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.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Reading

Out-Trumping Trump — Amy Davidson in The New Yorker on the rest of the GOP candidates’ attempts to be heard over the din of Donald.

It’s hard enough to be heard in a crowded room without having to compete with a man who ended the week in Laredo, Texas, so that he could inspect the border, professing, “They say it’s a great danger, but I have to do it.” (He added that, once he is elected, “the Hispanics” are “going to love Trump.”) It’s harder still when you’re trying not to offend his supporters. After Trump insulted Mexicans last month, Bush said that he was personally offended, but others were more cautious. Christie commented that although some of Trump’s remarks may be “inappropriate,” he is “a good guy.” Cruz said, “I think he speaks the truth.” But if Trump weren’t around would the other Republicans behave that much more responsibly?

There is a serious discussion to be had over the Iran deal, yet the G.O.P. contenders seem willing to shatter years of diplomacy in the name of grandstanding. Cruz announced that “the Obama Administration will become the leading financier of terrorism against America in the world,” and Graham thought that the deal looked like “a death sentence for the State of Israel.” Rubio, in a Trump-like move, said that Obama lacked “class.” Bush and Walker got into a fight about whether they’d renounce the deal and start planning military strikes on Inauguration Day or wait until the first Cabinet meeting. Saying it’s Trump who’s wrecking the Republican Party ignores the ways that he embodies it.

Trump is not going to be elected, but he is intent enough on staying in the race to have filed financial-disclosure paperwork with the F.E.C.—a step that many observers thought he would stop short of—and he promptly put out a press release stating his worth at “ten billion dollars.” (Forbes estimates four billion; the biggest discrepancy comes from Trump’s assertion that his name alone is worth three billion.) In this election, the post-Citizens United financing mechanisms have fully matured, effectively removing the limits and the disclosure requirements for individual donations to campaigns. The money may have to be laundered through a super PAC, but that is just a formality. This distorts the process in both parties and might help explain the large assortment of candidates. Cruz may seem like a preening opportunist, unpopular among his colleagues, but, having attracted more than fifty million dollars in contributions, he is a credible candidate. The Times reported that a significant portion of his early money came from a single donor: Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund executive who is so private that one of the few traces of his personal life in the public record is a lawsuit that he brought against a toy company that installed a model train set in his home and, he felt, overcharged him—by two million dollars.

To mount a Presidential campaign these days, you need just two people: a candidate and a wealthy donor. Or, in Trump’s case, just one: he is his own billionaire. And he is the unadorned face of American politics.

Gun-Running — When it comes to loose gun laws, Gov. Bobby Jindal has led the way by making Louisiana the place to be.  And now he’s shocked and saddened when a mass shooting happens in his state. Zoë Carpenter at The Nation reports.

“We love us some guns,” Bobby Jindal once said of his fellow Louisianans. Two of them were killed, and nine others wounded, on Thursday night when a man walked into a movie theater in Lafayette, sat for a while, and then fired more than a dozen rounds from a .40 caliber handgun.

“We never imagined it would happen in Louisiana,” Jindal said afterward, though the state has the second-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, more than twice the national average. Louisiana also has some of the laxest firearm regulations, for which Jindal bears much responsibility. During his eight years as governor he’s signed at least a dozen gun-related bills, most intended to weaken gun-safety regulation or expand access to firearms. One allowed people to take their guns to church; another, into restaurants that serve alcohol. He broadened Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground law, and made it a crime to publish the names of people with concealed carry permits. At the same time Jindal has pushed for cuts to mental health services.

Jindal treats guns not as weapons but political props. On the presidential campaign trail he’s posed repeatedly for photos cradling a firearm in his arms. “My kind of campaign stop,” he tweeted earlier this month from an armory in Iowa. After the Charleston massacre, he called President Obama’s mild comments about gun violence “completely shameful.” The correct response then, according to Jindal, was “hugging these families,” and “praying for these families.”

On Thursday night Jindal hurried from Baton Rouge to the parking lot of the theater in Lafayette and again called for prayer. “Now is not the time,” he said when a reporter asked about gun control. It is the time, he said later, to send the victims “your thoughts, your prayers, your love.” Meanwhile, Jindal’s campaign staff were reportedly contacting people commenting on Twitter about Louisiana’s gun violence problem and telling them to “put politics aside.”

“When it comes to the Second Amendment, no governor in the last four years has done more to protect our freedoms than Bobby Jindal,” an NRA official said of Jindal during his reelection campaign in 2011. Few have done as much on behalf of the NRA, certainly—and as little to protect their constituents.

Listen to the Laughter — What Barack Obama could have learned from watching Jon Stewart.  Sophia A. McClennen in Salon.

Much is being made of President Obama’s candid interview with Jon Stewart on one of the final episodes of his “Daily Show” tenure. It’s the end of an era for Obama too: He appeared as a guest seven times over the years.

While the revelations of the interview are interesting—Stewart continuing to press Obama on what he still has left to do, Obama chuckling that the GOP must love Trump because he “makes them look less crazy” – the last interview brings up one compelling question: What if Obama had actually watched the show more? Would he have learned more about the Republican mind? Would he have had a better grasp on the political challenges facing our nation, and his presidency?

Some will say that the president had better things to do with his time than watch a show on Comedy Central. Stewart, who loves to call himself just a comedian, might be one of them. That might make sense—except for the fact that his was no ordinary comedy show.

Stewart, like his colleague Stephen Colbert, had insight into U.S. politics Obama never seemed to understand.  “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” were one of the main sources of truth telling about U.S. politics and the nature of the Republican Party before and during the Obama presidency. Their hosts were more trusted than most reporters, and their viewers were more knowledgeable about current events than those of cable news.

But most important, audience knowledge came from satire.  Stewart and Colbert not only exposed fallacies, flaws in logic, and misrepresentations spun by politicians and the media, but they also encouraged critical thinking.  They didn’t just report that Fox News lied: They gave viewers a glimpse into the twisted thinking, hubris, disdain for large segments of society, and closed-mindedness that forms the common, core mind-set of Fox viewers.

Long before Obama launched his presidential campaign, Colbert and Stewart were well aware that extremist Republicans who regularly consume Fox News live in an alternate reality world, where facts “come from the gut” and where it makes sense to blame misfortune on the misfortunate.  Most important, Stewart and Colbert were aware that Fox News Republicans are immune to the force of reason. In fact, as interview after interview revealed on both shows, they simply live in a fantasy world.

Now it may seem to be an over-generalization to suggest that Fox News Republicans create their own reality absent both facts and reason, but we have significant evidence that this is indeed a social epidemic. Chris Mooney cites polls, scientific data and other evidence of what he calls the “Fox News effect”—“explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle.”

Stewart knew Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly misinformed.  Back in 2011 he spoke with Fox News host Chris Wallace on media bias. Stewart commented: “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.” The problem with misinformed viewers is that they can’t be reasoned with because they already hold false beliefs.  As research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler explains, there is a vast difference between an uninformed public and a misinformed one. An uninformed public is ignorant and can be educated; a misinformed one is delusional—and that’s far more dangerous.

Doonesbury — The gift horse.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Poisoning The Cyanide Factory

Via C&L, Jon Stewart takes on the right wing.

We poisoned that brand. Just out of curiosity, let me ask you a question, and I mean this sincerely. How do you poison a cyanide factory? But see, the little game that they play here is, the only reason the right looks bad is that these guys are unfair liars to us.

For some reason, the clip won’t embed, but go watch it.

HT to CLW.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

He Got Their Attention

The news that Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show later this year is sad; I’m sorry to see him go.  But he’s also making the choice to leave it while he’s still got the energy and wit to make it a graceful exit.

What I think makes his work different from a lot of other comedians and observers of our world is that he was able to get the attention of the people he was laughing at.  It got to the point that if someone was skewered by The Daily Show, they actually responded or, in some cases, even amended their ways.  That’s a whole other level beyond getting a mention in a David Letterman monologue.

The closest parallel I can think of in terms of theatre is the role of the Fool in Shakespeare’s plays such as King Lear: the one character who had no trouble speaking truth to power and doing it in such a way as to really drive home the point with humor and surgeon-like deftness.  We need these kinds of clowns — and I use that word in the best way — to bring down the powerful and remind them that they are just as flawed and powerless as everyone else.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Recent Unpleasantness

According to Andrew Napolitano at Fox News, the Civil War could have been avoided if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been such a bloodthirsty tightwad and tyrant.

“Slavery was dying a natural death all over the Western world. Instead of allowing it to die or helping it to die or even purchasing the slaves and then freeing them, which would have cost a lot less money than the Civil War cost, Lincoln set about in the most murderous war in American history,” Napolitano said.

I guess the GOP isn’t the Party of Lincoln any more.

Over to you, Jon Stewart.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013