Friday, August 22, 2014

Race Relations In A Nutshell

It’s hard to hold out hope for improving understanding between communities when you have people like Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa speaking their mind.

I’ve watched them pit us against each other for a long time. And by the way, it also should be said that someone like Lacy Clay, who’s a member of the Congressional Black Caucus — there is no ‘Congressional White Caucus.’ It is a self-segregated caucus and it is a caucus that they drive an agenda that’s based on race. And they’re always looking to place the race card. They’re always looking to divide people down that line. And I have friends in that caucus. I get along with them personally, but their agenda is to play the race card. And we have a President who had a perfect opportunity to eliminate a lot of this friction in this country, and instead, he and his attorney general have been in a place where they’ve created friction rather than eliminated it.

Mr. King checks off nearly every square in White Privileged Patriarch Bingo.  You’ve got I’m The Victim Here, Some Of My Best Friends Are Black, The Race Card, The Politicization Trope, The Outside Agitators, and of course the all-time favorite, They Don’t Know What They’ve Got.

Mr. King would be genuinely shocked if you called him a racist.  He didn’t use the N-word, he never said anything about black people “knowing their place,” and he would remind you that his views are no different than a lot of the people he represents and a lot of people he works with in the United States House of Representatives.

That’s the problem.  He and his friends see it all as something someone else caused and can be fixed only if someone else does something.  Look how nicely we treated them: they can go to our schools, they can use our bathrooms, they can even have big celebrities who are a credit to their race.  But instead they loot and riot, and even when we white folks benevolently grant them the boon of electing one of them to be president, they do nothing but play golf and stir up trouble.  And now they expect us to stop being suspicious of them?  Good golly.

Being lectured on race relations by a man and a mindset that says every person who is some Other is a threat to our America of white picket fences, Wonder Bread, and good old American heterosexual family values tells me that while we may have progressed from where we were fifty years ago, we’ve barely begun.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Secret Is Out

Via TPM:

A Republican city councilman in Missouri apologized this week for posting racist messages about President Obama on Facebook, citing his own strong engagement with the Republican Party as the reason behind his actions.

According to television station KFVS, Poplar Bluff, Mo., councilman Peter Tinsley’s offensive posts were brought up during a city council meeting on Monday night. Tinsley apologized for his behavior, saying he didn’t intend to offend anyone when he made those posts last year, reported KFVS.

“I apologize from the bottom of my heart,” Tinsley said. “At one time, I was a very active republican, very opposed to Obama.”

Of course not all Republicans are racists.  But they certainly do attract them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Great Divide

As if to prove Charlie Pierce’s point, the Pew Research Center has a poll that shows just how divided we are as a nation in terms of race.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Aug. 14-17 among 1,000 adults, finds that the public overall is divided over whether Brown’s shooting raises important issues about race or whether the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves: 44% think the case does raise important issues about race that require discussion, while 40% say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

Fully 65% of African Americans say the police have gone too far in responding to the shooting’s aftermath. Whites are divided: 33% say the police have gone too far, 32% say the police response has been about right, while 35% offer no response.

Whites also are nearly three times as likely as blacks to express at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting. About half of whites (52%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the investigations, compared with just 18% of blacks. Roughly three-quarters of blacks (76%) have little or no confidence in the investigations, with 45% saying they have no confidence at all.

It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion about whether or not the police in Ferguson overreacted.  But it is entirely something else when a large segment of the population is at odds over whether or not they believe there will be justice served at all.

What this poll tells me is that white people who think that the racial divide is getting more attention than it deserves are people who have never felt intimidated or aware of their race as a bad thing.  They don’t know what it’s like to walk down the street and have people cross to the other side to stay away from them.  They don’t know what it’s like to grow up being told to never confront a policeman, never object to being grilled by them, and never act in a manner that might arouse suspicion from a white cop.  They don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager out for a walk with friends and have a cop car follow them to be sure they don’t “do something.”

What this poll also tells me is that racial attitudes have not changed all that much in the fifty years since the Freedom Summer.  Yes, we have ended de jure segregation, we have overturned the miscegenation laws, we have elected a black president, and in countless ways we have progressed beyond the water cannons of Sheriff Clark and the police dogs of Bull Connor.  But underneath it all is still the feeling that while the glaring affronts to equality have been reduced, there are still powerful elements keeping us apart.  Hate crimes still occur in record numbers, the white supremacists are gaining numbers, and a band of gun-totin’ white men can camp out in the desert and threaten federal law enforcement with no fear of retribution.  Imagine what would have happened had they been black.

What is even more depressing is that we are vividly aware of these differences now and so far have expected someone else to fix the problem: “hey, it’s not my problem so why should I worry about it?”  Apparently they’re not happy that electing a black president didn’t end four hundred years of racism, and they’re blissfully unaware that by expecting him to, they’re perpetuating it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Roots of Ferguson — William Powell in The Atlantic says that the history of racial profiling in the Missouri town is the problem.

The civic infrastructure of Ferguson has not kept pace with its shifting demographics. In 1990, the town was three-quarters white. Twenty years later, white people made up only 30 percent of the population.

Now, Ferguson’s population is two-thirds black. Its more-than-50-person police force includes just three black officers. In 2013, black people accounted for 86 percent of all traffic stops and 92 percent of searches and arrests.

Ferguson’s figures are not much different than many municipalities in the St. Louis area—and they’re actually better than the statewide average. But residents say profiling in the city is severe.

Anthony Johnson lives in the Canfield Green Apartments, where Mike Brown lived and where he was gunned down in the street. Tattooed below Johnson’s right eye is a pair of tear drops, a tribute to his parents. His father was shot and killed when he was 10. His mom died in a car accident on Mother’s Day. Standing on the lawn of the apartment complex, he said police harassment is a regular part of life here. Cops often stop him on the street and ask where he’s going. Sometimes, they’ll pick him up by mistake, looking for a different black man. He knows not to walk around the neighborhood after a certain time at night, to avoid being stopped, interrogated, and asked for identification. “Why should I have to show ID if I’m just walking down the street?” he asked. “It just don’t make no sense. It’s sad that it took an incident like this to shed some light on the Ferguson police.”

One particularly appalling incident came in 2009, when Ferguson police picked up a 52-year-old named Henry Davis, as recently reported by The Daily Beast. He was arrested by mistake. The warrant had been for another man with the same last name. But rather than police setting him free, Davis was charged with “property damage” because he had bled on an officer’s uniform.

[...]

At a recent community forum, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson acknowledged that problem, saying his department is working on the issue. It’s a vicious cycle, he said: People get a few traffic tickets and can’t afford to pay the fines; eventually a warrant is issued and an arrest is made; a court date is missed, and on and on…

Grazida King came to Thursday’s march with his two sons, ages 9 and 11. He wanted to prove that protests can be peaceful and show his boys that it’s important to stand up for your beliefs. “I’ve been profiled before,” he says. “We call it driving while black, just pulled over for no apparent reason.” He worries about his sons having the same problem. He tries to raise them the right way, but feels like he shouldn’t have to train his children on how to avoid being harassed by police.

In addressing the crowd, even Johnson, the highway patrol captain, said he knows how it feels to be profiled. “When I was 18, I knew there were times when I was driving in my car and had to turn around,” he says. “It needs to change. It’s gotta change today.”

Trust-Busting — Thomas Frank has some suggestions for President Obama on how to wreck the GOP.  One of them is going after big monopolies.

Once upon a time, monopoly and oligopoly were illegal in America. Our ancestors believed, correctly, that concentrated economic power was incompatible with democracy in all sorts of ways. (Antitrust expert Barry Lynn and I talked this over for Salon readers a few weeks ago.) Since the days of Ronald Reagan, however, every succeeding administration has chosen to enforce the antitrust laws only if the monopoly or oligopoly in question threatened to cause big price increases for consumers — and sometimes not even then. This has come to mean that nearly all mergers and takeovers are permitted, and that achieving monopoly has once again become the obvious strategic objective of every would-be business leader.

The consequences of this policy shift have been huge, both in our everyday economic lives—where we face off against unchallengeable power everywhere from beer to bookselling—and the gradual fraying of society. Unrestrained corporate power naturally yields unrestrained wealth for corporate leaders and their Wall Street backers. In a recent essay in Harper’s Magazine about inequality (once Obama’s favorite subject), the economist Joseph Stiglitz declared monopoly to be one of the main culprits:

“The most successful ‘entrepreneurs’ have figured out how to create barriers to competition, behind which they can earn huge profits. It is not a surprise that the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, earned his fortune through a company that has engaged in anticompetitive practices in Europe, America, and Asia. Nor that the world’s second richest, Carlos Slim, made his fortune by taking advantage of a poorly designed privatization process, creating a virtual monopoly in Mexico’s telecom industry. . . .”

Barack Obama could change the entire thing—could bend the inequality curve itself—merely by deciding to enforce the nation’s antitrust laws in the same way that administrations before Reagan did. The laws themselves were written a century ago, so our current, useless Congress would have no say in the matter.

I asked Barry Lynn what this would look like. “The administration can begin tomorrow to attempt to enforce antitrust law exactly as the Johnson Administration enforced it in 1967,” he wrote me. Obama and Co. would encounter obstacles here and there, of course—the companies singled out by the Justice Department would fight like hell, for example. But there would be little the House of Representatives could do to stop the administration, Lynn says, short of “cutting off funds for enforcement or declaring monopoly legal.” Either of which would, of course, be fatal to the right.

“There’s nothing here,” Lynn concluded, “that a bit of courage, combined with a bit of smarts, wouldn’t fix.”

For Obama to launch a FDR-style crusade against economic feudalism would push just about everything short of war off the front pages and would also put the GOP in the uncomfortable position of defending monopoly power. It would also remind voters of the original, more hopeful Obama crusade of 2008, when the Senator from Illinois traveled the country promising to restore competition to agricultural markets—back before he decided to just drop the whole thing.

Lastly, a fight against our modern-day octopi might put small-business people, the right’s most motivated constituency these days, back onto the political fence. Antitrust is their issue, after all: let’s see them get out and work their butts off for Boehner when he’s standing tall for the multinational that just drove them out of business.

Ridiculous — Jonathan Chait says the indictment of Rick Perry will go nowhere.

I do not have a fancy law degree from Harvard or Yale or, for that matter, anywhere. I am but a humble country blogger. And yet, having read the indictment, legal training of any kind seems unnecessary to grasp its flimsiness.

Perry stands accused of violating two laws. One is a statute defining as an offense “misus[ing] government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.” The veto threat, according to the prosecutor, amounted to a “misuse.” Why? That is hard to say.

The other statute prohibits anybody in government from “influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty.”

But that statute also specifically exempts “an official action taken by the member of the governing body.” The prosecutors claim that, while vetoing the bill may be an official action, threatening a veto is not. Of course the threat of the veto is an integral part of its function. The legislature can hardly negotiate with the governor if he won’t tell them in advance what he plans to veto. This is why, when you say the word “veto,” the next word that springs to mind is “threat.” That’s how vetoes work.

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves. Perry may not be much smarter than a ham sandwich, but he is exactly as guilty as one.

Doonesbury — Rough life.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What A Difference A Day Makes

Things have cooled off in Ferguson, Missouri, now that the state police have taken over law enforcement.

Before:

Ferguson Police 08-13-14

And after:

Ron Johnson

The dramatic shift came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol, stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the weekend death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas,” said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. “This is totally different. Now we’re being treated with respect.”

[...]

Nixon’s promise to ease the deep racial tensions was swiftly put to the test as demonstrators gathered again Thursday evening in the neighborhood where looters had smashed and burned businesses on Sunday and where police had repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs.

But the latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party. The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell —the point at which previous protests have grown tense — no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.

All it took was a little respect.  Oh, and getting rid of the 82nd Airborne-style weaponry.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Photo of the Day

Via:

Ferguson Police 08-13-14

Josh Marshall:

We can only infer so much from photographs. There’s clearly been looting and an element of crowd violence in Ferguson, Missouri. But there are quite a few photos and videos of heavily armed and armored police facing clearly unarmed civilians who often have their hands in the air to show they are not armed.

I don’t know which agency’s police are depicted in the photo embedded above. I know that there was at least a brief deployment of State Police and the much larger St Louis Police Department is nearby. But even from the images that are clearly of the Ferguson Police, a fairly small suburban police department, the amount of body armor and quasi-military equipment is quite striking.

We take it as a given that most police departments will have a SWAT team, a relatively small group and amount of armament for an active shooter or hostage situation. But the Ferguson PD seems tricked out with a number of armored vehicles and quasi-military type gear. The militarization of local police forces is a story probably most of us are familiar with at some level. There’s also been a lot of counter-terror pork distributed to local police departments around the country, either buying bizarre arsenals to face terrorists they’ll almost certainly never encounter or surplus military supplies being cast off by US deployments abroad. But with all that, WTF?

And yet when the right-wing wackos like the all-white Minutemen or Cliven Bundy and his band of “sovereign citizens” gather with guns, ammo, flack jackets, and enough artillery to prove their tiny manhoods, the law enforcement hang back like frightened deer, afraid to “provoke an incident.”  Tell me that has nothing to do with race.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

You Know They’re Thinking It

The cat’s out of the bag.

In Waukesha, Wisconsin today, a group of business leaders held a press conference to press Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The event was part of a so-called National Day of Action for Immigration Reform – coordinated by various groups including the US Chamber of Commerce and Mike Bloomberg’s Partnership for a new economy. But things got kinda of weird when a local developer named Dagoberto Ibarra got up to make an impassioned speech which ended with him say “”I’m not seeing anybody doing anything. This is the most useless Congress in the last eight years, because a n—-r is in charge.”

Presumably the climate of fun for all came to a rather screeching halt with Ibarra’s invocation of the N-word.

Ibarra first denied making the statement, which seems kind of hard since he apparently said it at a news conference. He then apologized and said he “was making a reference to what Republicans say.”

Like it’s a big secret.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Quote of the Day

Convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza says African Americans are better off because of slavery.

Did America owe something to the slaves whose labor had been stolen? [Yes, but] that debt . . . is best discharged through memory, because the slaves are dead and their descendants are better off as a consequence of their ancestors being hauled from Africa to America.

Oh, I’m sure they’re grateful.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Defending Racism

Now that the United States Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the Washington football team’s trademark registrations because “they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered,” and President Obama once said that he thought the team should change its name, of course the Orcosphere has determined that the dictator has spoken.

It puts the right wing in their comfort zone to be defending the God-given right of white corporate America to be racist, especially if Barack Obama thinks otherwise.  It’s what they’re really good at.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Whites Of His Eyes

North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis keeps the minority outreach juggernaut going.

State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, said that the “traditional” voting bloc of his home state wasn’t growing like minority populations in an interview he did in 2012.

In that interview with the Carolina Business Review, Tillis, who is running to defeat incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), was asked what he thought of Hispanics not supporting Republicans.

“When you see all of these things that have transpired, what do you think about?” Carolina Business Review host Chris William asked Tillis.

In response, Tillis said that the answer had more to do with “demographics of the country.”

“If you take a look, you mentioned the Hispanic population — the African American population, there’s a number of things that our party stands for that they embrace,” Tillis said. He went on to say that Republican need to do a better job reaching out to minority voters. Tillis then said that unlike the Hispanic or black populations, which have been growing, the “traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable.”

[...]

Tillis was referring to North Carolinians who have been in the state for a few generations, according to the state lawmaker’s campaign.

“”Traditional” North Carolinians refers to North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations,” Tillis campaign Communications Director Daniel Keylin told TPM. “A lot of the state’s recent population growth is from people who move from other states to live, work, and settle down in North Carolina. Thom Tillis for example.”

So that means there were only white people in North Carolina until Barack Obama ran for president, and they only joined the Confederacy so they could get free Groupons.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Post-Racial America Update

According to conservatives, electing Barack Obama ended racism in America, so anyone who points out that there are still racists in America is, in fact, racist themselves.

For example:

Two black workers in a Tennessee cotton factory just filed a federal complaint against a domineering white supervisor who called them “monkeys” and was recorded lamenting racial integration while telling them the water fountain and microwave were for whites only. Happy 2014!

The men, who worked at the Atkinson Cotton Warehouse in Memphis, shared their story—and their secret recordings—with WREG-TV.

Obviously the workers are the ones who are the racists.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sunday Reading

“Stop and Frisk on Steroids” — Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic on the shameful practice in a Miami suburb.

Last year, police in Miami Gardens, Florida briefly made headlines after surveillance video captured their harassment of a black clerk at a convenience store. They stopped and questioned the man, Earl Sampson, a ludicrous 258 times. On 62 occasions, they arrested him for trespassing at his place of employment, a pattern of abuse that confounded his employer, the store’s owner. After the Miami Heraldexposed this story, it made national headlines at numerous journalistic outlets, then quickly faded into obscurity at the end of one news cycle. The scope of the abuse taking place in the police department remained unknown. The vast majority of outlets that covered the story cared too little to follow up.

Now evidence of staggering citywide abuse has come to light.

After a 6-month investigation, the TV network Fusion has documented a racist, illegal policing strategy that a local public defender calls “stop and frisk on steroids.” One Miami Gardens police officer reports that his supervisor ordered him to stop all black males between the ages of 15 and 30. Just 110,754 people live in Miami Gardens, yet going back to 2008, police have stopped and questioned 56,922 people who were not arrested. There were 99,980 total stops that did not lead to arrests, and 250 individuals were stopped more than 20 times.

Fusion also documented multiple instances of police officers falsifying official field reports, claiming to stop and question people who were actually already in county jail.

This is stellar investigative journalism.

Denzel Flowers, who is 20, has been stopped by police 27 times and arrested 4 times, but has never been convicted of anything.

While teenage, twenty-something and thirty-something black males were subjected to the most intense police harassment, Fusion also found that even some of the youngest and oldest residents in the city were deemed “suspicious” by police:

Fusion’s analysis of more than 30,000 pages of field contact reports, shows how aggressive and far-reaching the police actions were. Some residents were stopped, questioned and written up multiple times within minutes of each other, by different officers. Children were stopped by police in playgrounds. Senior citizens were stopped and questioned near their retirement home, including a 99-year-old man deemed to be “suspicious.” Officers even wrote a report identifying a five-year-old child as a “suspicious person.”

A 99-year-old man!

One imagines that the septuagenarian crime rate in Miami Gardens is quite low, Florida or not. Yet police there conducted 982 stops of individuals aged 70 and above.

[...]

This is the reality of anti-racism in American public discourse. Maximum outrage and urgent demands to do something are marshaled against offensive words. A Princeton student who critiqued the concept of white privilege in the school newspaper made national headlines and inspired numerous essays picking apart his logic. But public employees with guns harassing, intimidating, and humiliating innocent black children, because they’re black, every day in their neighborhood? Fusion published that story Thursday morning and almost no one noticed.

One Angry Father v. The N.R.A. — Kate McDonough in Salon on the man who may blunt the gun lobby.

Richard Martinez’s son Christopher was among the six college students murdered this weekend in Isla Vista, California. It’s impossible to fathom the grief that Martinez must be experiencing right now, and the simple fact that he is upright and mobile is an act of tremendous courage. Which is precisely what makes everything else that he has done in the days since he lost his son all the more astounding.

From his first public statement — a blistering and emotional indictment of “craven” politicians who refuse to act on even moderate gun reform — to the tribute to Christopher he delivered Tuesday before a crowd of thousands, Martinez has been willing to show his raw and devastating grief to the world. He has made himself the gnarled and anguished face of our broken system — the lives that it takes and the lives that it ruins. His vulnerability and righteous, focused anger is unlike anything we’ve seen in response to a mass shooting.

And it should scare the shit out of the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby and the cowardly politicians who use these deadly weapons as literal and figurative political props.

It isn’t just the force of Martinez’s emotions or political conviction that make him powerful. He is currently shouldering the unimaginable grief of being yet another parent who has lost yet another child in yet another mass shooting. He has seen this happen before, he knows the political script that’s already playing out. He has listened as gun apologists — time and again — urge the nation not to “politicize” a national tragedy out of respect for the families, and then watched them turn on these same families in order to protect our deadly — and immensely profitable — culture of guns. And he’s using it. All of it.

Days after 26 people were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, Wayne LaPierre denounced gun reform advocates for “exploit[ing] the tragedy for political gain.” Months later, Sarah Palin echoed the sentiment. ”Leaders are in it for themselves, not for the American people,” she told a crowd that summer, before effectively declaring how proud she was that her son Trig would grow up in a country where men like Elliot Rodger and Adam Lanza can buy guns and hoard ammunition without authorities batting an eyelash.

Martinez may be the single most powerful force we have against this kind of slithering political cowardice. He’s already familiar with the political dirty tricks and knows where the conversation will eventually turn — that the pro-gun crowd is going to come out hard against him, just as they have turned on other parents and survivors. “Right now, there hasn’t been much blowback from the other side,” Martinez noted during a Tuesday interview with MSNBC. “But I anticipate that once my grieving period is over, the gloves will come off. I don’t think it’s going to be easy. They are going to try to do to me the same thing that they’ve done to all of these people. But I have a message for them: My son is dead. There is nothing you could do to me that is worse than that.”

I can’t imagine a more direct rebuttal to the LaPierres and the Palins in this country.

Losing Streak — Jeffry Toobin in The New Yorker introduces us to the lawyer defending bans on marriage equality.

You think you’ve got a tough job? Try opposing same-sex marriage in the federal courts these days. That’s what Austin Nimocks does for a living (among other things). Nimocks is senior counsel for a conservative public-interest group called the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is devoted to protecting religious liberty. In recent years, the organization has been a principal legal defender of what it calls “traditional marriage.” Things have not been going so well lately.

Since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last June, in United States v. Windsor, fourteen courts have considered challenges to same-sex-marriage bans and related laws—and all fourteen have ruled in favor of marriage equality. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post did a summary of the first thirteen. Then a federal court in Pennsylvania joined the list. (It’s hard to keep up!) To summarize: same-sex marriage is now legal in nineteen states, which contain roughly forty-four per cent of the U.S. population. Judges in eleven other states have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but those decisions are stayed pending appeals.

All of this does not discourage Nimocks, who just published a report about the state of the law on marriage around the country, and a brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage should be reinstated. “We don’t worry too much about what the district courts say,” he told me. “All that matters is how the Supreme Court comes out in the end.”

[...]

The heart of Nimocks’s argument comes down to a single word: children. Over and over again in his sixty-page brief, he asserts that the government has a legitimate interest in favoring traditional marriage because only a man and a woman can produce children. “Marriage laws have been, and continue to be, about the pragmatic business of serving society’s child-centered purposes, like connecting children to their mother and father, and avoiding the negative outcomes often experienced by children raised outside a stable family unit led by their biological parents,” he writes. He attempts to elide the obvious response—that not all opposite-sex couples want or can have children—by saying that Virginia can presume that they will. The purpose of limiting marriage to men and women “is not to ensure that all marital unions produce children. Instead, it is to channel the presumptive procreative potential of man-woman relationships into enduring marital unions so that if any children are born, they are more likely to be raised in stable family units by both their mothers and fathers.” This, then, is Nimocks’s best response to the argument (raised by Justice Elena Kagan at the oral arguments) that marriage is about more than just having children, because lots of married people can’t or don’t have them.

There is a potentially fatal flaw in Nimocks’s child-centered argument. At the oral arguments of the Windsor case, and in the Court’s opinion, one of the Justices also seemed especially interested in children. It was Justice Kennedy, the indispensable swing vote on issues of gay rights. “There are some forty-thousand children in California that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status,” Kennedy said during the arguments related to Windsor’s companion case, on California’s Proposition 8. “The voice of those children is important in this case, don’t you think?” In his opinion in Windsor, Kennedy wrote that the Defense of Marriage Act “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” The laws that Nimocks is defending operate in much the same way—which means that his losing streak may not end when he reaches the Supreme Court.

Doonesbury — Pitch perfect.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Case For Reparations

I was saving this article in The Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates for Sunday Reading, but it’s too good to save.

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.

[...]

No one can know what would come out of such a debate. Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced. An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.

Please read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Reading

Sixty Years Later — From The New Yorker, Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, on the legacy and the future of integration in American

So here we are, sixty years after Brown, and fourteen years away from Justice O’Connor’s wishful ending point: popular referenda have become a favored shortcut to terminate affirmative-action programs; we have a constricted and decontextualized manner of discussing race and diversity in higher education; there is a leaderless public debate about these issues; and primary and secondary education is growing more segregated.

This is a bleak and tragic picture, and it should be a reminder that we urgently need a more serious, realistic, and open discussion about race in the United States today. Along with it, we need a new movement like the one that led to Brown—before it is too late, and the issue vanishes beneath another cycle of inattention.

This movement, we know from past experience, can be led from the middle of the political spectrum. During the Grutter lawsuit, as the University of Michigan faced wide public skepticism and I struggled to enlist effective allies, it was former President Gerald Ford, a proud Michigan alumni, who responded to my request that he write about affirmative action, and who first stood up for our case. Ford appealed to the common decency of most Americans from his own personal experience. Writing in the Times, Ford recalled an incident from his days as a college football player, when his close friend Willis Ward, one of the best players on the Michigan squad, withdrew himself from a game at Georgia Tech after the opposing team “reputedly wanted [him] dropped from our roster because he was black.” Ford continued: “I have often wondered how different the world might have been in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s—how much more humane and just—if my generation had experienced a more representative sampling of the American family.” President Ford then quoted his Democratic predecessor, Lyndon Johnson: “To be black in a white society is not to stand on level and equal ground. While the races may stand side by side, whites stand on history’s mountain and blacks stand in history’s hollow. Until we overcome that history, we cannot overcome unequal opportunity.”

Together, Johnson and Ford understood what a current majority of our Supreme Court does not. And, in their different ways, they communicated to the American people what a university president cannot.

The nation’s struggle with race may be tiring, but it is not behind us. We need voices from all walks of American life to be raised, urging us to stand together on higher ground, to avoid regressing back to an era of more segregated and more unequal education.

The Long Twilight of Democracy — Andrew O’Hehir in Salon on the decline of what we think of as democracy.

The aura of democratic legitimacy is fading fast in an era when financial and political capital are increasingly consolidated in a few thousand people, a fact we already knew but whose implications French insta-celebrity Thomas Piketty and the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (of the “oligarchy study”) have forcefully driven home. Libertarian thinker Bryan Caplan sees the same pattern, as Michael Lind recently wrote in Salon, but thinks it’s a good thing. In America, democracy offers the choice between one political party that has embraced a combination of corporate bootlicking, poorly veiled racism, anti-government paranoia and a wholesale rejection of science, and another whose cosmopolitan veneer sits atop secret drone warfare, Wall Street cronyism and the all-seeing Panopticon of high-tech surveillance. You don’t have to conclude that noted climate-change expert Marco Rubio and Establishment mega-hawk Hillary Clinton are interchangeable or identical to conclude that it isn’t much of a choice.

Most critiques of democracy as it currently exists, certainly those from the liberal left, assume that democracy can and should be fixed and that it’s just a matter of switching off the cat videos and doing the work. They remain inside the conceptual and ideological frame mentioned above, the idea that democracy is the only legitimate expression of politics. This has the force of religious doctrine, and in fact is far stronger than any religious doctrines to be found in the Western world. Our democracy may be stunted or corrupted or deformed by bad forces of money and power, these arguments go, but it self-evidently remains the ideal form of government, and it is our responsibility to redeem it. If only we can build a third party around Ralph Nader (that went well!), if only we can ring enough doorbells for Dennis Kucinich, if only we can persuade Elizabeth Warren to run against Hillary – you’ve heard all this before. There are many versions of this strategy, some more plausible than others, but they all rest on the faith that the promised land of real democracy is out there somewhere beyond the horizon, waiting for us to reach it.

As the Italian political scientist Mario Tronti has noted, this faith in a golden future, with its implicit apology for the current state of affairs, may sound oddly familiar to those whose cultural memories extend back to the Cold War. It’s exactly what defenders of the Soviet “experiment” said over and over. Yes, “actually existing socialism” had its limitations, most of which resulted from imperialist meddling and ideological backwardness, but one day our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, would finish the task of building a communist society. That was hogwash, Tronti says, and so is the insistence that we should judge democracy based on some imaginary potential rather than what it is in practice. “This theoretical-practical knot that is democracy,” he writes, “can now be judged by its results.” What we see around us “should not be read as a ‘false’ democracy in the face of which there is or should be a ‘true’ democracy, but as the coming-true of the ideal, or conceptual, form of democracy.”

In other words, we have to consider the possibility that the current state of American politics, with its bizarre combination of poisoned, polarized and artificially overheated debate along with total paralysis on every substantive issue and widespread apathy and discontent, is what we get after 200-odd years.

Second Verse, Same as the First — Frank Rich in New York magazine: The Republicans go after the Clintons again, which only makes them stronger.

The Democrats will publicly scold the Republicans for recycling yesterday’s garbage. But in private they should pray that Priebus and his camp will bring it on—the old Clinton sex scandals and, better still, some new ones, real or fantasized, the more women the better. The received wisdom that sex scandals threaten a Hillary run is preposterous. It’s the reverse that’s true. The right’s inability to stanch its verbal diarrhea on the subject of female sexuality—whether provoked by rape, contraception, abortion, “traditional marriage,” gay marriage, gay parenting, or pop culture—did as much as anything to defeat Mitt Romney, his “binders full of women” notwithstanding, in 2012. (He lost women voters to Obama by 11 percentage points.) And that obsession with sex can defeat the GOP again. Todd Akin, the avatar of “legitimate rape,” may be gone, but many of the same political players will be in place in 2016 as in 2012—more than a few of them alumni of the Clinton sexcapades of the 1990s. No matter how much Republican leaders talk of reining in their sexist language (though not their policies) to counter charges that the GOP conducts a war on women, they just can’t help themselves. Whether or not there’s a war on women in 2016, there will be a rancorous and tasteless war on one woman. And it is guaranteed to backfire, drowning out fair G-rated questions about the Clintons’ dealings just as Monica and other “bimbo eruptions” drowned out such now-forgotten Clinton scandals as Filegate and Castle Grande.

To appreciate how inexorably the Clintons will seduce the GOP into another orgy of self-destruction, it helps to recall the tone of the insanity the couple induced among their opponents the first time around. That recent past has been obscured in the American memory by the rise in Bill Clinton’s stature and, most of all, by the subsequent detour of right-wing ire to a new hate object in the White House, an actual black president as opposed to merely an honorary one. In addition, many Americans who will vote in 2016 are too young to have grasped or witnessed the Clinton craziness firsthand. (Some first-time 2016 voters weren’t yet born when the Lewinsky story broke in early 1998.) They may be startled to discover what they missed. Only a novelist could capture the mood back then, as Philip Roth did in The Human Stain: “In the Congress, in the press, and on the networks, the righteous grandstanding creeps, crazy to blame, deplore, and punish, were everywhere out moralizing to beat the band … all of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch, thereby making things cozy and safe enough for Senator Lieberman’s ten-year-old daughter to watch TV with her embarrassed daddy again. No, if you haven’t lived through 1998, you don’t know what sanctimony is … It was the summer when a president’s penis was on everyone’s mind.”

Doonesbury — dynasty dynamics.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunday Reading

More Elegant Racists, Please — Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic on the style and substance of racism.

The problem with Cliven Bundy isn’t that he is a racist but that he is an oafish racist. He invokes the crudest stereotypes, like cotton picking. This makes white people feel bad. The elegant racist knows how to injure non-white people while never summoning the specter of white guilt. Elegant racism requires plausible deniability, as when Reagan just happened to stumble into the Neshoba County fair and mention state’s rights. Oafish racism leaves no escape hatch, as when Trent Lott praised Strom Thurmond’s singularly segregationist candidacy.

Elegant racism is invisible, supple, and enduring. It disguises itself in the national vocabulary, avoids epithets and didacticism. Grace is the singular marker of elegant racism. One should never underestimate the touch needed to, say, injure the voting rights of black people without ever saying their names. Elegant racism lives at the border of white shame. Elegant racism was the poll tax. Elegant racism is voter-ID laws.

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” John Roberts elegantly wrote. Liberals have yet to come up with a credible retort. That is because the theories of John Roberts are prettier than the theories of most liberals. But more, it is because liberals do not understand that America has never discriminated on the basis of race (which does not exist) but on the basis of racism (which most certainly does.)

Ideologies of hatred have never required coherent definitions of the hated. Islamophobes kill Sikhs as easily as they kill Muslims. Stalin needed no consistent definition of “Kulaks” to launch a war of Dekulakization. “I decide who is a Jew,” Karl Lueger said. Slaveholders decided who was a nigger and who wasn’t. The decision was arbitrary. The effects are not. Ahistorical liberals—like most Americans—still believe that race invented racism, when in fact the reverse is true. The hallmark of elegant racism is the acceptance of mainstream consensus, and exploitation of all its intellectual fault lines.

Upping the Ante — John Nichols in The Nation on how Seattle leads the way on minimum wage.

Seattle and the state of Washington have histories of recognizing the need to raise wages so that working people will not face the reality of putting in a forty-hour week while remaining stuck in poverty. The current minimum wage for Washington workers is $9.32 an hour, the highest state rate in the nation. But the basic premises of the debate were jolted last fall by the election to the city council of Sawant, an Occupy activist and Socialist Alternative candidate who made advocacy for a $15 wage central to her bid. At the same time, voters in the nearby city of Sea-Tac backed a $15-an-hour proposal.

The Seattle election results shook that city and the nation into a new way of thinking about the minimum-wage debate. The Fight for $15 movement of fast-food workers, which Sawant and others credit for laying the groundwork for wage-hike campaigns in Seattle and cities across the country, has been strengthened by the fact that its proposals were being embraced by voters and policymakers. Activists nationwide are ramping up demands for wage hikes that will address poverty and income inequality. And instead of proposing only incremental changes that might be grudgingly accepted by business interests and conservative politicians, progressive Democrats have begun to notice the polling data that shows broad support for major wage increases.

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama embraced a proposal by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and California Congressman George Miller for a $10.10 hourly wage, and that popular position has become a baseline standard for progressives seeking state and federal posts in the 2014 election cycle.

But in expensive cities like Seattle, $10.10 an hour can still be a poverty wage. So, according to The Seattle Times, “Murray’s plan calls for the city’s minimum wage to climb to $15 an hour, phased in over three to seven years depending on the size of business and whether workers receive tips or benefits in addition to salary. After that, the wage would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, with estimates showing it rising above $18 an hour by 2025.”

[...]

And don’t think that this is just a Seattle thing. Fast-food workers and their allies across the country will be rallying in coming weeks for a $15 wage, and there are campaigns in communities and states across the country for wage-hike resolutions and referendums. What was once a debate about the minimum wage is becoming a debate about a living wage.

Back to Benghazi! — David Corn in Mother Jones on the GOP’s obsession.

The current outbreak of Benghazi Fever shows how strong the virus is—and that it is apparently immune to basic remedy.

On Friday, the Republicans went full Benghazi. House Speaker John Boehner announced he was setting up a special House committee to investigate the attack—that is, the Obama White House’s response to it. Meanwhile, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chair of the House government oversight committee, subpoenaed Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before his committee on May 21 about the State Department’s handling of GOP congressional inquiries about Benghazi. (Apparently, Issa is now probing a supposed cover-up of the original supposed cover-up.)

This week, Issa, Fox News, and other Benghazi-ists rushed to the ramparts once again, when a White House email was released showing that a top Obama aide had suggested that an administration spokeswoman defend the president’s policy regarding the Arab Spring and the Muslim world following a series of anti-American attacks that included the September 11, 2012, assault on the US diplomatic facility in Benghazi. As part of the interagency effort then underway to prep then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for appearances on several Sunday morning talk shows—the exercise that produced the Benghazi talking points Republicans have been howling about ever since—Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, wrote that one goal for Rice was to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

A-ha! cried the Benghazi truthers. Here’s proof that the White House schemed to convince the public that the tragic attack—which claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans—was merely the result of protests spurred by an anti-Islam video made by some American wacko, not the doing of Al Qaeda or its allies. President Obama and his comrades, the Benghazi truthers insist, wanted to cover up the politically inconvenient fact that Al Qaeda-ish terrorism was responsible for the killing of four Americans, since acknowledgment of this would have tainted the counter-terrorism credentials of Obama, the Bin Laden slayer, and decreased his chances of reelection.

But as we know now, the CIA and the State Department took the lead in fashioning the talking points. A year ago, the release of internal White House emails about the drafting of the talking points clearly showed there had been no White House effort to shape the narrative in a devious manner. (It appeared the CIA and the State Department were more concerned about their own bureaucratic imperatives.) And the new email from Rhodes is pretty standard stuff, indicating a White House desire to justify its policy on the Arab Spring in the face of troubling events. Rhodes was encouraging Rice to present the case that the anti-video protests that had occurred in various places in the Muslim world were sort of a one-off event, not an indication that the overall Obama approach toward the region was misguided. Note that Rhodes referred to “protests,” plural, when making this point. That week there had been violent anti-video uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan, not just Libya. So all the fuss about the Rhodes email—which quickly passed through membrane between Fox News and the rest of the media, receiving airtime on CNN, ABC News, and elsewhere—is smoke, not fire.

[...]

For Obama’s political foes, the Benghazi narrative—that is, their reality-challenged version of it—offers too much benefit to be abandoned. It serves three fundamental desires of the right. The get-Obama crusaders have long wanted to show that the president is just another weak-on-defense Democrat, to demonstrate that he is not a real American worthy of being president, and to uncover an explosive scandal that eviscerates Obama’s presidency and provides cause for impeachment. Benghazi, in their feverish minds, has had the potential to do all of this. It is a candy store for many conservatives—no matter that the bins are empty. They will not—cannot—let it go. Nor can they simply focus on the real issues of what went wrong that dreadful night and what must be done to prevent another such disaster. They are love-sick for Benghazi. And for that, there is no cure.

Doonesbury — Clickbait.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The First Step

I never bought all that talk last year about the Republicans trying to re-brand and reach out to minorities and women, so it’s not much of a surprise that the big mouths in the party such as Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and Donald Trump would either stand by Donald Sterling and the racism attributed to him or blame the victims.  (Mr. Trump says Mr. Sterling was “set up” by a “bad girlfriend.”  He speaks from experience.)

So it basically comes down to the question of how can you fix a problem when you refuse to admit that you have one in the first place?

Yes, I know that’s Step 1 in the A.A. rubric.  They still have eleven more to go.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sterling Example

I was waiting to see if there was any chance that the recording of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rants were altered or faked; unlike the evidence of deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy’s insight into our social fabric, Mr. Sterling was not standing in front of a crowd holding a microphone when he told his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, not to bring any more black people to the games.

Now there’s more evidence that not only did he say it, he went on to bemoan how ungrateful those people are that they have a job due to his beneficence: they’d all be on welfare if it wasn’t for him.

V: I don’t understand, I don’t see your views. I wasn’t raised the way you were raised.

DS: Well then, if you don’t feel—don’t come to my games. Don’t bring black people, and don’t come.

V: Do you know that you have a whole team that’s black, that plays for you?

DS: You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? Do I know that I have—Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game? Is there 30 owners, that created the league?

It turns out that Mr. Sterling has a long record of racial animus, including being sued for refusing to rent property to blacks.

Amazingly, the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP was planning to give him a lifetime achievement award at a ceremony on May 15.  They have since thought better of it.

It is some kind of karma that in the last two weeks we have seen two examples that exemplify the most common forms of racism in America.  First with Cliven Bundy we have the anti-government sovereign citizen militia type that claims to hate any form of government while taking advantage of the services that very government provides.  These are the kind of people who refuse to pay taxes based on some conspiracy theory about secret overlords and the U.N., and just for grins they throw in with the neo-Nazis and skinheads.

Then there’s the more comparatively genteel types like Donald Sterling who amass vast fortunes by exploiting the people he despises, be they black or poor.  He hates big government and paying taxes, but he doesn’t pick up a rifle; he hires someone else to do his taxes and bank his money in the Caymans.  His racism is based not on some whack-job conspiracy theory of eugenics and bell-curves; it’s purely exploitative: I got mine, screw you.  But in the end, the only difference between Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy is wardrobe.

I suspect there are just as many Donald Sterlings in America as there are Cliven Bundys.  Despite the denials from the enablers at a certain conservative cable news channel, neither of them are outliers.  They are just the ones who happened to get caught on an open microphone.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

You Lie Down With Dogs…

The spokesman for the RNC has his tail all puffed up because the GOP is being linked to deadbeat rancher/racist Cliven Bundy.

RNC communications director Sean Spicer denounced the comments from the rancher who became something of a conservative hero earlier this month during a standoff with the federal government over gazing [sic] fees. Bundy’s star came crashing down on Thursday after the New York Times published quotes in which he wondered aloud whether blacks would be better off as slaves.

But Spicer also used the opportunity to criticize the media for injecting GOP politics into the story. He did not acknowledge, however, that several high profile Republicans, including possible 2016 presidential contenders, had praised the rancher before the racist comments became public.

“I think the comments that Mr. Bundy made with respect to race and other things were inappropriate and wrong, 100 percent out of line and not part of the discourse we need to have,” Spicer said. “But that being said, what I find fascinating as the chief spokesman for the Republican Party is that when a guy has a problem with cattle grazing and has a discussion about the size of the federal government and the overreach of the federal government, makes a comment every reporter calls the Republican National Committee asking for comment.”

That’s because the GOP has been latching on to people who rant about the size of the federal government and the overreach of the federal government for the last thirty years, you big dumb pink thing.  Your bought-and-paid-for cable news channel has put more coverage on Cliven Bundy than CNN has on the lost Malaysian jet, and Sean Hannity — perhaps you’ve heard of him — practically moved to Nevada to spoon the guy.

Josh Marshall:

…as the Simpsons once cartoonicly opined about Fox News: The GOP is not racist. But it sure is popular with racists. In fact, I think this is one of those cases where the story is best understood through the prism of the seminal 2005 oped in The Onion entitled “Why do all these homosexuals keep sucking my cock?

Why indeed? Why does this keeping happening?

It’s sort of like a really bad run of luck in which people spring up who espouse a lot of Republican positions, quickly get endorsed and trumpeted by a lot of Republican politicians and then suddenly turn out to be, well … really racist.

Indeed, why do all these homosexuals …

Now, let me be clear: this isn’t the GOP isn’t racist but … hell, wink, wink, yeah it’s pretty racist. It’s not. But a substantial number of its core supporters have views that are most generously described as retrograde on racial matters and simply not remotely suitable for public airing. And like any political party that seriously constrains its freedom of action on a whole variety of issues which touch on race – which is to say, about half of everything.

The GOP needs a good flea dip.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Out of Touch

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor didn’t mince words when she dissented from the 6-2 ruling upholding Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in college admissions.  She read it from the bench and there’s no doubt that she was directing her words at the Chief Justice.

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter. [Emphasis added]

The Chief took note:

The dissent states that “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race.” … But it is not “out of touch with reality” to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that doubt, and—if so—that the preferences do more harm than good. To disagree with the dissent’s views on the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to “wish away, rather than confront” racial inequality. People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.

A little touchy, are we?

There would be no need in this country for affirmative action if there hadn’t been 300 years of racial discrimination and majority-enforced segregation at nearly every level of government and education.  It wasn’t wiped out by two laws and court rulings fifty years ago; it is still rampant and insidious today.  Just because the white patriarchs who never felt the sting or stigma of racial discrimination think affirmative action isn’t necessary any more doesn’t make it so.