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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Great Divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doonesbury — Rough life.