Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox, made a point about President Obama that demonstrates why it is that right-wingers hate him so much. Despite what they have tried to do to him, he is still doing stuff for the country:

On November 26, the Obama administration put forward new anti-smog regulations that should prevent thousands of premature deaths and heart attacks every year. About two weeks later, Obama’s appointees at the Federal Reserve implemented new rules curbing reckless borrowing by giant banks that will reduce profits and shareholder earnings but increase the safety of the financial system. Yet both of these were minor stories compared to normalizing relations with Cuba after decades and his sweeping plan to protect millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Somewhere in the meantime, Democrats broke the congressional logjam and got a whole boatload of nominees confirmed.

And that is just what O has done since his second mid-term shellacking. Yglesias offers more pre-shellacking O-complishments, including,

♦  the Affordable Care Act (“an expansion of the welfare state rivaled by only the New Deal and the Great Society”)

♦ the remaking of student-loan programs (“that’s made it possible for the government to offer more help with college tuition”)

♦ the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation (“a safer banking system”)

♦ the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“a major goal worth fighting for separately from questions of macro-level financial stability”)

♦ Yglesias also includes “smaller measures from the 111th Congress like a food safety bill, a child nutrition bill, a Children’s Health Insurance expansion, and a public lands bill the Sierra Club hailed as “a historic day for conservation.”

To all that, I will add more O-complishments:

♦ became the first African-American POTUS

♦ rescued the country from the losing-800,000-jobs-a-month, Bush-era Great Recession, which people seem to have forgotten, now that job growth is pretty damned good (“the best private sector jobs creation performance in American history” says Forbes) and the stock market is soaring (the Dow just had its best day since 2011)

♦ rescued the auto industry, which God only knows how many jobs that saved

♦ oversaw a reduction in the budget deficit from almost 10% of GDP in 2009 (mostly George Bush’s doing) to just under 3% this fiscal year

♦ gave “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” a dishonorable discharge from the military, and helped create an environment in which LGBT people are steadily becoming first-class citizens all over the country

♦ appointed worker-friendly members of the National Labor Relations Board

♦ appointed the first woman to chair the Federal Reserve; appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court

♦ banned torture of detainees

♦ made fish bait out of bin Laden and killed a number of high-ranking leaders of al-Qaeda

♦ raised taxes on rich folks, after Bush had cut them

♦ appointed two women to the Supreme Court, only the third and fourth females to serve there in history

♦ signed a new arms control treaty with Russia, reducing the number of nukes in the world

♦ made FEMA a real emergency management agency (just ask people in tornado-ravaged Joplin)

♦ made “science and the scientific process” part of decision making in the executive branch and officially acknowledged that climate change is real

♦ established tougher fuel economy standards for vehicles, which will reduce carbon pollution

♦ made a “landmark agreement” with China, the world’s worst carbon polluter, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

♦ has appointed 307 federal judges, and has increased the number of federal appeals courts that have Democratic-appointed majorities from 1 to 9—out of 13!

♦ has pissed off, and will continue to piss off,  a whole lot of white right-wingers just by showing up to work each and every day with this face:

Thank you, O.


H/T: Please Cut the Crap

Crimes Of Passion

On August 27, 2014, Reuters reported:

A Texas jury on Wednesday found a father not guilty of shooting dead a suspected drunk driver who hit and killed his two sons while they pushed a truck down a country road late at night.

David Barajas, 32, had been charged with murdering Jose Banda, 20, in December 2012, after he plowed into Barajas’ sons David Jr., 12, and Caleb, 11, in a small town south of Houston after a night of drinking.

Without going into the details of Mr. Barajas’ trial or discussing the evidence or lack thereof, it was widely believed that the jury acquitted David Barajas because they understood his actions, even if they didn’t necessarily agree with them. The jury may have understood that a father who had seen what he had seen might very well have run the hundred yards to his house to get his gun and then returned to kill the drunk who had just killed his little boys. The jury may have reasoned that, after he had witnessed such a horrifying scene, no one could totally fault the father for acting so rashly, beyond the limits of the law. Maybe the jurors didn’t want to imprison him—even if he actually did kill the man who killed his sons—for his crime of passion.

We all know by now that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence discovered horrific things related to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. The unclassified Executive Summary of the “Findings and Conclusions” is 525 pages long, but the classified material is many times more voluminous and, we might assume, much more damaging to the CIA and the Bush administration.

Since there are plenty of places where you can go and get the gory details of what went on under the banner of Old Glory, I’ll leave that portion alone. There is only so much you can say about “involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration” or waterboarding or a detainee who froze to death while “partially nude and chained to a concrete floor”—and that was after he had been tortured.

Here is what I have concluded from almost a week of exploration:

A. It is obvious that many of the techniques the CIA used were in fact torture. That those involved in the program say it wasn’t torture is absolutely predictable. They have to say that. What else can they say?

B. That such techniques as were used constituted prosecutable torture was decided a long time ago. As Sheldon Whitehouse, who sat on the select committee, said on Fox “News” Sunday:

We decided waterboarding was torture back when we court-martialed American soldiers for waterboarding Philippine insurgents in the Philippine revolution. We decided waterboarding was torture when we prosecuted Japanese soldiers as war criminals for waterboarding Americans during World War II, and we decided waterboarding was torture when the American court system described waterboarding as torture when Ronald Reagan and his Department of Justice prosecuted a Texas sheriff and several of his associates for waterboarding detainees…

C. Since it was torture and since torture is a war crime (and against U.S. law), it is irrelevant whether the torture “worked.” There is no theory of justice that I know of that excuses a crime because of its associated effectiveness.

D. Since it was torture and since torturing prisoners is a crime and since somebody in government had to officially authorize the CIA to do it so comprehensively, that somebody is ultimately responsible for the crime. And that somebody is George W. Bush and no one else. Here is an exchange between Chris Wallace and Karl Rove on Fox “News” Sunday:

WALLACE: Karl…the report says that President Bush didn’t know about these enhanced interrogation techniques until 2006. You were there. Is that true?

ROVE: No, in fact, he says in his book, describes how he was briefed and intimately involved in the decision. He made the decision. He was presented I believe 12 techniques. He authorized the use of ten of them, including waterboarding.

Not surprisingly, Rove’s account perfectly matches the account of Dick Cheney, who said on Meet the Press on Sunday:

The president writes about it in his own book…This man knew what we were doing. He authorized it. He approved it. The statement by the Senate Democrats for partisan purposes that the president didn’t know what was going on was just a flat out lie.

Thus we have it that if anyone in government is potentially prosecutable for any crime, it is George W. Bush. Not Dick Cheney—as much as that would satisfy some of us—not Karl Rove, not the head of the CIA, or anyone else. The president, says Karl Rove, was “intimately” involved. Cheney said he “knew” and “approved” of what was going on.

E. Nobody in government, especially not Barack Obama’s Justice Department, is going to charge George W. Bush with a crime and then prosecute him. That’s not going to happen. Ever. People on the left clamoring for such a prosecution are, alas, wasting their time.

F. Therefore, this crime of passion will go unpunished.

Whether it should go unpunished, whether we should consider the context in which the Bush administration’s actions were set, whether we should give the benefit of every doubt to those who were confronting what Senator Dianne Feinstein called “the pervasive fear in late 2001,” is a situation much like those jurors in Texas faced in the case of David Barajas, who watched his two young boys die at the hands of a drunk driver and, if we are to believe the prosecution, shot and killed the offender.

I confess I don’t know how I would have voted if I were on that Texas jury evaluating what may have been a crime of passion by a shocked an angry father. A perfect system of justice would obviously demand that vigilantism be punished, but no man-made system of justice can be perfect. Justice is often an approximation.

In the case of torturing prisoners, I am simply not sure that I would, if I were sitting on a jury judging George W. Bush, vote to convict him. It may be clear, as Senator Feinstein put it, that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program was “morally, legally, and administratively misguided.” But it is less clear that, as she said in the report, the “pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security.” Maybe they don’t. But such a judgment is made a long way in time from the unfolding events and therefore a great emotional distance from the heat of the moment. Again, I just don’t know what I would do if the decision to convict were mine.

What I do believe, though, is that President Obama should do the country a favor and pardon his predecessor and all of those involved. That way, as many have pointed out, we could at least establish, for all time, that what was done in the months following the horrific attacks on 9/11 was, by our own lights and the lights of the international community, illegal and should never happen again.

Because, after all, crimes of passion are still crimes.

Bad Poker And The Distorted Middle

Likely because of President Obama’s pressing Democrats in the House to vote with John Boehner, 57 of them supported CRomnibus, which was more than enough to ensure passage of the bill last night, 219-206. Tea Party nuts couldn’t stomach the bill and 67 of them essentially said it wasn’t extreme enough for their extremist tastes.

Now that the House passed the spending bill, the Senate will likely do so sometime this weekend and President Obama will sign the damned thing and we will move on to the next Republican-inspired crisis. That’s the way it has been since after the 2010 election, since radicals on the right took over de facto command of the Republican Party.

The sad thing about it all is that many of our guys, the people we expect to look after the interests of the little guy, put up a good fight but will lose in the end because President Obama and Harry Reid, pragmatically conspiring with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, decided that taking the spending bill deal—even with all the goodies in it for fat cat political donors and fat cat bankers, as well as other provisions that should make Democrats nauseous—was better than waiting until next year when Republicans will be in full control of Congress and better than risking that they would get the blame for a government shutdown.

I happen to find that pragmatism, which I normally support because I understand compromise is a necessary part of making things work, a bad and unnecessary call in this case. Republicans could not have passed the bill in the House as it stood. If Boehner wanted to get Democrats to help him, he should have been forced to pull those offensive provisions. If Democrats can’t win public sentiment by opposing sweetheart deals for rich people—stuffed in a so-called “must pass” piece of legislation—then it is hard to see how they can win anything. If Republicans were willing to risk a shutdown by insisting that they would not excise from the do-or-die bill provisions that make the world safer for the moneyed class, including Wall Street, then it seems a no-brainer that Democrats could win the resulting PR fight. But there won’t be a fight, apparently.

As much as I admire Mr. Obama, he has never been much of a poker player. Maybe chess is his game. But politics like we see going on right now—in this era of Tea Party extremism—is not a cerebral game of chess, not a matter of thinking seven moves ahead. It is about bluffs and calling bluffs, about who has the guts to go all in, making the other side have to choose between calling or folding. Most of the time, Republicans are very good at the game. Our side usually folds, for good reasons—we want government to keep running and helping people—and bad reasons—some on our side actually are pretty cozy with fat cats and find them good company.

The CRomnibus bill is, in important ways, fairly extreme. Oh, sure, there were some things in there that Democrats wanted, you know, like keeping the freaking government running, but the provision to drastically increase contribution limits to political party committees by a factor of 10—from $32,400 to $324,000 a year—doesn’t exactly apply to working stiffs, which should be a major Democratic constituency. There aren’t too many working people I know who can contribute to political campaigns $324, much less $32,400 or, God help us, $324,000. Rich people, though, now have even more ammunition to bid against each other, as our demwall street cashes inocracy is, election by election, quickly being auctioned off.

Likewise, the provision to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, the recent legislative attempt by Democrats to rein in some of the excesses of Wall Street, is a gift to bankers, who now, as Vox put it, “are free to make risky bets that put taxpayers and the financial system as a whole at greater risk.” How would you like to put a bet on, say, the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend (you’ll have to give 11 1/2 points) against the Oakland Raiders and know that if you win, you win, and if you lose, the taxpayer behind the curtain will cover your loss? Yeah, me too. That’d be pretty sweet. That’s why Citigroup went to a lot of trouble to write the provision and get it inserted into CRomnibus.

Perhaps the worst thing about all this is that President Obama, at least if you listen to his spokesman, still doesn’t get it, when it comes to evaluating and responding to deals with Republicans. Read this, from HuffPo:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest argued that the bill does more good than bad, and that it represented compromise for the GOP, which initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“This is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years now,” Earnest said in an appearance on MSNBC.

I’m sure the bill does more good than bad, since the government, or most of it, will keep going until October. And, as I said, compromising is part of the political process. But look at what Earnest based the idea of this compromise on: Republicans “initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.” See how clever Republicans are, when they are negotiating with this White House? They take the most extreme position possible as a starting point and force non-poker-playing Democrats to move way over to their side, to a distorted middle, and call that a compromise. That’s not compromise, it’s bad poker.

And, I hate to say it, if “this is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years,” then I am not looking forward to the last two years of his presidency.

Democrats Play, Uh, Softball

Here’s the headline that ran just a while ago on The Hill:

Left revolts over funding bill

In case you missed it, there has been talk of a “deal” (known now as “CRomnibus”) between Republicans and Democrats to keep the government, or most of it anyway, running through September of next year (the Homeland Security department only gets funded through February, which is how Republicans have initially decided to dope-slap President Obama for treating undocumented immigrants like people).

The deal is around 1600 pages long. I just wonder how many conservatives in Congress, especially those who criticized Democrats for not reading the entire Affordable Care Act, have read this one? In any case, the deal would avert a government shutdown this week, a shutdown that Republicans with brains want to avert.

It is unclear to me why Democrats would make such a deal without getting something substantial for it. Just keeping the government running is, of course, something worth fighting for, but it hardly amounts to exploiting the advantage that Democrats have: Republicans, without Democratic help, cannot pass through the House any reasonable spending bill, what with that dictator in the White’s House stirring up the crazies in Boehner’s caucus with his executive action on immigration reform.

So, as details of the deal have come to light, more thoughtful members of the Democratic Party, led by Elizabeth Warren in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House, are saying no thanks. If Republicans want to shut the government down again by making demands that no Democrat should support at this point, then let them shut it down. People who voted for Republicans last month should get an early taste of what they voted for. Why is it that our side just doesn’t know how to play hard-ball politics?

Among the things in the tentative agreement that have upset Democrats the most seem to be these two:

1. An attack on the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. From The Hill article:

Among the host of provisions included in the $1.1 trillion funding measure is one that would partially repeal a Dodd-Frank rule aimed at ensuring risky derivatives trading happens away from banks that have a government safety net.

Republicans have been after Dodd-Frank since before it became law. It appears that they won’t stop until things are exactly the way they were prior to the financial crisis because, after all, that wasn’t a big deal, right?

2. Killing any semblance of restraint when it comes to rich people purchasing elections. From HuffPo:

The omnibus bill includes a provision (on page 1,599) to create three separate funds within the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee. Each fund would be allowed to accept $97,200 from just one donor per year. If this change becomes law, it would mean that a single donor could give up to $324,000 per year, or $648,000 for a two-year election cycle, to finance the party’s operations.

The change would effectively obliterate campaign contribution limits to the parties, while eviscerating the limits placed by the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law on how much a political candidate can seek from a donor. The current maximum a donor can give to a national party committee is $32,400 per year, plus an additional $32,400 per year to a separate fund to be used only in case of an election recount. 

That provision would make a worser situation worser-er.

There are other bad things in the deal:

Butting into the internal affairs of the District of Columbia—voters approved an initiative that would have legalized pot—because, apparently, ain’t no white conservative gonna allow the District’s black folks a little legal up time.

A not-so-subtle attack on Michelle Obama and her efforts to get schools to serve more nutritious food to kids. Republicans won’t rest until everyone looks like Newt Gingrich.

♦ Allowing truckers to do more sleeping while driving. Anyone who has been on an Interstate highway and who has witnessed weary truck drivers weaving in and out of their lanes should appreciate this gift to the trucking industry.

Cutting retiree benefits for some 10 million folks. Because, who needs money when you’re retired?

♦ Trimming the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by another $60 million. As The Washington Post pointed out,

The agency’s budget has been slashed by $2.2 billion, or 21 percent, since fiscal 2010, according to GOP aides. The cuts mean that EPA will have to reduce its staffing to the lowest levels since 1989.

They won’t stop, people, until EPA staffing is reduced to 1889 levels.

Slashing the budget of the IRS by almost $350 million. How stupid is it to cut funding for the one agency that collects the money that, uh, funds the government? Republicans, of course, are still mad at the IRS for maliciously targeting right-wingers, which, of course, didn’t happen. But, as Kevin Drum points out, slashing the budget of the IRS “means fewer audits of corporations and rich people. Any other questions?”

Nope. No more questions.

“I Am Not A Racist”

tribe: any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.


Many of you know Anson Burlingame, either by his comments on this blog, his postings on his own blog, or by way of his contributions to the Joplin Globe editorial page. Recently, another commenter called Anson a racist, claiming that “to some degree all of us have it.” Naturally, Anson didn’t accept the designation. “I am not a racist,” he wrote. He added,

At my advanced age I know pretty well what my motives and fundamental “instincts” are in most situations.

In a later comment, he wrote:

I freely admit that, using today’s standards for calling someone a racist, I was raised as a racist in the 1940’s and 50’s. But over the years, 54 years (since HS graduation) and counting I have read and talked myself beyond, out of, such [animus], like many other older Americans have done during that period.

I know I have written a lot about issues involving race lately, but so be it. It is important, as far as I’m concerned. I think cultural angst among whites is a major reason we have such gridlock in Congress, as Tea Party Republicans, representing such anxious and fearful folks, have essentially been holding the legislative process hostage since 2010.

I wrote a long response to Anson’s comment on my piece about the sad racism that occurred here in Missouri, when marching black demonstrators passed through a couple of white small towns last week. My response included the following, which is related to the charge of racism:

As for the accusation that one or more commenters have now and in the past made against you—calling you a racist—let me say that I am very careful in applying that word to individuals. As you know, “racism” strictly means the belief that one’s race is superior to another’s race, necessarily implying the idea that the superior race should rule over the other. Historically, there is no doubt that America was founded by, and for years was governed by, racists, as black slaves were used to economically benefit white people.

You have never given me any reason to suspect that, despite your admittedly racist upbringing in Kentucky in the 1940s and 1950s, that you think white people are inherently superior to black people. But just like it is true that America still has a lot of work to do to rid itself of the legacy of slavery and white supremacy—our cultural institutions, after all, were built and maintained for years in that context—individual whites living in this culture also have work to do. That includes you and that includes me.

Without going into detail, I was also raised with the idea that somehow blacks were inferior to whites. For whatever reason, I never consciously embraced that idea. Perhaps it was because in my lower working-class neighborhood, most of the kids I played with when I was very young were black kids. My next-door neighbors to the east, less than 30 feet away, were black. Across the street lived black people. Across the alley in the back lived black people. Down the street lived even more black people. I was surrounded by African-American kids my entire young life. In all the ways that I could see, they seemed just like me.

In elementary school and junior high, one of my best friends was black (forget the cliché). I spent a lot of time in or near his home, a few blocks away from mine. I walked the streets with him and played neighborhood sports with him. In high school, my best friend was a black kid a year older than I. We spent nearly every school night together, riding around in his car delivering newspapers (it was his job, not mine) and then later cruising and listening to music (some might find it odd, but he was a fan of Steely Dan like I was).

But having said all that, I still catch myself getting a little irritated by, for instance, certain things I see in hip-hop culture, including the attitudes in some, but not all, of the music. I have to check myself sometimes. I have to remind myself that a thing like wearing your pants in a certain way is just an expression, a way of fitting into a specific “tribe,” if you will. I have my own specific micro-tribes I belong to. You have yours. We act and dress accordingly. We should be open-minded enough to allow others the luxury of belonging to, and conforming to, their own smaller tribes. But sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we look down on other tribes. Sometimes we think ours is superior.

In the same way, you and I belong, by birth, to a larger tribe of “white people.” Because we belong to that tribe, we have inherited certain benefits that come with our skin color. And we have inherited certain prejudices against that other larger tribe of “black people.” If we work hard, we can overcome many of those prejudices. But it is often really hard work. Some of the prejudices we hold we may not consciously be aware of. We may think we have rid ourselves of all the bad qualities of our upbringing, but it is inevitable that at least a few remain. That is just the nature of the case. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we react to black people in ways that look a lot like a form of, a much milder form of, the racism that not only served as the cultural backdrop for much of our nation’s history, but as the backdrop for our childhoods.

I will also suggest to you that because you and I belong to that larger tribe of white people, it is very hard for us, as part of the historically dominant tribe in this society, to get inside the heads of members of the black tribe. We may think we can do so, but it is really hard to pull it off. Our tribe was the oppressor, their tribe was the object of the oppression. That reality makes for very different ways of looking at the world, for understanding the way things work, for teaching children how to make their way through life.

As whites, we may think it is pretty simple: the old laws have been changed to reflect racial equality, so, dammit, just get on with it! Work hard and you will prosper now, we might say. You are every bit as free as we are! Except it isn’t that simple. Black people still face a lot of race-based resistance in this society. Some of that resistance is structural—see voting restrictions that disproportionately affect African-Americans, for instance—and some of it is found in the fact that feelings of white superiority still exist among members of our tribe, members who still mostly run things. You grew up in the ’40s and ’50s with it. I grew up in the ’60s and early ’70s with it.

And while it is true that such attitudes of white superiority have diminished, they still exist. An AP poll a few years ago found that “51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes.” The legacy of white supremacy, from slavery to Jim Crow, still infects white minds and still harms black people in so many ways, ways that you and I might be tempted to discount because we don’t experience them, don’t feel them in our bones.

All this is a long way of saying that you are not a racist in the historical sense. But like so many white people, including myself, we carry in our heads some residue of racist thinking, of thinking that our group of people with white skin is in some way or another superior to that other group of people without it. So, when you say, “I have read and talked myself beyond” racial animus, you may be right. I don’t believe for a second that you harbor any malevolent ill will toward black people simply because they are black. But neither you nor I can read or talk ourselves beyond all the racial prejudice that still lingers somewhere in our tribe-conditioned minds, especially when we interpret what it means when we see a black kid with drooping pants or when we watch a cop choke a black man to death on the streets of New York City.


Where’s Thomas Crapper When You Need Him?

The population of the United States, every man, woman, and child, is about 319 million and counting. Think about it. That is a lot of folks.

But if you double that number, you have just about the number of people in India who poop outdoors. I’m not kidding. From The Wall Street Journal:

Some 620 million people across India defecate outside, the largest number world-wide. About 70% of rural Indians don’t use toilets, and 28 million children have no toilet facilities in school, according to Unicef. It is common practice for India’s mothers to dispose of their children’s waste in the open.

crapperSo, why is it that 70% of India’s rural population still don’t use indoor toilets, particularly since India’s rural economy is, according to Forbes, “booming”? The magazine says that rural wages “have risen by close to 15% per annum over the past ten years, compared to city wages which are down more than 2% over the same period.” So, again, why do these folks resist indoor dumping? The Wall Street Journal offers us a reason:

In rural areas, defecating outside has been the natural choice for centuries, said Vijayaraghavan Chariar, a sanitation expert at Delhi’s Indian Institute of Technology. “There’s a reason it’s known as ‘nature’s call,’ ” he said. “Some feel suffocated by toilets, and don’t see a connection between open defecation and poor health.”

That may seem odd to us. How can anyone, even rural people, not see the obvious health benefits of sanitary, poop-disposing plumbing? Why would anyone want to do their dirty work out in the open when they don’t have to?

Before we get too judgmental, maybe we should look at something that happened here in my state, in rural Missouri, that I will connect to those rural folks in India who prefer defecating in public.

Rosebud is a little town in the east central part of Missouri and, as per the 2010 census, boasts a population of 409 souls. Those souls are, overwhelmingly, animating white bodies. It would be difficult, probably impossible, to find in Rosebud one soul inhabiting an African-American body. And, knowing what I know about small towns in Missouri, most of the white-bodied souls in Rosebud belong to, or claim they belong to, Jesus, their savior and, presumably, their behavioral compass.

It happened last week that a group of about 75 demonstrators passed through Rosebud on their way to Jefferson City. The 134-mile demonstration march, organized by the NAACP and called “Journey for Justice,” began in Ferguson. The demonstrators, as USA Today reported, hoped “to bring light and attention to the disproportionate number of African-American men and boys who are killed by law enforcement officers across the country.”

But many of the white, Jesus-fearing folks of Rosebud—and of a neighboring city called Gerald, four miles away, population 1,345 and just as white—didn’t much appreciate the light and attention that the marchers, both black and white, were bringing through their town.

According to St. Louis Public Radio, the demonstrators “were greeted with the words ‘Shoot Thieves’ spray-painted on a large container.” In Gerald, they were greeted by, among others, these two good ol’ boys:

photo from Missouri net

Rhea Willis, a public school instructor in St. Louis, was one of the marchers, along with her 15-year-old daughter. As St. Louis Public Radio reported, they and others had to endure being called “thieves” and yells of “Get a job! Get off welfare!” Then there was this:

One of the most disheartening sights, Rhea said, was seeing a young boy, about the age of 8, hold up a sign that said, “Go home, nigger.”

“It wasn’t a shock because I know how these small counties in Missouri are,” Rhea said. “I exchicken melon and beer in rosebudpected it, but it wasn’t until you actually see it. Wow, it was amazing.”

While their bus was stopped and empty, someone shot at a window and shattered the glass. Some townsfolk left out 40-ounce beer cans, chicken wings and watermelon. Rhea said one woman was supportive and told them, “Good job!” But a man next to her said, “Yea, they are good niggers.”

It’s easy for Americans to look down on or even pity those rural people in India who have been defecating outside for centuries, who “feel suffocated by toilets, and don’t see a connection between open defecation and poor health.” But what happened last week in rural Missouri is just another kind of long-standing tradition, another kind of open defecation, another kind of human behavior that is connected to poor social health.

And although, fortunately, there aren’t as many people around these days who defecate in public, metaphorically or otherwise, there is still much work to be done to help ensure that human waste, whether it comes out of one end or the other, is not polluting the commonweal.

Reactionaries, Eagle Scout Cops, And The Denial Of Reality

I was listening to WNYC radio in New York (God bless smart phones) when Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about the grand jury’s decision not to indict the white cop who helped kill Eric Garner. I heard the whole thing. I was amazed at how thoughtful de Blasio was about it all, how careful he navigated the waters of controversy.  He said,

It’s a very emotional day for our city. It’s a very painful day for so many New Yorkers. That is the core reality. So many people in this city are feeling pain right now. And we’re grieving, again, over the loss of Eric Garner, who was a father, a husband, a son, a good man – a man who should be with us, and isn’t. That pain, that simple fact, is felt again so sharply today.

He also talked about how the tragedy is not just a personal one for Garner’s family,

but it’s become something personal to so many of us. It’s put in stark perspective the relationship between police and community.

He went on to explain his personal feelings, about how his wife Chirlane (who is black) and he have had to teach their son Dante to “take special care” during any interactions with police, and it was that explanation that has so many on the right, and so many cops (often right-wingers themselves), seething:

This is profoundly personal for me. I was at the White House the other day, and the President of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. I said to him I did. Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years, about the dangers he may face. A good young man, a law-abiding young man, who would never think to do anything wrong, ade blasiond yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face – we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.

And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first – that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear. And for so many of our families, there’s a fear. So I’ve had to worry, over the years, Chirlane’s had to worry – was Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night – is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities – crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods – but are they safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors? That’s the reality. And it conforms to something bigger that you’ve heard come out in the protests in Ferguson, and all over the country.

That “reality” he talked about, a reality that most black folks feel in their bones, is undeniable. It’s not just anectodal, it’s backed up by data, even though the data are incomplete. Black people aren’t just imagining that they have to be extra careful when interacting police, it is the sad truth they do. Doing otherwise could cost them their lives. But even if conservatives dispute the data, even if right-wingers think blacks are wrong to be extra-wary of the police, no one can deny that black people do feel that way. As the mayor said, there is “a history we have to overcome.”

Yet, the reactionaries just can’t seem to acknowledge any reality outside of their own. For instance, I watched the interview of the often repulsive Rudy Giuliani on the always repulsive, IQ-slaying Fox and Friends program rudy and de Blasioyesterday morning. Giuliani called de Blasio’s response “racist.” He said he was “tearing down respect for a criminal justice system that goes back to England in the 11th century.” He made that reference, which he used to support a false claim, as if he didn’t understand that 900 years have passed and that our Western justice system has evolved. It’s better now than it has ever been, as imperfect as it is. And it’s better because people were willing to fight to make it better, people were willing to criticize it, to demand it be changed, as opposed to offering it a “respect” it did not deserve.

I won’t go deeply into the other ridiculous or irrelevant right-wing rot that Giuliani spouted to Fox viewers yesterday morning—you know, there was “no racism” in the Garner case and blacks should stop killing blacks, blah, blah, blah—neither will I bother to go deeply into Bill O’Reilly’s false claim that de Blasio “continues to denigrate his own cops” and his ridiculously false claim that ” the nation’s largest city has a mayor who has lost the support of his 35,000-member police force.” Neither Giuliani nor O’Reilly have a love affair with reality.

Nor does the president of a group of police unions, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s Patrick Lynch. Here’s what Lynch said about de Blasio’s comments:

What police officers felt yesterday after that press conference is that they were thrown under the bus. That they were out there doing a difficult job in the middle of the night, protecting the rights of those to protest, protecting our sons and daughters and the mayor was behind microphones like this throwing them under the bus.

That statement, as delusional as it was, wasn’t the worst thing the union president said. He actually chimed in on the attributes of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put a violent chokehold on Eric Garner and then pushed Garner’s face into the concrete with as much force as he could muster:

He’s a model of what we want a police officer to be. He’s a mature, mature police officer, motivated by serving the community. He literally is an Eagle Scout.

The Eagle Scout, the model of a police officer, I remind you, helped kill a man in July, a man who was merely accused of merely selling loose cigarettes on the street. The Eagle Scout, CNN reports, has a problematic professional past:

…court records show he has been sued at least twice, both times on allegations of false arrest and unlawful imprisonment.

One suit was brought by two men from Staten Island, Darren Collins and Tommy Rice, who alleged that Pantaleo arrested them in 2012 on baseless charges, and humiliated them in public.

They claimed that on the street, during an arrest on drug suspicions, Pantaleo and another officer “pulled down the plaintiffs’ pants and underwear, and touched and searched their genital areas, or stood by while this was done in their presence.”

Lawyers for the officers denied the charges, saying they acted reasonably and exercised their discretion. But they reached a settlement in the case, for $30,000, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

“The other suit,” CNN reported, “has not yet been resolved.” That suit involves false arrest and false imprisonment related to, gasp, “marijuana possession.”

As a union man myself, as someone who has represented employees accused of wrongdoing, I understand the need to stand behind your guy, if you think your guy is innocent, or if you think your guy deserves the benefit of the doubt, or even if you think your guy deserves mercy. But I don’t understand the union president saying the mayor tossed cops under the bus, when he clearly didn’t—he didn’t even toss Officer Pantaleo under the bus—when he clearly went out of his way to carefully state the reality that black people feel in New York City and elsewhere.

And I certainly don’t understand his saying, with a straight face, that Eagle Scout Daniel Pantaleo is “a model of what we want a police officer to be.”  Since 1908, all Scouts have supposedly subscribed to Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

While Eric Garner was dying, just after he was put on a stretcher, just after he had received no apparent first aid treatment for several minutes, our chokehold-loving Eagle Scout was waving, mockingly, to the camera:

Here is the video of the aftermath of the takedown of Eric Garner. The waving comes at 6:57, if you want to see how a helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, and reverent Eagle Scout-cop behaves while the man he choked is about to die:



White Magic

huffpo on eric garner non indictment

Civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, speaking about the travesty of justice in the killing of Eric Garner by a New York City cop—Garner was accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, for God’s sake, and Officer Daniel Pantaleo apparently choked him to death—said this on MSNBC this afternoon:

I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut, again. Shame on us! Shame on us for having a criminal justice system that seems completely incapable of prosecuting a white police officer for the death of an African-American.

We seem entirely unable to do that, even when we have a video tape, even when we have a man who posed no danger to anyone, according to anyone. Even when we have a coroner who says the death was a homicide. Even when the police, on the videotape, applied a chokehold to Eric Garner, which is against NYPD rules. If we can’t get an indictment in this case, we can’t get an indictment in any case involving the death of an African-American at the hands of a white police officer. 

If Ferguson was not a wake-up call, this case better be.

Not much to say after that. Just watch the video of the incident again—if you can stomach it—and wonder why it is that black lives seem to matter so little to some policemen, and wonder what the grand jury in New York was, or wasn’t, thinking:

Do Black Lives Matter?

Melissa Harris-Perry noted over the weekend that a lot of protesters in Ferguson and elsewhere have been chanting, “Black lives matter.” The MSNBC host asked the question: Do they? Do black lives matter?

Well, do they?

By now you have seen all or parts of the video in which 12-year-old Tamir Rice, an Africa-American boy who had been playing in a Cleveland park on November 22, was gunned down by a police officer.

The sixth-grader, besides smashing snowballs with his feet, had been playing in the park with a cheap Airsoft pistol, essentially a toyish gun that, minus its orange safety cap, from a distance looked like the real thing, even if Tamir Rice didn’t look like a real adult. Shooting: On Sunday, Tamir's father, Gregory Henderson, said the youngster had his whole life ahead of him when he was gunned down outside Cudell Recreation Center. Above, the BB gun that Tamir was carryingThe cop who shot him had been on the force for only a short time, just over eight months. His partner, who was driving the car and who pulled right up next to Rice, was 46 and had been with the force since 2008.

A concerned citizen at the park had called 911 and told the dispatcher that someone, “probably a juvenile,” was pointing a gun at people, even though the caller thought the gun might be “fake.” In response to the dispatcher’s inquiry, the caller identified the gun-wielding kid as black. By the time word got out to the cops on patrol, the part about the juvenile and the part about the potentially fake gun got lost. Responding officers were essentially looking for a black male with a dangerous weapon who was threatening people with it, and since young black males are 21 times more likely to get shot by the police than young white males, no one should be surprised that Tamir Rice is now dead.

According to Cleveland police, after arriving at the park where the boy was sitting on a picnic table in a gazebo, it took the rookie cop less than two seconds to shoot the kid when he approached their car. “Shots fired. Male down, black male, maybe 20, black hand gun,” one of the cops tells a dispatcher. Rice never had a chance to explain to officers that he was, presumably, just doing what many boys, including myself, have done: pretending to shoot the bad guys with a pretend gun. And the boy never received immediate first aid from either of the responding officers. A detective and an FBI agent arrived on the scene some four minutes later and tried to save him. He died the next day in the hospital.

The policeman who fired the deadly shots is 26-year-old Timothy Loehmann. He has a degree in Criminology/Sociology and had completed law enforcement training at the local police academy. According to one report,

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said he spoke to Loehmann and said he ‘is broken up about this’ and ‘didn’t want to do this, but had to protect himself’.

I hope all of us can understand that cops have a legitimate right to protect themselves. They should get to come home at the end of a day’s work just like anyone else. But it seems to be the case that when it comes to the police, especially the white police, the response when encountering a black suspect is to aggressively act first and then figure out what is going on later. We have to ask ourselves why that is and, more important, what we should do about it. It might be a way of affirming that, indeed, black lives matter.

Are police trained to shoot first and ask questions later, when it comes to black males? Putting aside what happened in Ferguson—and putting aside what happened in Nevada earlier this year when a group of white people with guns took aim at federal agents, doing so with impunity—there are plenty of examples of this shoot-first mentality in practice, if not in theory. Here are just a few:

♦ In August police in Ohio shot and killed John Crawford in a Walmart. Crawford was a 26-year-old African-American. He was walking around the store, talking to the mother of his kids on his cell phone, while carrying an air rifle that the store sold. Police responded to the scene as a result of a 911 call from a citizen who exaggerated Crawford’s actions. When police confronted Crawford, they started yelling and shooting at him at about the same time. He had no chance to tell them what was going on.

Neither of the two officers involved in that shooting were indicted by a grand jury even though a video from a surveillance camera clearly showed how hastily the officers acted.

In July, police in New York City killed Eric Garner on the sidewalk by placing him in a deadly chokehold, a move that is banned by the NYPD. Garner’s crime was selling untaxed cigarettes, which apparently is a capital offense on Staten Island. The officer accused of killing the unarmed father of six testified before a grand jury ten days ago and a decision is expected next month. A video of that deadly incident is also available, otherwise it is quite likely there would have been no grand jury at all, since police accounts of such incidents are always designed to protect and serve the police.

♦ A dash cam video from the car of a former South Carolina state trooper showed us all what might happen if a black male is stopped for a seat belt violation in that state: he might get shot. Fortunately, 35-year-old African-American Levar Jones lived to tell about his September encounter with a white cop, Sean Groubert. Jones was merely retrieving his wallet, in response to a command from Groubert to get his license, and for that he was yelled at and then shot. In this case, the trooper has actually been charged with “assault and battery of a high and aggregated nature.” Comparing the video evidence to what Groubert said about the incident clearly shows the officer’s self-serving account was an attempt to cover up his panicked behavior.

Which brings us back to Tamir Rice.

Here’s the way The New York Times reported on the Cleveland Police Department’s explanation of why the 12-year-old was killed:

The police said the officer yelled at Tamir three times to show his hands, but the boy instead reached to his waistband for the object, which turned out to be a fake gun.

Well, maybe all that can happen in less than two seconds, but I have serious doubts. It is more likely that a rookie cop did what so many other white cops have done when it comes to black males: shoot first and then appeal to the public, the white public, for understanding later.

In the mean time, the hunt for dirt on or around the Cleveland sixth grader has begun. How about this headline:

Tamir Rice’s father has history of domestic violence

Or this one:

Lawyer representing Tamir Rice’s family defended boy’s mom in drug trafficking case

The publisher of those two articles, Northeast Ohio Media Group, defended the effort to dig into the background of Tamir’s family this way:

In a city where…police are quick to resort to force, a 12-year-old randomly aiming a gun in a public place is in mortal danger. One way to stop police from killing any more 12-year-olds might be to understand the forces that lead children to undertake behavior that could put them in the sights of police guns. 

So our reporters at NEOMG have been looking into Tamir’s background, to see if he lived a life exposed to violence that could explain why it might be normal for him to randomly aim what looks like a real gun in a public place.

I suppose there could be a special “background” reason why Tamir Rice was playing with a non-lethal gun in public, something I did as a kid countless times, even if it was unwise of Tamir to point it at strangers. Maybe it is the case that revealing the “criminal records involving violence” of his two parents will “shed further light on why this 12 year old was waving a weapon around a public park.” But what it won’t do, what it can’t possibly do, is shed further light on why it is that to be black in this country, even in this the 21st century, means that even sixth grade African-American students had better be careful how they spend their play time.

So, do black lives matter? Yes, they matter. Even the life of a little boy whose parents weren’t necessarily the best role models, a naive kid who apparently trusted the police enough to approach them without fear, a misplaced trust that cost him his life.


The following is the entire available video of Tamir’s last minutes on earth. His family approved the release of the video so that the public could see the actions of the officers involved. The family has also asked “for the community to remain calm,” and they want to use the emotions associated with this tragedy “in a way that will contribute to positive efforts and solutions that bring change to Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and cities across the nation as it relates to how law enforcement officials interact with citizens of color.” 

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