Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Reading

How We Got There — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on what racism has done to Baltimore.

… Talk to people in Baltimore—or Ferguson or Staten Island—and invariably you hear criticism of the police not as the police but as a symbol of an entire web of failed social policies, on education, employment, health, and housing. The real question is not one of police tactics: whether the use of body cameras can reduce civilian complaints or whether police-brutality cases should be handled by independent prosecutors. The real question is what life in an American city should be. The issues extend far beyond the parameters of race, but race is the narrative most easily seized upon. (It’s worth noting our tendency to think of declining, mostly white Rust Belt cities elegiacally, and of largely black ones moralistically.)

Midway through the twentieth century, cities—especially those, like Baltimore, which were sustained by ports—connoted a kind of American swagger. Today, the population of Baltimore is six hundred and twenty-three thousand; in 1950, it was nine hundred and fifty thousand. The Second World War diminished ethnic rivalries among white Americans and, with them, the tribal allotments of urban neighborhoods, but that process was accelerated by the fact that those areas were already becoming less appealing. When, in 1910, a black attorney bought a house on a white block in Baltimore, the Sun reported that the presence of blacks would drive down property values. That helped bring about a city ordinance—the first of its kind—establishing block-by-block segregation. It is generally assumed that white flight was a product of the political tumult and the spiking crime that afflicted American cities in the nineteen-sixties, but it may well have been the other way around. Baltimore, three-quarters white in 1950, is now two-thirds black. As the surrounding suburbs became increasingly white, transportation networks that once connected the city and the outlying county crumbled. Industry and employment relocated to the surrounding areas. By the late sixties, the city was marked by poverty, a persistent lack of opportunity, and violent crime.

Conservative commentators have pointed to Baltimore as a kind of anti-Ferguson, a city where, for decades, blacks have had a secure grasp on political leadership, including the mayor’s office; a significant representation in the police force, including, now, the commissioner; and an African-American chief prosecutor, who announced the charges in Gray’s death. Yet Baltimore witnessed the same volatile dynamics that we saw in Missouri last year. The implication is that the problem is not racialized policing but the intractable, fraught nature of securing poor, crime-prone communities. That doesn’t quite square. As the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson suggests, black representation may diminish but by no means resolve policing practices that disproportionately target African-Americans. And the differences in leadership in the two cities belie their conflicts’ common historical roots in segregation. Housing discrimination, of the sort intended by the Baltimore ordinance, was outlawed by a 1948 Supreme Court case, Shelley v. Kraemer, which originated in St. Louis, just a few miles from Ferguson.

Between 1980 and 2010, the population of Ferguson flipped from eighty-five per cent white to sixty-nine per cent black. At some point soon, Ferguson, like Baltimore, may have more proportional black representation, but the socioeconomic trends in that city won’t automatically change. Gray died twenty-eight years after Baltimore’s first black mayor took office, yet the statistical realities at the time of his death—a twenty-four-per-cent poverty rate, thirty-seven-per-cent unemployment among young black men—show how complicated and durable the dynamics of race and racism can be.

Last week, the cover of Time featured an image of Baltimore aflame, with the year 1968 crossed out and 2015 pencilled in. On social media, split-screen images of the riot that followed King’s death and the one that followed Gray’s proliferated. The temptation is to believe that nothing has changed, but something has: Baltimore is blacker and poorer than it was then. It was not difficult to see who set buildings on fire there last week. The more salient concern is how cities become kindling in the first place.

What Bernie Brings to the Race — Bill Curry in Salon on how Bernie Sanders will focus Democrats on defining their message.

At 73, Bernie Sanders must still like to campaign. On Thursday he kicked off a race for president of the United States, the Iron Man triathlon of politics. He has run 20 races already, as many as Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton combined. He says this one, like all the rest, will be a grassroots movement financed by small-donor giving. All politicians say that, but in a career spanning 43 years, Sanders has shown he means it. It’s just one of the reasons why people say he can’t win.

It isn’t the only one, as Washington handicappers hasten to explain. Another is his allegedly unsociable personality. It’s true that he isn’t much of a networker; you won’t see many “Friend of Bernie” pins. He’ll do well with small groups; one on one, not so much. He doesn’t even have quiet charisma. He relies more on logic than charm — and everyone he’s met says that’s the right call.

Most other analysis is standard-issue political punditry. Noting that “there have been no top-flight hires,” Politico quotes a “labor strategist” who says Sanders “doesn’t have a shot” at union endorsements. Bloomberg says “his aversion to big-dollar fundraising raises questions about whether he can collect cash at the level needed to compete with Clinton.” No doubt working with inside sources, the New York Times’ Nate Cohn confides that Sanders “will most likely champion the liberal cause” and then explains why that can’t possibly work: “The left wing of the Democratic Party just isn’t big enough to support a challenge to the left of a mainstream liberal Democrat like Mrs. Clinton.”

Cohn backs up his thesis with a 2014 Pew poll that says lots of Democrats aren’t really liberals. How 2008 turned out the way it did, he doesn’t say.

Clinton loyalists welcome Sanders’ entry because they know she needs a contest, or at least a tune-up. Of course, to get the full benefit she’d have to agree to debate, something she has yet to say she’ll do. That Sanders is six years older than Clinton must feel like a bit of great good luck to them. Some call him a perfect foil; a lesser threat than Warren, yet enough of one to provide progressives with some catharsis while bestowing Clinton with the legitimacy that comes only from competition.

“We’re going to win,” Bernie told ABC’s Jon Karl on Thursday, but everyone assumes he won’t. That assumption marginalized him from the moment he got in the race. On his big day, “CBS This Morning” gave him 34 seconds of coverage. On the Times’ web page, a 662-word news story spent a few afternoon hours beneath a report of the American Psychological Association’s condoning of Bush-era torture tactics before being relegated to a link headlined “Bernie Sanders to Run for President, Opposing Clinton.” A 900-word piece on Hillary’s recent departure from Bill’s old crime agenda helped push it off the page.

It won’t get any easier for Sanders. I hate horse race coverage as much as anyone, but there’s no sense denying such long odds. Liberals who fretted that Hillary might escape a challenge now fret that a poor showing by Bernie may weaken their case. You’d think by now they’d have tired of tactical thinking, but no. There are better ways to think about 2016. You could, for example, think like an organizer. If you haven’t done it in a while, you needn’t worry. It’s like riding a bicycle.

Now or ThenThe Onion reports on the possibility of marriage equality ruling from the Supreme Court.

WASHINGTON—Anxiously anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision on the issue, the nation was reportedly on edge Wednesday as it waited to see whether the court would legalize gay marriage now or in a few years. “Americans are standing by with bated breath while the justices decide whether to recognize same-sex couples immediately or in two or three years when public opinion has shifted even more overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage,” said legal analyst Jermaine Masse, adding that whether the court would legalize gay marriage at once or merely very soon was still too close to call at this time. “At this very moment, nine individuals are deciding whether to fundamentally alter this country’s definition of marriage right away or by the end of 2018, latest. What’s at stake is nothing less than a 24- to 36-month delay on same-sex marriage being the law of the land.” Masse went on to say that the fact that the nation’s highest court agreed to hear the case in the first place signaled that it was prepared to reject the more conservative notion that gay marriage could wait until the end of the decade.

Doonesbury — Life’s purpose.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lesson Not Learned

There was a suggestion that instead of expelling the SAE frat boys from the University of Oklahoma, they stay in school and learn about how racist videos are not a good idea.  It’s a teachable moment.

Something tells me that it won’t sink in.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Short Takes

ISIS is being beaten back from Tikrit by Iraqi forces.

The Israel election is next week and getting close between the rivals.

The University of Oklahoma expelled two students connected with the SAE racist video.

President Obama signed the “Student Aid Bill of Rights” law.

Stocks fall on strong dollar worries.

Gun ownership is down in America.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

Follow The Money

Oh look, a touch of irony in Ferguson:

The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

Ronald J Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.

Brockmeyer, 70, was this week singled out by Department of Justice investigators as being a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to aggressively generate revenues. The policy has been blamed for a breakdown in relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.

Investigators found Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fees, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”. A city councilman opposing the judge’s reappointment was warned “switching judges would/could lead to loss of revenue”.

Racism and greed; what a lovely combination.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sunday Reading

First things first: if you live in a place that observes daylight savings time in the U.S. and Canada, did you move your clock ahead?

Obama’s America — Matt Ford in The Atlantic on what President Obama’s trip to Selma says about us and his view of America.

America is, like all nations, an idea. Unlike many other nations, this idea requires a little articulation. A nation built by waves of immigrants can’t rely on Old-World, blood-and-soil ethnic nationalism to define itself. The American idea is instead built upon a civic nationalism rooted in democratic principles and self-evident truths, even though Americans often fail to meet those ideals.

And so, quoting James Baldwin and the prophet Isaiah, President Barack Obama spoke in Selma on Saturday. His address commemorated the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” during the marches to Montgomery in 1965, but his rhetorical scope encompassed all of American history.

Obama has not always spoken so clearly about American exceptionalism. At a March 2009 news conference, he told a reporter that he believed in it “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” His political opponents incorporated this into a narrative that cast the president as anti-American, mistaking his ability to understand the pride of others abroad for a lack of pride on his own nation.

Obama corrected the record at Selma, making the case that we are not exceptional in the perfection of our virtue, but rather, exceptional in our relentless struggle to live up to our ideals:

For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.

Many will interpret this speech as a thinly veiled rebuttal to conservative critics like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who claimed last month that Obama “doesn’t love America.” Others will focus on Obama’s sharp attack on Congress for not renewing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 after the Supreme Court gutted it in a 2013 decision. But the speech’s broader themes are far more important than its soundbites.

For Obama, the marchers at Selma helped set a new course for American democracy. “Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American,” he told the crowd. “Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors.” Had one of his predecessors not already taken the phrase, perhaps he would have called this a new birth of freedom.

Few would disagree with this assessment, but the president’s speech went beyond simple praise. Obama has a rhetorical tendency to construct grand, sweeping visions of American history. His inauguration speeches and State of the Union addresses often demonstrate this, but the first, best example might be his concession speech during the 2008 New Hampshire primaries, where he linked his own presidential bid to the historical arc of American freedom.

In Selma, Obama avoided the simplistic narratives of America the perfect (or America the oppressive, as some conservatives allege) in favor of America, the struggle. Instead of relying upon “patriotism à la carte,” as my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates once phrased it, the president carefully wove the darker chapters of American history into its civic mythos:

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free—Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life.  That’s how we came to be.

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As he did with slavery and Japanese-American internment, Obama sought to incorporate Ferguson into the turbulence of American history. The Department of Justice’s damning Ferguson report, which it released last week after a lengthy investigation, depicted a present-day municipal government dedicated to the plunder and predation of its black citizens. Obama readily observed that Ferguson wasn’t an isolated case, but also noted that these racist acts are no longer “endemic” in America. He also refused to accept that Ferguson meant that the struggles of Bloody Sunday were for naught. “If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the 1950s,” he said to applause.

At times, it felt like Obama was addressing not the civil-rights movement veterans who had assembled in Selma, but today’s new generation of activists and marchers. “We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America,” Obama told the crowd and the country. “To deny this progress—our progress—would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.”

Transcript here via Washington Post.

Roberts’ Tell — Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker on the Chief Justice’s silence during the Obamacare hearing.

The Supreme Court oral argument on Wednesday in King v. Burwell featured thousands of words, dozens of provocative questions, two engaged and skillful lawyers—and one very striking silence. Chief Justice John Roberts, usually among the most active questioners on the court, scarcely said a word throughout the highly anticipated clash. The justices besieged Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and Michael Carvin, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, who are challenging a central provision of Obamacare, with so many questions that Roberts gave the pair ten extra minutes a side. The chief himself didn’t take up any of that time until practically the last moment.

Roberts’s one question may turn out to be extremely important. The issue in the case is whether the Obama Administration, in implementing the Affordable Care Act, violated the terms of that law. The plaintiffs assert that the A.C.A. only authorizes subsidies for individuals who buy health insurance on the fourteen state-run exchanges, or marketplaces. Under their reading of the law, the eight million or so people in the other thirty-six states who currently buy their insurance from the federal marketplace should be denied their subsidies. Most of the justices’ questions dealt with the issue of how to read the law correctly, but Roberts, in his single substantive question, took a different tack.

Anthony Kennedy had asked about “Chevron deference,” a doctrine of law that describes how much leeway the executive branch should have in interpreting laws. Verrilli, not surprisingly, said that the Chevron doctrine gave the Obama Administration more than adequate permission to read the law to allow subsidies on the federal exchange. “If you’re right about Chevron,” Roberts said, at long last, “that would indicate that a subsequent Administration could change that interpretation?” Perhaps it could, Verrilli conceded.

The question suggests a route out of the case for Roberts—and the potential for a victory for the Obama Administration. Roberts came of age as a young lawyer in the Reagan Administration, and there he developed a keen appreciation for the breadth of executive power under the Constitution. To limit the Obama Administration in this case would be to threaten the power of all Presidents, which Roberts may be loath to do. But he could vote to uphold Obama’s action in this case with a reminder that a new election is fast approaching, and Obamacare is sure to be a major point of contention between the parties. A decision in favor of Obama here could be a statement that a new President could undo the current President’s interpretation of Obamacare as soon as he (or she) took office in 2017. In other words, the future of Obamacare should be up to the voters, not the justices.

Why No One Cares About Bill O’Reilly — Eric Alterman at The Nation.

To anyone who has paid attention to O’Reilly or any of the Fox “anchors” in recent years, none of this should come as a surprise. There are many precedents in O’Reilly’s career (including a lie about, and faux on-air apology to, yours truly). No doubt one could find plenty of similar fabrications, exaggerations and purposely misleading statements on any given Fox program. That is, after all, the purpose of the network. It flatters the ignorance and prejudice of its audience even as it corrupts the larger media discourse on behalf of those same ignorant prejudices (as well as the financial interests of Rupert Murdoch, its billionaire owner, and Roger Ailes, its president and CEO). Hence, unlike NBC, which at least evinced some embarrassment over Brian Williams’s serial fabrications, Fox is totally down with its lying, bullying, name-calling host. Indeed, a Fox anchor or host would be far more likely to lose his or her job for telling the truth. (Things you’ll never hear on Fox: “Yes, global warming is man-made and a genuine danger to the security of our nation and our planet.” “Yes, President Obama was born in the United States and is a believing Christian.” “Yes, that entire Iraqi WMD thing was nonsense.” “Yeah, OK, the security arrangements at the US Embassy in Benghazi are not really the job of the secretary of state, much less the president.”)

To recap briefly, the mainstream media and the liberal blogosphere have recently been filled with stories in which O’Reilly placed himself at the center of world-historical events—or in imminent danger—and was found to be full of it. Contrary to O’Reilly’s claims, he was more than 1,000 miles from the Falkland Islands during the war there. He did not see any nuns murdered in El Salvador. He did not cover the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. He was not threatened by rioters in Los Angeles, and he was nowhere near the suicide of a man who claimed to have information about the assassination of President Kennedy. For all we know, he may not even be named Bill O’Reilly (though there’s apparently no truth to the rumor that he stole the dog tags off a dead soldier in Korea).

What is perhaps most disturbing about this story is the bifurcated reaction of the mainstream media. Almost no one who occupies a chair in a “respectable” media organization has taken the position that O’Reilly is a liar and Fox is filled with liars and it’s about time we stopped taking the network seriously as a news source. Rather, we hear from Politico’s Dylan Byers that “the Bill O’Reilly charges aren’t sticking.” Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine believes they have “backfired.” Jeremy Stahl in Slate says the case is “open to interpretation.” And a front-page New York Times analysis by Jonathan Mahler and Emily Steel describes O’Reilly as “a man who perhaps more than any other has defined the parameters and tenor of Fox News, in the process ushering in a new era of no-holds-barred, intentionally divisive news coverage.” The Times reporters leave it to the experts to decide whether what he says is true, though some of these experts—not incidentally, also cable-news veterans—are not so sure that it matters. “Bill’s credibility with his audience is not based on his record as a traditional journalist,” former CNN/US president Jonathan Klein told the reporters. “His credibility, in the view of his fans, is based on his trenchant analysis of the events of the day, his pulling no punches, his willingness to call it like it is”—which is apparently the way one defines lying, prevaricating and bullying in the world of cable news (and the Times’s “expert” sourcing).

More from Jeb Lund at Rolling Stone.

Doonesbury — Charlie Hebdo’s denizens live on.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Gangster Rap

Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson:

The residents of Ferguson do not have a police problem. They have a gang problem. That the gang operates under legal sanction makes no difference. It is a gang nonetheless, and there is no other word to describe an armed band of collection agents.

Read the whole piece.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Report From Ferguson

The Department of Justice released its report on relations between the police and the public in Ferguson, Missouri, after last summer’s shooting of Michael Brown.  Put simply, it is devastating.

In one example after another, the report described a city that used its police and courts as moneymaking ventures, a place where officers stopped and handcuffed people without probable cause, hurled racial slurs, used stun guns without provocation, and treated anyone as suspicious merely for questioning police tactics.

The report gave credence to many of the grievances aired last year by African-Americans in angry, sometimes violent protests after the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. Though the Justice Department separately concluded that the officer, Darren Wilson, who is white, violated no federal laws in that shooting, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said investigations revealed the root of the rage that brought people into the streets.

“Seen in this context — amid a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices — it is not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg,” Mr. Holder said.

The findings will force Ferguson, a working-class city near St. Louis that is about two-thirds black but has a mostly white police force, to make changes or face a federal civil rights lawsuit. Justice Department officials, who met with city leaders to discuss their findings this week, said that it appeared that Ferguson was open to making changes that would head off a court battle.

Caitlin MacNeal at TPM points out five examples of police misconduct directed at African-Americans, including arresting a man for sitting in his car, a woman for refusing to take off bracelets, and busting a man for trespassing at a home he was invited into.  And that’s just the official police business.

What is most shocking is the banality of it all.  The police treat the citizens as if they have nothing better to do than look for reasons to arrest people out of boredom or amusement.  The exchange of racist e-mails directed at the president and his wife is the stuff that middle schoolers do when they’re sitting in a stuffy classroom waiting for the bell to ring.

The city is already taking steps to change the situation by firing two officials over the e-mails, but that’s not going to do anything other than provoke wingnuts into saying they lost their jobs for exercising their First Amendment rights and they’re martyrs to the cause of political correctness.  It also won’t change how the police department functions.

John Cole at Balloon Juice poses a good question: “Can you imagine what white people would do if they were subjected to this kind of abuse on a daily basis? Half of us have spent the last six wearing tricorner hats waving guns around in public trying to secede because a black man wanted to give us access to health care.”

It also makes me wonder how many police departments in this country could come away from such an investigation without revealing many of the same problems.  That’s not to say that every cop shop in America is infested with racist thugs, but how many of them can say it couldn’t happen in their town, be it Missouri, Florida, or Vermont?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

More From Post-Racial America

How close can a winger get close to calling President Obama a ni-CLANG without actually doing it?

D’Souza criticized the “vulgar man” Obama for using a “selfie-stick” in a recent video produced by BuzzFeed that promotd the Affordable Care Act. He then decided to forgo a dog whistle and bashed out a racial slur in all caps.

Convicted felon D’Souza later explained that he knew Mr. Obama didn’t grow up in a ghetto; he was speaking metaphorically.  Oh, well, then we’re all good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

GOP Minority Outreach Update

Via TPM:

“I didn’t do it with intent, but I am deeply sorry for my recent statements and I was wrong to say what I did and there is no excuse for my behavior,” Alday said to the Mississippi House of Representatives, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “I value the relationships I’ve made with everyone in this House.”

Alday’s apology referred to an interview he had given the Clarion-Ledger in which he said that he comes “from a town where all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.” Alday also said that when he recently went to the emergency room, he “laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots.”

After the interview, Alday complained to the newspaper that the interview portrayed him in an unflattering manner.

Gee, I wonder where they got that idea.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday Reading

The Truth Hurts — Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why the president’s speech at the prayer breakfast touched so many right-wing nerves.

People who wonder why the president does not talk more about race would do well to examine the recent blow-up over his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Inveighing against the barbarism of ISIS, the president pointed out that it would be foolish to blame Islam, at large, for its atrocities. To make this point he noted that using religion to brutalize other people is neither a Muslim invention nor, in America, a foreign one:

Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

The “all too often” could just as well be “almost always.” There were a fair number of pretexts given for slavery and Jim Crow, but Christianity provided the moral justification. On the cusp of plunging his country into a war that would cost some 750,000 lives, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens paused to offer some explanation. His justification was not secular. The Confederacy was to be:

[T]he first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society … With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so.

It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws.

Stephens went on to argue that the “Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa” could only be accomplished through enslavement. And enslavement was not made possible through Robert’s Rules of Order, but through a 250-year reign of mass torture, industrialized murder, and normalized rape—tactics which ISIS would find familiar. Its moral justification was not “because I said so,” it was “Providence,” “the curse against Canaan,” “the Creator,” “and Christianization.” In just five years, 750,000 Americans died because of this peculiar mission of “Christianization.” Many more died before, and many more died after. In his “Segregation Now” speech, George Wallace invokes God 27 times and calls the federal government opposing him “a system that is the very opposite of Christ.”

Now, Christianity did not “cause” slavery, anymore than Christianity “caused” the civil-rights movement. The interest in power is almost always accompanied by the need to sanctify that power. That is what the Muslims terrorists in ISIS are seeking to do today, and that is what Christian enslavers and Christian terrorists did for the lion’s share of American history.

That this relatively mild, and correct, point cannot be made without the comments being dubbed, “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime,” by a former Virginia governor gives you some sense of the limited tolerance for any honest conversation around racism in our politics. And it gives you something much more. My colleague Jim Fallows recently wrote about the need to, at once, infantilize and deify our military. Perhaps related to that is the need to infantilize and deify our history. Pointing out that Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now does not make ISIS any less barbaric, or any more correct. That is unless you view the entire discussion as a kind of religious one-upmanship, in which the goal is to prove that Christianity is “the awesomest.”

Obama seemed to be going for something more—faith leavened by “some doubt.” If you are truly appalled by the brutality of ISIS, then a wise and essential step is understanding the lure of brutality, and recalling how easily your own society can be, and how often it has been, pulled over the brink.

The Pain is Exquisite — John McQuaid at Salon explains why chili makes the taste buds dance.

Chili heat is painful, yet enjoyable; fiery, with no rise in temperature. In 1953, T. S. Lee, a biologist at the National University of Singapore, tried to unravel the physiology behind this reaction. He asked a group of forty-six young men to eat chilies, and monitored their sweating. Perspiration is a physiological reaction to heat. Rising body temperature, whether from the surroundings or from muscles warming during exercise, triggers a reaction in the hypothalamus. Via a series of feedbacks between the brain and the body, sweat glands go to work. Sweat evaporating off the skin cools the body; when its temperature drops back to normal, it stops.

Lee had the volunteers dress in cotton trousers only, then painted their faces, ears, necks, and upper bodies with a solution of iodine and dusted them with dry cornstarch—a combination that makes sweat turn blue. Lee used peppers common in Asian cuisine, from the species Capsicum annuum. Their tapered red fruits are about ten to twenty times hotter than jalapenos. For the sake of comparison, at a different time Lee’s subjects also taste-tested solutions of cane sugar, bitter quinine, acetic acid, potassium alum (an astringent that makes the lips pucker), ground black pepper, mustard paste, and hot oatmeal. Some also gargled with hot water, chewed rubber, or swallowed feeding tubes.

In one experimental run, after eating chilies for five minutes straight, the subjects flushed red in the face, then all but one began to sweat. The areas around their noses and mouths turned blue, followed by their cheeks. Lee did another trial with seven participants, feeding them one pepper, then another: five continued to sweat, two profusely. Among the controls, only the acid and ground pepper made the volunteers sweat.

Eating chilies doesn’t raise body temperature, so there is no physical need for cooling. Yet in Lee’s experiment, the subjects sweated as if they had run a mile on a hot afternoon. To verify that the reactions to chili heat and genuine heat were equivalent, Lee had some volunteers put their legs in hot water. As their temperatures rose, the patterns of sweating on their faces were identical to those produced by eating peppers. Lee had already deduced that chili heat could not be a taste, because people felt its burn on their lips, where there are no taste receptors. His experimental results indicated another body system was at work: the one that registers discomfort from burning. The chili burn was a form of pain. But it differs in one important respect: touch boiling water, and the pain intensifies until the hand is withdrawn. Start eating a Carolina Reaper, and the heat builds for several minutes, becoming overwhelming. But continue, and the heat recedes, leaving the mouth numb to chili’s effects. Capsaicin causes pain, then blocks it.

[…]

The chili culture is all about pushing limits. Ed Currie believed embracing it had helped him overcome his own weaknesses. He had organized his life around a single, powerful sensation, and it had worked: Guinness named Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper the world’s hottest pepper in 2013. But success depended on staying ahead of the competition; the race would eventually take chili heat higher and higher, past two million Scoville units, into realms of pungency never tasted before. How far could he go, and who would follow?

Pleasure is never very far from aversion; this is a feature of our anatomy and behavior. In the brain, the two closely overlap. They both rely on nerves in the brainstem, indicating their ancient origins as reflexes. They both tap into the brain’s system of dopamine neurons, which shapes motivation. They activate similar higher-level cortical areas that influence perceptions and consciousness. Anatomy suggests these two systems interact closely: in several brain structures, neurons responding to pain and pleasure lie close together, forming gradients from positive to negative. A lot of this cross talk takes place in the vicinity of the hedonic hotspots—areas that bridge basic reflexes and consciousness.

He’s Back — Andy Borowitz reports on the return of Jonas Salk.  And boy is he pissed.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The reanimated corpse of Dr. Jonas Salk, the medical researcher who developed the first polio vaccine, rose from the grave Friday morning on what authorities believe is a mission to hunt down idiots.

The zombie version of Salk, wearing a tattered white lab coat and looking “incredibly angry” according to one eyewitness, was seen advancing on the U.S. Capitol building at approximately 11 A.M.

While Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, hid in the Senate cloakroom, armed security forces repelled the zombie virologist, who, seemingly unharmed, moved on in search of new prey.

According to law enforcement, the reanimated Salk then stole a car and headed off in the direction of Trenton, New Jersey.

“We have reason to believe he’s coming for Governor Christie,” said a staff member from Chris Christie’s office. “Fortunately, the Governor is never here.”

With both Disneyland and Marin County on high alert, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security warned that, as long as the rampaging vaccine pioneer was at large, law enforcement would be stretched thin.

“Unfortunately, we do not possess the resources to protect every idiot in this country,” the spokesman said.

Doonesbury — Office gossip.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sunday Reading

Hell of a Governor — Michael Kruse of Politico interviews Michael Schiavo, the widower of Terri Schiavo, and Jeb Bush’s role in his wife’s case.

CLEARWATER, Fla.—Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

For years, the self-described “average Joe” felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

“It was a living hell,” he said, “and I blame him.”

Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer—confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

The case showed he “will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “It’s a theme of Jeb’s governorship: He really pushed executive power to the limits.”

“If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience,” said Dennis Baxley, a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives during Bush’s governorship and still. “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.”

And what he believed in this case, and what he did, said Miami’s Dan Gelber, a Democratic member of the state House during Bush’s governorship, “probably was more defining than I suspect Jeb would like.”

For Michael Schiavo, though, the importance of the episode—Bush’s involvement from 2003 to 2005, and what it might mean now for his almost certain candidacy—is even more viscerally obvious.

“He should be ashamed,” he said. “And I think people really need to know what type of person he is. To bring as much pain as he did, to me and my family, that should be an issue.”

Bonus Reading: Jeb Bush’s School Years — Ah, the good old days of smoking pot in the woods and bullying the underclassmen at a New England prep school.  (Been there, done that, wrote the novel.)

Holy Dog Whistles — Dianna Anderson in Salon on evangelicals history of racism and its current harbinger, Mike Huckabee.

In an interview promoting his recent book about American Christian political identity, Mike Huckabee commented that he doesn’t understand how Barack and Michelle Obama let their daughters listen to Beyoncé. He told ABC that he doesn’t think Beyoncé is wholesome, referring to Biblical ideas about holiness, saying, “what you put into your brain is also important, as well as what you put into your body.” Huckabee, a white man, seems to take particular focus on Beyoncé, stating in his book that it seems her husband, Jay Z, has crossed the line from husband to pimp in “sexually exploiting her body.”

I want you to hold that moment in your head for a minute – a white man calling a black man a “pimp” and criticizing a black female singer for being too sexual in her music. Let’s talk about history.

[…]

“Evangelical,” as an identity, is separate from the historical nature of the Southern Baptist Convention, though their theologies and histories are tied together and, in many ways, are nearly inextricable from each other. But evangelical, as a political and social identity, has a much shorter history than the Southern Baptists. The sanitized story that you’ll hear from most evangelicals is that, following the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade, evangelicals were moved away from their previous apolitical identity toward protecting the unborn. Much of the evangelical identity, even today, is centered on pro-life issues and pushing for political protection of fetuses. And this is an identity Huckabee embraces as a former pastor and current evangelical thought leader.

But Evangelicalism actually dates back to well before Roe v. Wade – indeed, about a decade before, right around the time Martin Luther King, Jr., was becoming a national figure. The historical white religious fear of the black man is a well-documented phenomenon. After all, Emmett Till was murdered for the supposed crime of whistling at a white woman. Social hygienists in the early 1920s created sexual health education not out of a public health concern, but because upper-class white women were beginning to mirror the supposed sexual habits of lower-class people of color. The pearl-clutching fear over miscegenation was still in the minds of evangelicals as they began to stand up as a political identity in the early 1960s.

The landmark decision of Loving v. Virginia – the interracial marriage court case of 1967 – spurred yet more white fear over the loss of control over white women in particular. This fear coincided with the rise of second-wave feminism – which would eventually lead to Roe v. Wade. All this tumult threw the evangelicals into a political fervor – the way of life they had established for themselves in the two short decades since the end of World War II was coming to an end. Life in the U.S. was, in a word, unstable. This change didn’t sit well with evangelical leaders.

[…]

And it is in this context that Huckabee can call a multimillionaire black musician a prostitute and a sexual object without his base of white evangelicals batting an eye. It is this history – a history of Evangelicalism founded in racial tensions and racist fear over the sexuality of black people – that colors Huckabee’s comments to make them seem entirely reasonable to an audience of white evangelicals primed to gobble them up. Huckabee’s comments, indeed, are carefully calculated dogwhistles to his base, imbued with the racist history of the political evangelical identity.

Man Around the House — Andy Borowitz on Mitt’s plans.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney told supporters on Friday that he was “incredibly relieved” to be able to keep the approximately five to ten residences he owns across the country.

“Having to talk about how much I care about ordinary Americans and so forth—I was game for that,” he said. “But having to sell all of those houses? That was going to be brutal.”

The 2012 Republican nominee said that he was especially glad he did not have to part with the car elevator in his eleven-thousand-square-foot mansion in La Jolla. “Come on, that thing is neat,” he said.

Doonesbury — To live and die by hashtag.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Big Misunderstanding

If you shoot a policeman four times, what do you think would happen to you?

Well, if you’re a black man, your funeral would be held the next day or so.  But if you’re a white survivalist in Oklahoma, you’d be released without being charged.  Oh, and you’d probably be interviewed on Fox News the next day as an American who stood up for Freedom.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Reading

Thou Shalt Not Commit Murder, Except… Valerie Tarico in AlterNet on the violence inherent in religion.

The year 2015 has opened to slaughter in the name of gods.  In Paris, two Islamist brothers executed Charlie Hebdo cartoonists “in defense of the Prophet,” while an associate killed shoppers in a kosher grocery.  In Nigeria, Islamist members of Boko Haram massacred a town to cries of Allahu Akbar—Allah is the greatest!  Simultaneously, the United Nations released a report detailing the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in the Central African Republic by Christian militias, sometimes reciting Bible verses. On a more civilized note, Saudi Arabia began inflicting 1000 lashes on a jailed blasphemous blogger—to be doled out over 20 weeks so that he may survive to the end. In media outlets around the world, fierce debate has erupted over who or what is responsible.  Is monotheism inherently violent? Is religion an excuse or cover for other kinds of conflict? Are Western colonialism and warmongering in the root of the problem?  Do blasphemers make themselves targets? Is the very concept of blasphemy a form of coercion or violence that demands resistance?  Is killing in the name of gods a distortion of religion? Alternately, is it the real thing?

Each of these questions is best answered “yes, and” rather than “yes/no.”

With the possible exception of Buddhism, the world’s most powerful religions give wildly contradictory messages about violence.  The Christian Bible is full of exhortations to kindness, compassion, humility, mercy and justice.  It is also full of exhortations to stoning, burning, slavery, torture, and slaughter.  If the Bible were law, most people you know would qualify for the death penalty. The same can be said of the Quran.  The same can be said of the Torah. Believers who claim that Islam or Christianity or Judaism is a religion of peace are speaking a half-truth—and a naive falsehood.

The human inclination toward peacemaking or violence exists on a continuum. Happy, healthy people who are inherently inclined toward peacemaking focus on sacred texts and spiritual practices that encourage peace.  Those who are bitter, angry, fearful or prone to self-righteousness are attracted to texts that sanction violence and teachers who encourage the same. People along the middle of this continuum can be drawn in either direction by charismatic religious leaders who selectively focus on one or the other.

Each person’s individual violence risk is shaped by a host of factors: genetics, early learning, health, culture, social networks, life circumstances, and acute triggers. To blame any act of violence on religion alone is as silly as blaming an act of violence on guns or alcohol. But to deny that religion plays a role is as silly as denying that alcohol and guns play a role.  It is to pretend that religions are inert, that our deepest values and beliefs about reality and morality have no impact on our behavior.

From a psychological standpoint, religions often put a god’s name on impulses that have subconscious, pre-verbal roots. They elicit peak experiences like mystic euphoria, dominance, submission, love and joy. They claim credit for the moral emotions  (e.g. shame, guilt, disgust and empathy) that incline us toward fair play and altruism, and they direct these emotions toward specific persons or activities. In a similar way, religions elicit and channel protective reactions like anger and fear, the emotions most likely to underlie violence.

The Odds of Marriage Equality — Garrett Epps in The Atlantic on the Supreme Court’s capacity to surprise.

I have many vices. I have been known to wager a dollar on those poker-hand coffee cups, and to go all in with deuces in the pocket. But I also once drew five aces and still lost; since then, prediction is not one of my bad habits. I’m not going to predict, then, what the Supreme Court will do with the same-sex marriage cases now that it has put them on this year’s docket. But if I were a bookie, I’d make marriage equality an odds-on favorite. It has been less than two years since Windsor v. United States, but it seems like a decade. Court after court has struck down bans on same-sex marriage; the “traditional marriage” camp has begun to seem like the enemy in Sun Tzu’s Art of War—exhausted, bewildered, devoid of hope or spirit. Take the decision under review in today’s grant of cert. The Sixth Circuit upheld the ban. But Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s opinion might generously be called listless. A famously bright and resourceful conservative was unable to muster a single serious argument why marriage equality was actually a bad thing; he was reduced to feebly protesting that it would be better for gay people themselves if they were to gain their rights through politics rather than law.

There’s not much there from which to fashion a last-ditch defense of  “one man, one woman.” Prodded by the federal courts, the nation has already decided. For the Court to affirm Sutton’s opinion would seem almost akin to reversing Brown v. Board of Education.

But even if Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote seems foreordained, he must choose between the rights of gays and lesbians—an issue on which he has fashioned a historic legacy—and the prerogatives of the states, about whose “dignity” and honor he has often rhapsodized. He might be tempted to split the baby by holding for the states on the “celebration” issue but for the challengers on “recognition.” (The Court’s grant of review was careful to split the two questions.) That is, he might say, a state could refuse to perform marriages itself, but could not refuse those legally married out of state the benefits of marriage under state law.

But the temptation will be fleeting because that dog won’t hunt. In Kennedy’s Windsor opinion, he wrote that the federal government’s refusal to recognize legal same-sex marriages “humiliated” not only gay couples but their children. The children of couples who seek legal marriage in-state would be no less humiliated by their parents’ inability to marry than those of couples who married out of state. Once the issue becomes “the children,” we have probably entered the endgame.

That’s still not a prediction. This Court has shown a tremendous capacity to surprise. But if anybody wants to put down money on the states in the new case of Obergefell v. Hodges, please look me up. I will be the guy with the coffee cup and the careful poker face.

A President and a King — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on how Barack Obama wrestles with the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

…Yet six years in the White House have vastly complicated Obama’s relationship to King. They are two of the three African-Americans who have won the Nobel Peace Prize. (The first, Ralph Bunche, was awarded the prize in 1950, for negotiating a truce between Jews and Arabs in 1949.) When King accepted his award, in 1964, he began his speech by questioning his worthiness as a recipient, since the movement he led had not yet achieved interracial peace:

I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.

Obama opened his acceptance speech, in 2009, on a similarly self-effacing note, stating that he had barely begun his Presidency and his achievements were few. But then he departed from King’s reasoning. There is such a thing as just war, he said, under circumstances in which force is used in self-defense, is proportional to the threat, and, “whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.” He continued:

I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world.

A moral crusader and a Commander-in-Chief grapple with different prerogatives. King was never tasked with national defense; Obama’s election was contingent on a belief that he could keep Americans safe. Some observers nevertheless find it difficult to square elements of Obama’s foreign policy—drone warfare and its civilian casualties—not only with King’s concept of civilization but with the President’s own criteria for just warfare. Cornel West railed against the decision to use King’s Bible at Obama’s second swearing-in. “The righteous indignation of a Martin Luther King,” he said, “becomes a moment in political calculation.” Still, the King who denounced the triple evils of militarism, racism, and materialism would likely hail next week’s address, in which the President is expected to touch upon normalizing relations with Cuba, immigration reform, and providing free education for students at community colleges—along with the Administration’s efforts to prevent voter suppression, the cause that animated the Selma campaign, fifty years ago.

Beneath all this lies the irony that, nearly six years after the Cairo speech, Obama is less able to deploy the moral capital of civil rights, at least in the Middle East, not only because he is now established as the face of American authority but also because many of the battles that King fought have still not been resolved. Racism remains an Achilles’ heel. The protests in Ferguson, New York, and beyond were watched by a global audience, and, as during the Cold War, America’s domestic troubles become fodder for a morally compromised foreign power to deflect attention from its own failings. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei took to Twitter to highlight the seeming contradiction that such actions were taking place under a black President. He tweeted, “Racial discrimination’s still a dilemma in US. Still ppl are unsecure for having dark skins. The way police treat them confirms it.” In spite of Obama’s debt to the civil-rights movement, the ideal of American exceptionalism is only as valid as the standing of people who have just as often been seen as exceptions to America.

Doonesbury — Hear that?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Reading

The Elephant in the Torture Room — Charlie Pierce on why the Senate torture report let the Bush administration off the hook.

The Iraq War always has been the elephant in the room as the investigations into the crimes of the last administration as regards torture were investigated. (Remember the default setting for that White House in its explanation for there having been no WMD’s was that the CIA screwed up and misinformed them.) Hanging this all on the CIA is to poke in the eye the institution wherein work the people who know how the intelligence used to lie this country into a calamitous war was barbered and stove-piped. They know where the memos are. Their memories are very good. They know the phone numbers of many reporters. It behooves the former president and his minions, no matter how unscathed they were left by the Senate report, to stay on the good side of people, even if that means cheering for torture on the television. And there is also one more reason for them to do it, more horrible than all the rest.

John McCain has come right up to the edge of saying it on a couple of occasions since the report was released. Many of the techniques used by this country in torturing its captives were not designed merely to produce actionable intelligence — and the report states clearly that very little of that was forthcoming anyway — but to produce confessions of any kind, whether that was for propaganda purposes or to furnish their captors with a ginned-up casus belli of their own. That was why the North Koreans used sleep deprivation on American GI’s. That was why the North Vietnamese trussed McCain up into stress positions.

I do not want to believe what I am about to write. I think it’s possible that the barbarians in the White House tortured people in order to produce statements they could use to validate further their bullshit case for their bullshit war. Even I don’t want to believe that we were ruled for eight years by that species of monster. If that is the case, however, somewhere at the CIA there’s a memo, and somewhere there’s somebody in a cubicle that knows where the memo is, and who knows the phone number of a reporter. I suspect the Christmas card list at the Cheney household will be lengthy for the next several decades.

Black Lives Didn’t Matter — Ta-Nehisi Coates on the genteel racism at The New Republic.

Earlier this year, [Franklin] Foer edited an anthology of TNR writings titled Insurrections of the Mind, commemorating the magazine’s 100-year history. “This book hasn’t been compiled in the name of definitiveness,” Foer wrote. “It was put together in the spirit of the magazine that it anthologizes: it is an argument about what matters.” There is only one essay in Insurrections that takes race as its subject. The volume includes only one black writer and only two writers of color. This is not an oversight. Nor does it mean that Foer is a bad human. On the contrary, if one were to attempt to capture the “spirit” of TNR, it would be impossible to avoid the conclusion that black lives don’t matter much at all.

That explains why the family rows at TNR’s virtual funeral look like the “Whites Only” section of a Jim Crow-era movie-house. For most of its modern history, TNR has been an entirely white publication, which published stories confirming white people’s worst instincts. During the culture wars of the ’80s and ’90s, TNR regarded black people with an attitude ranging from removed disregard to blatant bigotry. When people discuss TNR’s racism, Andrew Sullivan’s publication of excerpts from Charles Murray’s book The Bell Curve (and a series of dissents) gets the most attention. But this fuels the lie that one infamous issue stands apart. In fact, the Bell Curve episode is remarkable for how well it fits with the rest of TNR’s history.

The personal attitude of TNR’s longtime owner, the bigoted Martin Peretz, should be mentioned here. Peretz’s dossier of racist hits (mostly at the expense of blacks and Arabs) is shameful, and one does not have to look hard to find evidence of it in Peretz’s writing or in the sensibility of the magazine during his ownership. In 1984, long before Sullivan was tapped to helm TNR, Charles Murray was dubbing affirmative action a form of “new racism” that targeted white people.

Two years later, Washington Post writer Richard Cohen was roundly rebuked for advocating that D.C. jewelry stores discriminate against young black men—but not by TNR. The magazine took the opportunity to convene a panel to “reflect briefly” on whether it was moral for merchants to bar black men from their stores. (“Expecting a jewelry store owner to risk his life in the service of color-blind justice is expecting too much,” the magazine concluded.)

TNR made a habit of “reflecting briefly” on matters that were life and death to black people but were mostly abstract thought experiments to the magazine’s editors. Before, during, and after Sullivan’s tenure, the magazine seemed to believe that the kind of racism that mattered most was best evidenced in the evils of Afrocentrism, the excesses of multiculturalism, and the machinations of Jesse Jackson. It’s true that TNR’s staff roundly objected to excerpting The Bell Curve, but I was never quite sure why. Sullivan was simply exposing the dark premise that lay beneath much of the magazine’s coverage of America’s ancient dilemma.

[…]

Things got better after Peretz was dislodged. The retrograde politics were gone, but the “Whites Only” sign remained. I’ve been told that Foer was greatly pained by Peretz’s racism. I believe this. White people are often sincerely and greatly pained by racism, but rarely are they pained enough. That is not true because they are white, but because they are human. I know this, too well. Still, as of last week there were still no black writers on TNR’s staff, and only one on its masthead. Magazines, in general, have an awful record on diversity. But if TNR’s influence and importance was as outsized as its advocates claim, then the import of its racist legacy is outsized in the same measure. One cannot sincerely partake in heritage à la carte.

In this sense it is unfortunate to see anonymous staffers accusing TNR’s owner Chris Hughes of trying to create “another BuzzFeed.” If that is truly Hughes’s ambition, then—in at least one important way—he will have created a publication significantly more moral than anything any recent TNR editor ever has. No publication has more aggressively dealt with diversity than BuzzFeed. And not unrelated to this diversity has been a stellar range ofstorytellingand analysis, that could rival—if not best—the journalism in the latest iteration of TNR.

Real Capitolism — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

The banking giant Citigroup announced on Friday that it would move its headquarters from New York to the U.S. Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C., in early 2015.

Tracy Klugian, a spokesperson for Citi, said that the company had leased thirty thousand square feet of prime real estate on the floor of the House of Representatives and would be interviewing “world-class architects” to redesign the space to suit its needs.

According to sources, Citi successfully outbid other firms, including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, for the right to move its headquarters to the House floor.

The Citi spokesperson acknowledged that the extensive makeover of the House is expected to cost “in the millions,” but added, “It’s always expensive to open a new branch.”

Explaining the rationale behind the move, Klugian told reporters, “Instead of constantly flying out from New York to give members of Congress their marching orders, Citigroup executives can be right on the floor with them, handing them legislation and telling them how to vote. This is going to result in tremendous cost savings going forward.”

Klugian said that Citi’s chairman, Michael E. O’Neill, will not occupy a corner office on the House floor, preferring instead an “open plan” that will allow him to mingle freely with members of Congress.

“He doesn’t want to come off like he’s their boss,” the spokesperson said. “Basically, he wants to send the message, ‘We’re all on the same team. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get stuff done.’ ”

Doonesbury — Covering an epidemic.

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.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Class Act

I will give David Brooks credit for trying to figure out the roots of prejudice in America, but to say that now it’s less about race and more about class skates by the fact that poor white folks are still treated better than middle class people of color.

This class prejudice is applied to both the white and black poor, whose demographic traits are converging. But classism combines with latent and historic racism to create a particularly malicious brew. People are now assigned a whole range of supposedly underclass traits based on a single glimpse at skin color.

Really?  So a twelve year old white kid playing with a toy gun on a playground is just as likely to be shot by the cops as a white kid?  That a white guy is going to be stopped by the cops for taking a walk with his hands in his pockets, too?

Somehow I don’t think so.

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.