Tuesday, January 20, 2015

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.

Monday, December 1, 2014

False Equivalency Bingo

Ross Douthat hits the full card with his “both sides do it” meme and blames the left for not solving our racial divide without antagonizing the white Christians.

Ultimately, being optimistic about race requires being optimistic about the ability of our political coalitions to offer colorblind visions of the American dream — the left’s vision stressing economics more heavily, the right leaning more on family and community, but both promising gains and goods and benefits that can be shared by Americans of every racial background.

In the Obama era, though, neither coalition has done a very good job selling such a vision, because neither knows how to deliver on it. (The left doesn’t know how to get wages rising again; the right doesn’t know how to shore up the two-parent family, etc.) Which has left both parties increasingly dependent on identity-politics appeals, with the left mobilizing along lines of race, ethnicity and gender and the right mobilizing around white-Christian-heartland cultural anxieties.

Except that the left hasn’t exploited identity politics by trying to scare the bejesus out of the country with fear-mongering about Kenyan secret-Muslim gay socialism and legalized voter suppression.

Booman:

If the right would stop treating every social program as the societal equivalent of a car-jacking, would stop stripping voting rights from the underclass, would stop reflexively defending killer cops and vigilantes, and would stop treating the first black president and his family with relentless disrespect, we might have a less racially-tinged response from the left.

But the right has made a decision. Their decision is to mobilize “around white-Christian-heartland cultural anxieties.”

The left has not mobilized around “black-inner city cultural anxieties.” And it won’t.

That’s why the problem of race in this country is not perpetuated or exacerbated by the left. To the degree that the left is at fault on racial issues, its because they don’t do enough. But the main reason they don’t do enough is because the backlash is so strong. Look what happens the second anyone tries to get serious about prison reform for example.

And you’re not going to get very far with race relations by trying to sing “Kumbyah” at a Klan rally.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Doonesbury — No deposit, no return.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Ben Stein On Racism

Somehow I get the feeling that Ben Stein calling Barack Obama the most racist president ever doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight anywhere other than on Fox News.

What the White House is trying to do is racialize all politics and their especially trying to tell the Africa-American voter that the GOP is against letting them have a chance at a good life in this economy, and that’s just a complete lie,” he said. “I watch with fascination — with incredible fascination — all the stories about how the Democratic politicians, especially Hillary, are trying to whip up the African-American vote and say, ‘Oh the Republicans have policies against black people in terms of the economy.’ But there are no such policies.”

“It’s all a way to racialize voting in this country,” Stein continued. “This president is the most racist president there has ever been in America. He is purposely trying to use race to divide Americans.”

That’s true.  It was Barack Obama who came up with the Southern Strategy in 1968 for Richard Nixon and whispered it into the ear of Lee Atwater.  Despite the fact that he was seven years old at the time, he was already whipping up racist plots from his secret base in Kenya.  (By the way there were a couple of other presidents who actually owned slaves, but that’s totally not racist… just good business.)

It just strikes me as funny in a really sardonic way that middle-aged white people who promoted and promulgated policies and legislation aimed at suppressing participation in the electoral process are being called out for “purposely trying to use race to divide Americans.”  Or to put it in terms they might better understand, “I know you are but what am I?”

Monday, October 20, 2014

It’s 1988 Again

Hey, I like my 1988 Pontiac, but there are some things from that year I’d just as soon forget.  Like race-baiting scare tactics in political campaigns such as the infamous Willie Horton ad that George H.W. Bush used against Michael Dukakis.  It cemented the white vote for the GOP but also guaranteed that the GOP would have a bit of a hard time getting a rather significant number of African-Americans to trust them again.

History is repeating itself in a House race in Nebraska.

The ad, from the National Republican Congressional Committee, ties the Democratic candidate in an Omaha Congressional race to one Nikko Jenkins, a former inmate who was released early from jail and went on to get convicted for murdering four people. The Democrat, state Senator Brad Ashford, supported the state’s “good time” law, which enables inmates to reduce sentences.

Roll Call describes the ad as a “Hail Mary” for the incumbent, GOP Rep. Lee Terry, reporting that both Democrats and Republicans privately agree that Terry is down in the polls.

Then again, no Republican ever lost an election by using race as a motivator.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Killer Virus

There’s a deadly virus that causes severe respiratory illness.  So far it’s killed at least four people in the U.S. and it is spreading.  No, it’s not Ebola.

Samples collected from four patients who recently died have tested positive for enterovirus D68, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is unclear what role the virus played in their deaths. In fact, it’s possible that enterovirus had nothing to do with them. The virus is very common, especially in the late summer and early fall, with the CDC estimating 10 million to 15 million infections each year in the United States.

Yet the deaths do raise an alarm because this year has been worse than some other years, since enterovirus D68 has been sending more children than usual to the hospital with severe respiratory illnesses. It seems to be most affecting children with a history of asthma or breathing problems.

As of Wednesday, the CDC had confirmed 500 people in 42 states have respiratory illnesses caused by enterovirus D68.

But so far all the attention and freak-out has been over one case of Ebola and the patient is, thankfully, still alive.

This is not to minimize the danger of Ebola, but it makes you wonder why it is getting all the attention with BREAKING NEWS banners and special music on the cable channels when there’s a disease that’s actually killing people here.  Could it be that Ebola came from Africa and everyone knows that Africa is a scary place with people who scare people, as opposed to a plain old American virus that just kills kids as they breathe?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Totally Not Racist GOP

They’re not racist; they just don’t want those black folk to vote.

A Republican state senator in Georgia has vowed to end Sunday balloting in DeKalb County due to the fact that the area is “dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches.”

The news was flagged by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In a longwinded email state Sen. Frank Millar (pictured) rants that Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal “appointee Interim CEO Lee May has disappointed those of us that hoped he could help bring the county together.”

Millar goes on to note that DeKalb county happens to include a number of African American mega churches.

“Now we are to have Sunday voting at South DeKalb Mall just prior to the election,” Millar wrote in the email. “Per Jim Galloway of the AJC, this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist. Galloway also points out the Democratic Party thinks this is a wonderful idea – what a surprise. I’m sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.”

This goes along with the outrage that a lot of Republicans fomented in Ferguson last month; not that the police were militarized and drawing down on people who had their hands up, but that someone set up a voter registration table on the street.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

More GOP Minority Outreach

Now that Ferguson, Missouri, has calmed down and the cable TV news shows have stopped doing live coverage, the Republicans are doing their best to see how they can help bring harmony and understanding between the races.

Sending Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father out to mend the wounds seemed like a good idea.  The elder Mr. Cruz took it upon himself to educate African-Americans by telling them that the minimum wage is actually a bad thing and that the “average black” didn’t know that.

Cruz went on to tout Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder For Blacks To Succeed by Jason Riley, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board who is African-American. Riley, Cruz said, talks about how “all the handouts to blacks have kept blacks in the poorhouse.”

“Jason Riley said in an interview, Did you know before we had minimum wage laws black unemployment and white unemployment were the same? If we increase the minimum wage, black unemployment will skyrocket. See, he understands it, but the average black does not.”

And they still don’t get it why African-Americans don’t vote for Republicans.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our Better Angels

A lot of people are upset at the article in the New York Times that labeled Michael Brown as “no angel.”  It’s not that the article makes the case that because he did things that a lot of eighteen year old kids do such as blaze a doobie and get into rap music, that somehow he got what was coming to him.  It doesn’t.

The issue is the disproportionate level of law enforcement being meted out to people of color and minorities and at a harsher level than it is to others who are neither.  The situation in Ferguson is the dramatic demonstration, showing us just one example of what happens in communities all over this country.  It also brings out the angels of our nature; the knee-jerk response by defenders of the police and the visceral anger of a community that has all too long felt both ignored and victimized by their elected officials and authorities.

Whether or not one young man was “no angel” isn’t the point.  Neither was the person who killed him, nor the people who created the situation that caused it, or those who exploited it.  None of us are.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fits The Description

Thirty years ago Beverly Hills Cop was a laugh-riot of a comedy with Eddie Murphy as a hip Detroit police officer working with the uptight white cops in the ritzy L.A. suburb.  The premise was that a black man would completely discombobulate the force and create plenty of fun moments on the screen.  What a hoot.

Yeah, well, here we are today in 2014, but it’s not so funny when you see that a black man walking down the street in Beverly Hills can still get busted for walking down the street.  It happened to Charles Belk.

It’s one of those things that you hear about, but never think it would happen to you.

On Friday afternoon, August 22nd around 5:20pm, while innocently walking by myself from a restaurant on Wilshire Blvd, to my car up LaCienega Blvd my freedom was taken from me by the Beverly Hills Police Department.

Within seconds, I was detained and told to sit on the curb of the very busy street, during rush hour traffic.

Within minutes, I was surrounded by 6 police cars, handcuffed very tightly, fully searched for weapons, and placed back on the curb.

Within an hour, I was transported to the Beverly Hills Police Headquarters, photographed, finger printed and put under a $100,000 bail and accused of armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery of a Citibank.

Within an evening, I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All because I was mis-indentified as the wrong “tall, bald head, black male,” … “fitting the description.”

I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know at the time that I was a law abiding citizen of the community and that in my 51 years of existence, had never been handcuffed or arrested for any reason. All they saw, was someone fitting the description. Doesn’t matter if he’s a “Taye Diggs BLACK”, a “LL Cool J BLACK”, or “a Drake BLACK”

Mr. Belk was released six hours later thanks to the intervention of the NAACP attorney who got the police to finally review videos of the robbery and decided that oops, they had the wrong man.

Welcome to post-racial America.

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.