Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sunday Reading

Listen, People — An excerpt from President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University yesterday (HT John Cole at Balloon Juice).

And finally, change requires more than just speaking out — it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise. When I was a state senator, I helped pass Illinois’s first racial profiling law, and one of the first laws in the nation requiring the videotaping of confessions in capital cases. And we were successful because, early on, I engaged law enforcement. I didn’t say to them, oh, you guys are so racist, you need to do something. I understood, as many of you do, that the overwhelming majority of police officers are good, and honest, and courageous, and fair, and love the communities they serve.

And we knew there were some bad apples, and that even the good cops with the best of intentions — including, by the way, African American police officers — might have unconscious biases, as we all do. So we engaged and we listened, and we kept working until we built consensus. And because we took the time to listen, we crafted legislation that was good for the police — because it improved the trust and cooperation of the community — and it was good for the communities, who were less likely to be treated unfairly. And I can say this unequivocally: Without at least the acceptance of the police organizations in Illinois, I could never have gotten those bills passed. Very simple. They would have blocked them.

The point is, you need allies in a democracy. That’s just the way it is. It can be frustrating and it can be slow. But history teaches us that the alternative to democracy is always worse. That’s not just true in this country. It’s not a black or white thing. Go to any country where the give and take of democracy has been repealed by one-party rule, and I will show you a country that does not work.

And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that’s never been the source of our progress. That’s how we cheat ourselves of progress.

We remember Dr. King’s soaring oratory, the power of his letter from a Birmingham jail, the marches he led. But he also sat down with President Johnson in the Oval Office to try and get a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act passed. And those two seminal bills were not perfect — just like the Emancipation Proclamation was a war document as much as it was some clarion call for freedom. Those mileposts of our progress were not perfect. They did not make up for centuries of slavery or Jim Crow or eliminate racism or provide for 40 acres and a mule. But they made things better. And you know what, I will take better every time. I always tell my staff — better is good, because you consolidate your gains and then you move on to the next fight from a stronger position.


So that’s my advice. That’s how you change things. Change isn’t something that happens every four years or eight years; change is not placing your faith in any particular politician and then just putting your feet up and saying, okay, go. Change is the effort of committed citizens who hitch their wagons to something bigger than themselves and fight for it every single day.

That’s what Thurgood Marshall understood — a man who once walked this year, graduated from Howard Law; went home to Baltimore, started his own law practice. He and his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, rolled up their sleeves and they set out to overturn segregation. They worked through the NAACP. Filed dozens of lawsuits, fought dozens of cases. And after nearly 20 years of effort — 20 years — Thurgood Marshall ultimately succeeded in bringing his righteous cause before the Supreme Court, and securing the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that separate could never be equal. (Applause.) Twenty years.

Marshall, Houston — they knew it would not be easy. They knew it would not be quick. They knew all sorts of obstacles would stand in their way. They knew that even if they won, that would just be the beginning of a longer march to equality. But they had discipline. They had persistence. They had faith — and a sense of humor. And they made life better for all Americans.

Meet the Mom Who Helped Expose Flint’s Water Crisis — Julia Lurie reported in Mother Jones.

On a chilly evening last March in Flint, Michigan, LeeAnne Walters was getting ready for bed when she heard her daughter shriek from the bathroom of the family’s two-story clapboard house. She ran upstairs to find 18-year-old Kaylie standing in the shower, staring at a clump of long brown hair that had fallen from her head.

Walters, a 37-year-old mother of four, was alarmed but not surprised—the entire family was losing hair. There had been other strange maladies over the previous few months: The twins, three-year-old Gavin and Garrett, kept breaking out in rashes. Gavin had stopped growing. On several occasions, 14-year-old JD had suffered abdominal pains so severe that Walters took him to the hospital. At one point, all of LeeAnne’s own eyelashes fell out.

The family, as you have probably guessed, was suffering from the effects of lead in Flint’s water supply—contamination that will have long-term, irreversible neurological consequences on the city’s children. The exposure has quietly devastated Flint since April 2014, when, in an effort to cut costs, a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system over to the Flint River.

Elected officials toasted the change with glasses of water, but some longtime residents were skeptical, particularly since Flint-based General Motors had once used the river as a dumping ground. “I thought it was one of those Onion articles,” said Rhonda Kelso, a 52-year-old Flint native. “We already knew the Flint River was toxic waste.”

The lead exposure persisted for 17 months, despite repeated complaints from residents of this majority-black city. It is in no small part thanks to Walters, a no-nonsense stay-at-home mom with a husband in the Navy, that the Flint situation is now a full-blown national scandal complete with a class-action lawsuit, a federal investigation, National Guard troops, and many people—including Bernie Sanders—calling for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder. “Without [Walters] we would be nowhere,” Mona Hanna-Attisha, the head of pediatrics at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, told me. “She’s the crux of all of this.”

It was the summer of 2014 when Walters first realized something was very wrong: Each time she bathed the three-year-olds, they would break out in tiny red bumps. Sometimes, when Gavin had soaked in the tub for a while, scaly red skin would form across his chest at the water line. That November, after brown water started flowing from her taps, Walters decided it was time to stock up on bottled water.

The family developed a routine: For toothbrushing, a gallon of water was left by the bathroom sink. Crates of water for drinking and cooking crowded the kitchen. The adults and teenagers showered whenever possible at friends’ houses outside Flint; when they had to do it at home, they flushed out the taps first and limited showers to five minutes. Gavin and Garrett got weekly baths in bottled water and sponge baths with baby wipes on the other days. Slowly, the acute symptoms began to wane.

In January 2015, Flint officials sent out a notice declaring that the city’s water contained high levels of trihalomethanes, the byproduct of a disinfectant used to treat the water. Over time, these chemicals can cause liver, kidney, and nervous system problems. The advisory warned that sick and elderly people might be at an increased risk, but it said the water was otherwise safe to drink. “That was when I went to my first city council meeting,” Walters told me.

Role Reversal — Rebecca Solnit at The Nation speculates on what the race would be like if Donald Trump were a woman and Hillary Clinton were a man.

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card,” said Donald Trump last month. And then the Grumpy Witch of the Midwest came along in a twinkling of GMO corn showers and earnestness and handed a women’s card to Donald Trump, since Trump thought it was such a helpful thing to have. While she was at it, the brown-haired fairy in low-heeled shoes handed Hillary Clinton a man card. This is the ballad of Donaldina Trump, madcap heiress and train wreck, and the distinguished if problematic statesman Hillaire Rodham.

Hillaire Rodham, or Hill, as his friends called him, grew up in Ohio, did well in law school, professional life, toed the line as a senator and secretary of state. People supporting Bernadette Sanders, the elderly but charmingly fiery rival candidate, did make hay of the fact that Rodham had campaigned for Barry Goldwater when he was 16, but the mainstream media hurried to remind everyone that Rodham had then gone to college, had a political awakening, campaigned for the progressive candidates in 1968 and 1972, registered Latino voters in Texas with his then-girlfriend, the scandalous Southern belle Wilhelmina Clinton (whom Rodham divorced in 1983), and then helped purge the nation of Richard Nixon during his uneventful but respected service on the Watergate Committee. Neither the very early right-wing nor later left-wing campaigning apparently defined Rodham, a solidly status-quo candidate and a widely admired policy expert. He had much to be forgiven for by 2016, but unto those who are distinguished men, much is forgiven. Republicans felt very comfortable with this centrist candidate, despite his early civil-rights work and support for reproductive rights. On the rare occasions when people talked about his appearance, he was compared to Robert Redford, another weathered blonde with a confident demeanor and piercing blue eyes. This was thought to help him with the women’s vote.

When did the Grumpy Fairy hand Donaldina Trump the woman card? Say it came at birth, since fairies have retroactive cursing powers. Donaldina was never more than a dutiful redheaded daughter who got a dowry, a clutch of trophy husbands, expensive divorces, credit cards from all the major department stores, and some coverage in the society pages. She was not set up in business by her father and seized no real-estate business deals—since there were none for feckless young women to step into in the 1960s. She engaged in no branding of herself as some sort of Genghis Khan of commercial opportunity—since female Genghis Khans are not much admired. She was instead institutionalized and medicated for constant angry outbursts and megalomania. Narcissistic personality disorder with delusions of grandeur and poor self-control, her chart read.

The Strump, as tabloids nicknamed the publicly lecherous aging heiress, or Trumpestra, for her stridency and tantrums, was widely mocked. “It’s as though Paris Hilton ran for president,” Breitbart opined, for the two did have reality-TV careers and real-estate inheritances in common. The Donaldina’s odd looks and odder hand gestures received major media coverage, and The Washington Post ran a series of articles on whether her hair color was faded tangerine or washed-out carrot and whether she should have sued her hairdresser for the strange immobilized mass atop her puffy, pouchy, orange face that was forever bunching up into odd expressions that stand-up comics loved to imitate. Her appearance also begat an entire series in The New York Times on spray tans. Ann Coulter did reach out to her to offer beauty tips, but the two got into a fight about whether women should ever accuse anyone of being a rapist. The Donaldina had never held elected office and was treated as a sort of circus act when she announced her presidential candidacy. She did not get $2 billion of free publicity from the media, but she did get a lot of late-night standup jokes about her stocky, aging body, her face, her sexual boasting, her temper, and her tendency to say things so factually challenged that George Stephanopoulos quipped that Donaldina made Sarah Palin seem like Angela Merkel. She was forever being called hysterical, and all the men on the TV show Meet the Nation’s Men spent a Sunday morning advising her on how to talk into a microphone and what tone of voice befits a lady. Ladies should not be angry, any more than they should be orange. The Donaldina never polled above single digits. She blamed her woman card, but everyone mocked her self-pitying refusal to take responsibility. Mean girls finish last.

And thus did the charismatic progressive reformer Elbert Warren, senator from Massachusetts, become the 45th male president of the United States.

Doonesbury — Hope springs eternal.