Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, December 3, 2016 9:54 pm

Knowing fascism when you see it; or, If the jackboot fits — Part 2

Eighth in a series

First installment
Second installment
Third installment
Fourth installment
Fifth installment
Sixth installment
Seventh installment

When we left off last, we had just reviewed the question of whether, by Mussolini’s definition, the U.S. is a fascist system. I concluded that it isn’t, but I also thought Mussolini’s perspective on what fascism was wasn’t necessarily the only one with which we should concern ourselves. Another important perspective to consider is an essay written more than 20 years ago by the Italian postmodern novelist and critic Umberto Eco, perhaps best known for the novel “The Name of the Rose.” Eco had been active in the Resistance as a child during World War II and was there for the liberation of Italy by the Americans. In 1995, Eco wrote an essay for The New York Review of Books in which he posited the characteristics of what he called Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. Of them he writes, “These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” (emphasis added) In other words, as few as one of these features could lead to fascism.

I’ll list his 14 features, and we’ll talk about each in terms of whether and how it applies to the U.S.

1.The Cult of Tradition: Eco elaborates:

In the Mediterranean basin, people of different religions (most of them indulgently accepted by the Roman Pantheon) started dreaming of a revelation received at the dawn of human history. This revelation, according to the traditionalist mystique, had remained for a long time concealed under the veil of forgotten languages—in Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the Celtic runes, in the scrolls of the little known religions of Asia.

This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice”; such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a silver of wisdom, and whenever they seem to say different or incompatible things it is only because all are alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth has been already spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

One can argue that this applies to the U.S. The country’s founding documents — primarily the Federalist papers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — often are treated by Americans as a revelation. And, yes, they’re sometimes contradictory, most obviously in the original sin of this country, combining aspirations toward freedom with institutionalization of slavery (and native genocide, and denial of rights to most women). And, yes, to some Americans — perhaps most notably the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia — truth already has been spelled out once and for all. Other interpretations, even — indeed, perhaps, particularly — in the light of new historical and scientific discoveries, are irrelevant.

Do all Americans think this way? Of course not. But many do, and some of them hold or are about to hold real power.

2) The rejection of modernism. Eco notes that while Nazi Germany was proud of its scientific, technological and industrial advances, its culture was a much more ancient strain of Blut und Boden (blood and earth) and sees the Enlightenment as “the beginning of modern depravity.” Similarly, much of the U.S., including many now in power, have rejected efforts by the country to cash checks the country wrote to itself in 1776 and 1787, and while some of the conservative movement’s opposition to, say, the notion of global warming is driven purely by economic gain and political convenience, a nontrivial part is based on the absolute rejection of science, or, as Eco describes it, irrationalism.

3) Embrace of action for action’s sake and denigrating thought and reflection. Action is seen as beautiful in itself, particularly when undertaken without prior reflection and even when reflection might give us an edge on our adversaries. This trend is exemplified, in Trump’s embrace of torture even though professional interrogators find it generally unproductive and perhaps even leading to false information. Eco writes:

Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.”

The U.S. conservative movement has been anti-intellectual for at least the past 50 years. Today, as I write, the current target on Twitter is #liberalelites. (Some people who value thought and reflection are embracing that hashtag while posting such things in response as, “If expecting that my POTUS [president of the United States] is better-educated and better-informed than me makes me #liberalelite, so fucking be it.”

4) Rejection of analytical criticism. Remember in Item 1 when Eco said that a fascist culture must not just incorporate things from different sources but also tolerate contradictions? The problem this creates, of course, is that analytical criticism exposes and highlights contradictions. As Eco puts it:

The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

This characteristic might help explain a phenomenon discovered in recent years by researchers: When people believe something false and are exposed to correct information that exposes that falsity, they often cling to the false belief even more tightly:

Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. …

Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

Sound like the U.S. to you? Sounds like it to me.

5) Fear of difference: 

Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

Slavery is often described as America’s original sin, but racism underlay slavery and made it possible, as Ta-Nehisi Coates and others have pointed out. Every fascist movement — indeed, every American populist movement — sooner or later (and usually sooner) advances and grows by exploiting fear of The Other. The presidental campaign just past differed from other recent campaigns only the explicitness of Trump and followers of his such as Steve Bannon.

6) Appeal to a frustrated middle class:

Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration. That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups. In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

As I’ve noted before, polling data strongly suggests that racial animus was the primary driver of political support for Trump (see characteristic 5 above) and also shows that enough affluent people supported him to suggest that economic frustration also was not a main driver. Yes, there is some frustration, and it does have real causes — real wages haven’t grown, for example, and although nominal unemployment is now under 5 percent, demand for labor still hasn’t risen enough to boost labor-force participation to pre-recession levels. But the American conservative movement opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, has opposed periodic reauthorizations of the act since, and as noted in the second installment of this series, it has fought to keep the very young, the very old, recently naturalized citizens and especially minorities from voting. So, yes, America, this is you.

7) Obsession with a plot:

To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country. This is the origin of nationalism. Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies. Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia. But the plot must also come from the inside: Jews are usually the best target because they have the advantage of being at the same time inside and outside. In the US, a prominent instance of the plot obsession is to be found in Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, but, as we have recently seen, there are many others.

Again, Eco wrote in 1995; more recently, Trump and other prominent Republicans including white nationalists have made targets out of not only Jews, but also African Americans, Mexicans, immigrants generally, and particularly Muslims.

8) The followers must feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies:

When I was a boy I was taught to think of Englishmen as the five-meal people. They ate more frequently than the poor but sober Italians. Jews are rich and help each other through a secret web of mutual assistance. However, the followers must be convinced that they can overwhelm the enemies. Thus, by a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak. [Remember, as noted in characteristic 1, contradictions are embraced.] Fascist governments are condemned to lose wars because they are constitutionally incapable of objectively evaluating the force of the enemy.

Yep, that’s us, and I worry that Trump and his “brain trust” to date are incapable of objectively evaluating any enemy, be it ISIS or climate change.

9) Life is permanent warfare:

For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle. Thus pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. It is bad because life is permanent warfare. This, however, brings about an Armageddon complex. Since enemies have to be defeated, there must be a final battle, after which the movement will have control of the world. But such a “final solution” implies a further era of peace, a Golden Age, which contradicts the principle of permanent war. No fascist leader has ever succeeded in solving this predicament.

By one calculation, the U.S. has been “at war” for 233 of the 240 years of its history. Most Americans might disagree with that assessment, either through ignorance or because they do not accept certain types or scales of military operations as “war.” (We’re flying air combat missions in Syria, now, for example, but are we at war in Syria now? Certainly the people on the other end of our bombs would say so.) What is true, however, is that the Framers’ fears of a standing army have been ignored since at least the Civil War, and inarguably since World War II, and that the military-industrial complex against which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us in his 1961 farewell address is more powerful than ever. Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the use of nuclear weapons will make all Americans — indeed, all the world — less safe, a fact voters chose to ignore.

10) Popular elitism:

Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology, insofar as it is fundamentally aristocratic, and aristocratic and militaristic elitism cruelly implies contempt for the weak. Ur-Fascism can only advocate a popular elitism. Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are the best among the citizens, every citizen can (or ought to) become a member of the party. But there cannot be patricians without plebeians. In fact, the Leader, knowing that his power was not delegated to him democratically but was conquered by force, also knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler. Since the group is hierarchically organized (according to a military model), every subordinate leader despises his own underlings, and each of them despises his inferiors. This reinforces the sense of mass elitism.

Welp, the U.S. scores here not only in popular elitism but also in aristocratic elitism, inasmuch as modern Republicans have indeed evinced contempt for the weak, not only in attitude but also in policy. To want to repeal Obamacare — even some Republicans are now admitting that “replace” is a joke — means being OK with the fact that millions of Americans will once again be uninsured and that, as a result, thousands of them will die prematurely.

11) A cult of the hero, inextricably bound with a cult of death:

In such a perspective everybody is educated to become a hero. In every mythology the hero is an exceptional being, but in Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death. It is not by chance that a motto of the Falangists was Viva la Muerte (in English it should be translated as “Long Live Death!”). In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist hero craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life. The Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death.

Some on the left would argue that Memorial Day alone is a U.S. practice that ties in with this characteristic of fascism. I think that’s a reach and that this characteristic has not been a characteristic of America, by and large. And I can’t point to anything Trump has said or promised to do that qualifies. But, again, Trump’s remarks about nuclear weapons should chill us.

12) A culture of machismo:

Since both permanent war and heroism are difficult games to play, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters. This is the origin of machismo (which implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality). Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons—doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.

*U.S. raises hand* I mean, just Google “war on women.” Moreover, Trump has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that established a constitutional right to an abortion for women. He has been less aggressive in challenging LGBTQ rights, calling the constitutionlity of same-sex marriage “settled law,” but there’s no reason he couldn’t appoint justices who would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case, and little reason to suspect that he wouldn’t.

13) Selective populism:

Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say. In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view—one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. One of the first sentences uttered by Mussolini in the Italian parliament was “I could have transformed this deaf and gloomy place into a bivouac for my maniples”—“maniples” being a subdivision of the traditional Roman legion. As a matter of fact, he immediately found better housing for his maniples, but a little later he liquidated the parliament. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.

Oh, hi! We like to talk a good game about the American public and its power in elections, but making that argument means confronting at least two significant problems: 1) About half of Americans don’t take part, and 2) One major party has made disenfranchisement the central part of its plan for survival; 3) Gerrymandering, particularly by the GOP, has been perfected to the point at which voters do not now select their representatives, but representatives select their constituents. Thus it has come to pass, as Eco said, that “citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People.”

Moreover, we’ve had throw-the-bums-out congressional elections in recent years in 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2014, benefitting both major parties. But Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” was the simplest, clearest call of 2016, and already he is populating his cabinet (as noted in the fifth installment of this series) with some of the very alligators he campaigned against.

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak:

Newspeak was invented by Orwell, in 1984, as the official language of Ingsoc, English Socialism. But elements of Ur-Fascism are common to different forms of dictatorship. All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning. But we must be ready to identify other kinds of Newspeak, even if they take the apparently innocent form of a popular talk show.

“You’re fired!”, anyone?

So, by my count, we’re 14-for-14 on fascism characteristics as identified by Eco, which makes some of his closing words even more important:

We must keep alert, so that the sense of these words will not be forgotten again. Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier, for us, if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Black Shirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: “I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.” Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

* * *

I also wanted to see how the U.S. stacks up against Lawrence Britt’s “14 Characteristics of Fascism,” published in the Spring 2003 edition of Free Inquiry magazine — after 9/11 and as the U.S. was invading Iraq. Britt, a political scientist, compared Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile), and found 14 traits those regimes had in common. They are:

  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. 
  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc. 
  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc. 
  4. Supremacy of the Military
    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. 
  5. Rampant Sexism
    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy. 
  6. Controlled Mass Media
    Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common. 
  7. Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses. 
  8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions. 
  9. Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. 
  10. Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed . 
  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts. 
  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations. 
  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders. 
  14. Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections

As you can see, there’s some overlap with Eco’s list, but that’s not really important. What’s important is how many of these conditions obtained in the U.S. even before Donald Trump’s election.

Nos. 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 were pervasive even before 9/11. Since then, Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 13, and 14 have come into play or grown more powerful. Once again, we’re 14-for-14, and slated to become even more of a fascist state once Trump and his cronies assume power in January.

Which, finally, leaves us the question of what to do about it. I’ll address that next, in (whew) the final installment of this series.

 

Sunday, November 27, 2016 2:05 pm

You go to war with the president-elect you have

Fourth in a series (first installment, second installment, third installment)

So we’re left not only with an illegitimate president-elect, but also, by temperament, background and training, the least qualified man ever to win, or “win,” the office.  He simply doesn’t know things a president ought to know. Worse, he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that he doesn’t know them; he is proudly, aggressively ignorant and incurious, Idiot America incarnate.

He understands nothing about the economy. His tax plan would raise taxes on many middle-income Americans, including a majority of single-parent households and most married-couple households with three or more children,  while giving breaks averaging $317,000 to millionaires. His plan also will add more than $7 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

He understands nothing about foreign relations, particularly the crucial role of NATO in maintaining peace since World War II.

He knew nothing about the nuclear triad, something I read about in seventh grade. And his other comments on the subject of nuclear weapons — asking why we have nukes if we can’t use them, suggesting that nuclear proliferation is not something to worry about — should have been disqualifying.

He had telephone conversations with foreign officials on unsecured phone lines in Trump Tower without having been briefed by the State Department.

He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care anything about global warming, a position that puts him at odds not only with most climate scientists but also with most of the world’s leaders.

He has invited with open arms into American discourse a way of thinking and of treating others that we spent 425,000 American lives to purge, and 50 million lives worldwide, within the lifetimes of many now still living.

His business affairs appear to conflict, at times sharply, with the nation’s best interests, if not with statutory law and the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. His involvement with Russia includes both loans from Russian banks and Russian payments to his de facto campaign manager, Paul Manafort. His overall indebtedness, including loans from the state-owned Bank of China, totals more than $650 million, twice what he reported earlier on his federal disclosure form.

Trump displays a smug contempt for the very idea of constitutional law, as legal scholar Garrett Epps summarizes:

Donald Trump ran on a platform of relentless, thoroughgoing rejection of the Constitution itself, and its underlying principle of democratic self-government and individual rights. True, he never endorsed quartering of troops in private homes in time of peace, but aside from that there is hardly a provision of the Bill of Rights or later amendments he did not explicitly promise to override, from First Amendment freedom of the press and of religion to Fourth Amendment freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” to Sixth Amendment right to counsel to Fourteenth Amendment birthright citizenship and Equal Protection and Fifteenth Amendment voting rights.

And, finally, he sees and treats other people, whether employees, business partners, customers, or voters, purely as marks to be grifted.

So this is the person who is going to become our 45th president. Whether he will try to do everything he says, no one knows: Trump has said he likes being unpredictable, but how does that manifest? He “can be swayed by the last person he talked to.”

But as Ronald Reagan regularly said, people are policy, meaning that the people Trump is appointing to various positions in his administration are likely to have a big influence on policy, given Trump’s incurious approach to it. That prospect ought to keep you up nights, and I’ll talk more about that in the next installment.

Thursday, November 24, 2016 12:34 am

The presidential election was stolen

Second in a series (first installment here)

One way or another, and maybe in more ways than one, the 2016 U.S. presidential election was stolen. There are several ways it could have happened — not did happen, but could have happened — so let’s look at them first.

We’ll start with FBI director James Comey’s late-October announcement that investigators were examining “additional evidence concerning Clinton’s use of a private email server.” And if we’re going to start there, we need to look at the context of that issue.

Yes, it was a dumb goddamned thing to do for Clinton to have used a private email server for government business. But some of her predecessors had done the same, including Colin Powell under President George W. Bush. And the W. Bush White House ran tens of millions of emails through a private server at the Republican National Committee without many complaints from the media or any complaints from Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans conducted multiple congressional investigations in hopes of finding evidence of a crime, as did the FBI itself. And what did they all come up with? Bupkus.

Still, Comey’s 11th-hour announcement did affect Clinton’s standing in the polls:

An ABC/Washington Post tracking survey released Sunday [Oct. 30], conducted both before and after Comey’s letter was made public on Friday, found that about one-third of likely voters, including 7 percent of Clinton supporters, said the new e-mail revelations made them less likely to support the former secretary of state.

The poll found that Clinton received support from 46 percent of likely voters to Trump’s 45 percent, suggesting the race is a toss-up. That contrasts with the 12-point advantage that Clinton held in the same poll a week ago.

And what Comey did wasn’t just damaging, it was also wrong. He caught hell from some of his Justice Department colleagues for having spoken out so close to the election on a matter likely to influence it (such matters usually aren’t supposed to be discussed by federal investigators or prosecutors within 60 days of an election):

“I got a lot of respect for Jim Comey, but I don’t understand this idea of dropping this bombshell which could be a big dud,” said former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, a veteran of politically sensitive investigations. “Doing it in the last week or 10 days of a presidential election without more information, I don’t think that he should because how does it inform a voter? It just invites speculation … I would question the timing of it. It’s not going to get done in a week.”

Nick Akerman, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, was more critical: “Director Comey acted totally inappropriately. He had no business writing to Congress about supposed new emails that neither he nor anyone in the FBI has ever reviewed.”

“It is not the function of the FBI director to be making public pronouncements about an investigation, never mind about an investigation based on evidence that he acknowledges may not be significant,” Akerman added. “The job of the FBI is simply to investigate and to provide the results of its investigation to the prosecutorial arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. His job is not to give a running commentary about any investigation or his opinion about any investigation. This is particularly egregious since Secretary Clinton has no way to respond to what amounts to nebulous and speculative innuendo.”

That was also a theme of a former Justice Department and former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller.

“The Justice Department’s longstanding practice is don’t do anything seen as trying to influence an election. That’s usually interpreted as 60 days, let alone 11. … It’s completely unfair to Secretary Clinton and it’s really unfair to the voters. There’s no reason he had to send this letter,” Miller told POLITICO.

So what Comey did was wrong and damaged Clinton’s chances. Was what he did solely responsible for her Electoral College loss? I won’t say that because I don’t think anybody has proved it, and I doubt anyone can. What I am confident in saying is that it eroded Clinton’s lead significantly, possibly enough to have contributed to some swing-state losses and enough to have hurt some downballot Democrats’ chances as well.

What else hurt Clinton, or might have? For the first time, we have credible evidence that Russia tried to interfere with the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. The most spectacular accusation is that Russia hacked enough voting machines to give Trump the win, and let me say right up front that I don’t necessarily buy it. I am, for the moment and pending further research, agnostic as to whether the Russians hacked any voting machines and/or vote-counting systems at all, let alone enough in swing states to tip the election to Donald Trump in the Electoral College. I just don’t know. But what do we know?

We’ve known since at least as far back as my work on “Black Box Voting: Ballot-Tampering in the 21st Century” more than a decade ago that electronic voting machines simply are not secure. We know that hackers breached voter-registration databases in Illinois and Arizona this summer, and that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, claimed before the election that based on briefings she and other congresscritters had received, Russia was trying to influence the outcome of the election. And we know, from the Russians themselves, that Trump’s folks and Putin’s folks, if not the principals themselves, were in contact during the campaign, which should raise Logan Act red flags irrespective of questions about hacking.

There were things about the differences between vote totals and exit polls — more on those in a second — that simply weren’t explainable by random chance, whether you think Russians were involved or not. Journalist Bill Palmer summarizes them pretty well here. As he says, they don’t conclusively prove that the election was rigged, but if the polling really was simply off, it should have been off in a different way.

And we also know, thanks to journalist Greg Palast (and more about him below) that electronic voting machines in Ohio had an audit security feature — which a Republican judge allowed Republican state election officials to turn off for the Nov. 8 election. That still blows my mind: A judge basically issued an order making it possible for machines to be hacked without detection.

And there are other discrepancies. A group of prominent computer scientists affiliated with the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society is pressing Clinton to seek a recount in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which went to Trump, and Michigan, where votes are still being counted and it’s too close to call. Flipping those three states to Clinton would give her the White House. Again, the experts are not claiming they have proof of fraud, but they have found what they consider statistically suspicious differences in voting patterns in areas with electronic touch-screen machines compared with areas with other forms of vote tabulation. As I wrote this tonight, Jill Stein, former Green Party candidate for president, was pressing for a recount in those three states.

Now, about exit polling: The exit polls failed to match up with vote tallies in a number of key states, particularly Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, any three of which — or, with Florida, any two — would have swung the Electoral College to Clinton. Exit polling is generally more accurate than pre-election polling, for obvious reasons. In pre-election polling you’re asking people to tell you what they’re going to do, which they might not get around to doing or might change their mind on, or what-have-you. In exit polling, you’re asking people what they actually did, right after they did it. Exit polling generally is so reliable that the U.S. has used it as a gauge of voting integrity in other countries around the world. It could be wrong here, but its record here and in other countries makes that less likely. That said, Election Day-only exit polling fails to account for early voting in states that have it, and, like all election polling, is only as strong as its computer models.

So although I am suspicious that the vote totals may have been monkeyed with by agents foreign and/or domestic, I grant that all the evidence — and there is a lot — is circumstantial, not directly probative. Therefore, as I said, I remain agnostic on that point, subject to the discovery of new information one way or the other.

So why am I stating as a fact that the election was stolen? Because while there’s some doubt about the shenanigans I’ve listed above, I am much more certain about another effort: Republican officials conspired to purge the voter rolls of a number of states in ways that overwhelmingly affected people likely to vote Democratic.

Journalist Greg Palast, whom I mentioned above, first documented in Chapter 1 of the first (2004) edition of his book “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” how this approach was used in the run-up to the 2000 election to kick enough minority and other likely Democratic voters off the Florida voter rolls improperly — and I’ll explain “improperly” in a second — to have swung the vote totals there, and thus the 2000 election, to George W. Bush.

I say “improperly” for this reason. The purging was supposed to remove from the rolls primarily convicted felons who had not yet had their civil rights restored and people who were, inadvertently or otherwise, registered to vote in two different places at once. However, the database query used only the loosest matching criteria, so that fathers ended up being purged because of their felon sons with the same name and vice versa, the John Smith on Main Street was purged when it was the John Smith on Elm Street who was the felon, John Adam Smith got purged when the felon was actually John Benjamin Smith, and so on. This work was done by a contractor with ties to the family of George W. Bush and retained by W’s brother Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida.

The scheme worked then, so the Republicans decided to take it national. No sooner had the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, Palast has found in an updated version of his book, than in 2013 a group of Republicans led by Kris Kobach, secretary of state in Kansas (and more about him to come), developed a system called Crosscheck to apply the technique to more than a dozen other states (most controlled by Republicans), looking for people who were, or who appeared to be, registered in two different states. From Palast’s article in the Aug. 24 issue of Rolling Stone:

The data is processed through a system called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is being promoted by a powerful Republican operative, and its lists of potential duplicate voters are kept confidential. But Rolling Stone obtained a portion of the list and the names of 1 million targeted voters. According to our analysis, the Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters – with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina, two crucial swing states with tight Senate races. (snip)

On its surface, Crosscheck seems quite reasonable. Twenty-eight participating states share their voter lists and, in the name of dispassionate, race-blind Big Data, seek to ensure the rolls are up to date. To make sure the system finds suspect voters, Crosscheck supposedly matches first, middle and last name, plus birth date, and provides the last four digits of a Social Security number for additional verification.

In reality, however, there have been signs that the program doesn’t operate as advertised. Some states have dropped out of Crosscheck, citing problems with its methodology, as Oregon’s secretary of state recently explained: “We left [Crosscheck] because the data we received was unreliable.”

In our effort to report on the program, we contacted every state for their Crosscheck list. But because voting twice is a felony, state after state told us their lists of suspects were part of a criminal investigation and, as such, confidential. Then we got a break. A clerk in Virginia sent us its Crosscheck list of suspects, which a letter from the state later said was done “in error.”

The Virginia list was a revelation. In all, 342,556 names were listed as apparently registered to vote in both Virginia and another state as of January 2014. Thirteen percent of the people on the Crosscheck list, already flagged as inactive voters, were almost immediately removed, meaning a stunning 41,637 names were “canceled” from voter rolls, most of them just before Election Day.

We were able to obtain more lists – Georgia and Washington state, the total number of voters adding up to more than 1 million matches – and Crosscheck’s results seemed at best deeply flawed. We found that one-fourth of the names on the list actually lacked a middle-name match. The system can also mistakenly identify fathers and sons as the same voter, ignoring designations of Jr. and Sr. A whole lot of people named “James Brown” are suspected of voting or registering twice, 357 of them in Georgia alone. But according to Crosscheck, James Willie Brown is supposed to be the same voter as James Arthur Brown. James Clifford Brown is allegedly the same voter as James Lynn Brown.

And those promised birth dates and Social Security numbers? The Crosscheck instruction manual says that “Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might not match” – which leaves a crucial step in the identification process up to the states. Social Security numbers weren’t even included in the state lists we obtained.

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

Swedlund’s statistical analysis found that African-American, Latino and Asian names predominate, a simple result of the Crosscheck matching process, which spews out little more than a bunch of common names. No surprise: The U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. If your name is Washington, there’s an 89 percent chance you’re African-American. If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94 percent chance you’re Hispanic. If your name is Kim, there’s a 95 percent chance you’re Asian.

This inherent bias results in an astonishing one in six Hispanics, one in seven Asian-Americans and one in nine African-Americans in Crosscheck states landing on the list. Was the program designed to target voters of color? “I’m a data guy,” Swedlund says. “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.”

Confronted by Palast, Kobach lied about his purge lists being publicly available and insisted that what was manifestly happening couldn’t possibly be.

In addition, some voters about whose eligibility someone raised a question were forced to cast provisional ballots which, in many cases, were never counted and which, in some cases, were simply thrown out, Palast found.

Palast also has evidence of widespread, illegal vote caging; indeed, thousands of North Carolina voters successfully sued just a few weeks ago to have their voting eligibility restored after an incidence of attempted caging here by the state GOP in a process the federal judge in the case called “insane.” But similar efforts went on elsewhere and most likely were successful.

And that’s on top of the efforts by states to impose onerous voter-ID requirements and limits on early voting, both of which disproportionately affect young and senior voters, minorities and the poor — who disproportionately vote Democratic. The courts threw out some, but not all, of these changes, which carried the force of law and helped provide at least a small bit of help for the Republican ticket.

Palast has an updated version of his book out that discusses some of the 2016 fuckery, along with an identically titled documentary film that you can order on DVD from GregPalast.com or rent on Amazon or Vimeo.

Despite all of this, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes (and counting, at this writing). She won more popular votes than anyone in history not named Barack Obama. But the GOP efforts provided a narrow edge — 1% or less — in a few key swing states to give the Electoral College vote, wrongly, to Trump. The question, which I’ll address in an upcoming post, is what can be done about it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016 10:48 am

After protests, the next step is a boycott — but of what?

The problem with protests is that while they can raise awareness, they’re much less effective tools for bringing about real change. And some of the people most involved with protests against the killing of unarmed people of color by U.S. law enforcement are beginning to talk about that.

Shaun King in the New York Daily News:

… we’ve crossed a line in America. Police brutality and racial violence have pushed people far past a reasonable or compassionate human standard.

For the past two years, we’ve protested all over the country, and my gut reaction used to be that it hadn’t accomplished as much as it should have — that the energy required for those protests didn’t meet the meager reforms that we’ve achieved.

I no longer feel that way. In two years, in great part because of those protests, the fierce injustice of the United States has now become known to the entire world. That’s no easy feat. The world knows the names and stories of our victims and they care.

Furthermore, we have built consensus among tens of millions of people in America who are fully fed up with police brutality and demand a better way.

It is time that we organize a passionate, committed, economic boycott. It must be painful. It must be unified. And we must continue with it until we see change. This country is clearly willing to continue killing unarmed men, women and children without ever making any serious efforts at reforms. This economic boycott can change that. …

I’m going to be listening for the best ideas on how we proceed. We have to all be on the same page here or it won’t work. I’m in and I hope you are too.

(If you want to contact King directly, he’s on Twitter at @ShaunKing.)

For the purpose of discussion, and because I live in the real world, I’m going to stipulate the following: 1) We do have a problem with law enforcement killing unarmed people of color; 2) state and local governments, which oversee the overwhelming majority of law enforcement in this country, do not perceive this problem; do not think the lives lost are as important as other considerations, which may range from retraining cost to fears over loss of political support of LEOs; or perceive the problem and are just fine with it; 3) protests alone have achieved most or all of what any reasonable person could expect, i.e., they have raised awareness but have not led to widespread political or policy change.

King draws parallels with the Montgomery bus boycott, led by Martin Luther King and others, which lasted for more than a year. Closer to home and closer to now, there have been protests about the N.C. legislature’s ill-considered House Bill 2, but real pressure for change didn’t build until businesses, associations and entertainers started boycotting the state (and REALLY didn’t build in this college-sports-crazy state until the Greensboro-based Atlantic Coast Conference pulled all its conference championships out of the state and hinted that it might move its headquarters out as well).

King concludes not with a specific call to action but with a call to discussion, because he acknowledges, however briefly, a critical truth: To work, boycotts need a clearly identified target related in some way to the boycott’s goal. Here in North Carolina, business leaders who have legislators’ ears are seeing economic-development opportunities fly out of the window — and they also know that there undoubtedly more opportunities passing us by that we never even see, company formations or expansions for which we’re never even considered, because of the bigotry among the Republicans who control the Lege.

What might such a dynamic look like with respect to getting the police fully back under civilian control — because they are only nominally there now in many jurisdictions — and making the political changes, not just law-enforcement changes, necessary so that law enforcement officers can truly work for justice, rather than merely function as tools for keeping what one privileged segment of society considers to be order?

I have one suggestion. It might not be the best. It might not even be particularly good. And God knows whether it’s workable. But it identifies a clear target that is related directly to the goal of changing the policial framework that dictates how law enforcement operates, so that law enforcement will operate in the interests of true justice:

A tax boycott.

People of color and their allies could stop paying their state and local income and property taxes until state and local governments and their police forces take specific, quantifiable steps to reduce that violence.

People of color pay taxes, just like anyone else, to support a government that is required by law to provide equal protection under the law. Yet it is abundantly clear that that government does not provide equal protection. Further, the majority-white power structure in most jurisdictions doesn’t care, or else more steps would have been taken before now.

What might the steps that people demand look like? That would be up to each community or state to decide. For purposes of discussion, I’ll throw out some possibilities:

  • Mandatory, periodic training, retraining, and certification in de-escalation techniques.
  • Mandatory, periodic training, retraining, and certification in dealing with subjects with mental illness.
  • An increased commitment to community policing. A lot of departments are doing a lot of this now. We need more. It is in officers’ own safety interests to be seen as part of the community, someone you run into every day, and not as an occupying army.
  • Repeal of the new state law, HB 972, which permits release of police body-cam and dashcam video only with the permission of a judge. Here in N.C., those videos should be treated the same as any other public record under North Carolina law, which is to say that they should be presumptively public.
  • Civilian police review boards with subpoena power.
  • Demilitarization of state/local law enforcement and return of military-grade equipment to the federal government. (This one in particular I’m not on board with; there are so many firearms and other weapons on the street that a lot of departments need at least some of this stuff to avoid undue risk to officers. But there also are a lot of places that will never in a million years need it.)

Such a boycott would have a clear target. The target would be related directly to the problem. I have no idea if it would work. And the consequences for at least some potential participants could be devastating — and these are people who already have endured devastating consequences.

But if that many people took part — tens of millions of Americans in all 50 states — governments couldn’t jail/foreclose on all of them.

Again, to be clear, I am not advocating this specific course of action. But I think people of good will do need to talk about what it will take to force the kind of lasting political change that will, if not end this phenomenon, at least make it much rarer. This suggestion is one idea about what an effective course of action might look like.

But Shaun King is right: Protests alone, while serving a valuable purpose in raising awareness, aren’t effecting change. History suggests that money, almost alone, talks. So money must find its voice if lives are going to be saved.

(h/t Jill Williams for bringing King’s column to my attention and prompting my thoughts on this subject.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016 8:45 pm

So much pain. And so much horseshit.

I was born in Charlotte in 1960 and grew up there, so I lived there through the disturbances surrounding Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 and surrounding the busing for desegregation in the early 1970s. I graduated from high school there and from nearby Davidson College. And for all but 18 months of my adult life, I have lived within an hour or two’s drive. My stepmother and brother live there today, as do other relatives. I grieve at what has happened there, but I also know there is no reason why it shouldn’t have happened there, just as there is no reason why it shouldn’t happen here in Greensboro or, really, anywhere else in this country.

What we know is that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police shot and killed an African American man, Keith Lamont Scott, Tuesday afternoon. We have wildly differing accounts as to why, and this morning, the police chief said that police video of the shooting does not provide “definitive” evidence that Scott was pointing a gun. That’s important: North Carolina is an open-carry state, so Scott was permitted to have a pistol in public, as the NRA would be shouting from the rooftops if it weren’t a racist organization. Only if Scott were an “imminent” threat — if he were pointing the gun at someone — would his shooting have been legally justified.

Without definitive video evidence, we are left only with the word of police officers. They might be telling the God’s honest truth, but a lot of people won’t believe them because if there’s one thing the smartphone era has made clear, taking cops’ word for it in any and all situations is a fool’s errand. Just today, a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was charged with manslaughter for shooting an unarmed African American man who had his hands in the air and, clearly, on video, posed no threat. Absent the video, there’s every reason to believe that the officer who shot him would have skated. So you don’t need a PR expert to know that if all you have to go on is the word of police officers, a whole lot of people simply aren’t going to believe you.

And so there were demonstrations Tuesday night and Wednesday night in Charlotte, and follow-on rioting both nights. Gov. Pat McCrory has called in the National Guard. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, at this twilight-fading-to-dark writing, has not imposed a curfew. And as my friend Ed Hardin from Charlotte writes, a lot of people are hoping tonight for rain.

We don’t know exactly what happened on Tuesday in Charlotte, and absent dispositive video evidence, we likely never will. That’s awful for all involved. But here are some things we do know, in no particular order:

This country has a problem with its law enforcement. Disproportionately more unarmed African Americans die at the hands of police than do whites. Meanwhile, a lot of white criminals, such as the suspect in last weekend’s terrorist bombing in New York, can actually shoot at police and still be taken alive. (And, critics, stop linking to that New York Times article — you know the one. It says in so many words that the study it describes does not focus on the killing of unarmed people of color by law enforcement. And that is the issue here. So that article is irrelevant.) Whether the problem is individual racism, flaws in training, both, or something else entirely, we need to find it and fix it. But before we can do that, we have to admit it, and way too many people are in denial about this.

Law enforcement needs to take a long, hard, critical look at itself. One of the patterns we’ve observed in many cases of law-enforcement violence against people of color is that while one individual officer may be the proximate perpetrator, others frequently lie to support the perp’s version of events or, at the least, fail to report the criminal behavior of their co-workers. That culture is radioactive. It needs to be ended. And if a whole lot of cops have to lose their jobs to make it happen, I will not shed a tear. I don’t want corrupt cops on my payroll, not only because it’s wrong on the merits but also because if my city or county or state gets sued because of their corrupt behavior, I, the taxpayer, will have to pay the judgment. And cops who fail to report and help prosecute their criminal co-workers are corrupt, full stop.

This problem with law enforcement, which is resulting in too many prematurely dead African Americans, is more important than property damage. And yet way too many commenters are focusing on the rioting at the expense of the dead people. Stop it. You’re exposing yourselves as moral midgets. Yes, both are wrong, but one is a lot more wrong than the other.

Too may critics are conflating “demonstrators” — and even “the black community” — with “rioters.” This one is almost, but not quite, self-explanatory. An uncomfortable truth is that demonstrators often serve as unwitting stalking horses for rioters, in this sense: Rioters almost never show up in situations in which a demonstration is not already happening. That’s because rioters are cowards coasting on the courage of others. Any fool can throw a brick through a window. It takes guts to stand up publicly against a militaristic law-enforcement apparatus one perceives as corrupt, armed only with one’s convictions and maybe a sign — guts that rioters simply do not have. If would-be demonstrators stayed home, so, too, would the rioters. And yet people have the constitutional right to demonstrate, and, indeed, an obligation to do so, inasmuch as major social change in this country seldom happens without demonstrations of some kind. It therefore behooves everyone else to properly distinguish between demonstrator and criminal, and way too many people — including some in the media who damned well ought to know better — are failing in this obligation.

In a weird way, HB2 is to blame. OK, we don’t actually know this, but: I can’t help thinking that Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, and current Mayor Jennifer Roberts would be on better terms if not for HB2, and that the governmental response to the situation would be better organized and coordinated. But from all I’ve seen, the two aren’t really on speaking terms right now — which is McCrory’s fault, with HB2 the proximate cause.

Some incredibly ignorant people are going to say that MLK wouldn’t have approved of all this uproar. To which I respond, probably not, but he damn sure would have understood it. Here he is speaking, about two weeks before he died:

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.

And in 1965, in Montreat, N.C., even while the Watts riots in Los Angeles were still going on:

I say to you my friends this afternoon that I am convinced in so many instances that people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may be that we will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or who would shoot down an Episcopal theological student in Lowndes County, Alabama, but also for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around as they wait on time. Somewhere along the way, we must realize that human progress never rolls in on the heels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be coworkers with God….

We must realize that the time is always right to do right. (h/t John Burns for both quotes)

 

I fear that this will get worse before it gets better, but here’s something else I know: White people need to sit down, shut the fuck up, and listen to their brothers and sisters of color. Unarmed black men getting gunned down in the streets while white wanted terrorists who shoot at cops get taken alive isn’t something you can explain away from the comfort of your wood-paneled suburban den, and it is a mark of moral retardation that people are even trying.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 7:31 pm

Kaepernick, cont.: Bleacher Report says team execs hate him

I have mixed feelings on this Bleacher Report story by Mike Freeman:

Across NFL front offices, there are team officials who are not offended, and even embrace, the controversial position of Colin Kaepernick. They are out there. Statistically, they have to be. But they are keeping a low profile.

They seem to be far outnumbered by the members of NFL front offices who despise him. Truly, truly hate him.

“I don’t want him anywhere near my team,” one front office executive said. “He’s a traitor.”

A traitor?

He wasn’t alone in the anger directed toward Kaepernick. In interviews with seven team executives, each said he didn’t want Kaepernick on his team. This is far from scientific, but I believe this is likely the feeling among many front office executives. Not all. But many.

All seven estimated 90 to 95 percent of NFL front offices felt the same way they did. One executive said he hasn’t seen this much collective dislike among front office members regarding a player since Rae Carruth. Remember Rae Carruth? He’s still in prison for the plot to murder his pregnant girlfriend.

Personally, I think the dislike of Kaepernick is inappropriate and un-American. I find it ironic that citizens who live in a country whose existence is based on dissent criticize someone who expresses dissent.

But in NFL front offices, the feeling is very different.

The story goes on like that for a good bit longer, letting one exec after another take some often-ridiculous potshots at Kaepernick, who refused to stand during the national anthem at last Friday’s 49ers-Packers game in protest of police violence toward people of color.

So, let’s take these executives’ complaints about Kaepernick at face value and analyze them, starting with the executive quoted above:

  • “He’s a traitor.” Well, no, he’s not. Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution, and the Constitution defines it as making war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Kapernick is guilty of neither.
  • “”He has no respect for our country. F— that guy.” I’m not sure how this exec became a mind reader, but let’s assume for a second that he’s correct. Given the real and documented nature of the problem about which Kaepernick is complaining, why should he respect this country, which asserts it offers “liberty and justice for all” but which in practice has a long way to go before that will be true?
  • “Another said that if an owner asked him to sign Kaepernick, he would consider resigning, rather than do it.” No reason given, but I wonder how this exec feels about signing domestic abusers and dogfighters.
  • ” (Executives) also don’t believe he appreciates what he has. Many of them pointed to Kaepernick’s salary and said he would never make that kind of money if not for football.” What the hell does that have to do with anything? Kaepernick made it very clear that he was speaking in support of people of color generally, not just for himself. He was using a platform that he has that most people of color do not. Do league executives, who famously don’t give up a penny not called for in the contract, actually think that paying a player buys his silence on topics of which team execs do not approve?

Granted, not many direct quotes here, but what quotes there are don’t seem to come from a place of reflection or even logic.

Now, I’m glad that Freeman did this story. It’s good to know how at least some league execs feel. But I have some problems with it as well.

For one thing, we have only Freeman’s word that it’s in any way representative of team execs around the league. Seven is a very small sample.

But more damningly, I think it was unethical of Freeman to grant these men (I’m certain they were all men) anonymity in order to hurl their invective at Kaepernick. If these guys felt as strongly as Freeman would have us believe, certainly they’d have been willing to go on the record. And if they weren’t willing, then that calls into question just how right they actually think they are.

Which leads us to the question of what, exactly, is going through these executives’ minds. We hate what we fear. Are these execs really afraid of what would happen if this country, as Kaepernick suggested, got serious about erasing racial discrimination, especially in law enforcement? Or, on a more basic level, are they just afraid of people of color in general?

Either way, such fear not only is not grounded in reality, it’s un-American. The NFL makes a big deal about being the most patriotic of our national sports, but its executives would appear to have a lot to learn about the ideals on which this country was really founded and what it takes to make those ideals real.

 

 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016 7:35 pm

Why Colin Kaepernick is right and you are wrong and need to sit down

San Francisco 49ers quarterback — for the moment — Colin Kaepernick got a whole bunch of people’s panties in a twist when he sat down during the national anthem this past Friday. But, to paraphrase Esquire’s Charlie Pierce, at least he’s shouting at the right buildings:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

“Getting away with murder.” That is the issue. Please to focus.

Kaepernick, who is himself of multiracial ancestry, has more than just his literal skin in this game: At this writing, it’s unclear whether he even still has a job with the 49ers independent of his protest (although he’s slated to start the final preseason game), and his protest makes it less likely that another NFL team might hire him and makes him a less likely prospect for endorsement deals. That’s a ton of money to be potentially walking away from, but he has made it clear that he couldn’t care less.

I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

First things first: Is what he is doing “legal”? Yes. There’s no First Amendment issue here because government is not involved, and there’s no law against what he did. The NFL does not require players to stand for the national anthem. 49ers coach Chip Kelly told reporters, “It’s not my right to tell him not to do something.” And the team itself issued a statement:

The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.

DeMaurice Smith, head of the players’ union, the NFL Players Association, made clear that the union stands behind Kaepernick even though Smith said the form Kaepernick’s protest took made him personally uncomfortable:

I’m not sure that any father, son, mother, you know, brother whose family member is on that playing field would want to hear that their family member should just shut up and play, because that reduces you to something less than human.

Next question: Is his cause justified? Based on the facts, on the merits, absolutely. Even in recent years, discrimination against African Americans and other minorities has been documented in employment, housing, lending, and other areas. And the recent cases of unarmed African Americans being killed by police, to which Kaepernick spoke directly, speak for themselves. This country wrote itself some huge checks in 1776 and 1787, checks that we are still struggling to cash today. That’s a fact, and Kaepernick is not wrong at all to point it out. And I’ll have more to say on that in a bit.

Next question: Was his method “appropriate” — i.e., the best way to get his message across? A lot of people don’t think so. Former 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, now at the University of Michigan, initially said, “I don’t respect the motivation or the action,” before later “clarifying,” “I apologize for misspeaking my true sentiments. To clarify, I support Colin’s motivation. It’s his method of action that I take exception to.” And New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees told ESPN, “there’s plenty of other ways that you can do that in a peaceful manner that doesn’t involve being disrespectful to the American flag.” Brees particularly thought Kaepernick’s protest was disrespectful to the military even though Kaepernick specifically said that what he did was not intended to disrespect the military. And the San Francisco police union wants an apology (more on that in a bit, as well).

But here’s the thing about protest: It’s meant to make people at least a little uncomfortable, because comfortable people usually don’t often get involved in unpopular but positive change. From the Boston Tea Party to the Pullman strike, from the March on Washington to the Greensboro sit-ins and beyond, Americans have stood up, or sat down, for all kinds of issues, most of which resulted in the betterment of society and some of which made this country possible. Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in major-league baseball, felt the same way as Kaepernick:

There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first world series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.”

And of course there’s the case of Muhammad Ali, who was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1966 because, as a conscientious objector, he refused to be drafted. He was convicted of draft evasion, but he took the U.S. government all the way to the Supreme Court and whipped it like a rented mule. Upon Ali’s recent death, he was hailed as an activist and a man of conscience for his actions. Kaepernick is getting a lot of criticism, but his action was less disruptive than Ali’s and sits squarely within the same long tradition.

And here’s another thing about protest: You don’t get to choose the means for protesters to protest. That’s their call, and as long as it’s within the law (or, for civil disobedience, as long as protesters are willing to pay society’s price), you don’t get to say anything about it. You have no — what’s the word? — standing.

Beyond all that perspective on protest, there’s the particular nature of what’s behind objection to this particular protest: political idolatry. God commands the Israelites in the Second Commandment not to worship graven images. But that’s what a lot of Americans do when it comes to patriotism. They’ve tried to ban flag burning (the Supreme Court, including the late Antonin Scalia, held it to be protected political speech). They seek to enforce conformity in how people express their patriotism, either not knowing or not caring that to do so is the very opposite of political freedom. In short, they confuse patriotism’s idols — the flag, the anthem, even the U.S. military — for the actual qualities we say we embody. Meanwhile, issues like discrimination, poverty, and abusive police officers continue to go unaddressed without a whole lot of complaint, or even caring, by the majority of Americans. Kaepernick was pointing out an inconsistency, if not a hypocrisy, between what we say about ourselves and what we actually do. Yeah, it stings — but it stings because he’s right.

Moreover, there is racism in the national anthem itself, as this excellent article at TheRoot.com shows:

To understand the full “Star-Spangled Banner” story, you have to understand the author. Key was an aristocrat and city prosecutor in Washington, D.C. He was, like most enlightened men at the time, notagainst slavery; he just thought that since blacks were mentally inferior, masters should treat them with more Christian kindness. He supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa and, with a few exceptions, was about as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionist as you could get at the time.

Of particular note was Key’s opposition to the idea of the Colonial Marines. The Marines were a battalion of runaway slaves who joined with the British Royal Army in exchange for their freedom. The Marines were not only a terrifying example of what slaves would do if given the chance, but also a repudiation of the white superiority that men like Key were so invested in.

All of these ideas and concepts came together around Aug. 24, 1815, at the Battle of Bladensburg, where Key, who was serving as a lieutenant at the time, ran into a battalion of Colonial Marines. His troops were taken to the woodshed by the very black folks he disdained, and he fled back to his home in Georgetown to lick his wounds. The British troops, emboldened by their victory in Bladensburg, then marched into Washington, D.C., burning the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building and the White House. You can imagine that Key was very much in his feelings seeing black soldiers trampling on the city he so desperately loved.

A few weeks later, in September of 1815, far from being a captive, Key was on a British boat begging for the release of one of his friends, a doctor named William Beanes. Key was on the boat waiting to see if the British would release his friend when he observed the bloody battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Sept. 13, 1815. America lost the battle but managed to inflict heavy casualties on the British in the process. This inspired Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” right then and there, but no one remembers that he wrote a full third stanza decrying the former slaves who were now working for the British army:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In other words, Key was saying that the blood of all the former slaves and “hirelings” on the battlefield will wash away the pollution of the British invaders. With Key still bitter that some black soldiers got the best of him a few weeks earlier, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is as much a patriotic song as it is a diss track to black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom. Perhaps that’s why it took almost 100 years for the song to become the national anthem.

Some opponents, including Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, have suggested that Kaepernick is hypocritical for complaining about a country in which he has achieved professional and financial success, saying, “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try. It won’t happen.” These people miss another point Kaepernick made clear in interviews: It’s not just about Colin Kaepernick, but also about a lot of other people who are less fortunate. Kaepernick has a platform, at least for now, and he has chosen to use it in that way. Donald Trump, of all people, is utterly unqualified to lecture Kaepernick about anything.

And, finally, to get back to Kaepernick’s original point: We have too many cases in this country of African American people dying wrongly at the hands of police without anyone being held accountable. From 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cincinnati to Freddie Gray, who died while being transported in police custody, it’s happening and not enough is being done about it. Rogue officers are not being held accountable. That’s about as serious a problem of political governance as they come, yet large numbers of Americans don’t even see a problem. The San Francisco police union apparently doesn’t see a problem, so don’t talk to me about a “few bad apples.”

In a democratic republic, the government is us, and those police officers are acting in our name and with our tax dollars. Do we really want this to be a country in which people die unnecessarily at the hands of police? If not, I grant you, there may not be a hell of a lot any one individual can do. But the least you can do is to sit down and stop shoveling shit at the guy who’s pointing out the problem.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, July 9, 2016 11:19 am

A long train of abuses and usurpations

Yesterday I posted a graphic on Facebook with a message to the effect that if it had been 11 members of Congress who had been shot down with an AR-15, we’d have an assault-rifle ban tout de suite.
 
Leaving aside the question of whether that’s actually true (I doubt it — the malevolent influence of the National Rifle Association on our politics remains too strong), one of my friends posted this comment, which I think bears further examination and discussion:
 
“What happened in Dallas is the revolt against government that the anti-government crowd has been telling us is the reason our 2nd amendment rights are so important.”
 
I infer that she means something like this: Our police departments, which are part of the government, have been committing so many unjustified offenses against so many of our citizens — primarily African American — that the attack on Dallas police might well be looked at as justified revolution against a corrupt, tyrannical and unjust government, the kind that people who oppose limits on gun rights say we all should be prepared to undertake if necessary.
 
To be clear, I don’t think that way: The killings of those officers in Dallas were, to me, nothing but assassination and should be prosecuted and punished accordingly. I believe — and perhaps this is nothing but an artifact of my white, male, until-recently-Republican privilege — that this problem, this crisis, still can be addressed via nonviolent political means (and I pray daily that it will be). Just one example, and one which to me made those killings all the more tragic, is the fact that, as Chris Lowrance and others have observed, the Dallas PD and Black Lives Matter have been working together to improve both police training and police-community relations, with both sides reporting progress.
 
Too, we have seen fake and unjustified “revolutions” at the hands of such criminals as the Bundys. And as I have said before, I am beyond tired of watching my government kiss seditious white ass rather than locking these fools up (which finally began happening after the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year).
 
But the comment has made me wonder: What pattern or system of government action would constitute something like the “long train of abuses and usurpations” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence that WOULD make revolution justified? And have we seen such a pattern or system in recent years?
 
What about torture? What about warrantless domestic wiretapping? What about kowtowing to banks and other for-profit corporations at the expense of the public good? I’m not arguing that these are good examples, just trying to get you to think about what a truly objectionable act of government, an act or pattern of behavior that might morally, if not legally, justify a revolution in the way that the American revolution was justified in the Declaration of Independence, might look like.
 
I welcome your thoughts.

Thursday, April 7, 2016 12:04 pm

Sure, Jesse Helms could be cordial. So could Reinhard Heydrich.

The Charlotte Observer is moving to a new building, and in the process of moving, political reporter Jim Morrill uncovered a number of letters between then-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms and the publisher and editors of the time (roughly 1978-93). The Observer’s spin on these letters is that they reveal a cordial, even humorous side of Helms.

And you know what? That’s probably true.

And you know what else? Reinhard Heydrich, the notorious Nazi SS officer considered second in bloodthirstiness only to Hitler himself, also had a cordial side. Hitler himself was a vegetarian and loved children. Big woop.

For all his public embrace of “Christian values,” Jesse Helms got his start by purveying white-lightning-quality racism in his editorials for Raleigh’s WRAL-TV. His bigotry was his brand, and he was proud of it. But worse than that, although he didn’t pioneer it, he perfected the Republican art of punching down against the least among us — the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ folks — not just for political advantage but for the pure, unadulterated meanness of it. For every instance of his ostensible cordiality, there were 20 instances in which he stomped Christ’s Second Great Commandment into the dust.

What’s worse is that his brand of punch-down politics has now become de rigeur among Republican politicians, not least because the GOP base has grown to expect it. From Trump to Cruz to Kasich to the leaders of the N.C. General Assembly who passed HB2 (which punches not only LGBTQ folk but also anyone who might have been discriminated against), Republicans now believe that they must attack the most vulnerable to be seen as tough and therefore trustworthy. That, not his cordiality or his professed Christianity, is his real legacy.

Helms has been dead for a while now, and a political generation has come of age to whom Helms is a story, not a person. And stories can change. But the person never did. Helms died as he had lived, an evil, hateful, degenerate son of a bitch. Remember that, because it’s important to understand how we got where we are today.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 6:15 pm

Unfortunately, racism probably is more durable than Whiggery

Here it is, Super Tuesday. And before the polls start to close, I wanted to say something that I hope to be wildly wrong on, but don’t expect to be.

A number of observers from a number of points along the political spectrum have suggested that nominating Donald Trump for president will be the end of the Republican Party. One in particular is Esquire’s political blogger, Charlie Pierce, who wrote today that the likelihood that Trump will emerge later tonight as the undisputed front-runner (if not nominee-apparent) — he’s likely to take seven of 11 states holding contested primaries today — will equate to the “implosion” of the GOP in much the same way the Whigs fell apart after the election of 1852.

I don’t follow this stuff as closely as Pierce, and I ain’t a political scientist. But I have been watching this stuff for almost 50 years now, and here’s what I think.

I don’t think the GOP is going anywhere, the fact that Pierce almost certainly is right about tonight’s results notwithstanding.

And the reason I don’t think the GOP is going anywhere is that Trump’s GOP constituency is racist, and I don’t think the racists in the party are going anywhere.

Wait, you say, not all Trump supporters are racist. And that’s probably true. Indeed, Trump’s supporters cross a wide variety of demographic lines: age, sex, rural/urban, education, and so forth.

But the one line they don’t cross is race. No, not all Trump supporters are racist, but the overwhelming majority of racists with a preference seem to prefer Trump. And that bloc has turned out to be larger than anyone, particularly pundits, thought.

And why would those people leave the GOP? After all, Trump didn’t just spring full-blown out of RNC chair Reince Priebus’s head. No, Trump is the natural outcome of a party that has been unashamedly racist in its whispers, sub-rosa appears and dog whistles, from Nixon’s “Southern strategy” in ’68 to the G.W. Bush campaigns rumormongering about the racial provenance of Sen. John McCain’s offspring during the 2000 Republican primary to the “voter ID” (read: vote suppression) campaigns post-2010.

Racism is where the Republican Party has dined for the past half-century. All Donald Trump has done is say that shit right out loud where God, pundits, and everybody else could hear it.

No, the GOP ain’t going anywhere because the racists aren’t going anywhere, and they’re the heart and soul of the party right now, as the (lack of) response to Trump’s non-rejection of Klansman David Duke’s endorsement shows. But the thing is? Most of the non-racists in the GOP aren’t going anywhere either. For one thing, they’ve got no place to go. For another, even if they did, as the old saying goes, in politics, Democrats fall in love but Republicans fall in line. Slightly more scientifically, Republicans, and Trump supporters in particular, tend toward the authoritarian. No other political institution gives them the top-down control they crave.

So there it is. As devoutly as the implosion of the current GOP is to be wished, it’s not happening tonight, it’s not happening this year, and whether Trump wins or loses in November, it’s not happening anytime soon. The reason, though too often unspoken, is obvious, and intractable. Like it or not, we’re stuck with this shit, and with the GOP as an institution, until a lot more bigoted Americans die.

 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 1:40 pm

All not-so-quiet on the Oregon front; or, The Tree of Derpitude must be fertilized with the blood of morons

After 26 days — which was, in my not-so-humble opinion, 25 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes too long — federal and state law enforcement finally moved against the leadership of the militants currently holding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. When those morons headed to a town meeting 70 miles away — 70 miles away! — they were stopped, and at least some of them attempted armed resistance. LaVoy Finicum, the group’s self-appointed spokesman, was shot dead. All the survivors, including leader Ammon Bundy, are in jail; Ammon’s brother Ryan was wounded in the shootout.

And as this is written, a lot of heavy vehicles are converging on the wildlife refuge, setting up roadblocks and telling journalists in the area to pull back because their safety cannot be guaranteed. So sometime soon, something is going down. It’s about damn time. The remaining insurrectionists, for their part, are calling for supporters to shoot police who are blockading the refuge. So this is unlikely to end peacefully, although I do hope it ends with no more loss of life, especially on the government’s part.

This situation never should have been allowed to fester. We knew from the start that while the Bundy brothers and their associates were largely just clowns, they were attracting some very dangerous people, just as happened when their father, Cliven Bundy, threatened federal agents in Nevada who were attempting to shut down his freeloading on the backs of the taxpayers by using federal land without paying for it. (I believe that’s called wingnut welfare.) I said at the time that the failure to hold Cliven Bundy accountable would lead to more such incidents, and that is what has happened. I don’t think it’s too late to circle back and charge the elder Bundy for his crimes. If it’s not, that’s exactly what the government should do.

I’m sure Finicum has family and friends who will miss him. But he had sworn that he would be arrested or surrender to the government only over his dead body, and I am content — not happy, but content — that the government found his terms acceptable. Finicum, who by all accounts was not mentally ill but simply stupid, had decided to commit suicide by cop; in such situations, one’s sympathy should go to the cop who is forced to pull the trigger to protect himself, his partners, or innocent third parties.

I think one can quibble over whether the people who occupied the wildlife refuge were terrorists — an argument can be made that if you’re armed but take over an unoccupied federal building, as that building was on New Year’s weekend, then it’s not terrorism — but they absolutely were guilty of the federal crime of seditious conspiracy. And they need to go to prison, all of them. And if they forcibly resist, well, they had better be prepared for the consequences.

And not for nothing, but the Bundy brothers and their compadres were shown more consideration by law enforcement than some 12-year-old African American children. That ain’t just a talking point; it’s a legitimate and serious issue. Government at all levels has gotten in the habit in the past 25 years or so of kissing seditious white ass while treating African Americans as the enemy. It needs to stop both, which means we voters need to pressure it to as part of a larger effort to cash that check America wrote itself in the 14th Amendment, that all people are entitled to equal protection under the law.

 

 

Monday, January 4, 2016 3:55 pm

None dare call it treason. But sedition? Oh, yeah, I’ll go straight there.

Over the weekend, some armed right-wing activists took over a federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon and announced they intended to stay for months or years. Why they did it is a long story I’ll touch on (but not thoroughly rehash) in a bit.

Now a lot of people on social media have had a bit of fun with this, denouncing the perps and their actions with such hashtags as #YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS and #YeeHawdists who are intent on building and expanding a #cowliphate. I am one of those people. But at bottom, this is no laughing matter.

Is this treason? Almost certainly not. Treason is the one crime defined in the Constitution, in Article III, Section 3:

Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

In all fairness, I don’t know of anyone who would, or could, argue honestly that these guys with guns have levied war against the United States at this point.

I also question whether it is domestic terrorism, the statutory definition of which can be found at 18 USC 2331(5):

the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

A reasonable person can argue that occupying a federal building while it was unoccupied over a holiday weekend does not “involve acts dangerous to human life,” so I’ll grant for the sake of discussion that what the gunmen have done does not constitute domestic terrorism.

But it is seditious conspiracy, per 18 U.S.C. 2384:

If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both. (emphasis mine)

In other words, what these guys have done is a crime, and a big one, against the U.S. government, which is to say, against the people of the United States.

Now, we got to this point via two converging roads. Road No. 1 had to do with Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who doesn’t believe he should have to pay the government the required fees for grazing his stock on public land. When the Bureaul of Land Management showed up to claim what was rightfully the taxpayers’ due, he got a case of the ass, and a bunch of his gun wielding buddies showed up in support. Rather than arresting the lot of them, which is what the government should have done, it let him off.

Bundy has a son, Ammond, who holds similar anti-government (read: believing it’s OK to steal from the taxpayers what is rightfully the taxpayers’) views. This brings us to Road No. 2. Ammond Bundy and some of his gun-sucking friends showed up to protest the imprisoning of two other anti-government nuts, the father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond, who had 1) killed game unlawfully on federal land and 2) unlawfully set a fire on federal land to cover up evidence of their crime, claiming they had done so to drive out invasive species. The courts took a dim view of this, convicting and sentencing them for arson. But in a misguided attempt to be reasonable or something, the court sentenced the Hammonds to less than the mandatory minimum in prison, an accommodation extended to, I believe, no African American drug dealers ever (and more on this angle in a moment). The state appealed the sentence, seeking longer terms; an appeals court agreed with the state; and the Supreme Court ultimately decided not to overturn the appeals court’s decision.

The Hammonds, meanwhile, had served the original part of their sentence, and when the part they originally should have been sentenced to was finally upheld, they were ordered to report back to prison. This, in the insane or drug-addled perception of Ammond Bundy and friends — not, it should be noted, in the eyes of the Hammonds, themselves, who at last report intended to report back to prison on time — constituted “double jeopardy” or some other such bullshit, and provided an excuse — I won’t call it a justification — for sedition. So the younger Bundy and an undetermined number of his armed friends took over the federal building, claiming to be prepared to stay there for months or years.

Let’s be very clear on several points here.

  • The Hammonds were duly charged, tried, and convicted. Their sentencing was messed up, but had it been handled correctly from the outset, there would be no issue here. As it is, there’s no REAL issue.
  • Cliven Bundy should have gone to prison, and so should his butt buddies who were able to point firearms at federal agents with impunity because the government has gotten into the unfortunate habit of kissing the asses of white gun-toting seditionists. Had they been dealt with appropriately at the time, this Oregon situation never would have happened.
  • What do these two things have in common? The government extended a consideration to right-wing white Christianist men that it has never, and would never, extend to the Occupy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Moral Mondays movement here in North Carolina, or any other “leftist” protest, not to mention Muslims in general whether they’re protesting or not.

I, for one, am tired of my government’s kissing the ass of armed white seditionists. So here’s what I think should happen.

Cliven Bundy can still be charged, I believe, for his earlier actions. He should be charged and tried. If convicted, he should go to prison.

The 12, or 150, or whatever the actual number is of armed men who have taken over the federal building at the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge in Oregon should be arrested, charged, tried, and, if convicted, imprisoned and fined. And I mean now, not months from now after they run out of food or whatever. Give them a chance to come out, and if they don’t, tear-gas the building, go in and get them. Because make no mistake: If black protesters or Muslims had occupied that same building in the same way for other reasons, they’d be in custody by now. Hell, for all we know, the building would have been napalmed by now. There’s no legal or practical reason why white men who claim to be Christians should be treated any differently.

Despite heavy right-wing political pressure, the government correctly has identified right-wing anti-government types as the biggest single terrorist threat in this country. Whether these participants actually are terrorists — see above — they definitely are widely engaging in seditious conspiracy. And that needs to be nipped in the bud.

And one other thing: Stop calling these groups “militias.” Artice I, Section 8 of the Constitution makes clear that the power to call, charge, train, arm and discipline militias rests with the Congress, not with the states or any individual. And Article II, Section 2 makes clear that militias are under the command of the President of the United States. If you and your gang weren’t called, charged, trained, armed and disciplined by the Congress and are not under the command of the President, you’re not a militia. You’re just a gang of thugs.

 

 

Sunday, August 30, 2015 6:35 am

New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina

When you need an elegy, always hire an Irish poet.

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce:

All archaeology is about layers, one city laid atop the others, as though civilization were coming from deep in the earth and piling itself up toward the sky. In the late nineteenth century, when the German adventurer and archaeologist—and part-time fantast—Heinrich Schliemann went looking for the city of Troy, he found eleven of them, one atop another. At one level, Schliemann found a cache of gold and jewelry that he pronounced to be the treasure of Priam, the king of Troy at the time of the events of the Iliad. He was wrong. The gold had been found at what later was determined to be only Troy II. It is popularly believed now that Troy VII was the site of the war about which Homer wrote. There are bronze arrowheads there, and skeletons bearing the marks of hor-rendous injuries, and there is evidence of a great fire. What Schliemann wrote when he first made his discoveries there has held remarkably true for all the layers of Troy that have been unearthed since then:

“I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the Plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hissarlik only its Acropolis, with its temples and a few other large edifices, whilst its lower city extended in an easterly, southerly, and westerly direction, on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”

There is an archaeology to human lives, too, and it is very much the same. Human lives have layers, one atop the other, as though the individual were rising from the dust of creation toward the stars. Some of the layers show nothing much at all. Some of them, like the dark layers at Troy that indicate a vast fire, show that something very important happened to the lives in question. Hurricane Katrina, and all of the myriad events surrounding it, both good and bad, is that vast, sweeping layer within the lives of the people of New Orleans. Almost fifteen hundred people died. There was $100 billion in damage. The levees failed. The city flooded. The city, state, and federal governments failed even worse than the levees did. It was estimated in 2006 that four hundred thousand people were displaced from the city; an estimated one hundred thousand of them never returned. Parts of the city recovered. Parts of the city were rebuilt. Parts of the city gleam now brighter than they ever did. There will be parades on the anniversary of the storm because there are things in the city to celebrate, but it is the tradition in this city that the music doesn’t lively up and the parade really doesn’t start until the departed has been laid to rest, until what is lost is counted, and until the memories are stored away. Only then does the music swing the way the music is supposed to sound. Only then do they begin to parade.

There will be some joy in the tenth-anniversary celebration because of this, but the storm is there in everyone, a dark layer in the archaeology of their lives. For some people, it is buried deeply enough to be forgotten. For others, the people who live in the places that do not gleam and that are not new, it is closer to the surface. A lot of the recovery is due to what author Naomi Klein refers to as “disaster capitalism.” The city has been reconfigured according to radically different political imperatives—in its schools and its housing and the general relationship of the people to their city and state governments. Many of them felt their lives taken over by anonymous forces as implacable as the storm was. There will be some sadness in the tenth anniversary because of this, fresh memories of old wounds, a sense of looming and ongoing loss. The storm is the dark layer in all the lives. And because it is, the storm is what unites them still, like that burned layer of Troy.

It is what connects the memory of [New Orleans police officer] Daryle Holloway to that of [Dr.] Bennett deBoisblanc, both of whom worked to save lives at Charity Hospital, which is now closed, never to reopen. It connects them all, this dark layer in the deep strata of their lives. It connects Charity Hospital to the Lower Ninth Ward in the life of Irma Mosley, who was born at Charity fifty-four years ago and who now works at a community center in the Lower Ninth. It is on St. Claude Avenue, not far from where Daryle Holloway, whose mother worked at Charity, was shot and killed.

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 6:28 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 26

When Hillary Clinton corralled journalists, journalists and pundits complained, and rightfully so. I trust they’ll do the same now that Donald Trump had reporter Jorge Ramos, whose audience is huge, physically removed from an event. Right?

Speaking of Trump, the N.C. GOP wants to ban him (and anyone else) from the state’s 2016 presidential primary unless they pledge to support whoever the party’s nominee turns out to be and promise not to run a third-party candidacy. This Republican wouldn’t vote for Trump at gunpoint but thinks that if you support him and he has filed, you deserve to get the chance to vote for him.

So, while it may have been incredibly stupid for Hillary Clinton to handle State Department info on a personal email account, it was against neither law nor policy at the time it happened. The same is true when her predecessor, Colin Powell, did the same thing, FWIW.

California schools are requiring kids to get vaccinated, so, naturally, parents are lining up to home-school their kids rather than vaccinate them. We need a vaccination against stupidity, is what we need.

Our legislature, which can’t be bothered to do its own damn job, has decided that it needs to kick the unemployed, even though North Carolina’s unemployed already get the nation’s lowest benefits. They should be reminded that this state is chock-full of pine trees and chickens, the raw material for tar and feathers.

Campaigns of and SuperPACs supporting four GOP governors running for president have received $2.5 million from “companies with state contracts or subsidies,” per the Wall Street Journal. But, go ahead, Justice Anthony Kennedy, tell me again how money in politics creates neither the reality nor the appearance of corruption.

So Raleigh anti-abortion activists are now harassing clinic escorts and trying to get them fired. Becauses that’s what Jesus would do.

And in a setback for veganism, the FDA rules that if you’re going to call something “mayonnaise,” it has to have eggs in it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015 8:40 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 13

Ben Carson doesn’t think cops killing unarmed African Americans is a problem and that anyone who says otherwise is just “creating strife.” Good to know.

The story was that white Arlington, Texas, police officer Brad Miller shot and killed Christian Taylor, an African American teen, after a “struggle.” But the story was wrong, and Miller has been fired and could face criminal charges. The questions: Why, with so much information in hand, did the police department wait so long to do the right thing, and what does that say about police culture generally?

What’s beyond dispute: A driver drove into a crowd of #BlackLivesMatter protesters on I-70 in St. Louis. It’s on video (scroll down). The question: Did a police officer tacitly, or explicitly, give the OK?

California has banned the use of secret grand juries in the investigation of police uses of lethal force. I understand the desire to want to make such investigations more open, but I also wonder whether this mechanism complies with the Fifth Amendment, which requires suspects in cases of “capital, or otherwise infamous crimes[s]” to be charged “on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

When #BlackLivesMatter protesters interrupted an appearance by Bernie Sanders this past weekend, white Sanders backers asked why these protesters didn’t protest at the campaign events of candidates who oppose #BLM. So they did.

The N.C. charter-school movement, recently unleashed by an almost incomprehensibly bad N.C. Supreme Court decision, is, predictably, becoming the locus of a stream of conservative out-of-state cash. If you honestly think charters will offer “improved school choice” and not just gut the public schools, you’re dreaming. If you know better, you need to go find an existing tin-pot dictatorship in which to play. We don’t need you here trying to turn us into a new one.

 

 

Saturday, June 27, 2015 2:02 pm

Depending how your dream goes

FlagsConfedRainbow

(I don’t know who this artist is; if someone knows, please advise and I’ll be happy to give credit. Cartoon by Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant, but was Photoshopped; the original included only the first three panels.)

“This has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency.”

This post started out to be a lot of gloating about how badly so many different people of ill will have taken it in the teeth this week. I was going to write a lot about how the moral arc of karma is long but this week it bent toward a righteous, multifaceted ass-kicking. I was going to write about laughing as the people on the wrong end of these decisions cried their bitter, bitter tears of frustration and rage, and how I intended to fill goblets and flagons with those tears and how the whole damn house was going to enjoy several rounds on them and so on. And I particularly intended to review Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissents in two Supreme Court cases so that you could enjoy the spectacle of a right-wing hack’s head exploding.

But overnight, those feelings receded. They didn’t go away. They’re still there, and for all I know could come flowing back in all their fury given the right prompt. But they’re no longer top of mind.

Instead, what I’m feeling most right now is something that feels quite foreign to me: satisfaction. Why? Because without doubt this has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency more than 40 years ago. Not only is the Confederate battle flag likely coming down at the South Carolina Statehouse (at this writing no vote has been scheduled), but a number of large companies have pledged to stop selling Confederate-themed stuff. And at the Supreme Court, not only was the Affordable Care Act upheld (again), the court also ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in this country.

That last one, though not unexpected, was particularly delicious because the bad guys were hoisted on their own petard. The anti-SSM crowd had argued that marriage was so important an institution to our society that it had to be protected. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in a neat bit of judiciary jiujitsu, responded, in effect, “Yes, it IS important — so important that it is a basic right that belongs to ALL.” And then he dropped the mic.

Let’s look at who lost here:

So who won? Everybody, really, including the people who lost, because as a result of these changes, all of us, including them, are going to live in a better America. America is a little less bigoted, significantly more financially secure and a helluva lot more equal today than it was last weekend.

Now, this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t point out a few caveats. For one thing, nice as it is to get the Dixie Swastika off the Statehouse grounds and to start a real conversation about the noxious culture surrounding it, we still have to start a real conversation about the larger culture of racism, of which the flag is only a symbol.

We would be morally obtuse if we didn’t grasp that the whole reason we’re even having a conversation about the Dixie Swastika is that a young man in the pernicious grasp of its culture walked into an old and beloved Charleston church and shot nine innocent people to death in cold blood. And we would be even more morally obtuse if we didn’t start that real conversation about the culture of racism. Oh, we’ve nibbled at it here and there — a number of politicians, including my own Sen. Thom Tillis, have been caught taking money from a white-supremacist group, the Conservative Citizens Council — but I’m afraid it’ll take even more bloodshed before we get serious about this.

We also need to talk about how easy it remains for crazy people to buy guns. I know that it looks like Gun America (including but not limited to the NRA) has shut down this conversation, and that more people will die needlessly as a result, but we need to keep having it anyway.

As for the Affordable Care Act and health insurance, we remain basically the only Western industrialized democracy where a health problem can bankrupt you. That still needs to change, for all the good, and it is a lot of good, that Obamacare has done in recent years (at lower cost than expected and with greater beneficial effects on the deficit than has been expected).

And while same-sex marriage remains the law of the land, there are still some holdouts, including some county clerks or deed recorders who are saying they simply won’t marry anyone rather than marrying same-sex couples. (Remember when public pools were closed outright during the desegregation era rather than be opened to African Americans? Good times.) They’ll have to be sued individually. But they will be. And they, too, will lose. And there no doubt will continue to be lawsuits because in areas other than marriage, some people will continue to insist, in the face of law, logic, and morality, that LGBTQ folks don’t have the same rights as the rest of us.

All these challenges, and some nontrivial losses, still lie ahead of us. More blood and treasure will be spilled. Reactionaries gonna react. It’s what they do. It’s how they roll. And they tend to get worse, to escalate, every time they do; as Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog reminds us, “they vote, they dominate many American states, and they own guns.” And they’re getting at least some positive reinforcement from high places; as my friend Mark Costley observed on Facebook of the Supreme Court’s dissenters:

… they are — I believe consciously — furthering a right wing theme calculated to weaken the confidence of the citizenry in our government. The right wing of the Republican Party (commonly understood to be the right 11/12 of the party) has embraced an anti-intellectual populism in which the courage to be wrong and stick with your position is one’s greatest trait. This anti-intellectualism makes it impossible to engage in any effective discussion of policy making, national priorities, or governmental accountability.

Few politicians in U.S. history have gone broke inciting lack of confidence in the competence and good will of government, and there are a lot of scared, uninformed, armed people only too willing to believe the worst. So this, too, will be an issue even as we now have 35 years of experience in seeing what horrors so-called limited government inflicts upon our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

But I actually have some hope. As I observed above, this is going to be a better country for the losers as well as the winners in this week’s events, and it isn’t foolish to hope that because the country will be better, at least some of those who may see themselves on the losing end eventually will come to see that it all was for the best.

And I hope everybody else sees that, too, for this week has been as transformative in America as any in decades. And even as we begin to think about what lies ahead, it would be churlish of us not to celebrate it. It is uncharacteristic of me to say so, but I suggest we celebrate — not with the bitter, bitter tears of our opponents, but with champagne.

Monday, June 1, 2015 7:38 pm

Odds and ends for June 1

So the Orange County (CA) DA’s office handled a slam-dunk murder case so corruptly that all 250 prosecutors in the office have been barred by a judge from having any further to do with the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, which is a big ol’ ugly ball of law-enforcement and prosecutor malfeasance so big that all sorts of very bad types may be set free before they should’ve been, or may never face trial, because of it. Coda: If you think that’s the only place this kind of cheating is going on, you’re kidding yourself.

Quasi-relatedly, we don’t just have cops killing unarmed African Americans, we now have repeat offenders.

Some of the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight last night and ZOMG SHARIA LAW OH NOES!!11!!1!!ELEVENTY!!1! Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Oh. (pause) OK. But this could.

Presented, without snark, some seriously hopeful news about treating cancer.

Microsoft will release Windows 10 — for free — July 29. But you’ll take away my Windows 7 Pro when you pry my cold dead hands from it stop offering security upgrades for it like you stopped for Windows XP, I guess.

Airlines aren’t just greedy, they’re also stupid. Exhibit A: United Airlines.

Gosh, an elected official in North Carolina can’t even engage in a little public bigotry anymore without people complaining about it.

The mayor of Belhaven, N.C., Adam O’Neal, is walking almost 300 miles to Washington, D.C. — again — to — again — try to draw attention to lack of health care in rural areas.

An American tourist visiting a lion preserve in South Africa rolled down her car window just like she’d been told not to do and got mauled to death. Commenters on the article are overwhelmingly in favor of the lion, and I’ve got to say, so am I. Lady, what part of “nature, red in tooth and claw” didn’t you understand?

The News & Record unveiled its newly redesigned website today. It’s still butt-ugly and it still doesn’t have RSS feeds. Bright side: They resurrected the URL Greensboro.com, which they never should have stopped using in the first place.

92-year-old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte finished a marathon Sunday, so I really don’t want to hear about your bad back or your sore feet.

 

Monday, March 9, 2015 8:59 pm

Odds and ends for March 9

I challenge any sentient carbon-based life form to read President Obama’s speech at Selma this past weekend and tell me that the man doesn’t love America.

Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel is all butthurt because President Obama talked about today’s voter-suppression efforts at Selma. Because Selma had absolutely nothing to do with voting rights. Dear sweet baby Jesus, please make Stoopid painful. Amen.

For what it’s worth, I took issue with many on the left who argued that the House GOP’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak constituted “treason” or a violation of the Logan Act. I thought it was despicable but didn’t meet the act’s definition of a crime. I also don’t see this letter from 47 senators to Iran warning them that any agreement not ratified could be overturned by executive action at any time as a violation of the law. Is it obnoxious and counterproductive? Certainly. Would the Republicans be unleashing the flying monkey poo if a Democratic Senate had done this to a Republican president? Oh, Lord, yes. Does it include a passage indicating that at least 47 of 100 U.S. senators do not understand what “ratification” is? Why, yes. Yes, it does. But the fact of the matter is that any agreement not approved for the president’s ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate is, indeed, that tenuous.

Fox News is America’s most trusted news network, this notwithstanding.

Like we didn’t have enough to worry about, Pakistan has tested a missile that can carry a nuke.

So we can insure 30 million previously uninsured Americans under the Affordable Care Act and still save a metric assload of money. Good to know.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in a world of hurt as he fights for re-election. I ain’t crying for him; I’ve never liked him and never trusted him.

Convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza decries Hillary Clinton’s “lawlessness.” From jail.

Relatedly, how bad has The New York Times’s reporting on then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails been? Incredibly bad. (That’s not to say what Clinton did was right, but neither was it either as bad or as remarkable as the Times reported.)

The Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon gets busted after a video of members chanting racist lyrics goes viral. Remind me again how we’re a post-racial society. Go on. I’ll wait. Fortunately, that behavior already has caused the university some pain.

So the state of Connecticut has forced a 17-year-old to undergo chemotherapy even though both she and her mother didn’t want it. If only the state would crack down half as hard on Big Pharma.

Surprise, surprise. Not only is the GOP-backed N.C. tax “reform” screwing lower-income taxpayers, it’s even amounting to a screwing, or, at best, a wash for small-business owners it was supposedly intended to benefit. Meanwhile, the state’s job growth continues to lag the national average and the wealthy get wealthier.

 

Friday, March 6, 2015 8:11 pm

Odds and ends for March 6

America has a cop violence problem. And, as is so often the case with America, we have to admit we have a problem before we can fix it.

One of the reasons you don’t order people to commit war crimes is because of the damage it does to those who must carry out those orders … as Israel is now finding out.

The Republican National Committee is only allowing “conservative” news outlets and personalities to cover the 2012 GOP primary debates. Of course, with that clown car, “conservative” probably means “batshit.”

Arkansas State Rep. Justin Harris might just be the worst person you’ll read about all year.

When the UNC Board of Governors met in closed session to fire Tom Ross, they voted for a resolution that they wouldn’t talk about the firing and would refer all questions to board chair John Fennebresque, who appears to have gotten his P.R. degree from the Iraqi Ministry of Information. Only one board member voted against the resolution: Greensboro’s Marty Kotis. Thank you, Marty.

As the GOP Klown Kar of batshit presidential candidates barrels down the road, one of the Klowns, Ben Carson, is named to speak at the Pope-Civitas Institute’s Conservative Leadership Conference. You may know Carson from such hits as “People go into prison straight and come out gay” and, “No, really, fellow Republicans, I am NOT crazy.”

Not content with screwing with Greensboro’s City Council districts, state Senate Republicans are now mucking with the Wake County Commissioners’ districts in the wake of a throw-the-bums-out election in November in which a Democratic slate sent a bunch of GOP incumbents packing. Coincidence? Like Gibbs, I don’t believe in coincidence. (Full disclosure: One of those Dems, John Burns, is an online friend of mine and fellow Davidson grad to whom I have given campaign contributions, and I’ve got two sibs who live and pay taxes in Wake County.)

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin recently told the legislature that the state’s courts are in very bad shape and need $30 million to fix. (Hell, their computer system was antiquated back when I was still a reporter, and that was six years ago.) So Gov. Pat McCrory’s new budget? Provides only $6 million in new money.

Former UNC offensive lineman Ryan Hoffman is living on the street, plagued by problems that might well be the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — brain injuries — from playing football. Ironically, some of the most cutting-edge research on CTE and brain injuries is being carried out at UNC. Here’s hoping they can help the player they once exploited.

 

Friday, February 20, 2015 7:12 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 20

Yeah, we’re in a post-racial society now.

Having decided that hacking cell phones on a case-by-case basis wasn’t efficient enough, the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, hacked a sim-card manufacturer, gaining access to billions of cell phones. (We learn of this via a leak from Edward Snowden to The Intercept, but go on, keep telling me how Snowden is nothing but a criminal.)

Some conservative PACs are fleecing their contributors, big-time: to the tune of a combined $50 million or more.

Brian Williams of NBC isn’t the only anchor with a lying-about-being-in-combat problem. Bill O’Reilly at Fox News is another one. David Corn calls him out at Salon. O’Reilly’s response, which was entirely unpredictable, was to call Corn a liar and a “despicable guttersnipe.”

Apparently North Carolina has defeated poverty, because there’s not one other damn reason why the UNC Board of Governors would close the Poverty Center. Except because they’re sociopaths, and thin-skinned ones at that.

Once again, a pesky Constitution gets in the way. This time, it’s the Wisconsin constitution, which,  a state appeals court has ruled, prevents Gov. Scott Walker from overruling administrative orders issued by the state’s elected superintendent of public instruction.

If you like what the Kochs have been trying to do in Wisconsin and here in North Carolina, you’ll love what they’re trying to do in Illinois, where the governor apparently has declared war on everyone who’s not already a millionaire.

Here’s a short, ugly lesson about the ethics of rich people. (Yeah, I know, not all rich people. Still.)

One could be forgiven for thinking that N.C. State Sen. Trudy Wade is just remarkably hard of hearing. In point of fact, the likelier explanation for her behavior is that she’s doing the bidding of a couple of wealthy, silent types who have promised her some sort of recompense even in the unlikely event she loses her Senate seat over her misbegotten, antidemocratic reorganization/redistricting plan for the Greensboro City Council. I find it unlikely to be coincidental that this plan matches up nicely with the Koch playbook for trying to get more Republicans elected even in largely to overwhelmingly Democratic cities. (Yes, the city council is nonpartisan under current law. Like that matters to the Kochs.)

If there ever will be any hope of Tar Heels and Blue Devils getting along, perhaps it will be over beer. We’ll find out early in March.

 

 

 

Monday, February 16, 2015 7:34 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 16

Greetings from — well, not Snowmageddeon; I guess that’d be Massachusetts.

In the words of my friend Joe Killian, go home, N.C. Ethics Commission. You’re drunk.

If they ever remake “The Breakfast Club,” I’ve found the guy who can play the principal. He’s a principal.

It’s looking less likely now, but if SCOTUS rules against the government on Obamacare in King v. Burwell, insurance exec Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice has a legislative fix, short and satisfying.

In the sentencing of three white men convicted of killing a black man, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, only the second African American to serve on the federal bench in Mississippi, gave a smackdown for the ages.

Probably not for the first time, the state of Texas is set to execute an innocent man.

It’s her funeral and we’ll cry if we want to: Singer Leslie Lesley Gore is dead at 68.

Monday, February 9, 2015 8:01 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 9

So because I think Binyamin Netanyahu is a sociopath who has led Israel down a dangerously self-destructive path and who (as is true of any other head of state) has no business addressing our government without an invitation from the head of that government, Joe “Ratings Lower Than Whale Poop in the Marianas Trench at High Tide” Scarborough thinks I’m anti-Semitic. Fortunately, Dave Winer, the Godfather of Blogging, has a response: “Let me jewsplain that for you: chuck is a goy schmuck asshole schmeggegey nazi idiot dick.”

Some people just don’t have the temperament to be lawyers. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, not for the first time, is demonstrating that he is one of those people, ordering officials in that state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 legalization of same-sex marriage there. Coming into today, Alabama was 0-2 in nullification contests, and it began losing again today not long after county offices opened for business. Sorry, Roy. And screw you with a fence post, bigot.

“[I]f memory for events is strengthened at emotional times, why does everyone forget what they were doing when the Challenger exploded?” Memory is damned tricky. And our criminal justice system, for good or ill, needs to take better stock of its shortcomings.

A month or so ago I had to give New York Times op-ed pecksniff Ross Douthat credit for being right about the Charlie Hebdo incident. Now, I must give New York Times op-ed pecksniff David Brooks credit for being right about President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments. Verily, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming up the driveway and here I am all out of hay.

If Mike Freaking Huckabee blows that dog whistle any louder, he’s gonna owe me for some new windows.

So, Godwin’s Law with respect to privatization? Totally bogus:

They say that the first person in any political argument who stoops to invoking Nazi Germany automatically loses. But you can look it up: According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the English word “privatization” derives from a coinage, Reprivatisierung, formulated in the 1930s to describe the Third Reich’s policy of winning businessmen’s loyalty by handing over state property to them.

(Seriously. I had no idea.)

There might be a case for not publishing some of the Charlie Hebdo images, but outgoing NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos utterly fails to make it.

Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has a fiancee. His fiancee has advised the governor on some of the same energy issues on which she works as a paid consultant for private interests, and there’s roughly zero chance Kitzhaber was unaware of this major conflict of interest. I imagine there are roughly 4 million Oregonians who don’t give a damn what I think, but I think Kitzhaber should resign. I imagine a district attorney and a U.S. attorney there also don’t give a damn what I think, but I also think Kitzhaber should go to prison.

WRAL-TV catches Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam lying about Medicaid. Stop the presses.

A former chairman of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, Jim Womackgets all butthurt over the fact that a Lee County coffee-shop owner doesn’t want Duke Energy’s coal ash dumped in her back yard. Because Womack was having trouble understanding the owner’s position, I wish she’d’ve spooned some coal ash into his coffee.

I was wrong; Carolina Panther Greg Hardy won’t be convicted on domestic-assault charges in a jury trial after all. The complainant has skipped town amid rumors of a civil settlement. I stand by my prediction, however, that Hardy has played his last game as a Panther.

Here in Greensboro, a patron at New Orleans Bar & Grille on Big Tree Way was unsatisfied with his steak Saturday night and started filming a review, when restaurant employees not only interrupted but also stole their phones. My wife’s from Louisiana, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before we set foot in that place. This deserves to go viral so hard that not even the owners’ grandchildren’s grandchildren will ever be able to try to start a business here. And the restaurant employees need to go to prison.

Let it never be said I’m not tough on crime. Y’all have a good evening.

 

Friday, February 6, 2015 8:03 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 6

Climate change: It’s a matter of national security.

Obama might be a socialist, but the country just completed its best three-month period of job growth in 17 years, bitchez. Still a long way to go — unemployment actually went up in January as more people resumed looking for work — but it’s definitely looking better.

Boko Haram is opening a branch office in neighboring Niger. Bloodshed and misery follow. World does little.

The annual silliness known as the National Prayer Breakfast was this week. And this year we got more proof, were more needed, about just how impossible it is for Americans conservatives to have an honest conversation about race.

NBC’s Brian Williams lied about being in a helicopter that got shot down in Iraq (which is a firing offense where I’m concerned), but did he also lie about seeing a body floating outside his New Orleans hotel after Hurricane Katrina? Quite possibly not.

Relatedly, why is it such a bad thing for Brian Williams to lie when Fox News personnel do it day-in and day-out, constantly? That’s neither a rhetorical question nor an exaggeration of the network’s mendacity.

Hey, anti-vaxxers? When Autism Speaks says you should vaccinate your kids, you’ve pretty much lost the vaccination argument.

I love it when they throw each other under the bus. This time, it’s Bibi and Boehner, who both deserve all the tire tracks.

One would think that maternal health would be a human right. Sadly, the U.S. has not gotten the word.

Yes, health insurance premiums have gone up an average of $4,154 under Obama — but that’s less than half as fast as they went up under Bush.

Is police reform impossible? Could be.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea (the state university system should benefit the entire state), then got busted for it, then lied about it, then got busted for lying about it. Great start to your presidential campaign, there, goob.

If there’s no war on women, it ain’t for lack of trying.

Intuit’s TurboTax, though not hacked itself, may be being used by scammers to file fraudulently for tax refunds.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership might be the most dangerous, and depressing, trade agreement you’ve never heard of.

The oldest living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona has died at age 100.

The movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened today. Theater operators requested that patrons not dress up, or down, for the showings.

This is how the apocalypse will begin.

Or this, as a single penguin holds the entire crew of a Coast Guard vessel hostage. I, for one, welcome our new spheniscidaean overlords.

Y’all have a good weekend.

Saturday, January 31, 2015 9:10 am

“Massacre” vs. “shootout”; Mike Barber drags the discussion backward

The good news, I guess you can say, is that here in Greensboro we’re no longer arguing over whether we’ll have a state historical marker commemorating the killings of five Communist Workers Party members by Klansmen and Nazis in 1979. Instead, we’re arguing over whether the sign will say “massacre,” as the state advisory committee (trained historians) recommended, or something with fewer emotional overtones, like “killings” or “shootings.”

Any of those options is fine with me as long as the city takes this opportunity to come face to face with something it would rather forget. Nov. 3, 1979, was, pretty inarguably, the worst single day in Greensboro’s history. We’ve practically had to be forced at gunpoint to reckon with what happened that day and afterward, and how it happened, and why. But now, at least, the ground has shifted from “whether” to “how.” It’s not as much progress as I’d like, but it is progress.

Today’s story reminded me, though, of something from a story last week on this same issue, and an argument that cries out for a response. City Council member Mike Barber said:

“The bigger issue for me is that in a city of almost 300,000 people, we continue to have just a handful of people who live their lives looking in the rearview mirror. Other midsize cities are concentrating on the positive, marketing the positive, attracting jobs and businesses. We continue to discuss what happened when gas was 28 cents per gallon. That’s what holds Greensboro back — a small group of people who make an industry of racism and unhappiness, marketing all that’s unpleasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred.”

My initial response? Two syllables of basic Anglo-Saxon.

Who in the pluperfect hell is Mike Barber (whom, by the way, I’ve known since our daughters were in day care together) to decide that trauma suffered by other people is unworthy of thought, reflection, or mention? Who in the pluperfect hell is he to tell those who suffered that trauma to get over it? If his daughter had been killed in the shootout — or had died prematurely in any other way — would he be OK with me or anyone else telling him to get over it? Somehow I doubt it.

We’re supposed to believe that Greensboro is being held back, or even could be held back, by such a small group of people? Please. It’s OK for places from Andersonville to Auschwitz to “market all that’s unplesasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred,” but it’s not OK for Greensboro? Please. (And, boy, “market” is a revealing word, isn’t it?)

But, much worse, ridiculing and diminishing the tragedies in the lives of others displays, at the very least, a stunning lack of human sympathy. Doing so for political gain, as here, demonstrates nontrivial amounts of sociopathy. And because this kind of lack of sympathy and lack of empathy is at the heart of so many of the issues that divide us as Americans, it’s also bad for the country. White people tell victims of racism to get over it. Men tell women who have been raped, and/or whose rights are under assault in areas ranging from reproductive health to equal pay, to get over it. The wealthy tell Americans whose wealth has been stripmined where it hasn’t been swindled to get over it. People looking to capitalize on the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the Army Corps of Engineers tell longtime New Orleans residents who lost their homes to get over it. And on and on. It goes against everything that we have told ourselves about what the United States stands for — not least, that we’re all in this together. Yet that is where Barber has chosen to place himself.

Mike Barber could argue against the marker on historical grounds. (He says he’ll go with whatever a majority of the council decides.) He could argue against the word “massacre” on the marker on rhetorical grounds. I might or might not agree with him, but these are subjects over which reasonable people of good will can disagree even if many of the arguments we’ve seen so far have been disingenuous. But Barber’s comments, uttered from a place of race, gender, and class privilege and obviously aimed at strengthening that place politically, put him squarely in the middle of a stream of American political thought whose source lies somewhere between Bob Haldeman and Nathan Bedford Forrest. If anything is truly holding Greensboro back, it’s that kind of attitude. It’s despicable. It’s evil. And I just thought someone should say so.

Friday, January 30, 2015 7:22 pm

Odds and ends for Jan. 30

You know, I’ve thought about taking these odds and ends and doing something with them on paper.li. And then I think, “That’s what you have a blog for.” Duh.

There probably aren’t five people reading this blog who care about this, but it tickles me, so bear with me here. The new owner of The New Republic brought in someone to do basically a truth-and-reconciliation-commission-type take on that magazine’s attitudes toward race during the past couple of decades (under the previous owners, in other words). Those attitudes, under the guise of D.C.  “contrariness,” actually were pretty damned smarmy, and the guy who wrote the report puts welts on Marty Peretz and Andrew Sullivan that will show for the rest of their lives.

My friend Susan Ladd continues making local bigots’ heads asplode. Good on her, and good on the News & Record for giving her a platform. Somebody needs to stand up to this shit.

You call yourself a voyeur? Amateur.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 8:46 pm

Odds and ends for Jan. 29

The only thing worse than the GOP’s batshit insane right-wing id is the GOP’s hypocritical denial that it has a batshit insane right-wing id. Or the so-called liberal media’s taking part in this hypocritical denial that the GOP has a batshit insane right-wing id. You pick.

Almost as bad as the GOP’s batshit insane right-wing id, speaking of the GOP, is the habit that id has of falling in love with schmucks every four years. The GOP leaders who do this are the same GOP leaders who would have us believe that they are the grownups in the room.

Relatedly, for reasons surpassing understanding, once in a blue moon I look at the home page of the Daily Beast to see it has become relevant yet. Nope.

Jon Chait haz a sad. Belle Waring points out that he also haz a idiotic.

In other idiot news (Thank God! I was afraid we were running out!), memo to Mike Huckabee: When even Fox News’s village idiot, Megyn Kelly, thinks you’re an idiot, you’re probably an idiot.

Before you cheer too loudly about bigoted loon Bryan Fischer being ousted as spokesman for the conservative Christian group American Family Association (the group most famous in my long memory for having seen Spinal Tap’s “Christmas With the Devil” on “Saturday Night Live” and thinking it was real), be aware that Fischer remains a talk-radio host for the association. In other words, funny as it might seem to think that Fischer was too crazy even for the wackaloons of the AFA, the truth is they’re still actually pretty comfortable with him. They merely found his raving about “counterfeit” religions such as Judaism an inconvenient hindrance to their current, full-metal pursuit of Zionism as avenue to Middle Eastern apocalypse.

I’m reasonably sure the entire Santa Fe, N.M., Police Department isn’t a bunch of  mutts. But it sure seems to contain a lot of officers who, for whatever reason, won’t inform on the mutts. There’s a word for that, one y’all have no doubt heard before: accomplice.

I’m late to this, but Charlie Pierce at Esquire has weighed in on the firing of UNC President Tom Ross. There’s a reason Pierce keeps calling us “the newly insane state of North Carolina.”

Public service announcement: Debbie Hill of Greensboro sure says racist things. (h/t: Doug Copeland)

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 12:41 pm

Anti-police? Or pro-police, pro-public?

One would like to think that a guy who worked his way up from Drug Enforcement Administration agent to assistant director of that agency, a guy who served as both head of witness protection and associate director for operations of the U.S. Marshals’ Service, a guy who served as both fire commissioner and police commissioner for the City of New York, a guy who now gets paid very high dollars to do security consulting, would be able to face a little criticism without soiling his drawers.

One would like to think that.

But one would be wrong.

Howard Safir, the guy who has held all those positions, is crying hysterically that the criticism police now are facing in the U.S. is unmatched in the past 45 years.

He is wrong. Factually, objectively wrong.

He writes, “We have seen nothing but police bashing from some of the highest offices in the land.” In fact, nothing that President Obama or New York Mayor Bill diBlasio has said can rationally be construed as “police bashing.”

He writes that Eric Garner and Michael Brown died resisting arrest. Garner was doing nothing of the sort when he was slain with an illegal choke hold. And even if one accepts that Michael Brown tried to reach into Officer Darren Wilson’s car and was justifiably shot and wounded for doing so, there is no credible evidence that Brown posed an immediate threat to Wilson or other civilians when Wilson fired the final, fatal shots.

He writes that current levels of “anti-police rhetoric” are unparalled in the past 45 years.  However, anyone who was around in the late 1960s and early 1970s recalls that violent clashes between police and protesters were commonplace. And the protesters were raising hell about that, often in very intemperate language.

Today? There have been some clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere in which the language has been intemperate, but on nowhere near the scale of decades ago.

No, what’s going on today is something different — something pro-public and, I would argue, pro-police. I don’t mean “pro-police” in the mindlessly jingoistic sense, but pro-police in the very practical sense of making law enforcement officers’ jobs safer and easier.

People are asking for the police to be open about and accountable for their actions. They are asking for law enforcement to stop discriminating against African Americans, which research shows it indubitably does. And they are insisting that the police be bound to obey the same laws the rest of us must.

Now unlike some people, I don’t think police are any worse-behaved today than they’ve ever been. In fact, they’re arguably much better behaved in most jurisdictions. But when everybody with a phone has a camera, police malfeasance is much more likely to be publicized than it used to be. And the larger number of reported incidents, with greater detail, reaching more people on social media, with accompanying demands that police be held accountable, looks, to the casual observer, like it might be anti-police.

It isn’t. People are insisting, rather, that cops restore “to protect and serve” to a phrase of some intellectual and moral value by behaving themselves, by treating everyone fairly including minorities who long have been treated disproportionately more harshly by law enforcement, and by being subject to the same administrative discipline or criminal punishment as anyone else would be who had misbehaved similarly.

There are some good reasons why law enforcement should want to do those things — and not only because they comports with the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and with the Golden Rule.

Comporting with those standards is important for its own sake. But when cops behave openly and appropriately and transparently, and are publicly disciplined when they don’t, the public’s trust in and respect for law enforcement grows. And that growth has two major practical benefits for law enforcement.

First, it makes the public more likely to confide in and cooperate with police, in both day-to-day interactions and in assisting with difficult investigations. That makes a cop’s job easier.

Second, that increased trust and respect make it less likely that a minor, routine incident will escalate into the kind of situation that could end up with a cop dead, or with a civilian unjustifiably dead and a cop’s career and perhaps life ruined. That makes a cop’s job safer.

I would think that every cop, and everyone who supports cops, would want that the job to be easier and safer.

So why would Howard Safir so blatantly mischaracterize what’s being said and done in American communities around the issue of unchecked, unaccountable law enforcement? I can only speculate.

Some possible answers: He’s genuinely uninformed in general and uninformed about how social media works in particular. He’s genuinely uninformed about the statistics showing hugely disproportionate differences between how police treat middle-class Caucasians and how they treat African Americans of pretty much any class. He is informed, but he’s locked into an outdated mindset in which rule of the police is absolute, rather than a role of community servant leadership. Maybe he just listens to too much Fox News, whose incendiary, race-baiting rhetoric is deliberately clouding the issue.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that Safir needs to put on some clean undies and start asking himself about the best, fairest way to serve the community — the whole community.

That’s all most Americans are asking for.

Friday, December 19, 2014 8:35 pm

Get a clue: Your tender fee-fees do not trump HUMAN LIFE

This is a point I’ve made many times in the past, usually in the context of privileged conservatives trying to cast themselves as victims.

Athenae at First Draft:

Your vague resentment of a public worker’s pension doesn’t mean he shouldn’t eat.

Your unnerved-ness about gay people doesn’t mean someone else should be prevented from receiving full equality under the l aw.

Your discomfort with abortion doesn’t mean a woman should die from a medical procedure.

Your belief in God doesn’t mean an atheist owes you something.

And once and for all time, mah fellow white peoples, your itch when you see a black dude you do not know is not something black people are required to indulge by dying.

People keep trotting out “sincere beliefs” as the reason their idiocies should be tolerated, as the reason minority groups or anyone they consider “other” should continue to be beaten down. As if the foibles of the fearful are equivalent to the beat of a human heart.

You’re entitled to your opinion. You’re even entitled to your “sincere belief,” as misguided, or, indeed, wackaloon, as it be. But you’re not entitled to have your feelings, your opinions, your sincere beliefs indulged at every turn, and you’re sure as hell not entitled to that indulgence if your tender fee-fees have a body count. Indeed, all you’re entitled to then is ridicule, or worse.

Thursday, October 9, 2014 8:40 pm

The single most important reason why we cannot elect another conservative president in my lifetime …

… is the federal bench in general and also, in particular, federal judges’ attitude toward the most precious and fundamental of our rights: the franchise. Charlie Pierce on SCOTUS’s recent stay of the 4th Circuit’s reinstating same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting in North Carolina:

There is a long, blue river of sadness running through the words of that dissent. It runs under the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. It pools into a lagoon of sadness behind an earthen dam in Mississippi. The survivors of the generation that fought and bled for the right to vote are getting old and dying off right now. John Lewis is 74. Soon, there won’t be any of them left. But it always was thought that the victories they won would survive them. That the real monument to their cause would be lines of the historically disenfranchised suddenly empowered, swamping the system, and realizing that elections in this country are meant to be the most powerful form of civil disobedience there is. And now, it looks very much as though powerful interests are in combination to make sure their victories die with them, here as we celebrate John Roberts’s Day of Jubilee. There is a long blue river of sadness running through those words, and a darkness spreading across its surface, and a long night is falling on the face of the water.

Conspiring to deny your fellow citizens their civil rights is a felony under federal law. But when a majority of the Supreme Court is among the co-conspirators, to whom do we turn?

Thursday, October 2, 2014 9:53 pm

For white racists (and the many white folks who mistakenly think they are not white racists) …

Over at the Great Orange Satan, commenter eodell lays it out quite clearly, for those who will listen:

Lemme whitesplain something to you, fellow white men: no one buys your bullshit.

That’s because your bullshit runs like this: For historically- and presently-oppressed black people to be treated decently, they must carefully avoid doing anything that could be remotely twisted into behaving like a white racist, even if you’re squinting and looking at it from five hundred meters away in a thick fog. Because that would be racist, and therefore hypocritical, and if that’s the case, they deserve to continue to be oppressed.

Here’s the thing you thick-headed [expletive]s totally fail to get: NO ONE DESERVES TO BE OPPRESSED, PERIOD. You can talk all you want about how it’s okay for black people to be mistreated if— but get this, there is no “if”. It’s not okay, ever. That’s why we call it mistreatment. Your error is to think that it’s ever justified, and your active misdeed is to constantly search for a justification. Black people, collectively, are not guilty of anything. In fact, a basic principle of civil society is that we reject the notion of collective guilt. Some individual black people, like individual white people, have done bad things, and in those cases, may deserve judicial punishments. But even those people don’t deserve mistreatment from some random white guy on the street. And black people in general don’t owe anyone anything as a prerequisite for being treated decently. No one does.

That last part is the rub: Way too many people in our society think being treated decently can/should be conditional. In real life, no one’s going to be treated decently all the time, and individual people of whatever race occasionally do things that merit being mistreated (after due process, of course), but that should be the baseline expectation and the foundation from which all our contact with other people should begin.

Only that’s not the way it happens, and way too many people are shirking their responsibility in this regard because they don’t recognize their own privilege.

Complaining about white privilege is not the same as assigning collective guilt to white people. White privilege is a pervasive feature of our society and our legal system. It’s hard to see if you’re white (and you’re not looking or actively trying not to look), but it is real, it is powerfully destructive, and if global warming had the kind of statistical support that evidence of white privilege has, Bill O’Reilly would be haranguing FOX News viewers to install solar panels.

And here’s the subtle point that you folks either can’t or won’t grasp. White privilege is especially the responsibility of white people to fix, not because we’re all racist schlubs like you are, but because white privilege itself means that we’re the ones who have the power to change it. Black people don’t have that power, again because of white privilege, and not because they aren’t sufficiently careful in the way they phrase their complaints about being mistreated. It’s our problem and our responsibility as white people to fix not because whites are collectively guilty, but because it is the responsibility of ALL PEOPLE to fight for decent treatment for ALL PEOPLE. It just happens that, because of our [expletive] ancestors and a helping handful of historical accident, we white people are the ones who can do something about it. When the finger on the trigger is white, it’s pointless to ask a black guy to lower the gun.

I realize the people who most need to hear this will be least likely to listen to and believe it, but what the hell. A guy can try.

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