Jon Stewart, the host and impresario of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” has taken to the air to expose our civic bizarreries. He has been heroic and persistent. Blasted into orbit by a trumped-up (if you will) impeachment and a stolen Presidential election, and then rocketing through the war in Iraq and right up to the current electoral circus, with its commodious clown car teeming with would-be Commanders-in-Chief, Stewart has lasered away the layers of hypocrisy in politics and in the media. On any given night, a quick montage of absurdist video clips culled from cable or network news followed by Stewart’s vaudeville reactions can be ten times as deflating to the self-regard of the powerful as any solemn editorial—and twice as illuminating as the purportedly non-fake news that provides his fuel.

[…]

Stewart set out to be a working comedian, and he ended up an invaluable patriot. But the berserk never stops. His successor, Trevor Noah, will not lack for material. As Stewart put it wryly on one of his last nights on the air, “As I wind down my time here, I leave this show knowing that most of the world’s problems have been solved by us, ‘The Daily Show.’ But sadly there are still some dark corners that our broom of justice has not reached yet.”

Doonesbury — Amateur Night.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

Truly, Finally, Totally

BooMan has a very good post on the current state of carnage that is today’s Republican Party and why someone like Donald Trump is leading in the polls.

What needs to be understood, first and foremost, is that we’re nearing the logical conclusion of a sequence of decisions that the right has made over the last several decades to delegitimize our core institutions. In this I include most obviously the political chattering class, but also the federal government (the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court), the Republican leadership, academia, and more recently even the scientific community. The result is that a huge swath of the right-leaning electorate can no longer be reached. The only messengers who still have credibility with these folks are the ones who are willing to call bullshit on the whole enchilada.

Keep a couple of important concepts in mind. First, the right hasn’t just been sold a bill of goods on things like voter fraud and Benghazi and Obamacare. They’ve also been promised a bunch of things that the Republican politicians either had no ability or no intention to fulfill. The Republican bigwigs don’t want to ban abortion. This isn’t Falangist Spain or Paraguay or Saudi Arabia. This isn’t Greece, either, and the GOP leaders have no desire to abolish the IRS. When the Republicans last had a man in the Oval Office, he vastly increased the power of the Department of Education and created a huge new prescription drug entitlement program for the elderly. This wasn’t some aberration. The Republicans who hold federal office aren’t nearly as opposed to federal power as they’d like their base of supporters to believe. They also have the ability to jettison their own bullshit when the bullshit hits the fan, which is why they pay our debts and why they gave the banks a huge bailout despite it contradicting their previously declared ideology. What we’re seeing now is a growing realization that nominating another Bush and expecting these promises to be kept is Einstein’s definition of insanity.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the right has been enduring a string of brutal defeats which have only been mitigated somewhat by their successes in the last two midterm elections. The Supreme Court just legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, which wasn’t what the right had in mind when they went to polls in droves in 2004 to pass anti-gay marriage initiatives and referendums. We just normalized relations with Cuba and are talking about making an historic agreement with Iran. The Confederate Flag just lost its last semblance of official respectability. The Affordable Care Act survived its last serious legal challenge and is here to stay.

And they’ve been badly discredited, too. Iraq didn’t go as planned. Gitmo didn’t go as planned. Torturing folks didn’t go as planned. Massive tax cuts and deregulation didn’t go as planned.

So, when you add all of this up, you have a movement that is completely lost at sea with terrible morale.

It’s no wonder, then, that someone like Donald Trump could come along and distract the crowds and the media with his Roman Candle vocal eruptions and attacks on his fellow candidates.  It’s no wonder that sixteen other people who in the normal world of political reality would stand as much a chance of being elected President of the United States as Kim Jong-un of North Korea has of winning the Nobel Peace Prize are running for the office anyway.  Desperate people do truly desperate things and the GOP has been watching the air run out of their tires for about fifteen years now.

So when the GOP floats the possibility of someone like Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, Jim Gilmore, Ted Cruz, or Rand Paul as being a viable candidate, you know how, as BooMan says, they are “truly, finally, totally fucked up.”

Short Takes

Serial number confirms that the piece of the airliner found on Reunion is from Malaysia Airlines MG 370.

The University of Cincinnati policeman indicted for murder in the killing of an unarmed man had his bail set at $1 million.

A California wildfire near Napa Valley has forced 650 people from their homes.

Six people were stabbed by a lunatic in the Jerusalem gay pride parade.

Athletes will swim in filth at the Rio Olympics according to the AP.

The Tigers beat the Orioles 9-8.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

No Escape

A week from today I’m going up to Stratford, Ontario, with the Old Professor for a long weekend of theatre and renewing old acquaintances with a place that is dear to both of us.  (Long-time readers know that Stratford was an annual pilgrimage of mine with my parents until last year when their relocation to Cincinnati meant giving it up.)  I’m really looking forward to it; we’re going to see some great plays.  And, I thought, we’re going to have a brief respite from all of the silly campaign news that dominates the media here in the U.S.

Guess what.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will call an election as early as this Sunday, kicking off what would be the longest federal election campaign in modern history, CBC News has confirmed.

The election is generally considered to be set for Oct. 19, 2015, under the Conservatives’ fixed election law, although there is wiggle room. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Bloomberg News Wednesday that he considers that date to be set in stone.

[…]

Dropping the writ more than 11 weeks before voting day will make it the longest campaign in modern history. The previous longest campaign was a 74-day one in 1926.

On the other hand, I would love to see an American election campaign that lasted only eleven weeks.  I’d settle for eleven months.

Hillary Clinton In South Florida

Via the Washington Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton will go to Miami, heart of the Cuban American opposition to any warming of the decades-old deep freeze in U.S.-Cuba relations, to call for lifting the stiff U.S. embargo on commercial dealings with the communist nation.

The Democratic front-runner will make her first campaign appearances in vote-rich Florida on Friday, including the Cuba policy speech at Miami’s Florida International University. Her campaign announced the speech Wednesday and said she will expressly call on Congress to lift the embargo on trade, travel and other dealings with Cuba imposed by President John F. Kennedy more than 50 years ago.

Actually, if there’s opposition to lifting the embargo, it’s pretty faint.  A poll done over a year ago — before President Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations — showed that most Cuban-Americans, including those here in South Florida, are against the embargo.  So it’s not a very controversial stand to take even in Miami.

As Paul Waldman notes, “It just so happens that there are a couple of Floridians running for president who want to keep the embargo, on the theory that even if it hasn’t worked for 50 years, it’ll do the Castros in any day now.”

How ISIS Will Win

Via C&L:

During an interview on Wednesday, attorney Elizabeth Beck told CNN that she was representing clients who were trying to get their condominium deposits back from Trump after a failed real estate venture in 2011. She said that she had been taking a deposition from the GOP candidate when she asked for a break to pump breast milk.

“He got up, his face got red, he shook his finger at me and he screamed, ‘You’re disgusting, you’re disgusting,’ and he ran out of there,” Beck said, calling the incident an “absolute meltdown.”

If Donald Trump is elected president, all ISIS has to do is whip out some breast pumps and we’re toast.

A Hard Life

Via The Intercept, we learn of one man’s suffering under the heel of the oppressors.

Phil Gramm, a former three-term Republican senator from Texas who once ran the Senate Banking Committee, told the House Financial Services Committee yesterday that “it was an outrage” that his friend Edward Whitacre, the CEO of AT&T, only got “$75 million” when he retired in 2007.

“If there’s ever been an exploited worker” it was Whitacre, said Gramm, testifying on the 5th anniversary of passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Gramm appeared genuinely aggrieved by Whitacre’s shabby treatment and literally pounded the table while speaking.

Whitacre actually received a retirement package totaling $158 million.

Gramm attributed public anger at CEOs like Whitacre to “the one form of bigotry that is still allowed in America,” which is “bigotry against the successful.”

Oh, the humanity.

HT to Digby.

Short Takes

Afghans say Taliban leader Mullah Omar died in 2013.

Remains of a plane washing ashore on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean could be from the missing Malaysia jet.

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) indicted on corruption charges.

Cincinnati police officer indicted for murder in the shooting of an unarmed man.

Refugees are camped out in France trying to get to England by the chunnel.

Finally!  Justin Verlander gets his first win as the Tigers beat the Rays 2-1.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Going To 10

Today Microsoft releases their newest operating system, Windows 10.  Users of their current systems, 7 and 8, have been offered free upgrades, and since I’m on 7, I signed up.  Via CBC, HT Bryan:

Windows 10 is coming to PCs and tablets first, but it’s also designed to run phones, game consoles and even holographic headsets. It has new features, a streamlined Web browser called Edge and a desktop version of Cortana, the online assistant that is Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and Apple’s Siri.

Still, the company insists Windows 10 will seem familiar to users of Windows 7, the six-year-old operating system still running on most PCs. Microsoft and PC makers want to erase the memory of the last big update, 2012’s Windows 8, which alienated many with its jarring, unwieldy design.

Microsoft skipped the name Windows 9, as if to distance itself further from the last release. While many analysts believe Windows 8 made sagging PC sales even worse, it’s unclear if Windows 10 will spur the industry back to growth.

Microsoft operating systems are like Star Trek movies: every other one is bad (remember Vista?) so presumably 10 will be an improvement.  I will let you know after the upgrade happens here, which could be anytime between now and the Rapture.

Here’s a trip down Memory Lane for Microsoft users over the last 30 years.  Tada.

Everybody Dance

Fox News will now let every Republican candidate into the debates next week.

Fox News announced another change to its August 6 Republican presidential candidate forum on Tuesday, removing the requirement that candidates clear at least one percent in an average of national polls to qualify for the second-tier debate.

The change ensures that all 16 of the GOP’s major declared presidential contenders will participate in one of the two primary debates Fox News is hosting next month. The top 10 candidates in an average of national polls will square off in a two-hour debate at 9 p.m. on August 6 (more than 10 candidates could qualify if there is a tie for 10th place.) The six who do not qualify for the debate will now automatically qualify for a separate one-hour event at 5 p.m.

That means it will go something like this: “Candidates, your opening statements, please… blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah… blah blah blah blah blah blah… Good night everyone.”

Short Takes

Turkey called an emergency NATO meeting over ISIS in Syria.

President Obama told African leaders who overstayed their welcome to get the hint.

Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel, will be paroled in November.

Tom Brady’s four-game suspension because he deflated his balls is upheld by the NFL commissioner.

Talk about an upgrade: Delta offers a private jet.

The Tigers lost 10-2 to the Rays.