Friday, March 15, 2019

Universal Sickness

A gunman opened fire on two mosques in New Zealand on Friday (NZ time), killing at least 40 people.  The motive was racial; the assault was streamed live and documents in support of his attack were posted on line.

At more than 74 pages, the document outlines a white supremacist motivation for the attack. The writer, who identifies himself as a 28-year-old white man born in Australia, quotes the so-called 14 Words, the slogan shared by white supremacists worldwide. He said that while he supported white nationalist groups, he alone had decided to carry out the attack. He described the victims as “invaders” and accused them of seeking to replace white people. He wrote about attacking two mosques, one in Linwood and one in Christchurch. He focused on the latter because it was the largest, he wrote.

The Twitter account only started posting content on March 12, repeatedly sharing white nationalist content about “illegal immigrants.” Twice, the user shared a Facebook profile for the Otago Muslim Association, which the manifesto said was the first choice for the attack.

White supremacy isn’t just an American disease.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Making The Grades

It’s no small irony that Trump made a big deal about Barack Obama’s college transcripts and how he must have gotten into Harvard Law on nothing more than affirmative action all the while he sent his fixers back to his military school to find and bury his own transcripts so no one would ever know how well he did on his SAT’s or GPA.

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to figure that one out.

It also points out the fact that the only reason Trump got into the race in the first place was to show that uppity you-know-what his place.  Trump has been obsessed to the point of madness that Barack Obama is smart, funny, cool, and successful on his own merits and Trump is none of those and never will be.

You don’t need a PhD in theatre or literature to figure that one out.  Hello, Iago and Mr. Claggart in Billy Budd.

What is more disturbing is the fact that rather than celebrate or even acknowledge the fact that a kid from a broken marriage and working-class background could grow up, go to college, become a lawyer, a teacher, an organizer, elected official, and the first non-white president in the history of the country without buying off or gaming the system but doing it pretty much on his own perseverance and determination, Trump is determined to claim that the system is rigged against the people who, through no merit other than the gut feeling of jealousy and resentment about Others, are somehow deprived of their divine right to rule.  It’s a perversion of everything this country stands for.  It’s racism, pure and plain, and I don’t see any benefit in trying to make it sound like anything else.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sunday Reading

Dr. King’s Warning — Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

For the first time since Congress passed legislation to make the third Monday of January a national holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the National Mall—including the memorial dedicated to King’s honor—is closed due to President Trump’s insistence that Congress submit to his demand for a national monument to racism and fear. We must be clear that this is the impasse we face. Democrats cannot be blamed for failing to compromise.

On the opening day of the 116th Congress, Democratic leadership in the House took up bipartisan legislation to reopen the Congress that their colleagues in the Senate had already compromised to approve. Only one thing kept 800,000 federal employees from receiving their paychecks this past week: the refusal of Trump and his congressional enablers to consider that legislation.

Fifty-one years ago, Dr. King and the Poor People’s Campaign threatened to bring the federal government to standstill in order to demand that it serve everyone in America’s multi-ethnic democracy. In 2019, President Trump has shuttered the government to demand that we build a bulwark against the browning of America.

This is, as he promised it would be, Trump’s shutdown. But the president is not acting alone. Congressional Republicans who have been unwilling to stand up to the him for two years created the conditions for this present crisis. And all along the way, Trump’s white evangelical boosters have offered their blessing. Defending Trump on Fox News, the Rev. Robert Jeffress argued recently that Trump’s wall cannot be immoral because Heaven itself has walls. He did not mention the Bible’s testimony that Heaven’s gates are always open.

Though most religious leaders are not Trumpvangelicals like Jeffress, we must recognize the complicity of so-called moderates in a moment of crisis if we are to honor the memory of Dr. King. While most people today recognize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as both a great American and a great preacher, we would do well to remember that he was not affirmed by a majority of Christian leaders in his own day, black or white.

When we celebrate King, it is easy to conjure the image of a Klan preacher spewing hatred against the civil-rights movement, just as Trumpvangelicals offer a religious blessing to Trump’s white nationalism today. But segregationist preachers were not the only religious resistance to King’s efforts for systemic justice in America. Dr. King’s own denomination, the National Baptist Convention, pushed him out along with other Baptist preachers who insisted on the tactic of nonviolent direct action. Then as now, the opposition to reconstruction of American democracy claimed the moral narrative in our common life.

Dr. King objected—and his polemical response is what we remember half a century later. But the fact that the ecumenical leadership of the faith community in Alabama at the time felt self-assured in making this statement is a testimony to how prevalent their political “realism” was across theological traditions.

We must not deceive ourselves. Even as we gather in churches, synagogues, community centers, and university halls across America to honor the legacy of Dr. King this weekend, the so-called moderates’ call for compromise is drowning out King’s insistence that we cannot submit to the terms of white supremacy. Trump’s immoral demand for an unnecessary wall is an effort to concretize every lie that has been told about immigrants by this administration. Such a wall would be as poisonous to our common life as the “whites only” signs in 1960s Birmingham were to the citizens Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to support in their campaign to tear down Jim Crow.

King understood that whenever we compromise with a lie about who people are, we empower the political forces that have exploited our nation’s divisions to cling to power. The same politicians who want a wall today are also blocking voting rights and the expansion of healthcare to all Americans; they are the same people who have deregulated corporate polluters and denied climate science—the same ones who insist on increasing investment in the war economy while slashing our nation’s safety net and denying workers the right to earn a living wage.

We must be clear: Trump’s demand for a wall is not about border security. It is about a lie as sinister as the claim at the heart of Jim Crow—that America’s future depends on the values of white rule, not the promise of the multi-ethnic democracy we have struggled toward in this land for 400 years. We must not make the same mistake that the clergy of Birmingham made in 1963. If we would honor King, then let us follow him in refusing to compromise with a lie.

Nothingburger — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker.

On Saturday, the twenty-ninth day of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, Donald Trump tried to make a deal. The President, trapped between his far-right bona fides and the general electorate, offered to support a limited measure called the Bridge Act, which would extend temporary legal protections for Dreamers in exchange for full funding of his $5.7-billion border wall. The offer was reportedly crafted by Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, and without the input of congressional Democrats. Yet, almost on cue, Trump’s supporters claimed that the President had effectively flipped the script on his partisan detractors. “Compromise in divided government means that everyone can’t get everything they want every time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “The President’s proposal reflects that. It strikes a fair compromise by incorporating priorities from both sides of the aisle.”

The problem was that the offer addressed none of the Democrats’ concerns, either on the issue of the Dreamers, whose legal status Trump has put in limbo, or the shutdown, which Trump precipitated by demanding funding for the wall. In 2017, when Trump cancelled DACA, he gave Congress six months to devise a solution to protect the legal status of some seven hundred thousand Dreamers. Of all the proposals under consideration, the most conservative was a provisional arrangement known as the Bridge Act. It offered to freeze DACA protections in place for three years to buy Congress time as it sought to devise a proper solution. One of the bill’s sponsors, a Colorado Republican named Mike Coffman, who lost his reëlection bid last November, told me at the time that the bill was a last resort. Moderate Republicans preferred a more comprehensive solution that included a path to citizenship for Dreamers; the Bridge Act was something to have in place in case a deal couldn’t be reached in time. For all of its insufficiencies, the previous version of the Bridge Act would have covered many more people (some 1.3 million Dreamers) than the iteration outlined by the President on Saturday (roughly seven hundred thousand existing DACA recipients). Predictably, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, wasted no time in calling Trump’s latest proposal a “non-starter.” The question now is how long will the President, through clenched teeth, pretend he made the gesture in good faith?

It’s no accident that the White House has selected this measure to try to goad the Democrats, who, for the last several months, have been clear on one thing: no congressional deal on Dreamers would be acceptable unless it included a pathway to citizenship. The Bridge Act doesn’t just come up well short of that; in effect, it simply prolongs the status quo. Federal judges have already blocked the Trump Administration’s effort to cancel DACA, meaning the program is, for the time being, held in place. It’s a precarious situation—only existing recipients can renew their status, and new applications aren’t being accepted—but the Bridge Act is hardly a significant improvement. “The White House hasn’t released a bill yet, but the three years under the Bridge Act is not a three-year extension of DACA,” Kamal Essaheb, the policy director of the National Immigration Law Center, told me on Saturday. “Under the original Bridge Act, the protections end at a certain date in the future. So, if the Bridge Act is enacted today, all work permits would expire in January, 2022, for example. That’s not much of a give, because someone renewing their DACA status today would likely get a work permit into mid- to late 2021.” There’s a chance that the Supreme Court will hear the Trump Administration’s case for ending DACA, but as of now the Justices have not shown any sign that they will; it seems increasingly unlikely, therefore, that the Trump Administration’s appeal will be heard during the Court’s current term. An additional inducement offered by the President, on Saturday, has a similarly stale logic. He proposed a three-year extension of temporary protected status (T.P.S.), which allows victims of war and natural disasters to live and work in the United States, for the three hundred thousand people who lost it over the last two years because of Trump. In October, a federal judge in California blocked the Trump Administration’s efforts to end their T.P.S.

The President proposed a raft of other measures, few of them new or meaningfully different than the terms already being haggled over. He wanted to add more border agents; invest in immigration judges; increase drug-detection technology at the border. The Democrats, who on Friday proposed to add a billion dollars to border-security funding, shouldn’t be particularly opposed to any of these details on their own. Their objection, however, is both more general and more explicit: they want to reopen the government first, and then deal with Homeland Security policies.

Ultimately, the most revealing aspect of Saturday’s proposal is the bland predictability of it. Last year, around this time, the President backed himself into the same corner: he agreed, in an Oval Office meeting with Chuck Schumer, to trade close to five times the wall funding he wants now for a path to citizenship for Dreamers. Immediately afterward, he changed his mind, triggering a government shutdown. Earlier that month, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came to him with a bipartisan solution for Dreamers, which included changes to legal immigration and redoubled funding for border security—in short, all the measures the President had publicly demanded. He responded by blowing up the deal on the spot. Once more, Trump is hoping that the Democrats will flinch, and that no one will remember how we got here in the first place.

Doonesbury — More twitterpation.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

They Finally Noticed Steve King’s Racism

Too little, too late.

A panel of Republican leaders voted unanimously Monday to keep veteran Iowa lawmaker Steve King off House committees, a firm rebuke to an influential opponent of illegal immigration who sparked outrage last week after openly questioning whether the term “white supremacist” was offensive.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the decision by the Republican Steering Committee, which seats lawmakers on House committees, followed his own recommendation and was meant to send a message about the GOP at large.

“That is not the party of Lincoln,” he said of King’s comments. “It is definitely not American. All people are created equal in America, and we want to take a very strong stance about that.”

I suppose it’s understandable that they’d finally get around to doing something about this alleged human being.  Up to now he’s been blocked out by all the dog whistles and downright air horns from the rest of their supremacists, including the guy they elected as president.  And now that the Republicans in the House are in the minority, it doesn’t really matter what committees he’s on.  And, after all, he’s only been doing this shtick for the last eighteen years or so.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Sunday Reading

Why Hasn’t He Folded? — David A. Graham in The Atlantic.

Saturday marks the 22nd day of the government shutdown, the longest closure in American history. And with neither Democrats nor the White House budging from their positions, and the president threatening to keep the government closed for months or years, there’s no end in sight.Which is all the more remarkable in light of how the shutdown began—or rather how it almost didn’t. As the nation approached the end of government funding in late December, President Donald Trump was on the verge of giving in. Then he reversed course, announced he’d shut down the government, and hasn’t blinked since. Why has Trump decided to hold firm this time, and what does it mean for the likelihood of a deal?

The proximate cause for his decision to shut the government down is relatively clear: firm pressure from his hard-line allies. In early December, during a meeting with the Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Trump said that he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.” But for 10 days afterward, the White House tried to slowly walk that back. Aides said that Trump was looking for ways to build the wall using funds from other departments, and they signaled that he’d sign a clean bill that kept the lights on without money for the wall. On December 19, immigration hard-liners mounted a counterattack.

“This is textbook,” Rush Limbaugh fumed. “It’s a textbook example of what the Drive-By Media calls compromise. Trump gets nothing and the Democrats get everything, including control of the House in a few short weeks.”Ann Coulter blasted the president as “gutless” (earning herself a Twitter unfollow). Even Laura Ingraham was critical. “It was supposed to be a ‘big beautiful wall’ with a ‘big beautiful door,’” she tweeted. “Now it’s just an open door with no frame. Unreal.” Representative Mark Meadows, the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, held out hope that Trump might still veto the bill. Followed by what? “Renegotiating.”

Even though there was no clear plan for how Trump would get money out of the new Democratic House majority once it took office in early January, the pushback got his attention, and he announced that he wouldn’t sign any legislation without wall funding. Positions have been stuck since then. Democrats have not shown any weakened resolve; neither has Trump.

On the Democratic side, the X factor seems to be Pelosi and her newly empowered caucus. Schumer has been inclined to negotiate with Trump in the past, but the House Dems, having campaigned against the president and his wall, show no appetite for compromise.

What’s less clear is why this is the moment Trump has decided to take a stand. Though he styled himself a master dealmaker in the business world, he’s been far softer in politics, showing a surprisingly deferential side at the negotiation table, whether his interlocutor is domestic or foreign. He backed down after promising to go after the National Rifle Association on gun control; he shied away from branding China a currency manipulator; he didn’t follow through on threats to investigate the Justice Department or withdraw foreign aid as retaliation for UN votes.

The timing is also peculiar. Trump’s best opportunity to get funding was when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, during the first two years of his term. But Congress refused, and while Trump griped about it, he never pushed the issue as far as a shutdown. As my colleague Peter Beinart has written, the president shows little interest in actually building the wall. Instead, he appears to view it as an effective political bludgeon against Democrats.

Whether it actually is effective is unclear. Polling since the start of the shutdown has shown that more Americans blame Trump than Democrats for the deadlock, though Democrats haven’t escaped blame altogether. But a Morning Consult poll this week showed a four-point increase in the share of voters who see Trump as the culprit. Even if Trump is losing, there’s no massive shift against him that polls are picking up, and both sides seem to believe that they are winning.

Some Senate Republicans, however, may not be so certain. A small but growing number, especially those up for reelection in 2020, have begun saying that the government should reopen while negotiations over the wall continue—which is tantamount to surrender, since Trump would be giving up his leverage. (A few House Democratic freshmen are nervous as well.)None of this offers much insight into the way the impasse might break. The negotiation tactics that Trump imported from the private sector have, yet again, failed to deliver much in the way of results in politics. During a meeting this week, Trump walked out after Democrats once again said they wouldn’t compromise on the wall. (It’s a sign of how poorly the talks are going that the two sides promptly got into a quarrel over whether Trump had stormed out or merely politely departed.) Trump’s allies claim that this tactic worked well in his last job, but Democrats seem only to have been delighted by the incident, which demonstrated their resolve.

By the end of the week, it seemed that the most likely outcome was for Trump to sidestep the shutdown by declaring a national emergency and using those extraordinary powers to build the wall, perhaps with the help of the military. While that would open up a new front of legal and political crisis as he tested the limits of presidential powers, it would also likely end the shutdown, as it would obviate the need for Congress to grant funding.

“If this doesn’t work out, I probably will do it, maybe definitely,” Trump said Thursday while visiting the border. But Friday afternoon, Trump demurred. “What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” he said.

Once again, Trump had signaled one intention and then swerved at the last minute, a mirror image of his reversal on the shutdown in December. With negotiations frozen and the president ruling out a national emergency—at least for now—the shutdown that almost didn’t happen looks like it’s here to stay.

Old Story — Leonard Pitts, Jr. on the right wing’s rehash of personal attacks.

Haven’t we seen this movie before?

Certainly, there is a sense of déjà vuall over again as one watches the right wing hyperventilate over a certain freshman congresswoman from New York. The attacks on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been frequent and furious, but also petty, silly and (in the mental-health sense) hysterical.

Just days ago, The Daily Caller tweeted “the photo some people are calling a nude selfie of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” But it turns out “some people” are morons. The so-called “nude selfie,” depicts only a woman’s feet in a bathtub. Yes, some observers claim her bare breasts are visible in a reflection on the faucet, but if that’s true, your humble correspondent lacks the eyesight — and the interest — to make them out.

Not that it matters, because Ocasio-Cortez is actually not the woman in the image, as The Daily Caller was eventually forced to concede. So this was a political hit job wrapped in a Three Stooges routine. She seems to attract a lot of those.

On Jan. 6, for example, conservative blogger Jim Hoft tweeted the “news” that Ocasio-Cortez “Went by ‘Sandy’ Well into College.” This guy touted as an “EXCLUSIVE” the fact that the woman has a nickname — like he thought he had solved the Hoffa case or something.

Then there’s the since-suspended Twitter account that tweeted a video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing on a rooftop when she was in college. “America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is,” the tweet said. Apparently, we’re meant to be apoplectic to learn she once suffered boogie fever.

And so it goes. Republicans in Congress boo when her name is called. Her wardrobe and lodging are scrutinized. GOP operative Ed Rollins dubs her “the little girl.” Rush Limbaugh calls her “some young uppity.”

All this lavish abuse, it bears repeating, is for a freshman representative who, at this writing, has yet to do much of anything in Congress. Yes, like Bernie Sanders — and Martin Luther King Jr. — Ocasio-Cortez is drawn to democratic socialism. It’s fair to question her ideology. It’s fair to question anyone’s ideology. But that’s not what this is.

No, this is that movie we’ve seen before where the right wing, alarmed by the rise of the scary Other, seeks to manufacture scandal, spread rumor, sow confusion, impute some sense of the sinister. The less they have to work with, the more shrill, desperate and idiotic they become.

Back then, it was Barack Obama. He wore a tan suit, and conservatives sank onto their fainting couches. He greeted his wife with a fist bump and Fox “News” thought it might be terrorism. And how many conservatives, with furrowed brows and studious miens, pretended to believe there was some reason to doubt that he was born in Hawaii?

Obama’s “otherness” came of being a black guy with a funny name. Ocasio-Cortez, though, hits the trifecta. She is young (29), a woman and of Puerto Rican heritage. Add her ideology to that mix, and you have a perfect storm of panic for those who consider power the birthright of gray-haired white men.

Ocasio-Cortez is another unwelcome reminder for them that change is here — and that power will henceforth no longer be the province of a favored few. They’ve had over a decade to acclimate themselves to that, so it is sad to see the right wing retreat instead to the same old script — especially since it inevitably reveals more about them and their fraidy-cat bigotry than anything else.

Yes, we have, indeed, seen this movie before. It was a lousy film the first time around.

It has not improved.

Doonesbury — And the winner is…

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Reading

A Small, Sure Sign of Hope — Jelani Cobb in The New Yorker on how Lucy McBath’s win in the Georgia 6th is a harbinger.

Three years ago, HBO aired a documentary called “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets,” which examined the tortured aftermath of the death of Jordan Davis, a seventeen-year-old boy who was shot as he sat in an S.U.V. parked at a Florida gas station. At the start of the film, you see Lucy McBath, Davis’s mother, sitting at a table, depleted, telling how she came to name her son after the Biblical River Jordan. “I wanted to name him something that would symbolize the crossing over and a new beginning,” she says. Later, you see a more resolute McBath seated in a Senate hearing room with Sybrina Fulton—whose son Trayvon Martin was also shot to death at the age of seventeen—giving testimony about Stand Your Ground laws and their impact on her son’s death.

The two moments are as apt an encapsulation as you’ll find of the significance of McBath’s victory last week in the race for Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, situated just north of Atlanta. McBath, a Democrat who ran on a platform of growing the economy, funding education, and addressing climate change, was inescapably wed in the public’s mind to the issue of gun reform. Her despair and her resolve are equal parts of her political identity. She narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent, Karen Handel, in a race that remained somewhat low-profile among the prognostications about which districts the Democrats might flip in the midterms. Last year, the Democrat Jon Ossoff gained national attention in his bid to win the seat, which opened after the Republican Tom Price left it for what turned out to be a short stint as the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Trump Administration. Ossoff lost to Handel in a runoff, by less than four percentage points, with 48.1 per cent of the vote. A measure of the skepticism about McBath’s chances could be seen in the fact that, before last Tuesday, the race was being referred to in some quarters as the “Ossoff race without Ossoff.”

McBath’s victory reflects several trends: the inroads that Democrats are making in Republican suburban districts that Trump’s tax cuts and border-fearmongering were supposed to secure, the record number of women elected to public office in the face of the mainline misogyny that is a feature of the Trump era, and the fading ability of gun-rights appeals to safeguard Republican districts. It is also worth noting that nine new African-American candidates were elected to Congress in the midterms—all of them Democrats, five of them women—and that, once all the outstanding races are called, will likely bring the ranks of the Congressional Black Caucus to a record fifty-six members. All but two of them are in the House, and the majority of those members won election in majority-minority districts. The nine incoming representatives, however, were all elected in largely white districts—a fact that may complicate the calculations of the caucus and the voting behavior of its members. McBath will be the first African-American to represent her district.

There are other, subtler dynamics at play in the Georgia Sixth results. The fight over Georgia’s gubernatorial race, between the Democrat Stacey Abrams and the Republican Brian Kemp, who, until last week, served as Georgia’s secretary of state, focussed on Kemp’s record of voter-roll purges and voter suppression. Many elections come down to turnout; in Georgia, the question was how many potential voters would be turned away. Kemp, however, was just following a playbook pioneered by Handel, who preceded him as secretary of state, serving from 2007 to 2010. Early in the 2008 Presidential campaign, when it was optimistically suggested that Barack Obama’s candidacy might put Georgia in play for the Democrats, Handel engineered a purge in which some four thousand eligible voters were flagged for removal for being “non-citizens.” (At the time, I was teaching at Spelman College, and this happened to one of my students. It took, in part, the intervention of a local CNN station to get her registered; a panel of federal judges overturned Handel’s order.) The gerrymandered redistricting in the Republican-controlled state legislature was also intended to thwart Democrats.

In a sense, the race in Georgia’s Sixth District was a small-scale version of the governor’s race. McBath’s results—she won 50.5 per cent of the vote—are particularly notable, given that black voters make up roughly a third of the electorate in the state but only thirteen per cent in the district. Ossoff ran in 2017 on a platform that was similar to McBath’s on issues such as climate change, the economy, and Medicaid. Ossoff also campaigned against subsidies that made it easier for foreign airlines to compete in the United States, recognizing that Delta Air Lines is headquartered in Atlanta, and that voters employed at the nearby Hartsfield-Jackson airport were affected by the issue. (McBath worked for Delta for thirty years.) The 2017 race became the most expensive House contest ever, costing some fifty-five million dollars. McBath’s campaign spent $1.2 million, but she improved on Ossoff’s margin by more than two points.

There are a number of ways to look at this outcome. The district, despite its history as a home of G.O.P. stalwarts—it was Newt Gingrich’s seat for twenty years—was trending toward the Democrats. In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore by thirty-six points there. In 2012, Mitt Romney’s margin of victory was twenty-three points. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just a single point. It is sixteen months further into the Trump era than when Ossoff ran, and it is entirely possible that the President has worn out the grace period that moderate voters were inclined to give him last year. But, crucially, McBath represents a movement. Her son was shot by a white man named Michael Dunn, following a dispute over playing loud music, on November 23, 2012. Trayvon Martin had been shot nine months earlier, as he walked, unarmed, through a gated community where he was staying. Both deaths occurred in Florida and became central to the debate over the so-called Stand Your Ground gun laws in that state. George Zimmerman was acquitted in Martin’s death; Dunn, in a second trial, was sentenced to life without parole. The film “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” follows McBath and her ex-husband, Ron Davis, as they pursued justice for their son over two trials. (They requested that the prosecutors not seek the death penalty.)

When I interviewed them after a screening of the film, at the Schomburg Center, in Harlem, McBath emphasized the extent to which she had channelled her sorrow over her son’s death into action with the groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. McBath served as the national spokesperson for both organizations and testified on the dangers of Stand Your Ground laws before the Florida, Georgia, and Nevada state legislatures. In 2016, McBath, with Sybrina Fulton and seven other women who had lost children, most of them to gun violence, appeared in support of Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, under the banner of the Mothers of the Movement. McBath’s campaign Web site carefully noted that she supports “2nd Amendment rights of Georgians,” but she also promised to “push for implementing background checks for all firearm purchases; raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21 years of age; working to defeat conceal carry reciprocity measures; and introducing legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other criminals.”

McBath was elected nine months after seventeen people were shot to death at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, and a little more than a week after eleven people were killed in the Tree of Life synagogue, in Pittsburgh, and two were murdered in a Kentucky supermarket. She was also elected almost exactly six years after her own son died. The plague of gun violence and the intransigence of the gun lobby in the face of it have often seemed like an unbreakable stalemate. McBath’s election is a small, sure sign of hope.

Speaking of Oz — Julia Baird in the New York Times on how hard it is to speak Australian.

SYDNEY, Australia — Running out of gas is one of the most foolish things you can do, but I was guilty of it several times when I was a lean-living university student. That changed, though, when Hugh Jackman was hired as the attendant at my local gas station. He was older than me, clean-cut and hot, an improbably nice star of local high school musicals who was known to date unassuming women. I tried not to stumble over my feet — or, say, into his arms — as he greeted me with a big grin when my Volkswagen Beetle sputtered in: “Jules!”

That year, I never ran out of gas.

Today, Mr. Jackman, the star of films like “Wolverine” and “Les Misérables,” is widely adored in Australia, even by those who never saw him behind a cash register. He holds a special place in Australian hearts because international success has not made him pretentious. Most crucially, his accent is still intact.

Australians have a strong, often irrational suspicion of people who leave the country, succeed and change. Even Paul Hogan, the comedian and actor who played that most iconic Australian caricature, Crocodile Dundee, belied his working-class image after he found global stardom and dumped his wife for his more glamorous — and American — co-star. Occasional grumbling is heard about the model Elle Macpherson or the singer Kylie Minogue, both of whom have acquired “global” accents.

By shifting accents, Australian expatriates are seen to be shifting class and status, indicating a sense of superiority to those who remain in Australia. The quickly acquired faux-British accent in particular has been associated with pretension, or a snootiness that reveals desperation to cover a humble antipodean past, to disown a sunburned, bikini-clad family. Part of our fight against a long-held cultural cringe has been the insistence that we do not need to erase our accents to, say, host a TV show or radio program.

The problem is, sometimes we do need to adapt the way we speak. When I moved to Manhattan in 2006 to work at a newsmagazine, my accent became a hurdle. “We are cursed by a common language,” my editor was fond of telling me, a line he ascribed to some British statesman, who doubtless looked down his pince-nez at his convict-descended cousins. After he told me that he could not understand 80 percent of what I was saying, I began to emphasize my R’s and slow my speech.

We Australians are used to people being rude about the way we talk. Winston Churchill was particularly cruel about our accent. He described it as “the most brutal maltreatment that has ever been inflicted on the mother-tongue of the great English-speaking nations.” At best it’s called cute; at worst it’s dismissed as incomprehensible.

But given that it is so hard to mimic, perhaps we should be proud of its uniqueness.

What Americans — and, to a lesser extent, the British — fail to recognize is that as much as they mock us, they are almost constitutionally incapable of imitating the Australian accent, no matter how often they repeat “G’day, mate!” Even the great Meryl Streep failed to capture it when she portrayed Lindy Chamberlain in the 1988 movie “Evil Angels,” about a woman whose baby is killed in the Australian outback. The line remains famous for its melodrama — “The dingo’s got my bay-bee!” — but in Australia it’s also famous as a reminder that even Hollywood’s greatest stars cannot master our way of speaking.

Foreign media’s inability to capture how Australians really talk has been back in the news recently, thanks to the new season of the American sitcom “The Good Place,” part of which takes place in Sydney. On social media and in newspapers, Australians are baffled — if not outraged — by hearing American actors mock and mangle the way we speak. This has revived a long-held resentment about the fact that we so often appear as caricatures, fools or comic figures onscreen, with failed attempts to capture our accents that make us seem like bigger idiots.

Why are we so hard to imitate? Maybe part of it is that there’s something deeply laid back about the Australian accent. One theory suggests that this is because of our habitat: Given the swarms of flies buzzing around the outback, the legend goes, we developed a pattern of speech that would involve only opening our mouths slightly for fear of letting in insects. That’s probably not true, but we can conduct entire conversations while barely moving our lips.

In recent years, another startling theory emerged: Drunken convicts are to blame. Dean Frenkel, a lecturer in public speaking and communications at Victoria University in Melbourne, wrote in 2015: “Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns. For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.” A horde of linguists dismissed this, but the theory, predictably, got coverage around the world — it’s what people want to think about Australia.

Professor Frenkel is right that our speech is lazy. He thinks we use only two-thirds of our articulator muscles. We replace T with D (“impordant”) and drop I’s (Austraya) or make them into oi’s (roight!). But we also add vowels in surprising places (future becomes fee-yu-cha).

But the people best placed to mock Australian accents are Australians. Self-parody is a national sport. On Twitter, we lampoon our country by calling it #Straya. We shorten “Good on you” to “onya” and we stretch out the greeting “mate” to “maaaaaaaate,” the length depending on the depth of affection and time of day. These kinds of joyous subtleties are lost on outsiders, though. And that’s what American television and movie producers need to understand. Next time, hire Australian actors to do Australian accents. Like, say, my mate Wolverine.

Doonesbury — Phoning it in.

Friday, September 21, 2018

But He’s Not A Racist

This does not surprise me at all, but I thought I’d share anyway.

This is reportedly the FIFTH racist incident to strike the campaign of Rep. Ron DeSantis, who started his gubernatorial run by intimating his African American opponent would “monkey up” the state of Florida’s economy if elected.

Politico reports that a Republican donor, who gave DeSantis over $22,000 dollars and got him to speak at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago, took to Twitter and called President Obama a “F—- MUSLIM N—-”

It’s hard to get more racist than that.

As usual with all racists that are caught being racist, Steven M. Alembik told Politico that he’s not a racist and was just mad when he went full-bore KKK on the former president.

Initially, Alembik said he didn’t believe he wrote that but then, after reviewing the tweet, said that “when I write anything inflammatory, it’s because I’m seriously pissed off. I’m an emotional human being. Do I have a filter on what I say? In public, yes. Would I use that word in public? No. This is Twitter.”

He doesn’t think Twitter is public?

After initially claiming he’s not a racist, he went on a weird (but all too common among racists) rant about the double standard associated with the N-word:

“So somebody like Chris Rock can get up onstage and use the word and there’s no problem? But some white guy says it and he’s a racist? Really?” the 67-year-old Alembik said, noting that what’s considered racially charged language now wasn’t racist when he was a kid. “I grew up in New York in the ‘50s. We were the k—-. They were the n——. They were the goyim. And those were the s—-.”

Yep, he’s a racist through and through.

This is Florida and we have an African-American running for governor.  Actually, I’m surprised it’s only the fifth recorded incident.  There will be more.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Foregoing All Pretense

Now that they have got an outright racist running for governor in Florida, the Trump regime is moving on to clear the border of people they suspect aren’t really ‘Murican because they’re Hispanic.

On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.

His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.

But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.

As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown.

Well, they’ve got to find a use for all those concentration camps now that they’ve been busted for separating parents from their children.

Hey, you — yeah, you — can you prove you’re a citizen?  Do you remember being born?  Where was it?  Where’s your birth certificate, and how do we know it wasn’t doctored up back when you were born to make it appear you were born here and not in Juarez or Kenya?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sit Anywhere You Like

One of the upshots of Starbucks’ consciousness-raising over who gets to sit in their coffee houses without drawing the attention of the constabulary is that they will make it their official policy that you don’t actually have to buy something to earn a place to sit there.

That’s good to know; I’ve been doing it for years (although I usually do buy something; after all, those blueberry scones are pretty good), and the local Starbucks was my go-to place for WiFi last September after Hurricane Irma, free or otherwise.  Now I won’t have that tickling feeling of guilt when I stop in and boot up without buying a scone or a tall plain cuppajoe.

But that’s upsetting to some conservatives.  Megyn Kelly, for instance.

“They’re allowing anyone to stay and use the bathroom even if they don’t buy anything, which has a lot of Starbucks’ customers saying, ‘Really?’” Kelly remarked on her Today Show program. “Because now the Starbucks are going to get overwhelmed with people and is it really just a public space or is it not?”

“For the paying customers who go in with their kids, do you really want to deal with a mass of homeless people or whoever is in there — could be drug addicted, you don’t know when you’re there with your kids paying for the services of the place.”

For those of you who are numb to dog whistles, what she’s really saying is that Starbucks is now the equivalent of the Port Authority bus terminal and their bathrooms are open to just anyone, not just rich white people paying five bucks for a latte.  Oh, how we’ve all caved to political correctness and now she has to sit next to someone who is undeserving of being in her presence.

Or maybe she’d rather see what I saw yesterday morning when I got to the office before dawn.  It’s located in downtown Miami and there are a number of homeless people who spend the night in sheltered areas until the building opens.  As I approached the entrance, I saw a man standing outside on the wheelchair ramp where he’d spent the night.  From his stance and the fact that I’m a man who knows what a certain stance means, I knew he was taking a leak against the side of our building.  As I got near the door, he tried to mop it up with the newspapers he’d just used as his bed.  I didn’t say anything to him, but I did inform the security guard who was arriving of what I’d seen so they could get someone to hose the ramp down.  I didn’t call the cops, and if the man had asked, I’m pretty sure the guard would have let him in to use the rest room on the first floor instead of peeing on the ramp.

I’ve often said it would be nice if there was a Starbucks in the neighborhood, and there’s another reason now; to show a little bit of kindness and accommodation to people who don’t have multi-million dollar contracts to sneer at others on TV.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

He Hates Him That Much

Trump hates Barack Obama to the point that he’s willing to risk stability and peace with a sworn adversary just to demolish any of his accomplishments.

Trump is expected to announce on Tuesday that he is withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, European diplomats said after concluding that they had failed to convince him that reneging on America’s commitment to the pact could cast the West into new confrontation with Tehran.

If the diplomats are correct, the announcement will be the most consequential national security decision of Mr. Trump’s 15 months in office — though it could be eclipsed in coming weeks by his direct negotiation with North Korea’s leader over surrendering its nuclear arsenal.

Of course he’ll never say it because cowards cannot admit the truth, but the only reason he’s doing this is because the nuclear deal was signed by Barack Obama.  That’s it.  If it had been done by any other person — even another Democrat — he’d have been able to live with it.  But not Obama.  He hates him that much.

Why?  Well, aside from the obvious reasons — Mr. Obama is smart, cool under pressure, charming, charismatic, and able to work with people who disagree with him — there’s the inner truth that Trump has never accepted the fact that America really did vote to elect a black man twice over white men.  And now his racism, never very well kept hidden, is in full fetid flower.  Like the corpse plant that blooms with the stench of rotting meat that draws flies and their maggots, Trump exudes the stench of jealousy and entitlement that appeals to the base of his party that has seethed with impotent hatred for the man who proved that the American dream isn’t just for white guys anymore.

So just to prove that point and to make the world safe for bigots and toads, we’re back on the road to nuclear build-up and distrust because Trump believes that any deal not signed by him — and by extension any white con man — is an affront to the dignity of white people everywhere.  Especially him.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sunday Reading

Lest We Forget — Michael Eric Dyson on how we have forgotten what Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in.

Photo by Morton Broffman/Getty Images

In June 1966, less than two years before he was killed, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached from his Atlanta pulpit of the dynamic dance between Good Friday and Easter, between death and resurrection, between despair and hope.

“The church must tell men that Good Friday is as much a fact of life as Easter; failure is as much a fact of life as success; disappointment is as much a fact of life as fulfillment,” he said. Dr. King added that God didn’t promise us that we would avoid “trials and tribulations” but that “if you have faith in God, that God has the power to give you a kind of inner equilibrium through your pain.”

From nearly the moment he emerged on the national scene in the mid-1950s until his tragic end in 1968, 10 days before Easter, Dr. King was hounded by death. It was his deep faith that saw him through his many trials and tribulations until the time he was fatally shot on that motel balcony at 6:01 p.m. on April 4 in Memphis.

Faith summoned Dr. King, an ordained Baptist preacher, to the ministry. It made him a troublemaker for Jesus and it led him to criticize the church, criticize the world around him and, in turn, be criticized for those things. In honoring his legacy today, we must not let complacency or narrow faith blind us to what needs to trouble us too.

Dr. King passionately believed that a commitment to God is a commitment to bettering humanity, that the spiritual practices of prayer and worship must be translated into concern for the poor and vulnerable. Dr. King would want us to live his specific faith: work to defeat racism, speak out in principled opposition to war and combat poverty with enlightened and compassionate public policy.

In his lifetime, he was disappointed in the complacency of both black and white churches. He would be as disappointed today. The white church largely remains a bastion of indifference to the plight of black people. White evangelicals continue to focus on personal piety as the measure of true Christianity, while neglecting the Social Gospel that enlivens Jesus’ words for the masses. Dr. King saw faith as an urgent call to service, a selfless ethic of concern that, he said, quoting the Hebrew prophet Amos, made “justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Today, in the midst of resurgent bigotry and deep divisions in this country, faith is too often viewed as an oasis of retreat, a paradise of political disengagement. On this Easter Sunday, as we mark 50 years since Dr. King’s death, it is a perfect and necessary time to remember his faith — and rekindle its urgency.

Dr. King often declared his preacher’s vocation by citing something like a biblical genealogy of black sacred rhetoric that traced through his family: “I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher. My daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice.”

But Dr. King’s faith underwent significant change. At first, he was discouraged from the ministry by a strain of black preaching that was long on emotion and short on reason. Then, at Morehouse College, his encounter with preachers like the school’s president Benjamin Mays convinced him that the ministry was intellectually respectable.

A midnight kitchen experience over a cup of coffee after he received phone calls threatening to blow out his brains and blow up his house during the Montgomery bus boycott gave the fear-stricken Dr. King a sense of God’s unshakable presence. He said that instead of inherited faith, he had to forge the terms of his own relationship to the Almighty.

“I had to know God for myself,” he explained. “I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’”

For the rest of his life Dr. King did just that. His faith propelled him to fight Jim Crow, the ugly hatred it bred in the white soul and the haunting inferiority it left in black minds. It led him to speak valiantly against the lynching, bombing and shooting of black people who merely wanted what white people took for granted: a cup of coffee at any lunch counter, a room at any hotel they could afford, a drink at any water fountain they passed, a seat on a bus wherever they pleased and a desk in the nearest schoolhouse.

Dr. King’s faith put him at odds with white Christians who believed it was their mission to keep separate the races — the same people whose forebears believed it was their duty to enslave Africans and punish blacks who sought to escape their hardship. Dr. King realized that he wasn’t simply in battle against a society built on legal apartheid, but that he also had to fight against a racist culture that derived theological support from white Christianity.

White evangelicals were opposed to Dr. King because they conveniently divided body and soul: Race was a social issue that should be determined by rules in society and laws generated by government. Such a view meant that the racist status quo was sacred. The point of religion was to save the souls of black folk by preaching a gospel of repentance for personal sin, even as segregation often found a white biblical mandate. After Dr. King spoke at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961, the most prominent institution of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, many white churches in the South withheld financial contributions to the school.

If rabid racists were a clear threat to black well-being, it was the white moderates who claimed to support civil rights but who urged caution in the pursuit of justice who proved to be a special plague. In 1963, eight white Alabama clergymen issued a statement pleading for black leaders to slow their aggressive campaign against segregation in Birmingham, Ala. The clergymen cited “outsiders” who had come to Birmingham to lead demonstrations that were “unwise and untimely.”

The white clergymen blamed the black protests for inciting hatred and violence through their “extreme measures,” arguing that their cause “should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets.”

Showing The Way — Sophia Steinberg, a high school student, reports in The Nation how the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are leading the way for her generation.

Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Minu smiled as she saw my homemade sign, finished in a rush to get to the march. We boarded the subway, surrounded by people who were clearly traveling to the same place we were. On our way to demonstrate against gun violence in America, we discussed our SAT scores and her upcoming trip to Japan. While we talked about the minor dramas of our junior year, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were preparing to speak in front of an international audience about the trauma they experienced during a school shooting.

Until late February, no major news source was giving a platform to Generation Z. Now, images of Emma González and her fellow survivors are ubiquitous. A classmate of mine at Beacon High School, Etta Gold, thinks “most kids are scared of the bureaucracy because they don’t believe they can actually change the law,” but the teenagers from Parkland are “inspiring when it comes to enforcing change.” I was impressed by their capacity to organize a national march, amid their own trauma and despite their age. Beacon junior Sam Sheridan echoed Etta’s sentiments: “Seeing people your own age [speak] makes a difference.” I wasn’t shocked to see that some of the few public figures who shared my views on privilege, gun control, and the president were high-school victims of gun violence.

During the march, I held my sign high as I listened to the solemn, empowering words of survivors and activists. Parkland student Meghan Bohner spoke about her firsthand experience with the shooter when I noticed tears streaming down my face. Around noon, we began our march around Central Park, booing President Trump’s New York properties along the way. My eyes were fixed on the crowd as protesters raised their fists and demanded change.

Watching Emma González’s speech later that day, I understood her power. She captivated the nation with silence. Etta agreed: “Something about González compelled [her] to keep watching.” Her bravery, so unwavering, makes change viable. If she could face the world with her questions, so could I. Her extraordinary speech rejected the mundane thoughts and prayers of so many politicians. Her very presence has created a path for teenagers to follow. Those of us who chose to walk that path have a chance at ending gun violence in black communities, preventing the sale of assault rifles, and most of all—saving lives. In González’s gut-wrenching silence, audiences could search for the solution and perhaps find it within themselves.

Soon after the march, Minu, who is a year older than me, found out she was eligible to become a registered voter. It will “feel good to really participate, she told me.” Before the March for Our Lives, I felt as though America could make its teens feel invisible. As I watched Minu join the thousands of newly registered voters, I realized that our teen spirit can no longer be ignored.

Laura’s “Vacation” — Brian Schatz in Mother Jones on Laura Ingraham’s sudden decision to take some time off.

Laura Ingraham, the Fox News host of The Ingraham Angle, announced late Friday that she is going on vacation for a week as advertisers continue to abandon her show.

Ingraham is leaving amidst ongoing controversy and boycotts. Earlier in the week, she took to Twitter to mock Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg—the 18-year-old senior who has become prominent in the student movement for gun control—for not getting into some of the colleges he had applied to, saying that he whined about the rejections.

In response, Hogg called on his followers to contact her top advertisers. After two advertisers pulled their support, Ingraham, claiming to be moved by “the spirit of Holy Week,” apologized. Hogg didn’t buy it:

As Ingraham leaves for vacation, more than a dozen advertisers have now dropped her show. We’ve seen this kind of vacation before.

Bill O’Reilly took a “pre-planned vacation” last April amid advertiser cancellations after the New York Times detailed his settlements following harassment allegations from five women, totaling at least $13 million. He was fired soon after.

“Fear not,” Ingraham told her viewers on Friday. “We’ve got a great lineup of guest hosts to fill in for me.”

At Home With The Cohens — Calvin Trillin on the domestic side of Trump’s lawyer.

As the breakfast dishes were cleared away, both Cohens remained at the table with their coffees. Mrs. C, who had been gathering material for the family’s tax return, was looking through a pile of financial documents. Michael Cohen was studying his daily list of people to threaten.

“I see here that the electric bill is up a bit this year,” Mrs. C said.

“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured. He was trying to decide whether the first person on his list would be frightened more by “I will take you for all the money you still don’t have” or “What I’m going to do to you is so fucking disgusting”—both of which phrases he’d used to threaten a Daily Beast reporter (to no avail) in 2015.

“The bill from that gardener who replaced the rose bushes seems pretty reasonable,” Mrs. C said.

“Mmmm,” Mr. C murmured again. He was considering using another phrase from that same Daily Beast encounter—“I’m going to mess your life up for as long as you’re on this fuckin’ planet.” That threat, he thought, had a nice mob-enforcer ring to it, particularly if he used what he sometimes referred to as his “Corleone voice.”

“Michael,” Mrs. C continued. “Here, stuck to the receipt from those people who repaired the washing machine, is a payment of a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to Essential Consultants. What is that all about?”

“That was hush money to a porn star,” Mr. C said.

“Michael,” Mrs. C said, in a weary voice, “I’ve told you before: people with no humor should not try to tell jokes.”

“That wasn’t a joke,” Mr. C said. “A porn star claimed to have had an affair with D.J.T., and, just before the election, I gave her a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to keep her mouth shut.”

“An affair with who?”

“With Mr. Trump. You might have seen Don, Jr., on television referring to his father as ‘D.J.T.’ We thought that would make him sound right up there on the level of Presidents like F.D.R. and J.F.K.”

“Donald Trump had an affair with a porn star?” Mrs. C asked.

“Definitely not,” Mr. C said. “D.J.T. is a happily married family man. He is a man of honor and integrity and one of our great Presidents. In fact, I’ve retained a fellow in South Dakota to do a title search on what seems to be some unused space on Mount Rushmore, just to Lincoln’s left. We could buy it secretly through a shell corporation—I know how to do that—and hire our own sculptor.”

“Let me get this straight,” Mrs. C said. “You paid a hundred and thirty thousand dollars to a porn star so that she’d remain quiet about something that didn’t happen? “

“Well, not directly. I paid the hundred and thirty thousand dollars through a shell corporation so it would stay secret.”

“Then how come we have here a Certificate of Formation for Essential Consultants, issued by the Delaware Secretary of State’s Corporation Division, and signed by you?” Mrs. C said, holding up a document.

“Well, it turned out to be not quite as secret as it might have been,” Mr. C said. “I made up really neat alliterative pseudonyms for D.J.T. and the porn star, but I couldn’t think of a really neat alliterative pseudonym for myself.”

“How about Danny Dumbass?” Mrs. C said.

“I don’t want you to be upset about this,” Mr. C said. “I’m sure we’ll be reimbursed.”

“You believe that Donald Trump, known to every subcontractor, supplier, and banker in New York as the King of the Deadbeats, is going to pay you back?”

“As I was saying,” Mr. C replied, “We prefer to refer to him as D.J.T. It sounds more Presidential.”

Doonesbury — Everything new is old again.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Little Louder On The Dog Whistle, Please

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, speaking to the National Sheriffs Association, praised the local sheriff as the “critical part of Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

People familiar with the law were quick to point out that he was probably referring to the “common law” that we Americans inherited from the British system and that the local sheriff is an office passed down from medieval times.  Perfectly innocent.

Sure, okay.  But “Anglo-American” and “heritage” are also terms that are commonly used by white supremacists to justify their long history of oppressing minorities in the name of racial purity, and “heritage” has been heard most recently to defend the Confederate battle flag flying over town squares next to statues of Robert E. Lee.  And Mr. Sessions has a long history himself of racial insensitivity.

And it should be noted that he veered off the prepared text to insert “Anglo-American.”  It’s like the dog whistle wasn’t loud enough already.

Friday, January 12, 2018

You Said It

Since no one who has been following the news for the last couple of years was surprised in the least that Trump called Haiti and El Salvador and other places with a majority of non-white citizens “shithole countries,” the fun part was watching TV or reading online and finding out which commentators or journals would actually use the word “shithole” on the air or in print.

The Washington Post, which broke the story, shocked some readers by putting the vulgar word in its headline — a rare occurrence in the paper’s 141-year history.

“When the president says it, we’ll use it verbatim. That’s our policy,” said Martin Baron, The Post’s executive editor. “We discussed it, quickly, but there was no debate.”

Such a comment made by the president, especially in front of several witnesses, is newsworthy, no matter how reprehensible it may be, said Ben Zimmer, a linguist and lexicographer who writes a language column in The Wall Street Journal.

“It was incumbent on media outlets to present what he said without extradition or euphemization,” he said.

That’s exactly what many of them did. In an unusual move, the word “shithole” was repeated in print and on air Thursday evening, in capital letters on the CNN and MSNBC headlines that appear on the lower part of the screen. Fox News censored the word with asterisks.

Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News warned viewers that the story would not be appropriate for younger viewers, while ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir said the president used “a profanity we won’t repeat.”

But CNN’s Phil Mudd embraced the expletive in condemning the president’s language, citing his Irish and Italian ancestry and the slurs once used against immigrants from those countries.

“I’m a proud shitholer!” he told Situation Room anchor Wolf Blitzer. “In the 1940s, we called people traitors because they came from a shithole country we call Japan. And we’re ashamed.”

For those who write dictionaries, the repetition of “shithole” on television and on the Internet was “the sort of thing we call a party,” wrote Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam Webster.

You could actually see that the network news broadcasters were getting a bit of adolescent glee out of being able to say the word on the air without fear of reprisal from the FCC; it’s like they’re actually enjoying it.  (The folks on cable TV did too, but they don’t have to worry about government oversight.  They just had fun with it.)

As for the newspapers, even the New York Times, ever the Aunt Pittypat of decorum, allowed the word to be used full-tilt in the body of the story but kept it out of their headlines.  Oh my stars and garters.  (The New York Daily News didn’t use the exact word in their headline, but a picture is worth a thousand asterisks.)

It’s also fun to see how quickly he blew up all the carefully choreographed message from the White House that he was both in control and a stable genius.  The mad scramble came from people checking their betting slips on how soon he would do something to torpedo that meme: who had under 24, 48, or 72 hours?  (Meanwhile, Eric Greitens, the governor of Missouri, is sending a box of candy and a dozen roses to the White House for knocking his sex scandal into the “In Other News” abyss.)

Since it’s not a news flash that Trump is a bigot and a racist, the only thing left now is gauging the reaction to the fact that even his staunchest supporters can’t hide behind the dog whistles that he’s been hardly using since long before he emerged as a presidential candidate. He was sued for racial discrimination in housing in the 1970’s, so it’s not like we didn’t know.  Now we get to see how all the Trumpistas, especially the ones who railed about character counting during the Clinton years, explain to the rest of us that labeling entire nations as shitholes is “shocking” without alienating the base of the voters who agree wholeheartedly with him.

Friday, December 1, 2017

At The Core

Josh Marshall explains what motivates Trump and his minions in their foreign policy and the machinations to get Rex Tillerson out at the State Department and replace him with Mike Pompeo from the CIA and replace Pompeo with Sen. Tom Cotton, a war monger.

If the ‘Tillerson swapped out for Pompeo and then Pompeo replaced by Tom Cotton‘ shakeup actually happens, it will be amazing the degree to which Trump’s core campaign message – disengagement from aggressive, regime change-oriented policies in the Middle East – turned out to be unmitigated bullshit.

It’s not that it’s surprising of course. Trump campaigned as a champion of middle class ‘real Americans’ against Wall Street and coastal elite fat cats. He’s ended up presiding over an extreme Club for Growth handouts to Wall Street economic policy. But Trump’s anti-Middle East interventionism seemed a bit more core to his beliefs.

[…]

What it all boils down to is that racism – white racial grievance, immigration restriction, generalized bashing of basically any political or cultural assertion by African-Americans – is the only consistent and persistent line connecting the campaign to the presidency. This is not quite the same as saying that that’s the only real bottom line for his supporters – though there’s a lot of truth to that. But for Trump, that’s clearly the only thing that isn’t opportunistic and situational. Those all fall away. The only thing that doesn’t is the ethno-nationalism and racism. It’s the real him.

We’ve already seen how Trump will pick a fight with African-Americans and other non-whites; vide his stomping of Khizr Khan and then the take-a-knee battle was directed at “others.”  So going on the offensive in the Middle East — and throwing in North Korea for good measure — is just another day at the office for him and the people who support him.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Slurring Her Words

Via TPM, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn’t think calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” is a racial slur.

“She said it was a racial slur,” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl pressed. “What is your response to that?”

“I think that’s a ridiculous response.”

“Why is it appropriate for the President to use a racial slur in any context?” NBC’s Kristen Welker asked.

“I don’t believe that it is appropriate for him to make a racial slur,” Sanders said, “Or anybody else.”

“A lot of people feel as though this is a racial slur,” Welker said.

“Like I said, I don’t think that it is, and I don’t think that was — certainly not the President’s intent,” Sanders said.

So if I called Ms. Sanders a honky cracker, that’s not a racial slur?  Well, good to know.

Not that I would ever do it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Explaining Away

Josh Marshall takes a look at White House Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly’s views on the Civil War and his refusal to apologize to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) for his obviously erroneous comments about her.

Ta-Nehisi Coates did a systematic take-down of John Kelly after he presented a revisionist history of the Civil War on Laura Ingraham’s new show on Fox [Monday] night. You can see that here. Kelly’s key points were that the cause (and for us the lesson) of the Civil War was an unwillingness to compromise and that Robert E. Lee was an “honorable” man.

Coates offers a good, clear rebuttal which there’s no need for me to duplicate. But I wanted to ask a more general question. Why is John Kelly talking about Robert E. Lee? Let alone praising him or attacking him, why is Lee even a topic of discussion? Kelly is an Irish Catholic from Boston born in 1950. He is not someone born in the Deep South who was reared in the Lee cult and coming to grips with that legacy or unable to shake it fully. Why is this even something we’re talking about?

Kelly did another notable thing. He pledged he would “never” apologize for his comments about Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL). This is despite the fact that it has been repeatedly and clearly shown that his central claim about her was false. We can give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his memory was faulty on the first take. I think we should. But sticking to the claim in the face of clear and irrefutable evidence makes it a clear lie on the second and third and every subsequent take. He also thinks Mueller should be investigating Secretary Clinton.

I take this performance as showing two things. One is what we saw in Kelly’s attack on Rep. Wilson. Kelly is not an adult in the room. He’s an example of what we might call Total Quality Trumpism, Trumpist ideology in a more disciplined, duty-focused, professional package. The core ideology and beliefs about reclamation and rectitude are the same. It’s not an accident that he ended up in the tightest circle of Trump’s orbit. The other is that, once again, Trump damages everything he touches.

But there’s something subtly different about Kelly compared to all the others who cozied up to Trump and saw their reputations and dignity destroyed through a deep inner weakness, desperation or lack of character – Christie, Pence, Tillerson, Priebus et al. Kelly’s eyes appear wide open. His tie to Trump seems to be based on a deep commonality of belief and a desire to sand away the rough edges of Trump to ensure the core goals of Trumpism succeed.

Gen. Kelly is not the only one who thinks the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery and we could have avoided all of that unpleasantness had we only left the South alone; slavery would have died out on its own because of the industrial revolution.  It’s the Jim Crow version, but in his case, James Corvus.  I’ve heard that from so many people who also think “Gone With The Wind” was a documentary that it’s no wonder that a white guy from Boston would accept it.

As for the idea that Kelly is a smoother, more palatable version of Trump and his ideology, there too we’ve all seen them on TV as clear-eyed and in control of their outbursts, but still gently pushing the ideas that Trump carries around on the end of a pitchfork.  They can explain away their views of life and How Things Should Be in such a way that even when they are sharing demonstrable lies and misconceptions they sound like the most reasonable person in the room.

But underneath we still know there lurks danger and poison, and when you strip down the polish to bare metal, you have, as actor Wendell Pierce noted, a racist prick.

Monday, October 23, 2017

It’s Not The Hats

Via the New York Times:

Blame it on these bitter political times.

The feud over President Trump’s call to the widow of a fallen soldier might never have escalated had Mr. Trump done what any of his predecessors almost certainly would have done: quickly apologize for words that failed to bring comfort.

Likewise, the nasty back-and-forth with Frederica S. Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman who is close to the soldier’s family, might have dissipated had she not repeatedly disparaged Mr. Trump’s intentions on national television, failing to extend him the benefit of the doubt that previous presidents had received.

And the public relations disaster that engulfed the White House might have been less intense if John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, had not publicly vented his anger at Ms. Wilson, calling her an “empty barrel” and incorrectly asserting that she had boasted about herself during a ceremony for a building named for fallen F.B.I. agents.

But the political guardrails that once could have prevented a soldier’s death from spiraling into a weeklong, made-for-TV spectacle have been wiped out by a mistrust that has deepened on all sides with the rise of Mr. Trump.

In this acid political climate, “argument turns too easily into animosity,” former President George W. Bush observed on Thursday, in a speech that seemed tailor-made for the week in which he delivered it. “Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

Indeed, the quarrel between the president and the congresswoman only grew on Saturday, with Mr. Trump again calling Ms. Wilson “wacky” on Twitter and saying she was “killing the Democrat Party.” His comments came just hours before the soldier’s family and friends gathered in Florida for his funeral.

Trump’s defenders have gone after Rep. Wilson for her hats (apparently with an extreme lack of self-awareness).  She has a lot of them and she wears them with pride.  But her style statements are a distraction.  What’s really bugging Trump and the rest of his minions is that she’s a black woman calling him out.

I doubt the Times will point that out, but it’s been the history of this gang that they don’t tolerate challenges well, especially from people they feel superior to, such as women and minorities.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Reading

Racial Demagoguery — David Remnick in The New Yorker on Trump’s attacks on black athletes.

Every day, and in countless and unexpected ways, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, finds new ways to divide and demoralize his country and undermine the national interest. On Thursday, he ranted from the lectern of the U.N. General Assembly about “Rocket Man” and the possibility of levelling North Korea. Now he has followed with an equally unhinged domestic performance at a rally, on Friday evening, in Huntsville, Alabama, where he set out to make African-American athletes the focus of national contempt.

In the midst of an eighty-minute speech intended to heighten the reëlection prospects of Senator Luther Johnson Strange III, Trump turned his attention to N.F.L. players, including the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and asked a mainly white crowd if “people like yourselves” agreed with his anger at “those people,” players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” Trump continued. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”

“People like yourselves.” “Those people.” “Son of a bitch.” This was the same sort of racial signalling that followed the Fascist and white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is no longer a matter of “dog whistling.” This is a form of racial demagoguery broadcast at the volume of a klaxon. There is no need for Steve Bannon’s behind-the-scenes scriptwriting. Trump, who is desperate to distract his base from his myriad failures of policy, from health care to immigration, is perfectly capable of devising his racist rhetoric all on his own.

In these performances, Trump is making clear his moral priorities. He is infinitely more offended by the sight of a black ballplayer quietly, peacefully protesting racism in the United States than he is by racism itself. Which, at this point, should come as no surprise to any but the willfully obtuse. Trump, who began his real-estate career with a series of discriminatory housing deals in New York City, and his political career with a racist calumny against Barack Obama, has repeatedly defined his Presidency with a rhetoric that signals solidarity to resentful souls who see the Other as the singular cause of their troubles. Trump stokes a bilious disdain for every African-American who dares raise a voice to protest the injustices of this country.

And lest there be any doubt about his intentions or allegiances, Trump tweeted this afternoon, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do.”

In addition to urging the N.F.L.’s owners to fire any politically impertinent players, Trump also disinvited the N.B.A. champions, the Golden State Warriors, from visiting the White House after one of the team’s stars, Stephen Curry, voiced hesitation about meeting with the President.

Twitter was alight with players and others rushing to the support of those on the receiving end of Trump’s barbs.

“Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!” LeBron James said. Many professional athletes tweeted in the same spirit as James, and even the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has hardly been stalwart in the interests of his players, issued a statement calling Trump’s comments “divisive” and showing an “unfortunate lack of respect” for the league and its players. Compared to the N.B.A. commissioner, Adam Silver, who has been consistently anti-racist and supportive of the players’ right to protest, Goodell is a distinctly corporate figure, whose instinct is nearly always to side with the owners. (At least six N.F.L. owners each contributed a million dollars, or more, to Trump’s Inauguration fund, including Woody Johnson, of the Jets, Robert Kraft, of the Patriots, and Daniel Snyder, of the Redskins.)

Trump has experience in professional sports––with boxing, as a casino operator; with football, as an owner. (And if professional wrestling counts, the man is practically a charter member of the W.W.F.) In the eighties, he was the owner of the New Jersey Generals, a team in the ill-fated United States Football League, which played its games in the spring. He was reportedly interested in buying the Buffalo Bills as recently as three years ago.

And yet his sympathy for the players is minimal. Not only does he try to isolate them as ungrateful anthem-defiling millionaires, he also could not care less about their health. No matter how many reports are issued making clear that the sport has left countless players suffering from all manner of neurological diseases, Trump is unimpressed. C.T.E. injuries in football seem to be no more a reality to him than climate change.

At a rally in Lakeville, Florida, during the Presidential campaign, Trump aroused the crowd by insisting that the N.F.L., which has hardly gone to great lengths to protect its players, was “ruining the game” by inflicting penalties on players who, say, hit the quarterback too late. “See, we don’t go by these new and very much softer N.F.L. rules. Concussion? Oh! Oh! ‘Got a little ding in the head—no, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season.’ Our people are tough.”

What Trump is up to with this assault on athletes, particularly prominent black ones, is obvious; it is part of his larger culture war. Divide. Inflame. Confuse. Divert. And rule. He doesn’t care to grapple with complexity of any kind, whether it’s about the environment, or foreign affairs, or race, or the fact that a great American sport may, by its very nature, be irredeemable. Rather than embody any degree of dignity, knowledge, or unifying embrace, Trump is a man of ugliness, and the damage he does, speech after speech, tweet after tweet, deepens like a coastal shelf. Every day, his Presidency takes a toll on our national fabric. How is it possible to argue with the sentiment behind LeBron James’s concise tweet at Trump: “U Bum”? It isn’t.

The Slow Road to Recovery for The Caribbean — Julie Bosman in the New York Times.

First the hurricanes came, bringing rain, winds and ruin to St. Martin, a tiny island in the Caribbean. Then, said Corby George, a 41-year-old taxi driver there, there was a rush of residents leaving the island, possibly never to return.

“Their jobs are no more,” he said.

Two ferocious hurricanes in less than two weeks caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean this month, leaving dozens dead, millions without power or drinking water and countless homes destroyed.

The storms also ripped through the tourism industry in a region unusually dependent on well-heeled visitors, where a thriving network of hotels, souvenir shops, taxis, charter fishing boats and restaurants powers local economies.

In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, cruise ports and airports throughout the Caribbean are closed, beachside bars are flooded and, on many islands, tourists are absent. And the risk of a far longer term ripple effect looms, threatening the region’s ability to rebuild: Without a steady influx of cash from tourists, businesses suffer, employers cut back and local residents lose jobs; workers on especially hurricane-stricken islands could move elsewhere for opportunity, denting the local economy further.

“Right now, the livelihood of tourism on a whole is in a coma,” said Jen Liebsack, 45, an events and sales manager at Zemi Beach House, a luxury hotel in Anguilla, a British overseas territory where about 90 percent of the electricity infrastructure was damaged and the hotel has canceled its bookings through the end of October.

Hillary Bonner, 36, a bartender on St. John on the United States Virgin Islands, said that most of her friends worked in boating or hospitality, and that nearly everything else was staked on the fates of those fields, too. “Without tourism, you don’t need 10 policemen, you need two,” said Ms. Bonner, who has been staying in New York, waiting to be allowed to return to the heavily battered island. “You don’t need three banks, you need one.”

In the Caribbean region, travel and tourism account for a higher share of the gross domestic product than they do in any other region of the world, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, and officials say it is far too soon to know when the industry will fully recover.

At stake are some of the more than 2.3 million travel and tourism-related jobs in the region. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, almost 30 million tourists visited the area in 2016 and spent more than $35 billion. But as officials race to restore power and begin rebuilding basic services, the precise fallout to the tourism industry is uncertain.

Some islands, like St. Kitts, appeared to be barely touched; others, like Barbuda, part of the two-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, were nearly destroyed.

Maria Blackman, a spokeswoman for the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, said that many hotels were closed during the off-season in September anyway, a common time for annual renovations. The cruise ports and airport remain open.

“On Antigua, we opened back up pretty much the next day,” she said.

But in the United States Virgin Islands, the damage was so widespread that visitors were told to cancel any planned trips, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the commissioner of tourism, said.

“We are encouraging travelers to postpone trips to the islands at this time and are sparing no effort to rebuild communities and restore essential services so we can welcome travelers back to our islands in the months ahead,” Ms. Nicholson-Doty said in an email.

For most British Virgin Islands, tourism workers — many of them expatriates from the Caribbean or other parts of the world — the only certainty now is uncertainty.

Trisha Paul, who works as a waitress at Treasure Isle Hotel in the capital of Road Town, said she was unsure what she would do to make a living until tourists return.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Just waiting to get word from the boss as to what is going to happen now. But right now we don’t have any work for waitresses.”

A native of Grenada, she said she fell into the profession largely by chance when she moved to the B.V.I. last year after studying psychology in Cuba. Now she is considering returning home.

“But I’m kind of confused right now between two minds, waiting and watching,” she said. “The hurricane season is still on. I leave here and I go back home, the next hurricane could — bam!”

Robertico Croes, associate director of the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies at the University of Central Florida, said he did not expect that the Caribbean, over all, would lose tourists. Visitors will simply visit those islands that were untouched by the hurricanes and steer clear of those that were damaged, he said.

“I don’t imagine St. John for the next couple of years would be able to do anything with regard to tourism,” he said, noting that the damage was particularly crippling there. “For Puerto Rico, it’s less severe.”

It does not appear that way to residents there, though. Before the hurricanes, which severely damaged the power grid across the entire island, Puerto Rico was already in deep financial distress, impoverished and debt-laden. The island carries $74 billion in debt and declared a form of bankruptcy in May. Its finances are being overseen by a federal control board.

Alfredo Gómez, 42, the longtime owner of El Farol, a food kiosk in the popular beachside area just east of San Juan’s airport, said he had seen slumps over the last 20 years. But he had not seen the roof of his place blow off. That, he said, had left him wondering this time whether it was even worth giving it another go.

“I was tempted to not even come back here to make repairs,” Mr. Gómez said from the rooftop of his restaurant. “What if nobody comes?”

The restaurant was open on Friday making fritters, mostly feeding the employees who had come to clean up. “Tell the people, the tourists, to keep supporting us like they always have,” he said. “All of this area — Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico — lives off tourism. We can try to survive with business from the locals, but it’s with tourists that we live.”

Clarisa Jimenez, the president and chief executive of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, was supposed to be preparing for her industry’s biggest event beginning on Tuesday, its splashy annual convention and gala at the InterContinental San Juan, a luxury resort on a white sand beach.

Instead, she was sifting through the wreckage of her office in San Juan.

“My office was destroyed — I’m surprised the phone rang,” she said on Friday, describing the broken windows, strewn papers and soggy floors around her. The convention was hastily postponed to December. “It’s hard to even guess when things will get back to normal. But tourism is one of the industries that we need to help us overcome.”

High Security — Josh Marshall wants to know why the head of the EPA needs so many bodyguards.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt now has an 18 person, 24/7 security detail. The effort has become so elaborate that the EPA has now had to take agents off actual EPA criminal investigations to focus on protecting Pruitt.

This is offensive and ridiculous.

We had a member of Congress almost murdered a couple of months ago in what was clearly an ideologically motivated attack. People are also very upset about the Trump administration’s atrocious environmental policies. Pruitt is arguably the face of that. There are also very rare but real instances of violence committed by environmental extremists. So I don’t dispute the need for some security. But absent some very clear evidence of a specific, credible and on-going threat, this big of a security effort can only be explained by an attempt to create the impression of a threat for political reasons or the desire to avoid ever coming into contact with peaceful protestors, something we’ve seen throughout the Trump administration.

The Department of Education is paying the US Marshals service $1 million a month to provide extensive security to Secretary Betsy Devos – a move that appears to stem from an aggressive protestor yelling at her earlier this year. According to The Washington Post, the Marshals Service is hiring nearly two dozen people to guard DeVos. In other words, it sounds comparable to Pruitt’s detail, though we don’t know specifics about whether it’s around the clock protection or just how many people guard her at any one time.

According to the Post, before DeVos, the last cabinet secretary to be protected by the Marshals Service was the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly known as the drug czar (The drug czar no longer has cabinet rank). Federal judges and law enforcement officials facing direct and specific threats to their lives generally make due with far less security.

This is a delicate topic. We can’t know the particular threats these people face. Nor should we discount the fact that there is some real risk for prominent public officials during this fractious era in our politics. But given the Trump administration’s broader push to whip up fear of ‘left-wing violence’, the most plausible explanation for what seems like comical levels of security for relatively obscure cabinet secretaries seems to be what I described above: an effort to whip up fear of largely non-existent anti-Trump violence and to be spared the annoyance and mortification of coming into contact with peaceful protestors.

Doonesbury — Defining term.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017