Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Reading

“My President Was Black” — An excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s thoughts on the legacy of Barack Obama.

Last spring, I went to the White House to meet the president for lunch. I arrived slightly early and sat in the waiting area. I was introduced to a deaf woman who worked as the president’s receptionist, a black woman who worked in the press office, a Muslim woman in a head scarf who worked on the National Security Council, and an Iranian American woman who worked as a personal aide to the president. This receiving party represented a healthy cross section of the people Donald Trump had been mocking, and would continue to spend his campaign mocking. At the time, the president seemed untroubled by Trump. When I told Obama that I thought Trump’s candidacy was an explicit reaction to the fact of a black president, he said he could see that, but then enumerated other explanations. When assessing Trump’s chances, he was direct: He couldn’t win.

This assessment was born out of the president’s innate optimism and unwavering faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people—the same traits that had propelled his unlikely five-year ascent from Illinois state senator to U.S. senator to leader of the free world.* The speech that launched his rise, the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, emerged right from this logic. He addressed himself to his “fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, independents,” all of whom, he insisted, were more united than they had been led to believe. America was home to devout worshippers and Little League coaches in blue states, civil libertarians and “gay friends” in red states. The presumably white “counties around Chicago” did not want their taxes burned on welfare, but they didn’t want them wasted on a bloated Pentagon budget either. Inner-city black families, no matter their perils, understood “that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn … that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

Perceived differences were the work of “spinmasters and negative-ad peddlers who embrace the politics of ‘anything goes.’ ” Real America had no use for such categorizations. By Obama’s lights, there was no liberal America, no conservative America, no black America, no white America, no Latino America, no Asian America, only “the United States of America.” All these disparate strands of the American experience were bound together by a common hope:

It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

This speech ran counter to the history of the people it sought to address. Some of those same immigrants had firebombed the homes of the children of those same slaves. That young naval lieutenant was an imperial agent for a failed, immoral war. American division was real. In 2004, John Kerry did not win a single southern state. But Obama appealed to a belief in innocence—in particular a white innocence—that ascribed the country’s historical errors more to misunderstanding and the work of a small cabal than to any deliberate malevolence or widespread racism. America was good. America was great.

Over the next 12 years, I came to regard Obama as a skilled politician, a deeply moral human being, and one of the greatest presidents in American history. He was phenomenal—the most agile interpreter and navigator of the color line I had ever seen. He had an ability to emote a deep and sincere connection to the hearts of black people, while never doubting the hearts of white people. This was the core of his 2004 keynote, and it marked his historic race speech during the 2008 campaign at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center—and blinded him to the appeal of Trump. (“As a general proposition, it’s hard to run for president by telling people how terrible things are,” Obama once said to me.)

But if the president’s inability to cement his legacy in the form of Hillary Clinton proved the limits of his optimism, it also revealed the exceptional nature of his presidential victories. For eight years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell. Nothing in that time suggested that straight talk on the facts of racism in American life would have given him surer footing.

I had met the president a few times before. In his second term, I’d written articles criticizing him for his overriding trust in color-blind policy and his embrace of “personal responsibility” rhetoric when speaking to African Americans. I saw him as playing both sides. He would invoke his identity as a president of all people to decline to advocate for black policy—and then invoke his black identity to lecture black people for continuing to “make bad choices.” In response, Obama had invited me, along with other journalists, to the White House for off-the-record conversations. I attempted to press my points in these sessions. My efforts were laughable and ineffective. I was always inappropriately dressed, and inappropriately calibrated in tone: In one instance, I was too deferential; in another, too bellicose. I was discombobulated by fear—not by fear of the power of his office (though that is a fearsome and impressive thing) but by fear of his obvious brilliance. It is said that Obama speaks “professorially,” a fact that understates the quickness and agility of his mind. These were not like press conferences—the president would speak in depth and with great familiarity about a range of subjects. Once, I watched him effortlessly reply to queries covering everything from electoral politics to the American economy to environmental policy. And then he turned to me. I thought of George Foreman, who once booked an exhibition with multiple opponents in which he pounded five straight journeymen—and I suddenly had some idea of how it felt to be the last of them.

Last spring, we had a light lunch. We talked casually and candidly. He talked about the brilliance of LeBron James and Stephen Curry—not as basketball talents but as grounded individuals. I asked him whether he was angry at his father, who had abandoned him at a young age to move back to Kenya, and whether that motivated any of his rhetoric. He said it did not, and he credited the attitude of his mother and grandparents for this. Then it was my turn to be autobiographical. I told him that I had heard the kind of “straighten up” talk he had been giving to black youth, for instance in his 2013 Morehouse commencement address, all my life. I told him that I thought it was not sensitive to the inner turmoil that can be obscured by the hardness kids often evince. I told him I thought this because I had once been one of those kids. He seemed to concede this point, but I couldn’t tell whether it mattered to him. Nonetheless, he agreed to a series of more formal conversations on this and other topics.

The improbability of a black president had once been so strong that its most vivid representations were comedic. Witness Dave Chappelle’s profane Black Bush from the early 2000s (“This nigger very possibly has weapons of mass destruction! I can’t sleep on that!”) or Richard Pryor’s black president in the 1970s promising black astronauts and black quarterbacks (“Ever since the Rams got rid of James Harris, my jaw’s been uptight!”). In this model, so potent is the force of blackness that the presidency is forced to conform to it. But once the notion advanced out of comedy and into reality, the opposite proved to be true.

Obama’s DNC speech is the key. It does not belong to the literature of “the struggle”; it belongs to the literature of prospective presidents—men (as it turns out) who speak not to gravity and reality, but to aspirations and dreams. When Lincoln invoked the dream of a nation “conceived in liberty” and pledged to the ideal that “all men are created equal,” he erased the near-extermination of one people and the enslavement of another. When Roosevelt told the country that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he invoked the dream of American omnipotence and boundless capability. But black people, then living under a campaign of terror for more than half a century, had quite a bit to fear, and Roosevelt could not save them. The dream Ronald Reagan invoked in 1984—that “it’s morning again in America”—meant nothing to the inner cities, besieged as they were by decades of redlining policies, not to mention crack and Saturday-night specials. Likewise, Obama’s keynote address conflated the slave and the nation of immigrants who profited from him. To reinforce the majoritarian dream, the nightmare endured by the minority is erased. That is the tradition to which the “skinny kid with a funny name” who would be president belonged. It is also the only tradition in existence that could have possibly put a black person in the White House.

“Not In My Name” — Charles P. Pierce raises his hand against the death penalty.

One of my best experiences traveling with the campaign was going to Sunday services at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, South Carolina, and not just because Bernie Sanders and I partook in a Baptist service at the same time in the same sacred place. (I imagined Bernie’s ancestors and my Papist forebears helping each other revolve under their respective sods.) It was a remarkable place from the time of its founding, and it is an even more remarkable place now, since it was baptized in the blood of its congregation on an awful night in June of 2015.

That’s why it became a stop on at least the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential campaign. It was why I was blessed to sit in the back row and pray with the ushers. Before the service, however, I went downstairs where the weekly Scripture study was being held. It was in that same basement that Dylann Roof had unleashed his arsenal six months earlier.

“When I think of repentance and forgiveness,” said one woman, her index finger marking a place in her Bible, “I think of the thief on the cross next to Jesus.” The lesson on many Sundays since last June 17 has been about repentance and forgiveness, both here in the church and out in the country.

On Thursday afternoon, to nobody’s real surprise, Roof was convicted on 33 counts, including nine counts of murder with a hate crime enhancement, for the killing he did in the basement of Mother Emanuel. Of course, the real test will come in January, when the same jury gathers to decide whether the federal government—which is to say, you and me and the President of the United States—should kill Dylann Roof as dead as he killed the nine people on that night in June. And that is not as easy as you might think.

From the start, as The New York Times reported in November, the families of the victims have been opposed to the imposition of the death penalty on the murderer of their husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.

“My humanness is being broken, my humanness of wanting this man to be broken beyond punishment,” Ms. Risher said. “You can’t do that if you really say that you believe in the Bible and you believe in Jesus Christ. You can’t just waver.”

Don’t kill him in my name. (If the state of South Carolina wants to kill him in the name of its citizens, it will have that chance at a later date.) I worshipped with the people who have the best reasons of all to demand his blood, and they don’t want it. Neither do many of the South Carolinians who have good reasons to demand his blood, but better reasons to doubt the essential justice of the death penalty.

A University of South Carolina survey, conducted last spring, found that 55 percent of South Carolina residents supported a death sentence for Mr. Roof. But divisions among black and white residents were stark: The poll showed that only 31 percent of black residents wanted Mr. Roof to face execution, while some 64 percent of whites backed the use of capital punishment in the case.

My own opposition to the death penalty is beside the point here. This is coming from the day I spent in worship on what one night was a killing ground, and it’s coming from the indomitability of the people who still come there to pray for a better world. I remember what that woman at Scripture study said.

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Luke 23: 40-43.

Resistance — John Cassidy in The New Yorker on nine ways to oppose Trump.

Over the past few weeks, a number of anguished friends and acquaintances, and even some strangers, have got in touch with me to ask what they might do to oppose Donald Trump. Being a fellow sufferer from OATS—Obsessing About Trump Syndrome—my first instinct has been to tell people to get off social media and take a long walk. It won’t do anybody much good, except possibly Trump, if large numbers of people who voted against him send themselves mad by constantly reading about him, cursing him, and recirculating his latest outrages.

But, of course, taking a mental-health break is only a first step toward preserving the Republic. As a daily columnist, I see my role as trying to analyze and critique the Trump program, while also trying to understand some of the phenomena that allowed him to blag his way to the verge of the White House. But for those who want to take a more direct approach, here are some suggestions, starting with something you can do immediately:

1. Go to change.org and join the 4.9 million people who have signed a petition calling on members of the Electoral College to reject Trump. Then contact the electors for your state directly and tell them your concerns. On Monday, the five hundred and thirty eight electors will choose a new President. According to the Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, between twenty and thirty Republican electors are ready to vote against Trump. To deny him a majority, the number would need to reach thirty-seven. Most observers think that won’t happen, and, even if it did, the task of electing a President would pass to the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, which would almost certainly vote for Trump. But a big protest vote in the Electoral College could still have great deal of symbolic importance.

A central part of the self-serving Trump narrative is that he won an electoral landslide. That is nonsense, of course. He got about forty-six per cent of the vote, he carried several states by less than one per cent, and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.7 million votes. But how to manifest these figures? There is no modern precedent for a large-scale revolt against a President-elect in the Electoral College. If one emerges this time, it will send a powerful message to the world that a majority of Americans don’t want Trump as their President.

2. Attend the Women’s March on Washington, which will take place on Saturday, January 21st. What better way to demonstrate the scale of the opposition to Trump than to stage a huge protest on his new doorstep the very day after his Inauguration? On Thursday, the Washington, D.C., police department confirmed that it has issued a permit for the march, which will start at Independence Avenue and Third Street Southwest, right in front of the Capitol. From there, the demonstrators will march west along Independence Avenue, which is on the southern edge of the National Mall. Despite the fact that the marchers won’t be allowed near the Lincoln Memorial, which the National Park Service has cordoned off at the request of the Trump Inauguration committee, they will be clearly visible from the White House.

On Thursday afternoon, a hundred and forty seven thousand people had indicated on Facebook that they intend to be there, but the actual numbers could be much larger. And, despite the name of the march, it is definitely not restricted to people with two X chromosomes. According to its organizers, “any person, regardless of gender or gender identity, who believes women’s rights are human rights” is welcome to attend. Effectively, the march is an opportunity for anybody who opposes Trump to get out there and be heard.

3.Contribute to organizations that will oppose Trump and the Republican agenda. In the wake of Trump’s victory on November 8th, a number of well-known liberal groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Anti-Defamation League, the Sierra Club, and Planned Parenthood, reported that they had seen a surge in donations and volunteers. That was encouraging news for opponents of Trump, but it was only a start. Given his illiberal instincts, the nature of his Cabinet picks, and the scale of the Republican Party’s ambitions in rolling back the welfare and regulatory state, the battle ahead is likely to be long and bitter, waged on local, regional, and national fronts.

In this contest of words and wills, all sorts of different groups will be in need of financial support, from national organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the political-action funds of the labor unions that will be targeted by Republican governors and their corporate allies to local groups of lawyers trying to help undocumented immigrants who could be targeted for deportation. You can find lists of organizations opposed to Trump herehere, and here.

4. Support independent journalism.Trump is clearly obsessed with the media, and for good reason. Like all skilled propagandists, he knows that journalists represent a potential threat to him and his shameless efforts to traduce the truth. With his popular social-media feeds, and the support of an upstart right-wing press, he has found a way to go around the mainstream media and, when he deems necessary, to confront it head on. But, for all the power of Twitter, fake news, and the social-media echo chamber, real news can still break through all the noise.

Witness the past week’s revelations in the Washington Post and the New York Times about Russian efforts to interfere in the American election. For once, Trump was put on the defensive. For months, he has claimed that nobody knows who carried out the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and other targets: at one point, he suggested it could have been a “four-hundred-pound guy” lying in bed. Last weekend, he called a C.I.A. assessment that Moscow had tried to help him win the election “ridiculous.”

But this week Trump was powerless to prevent leading Republicans, including John McCain and Mitch McConnell, from calling for congressional hearings on the extent and origins of the Russian cyberattacks. Many Presidents in the past have come to fear getting caught inside the Bermuda triangle of prying journalists, official leakers, and congressional committees. But for the oversight process to work there needs to be a thriving and independent press.

5. Get engaged on a personal level. Giving money is one thing, but making a donation to help someone else oppose Trump is no substitute for individual and collective mobilization. In any liberal democracy, the ultimate guardian of decency and civil liberties is an active civil society, which can push back against efforts to mislead the public, flout accepted norms, and centralize power. That’s why, usually, one of the first thing that would-be autocrats do when they take power is attack civil society.

But what is civil society? In addition to big national organizations, such as labor unions, the A.C.L.U., and the N.A.A.C.P., civil society comprises countless local groups, including charities, environmental activists, church groups, think tanks, reading groups, peace campaigners, parents’ associations, and youth groups. It encompasses any group that mediates between the individual, the government, and the market, and whose goal is promoting the common good. The thing to do is to pick an organization that reflects your personal interests or an issue that motivates you, get involved, and stick with it.

6. Contact your congressman and senator and tell them to stand up to Trump. For good or ill, the first line of defense against a Trumpian erosion of democracy will be the U.S. Capitol. As the Trump Administration moves forward with its reactionary agenda, it will be up to legislators in both parties not to cut deals that target the weak, encroach upon civil rights, or enrich the new first family. Thanks to the Internet and a growing number of apps, it is now very simple to find your elected representatives and let them know what you think.

Surprising as it may be to some skeptics, elected officials do listen to their constituents, especially when they get in touch with them personally in large numbers. I relearned this lesson when I was reporting on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, to which many powerful financial interests were staunchly opposed. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-sponsored the legislation, told me that the only reason he and his allies managed to overcome Republican opposition, and Wall Street’s efforts to win over some Democrats, was that they managed to mobilize enough ordinary people to exert pressure on their elected representatives. In this case, the public will need to be vigilant and involved across a broad range of policy areas.

7. Support local initiatives to resist the Trump and Republican agenda. Last week, Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento, California, put forward a series of measures designed to protect undocumented immigrants in the state from deportation. “We are telling the next Administration and Congress: if you want to get to them, you have to go through us,” Anthony Rendon, the speaker of the State Assembly, said. And earlier this week Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vowed to fight any efforts by the incoming Administration to roll back efforts to tackle climate change. Reacting to a suggestion from one of Trump’s advisers that he could eliminate NASA‘s earth-science programs, which have done much to illuminate the advance of global warming, Brown said, “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight. . . . If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”

Other Democrat-dominated states, such as Massachusetts and New York, are thinking along similar lines, particularly when it comes to mounting legal challenges to some of Trump’s program. And, ironically, they are taking a lead from Republican-run states, such as Oklahoma and Texas, which have challenged many of President Obama’s initiatives in court, such as his effort to use the Clean Air Act to reduce CO2 emissions. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

8. Support electoral reform. Ultimately, Trump’s win was enabled by America’s antiquated electoral system, which was designed to prevent each vote from counting equally. In still relying on the Electoral College and the rule that says each state has two seats in the U.S. Senate, we are beholden to the prejudices and interests of an eighteenth-century ruling class that was white, landed, and dedicated to preserving the prerogatives of individual states.

With the winner of the popular vote having lost two of the past five Presidential elections, you might think there would be a movement to change the system—and there is. It’s called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and it’s an agreement among a group of states to award all of their votes in the Electoral College to the candidate who wins the popular vote. The beauty of this scheme is that it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment to insure a truly democratic outcome. But it does need the support of states with two hundred and seventy electoral votes among them, and so far only ten states, representing a hundred and sixty-five votes, have signed on.

I asked my friend and colleague Hendrik Hertzberg, who is a longtime advocate of reforming the electoral system at all levels of U.S. government, what people could do to promote the cause. He wrote back, “If you live in one of the forty states that have not yet signed on to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact write—better, call—your state legislators and ask them to get on with it. And send some love (and some bucks) to FairVote.org, which just helped Maine become the first state in the nation to adopt ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, for all its important offices, including its congressional delegation. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.”

9. Be smart: violence would only help Trump. Inevitably, there are going to be many more protests after the women’s march. That is as it should be. The right to protest is a fundamental tenet of democracy, and Trump isn’t just another President: he’s a shameless demagogue. But for now the onus is on the protest organizers and participants to try to keep things peaceful, even if they are provoked by counterdemonstrators or aggressive policing. Doing otherwise would be counterproductive.

History shows that violent political protests often produce a backlash from the public at large—a fact that Richard Nixon, among others, exploited with ruthless effectiveness. Trump, in his speech at the Republican National Convention, has already portrayed himself as Nixon’s heir, and, should things get ugly, he would revel in presenting himself as the upholder of law and order. Genuine authoritarians welcome disorder as an excuse to crack down on all forms of dissent. In many cases, they have fomented incidents of violence for this purpose.

At this stage, Trump is still a President in the making. Some of his critics view him as a would-be authoritarian despot; others think he’s more interested in lining his own pockets. (Of course, it is possible that his ambition is both of these things.) Yet others think he lacks the attention span to be a genuine menace, and that he will merely serve as the front man for Republican ideologues like Mike Pence and Paul Ryan. Before very long, we’ll find out. In the interim, there are lots of ways to get involved and retain your sanity.

Doonesbury — “News”

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sunday Reading

If It Goosesteps… — Peter Dreier in the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump isn’t Hitler. The United States is not Weimar Germany. Our economic problems are nowhere as bad as those in Depression-era Germany. Nobody in the Trump administration (not even Steven Bannon) is calling for genocide (although saber-rattling with nuclear weapons could lead to global war if we’re not careful).

That said, it is useful for liberals, progressives and radicals to think and strategize as though we face that kind of situation. None of us in our lifetimes have confronted an American government led by someone like Trump in terms of his sociopathic, demagogic, impulsive, thin-skinned and vindictive personality (not even Nixon came close), his right-wing inner circle, his reactionary and dangerous policy agenda on foreign policy; the economy; the environment; health care; immigration; civil liberties; and poverty; his willingness to overtly invoke all the worst ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds in order to appeal to the most despicable elements of our society and unleash an upsurge of racism, anti-semitism, sexual assault, and nativism by the KKK and other hate groups; his lack of understanding about Constitutional principles and the rule of law; and his lack of experience with collaboration and compromise. All this while presiding over a federal government in which all three branches are controlled by right-wing corporate-funded Republicans. We may be lucky to discover that Trump might be an incompetent leader and unable to unite the Republicans, but we shouldn’t count on it.

In such a situation, progressive movements, journalists and Congressmembers face a dilemma and some strategic choices:

On the one hand:

  • Treat Trump and his administration as “normal” politicians and government officials?
  • Try to negotiate compromises to get the best deal to make life less desperate for vulnerable people?
  • Encourage Trump to be “pragmatic,” as President Obama (trying to look sincere) did the other day, and, as some Democrats are suggesting, “give Trump a chance”?
  • Allow Trump to use the media as a megaphone to announce his appointments and his policy ideas as though he was a “normal” President with a consistent ideology and a willingness to compromise?
  • Cover Trump with the typical “he said/she said” journalistic formula — he makes an announcement and the press finds a Democrat or a liberal to provide the “other” perspective, as though they were equally valid (ie climate change is a “hoax” (Trump) versus climate change is real (99.9% of scientists)? (The current phrase for this misleading approach is “false equivalence”)

Or:

  • Refuse to treat Trump as a “normal” politicians and refuse to legitimate his regime?
  • Refuse to cover Trump in the media as though his ideas were legitimate, but rather assume that almost everything he says is a lie or a half-truth?
  • Maintain an all-out effort to constantly remind the public of Trump’s ugly and outrageous views and his sociopathic and sexist behavior, including full coverage of all the criminal and civil lawsuits against him?
  • Be prepared to take advantage of his character flaws that will likely lead to lots of outrageous and embarrassing comments?
  • Refuse to compromise on legislation and instead make him and the GOP own his agenda so he takes the blame when people suffer?
  • Develop and constantly promote a clear, easy-to-understand progressive policy agenda as an alternative to Trump’s agenda — a kind of shadow cabinet — to remind Americans that there IS a better way to run the country and win the support of many Americans who failed to vote or who voted for Trump?
  • Spend the next two and four years mobilizing opposition to obstruct almost everything he seeks to do, while laying the groundwork to win a majority in the House in 2018 and win back the White House in 2020 by raising money and investing in organizing campaigns in key swing districts and states ASAP?
  • Try, as best we can, to avoid the left’s proclivity to fragment and divide itself via issue silos, organizational turf battles, personality disputes, and constituency rivalries?

In the not-too-distant future, we can try to translate our progressive policy agenda into actual policies — adopting campaign finance reform, immigration reform, stronger environmental regulations, stricter rules on Wall Street, and greater investment in jobs and anti-poverty programs; turning Election Day into a national holiday, reforming our labor laws, protecting women’s right to choose, expanding LGBT rights, making our tax system more progressive, reforming our racist criminal justice system, investing more public dollars in job-creating infrastructure and clean energy projects; adopting paid family leave, and expanding health insurance to all and limiting the influence of the drug and insurance industry.

But, at the moment, our stance must be one of resistance and opposition.

The Trump presidency and Trumpism is a new phenomenon in our country’s history. Never before has such an authoritarian personality been president. We’ve had demagogues in the House and Senate, but never in the Oval Office. The best primer to understand what we’re facing is Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, a counter-factual history in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt is defeated in the 1940 presidential election by the pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic aviator Charles Lindbergh.

It is not enough simply to proceed with caution. We must view Trump as a real threat to our institutions, to our democracy, and to our future.

The Morning After — David Remnick of The New Yorker rode along with President Obama during the last days of the campaign.  Here’s a portion of the article.

My longest recent conversation with Obama came the day after he first met with President-elect Donald Trump, in the Oval Office. I arrived at the West Wing waiting area at around nine-thirty. There was a copy of USA Today on the table. The headline was “RISE IN RACIST ACTS FOLLOWS ELECTION.” It was accompanied by a photograph of a softball-field dugout in Wellsville, New York, spray-painted with a swastika and the words “Make America White Again.” The paper reported other such acts in Maple Grove, Minnesota, at the University of Vermont Hillel Organization, and at Texas State University, in San Marcos, where police were trying to determine who had distributed flyers reading “Now that our man Trump is elected and Republicans own both the Senate and the House—time to organize tar & feather VIGILANTE SQUADS and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this diversity garbage.”

Below that story was an account of Obama’s encounter with Trump. Obama had steeled himself for the meeting, determined to act with high courtesy and without condescension. His task was to impress upon Trump the gravity of the office. He seemed to take pains not to offend the always-offendable Trump, lest he lose what influence he might still have on the political future of the country and the new Administration. Obama was also trying to engage the world in a willing suspension of disbelief, attempting to calm markets and minds, to reassure foreign leaders and, perhaps most of all, millions of Americans that Trump’s election did not necessarily spell the end of democracy, or the rise of an era of chaos and racial enmity, or the suspension of the Constitution. This is not the apocalypse.

And yet even in the West Wing few could put up the same front. That much was clear when, the morning after the election, Obama and Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, had met with groups of staffers. (The two acted “almost like grief counsellors,” one source said.) Obama told his staff not to lose their spirit, to keep their eyes on “the long game.” Soon after the election had been called for Trump, Obama told them, Ben Rhodes had e-mailed to say that sometimes history zigzags. Obama seized on that.

“A lot of you are young and this is your first rodeo,” Obama told the staffers in the Oval Office, a source recalled. “For some of you, all you’ve ever known is winning. But the older people here, we have known loss. And this stings. This hurts.” It’s easy to be hopeful when things are going well, he went on, but when you need to be hopeful is when things are at their worst. That line reminded one senior aide of Obama’s last speech to the U.N. General Assembly, a defense of the liberal order that was willfully optimistic at a moment when illiberal currents were coursing all over the world. Now, in his own home, Obama sought to buck his people up and get them into a professional frame of mind. He praised the Bush Administration, which he had criticized so sharply throughout the 2008 campaign, for the generosity and efficiency with which its people had assisted in the transition, and he told his people to do the same, to be “gracious hosts” of the most well-known address in the United States. He asked them to make sure that even their body language radiated a sense of pride and coöperation.

But there was little that could soften the blow, either inside the White House or in the great world beyond. Trump’s victory did not merely endanger Obama’s legacy of progressive legislation or international agreements. It unnerved countless women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and L.G.B.T. people, as well as professionals in national security, the press, and many other institutions. (And this was before Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, as his senior counsellor.)

The outcome of the election was also a blow to those who anticipated major advances for the Democratic Party: it wrested over-all control of just one additional state legislature, and remains a minority in both houses of Congress, having gained only a handful of new seats in the House of Representatives, and only two in the Senate. Democrats saw a net loss of two governorships, leaving fewer than a third of the states with Democratic governors. The party of F.D.R. and Robert Kennedy was at its weakest point in decades and had been cast as heedless of the concerns of white working people.

Nor was there any secret why Vladimir Putin and the Russian political élite were so tickled by Trump’s ascent. Yes, Trump represents, to them, a “useful idiot,” a weak, discombobulated, history-less leader who will likely be content to leave Russia to its own devices, from Ukraine to the Baltic states. But Putin may also think of himself as the chief ideologist of the illiberal world, a counter to what he sees as the hypocritical and blundering West. He has always shown support for nativist leaders such as Marine Le Pen, in France; now he had a potential ally in the White House. Suddenly, Germany, led by Angela Merkel, was the lonely bulwark of Europe and Atlanticism. And even she faced a strong nativist challenge, for the sin of admitting thousands of Syrian refugees into the country.

The White House was, as one staffer told me, “like a funeral home.” You could see it all around: aides walking through the lobby, hunched, hushed, vacant-eyed. In a retrospective mood, staffers said that, as Obama told me, Clinton would have been an “excellent” President, but they also voiced some dismay with her campaign: dismay that she had seemed to stump so listlessly, if at all, in the Rust Belt; dismay that the Clinton family’s undeniable taste for money could not be erased by good works; dismay that she was such a middling retail politician. There was inevitable talk about Joe Biden, who might have done better precisely where Clinton came up short: in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio. And there was the fury at James Comey, who had clearly stalled Clinton’s late momentum, and at the evidence that Russia had altered the course of an American election through a cyber-espionage mission that was conducted in conjunction with Julian Assange and warmly received by the Republican candidate.

Three days after Trump’s victory, Obama was scheduled to go to Arlington National Cemetery and deliver the annual Veterans Day address to thousands of vets and their families. The President’s limousine, the Beast, and a long line of black vans and security vehicles were lined up and waiting on the south drive of the White House. It was hard not to see it, considering the mood of the previous few days, and the destination, as a kind of cortège.

The official line at the White House was that the hour-and-a-half meeting with Trump went well and that Trump was solicitous. Later, when I asked Obama how things had really gone, he smiled thinly and said, “I think I can’t characterize it without . . . ” Then he stopped himself and said that he would tell me, “at some point over a beer—off the record.”

I wasn’t counting on that beer anytime soon. But after the sitdown with Trump, Obama told staff members that he had talked Trump through the rudiments of forming a cabinet and policies, including the Iran nuclear deal, counter-terrorism policy, health care—and that the President-elect’s grasp of such matters was, as the debates had made plain, modest at best. Trump, despite his habitual bluster, seemed awed by what he was being told and about to encounter.

Denis McDonough strolled by with some friends and family. The day before, the person Trump sent to debrief him about how to staff and run a White House was his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. They had taken a walk on the South Lawn.

I asked McDonough how it was going, and he gave me a death-skull grin. “Everything’s great!” he said. He clenched his teeth and grinned harder in self-mockery. McDonough is the picture of rectitude: the ramrod posture, the trimmed white hair, the ashen mien of a bishop who has missed two meals in a row. “I guess if you keep repeating it, it’s like a mantra, and it will be O.K. ‘Everything will be O.K., everything will be O.K.’ ”

What Will You Sacrifice? — Zaineb Mohammed, a Muslim woman, asks her white Christian friends if they will stand up for her.

I keep reading these Facebook posts apologizing to Muslims, to queer people, to immigrants, to people of color for the election of Donald Trump. I know these posts are meant in solidarity, but right now they just make me feel like I am already being mourned: The worst has happened, the world is ending, and I will not save you—I will just lament the loss of your existence.

In two weeks, three months, a year, when these white allies who are outraged and appalled and disgusted realize that a Trump presidency will not significantly impact their day-to-day lives, are they going to abandon us?

When these white allies who are outraged and appalled and disgusted realize that a Trump presidency will not significantly impact their day-to-day lives, are they going to abandon us?

Will they put their bodies between us and the deportations, the bans, the databases, the imprisonment, the torture, the threats to our existence? Or will they post an apology for what has happened, and what is yet to come?

I am so worried about the normalization and inevitable complacency that will set in. Already, it is happening. And yet, even as I worry about it, I understand.

I am an anxious person, and all I want in this moment is to be reassured. My desire for comfort has never been this intense. So when I read the headlines saying that Trump is reconsidering repealing Obamacare, and that it will be much harder for him to implement all of his campaign promises than he thinks, I feel a momentary sense of relief.

It is hard to worry about all of the things there are to worry about, to maintain a feeling of horror, and I look for signs that my life is not going to change. I have a job; I have financial security; I am Muslim but am not easily identifiable as a Muslim; I live in the Bay Area—I will be okay.

This is how it happens.

Comfort is an indulgence we can’t seek out now. Because, for so many people, there is no comfort. For many, there never has been.

A friend posted an article in which Trump said he would absolutely require Muslims to register and a couple of people responded clarifying that the article was actually from 2015. I felt reassured for a moment. But what has become of the world when we can be comforted that the president-elect’s demand for a religious group to register came a year ago and not yesterday?

A Facebook friend suggested that if Trump actually calls for Muslims to register, everyone in the United States should do so as well to overwhelm the authorities. This is a beautiful sentiment. Would you do it?

Normalization is happening. Complacency is happening.

Another Facebook friend who posted that same article suggested that if Trump actually calls for Muslims to register, everyone in the United States should do so as well to overwhelm the authorities. This is a beautiful sentiment. Would you do it?

Too often, we let ourselves off the hook. How will we purposefully make ourselves uncomfortable when comfort is within reach?

I’m reminded of a self-defense class I took back in the summer, when a white woman mentioned feeling guilty about crossing the street when a black man is walking toward her. The instructor said racism is systemic, not something an individual can solve, and she shouldn’t feel bad for valuing her personal safety.

Racism is systemic. Racism is individual. We have to stop letting ourselves off the hook.

When your life is not on the line, and when what’s required is sacrificing so many of the comforts you are accustomed to, what will you give up for the rest of us? I am asking myself this too. If I am being honest, the answer so far is very little, if anything at all.

Protesting is important and donations are important and volunteering is important. But when you know that you can leave the protest whenever you want to return to a safe home and a warm bed and a hot shower, that is privilege, not sacrifice.

What will you sacrifice? What will you give up?

I hope the answer is a lot. Because we will need it.

Doonesbury — A hairy situation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Roughing Up

Via the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Five protesters were shot late Monday night near the Black Lives Matter encampment at the Fourth Precinct police station in north Minneapolis, according to police.

Those who were shot sustained non-life-threatening injuries, said police spokesman John Elder in a statement.

Miski Noor, a media contact for Black Lives Matter, said “a group of white supremacists showed up at the protest, as they have done most nights.”

One of the three counterdemonstrators wore a mask, said Dana Jaehnert, who had been at the protest site since early evening.

When about a dozen protesters attempted to herd the group away from the area, Noor said, they “opened fire on about six protesters,” hitting five of them. Jaehnert said she heard four gunshots.

[…]

The protesters, angry over the fatal police shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark on Nov. 15, have maintained a presence outside the police station ever since.

Eddie Sutton, Jamar’s brother, issued this statement early Tuesday morning in response to the shootings:

“Thank you to the community for the incredible support you have shown for our family in this difficult time. We appreciate Black Lives Matter for holding it down and keeping the protests peaceful. But in light of tonight’s shootings, the family feels out of imminent concern for the safety of the occupiers, we must get the occupation of the 4th precinct ended and onto the next step.”

I would hope that Donald Trump will denounce this type of “roughing up,” but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Reading

Muslims in America — John Nichols in The Nation on the history of the faith in the United States.

Followers of Islam have lived in what is now the United States since before the American Revolution. Like Christians and Jews, Muslims worshiped initially in their homes. But as communities grew, they began to construct mosques. Because so many Muslim immigrants came as farmers, some of the earliest mosques were built in rural communities like Ross, North Dakota.

Historians record that the first structure purposely built as a mosque in the United States was located in Ross, a crossroads town in the northwest corner of the state. In the late 1930s, when a Works Progress Administration field worker arrived in remote Mountrail County, he interviewed Mike Abdullah, a native of Syria, who recalled, “I belonged to the Moslem church in the Old Country the same as I do in this country.”

The original mosque in Ross fell into disrepair and was torn down in the 1970s. A new mosque—built a decade ago at the urging of Sarah Allie Omar Shupe, a member of the community—stands next to the Muslim cemetery, where generations of Syrian-American farmers are buried.

As a young journalist, I wrote a good deal about the rural Muslim and Jewish farm communities of the Midwest. I met the children and grandchildren of those Muslim farmers from the Dakotas, and from eastern Iowa, where the Mother Mosque of America was constructed in 1934 in Cedar Rapids. As a reporter for the Toledo Blade, I came to know Yehia “John” Shousher and other Muslims who built a pioneering mosque in the city’s “Little Syria” neighborhood more than six decades ago. Later, they constructed one of the great mosques in North America, the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, at which people from dozens of countries proudly celebrate their community’s “equal and vibrant representation of women and the democratic and constitutional processes that the Center diligently follows.”

It is because I have spent so much time in these mosques, because I have for so long known them as part of the fabric of the communities where I have lived, of the regions I love, of an American experiment I have treasured, that I was shaken by Donald Trump’s crude claim that “there’s absolutely no choice” but to monitor mosques, to consider closing some of them, to begin tracking Muslims using “surveillance, including a watch list.”

What Trump is talking about is not public safety or responsible policing. It is broad-sweep stereotyping rooted in ignorance and cruelty. And he is not alone in abandoning basic premises of the commitment to religious freedom that underpins the American experiment. Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz propose to admit Christian refugees but reject Muslims. Ben Carson objects to the notion of a Muslim president and compares Syrian refugees to rabid dogs.

Trump says he wants to make America great again. But he knows nothing of greatness. The measures of what is great and good about America are not found in the crude comments of politicians. They are found in the mosques of Ross and Cedar Rapids and Toledo, and in the stories of the Muslim immigrants who built and cherish them.

Fearful Students — Todd Gitlin in The New York Times on why student protests have made them sound vulnerable.

THE message coming out of recent student protests on college campuses, from Princeton and Yale to the University of Missouri, couldn’t be clearer: Students are rightly pained by the racist and sexual abuse still shockingly common into the 21st century, and for good reason they are indignant that institutions they trust — or wish to trust — fail to stop the culprits, or even to acknowledge publicly the harm they do.

But rumbling under the surface of some recent protests is something besides indignation: an assumption of grave vulnerability. The victims too often present themselves as weak, in need of protection. Administrators are held, like helicopter parents, wholly responsible. To a veteran of movements of the ’60s like myself, this is strikingly strange.

Surely there are reasons to feel vulnerable to abuses of power. There is a rape culture. Black people are killed by the police in grotesque proportions. Hatred of immigrants has reached a high pitch of hysteria and looms large in the thinking of one of our major political parties.

It is also true that many administrators are caught flat-footed; just consider how long it took the University of Missouri to acknowledge longstanding concerns by minority students about campus racism.

And yet, when that recognition came and the president and chancellor resigned, instead of celebrating an extraordinary victory — with football players as their crucial allies — demonstrators blocked photographers from taking pictures of their assembly. They apparently believed that public assemblies ought to be “safe spaces,” meaning, safe from photography, which might have been thought to be useful for bringing the news to a larger public. Their starting assumption was that the press had it in for them.

At Yale, meanwhile, administrators cautioned students about how to dress properly for Halloween, and when another administrator publicly questioned whether this was an issue the administration needed to take a position on, protesters demanded her resignation.

Why such a widespread and bristling feeling of acute vulnerability followed by attacks on those who disagree? Why the lust for “safe spaces”? Why the clamor for “trigger warnings”? (At my own university, Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” came off the syllabus for a required core course after some students objected to Ovid’s accounts of rape.) Why do so many students see themselves as so vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous texts, arguments, comments? Why so fearful?

A pattern is clear: Too many students doubt that their community is, or can be, strong enough to stand up for itself, entertain arguments and strive to persuade opponents. The extremity of their reaction suggests that they lack confidence that reason and values are on their side. They may well resent the fact that, after decades of civil rights reform and feminism, they still have to argue against people who “don’t get it.”

One can only speculate about the forces that drive this crisis, but odds are that we are witnessing a cultural mood that cannot be reduced to political-economic considerations. There’s a generalized anxiety when one has always been supervised, as this generation has. Moreover, students suffer under mountainous debt loads. Professional work is being destabilized. Careers dissolve into serial jobs, or the insecure “gig economy.”

The prospect of gargantuan, destructive climate change must also have young people rattled. It ought to. There are actual apocalypses in the making.

But movements that change the world are the creations of confident people — confident despite their hurt, confident despite their fear. If they don’t start out confident, they learn how to create strong communities and become more so. As leaders test themselves in action, the better ones rise and the lesser ones fade. The militants suffer, yes, but they find ways to learn a broader repertoire of feelings and skills. They can imagine putting an end to their suffering, at least much of it.

The Exhaustion of Explaining — Andy Borowitz.

MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report)—Many Americans are tired of explaining things to idiots, particularly when the things in question are so painfully obvious, a new poll indicates.

According to the poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, while millions have been vexed for some time by their failure to explain incredibly basic information to dolts, that frustration has now reached a breaking point.

Of the many obvious things that people are sick and tired of trying to get through the skulls of stupid people, the fact that climate change will cause catastrophic habitat destruction and devastating extinctions tops the list, with a majority saying that they will no longer bother trying to explain this to cretins.

Coming in a close second, statistical proof that gun control has reduced gun deaths in countries around the world is something that a significant number of those polled have given up attempting to break down for morons.

Finally, a majority said that trying to make idiots understand why a flag that symbolizes bigotry and hatred has no business flying over a state capitol only makes the person attempting to explain this want to put his or her fist through a wall.

In a result that suggests a dismal future for the practice of explaining things to idiots, an overwhelming number of those polled said that they were considering abandoning such attempts altogether, with a broad majority agreeing with the statement, “This country is exhausting.”

Doonesbury — Sucking up.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Short Takes

France and Belgium tighten security measures and restrict civil liberties in response to the Paris attacks.

Veto bait: The House voted a bill to restrict admission to Syrian and Indonesian refugees.

Mexican immigration to the U.S. is actually in the negative; more are leaving than arriving.

Protesters and city leaders plead for calm in Minneapolis in the wake of another unarmed black person killed by police.

Catch of the Day: GMO salmon is approved by the FDA.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Glass Houses

Rand Paul knows why people are rioting in Baltimore:

“There are so many things we can talk about,” the senator said, “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of a moral code in our society.”

This from a man who has his own parenting issues.

Maybe, just maybe, the problems in Baltimore have more to do with a long history of animus between the police and the community, the long record of police violence against citizens, and generations of mistrust in a city that is second only to Detroit in urban decay that began forty years ago.

It’s hard to live up to Mr. Paul’s standards when you’ve got no job, no hope, and nothing but rich white people telling you that you’re on your own and your morals suck.

Short Takes

Officials send reinforcements to Baltimore.

The death toll in Nepal passed 5,000.

Iranian forces seized a ship flagged to the Marshall Islands and boarded it off the coast of Iran.

Tyson Foods will end using antibiotics on their chicken.

The NFL will give up its tax-exempt status.

The Tigers lost to the Twins 3-2.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Behind the Anger

There is never an excuse for violence against innocent people and property damage, but understanding the anger that causes it can be a step towards ending it.

Via USA Today’s For The Win, broadcaster Brett Hollander had an exchange via Twitter with Baltimore Orioles COO John Angelos that gets to the point.

Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

There are also those who will exploit this situation for their own purposes, be it to stir up more anger at the police or to say that certain people and communities are incapable of being civilized.  We heard that all before fifty years ago.  Much has changed, but we still have a very long way to go.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.

HT to John at Balloon Juice.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Moving Mountains

There was more than one demonstration in Miami last weekend.

Members of Miami’s Environmental Quaker Action Team (EQAT) protested at PNC Bank’s Aventura, Florida branch on Saturday, December 6, against the bank’s continued financing of companies involved in Appalachian mountain-top removal as part of their coal mining operations. Spokesperson and protest leader Vincent Cosomano spoke about the groups protest.

Protest at PNC Bank in Miami from Carl Hersh on Vimeo.

Faith may be able to move mountains, but Friends can keep them intact.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Artists Jam

For the second time this weekend, protestors in Miami blocked traffic on a major highway. Via Tim Elfrink at Miami New Times:

For downtown-area commuters, the peak weekend of Art Basel is ending this afternoon much like it began: With 195 shut in both directions by protesters participating in the #shutitdown movement against police violence.

The protesters marched from Wynwood onto the highway around 5 p.m. This time, police had apparently already blocked off traffic before the protesters arrived.

The protests are fueled by the lack of indictments in the police killings of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, as well as local cases like the death of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, a teenage graffiti artist, at the hands of Miami Beach police.

The Miami rallies have echoed similar moves in NYC, St. Louis and elsewhere to shut down local highways.

On Friday, traffic snarled for miles in both directions as evening commuters and those trying to get to and from Art Basel events were halted by the action.

Today’s protests look to be smaller in number, but no less disruptive to highway traffic.

There are pictures of the demonstration at the link above.

Interstate 195 is one of the major links to Miami Beach from the mainland; part of it is the Julia Tuttle Causeway, and it is always bumper-to-bumper during rush hour even without Art Basel or public displays of anger.  Therefore I’m not too sure if the people got their point across without pissing off a lot of people miles away who had no idea why they were inching along I-95 from U.S. 1 to the Golden Glades.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Short Takes

The Department of Justice spent 21 months investigating the Cleveland police force.

Al-Qaeda in Yemen is threatening to kill an American hostage.

Protests continue over the “miscarriage of justice” in the case of Eric Garner.

NASA will try to launch Orion today after yesterday’s scrub.

The New Republic is undergoing a major shake-up.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Something Is Broken

I’m not a lawyer, I wasn’t there, and I didn’t hear or see the evidence and testimony.  But it sounds to me that if you have a coroner rule a death as a homicide and a banned technique such as a choke hold is listed as a contributing factor in the death, and when you have the entire incident on video, it makes you wonder what is broken when a grand jury cannot find at least one crime has been committed.

The anger and frustration on the part of a number of communities is understandable.  The protest marches and the raised voices on TV and in the street grab our attention.  But what is even more corrosive and damaging isn’t the anger.  It’s the resignation on the part of many people that this ruling and the one in Missouri last week was inevitable; they knew what the juries would say before they said it.  The system is rigged against them, it always has been, and nothing has really changed since the days when a black man died for having the nerve to not back down from the rule of the white master.  “We shall overcome” has been replaced by “same as it ever was.”

The worst outcome isn’t that people will riot in the streets, torch buildings, or even get MSNBC hosts snarking at each other like middle-schoolers.  It is that we will give up and accept the fact that the system is broken; that justice is only for a certain segment of society and that anyone who dares challenge the rulings or the way they are arrived at is promoting lawlessness and disrespect for the rule and the rulers.

Nothing will change if those who are seeking the change just give up.

Bonus: Tom Tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Cause and Effect

Dr. Ben Carson, one of the more interesting characters running for the GOP nomination, knows who to blame for the riots in Ferguson.

“Certainly in a lot of our inner cities, in particular the black inner cities, where 73 percent of the young people are born out of wedlock, the majority of them have no father figure in their life. Usually the father figure is where you learn how to respond to authority,” Carson said. “So now you become a teenager, you’re out there, you have really no idea how to respond to authority, you eventually run into the police or you run into somebody else in the neighborhood who also doesn’t know how to respond but is badder than you are, and you get killed or you end up in the penal system.” […]

“I think a lot of it really got started in the ’60s with the ‘me generation,’” he replied. “‘What’s in it for me?’ I hate to say it, but a lot of it had to do with the women’s lib movement. You know, ‘I’ve been taking care of my family, I’ve been doing that, what about me?’ You know, it really should be about us.”

Gee, and all along I thought it was a cop who shot an unarmed man, not some selfish woman looking to burn a bra.

Except that Michael Brown was raised with a father and a mother.  So too was Trayvon Martin, as was Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old in Cleveland who was shot to death by police last week.

There’s another perspective, though, on why there has been seething rage in places like Ferguson or other places where demonstrations against oppression have taken to the streets and rousted the cable news anchors out of the studio.  It’s the rage the cameras don’t see or pass by without acknowledging what it is.  It is, as Carol Anderson writes in this Washington Post op-ed, the white rage against equality.

Protests and looting naturally capture attention. But the real rage smolders in meetings where officials redraw precincts to dilute African American voting strength or seek to slash the government payrolls that have long served as sources of black employment. It goes virtually unnoticed, however, because white rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations.

White rage recurs in American history. It exploded after the Civil War, erupted again to undermine the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and took on its latest incarnation with Barack Obama’s ascent to the White House. For every action of African American advancement, there’s a reaction, a backlash.

[…]

So when you think of Ferguson, don’t just think of black resentment at a criminal justice system that allows a white police officer to put six bullets into an unarmed black teen. Consider the economic dislocation of black America. Remember a Florida judge instructing a jury to focus only on the moment when George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin interacted, thus transforming a 17-year-old, unarmed kid into a big, scary black guy, while the grown man who stalked him through the neighborhood with a loaded gun becomes a victim. Remember the assault on the Voting Rights Act. Look at Connick v. Thompson, a partisan 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2011 that ruled it was legal for a city prosecutor’s staff to hide evidence that exonerated a black man who was rotting on death row for 14years. And think of a recent study by Stanford University psychology researchers concluding that, when white people were told that black Americans are incarcerated in numbers far beyond their proportion of the population, “they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities,” such as three-strikes or stop-and-frisk laws.

Only then does Ferguson make sense. It’s about white rage.

We have seen this played out in other areas as well.  The advancement of LGBT rights and marriage equality has led to a rash of claims of “Christian oppression,” as if 80% of the country suddenly lost their right to worship in their own fashion instead of writing laws and promoting discrimination against the gay community.

This comes from the viewpoint that in order for one group to be granted the rights they are entitled to, someone else has to give up their rights.  But where does anyone get the idea that rights and the right to them is a zero sum game?  Granting African Americans the right to vote or granting same-sex couples the right to marriage does not require a white person to give up their vote or a straight married couple to get divorced.  It doesn’t even dilute them.  It strengthens them because letting everyone vote brings out the truth.

What the oppressors are afraid of is that after generations of holding people back, the floodgates will open and those they’ve kept locked up will seek them out and exact revenge for all the wrongs that were done to them.  They’re not afraid of the riots or the looting; after all, they have the police to protect them against unarmed teenagers.  What they’re most afraid of is that they will vote and elect people who will right the wrongs and enforce the rights.  That’s what makes them truly angry.

Bonus: Jon Stewart.

HT to CLW.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday Reading

Predicting the Inevitable — Jenali Brown in The New Yorker on the reaction in Ferguson to the grand jury finding.

New Yorker 11-30-14What transpired in Ferguson last night was entirely predictable, widely anticipated, and, yet, seemingly inevitable. Late last week, Michael Brown, Sr., released a video pleading for calm, his forlorn eyes conveying exhaustion born of not only shouldering grief but also of insisting on civic calm in the wake of his son’s death. One of the Brown family’s attorneys, Anthony Gray, held a press conference making the same request, and announced that a team of citizen peacekeepers would be present at any subsequent protests. Ninety minutes later, the St. Louis mayor, Francis Slay, held a press conference in which he pledged that the police would show restraint in the event of protests following the grand-jury decision. He promised that tear gas and armored vehicles would not be deployed to manage protests. The two conferences bore a disturbing symmetry, an inversion of pre-fight hype in which each side deprecated about possible violence but expressed skepticism that the other side was capable of doing the same. It’s possible that, recognizing that violence was all but certain, both sides were seeking to deflect the charge that they had encouraged it. Others offered no such pretense. Days ahead of the announcement, local businesses began boarding up their doors and windows like a coastal town anticipating a hurricane. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a preëmptive state of emergency a week before the grand jury concluded its work. His announcement was roughly akin to declaring it daytime at 3 A.M. because the sun will rise eventually.

From the outset, the great difficulty has been discerning whether the authorities are driven by malevolence or incompetence. The Ferguson police let Brown’s body lie in the street for four and a half hours, an act that either reflected callous disregard for him as a human being or an inability to manage the situation. The release of Darren Wilson’s name was paired with the release of a video purportedly showing Brown stealing a box of cigarillos from a convenience store, although Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson later admitted that Wilson was unaware of the incident when he confronted the young man. (McCulloch contradicted this in his statement on the non-indictment.) Last night, McCulloch made the inscrutable choice to announce the grand jury’s decision after darkness had fallen and the crowds had amassed in the streets, factors that many felt could only increase the risk of violence. Despite the sizable police presence, few officers were positioned on the stretch of West Florissant Avenue where Brown was killed. The result was that damage to the area around the police station was sporadic and short-lived, but Brown’s neighborhood burned. This was either bad strategy or further confirmation of the unimportance of that community in the eyes of Ferguson’s authorities.

The pleas of Michael Brown’s father and Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, were ultimately incapable of containing the violence that erupted last night, because in so many ways what happened here extended beyond their son. His death was a punctuation to a long, profane sentence, one which has insulted a great many, and with damning frequency of late. In his statement after the decision was announced, President Barack Obama took pains to point out that “there is never an excuse for violence.” The man who once told us that there was no black America or white America but only the United States of America has become a President whose statements on unpunished racial injustices are a genre unto themselves. Perhaps it only seems contradictory that the deaths of Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford and John Crawford and Michael Brown—all unarmed black men shot by men who faced no official sanction for their actions—came during the first black Presidency.* Or perhaps the message here is that American democracy has reached the limits of its elasticity—that the symbolic empowerment of individuals, while the great many remain citizen-outsiders, is the best that we can hope for. The air last night, thick with smoke and gunfire, suggested something damning of the President.

Artless Miami — Brett Sokol in the New York Times reports on why Art Basel hasn’t made Miami the art mecca it once dreamed of becoming.

MIAMI BEACH — “It was a really devastating message,” the Miami art dealer Fredric Snitzer said, recalling the personal impact when Emmanuel Perrotin’s 13,000-square-foot outpost closed in 2010. “If he couldn’t make a go of it, what I am doing here?”

The opening of the Perrotin gallery on the eve of the Art Basel Miami Beach fair in 2005 was a high-water mark for the city’s cultural scene, anticipating its imminent status as an art mecca second only to New York and Los Angeles. Art Basel itself was billed as the economic tide that would lift all artistic boats, not just for a week every December, but year-round, too. Why else would a top-tier contemporary-art player from Paris like Mr. Perrotin expand to Miami?

“This is Paris in the ’20s and that guy down the block is Picasso,” Mr. Snitzer said at the time.

Yet by 2009, Perrotin had ceased regular exhibitions in Miami, turning off the lights completely the following year. Several other leading galleries that opened in the wake of Art Basel’s 2002 arrival have also shut down, while many of the city’s most promising younger artists have decamped to New York and Los Angeles in search of greener career pastures.

More than a decade after Art Basel’s debut, the city’s cultural milieu has been undeniably transformed. But beyond the splashy galas surrounding the fair’s kickoff on Wednesday, and the expensive new centers for art like the waterfront Pérez Art Museum Miami and the planned home for the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, many local artists and art dealers remain deeply dissatisfied.

Some blame rising rents that have scattered a once-cohesive art community, while others point to a dearth of local collectors and visiting Basel-ites interested in owning their work. Without that bigger pool of buyers, they say, there’s no way to sustain artists amid the continued expansion of the art scene.

“I couldn’t support myself,” said Bert Rodriguez, a conceptual artist, in a phone call from his new home in Los Angeles. After appearing in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Mr. Rodriguez became one of Miami’s hometown heroes.

Yet despite awards and commissions, he felt stuck. “All the collectors there who were going to support me had already bought my work,” said Mr. Rodriguez, known for prankish projects that include burying himself up to his neck on a museum’s front lawn. “I had tapped into every well I could, and it just wasn’t enough.”

But now that he’s in Los Angeles, he said, advertising agencies and Silicon Valley clients who once ignored him are lining up. This winter, he will get $50,000 from a company behind a new travel app to drive cross-country and “virtually” write his name across America. “I’ve made more money in the last three years in Los Angeles than in the previous 10 in Miami,” he said.

[…]

“Too many people are obsessed with chasing the next hippest, newest thing,” said Kristen Thiele, an ArtCenter board member as well as a former resident artist there. Ms. Thiele cited the core ideas first laid out by Mrs. Schneiderman: Artists need cheap studio space, the ability to sell their work — out of those same studios, if necessary — and, not least, “the genuine sense of community that comes from being surrounded by your fellow artists with trained eyes.”

There’s nothing especially revolutionary about Mrs. Schneiderman’s thinking. Still, for the Miami painter John Sanchez, it’s been more than he could have ever hoped for. Originally represented by Emerson Dorsch, he felt his rain-slicked urban landscapes were falling out of step with that gallery’s turn toward an art-theory laden program.

“I’m a realist painter,” he said. “I’m trying to paint everyday moments as beautifully as I can. It’s not rocket science.” By contrast, at the ArtCenter, just by dint of being on a heavily trafficked street, he said, “I got a vast amount of exposure to people from everywhere, not just those in the know.”

He’s since picked up both sales and fresh brushwork techniques. Having found a formula for survival as an artist, he’s hoping to move into the ArtCenter’s remaining Lincoln Road building.

“I want to be like mold,” he said, laughing. “I want to stay.”

Doonesbury — No deposit, no return.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Short Takes

Syria — Secretary of State Kerry seeks to assure parties as peace talks near.

Thailand — 22 protestors injured in bomb blast.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to leave office by the end of the year.

David Wildstein, N.J. bridge scandal figure, will sing in exchange for immunity.

R.I.P. Russell Johnson, 89, the professor of Gilligan’s Island; Dave Madden, 83, of The Partridge Family.

Coffee to go — Korean community in New York City to consider boycotting McDonald’s.

 

Saturday, October 26, 2013