Monday, August 5, 2019

Core Values

According to the New York Times, the two shootings over the weekend that killed 29 people — 20 in El Paso and nine in Dayton, have shaken the nation to its core.

On Sunday, Americans woke up to news of a shooting rampage in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, where a man wearing body armor shot and killed nine people, including his own sister. Hours earlier, a 21-year-old with a rifle entered a Walmart in El Paso and killed 20 people.

In a country that has become nearly numb to men with guns opening fire in schools, at concerts and in churches, the back-to-back bursts of gun violence in less than 24 hours were enough to leave the public stunned and shaken. The shootings ground the 2020 presidential campaign to a halt, reignited a debate on gun control and called into question the increasingly angry words directed at immigrants on the southern border in recent weeks by right-wing pundits and President Trump.

“It’s outrageous,” said Terrion Foster, who works in accounting and lives in Kansas City, Mo., where he was out shopping at a farmer’s market near downtown on Sunday afternoon. “It’s really sad because I feel like you can’t go anywhere and be safe. I’m 50 years old and I didn’t think I’d be alive to see some of the things that are going on today.”

The shootings prompted Republicans, including Mr. Trump, to condemn the gunmen’s actions and offer support to the people of Dayton and El Paso. Democrats urged Congress to take action and pass stricter gun laws. “We have a responsibility to the people we serve to act,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

I would really like to believe that the massacres this weekend will be the final straw.  That finally the NRA and their Republican minions along with the rest of the gun lobbyists realize that enough is enough and something really has to be done to not just deal with the proliferation of weapons that can be purchased legally, but with the mindset that one amendment to the Constitution outweighs all the others.

But if the slaughter of kindergartners in Connecticut and a shooting spree at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and a garlic festival in Gilroy and on and on and on, going back in a year, a decade, and a century didn’t do anything but generate thoughts and prayers and blaming outside agitators like violent video games — which are just as popular in Canada and Australia and Great Britain and Japan but have fewer deaths from guns in a year than we have in a weekend — or nebulous catch-phrases like “mental health” — again, also existing in other places without the same carnage — then why should the headlines and the BREAKING NEWS and the shock and horror result in anything more than what we’ve seen for the last fifty years?

We have already heard and will continue to hear that “now is not the time to talk about gun control,” which is one of of those phrases that is meant to deflect our attention until the next shiny object pops up on Facebook or Instagram and the dead are buried and the debris swept away.  But when someone says that now is not the time, it reveals their core value, which is to say that there is never the time because to do so would mean they truly have to tell the truth: that they view human life as expendable in favor of some mythology that the right to keep and bear arms is the only core value we have, setting aside the rest of those that this idea of a nation were built on: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  They are absolute in their grasp of one amendment to the detriment of all others, and like other fundamentalists, never allow for any other interpretation.  And when you pose the obvious rejoinder — When is the time to talk about gun control? — they will, in some way, shape, or form, tell you Never.

If we are truly shaken to our core, than we can expect to see a massive uprising in this nation the likes we have never seen before and action from our representatives in such a way that would truly change the world we live in.  If we can outlaw child pornography and saying “fuck” on national networks in contravention of the First Amendment; if the Supreme Court can waive the Fourth and Fifth Amendments in the hunt for terrorists; if we can consider the death penalty to be within the limits of the Eighth Amendment, and if citizenship can be questioned in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, then what makes the Second sacrosanct?

As long as our core values make it acceptable to slaughter people in a shopping mall and claim that the uninfringed right to own the tool that did the job is one of those core values as well, the nation will go on being bewildered, and people will still die.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunday Reading

When Hate Came to El Paso — Richard Parker in the New York Times.

EL PASO, Tex. — The older man next to me on the metal bench, dressed so dignified in his peach dress shirt, dark pants and dress shoes, touches me gently on the elbow.

It is Saturday late afternoon, and we are both in front of MacArthur Middle School, where the flags already droop in the desert heat, approaching 100 degrees, at half-mast. Police officers, Red Cross workers and firefighters of all kinds come and go. This little school is where the living come to look for the missing and the dead after a white male from the Dallas suburbs named Patrick Crusius, 21, allegedly came to my hometown to commit the largest massacre of Hispanics in American history. The handwritten sign over the schoolhouse door says it all: “Looking for Family and Friends.”

Behind his glasses, tears welled up in the eyes of my bench mate, Charles Almanzar, 70. Wordlessly, he shows me his phone: There is a picture of two small children, a girl of 2 and a boy of 5. The little boy is in the hospital. The little girl is still missing, the subject of a frantic search by Mr. Almanzar’s brother-in-law. Their mother, Jordan Kay Jamrowski Anchondo, at just 25, is dead, killed by Mr. Crusius, along with at least 19 others, at a Walmart not far from downtown El Paso.

If you want to know what a mass shooting is like in your hometown, it’s like this: text alerts on your phone, a frantic woman on local television begging people to bring water to waiting families, 200 people lining up to give blood in the blistering heat, helicopters thundering overhead, the dead left lying inside the crime scene called “horrific” by the police chief. Those waiting on word of dead and lost stand calm and dignified as strangers pull up with truckloads of that bottled water. It’s also like this: a stab in the heart not to your hometown, but to your people, in my case Latinos. Mr. Crusius specifically came here to my town, to kill my people.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God,” my little sister, Janet, also the child of an American father and a Mexican mother, says to me. “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God.”

I read the manifesto believed to be by Mr. Crusius, though not confirmed by the police, who traveled over 600 miles to kill and wound men, women, old people and children. Cell phone video posted online by victims betrays the dreaded elapse of time as they die: ten shots fired from an AK-47, not in rapid succession but in cunning staccato. First a shot. Then a long pause. Then one after another after another. And then there is the shout in Spanish: “Hay, no!”

“Oh, no!” the man screams.

“This attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the manifesto reads, before eerily and coolly describing the killer’s preferences of weapons and ammunition, politics, economics and racist philosophy. His idea is devastatingly simple: Killing Hispanics will stop immigrants from coming and drive citizens to leave. “I am simply defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement brought on by invasion.”

Of course, Latinos arrived in Texas from Mexico in 1690, when it was all New Spain. My people settled the harsh brush country of south Texas, fought Comanches and Apaches and brought Christianity to America. My mother’s uncle, a Mexican citizen, fought in the Navy in World War II and perished. My Mexican grandfather came to Texas as an orphan, lived in Laredo and returned to Mexico. My Arkansan father, a soldier, met my mother in Monterrey and we settled way out here in the deserts of West Texas in 1970. We invaded nothing; we were already here long before Mr. Crusius was even conceived.

But he is just another passing figure in the moment of modern American violence that we all are living through: the predictable weakness of Republican politicians in the face of the gun lobby amid the ready availability of weapons of war. The other day, I perused a pawnshop, bought a fine fly rod but noticed that the only guns in vast supply were AR-15s, the kissing cousin of our favored weapon of war, the M-16.

Most significantly though, the El Paso massacre — and that’s what it is, it is not a mass shooting but a premeditated massacre — was the inevitable byproduct of the Trump era’s anti-immigrant, and anti-Latino invective, which with its pervasive, vile racism has poisoned our nation.

El Paso-Juarez is a big, bustling desert city of over two million, straddling the United States and Mexico. My hometown has virtually zero modern history of ethnic strife; El Paso alone is over 80 percent Hispanic. We switch from English to Spanish without skipping a beat and we are fine with that. But the Trump era is not.

It has brought us walls, internment camps and children in cages. The massacre is the outcome I have feared for years now, and I can’t help but feel that its genesis lies with the president of the United States.

To put all of this into perspective, there have been other massacres of Latinos in American history. The worst was the notorious Porvenir massacre, 101 years ago, in what is now a vanished border town. Texas Rangers descended on the town in the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 1918, led off 15 Hispanic men and boys and executed them. The remaining inhabitants did exactly what Saturday’s shooter wanted: They fled to Chihuahua.

Back at MacArthur Middle School, Mr. Almanzar tucks away his phone. A Jehovah’s Witness, he had been out knocking on doors when the horror struck. Many asked him how God would allow this, and he gently responds by showing me Job 34:10, which in part reads: “Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness.” No, we both agreed, switching from English to Spanish. God did not do this.

We did. In allowing those weapons of war on our streets. In giving credence to sociopathic racists, only one of whom will be in jail tonight. In poisoning our body politic with the occupant of the White House. On the horizon, storm clouds build over the desert mesas to weep upon this desert city. And still the people keep coming, desperately bringing water to those here, quietly searching for the dead.

Josh Marshall on the interplay of manifestos and right-wing dialogue.

Authorities are still sorting out the background of the gunman in this horrific far right terror attack in El Paso, Texas. But he appears to have left a “manifesto” and a lengthy social media trail. Assuming these identifications are correct, they portray a sadly familiar “great replacement” theory white supremacist radical.

What is particularly notable in this case is the intermingling and co-evolution of these manifestos with more mainstream righting media dialog.

There’s abundant evidence the shooter is a big fan of President Trump and certainly of his worldview. And yet the manifesto includes a sort of preemptive rebuttal of any claims that he is a Trump supporter or that Trump influenced. He predicts that “the media” will identify him as a white supremacist and blame President Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric for radicalizing him and provoking the attack. Such claims would be “fake news” and such claims will indeed only prove that “the media” is “fake news.

After these horrors, we expect rightwing talking heads to attack any suggestion that these attacks might be related to the President’s politics and rhetoric. But here the assailant is doing so himself in advance. Indeed he denies Trump’s influence by using Trump’s signature attack lines. For someone who specifically denies Trump radicalized him, he’s very focused protecting the President. He doth protest rather too much.

The gaslighting is actually baked into the attack itself. He wants to be both the assailant and part of the post massacre spin and pro-Trump defense.

Baltimore Responds — Osita Nwanevu in The New Yorker.

Not long after President Trump issued his first tweets about Representative Elijah Cummings, on Saturday—Cummings’s Baltimore-area district, Trump wrote, is a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess”—the staff at Chase Street Accessories & Engraving, in the downtown Baltimore neighborhood of Mount Vernon, fired up a laser engraver for a one-off piece of merchandise: a mug printed with an outline of the city and the words “I LOVE MY DISGUSTING RODENT AND RAT INFESTED MESS.”

“It was really just for fun,” Robbie Marcouillier, the shop’s manager, told me on Monday. “We had no intention or plan of really doing anything other than making us happy.” But word about the mug spread quickly.

“I was actually at a community event, and I had people coming to my table, and they’re asking me, ‘Are you the disgusted people? We saw you on Reddit!’ ” he said. “It was, like, Wow, this is something people really didn’t like, having their home insulted like this.”

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun was working on its own soon-to-be-viral response to Trump’s comments. “While we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner,” an editorial posted that evening read, “we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are ‘good people’ among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.”

On Monday, I spoke to the editorial’s author, Peter Jensen, who has worked at the Sun for more than three decades. “I never in my life believed I’d be writing an editorial that describes the President of the United States as a rat,” Jensen told me. “That’s just sort of something that one doesn’t anticipate. And yet, there are so many people who apparently felt that needed to be said—who feel much better about themselves or about the country today because it was just said out loud.”

In the editorial, Jensen also argued that Trump’s attack on Cummings returned “to an old standby of attacking an African American lawmaker from a majority black district on the most emotional and bigoted of arguments.” Jensen said, “Naturally he fell back on the place being ‘unfit for human habitation,’ ‘devastated,’ ‘rat-filled’ and all the other terminology he knew. I mean, it’s just so obvious that I think even his supporters acknowledge this is a pattern of behavior.”

As the editorial acknowledged, there are parts of Baltimore that are genuinely and seriously grappling with crime and poverty. John Bullock, a professor of political science at Towson University, in Maryland; a Baltimore city councilman; and the head of the council’s Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, is intimately familiar with the parts of the city that are struggling the most and the changes that have reshaped it.

“Sometimes we use the term ‘rust belt’ when we look at cities that have gone through deindustrialization—the loss of manufacturing jobs and the poverty and population loss,” he told me. “Baltimore’s clearly an example of that. It’s also been exacerbated by drug addiction that has come along with it. So, yes, we do have significant issues of crime and public safety. My district is West Baltimore and Southwest Baltimore—and we do have some of the highest rates of folks who are returning home from prison, folks who are dealing with addiction, of gun crime, unemployment, all of those things.”

Twenty-two per cent of Baltimore residents live in poverty, a rate well above the national average, of about thirteen per cent. In 2017, Baltimore had the highest homicide rate of any major American city, with a rate of fifty-six murders per a hundred thousand people. Jill Carter, a state senator who represents parts of West Baltimore, emphasizes the role that racism has played in creating some of the problems facing the city. “Wherever you see places especially that are not just largely minority but largely African-American, you have to always look at the roots of the problem,” she said, “and the roots of the problem stem from slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and ongoing discrimination and inequity in the lives of African-Americans in America and in places like Baltimore City.”

The disparities between Baltimore’s black and white residents are made plain in basic statistics. The median income of white households in Baltimore is around seventy thousand dollars a figure higher than the white national median, of sixty-two thousand dollars. Black households have a median income of less than thirty-seven thousand dollars, a figure just below the black national median, of about thirty-eight thousand dollars. “Now that Trump has highlighted some of these issues,” Carter said, “I think it’s incumbent upon him and other people of good will to figure out what we’re going to do now to make it better, as opposed to just casting aspersions on the congressman who happens to be investigating him.”

Dutch Village, in North Baltimore, is one of several apartment complexes in the Baltimore area owned by the family real-estate firm of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser. In 2017, Alec MacGillis, of ProPublica, reported on shoddy construction, mice droppings, and sickening mold at a number of Kushner-owned Baltimore properties, including Dutch Village. The complex, which resembles a Dutch village about as closely as Trump resembles a statesman, consists of more than five hundred squat, identical townhomes. On Monday afternoon, Wendy Hosear was sitting outside the complex, braiding her hair. She grew up in West Baltimore and had lived in Dutch Village for about a year. I asked her what she made of Trump’s comments about Baltimore and her former community.

“Personally, I don’t see the problem in what he said, because he’s right,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out what all the money they send to him’s going to, because West Baltimore looks crazy! West Baltimore is so dirty—and it’s not like he was saying it to be disrespectful. He was telling the truth. And anybody who lives in Baltimore knows it’s the truth. That’s one of those ‘it hurts because it’s the truth’ type of things.”

“I lived in West Baltimore,” she continued. “I know what it’s like over there—the killing, the dirt, everything. The air is different over there. Just coming off the highway—police sirens.”

Hosear’s brother, Deyonta’ Hosear, came outside, and I mentioned the charge that Trump homes in on black figures and largely black cities—first Chicago, now Baltimore—when he talks about dysfunction and decay.

“Black people make a stronger statement,” Deyonta’ said, shrugging. “Especially when you talk about the struggle that black people go through compared to white-people struggles.” He went on, “You don’t see people on white social media always posting their friends that die. You don’t see them posting their relatives that are dead all the time. They aren’t struggling all the time like that.”

“Trump was trying to come for Elijah Cummings,” Wendy said. “I’m completely understanding everything Trump’s saying! They’re sending them so much money to help the communities in his part of the town or whatever—where is that money going to? Because I don’t see it going nowhere in West Baltimore. I don’t see no difference in West Baltimore. It’s been that way for a minute.”

Doonesbury — On the job.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Friday, August 2, 2019

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Democrats Debate Round 2 Second Night

I saw snippets, but I’ll take a spin around the pundit’s playpen and see what I come up with.

So far it seems that Cory Booker redeemed himself, as did Julian Castro, and Joe Biden surprised some chin-strokers by actually showing some spryness.  I’ll dig in deeper and update as I get into the weeds (and worry about mixing metaphors later, when I’ve had some more coffee).

Okay, after consulting the tea-leaves and coffee grounds, the consensus seems to be that Joe Biden didn’t do any harm to himself but didn’t make a huge leap, which is about all you can hope for when the field is so crowded, and that it’s high time for the folks drawing 1% in the polls make other plans or suck up to the eventual nominee for a cabinet position or run for the Senate, especially in states where the GOP is facing a tough re-elect such as Colorado (hi, John Hickenlooper).

I did watch the first few minutes with the WWE-style introductions and the color guard parade complete with the Pledge of Allegiance.  (What, no jet flyover?)  That was to shore up any questions about Democrats being patriotic. To run that idea into the ground, Tulsi Gabbard ran an ad during the first commercial break where she recited the Pledge of Allegiance in her military uniform.  Okay, we get it.  The question is, why bother?  We know that Trump and the Republican minions will call them traitors anyway.

I get it that this is all a ritual that we’re going through and it’s fun to mock the crowd.  But this is a very strange way to select someone to take out an existential threat to our nation, and doing it like an event in Las Vegas only heightens the triteness.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Last Time I Saw Pecos

Eighteen years ago today I left Albuquerque to move to Miami. It was me, Sam, the Pontiac, and my philodendron. All the rest was on the moving van. We left at 6:30 p.m., made it to Pecos, Texas, by midnight, and spent the whole next day driving across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, finally crossing the Florida border after midnight, August 2 (I had vowed I would not stop in either Mississippi or Alabama). We arrived in Miami at the home of Bob and Ken 48 hours after leaving Albuquerque. Sam’s gone, but I still have the Pontiac and the philodendron.

The afternoon of July 31, 2001, was the last time I saw Allen until 2013. It was also the inspiration for my play “Last Exit.”

Democrats Debate Round 2 First Night

Owing to the fact that I was asleep by 7:30 pm EDT, I missed it.  So I will have to catch up and rely on the punditocracy for their insight.

Did you watch?  Who won?  Who lost?  Who will become an answer on “Jeopardy” next year, and who will end up in the next Democratic president’s cabinet, assuming we still have a functioning democracy after 2020?

Here’s a sum-up by Josh Marshall:

On balance I thought this was a pretty productive, good debate for the simple reason that a series of central debates in the Democratic party and this campaign were joined clearly, in a generally well argued and illuminating way. Former Rep. John Delaney was clearly the odd man out on the stage (possibly with Gov. Bullock a runner up). He frequently seemed like he was in a time warp back to the 1990s. But he provided an effective foil to Warren and Sanders; he even leveled some reasonable critiques. In so doing he managed to garner wildly more time on air than his non-candidacy possibly merits. But I thought it was good because you had a series of set piece exchanges which really captured the broader debate in a clear and illuminating way.

On balance, I would say Warren was the big winner of the evening. I continue to think and worry that her embrace of Medicare for All, with a deep clarity about the prohibition of private insurance, could be a major electoral liability if she becomes the nominee. But to me she had a clarity and energy that owned the stage. She had directness, moments of memorable humor and compelling explanation. I didn’t think she did as well in the first debate as some others did. In this case I think she had a very strong night.

Mayor Pete made a good point:

“It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say,” Buttigieg said at one point. “It’s true that if we embrace a far-left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.”

Whoever it is, he/she/they/them will be running against the most dangerous and racist occupant of the office since Andrew Jackson.  All the policies and ideas are fine for discussion, but Job 1 is getting that stain on democracy and civilization out of office.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Monday, July 29, 2019

How To Handle A Racist

The Baltimore Sun hits back, and how.

In case anyone missed it, the president of the United States had some choice words to describe Maryland’s 7th congressional district on Saturday morning. Here are the key phrases: “no human being would want to live there,” it is a “very dangerous & filthy place,” “Worst in the USA” and, our personal favorite: It is a “rat and rodent infested mess.” He wasn’t really speaking of the 7th as a whole. He failed to mention Ellicott City, for example, or Baldwin or Monkton or Prettyboy, all of which are contained in the sprawling yet oddly-shaped district that runs from western Howard County to southern Harford County. No, Donald Trump’s wrath was directed at Baltimore and specifically at Rep. Elijah Cummings, the 68-year-old son of a former South Carolina sharecropper who has represented the district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996.

It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream. President Trump bad-mouthed Baltimore in order to make a point that the border camps are “clean, efficient & well run,” which, of course, they are not — unless you are fine with all the overcrowding, squalor, cages and deprivation to be found in what the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector-general recently called “a ticking time bomb.”

In pointing to the 7th, the president wasn’t hoping his supporters would recognize landmarks like Johns Hopkins Hospital, perhaps the nation’s leading medical center. He wasn’t conjuring images of the U.S. Social Security Administration, where they write the checks that so many retired and disabled Americans depend upon. It wasn’t about the beauty of the Inner Harbor or the proud history of Fort McHenry. And it surely wasn’t about the economic standing of a district where the median income is actually above the national average. No, he was returning to an old standby of attacking an African American lawmaker from a majority black district on the most emotional and bigoted of arguments. It was only surprising that there wasn’t room for a few classic phrases like “you people” or “welfare queens” or “crime-ridden ghettos” or a suggestion that the congressman “go back” to where he came from.

This is a president who will happily debase himself at the slightest provocation. And given Mr. Cummings’ criticisms of U.S. border policy, the various investigations he has launched as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, his willingness to call Mr. Trump a racist for his recent attacks on the freshmen congresswomen, and the fact that “Fox & Friends” had recently aired a segment critical of the city, slamming Baltimore must have been irresistible in a Pavlovian way. Fox News rang the bell, the president salivated and his thumbs moved across his cell phone into action.

As heartening as it has been to witness public figures rise to Charm City’s defense on Saturday, from native daughter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, we would above all remind Mr. Trump that the 7th District, Baltimore included, is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing. The White House has far more power to effect change in this city, for good or ill, than any single member of Congress including Mr. Cummings. If there are problems here, rodents included, they are as much his responsibility as anyone’s, perhaps more because he holds the most powerful office in the land.

Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.

Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Sunday, July 28, 2019