The Only “Jobs Plan” That Matters These Days

Mr. Obama, optimistic to a fault—or as shrewd as Machiavelli—is offering Republicans yet another opportunity (yet another “grand bargain”) to come to the aid of the country, an opportunity right-wingers will, of course, reject.

Why? Why would they reject a deal to cut tax rates on businesses in exchange for “a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs,” as the President offered in Chattanooga today? Because the rejection is not based on the offer, but the offer-er, the Scary Negro in the White’s House. They deal with him at their own political peril.

President Obama, making fun of House Republicans, said today that “wasting the country’s time by taking something like 40 meaningless votes to repeal ObamaCare is not a jobs plan.” About that he is certainly wrong. Taking all those meaningless votes is a jobs plan for right-wing legislators, as those meaningless votes will help keep them employed in Congress after the 2014 elections. Republican primary voters have a preternatural affection for such meaninglessness and they nearly always reward its champions.

And there’s the problem. A relative handful of extreme and energetic reactionaries, strategically spread across the country in tangled and twisted congressional districts, fed propaganda day after day by well-funded right-wing interest groups, can, by proxy, stand in the way of anything that looks like progress for the country as a whole.

For that we can think the collective genius of our Founders, the Supreme Court, and, most important, the indifference and complacency found among a rather large number of Americans, folks in the 99% who can’t send their spare cash on exotic vacations in the Cayman Islands, but who are willing to sit back, refuse to vote, and allow a tiny fraction of the electorate who can park money in sun-soaked hideaways to control politics in Washington and elsewhere.

[AP Photo]

Can Corporations Pray? And Other Tales From The Blue Dot

What strange creatures we are.

I don’t know exactly why it struck me this way, but two items in the news seem to be related in some strange way.

First up is a decision out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that declared, according to SCOTUSblog:

that a family-owned, profit-making business cannot challenge on religious grounds the new federal health care law’s mandate of birth control health insurance for its workers.   The two-to-one decision by the Philadelphia-based court conflicts with a recent ruling by the Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court.

The blog provides a little background:

The case involves a Pennsylvania company that makes wooden cabinets.  All of its stock is owned by members of the Hahn family, who practice the Mennonite faith.  Their company has 950 employees, and it is company policy not to support “anything that terminates a fertilized embryo.”  The objection is aimed at two drugs that must be provided in health coverage for employees under the contraception mandate — the so-called “morning-after pill,” such as Plan B, and the so-called “week-after pill,” known by the name ella […]

The Third Circuit majority concluded that the First Amendment right to exercise a religious belief — under the Free Exercise Clause — is a “personal right” that exists for the benefit of human beings, not artificial “persons” like corporations.   Religious belief, it said, develops in the “minds and hearts of individuals.”  In drawing this conclusion, he noted the contrary view announced by the Tenth Circuit Court, and said that “we respectfully disagree.”

The majority remarked: “We do not see how a for-profit, ‘artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law,’ that was created to make money could exercise such an inherently ‘human’ right.”   The opinion said that the judges could not find a single court opinion, before the lawsuits against the contraception mandate began, that had found that a profit-making corporation doing ordinary business had its own right of “free exercise” of religion.

It is one thing for a religious organization to be able to exercise the tenets of its faith, the court said, and another thing for a purely secular corporation to make the same claim.

So, this latest court decided that, unlike people, corporations cannot worship God and, presumably, can’t pray down the wrath of the Almighty on their competitors.

Now, it strikes me as beyond weird that we, here in the twenty-first century, are hung up on whether a non-human entity like a corporation can have a personal relationship with God. I mean, it’s one thing to define corporations as people, just so they can give lots of money to Republicans, but it is quite another to define them as people so they can, among other things, prove their fealty to God by denying women contraception coverage.

In any case, that leads me to my second item in the news, which is this stunning photograph produced by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, while it was beyond Saturn, some 900 million miles—yes, 900 million miles—away:

Earth and its moon from Saturn

That’s a picture of the earth and the moon. Somewhere in that picture are you and I on July 19, 2013. Somewhere in that picture are the judges about to issue their opinion on whether corporations can worship God by not having to provide access to birth control via insurance policies. Somewhere roams Steve King and his imaginary cantaloupe-calved friends. Somewhere Anthony Weiner and his text-friendly schnitzel are about to doom his—their?— political future.

Yes, what strange creatures we are.

But I won’t end it there,  thanks to Phil Plait (“The Bad Astronomer”), who reminded us of one of my heroes, Carl Sagan, and his remarkable “Reflections on a Mote of Dust,” written shortly before his death in 1996. Sagan was commenting on a photograph taken by Voyager 1 in 1990, but what he said is even more amazing as you think about the Cassini picture above. It’s something to mull over this weekend, as we will, no doubt, hear the usual God-talk and more political commentary on Steve King and Anthony Weiner and the ongoing dysfunction that has paralyzed good government:

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Steve King, Ted Nugent, And Team Republican

It is assumed, by most talking journalistic mugs in the medium of cable television news and elsewhere, that Steve King, Republican congressman from Iowa, is a member of the “fringe” of the Republican Party. He’s waaaay out there, it is said.

So, when Steve King labeled most undocumented immigrants as “drug mules” with Herculean, cantaloupish calves who could haul 75 pounds of dope through the desert, it was considered a nutty act by a former dirt-mover in Iowa who, polite commentators want to assure us, is not a mainstream Republican.

Except that in June the supposedly fringe-friendly King offered an amendment in the House of Representatives that would have essentially forced the government to deport “DREAMers“—young folks brought into the country by relatives and who don’t have proper documentation—and his amendment passed the House! Oh, and it passed the House with 221 Republican votes (including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and local right-winger Ozark Billy Long)! Some fringy congressman King is. Only six—six!—Republicans voted against the extremist amendment.

Like Steve King, another conservative, Ted Nugent, is not considered a mainstream right-winger because, as the mainstream press would tell you, he says crazy stuff on the scale of a Steve King. When told of Stevie Wonder’s performance boycott of Florida, due to the state’s Stand Your Ground law, Nugent said:

You’ve got to be kidding me. So 700 black people, mostly young children and young people were slaughtered in Chicago last year by black people, and not a peep out of Stevie Wonder. Are you kidding me? What is this, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? How brain-dead do you have to be? How strangled by denial, how dishonest, how cheap do you have to be to focus on a clear-cut case where all the evidence, from the DOJ, from the FBI, from the army of investigative specialists in Florida determined that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense against a life-threatening attack by hoodlum, dope-smoking Trayvon Martin?

Leaving aside the fact that he lives in a fact-free world, what Nugent said has been said, in one form or another, by most conservative pundits on TV and elsewhere. The opinion he expressed above is mainstream conservative opinion, whether any leader of the Republican Party or whether any mainstream media journalist wants to admit it.

If that isn’t enough to convince the average journalist that Steve King and Ted Nugent are smack in the middle of contemporary GOP thought, if not eloquence, then the average journalist should consider this:

I’m looking here at Steve King. He needs to be your Congressman again. I want him as my partner in Washington!

That, of course, was the loud voice of the last Republican to run for President of the United States. Remember him? Remember Mittens Romney? He spoke those words in September of 2012. And Steve King was as nutty then as he is now, yet the guy who represented the GOP in the last national election, the guy who represented what the party stands for, not only accepted King’s endorsement, he said, again:

I want him as my partner in Washington!

Yeah, boy!

What about Romney and Ted Nugent? Oh, there was this:

nugent romney endorsementAccording to Nugent, Romney called him and asked him for his endorsement. And that call and that “long heart&soul conversation” came after Nugent, among other things, had called Democratic leader Debbie Wasserman-Schultz a “brain-dead, soulless, heartless, idiot,” and after he called former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi a “sub-human scoundrel,” and after he referred to President Obama as a “piece of shit,” and after he referred to Hillary Clinton as a “worthless bitch” and a “toxic cunt.”

Yeah, that must have been some heart&soul talk the gun-loving, pants-crapping, draft-avoiding rocker had with the Republican Party’s national presidential candidate.

After Nugent’s endorsement, Tagg Romney tweeted out this keeper:

tagg tweet on nugent

How cool is that? Very cool! Ted Nugent and Steve King, even if they don’t always express their conservatism with phony Washington politeness, are on Team Republican!

nugent mainstream republican

Republican Mission: “Destroy The Place”

I have recently heard liberals refer to the current covey of conservatives in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, as a “do nothing” group, ruling over the Party of No, whose members are not interested in getting anything done.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What we are seeing, day after day, and month after month, and now year after year, is a group of fanatics carrying out their mission, in many cases their “God-given” mission, to destroy the notion of a “federal” government, one that can serve to unify this otherwise disparate land by looking out for the well-being of all Americans. In the news now is talk of another battle over the debt ceiling and yet another threat of a government shutdown by these fanatics. The mission is ongoing.

Let me quote something to you a long-time Republican, John Dean, said about what is going on:

Conservative antigovernment philosophy works best when conservatives are in the minority, for they then have no responsibility to accomplish anything. In that position they are very good at obstructionism and using their minority status to make the Democrats look bad. This, in fact, is how they won control of Congress in 1994…Republicans achieved that victory by doing their best over the course of a number of years to destroy the place and then put the blame for it on the Democrats. Because the tactic worked so successfully, they are again reverting to this mode of behavior.

Now, John Dean didn’t write that yesterday. He didn’t write that in response to the latest debt-ceiling threats by extremist Republicans. He wrote that way back in 2007, before the term “Tea Party” was on the lips of anyone, before radicals in the Republican Party took over control of the House of Representatives and began the process of subverting good governance, the kind that benefits all the people, not just the wealthy few.

“We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” said John Boehner, leader of the House fanatics, “We ought to be judged by how many laws we repeal.” That was on Sunday. Today we learn that Congress’ approval is at an all time low—83% disapprove of the “job” they are doing—and that the public is also losing confidence in President Obama—his job-approval number fell to its lowest mark in two years. That last datum is no accident. It is an accomplishment. It is something the “do nothing” Republicans are doing very well: bringing down Obama, as they destroy people’s faith in the possibility of good governance.

Today The New York Times reports:

Congressional Republicans are moving to gut many of President Obama’s top priorities with the sharpest spending cuts in a generation and a new push to hold government financing hostage unless the president’s signature health care law is stripped of money this fall.

In the Senate, as approvingly reported by none other than Glenn Beck, Mike Lee, a fanatic from Utah, is hard at work destroying ObamaCare—and with it good governance—by recruiting his fellow fanatics to help him:

Fifteen Republican senators, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Texas), John Cornyn (Texas), Rand Paul (Ky.), James Inhofe (Okla.), David Vitter (La.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), John Thune (S.D.), and Chuck Grassley (Iowa), plan to block a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30 if it includes funding for Obamacare.

How do you deal with such fanatics? If you were President Obama what approach would you take?

This morning on two different cable networks, MSNBC and CNN, I heard the same outrageous suggestion from Joe Scarborough and Chris Cuomo, respectively: why isn’t the President providing leadership? Why doesn’t he do something about the gridlock? Why doesn’t he make a deal with Republicans?

The ridiculous implication, of course, is that there is something he can do, some magic wand he could wave that would make fanatics in the House and Senate stop waging jihad against him and the federal government. The Founders settled that matter a long time ago when they wrote the potential for gridlock—the separation of powers—into the Constitution.

So, there is little the President can do until the American people come to their senses and stop electing anti-government fanatics. In the latest polling, there is a tiny bit of good news, as reported by NBC:

…there are signs that Republicans are shouldering more of the blame for the situation in the nation’s capital: just 22 percent say they believe the GOP is interested in unifying the country in a bipartisan way, versus 45 percent who say the same about Obama.

It is up to Democrats, since the mainstream press is unwilling to point out the obvious, to keep explaining to the public just how radical are Republicans in Congress, just how they are attempting to undermine faith in Washington, how they are, in old-school Republican John Dean’s words, trying “to destroy the place.”

And speaking of Dean, he ended his great book, Broken Government, with a quote from “an old friend from the Nixon White House,” a “lifelong Republican” who “voted for Bush and Cheney twice,” who would only speak off the record:

Just tell your readers that you have a source who knows a lot about the Republican Party from long experience, that he knows all the key movers and shakers, and he has a bit of advice: People should not vote for any Republican, because they’re dangerous, dishonest, and self-serving. While I once believed that Governor George Wallace had it right, that there was not a dime’s worth of difference in the parties, that is no longer true. I have come to realize the Democrats really do care about people who most need help from government; Republicans care most about those who will only get richer because of government help…

Again, that was in, uh, 2007. Yikes.

Detroit: The Other Story

Finally, someone has told the other side of the story about Detroit.

After all the conservative crapola fed to us about the plight of one of America’s great cities (some of it involving the subtle suggestion that blacks have mucked it all up), after all the media hand-wringing regarding what to do about Detroit’s bleak financial condition, finally someone has come forth with another view, one that rings true for those of us who have followed conservative philosophy and policy over the years.

David Sirota, writing for Salon.com (“Don’t buy the right-wing myth about Detroit“) makes some counterpoints to the narrative that has been thrust upon us by reactionaries and their fellow travelers in the mainstream press, a narrative that goes like this: the problem with Detroit is that taxes are too high, corporations need more breaks, and, above all, public workers need their pensions cut:

It’s a straightforward conservative formula: the right blames state and municipal budget problems exclusively on public employees’ retirement benefits, often underfunding those public pensions for years. The money raided by those pension funds is then used to enact expensive tax cuts and corporate welfare programs. After years of robbing those pension funds to pay for such giveaways, a crisis inevitably hits, and workers’ pension benefits are blamed — and then slashed. Meanwhile, the massive tax cuts and corporate subsidies are preserved, because we are led to believe they had nothing to do with the crisis. Ultimately, the extra monies taken from retirees are then often plowed into even more tax cuts and more corporate subsidies.

Sirota mentions a truly unbelievable situation involving the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and its quest for a new place to play:

By focusing the blame for Detroit’s bankruptcy solely on workers’ pensions, rather than having a more comprehensive discussion that includes both pension benefits and corporate giveaways, the right can engineer the political environment for the truly immoral reality mentioned at the beginning of this article — the one highlighted this week by the Associated Press story headlined “Arena Likely Still On Track, Business As Usual For Sports Teams Despite Bankruptcy Filing.” Yes, that’s correct: at the same time government officials are talking about slashing the meager $19,000-a-year pensions of workers who don’t get Social Security, those officials are promising that they will still go forward with a plan to spend a whopping $283 million of taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Red Wings.

I recommend you read the entire article, but if you don’t, and if you, like me, have heard for some time now that bondholders need to be protected in all this (remember the GM bailout? same argument) and those greedy public employee pensioners are going to have to take a big hit if Detroit is to survive, you need to know the power dynamics of the situation:

…with Wall Street bondholders intensifying their push to make sure all the pain is felt by public employees, and with the right’s blame-the-workers narrative preventing any real discussion of corporate subsidies and tax policies, it’s a good bet the $19,000-a-year pensioners are going to bear a disproportionate share of the sacrifice. After all, out of all of this situation’s players — corporations that want public subsidies, bondholders, rich folk who want more tax cuts, right-wing [Governor Rick Snyder] administration officials and municipal workers — the retirees earning benefits just above the poverty line have the least amount of political power.

Bottom line: Hockey arena? Yes. Paying promised pensions? Nope.

For all the talk  that has come from the right wing over the years about how powerful are the public employee unions in our large cities, compared to corporate power and the power of Wall Street bankers, those $19,000-a-year pensioners don’t have much of a chance.

The “History That Doesn’t Go Away”

It’s hard for me to tell you how remarkable it was to hear President Obama talk, extemporaneously and personally, about the events surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin. I found his words the most poignant of his presidency, as he attempted to put into context the African-American response to the killing of the sixteen-year-and-a-month-old kid in Florida.

But not everyone, of course, found his commentary pleasing or helpful. The reactionaries among us were quite upset and had a lot to say about it.

And I don’t just mean what outrageous and extremist conservatives like Sean Hannity and other IQ-sapping schmucks had to say about it (hint: Obama’s admission that Trayvon Martin could have been him 35 years ago was an admission that “he smoked pot and he did a little blow”).

And I don’t just mean the ridiculous commentary Mike Huckabee offered as he substituted for the racially-challenged Bill O’Reilly on Friday (hint: contrary to Obama, no race issue was involved, only pornography, graphic media violence, and abortion!).

And I don’t just mean the insane opinion of Huckabee’s guest, “Republican strategist” Brad Blakeman, who said that if protests this past weekend turned ugly, Obama “incited any violence that takes place.”

No, I’m not just talking about those conservatives, the usual suspects, whose reactionary responses are fire-retardant chemicals, putting out the firing synapses of anyone with a brain.

I’m talking about what Charles Krauthammer, who gets much credit for being an enlightened conservative commentator on Fox “News” Channel, had to say about Obama’s remarks:

…a political speech addressed to his constituency on the left, which I thought was unfortunate . . . Look, I gave him and Holder credit all week for trying to de-racialize the issue. And what Obama did, I think, unfortunately, today is to reracialize it.

That the very white Dr. Krauthammer would take from the President’s remarks not much more than that they constituted “a political speech” designed to appease folks who understand in their bones the racial context of the tragedy—which means, let’s not kid ourselves, that Krauthammer was talking about Obama appeasing blacks—is instructive as to the mental state of the Fox blabber.

But it is more instructive as to the philosophical corruption of much of contemporary conservatism, whose decadence extends beyond failed economic theories or the compulsion to get inside the heads and vaginas of American women in order to save zygotes.

This corruption is related to the corruption that has plagued this country from before its official founding, when black folks in chains were introduced to America as the property of white folks. But this modern corruption is not the kind one would find at, say, an old slave auction where the young black men were referred to as “bucks.” No, no, no. The modern conservative, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, is much more subtle than that. He or she would never dehumanize Barack Obama in that way.

The more subtle form of denying the basic humanity of black men is reflected not only in Sean Hannity’s stupid remarks, but in the comments of the ostensibly more refined Charles Krauthammer: Obama, a black man who happens to be president, had no real business “racializing” the issue of a black teenager getting profiled and killed because the killer suspected he was up to no good and followed him. You see, President Obama, not for a moment, not for the tiniest increment of time, is suppose to act like a normal human being in front of all the white folks who don’t like him anyway, who have from the beginning profiled him as some kind of angry and Scary Negro, without the hoodie.

Because conservatives have long ago dismissed any claims that America still has significant problems left over from its racist past, they’d rather everyone just shut up about it. They don’t want to hear it. And they especially don’t want to hear it from an uppity black who, God only knows how and why, was reelected as president.

Among other things, President Obama offended many conservatives with this:

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

Pain. “There’s a lot of pain around what happened here,” said the President. Speaking to that pain, speaking for the first time in his presidency as one who knows first-hand that pain, speaking for the first time out of the depth of his experiences as a black man in America, Mr. Obama has disturbed many extremists on the right—99.9% white—who don’t want to hear him speak about that “history that doesn’t go away” or the “pain” associated with it. These white conservatives want to hear only about their pain, the pain of watching their America turn brown before their very eyes.

What white conservatives also want to hear is a lot of talk about black criminality, as if black criminality is not, in any conceivable way, related to centuries of slavery followed by Jim Crow laws and other such instruments of oppression. All over Fox and the Internet you can find palefaced conservatives saying that the President ought to quit worrying about George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin and start worrying about all the “black on black” killings plaguing African-American communities.

Oh, yeah? What about all those “white on white” killings? Here’s a graph I found on MSNBC this weekend:

race statistics

As many have pointed out, people commit crimes where they live. Whites, like around here in Petticoat Joplin, tend to commit crimes against other whites. If I were to do a little criminal profiling in my neighborhood, the suspects would look a lot like Sean Hannity or Charles Krauthammer or Ann Coulter. So, conservatives chanting “black on black” crime, and pretending that they give a damn about it, is irrelevant to what happened to Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

The President also talked about how the history that doesn’t go away is “unacknowledged” and how that “adds to the frustration.” He then said,

And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

That’s the point in all this. Sure, as President Obama said, “African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system,” and “they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.” But it won’t do to treat all black “sons” as if they are criminals, or criminals in waiting. We can’t exist as a peaceful, prosperous society if we do so. We can’t label all black teenagers or young men as “suspects”—and that’s what profiling does—and then expect African-Americans to believe they are full citizens with all the opportunities this wealthy country affords. That won’t work. We can’t ignore, as the President said, “the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush.” 

I want to tell you a short story related to that broad brush.

I know a father whose son recently graduated from Joplin High School. A few years ago, this white boy had his iPod stolen at school, even though the father expressly told him not to bring it there. I won’t go into the details, but the boy knew with near-certainty that the thief was a fellow student, a black kid who had been in trouble many times at school.

Now, the iPod was worth only $300, but that was no small amount of money for this family. And the boy was very upset about losing such a valuable item and began wondering, out loud, why black kids were such thieves, why they went searching for other people’s stuff.

This is how black teenagers, those who would never think of stealing an iPod, start to get painted with that broad brush the President was describing. It may start with a white boy being victimized in some way by an African-American and ends with suspecting that every black kid he meets is about to do something bad to him or to others.

The white boy’s father had a long, long talk with his son. He talked about the likely difficulties that the black kid had at home, the differences in background compared to the mostly white kids he went to school with. His father told him that despite the pain he felt, despite the feeling of victimization, it simply wouldn’t do to think of black kids first as thieves, then as human beings. To that end, despite the fact that the boy was warned that he should not bring the iPod to school in the first place, the father bought his son a brand new one. He bought it, he said, to take the sting out of the loss, so as to help his son remember not to make suspects out of every black kid he meets, even though it might seem rational to do so.

Related to that, President Obama will have the last word:

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.  Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.  It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society.  It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.  But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues.  And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues.  And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.  But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

“Ask Yourself”

A frequent commenter on this blog has written a couple of comments (here and here and here) regarding my opinion on the Martin-Zimmerman case. I thought I’d share with you, those of you who don’t regularly read the comment section, my latest response, which I will use as probably my last word on the subject for a while:

I have ignored some of your comments because, well, you only know a lot of what you know about what happened at the trial from watching excerpts or reading news reports about it. Nothing against that, it’s the way most of us usually get our news, but it leaves at least a few holes in your knowledge of what happened at the trial.

An important and crucial example is when you said “the evidence” showed that,

MARTIN was seen atop Zimmerman banging his head into the sidewalk.

Except that there wasn’t anyone who saw any such thing. There wasn’t any evidence, apart from Zimmerman’s self-serving account, of Trayvon Martin “banging” Zimmerman’s head into anything, much less the sidewalk. The only witness who claimed to see Martin “atop Zimmerman” was John Good, and if you had watched the trial, you would know that Good explicitly testified that he did not see the guy on top slamming the other guy’s head into concrete.

You therefore have to ask yourself why it is that you believe someone actually saw Trayvon Martin “atop Zimmerman banging his head into the sidewalk” when it clearly isn’t true. I mean that. Ask yourself why it is that you believe something, something extraordinarily important about this case, that is patently false. Perhaps that is an important clue as to why you and I differ.

Having said that, you concluded in one comment that “Two young men acted ‘stupidly.” First, Zimmerman was twenty-eight and Martin was barely seventeen, having been so about a month. One was a man and one wasn’t, but the fact that you see them both as “young men” is part of the problem. It’s what Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele were trying to say. Martin was a high-school kid and Zimmerman was the one who had the responsibility of an adult, an adult with a deadly weapon, an adult with mixed martial arts training, an adult with some knowledge of criminal law (even though he lied about it), particularly self-defense and Stand Your Ground laws.

Moreover, there was exactly no evidence that Trayvon Martin acted “stupidly.” The only account of how he acted at all at the end of the event came from a man who, if he wanted to remain free, had to portray Martin as the aggressor who acted for who knows what reason. Martin could have reacted, for all we know, because Zimmerman flashed his gun at him or otherwise threatened him with it. We don’t know, but some of us are very quick to think we do. Some of us are very quick to think that Martin was the aggressor. Why is that? Could it possibly be because he was a black kid in a hoodie? Isn’t that possible? Again, ask yourself.

We know that Zimmerman thought Martin was up to no good for essentially no other reason than he was an unknown black kid in a hoodie. He labeled him, among other things, a “fucking punk” and an “asshole” and later identified him as a “suspect.” It is because of the reactions of the George Zimmermans of this world that people like Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele have to tell their kids-becoming-adults about the special rules that govern how they should, potentially as a matter of life or death, act in public. That’s the point you don’t get and I suppose never will. You are blind to that separate reality, a reality that is true for even famous and relatively well-off black folks.

I can’t argue about what kind of kid Trayvon Martin was. He had some problems in school like a lot of kids do, a lot of white kids included. Is that how we want to finally evaluate the character of people? How much or what kind of trouble they got into in school? I can’t argue that Martin didn’t attack Zimmerman after he perceived him as some kind of threat. I can’t argue that he didn’t do something that night that contributed to his death. I wasn’t there.

But what I can fervently argue is that George Zimmerman was an adult and Trayvon Martin wasn’t. What I can vigorously contend is that Zimmerman, given his training and standing as a neighborhood watcher, should have acted like an adult, even if Trayvon Martin didn’t. What I can confidently assert is that Zimmerman, even if his suspicions were justified, still had the responsibility of identifying himself and telling Martin what he was doing, if not simply remaining in his car and waiting for the police, who were only minutes away. That’s what I can say. And that means Zimmerman bears some amount of responsibility for killing an innocent—I repeat: innocent—kid.

As far as your comment that there is no difference between raising “a black boy instead of a white one,” I’m afraid that is the problem. You refuse to acknowledge what it might be like to be a black teenager in this culture. Suppose your kids were evangelical Christians. Suppose you were raising them in a Islam-dominated culture that didn’t look too kindly on “aggressive” Christians, especially those who called themselves “evangelicals.” My guess is that you would have enough sense to offer them wise advise about how to behave out in public, in front of law enforcement officials, in all the various social situations. In short, you would raise them with a different set of rules, in terms of how to interact with those around them, than Muslim parents would raise their kids. And you would be right to do so. But that has nothing at all to do with teaching them “the basics” of other social behavior. Muslims and Christians both teach their children “right and wrong.” But a Christian in certain Muslim nations had better be aware that some kinds of behavior can get you in trouble in a hurry. Blacks, in this white-dominated culture, feel the same way, despite the fact that they too teach their kids right from wrong.

Next, I am not “furious” over anything. It sounds like fury to you because you can’t accept the fact that your lily-white reality is not the same reality as the one Trayvon Martin or his family experience, at least in some ways, on a daily basis. Sure, we all need to do what is right and follow the rules. But for some of us, doing all the right things and following the rules isn’t always enough. For some folks, teenagers who are black for instance, merely wandering home after a visit to a 7-Eleven is enough to get you killed and your killer allowed to soon go on his way. You tell me what “rule” Martin broke that night and how you know he broke that rule. And then tell me how it was that the man who killed him got to go to work the next day.

Finally, what upsets me as much as anything about this case is the outrage that many white people expressed over the demand for at least a trial in this case. The system was predisposed to believe Zimmerman, and some of us think that was the case because Martin was a black teenager. Thus, some of us believed that a trial was necessary to sort out the facts. That outraged many in the white community, and the defense attorneys expressed as much after the trial was over. They were indignant that their client was even accused of any type of crime. It was open and shut as far as they, and other white people, were concerned. That attitude is why a lot of people of color don’t trust the system. It is why a lot of black folks are marching in the streets.

And you, and others, can ignore them, you can pretend they are completely wrong and you are completely right, you can tell yourself that this kid deserved what he got. But the frustration and, in some cases, outrage, they feel won’t go away. We all have to live together in this country, like it or not, and we best get on with the business of trying to understand each other. I can think of no better way of doing so than trying to understand why black folks like Eugene Robinson, one of the calmest, most thoughtful columnists in the business, and Michael Steele, a very conservative Republican who defends right-wingers at nearly every turn, are both upset today.

Duane

“It Pretty Much Happened The Way George Said It Happened,” Said Juror B37

“Black boys in this country are not allowed to be children. They are assumed to be men, and to be full of menace.”

—Eugene Robinson, Washington Post columnist

by now you have heard that “Juror B37” has talked to Anderson Cooper of CNN and that she has signed on with a literary agent in hopes of cashing in on her jury service. Judging from the quality of her analysis, judging by her confusion and the way she apprehended what was going on in that courtroom in Florida, judging by her utter  Anderson Cooper, host of CNN's AC360,* interviews Zimmerman trial juror B37, whose face was kept in the dark./ failure to understand the larger issues involved in this case, I will say that if her book gig fails, she would make a perfect host of “Fox and Friends,” where bias, as well as confused, sloppy thinking, is an asset.

In any case, this juror believed that the man who shot Trayvon Martin in the heart was a man “whose heart was in the right place,” whose real problem was his over-eagerness “to help people,” who, well, I’ll let her say it:

…I think George was pretty consistent and told the truth, basically. I’m sure there were some fabrications, enhancements, but I think pretty much it happened the way George said it happened.

Yeah, “George” may have fudged the truth a little bit, he may have told things in such a way as to make it look better for him, but it “pretty much” happened the way “George” said it happened, which, of course, made Trayvon Martin ultimately responsible for his own death:

COOPER: So you think, based on the testimony you heard, you believe that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor?

JUROR: I think the roles changed. I think, I think George got in a little bit too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there. But Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him and get the one-over, up on him, or something. And I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him.

“Trayvon got mad.” There was exactly zero evidence for that conclusion, but, as I said before, Trayvon Martin was found guilty of his own killing.

Juror B37 went on to say that she didn’t believe race had anything at all to do with this case:

COOPER: Do you feel that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin? Do you think race played a role in his decision, his view of Trayvon Martin as suspicious?

JUROR: I don’t think he did. I think just circumstances caused George to think that he might be a robber, or trying to do something bad in the neighborhood because of all that had gone on previously. There were unbelievable, a number of robberies in the neighborhood.

COOPER: So you don’t believe race played a role in this case?

JUROR: I don’t think it did. I think if there was another person, Spanish, white, Asian, if they came in the same situation where Trayvon was, I think George would have reacted the exact same way.

This white female  juror cannot see, or says she cannot see, what so many black people know in their bones: that race had very much to do with this case and that if Trayvon Martin had been white, none of what subsequently happened would have happened.

And that, I submit, is the problem this case highlights: there are a lot of white people who don’t understand that being black in America is a different experience from being white, that being a young black man in America is especially a different experience.

Eugene Robinson, an African-American and columnist for The Washington Post, wrote:

If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that — an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.

We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

Contrast that with what Gene Lyons, a columnist I respect and admire very much, wrote some days ago—something I haven’t been able to get out of my head since—about the Martin-Zimmerman case:

On the evidence, it’s clear that both Zimmerman and Martin acted badly, with tragic consequences — Zimmerman by carrying around that accursed gun he was in no way qualified to handle, and Martin through foolhardy teenaged bravado. One life ended, another destroyed.

But not necessarily symbols of anything greater than their own confusion and folly.

That kind of statement, that Trayvon Martin was acting out of some kind of “foolhardy teenaged bravado,” that there is no symbolism attached to this case beyond “confusion and folly,” could only have been written by a guy who has not raised black sons. It may qualify as the most ignorant thing Gene Lyons has ever written.

All of which brings me to a discussion on Morning Joe this morning, which is must-see TV for anyone truly interested in the two Americas that so many black Americans wake up to each and every day. I will post the segment below, but I want to call your attention to observations made by two black men of very different political persuasions, Eugene Robinson, the liberal Washington Post columnist, and Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Both men, who have raised boys, said that they had to teach their sons that being a young black man in America requires learning a set of rules that white sons don’t have to learn. If they are to survive or thrive, even as middle-class black kids and later as adults, there are certain things they have to know, to do. Michael Steele said to his kids:

Remember, when you walk out that door, you are a black man in America. And you need to understand what that means when people see you, how they look at you, how they approach you, what they think about you, and how they will deal with you. Because it’s not the same for your white friends. It’s not the same for your other friends. Because a lot of history walks with you out that door.

That’s unacceptable in twenty-first century America.

White folks should not ignore that history, or pretend it didn’t happen, or pretend that all is now well. We shouldn’t pretend that there are no larger issues attached to the tragic encounter between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. There are. And that is why all of us, black and white, need to find ways—starting with recognizing the reality behind what happened in Sanford, Florida—to change what it means to be a young black kid-man in America, especially now that half the country has adopted stand-your-ground vigilantism as a way of life.

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Trayvon Martin Found Guilty!

Trayvon Martin, profiled as a criminal and then killed on a patch of grass in Florida more than a year ago, has been on trial for the last month. Now the verdict is in and Martin has been found guilty of trying to kill, or to cause serious damage to, George Zimmerman.

Oh, I know most people think Zimmerman was the man on trial, but it wasn’t so. It was the 16-year-and-a-month-old black kid in the hoodie, the black kid in the hoodie with the Skittles. And, of course, the black kid in the hoodie who, allegedly, armed himself with a sidewalk.

To sort of summarize what many Americans, many white Americans, felt about the black-kid-is-guilty verdict, I’ll use a Tweet from gun-crazed Ted Nugent:

nugent tweet

You see, Nugent, along with many, many others—most of them before the trial began—convicted Trayvon Martin—a “kid” Nugent said—of an “attack” on George Zimmerman, even though there was no evidence, other than the word of George Zimmerman—who happened to be charged with second degree murder—for such a conviction.

But it was crucial for the defense to make that case, to leave the six-woman jury with the idea that 158-pound Trayvon Martin was a man-sized thug who was armed with a dangerous sidewalk and who meant to kill 200-pound George Zimmerman with it.

Now, unlike most people who will read this or read anything about the case, I watched nearly all of what I only loosely refer to as George Zimmerman’s trial, including watching the closing arguments, through which each side attempted to pull together the evidence in support of their respective claims in the case.

I can tell you, emphatically, that I would not have found Trayvon Martin guilty of trying to kill George Zimmerman. There simply wasn’t enough evidence to do so and the star witness against him had an obvious motive to lie. In fact, he lied to Sean Hannity about whether he had heard of Florida’s Stand Your Ground law:

HANNITY: …prior to this night, this incident, had you even heard “Stand Your Ground”?

ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.

HANNITY: You have never heard about it before?

ZIMMERMAN: No.

Except that the trial revealed this:

…an army prosecutor who taught Zimmerman in a 2010 college class on criminal litigation, testified that he often covered Florida’s self-defense and “Stand Your Ground” laws in his 2010 course. Army Captain Alexis Carter said Zimmerman “was probably one of the better students in the class,” calling him an “A” student.

Leaving aside the lie about that dangerous law in Florida, let’s move on to something simple: if Martin had really wanted to use the sidewalk as a way of seriously injuring or killing Zimmerman, he could have. Perhaps, some cynical people would argue, he should have. Had he done so, had he killed Zimmerman with that deadly sidewalk, Trayvon Martin would be alive today and, given the ridiculous nature of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, might be free to wander the streets in pursuit of more Skittles and more victims of his sidewalk-aided killing spree.

Except that George Zimmerman’s injuries, as the evidence demonstrated to me, were not consistent with the idea that Trayvon Martin was trying to kill him using that killing machine some of us know only as a walkway.

If we believe the star witness against Martin, that is, if we believe Zimmerman’s varying accounts of what happened, then we must believe that Martin is guilty of attempted murder. We must. If we believe that Zimmerman was pinned down with his head on the concrete, if we believe he was being beaten so badly that he feared for his life or seriously injury, then we must believe that Trayvon Martin was guilty of trying to kill the neighborhood-watching Zimmerman, who, by the way, never bothered to identify himself as such, when he and Martin met.

We must believe Martin was the person with the intent to kill, or else Zimmerman is a liar. Zimmerman told police, the day after he killed Martin, the following:

I kept yelling for help. And I got a  little bit of leverage, and I started to sit up, and then he took my head and slammed it into the concrete several times….I started screaming for help, and he covered by nose with one hand and my mouth with the other one, and he told me, “Shut the fuck up!” And I couldn’t breathe; I was suffocating. But when I shifted, my jacket came up and my shirt came up, exposing my firearm. And that’s when he said—he sat up and looked and said, “You’re gonna die tonight, motherfucker.” And I saw him take one hand off my mouth and slide it down my chest. And I just pinched his arm and I grabbed my gun, I aimed it at him, and fired one shot.

Leaving aside the mechanical implausibility of that account, leaving aside its self-serving nature, the claim is that Martin explicitly threatened Zimmerman’s life. Some months later, Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that Martin told him that “he was going to kill me.” Was he? Did this Skittles-buying kid have murder in his heart?  What did the evidence presented during the trial tell us?

Again, as the Zimmerman defense team—which was really the Martin prosecution team—framed this case, the salient issue was whether a black teenager wandering home from a convenience store viciously attacked George Zimmerman and meant to kill him with a slab of concrete. They made this case despite the fact that there were no serious injuries to the eventual killer’s head. They made this case despite the fact that their client didn’t require medical treatment beyond a few Band-Aids.

I will submit to you that Trayvon Martin most obviously was not trying to kill his killer or to seriously harm him, as only a few hard cracks against that sidewalk—defense attorney Mark O’Mara at one time forcefully and deliberately demonstrated to the jury what that would look like—would have done the trick.

In fact, it was O’Mara’s violent demonstration on a foam dummy during the trial that convinced me that Martin did not do what O’Mara essentially accused him of doing. Straddling that dummy, O’Mara violently pounded the back of its head into the floor. Wow, I thought. If Trayvon Martin did that to Zimmerman on the sidewalk and Zimmerman lived to tell about it, he must have a super-human titanium skull.

That demonstration by O’Mara was not without foundation. George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that Martin “was slamming my head into the concrete, and I thought I would lose consciousness.” I can only tell you, as the state tried to tell the jurors in this case, to use your “God-given common sense.” You try banging your head, with the force implied by the defense, against a slab of concrete and see how long you are conscious enough to talk about it, let alone remember it in vivid, if self-serving detail. It became clear to me that no such thing happen to Zimmerman. There wasn’t sufficient evidence for it, even though a paid defense expert witness said,

You can get severe trauma to the head without external injuries, actually.

Think about that. Zimmerman said his head was being slammed repeatedly into concrete. The defense dramatically claimed concrete was a deadly weapon. And, conveniently, they put on a doctor who suggested that such a weapon could kill or seriously wound without leaving much of a mark! That Trayvon Martin could slam Zimmerman’s head into the concrete “several times,” trying to kill him, and it might not necessarily look like it after the fact, after the fact that Zimmerman shot Martin in the heart. I’m sorry, but that’s not something I can accept as even remotely plausible, and certainly not believable enough to convict Trayvon Martin of attempted murder.

So, I disagree with the verdict in this case. I would have found Martin not guilty of trying to kill George Zimmerman. The evidence simply wasn’t there and the witness against him offered an implausible account and had a good reason to lie about what happened. But apparently the jury, and certainly many white Americans, don’t agree with me.

The Conservative Movement At Work:

Sometimes the headlines say it all:

Tampons Confiscated, Guns Still Allowed At Texas Capitol Ahead Of Abortion Vote

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Only a good guy with a tampon can stop a bad guy with a tampon

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Amid ‘Circus’ Scene, Texas Senate OKs Abortion Bill

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Jane Nelson, Texas GOP Senator: Abortion Bill Isn’t A ‘War On Women, I’m A Woman!’

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Fox’s Erickson Directs Liberals To Coat Hanger Sales Site After Texas Abortion Bill Passes

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North Carolina GOP Attaches Abortion Restrictions To Motorcycle Safety Bill With No Public Notice

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Pat McCrory Would Sign Motorcycle Abortion Bill, Despite 2012 Campaign Promise

Republican filibuster derails student loan bill

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Iowa Supreme Court OKs firing attractive people

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Rand Paul defends secessionist staffer

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House, Senate prepare new attacks on federal health care law

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House GOP Digs In on Resistance to Immigration

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House OKs Farm Bill, Without Food Stamps

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The Republican Insanity of Helping Farmers But Starving Poor People

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Laura Ingraham: People Who Use Food Stamps Will Be Like “The Roof Squatters” During Hurricane Katrina

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Bozell: Romney Lost Because The Media Failed To Report The Obama Was A ‘Pothead’ 

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Joel Gilbert Claims Obama Stole Election With NSA Data, Letting Disabled People Vote

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Tom Marino, GOP Congressman, Floats Idea Of Filing Criminal Charges Against Obama

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Limbaugh: Media Doesn’t Want Quick Zimmerman Verdict Because The Rioters Aren’t “Ready To Go” Yet

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Fox’s Doocy Asks If DC Bill Requiring Walmart To Pay A Living Wage Is “The Death Of Free Enterprise As We Know It”

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Meanwhile:

Jobless claims jump, reach two-month high

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