The Measles, Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp, And Your Republican Party

Surprise, surprise. There are a few Republican presidential hopefuls out there this year (here and here) who question whether the government should require people to get vaccinated for measles because, dammit, it may lead to “profound mental disorders” and is a transgression against our freedom. Yet there are people in the Republican Party who have no problem putting some women through mental anguish by making it difficult, nearly impossible in some places, for them to exercise their reproductive freedom, and there are some zealots on the right who have no problem subjecting women to government-mandated vaginal snooping. You tell me which is a greater assault on personal freedom.

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All of this vaccination talk reminded me of former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, in 2011, attacking poor Governor Oops! for forcing Texas school girls to get a vaccine against human papilloma virus. Dr. Bachmann, apparently an expert on the subject, famously and falsely suggested the vaccine might cause “mental retardation.”

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Speaking of intellectual disabilities, televangelist (and also a former GOP presidential candidate) Pat Robertson has given his blessing to the idea that the government ought not force parents to vaccinate their kids because “natural immunity is a pretty good thing” and “we should be very careful not to force people to do stuff that they earnestly feel they shouldn’t do.” Yes, again, this same man, a Christofascist, believes women should not be able to control their own bodies because God says that “abortion is murder.”

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Speaking of even more strange GOP presidential candidates, you gotta love this recent CNN headline:

Huckabee compares being gay to drinking, swearing

Yes. It makes sense. A girl-loving guy goes out and gets drunk and the next thing you know, he has a boyfriend who cusses up a shitstorm.

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But Mike Huckabee didn’t just pass on the old lie that homosexuality is a choice people make like, say, preferring Bud Light over Bud. He said the whole matter was “a biblical issue” and the Bible did not give him permission to “evolve” and that Christian businesses ought to have the right to discriminate against the deviants:

It’s like asking someone who’s Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli. We don’t want to do that — I mean, we’re not going to do that. Or like asking a Muslim to serve up something that is offensive to him, or to have dogs in his backyard. We’re so sensitive to make sure we don’t offend certain religions, but then we act like Christians can’t have the convictions that they’ve had for 2,000 years.

That’s interesting. Besides comparing gay people to bacon-wrapped shrimp and adulterated dogs, Huckabee says that convictions from the Iron Age ought to be honored in the law today. That would include the conviction that the bacon-wrapped shrimp and impure dogs should be executed because, as Leviticus 18:22 says,

The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have brought it upon themselves.

Oh, but you may say: Christians no longer believe in executing bacon-wrapped shrimp and adulterated dogs for sinning against nature. Except that, remember, Huck said:

This is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue. And as a biblical issue — unless I get a new version of the scriptures, it’s really not my place to say, OK, I’m just going to evolve.

So, without a new Bible, Huck can’t really evolve on the issue because it is a biblical issue and it says in the old Bible that you should kill the bacon-wrapped shrimp and the adulterated dogs. And if you don’t kill the deviant shrimp (or is it the bacon that is the deviant, or both?) and the adulterated dogs, then you are guilty of evolving, and I am quite sure the penalty for evolving is either death or losing the 2016 Iowa caucuses, whichever hurts the Huckster the most.

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Speaking of the Iowa caucuses, if you think all this talk about crazy Christofascist Republican candidates is just for the fun of it, the Real Clear Politics polling average for the Iowa Republican Presidential Caucus shows the Huckster leading the field by over 3 points. But if you happen to believe, like I do, that Huckabee has exactly zero chance of becoming the Republican nominee, let alone president, there is still good reason to fear some version of Christofascism will be a part of the 2016 general election campaign on the Republican side: Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is “surging” in the latest Iowa polls.

Despite his growing and misleading reputation as a “moderate” in the party, Walker is, like the Huckster, an evangelical Christian who says his “policy decisions” are, “without a doubt, driven by my faith.” Walker not only sought the endorsement of an anti-gay group in Wisconsin last year, but the Koch-blessed, union-hating governor also believes, like Reverend Pat Robertson, that abortion should be illegal in all cases, including when a woman is impregnated by a rapist.

I don’t know if Walker thinks gay people are like “bacon-wrapped shrimp” to a Jewish deli owner, or like dogs to a faithful Muslim, but I do know he has at least some 2,000-year-old Christian convictions that ought to worry all of us.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register published a piece yesterday (“Walker tells Iowans he’s one of the ‘fresh faces’ Romney had in mind”) that discussed the death threats that Walker says he received after all the “reforms” he brought to Wisconsin. Walker is quoted as saying:

Part of me looks back and thinks that maybe God put me and my family through all this for a purpose – and it wasn’t just to get things done in Wisconsin, and it wasn’t just to win all those elections in a state that normally doesn’t go Republican. Maybe it was to set us to … help get our country on the right track.

Like Pat Robertson in 1988, like a lot of other Republicans since, Scott Walker apparently believes his candidacy is somehow tied to the Creator of the Universe. And I can’t think of anything more dangerous than that.

“I Would Have The Best Chance Of Beating The Eventual Democrat,” Says Mittens. Then He Quits.

It’s now official. Mittens ain’t gonna do it.

Vladimir Putin must be thanking his lucky zvezdy. Mittens would have no doubt done something terrible to him, had the loser of the 2012 election decided to become president. ISIL leaders are today giving thanks to Allah for this rare bit of good news. They can now safely take over the world.

And all those poor out there in America, who Mittens, as President Obama said, was “suddenly” and “deeply concerned” about helping from the White’s House, are obviously depressed today, having been consigned to a Romney-less future. There will be no Cayman Islands hero coming to their rescue.

It appears that, after today, Rand Paul will be right: Mittens is “yesterday’s news.”

But he couldn’t depart the presidential stage without one more falsehood. In his remarks today, he reportedly said:

I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination.

No one, no one in his right mind, would actually quit, if he were really “convinced” he could win the nomination. But he wasn’t done lying to himself:

I also believe with the message of making the world safer, providing opportunity to every American regardless of the neighborhood they live in, and working to break the grip of poverty, I would have the best chance of beating the eventual Democrat nominee…

Again, if he really believed all that stuff, deep down in his Bain-stained heart, he wouldn’t give up before the thing even started. He qualified his statement by offering the opinion that his confidence in winning comes “before the other contenders have had the opportunity to take their message to the voters.” Then he took a shot at Jebby the Bush:

I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

Take that Jebby!

So, all of this leaves us with Bush, Chris Christie, and Scott Walker to fight over who can best represent millionaires and billionaires in the 2016 election. The rest of the potential Republican field, which ranges from Rand Paul to Marco Rubio to Lindsey Graham, with every variety of wingnut in between, will only imagine themselves as being worthy of big-donor dough, the kind of money it takes these days to win the voting allegiance of a tiny sliver of the electorate.

As for Mittens, he did leave the door slightly open for the future, should things get really, really messy in the Republican primary process next year and the party comes running to him for a convention bailout:

I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely.

That does seem unlikely. But there could be such a brutal fight break out in 2016 between the party’s heavyweights that one of the nuts could emerge with enough delegates to throw the whole thing into a tizzy. And Romney, the Master Predator, could be asked to takeover the party and do what he has always done best: enrich himself at the expense of others.

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[Image: Wisconsin Jobs Now]

“We Want War!” Say Republicans And, Sadly, A Few Democrats

It’s a strange world in which two Fox “News” hosts are more critical of Speaker John Boehner’s unseemly invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu than is President Obama’s Chief of Staff.

Last week, the Speaker, against protocol and against decency and against our national interests, invited the Israeli Prime Minister to soon address Congress about what both Boehner and Netanyahu see as a misguided attempt to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. The Speaker never told the White House in advance, and Netanyahu, up for reelection at home, didn’t bother to notify the State Department that he would accept the invitation. Boehner and Netanyahu are essentially undermining the efforts of the Obama administration to keep us out of another war. For most Republicans, Israeli interests appear to be more important than our own.

Worse than that, a few Democrats are also trying to get us into an honest-to-goodness war. Last week, after Obama’s State of the Union address, in which the President clearly stated that he would veto any legislation designed to interfere with his delicate negotiations with Iran (Republicans and some Democrats want to pile on additional sanctions), Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said,

The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.

I want to remind you: that wasn’t said by a creepy, crazy-eyed Fox “News” host. It was uttered by a Democrat. In the U.S. Senate.

It isn’t clear to me exactly why that reckless statement would exit the lips of a Democrat, while President Obama and John Kerry are trying to bring a peaceful end to a crisis involving Iran, Israel, and nuclear weapons. But it is a foolish and dangerous statement that is made more foolish and dangerous by the fact that Republicans, who most certainly trust Netanyahu more than the President of the United States, are in charge of Congress and won’t hesitate to do all they can to get us involved in a hot war with Iran, all on the advice of the Israeli Prime Minister.

And speaking of war and misguided Democrats, on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday Diane Feinstein essentially joined warmonger John McCain in calling for more “special operations” troops on the ground in, uh, Yemen. Yes, Yemen. She thinks we need “more than just advisers” there. That’s called panic, folks. Feinstein also hinted that more troops may be needed in other hot spots:

BOB SCHIEFFER: And then, to go back to the Middle East just quickly, do you envision we might have to put more ground troops — or have to put ground troops back into the Middle East?

FEINSTEIN: Well, this is one thing that I have tried to follow carefully, particularly with respect to Syria.

And I don’t see what we’re doing making a difference. So, I think we need to relook at this. And if we are going to tolerate Assad, as McCain said — and I tend to agree — looks like is the case, that’s a problem.

Let me remind you what “McCain said” just before Feinstein appeared on the program. He began by saying that President Obama and his Chief of Staff Denis McDonough “have lost touch with reality.” Then he got to the point of his gazillionth appearance on Sunday television:

MCCAIN: I agree with the director of British intelligence, MI5, who gave a speech last week saying that these young people mainly from other countries that are now in Iraq and Syria will — are a direct threat to the United States of America and Great Britain.

So there is no strategy. It is delusional for them to think that what they’re doing is succeeding. And we need more boots on the ground. I know that is a tough thing to say and a tough thing for Americans to swallow, but it doesn’t mean the 82nd Airborne. It means forward air controllers. It means special forces. It means intelligence and it means other capabilities.

And for them to say we expect them to do it on their own, they’re not doing it on their own. And they are losing.

In case you missed his point, he later reiterated:

In the Middle East, we have got to have boots on the ground.

Whenever you hear someone say that, you are hearing the tempered version of, “Let’s get this war party started!”

While we all should be concerned about what is happening in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere in the region, and while we all should acknowledge that Israel has reason to worry about an existential threat from Iran, we have to keep our wits about us and not panic and jump, boots first, into two more bleeping wars. Our air attacks on ISIL fighters are helping to keep them in check, whether right-wingers in Congress or war-hungry pundits blabbing on TV want to admit it. And it is unclear what will happen in Yemen, since the Shiite rebels—who apparently don’t want to take over the country—aren’t exactly al Qaeda supporters. In fact, we just killed three more al Qaeda terrorists with drone strikes in Yemen today. Yes. I said today, after all the panic on Sunday’s talk shows.

As a much more sober Fareed Zakaria pointed out on Sunday, we have to keep all of this in perspective. He showed this graphic, based on data from the Global Terrorism Database:

Fareed Zacharia and CNN graphic

Now, if that isn’t enough, look at this graphic, which I pulled from the Global Terrorism Database website:

global terrorism database

Those colored beams represent the number of terrorist attacks in 2013 and the relative deaths associated with them. Look at us and look at other places around the world. We should keep all of this in mind, even as we understand that we are not isolated from what is going on elsewhere. We do have to pay attention to what is happening around the world and do what we can to fight terrorism, Islamist or otherwise. But boots-on-the-ground warfare should be the last resort, not the first.

Thankfully, John McCain lost the election in 2008. Thankfully, Bob Menendez and Dianne Feinstein are in the Senate and not the White House. Thankfully, Republicans only control Congress and can only throw rhetorical rocks at President Obama. And, thankfully, we have a man at the helm who doesn’t tend to panic and get nervous and want to start putting American troops on the ground everywhere, when things start to look a little scary.

And, more important, President Obama understands that there is a big difference between American foreign policy and the foreign policy of a right-wing prime minister of Israel, who seems hell-bent on getting the United States involved in a war with Iran, before all the attempts at diplomacy have played out.

If You Want To Know What’s Wrong With The Country, Look No Further than “Ballghazi”

♦ King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia just died. Because he was relatively friendly toward the United States, he was often a big help to us. And he was one of the most influential figures in Middle East politics, including the politics surrounding the global oil market.

♦ The president of Yemen, one of this country’s most important partners in trying to curb Islamist terrorism, just resigned, along with his cabinet, as Iranian-backed Shiite rebels took over the capital, including the presidential palace, and are setting the stage for a civil war.

♦ John Boehner, giving the finger to the President of the United States, secretly invited Israeli Prime Minister Benejamin Netanyahu to address Congress so that Netanyahu, who is facing an election at home, can also give the President the finger over Obama’s wise attempts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, rather than go to war.

♦ The deadline has passed for the payment of ransom money to ISIL, who has threatened to kill two more hostages, this time Japanese hostages.

♦ The U.S. and Iraq are making plans to retake Mosul this summer, in an effort to push back ISIL forces, who now control the second largest city in Iraq.

Those and other important stories are, if you look hard enough, in the news today. But if you watch TV news, both broadcast and cable, mostly what you have seen the last few days is incompetent, irresponsible coverage of one of the stupidest stories in the history of journalism, something that is now being called “Ballghazi,” the flap over how much air was in a football in an NFL playoff game last Sunday.

It has been a sad week for journalism, and not just the kind of irresponsible journalism that is often found in sports reporting. The disease has spread to the mainstream news outlets, who aren’t supposed to be accusing people of lying without any evidence or wasting valuable time reporting on stories that are more properly fit for cheap gossip magazines or websites. It’s as if Jerry Springer, using some kind of mind control, took over the brains of all the news executives and producers on all the television networks and cable shows. I guess covering Middle East politics, reporting on terrorism and our fight against it, following around a creepy John Boehner and a creepier Benjamin Netanyahu, is just not as much fun as covering a great drama like whether a famous football team, a famous coach, and a famous athlete are all petty cheaters.

All of what I have seen makes me wonder just how many other things, much more important things, reputable journalists are getting wrong each and every day.

On Wednesday night, I almost fell out of my hammock when a very smart Chris Hayes, of MSNBC, started his evening program with the story of whether the New England Patriots cheated the Indianapolis Colts in a 45-7 rout by deliberately not having enough air in the ball that Tom Brady was throwing. Hayes obviously thought Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history, did probably cheat. But what does cheat even mean in this context? Nobody seems to know. But we do know now that one of the league’s greatest quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, actually prefers overinflated balls, and that other NFL quarterbacks doctor the balls to their own particular specifications.

On Thursday night, after press conferences by Belichick and Brady in which they denied knowing anything about what may have happened to the balls after the game started, the network news shows put Ballghazi at the top of their newscasts. (AP)Also that night, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, on a show supposedly featuring “hardball” politics, started off his program with the underinflated ball story, repeating the falsehood, spread by other media outlets, that Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson was the first guy who brought the allegedly deflated ball—a ball he had intercepted when Brady threw a bad pass—to the attention of the officials. Except that Jackson said he did no such thing. He said he had planned on keeping the ball for a souvenir and had no idea it was underinflated, if in fact it was. “I wouldn’t know how that could even be an advantage or a disadvantage,” the linebacker said. “I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell if one ball had less pressure than another.”

From Sean Hannity to Chris Matthews, from Good Morning America to NBC Nightly News, from ESPN to local sportscasts, everyone on TV and radio has been talking about the issue, most of them not having the slightest idea what they are talking about. Yet almost all of them are sure that the Patriots cheated, that Bill Belichick is lying when he says he wasn’t involved in deflating the balls, and that Tom Brady is also lying because, well, just because. I have yet to see presented any evidence that Brady or anybody cheated, nor have I seen much of an indication that journalists covering this farce know what actually constitutes evidence or that they know that there are such things as standards of proof. But I have seen flimsy charges made, followed by even flimsier convictions.

This week I have seen on TV all kinds of people holding footballs, talking about footballs, and throwing footballs. I have seen some of those same people also hurling accusations—again, none of them based on the slightest evidence—that Belichick and Brady are liars and cheaters and should be suspended from next week’s Super Bowl. Some hysterical folks, like ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, are even suggesting the entire Patriots team, if proof of guilt finally materializes, should be booted from the game, replaced by the defeated Colts.

I have seen so much dumb and incompetent reporting (no, Belichick did not “throw Brady under the bus” during his press conference), so much wild speculation about NFL-engineered conspiracies (to hype the Super Bowl game or protect Patriots ownership), so much ignorance of the physics of the whole thing (for instance, measuring the air pressure of the ball inside a warm room, then measuring it later outside when it is colder, will produce a different result, dropping the PSI by a relatively significant amount), that I worry for the future of the country, at least as far as television reporting and commentary will affect it.

Because if the kind of broadcast journalism that I have seen this week gets any worse, then there will be no reason to believe much of anything that comes from the mouths of anyone who puts on a suit or dress and starts talking in front of a camera. In fact, there will be good reason not to believe it.

It’s really been that bad.

The Rich Will Get What They Paid For

Many of the headlines, and most of the chatter, about last night’s well-crafted, well-delivered, not to mention inspiring, State of the Union address had to do Displaying 20150120_231217.jpgwith how feisty President Obama seemed to be:

The New York Times: Obama Defiantly Pushes His Agenda

The Kansas City Star: In State of the Union speech, President Obama pushes an aggressive agenda

Pushes. Agenda. Hmm. I wonder what Republicans thought about the uppity agenda-pusher and his defiant, aggressive agenda? Let’s look:

Republicans dismiss president’s proposals from State of the Union address

The New York Times: G.O.P. Response to Obama’s Sweeping Proposals: ‘No’

Why, of course! After all, we are talking about Republicans. Obviously they don’t like the following proposals Obama made on behalf of working folks and their families:

Raise the minimum wage
Require employers to provide paid sick leave for the 43 million now without it
Increase child tax credits
Make community college free
Give other college students a tax credit
Expand the earned income tax credit

Let me be clear: Republicans don’t hate these proposals because they hate working people. Nope, not at all. Even though sometimes it seems like they do hate working folks, they really don’t. I mean it. They really don’t. They actually appreciate working folks. You know why? Because working class people just keep right on working, harder and harder every day, no matter their pay or their benefits or the cost of raising their kids or getting them through college. They just keep at it. Because they have to. And that’s one thing Republicans appreciate about them.

But they really appreciate the working class when, after having been savaged by the GOP’s voodoo economics, a significant number of politically depressed workers will stay home and not vote for Democrats on election day. And Republicans really, really appreciate those workers who, despite being cursed by the right’s voodoo priests, will run to the nearest polling place and vote for more voodoo.

So, no, it’s not that the GOP doesn’t like the working class. It’s just that in order to do the things President Obama and the Democrats want to do to help them, things would have to change a little bit for some folks and businesses that Republicans really, really love: the wealthy and the big banks. Taxes and fees would have to go up on those two groups in order to pay for the new programs and expansion of old programs that Obama mentioned in his speech.

Thus, we have this rather easy and quite realistic analysis by Nicole Hart, director of trusts and estates at Sontag Advisory, a wealth management firm in New York:

My initial reaction is that nothing is going to happen in a Republican-controlled Congress. Our advice to clients is that we’re not worried this is getting passed.

Not to worry, rich people! Your investments in the GOP have paid off! Republicans are in control! Now the rest of you stiffs out there better get your asses back to work!

“It’s A War Nonetheless”

Have you ever wondered who came up with the arrogant and offensive and inaccurate term “moral majority”? Or have you wondered who brought us the Heritage Foundation, that infamous right-wing group-think tank? Or, worse, who first thunk up the pro-business, anti-worker, culturally reactionary group we all know as ALEC?

coors crossThe culprit was Paul Weyrich. In 1979, the God-bedeviled theocrat co-founded, along with the god-awful telepreacher Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority, a political action group that first married conservative Christianity to the Republican Party, a gift from hell that just keeps giving. Weyrich also talked Joseph Coors out of some beer money and helped start the Heritage Foundation, an organization that, from Ronald Reagan’s presidency to the present, has done much damage to the country.

But perhaps the most damage done by a group Weyrich co-founded has been done by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is, essentially, how corporations have been able to get Republican state legislators to toss corporation-written legislation into the hopper and eventually make it state law. Here’s how People for the American Way describes the organization:

ALEC’s agenda includes rolling back civil rights, challenging government restrictions on polluters, infringing on workers’ rights, limiting government regulations of commerce, privatizing public services, and representing the interests of the corporations that make up its supporters. 

As you can see, we can thank Paul Weyrich for a lot of what is wrong with 21st-century America. After his death in 2008, the Los Angeles Times noted that Weyrich’s role,

was not just political; it was acutely cultural, concerned with such matters as whether children are taught evolution or creationism in school, or whether homosexuality is portrayed as natural or profane.

“It may not be with bullets and . . . rockets and missiles, but it’s a war nonetheless,” he once said, describing the struggles that began to dominate public discourse in the late 1970s. “It is a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, and it’s a war about our way of life. And it has to be fought with the same intensity, I think, and dedication as you would fight a shooting war.”

Bang, bang, in the name of Jesus! Here is a 40-second sample of Weyrich saying something that is quite relevant today:

 

“I don’t want everybody to vote,” he said. And may he rest in peace for his honesty, if nothing else.

But Weyrich was onto something when he said to conservatives, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” He was on to something because he knew his political and cultural conservatism wasn’t really part of a “majority,” moral or otherwise. He knew his efforts to shape the country into a quasi-theocratic state would fail if enough people went to the polls. Thus, the idea, then and now, is to keep as many people from voting as possible, specifically targeting those who are tempted to vote for devilish Democrats.

Which brings us to Missouri. Stacey Newman, a Democrat who represents the people of the 87th district (just west of St. Louis) in the Missouri House, posted the following a few days ago:

We were informed that Voter ID bills (HB30 and HJR1) will be heard in a special Elections hearing at 2pm Wednesday, January 21st.

As Rep. Newman points out,

This will be the 10th straight year that the Missouri GOP leadership has focused on making it harder for current longtime voters to vote, even though the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled voter ID proposals unconstitutional.

Ten years and counting. Remember what Weyrich said: “It is a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, and it’s a war about our way of life. And it has to be fought with the same intensity, I think, and dedication as you would fight a shooting war.” That’s what it’s all about for these people. We best understand that, all of us who are on the other side of this war. These folks are serious. They won’t give up. Neither should we.

HB 30 is, by the way, co-sponsored by Joplin’s own Bill White. Now, I live here in Joplin and there is no problem, not the slightest hint of a problem, with the locals going to the polls and voting illegally. So, there must be some other reason why Bill White is in favor of voter ID laws, right? Could it be that he is worried about all the voters in other places in Missouri? Places like St. Louis and Kansas City, where a lot of the voters there don’t look like Bill, uh, White?

Paul Weyrich told us all we need to know about the motives of the ID-obsessed reactionaries here in Joplin, here in Missouri, and across the country: “our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

As I said, may he rest in peace for his honesty.

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State representative Newman ended her post with this call to activism (emphasis is hers):

What can you do?  We NEED people to testify, fill the hearing room in the Capitol, and express their outrage to the Speaker.  Contact Speaker Diehl – john.diehl@house.mo.gov and let him know what you think about voter suppression.

Voting rights is not a game.  We cannot afford to remain silent.

Their Father Taught Them Well

Some of us wonder what makes people, appearing to be drunk on religious faith, to kill others in the name of their religion. We wonder how someone starts out their day thinking, “This is the day the Lord hath made, I will rejoice and be glad and in it—and kill infidels.”

It’s easy for Western Christians, particularly Christian Right blowhards here in the United States, to point to Muslims, at least those who terrorize others in the name of Islam, and say there is something inherently wrong with that religious tradition, that its unique Quranic theology endorses, indeed, encourages, violence against both non-Muslims and against those Muslims who deviate from a certain fundamentalist form of Islam. Even decidedly non-Christians like Bill Maher, commenting on the terrorist attacks in Paris, says of Islam:

When there are that many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard.

Yes. There is something wrong. There is something wrong with the orchard of Islam. And what is wrong is in the soil.

But the ground from which the Islamic orchard blossomed also produced Judaism, with its murderous excesses chronicled in the Old Testament. And it also produced Christianity, with its murderous excesses recorded in secular history books. The soil in which the roots of these three monotheistic religious orchards have thrived—remember: Islam embraces the Bible, too, calling the Quran “a confirmation of” and “a fuller explanation of the Book”—has been poisoned by the same toxic idea, an idea found first in the Book of Genesis:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.

Every warrior for Yahweh, every soldier for Christ, every jihadist for Allah, could point to the idea found in that passage and, with a certain state of mind, find a justification for killing the wicked, the faithless, and the infidel in the name of God.

Or they could turn to another episode in Genesis where God destroyed two populated cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their imputed sin and wickedness.

The Massacre of the Innocents - Nicolas PoussinOr they could turn to the Book of Exodus and learn how God punished the Egyptians for the sins of their leader. Their punishment, among other things, was the killing of innocents, the firstborn sons of all Egyptians, of their slaves, even of their cattle.

Or they could turn to the Book of Numbers and learn of the slaughter of the Midianites, whose alleged sins amounted to their women having sex with the men of Israel, which then caused those men to worship the “false God” of the Midianites, which then meant the men were disloyal to the One True God. Moses ordered the death of every Midianite—man, woman, and child—and confiscated their wealth.

After that orgy of inspired violence and murder and plunder—there is plenty more, of course—it is rather easy for a zealous and disturbed mind to find a book-based justification for killing in the name of God, or Allah. All that is required is to determine just who are the wicked, the faithless, and the infidels.

Unfortunately for the world today, there are a few groups of armed extremists who have so determined, and thus are endeavoring to carry on a tradition recorded on the pages of an ancient book, the same book that conservative American Christians proudly tote to church with them every Sunday, a book that both Christians and Muslims believe is the Word of God.

Keeping Up With The Republicans

Here’s a headline from USA Today this morning:

Obama to propose paid sick leave for American workers

Now try to imagine this headline:

Romney to propose paid sick leave for American workers

I know, I know. You can’t imagine such a thing. There is no way Republicans would put workers on their agenda, except to attack workers’ rights to organize or sustain a union. But Republicans are up to something, right? They’re not just sitting around waiting for Jesus to come back, are they?

Nope. They’ve been busy. But besides saying President Obama is worse than Hitler, and besides saying he should start a religious war against Islam, what is the GOP doing these days? Oh, you know:

♥ The family values party has told Hispanic families to go straight to hell.

♥ And speaking of family values, God’s man in the upcoming GOP presidential field, former Arkansas governor and always a preacher Mike Huckabee, recently criticized the Obama’s for their parenting skills.

It seems Huck doesn’t like Beyoncé or her husband Jay-Z and thinks it is God-awful for the Obama daughters to be exposed to them.  As many have pointed out, though, the Huckster is a friend of Ted Nugent, who wrote a song about raping a 13-year-old girl, which apparently satisfies Huckabee’s lofty standards of moral decency.

huckabee and nugentOh, not only is Huckabee a friend of the draft-dodging Nugent—a man so vile and full of hate that calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” is one of the nicer things he has said about him—Huck also had Nugent on his Fox television show, where he played bass for the aging rocker on a nice rendition of “Cat Scratch Fever,” a song Ted wrote about getting laid when he was “just ten years old.” The song, performed before a mostly lily-white audience of like-minded evangelicals, also features this paean to godliness:

Well, I make the pussy purr with the stroke of my hand
They know they gettin’ it from me
They know just where to go when they need their lovin’ man
They know I’m doin’ it for free

Amen. Thank God for Republican family values!

♥ Sen. Rand Paul, who also wants your vote for president, naturally thinks the way to demonstrate his qualifications for the office is by attacking disabled folks. That is in sync with the Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives, which on its first day in session this year passed a new parliamentary rule that will, essentially, hold hostage Social Security disability benefits, as GOP New Deal-haters figure out how much to cut from the program. Because, as we all know, there are tons of people—parasites, all—out there defrauding the system. Except there aren’t. Like most of these things, it is a Republican fantasy that people are lazy and don’t want to work, a fantasy that Rand Paul believes he can exploit for political gain, just like President Romney did.

♥ Speaking of Rand Paul, the man who is now directing RANDPAC, Paul’s political action committee, is John Yob. Who is John Yob? He’s the same man who helped get Dave Agema elected to a position on the Republican National Committee. So what? you might say. Who the hell is Dave Agema? Allow the National Journal to introduce him to you:

In a New Year’s Eve Facebook post, Michigan RNC Committeeman Dave Agema republished an essay from American Renaissance, a white-supremacist newsletter. The article, which Agema said he found “very enlightening,” argued that “blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike.”

That ain’t all:

Agema has a well-documented history of making inflammatory statements. He argued that President Obama is really a Muslim. He praised Vladimir Putin for Russia’s brutal stance on homosexuality. He blamed Satan for dividing the Republican Party. He even shared what he called an “eye opening” essay on Facebook that posed the question: “Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?”

Yep. He sits on the Republican National Committee, even though, finally, the GOP is “censuring” him.

♥ A man the GOP won’t censure, however, is that great American patriot, Louie Gohmert of Texas. Gohmert wishes “our top leaders in this country” had “the courage” of the military dictator—I said dictator—running Egypt. But the Tea Party genius didn’t stop there. He crapped on the efforts of the U.S. military, which has been at war, fighting terrorists, since 2002:

If the story is properly written about Egypt, and one day it will be, they will see that in the last six years, that besides Israel, the country that has been most fearless in standing up for freedom and against radical Islamic terrorism, unfortunately, has not been the United States because of our leadership. It has been the nation of Egypt.

I am sure the families of all those Americans killed, as well as all those Americans who have been wounded fighting “radical Islamic terrorism” for the last six years, appreciate the fact that a Republican congressman has their backs—at least long enough to stick an Obama-hating knife in them.

♥ On a happier note, one of the Tea Party nuts who voters, wisely, tossed out of Congress in 2012 is Joe Walsh from Illinois. Here is a headline about him that appeared on Talking Points Memo yesterday:

Ex-GOP Congressman Hopes ‘Cowards At CNN, MSNBC’ Are Beheaded

I remind you that this crazy man, despite losing to Tammy Duckworth in 2012, still got 45% of the vote.

♥ Oh, Mittens is back and this time he promises he will—really, truly, honest-to-Kolob—worry about the poor. And we know that, just like in the case of Joe Walsh, at least 45% of the electorate will believe him.

____________________

[AP photo: “A bugler plays during burial services for Army Staff Sgt. Scott W. Brunkhorst, Tuesday, April 13, 2010, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.” Staff Sgt. Brunkhorst, who was 25 years old, died “in the Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.”]

Jesus Hebdo

If you were to spend any time visiting Planet Hate, also known as the conservative media complex, you would find these days a lot of pundits and commenters using the following quote from President Obama, which they think makes him sound like he is firmly on the side of the extremist Muslims of the world:

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.

The President said that to the United Nations General Assembly in 2012. But, of course, he said a lot of other things and the quote above is just one among other “the future must not belong to” items he listed, like “The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt.” When have you seen a conservative use that quote?

In any case, I will supply what followed that seemingly Islam-embracing sentence in Obama’s UN speech that conservatives are tossing around like it proves our president is, if not a terrorist sympathizer, at least a Muhammad-loving, Jesus-hating appeaser:

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied.

So, you can see that really the President was lecturing Muslims about the sins of hypocrisy. Or more strongly, he was saying: If you don’t want your prophet dishonored, then stop hating on Christians and Jews. Obviously, he was not rhetorically siding with one group or another, but was expressing his concept of civility. That was, in essence, what his speech was about—even though I think the President was off-key in some of his remarks.

It all depends on what he meant by “slander” in “slander the prophet of Islam.” If he meant “making false statements” about Muhammad, that is one thing. The president is right about that. People should speak the truth, as they see it, about the prophet of Islam, or anyone else for that matter.

But if President Obama meant any criticism, including harsh criticism, of Muhammad or Islam is out-of-bounds, then he was quite wrong. That is what the entire Charlie Hebdo incident is about. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, or any religious leader today including the Pope, is fair game for criticism, even fair game for satire, even biting and sometimes offensive satire.

Whatever the President meant when he gave that speech in 2012, we know he is not on the side of those who killed innocents last week in Paris, even though some delusional right-wingers, those who comment on certain articles (like this one), tell themselves that he is (“Sounds like the shooting represents a “mission accomplished” for imam Barry,” says someone using the name “Libslayer”). These are sick people, and the depth of their hatred for Obama, a man they don’t know or understand, is otherwise inexplicable.

Leaving aside the clearly mentally disturbed people who call Obama a “miserable Muslim snake” and “the most evil man in America,” there are some more sober-minded Christian right-wingers who use Obama’s “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam” quote as evidence that his heart isn’t in the fight against terrorism, as Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist suggests. She writes:

The fact is that, when it comes to Islamist radicalism, the Obama administration works to downplay threats. And probably for reasons related to that approach, the administration isn’t going to be the strongest defenders of art that is considered a capital offense of blasphemy by Islamist radicals.

Her reference to “art” is to Charlie Hebdo. All of a sudden, Christian conservatives are in love with Charlie—and they are mad at the “liberal” media because some news organizations are not publishing most of the satirical cartoons or are pixelating the naughty parts of some they do publish. These conservative Christians love Charlie right now because the magazine is unafraid to toss cartoon grenades into Islamic foxholes.

But I want to remind everyone that Charlie Hebdo doesn’t much like fundamentalist or conservative Christianity either. And if there’s one thing we know about right-wing Christians, it is that as much as many of them are now celebrating the lampooning of Muhammad and radical forms of Islam, they can get quite upset when Jesus is the butt of jokes or when Christianity is mocked or when their leaders are attacked (or they can just make up stuff, like the War on Christmas, and get all delirious over that).

I also want to remind everyone that Jesus wasn’t exactly a sheep-toting fan of the dominant religious leaders of his time, nor was he respectful of all the traditions of his faith. In fact, while most of the Jewish zealots in Jesus’ day were focused on ridding the land of Roman infidels, Jesus had a different enemy: Jewish leaders themselves.

He mocked them. He called them bad names. He condemned them. He was relentless in his criticism. If there were a Charlie Hebdo around in first century Palestine, Jesus could have been a cartoonist using sarcasm and satire to make his point about the absurdities of the leaders of Judaism and some of the ridiculous traditions they had established and some of their creative, self-serving interpretations of Jewish law.

I will leave you with a rather lengthy passage from the The Gospel of Matthew that I hope you will read in its entirety. And when you read it, think about all that we have seen and heard over the past week regarding Charlie Hebdo. And then wonder how the Jesus below fits in with it all. How does he and his words relate to the debate over civility, over criticism of religion, and over harsh language directed at powerful religious figures, some of whom, as Jesus himself discovered, are eager to see the execution of someone who has offended them:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.  They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.

“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’

“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father.  And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!

“Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear ‘by God’s Temple,’ but that it is binding to swear ‘by the gold in the Temple.’ Blind fools! Which is more important—the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear ‘by the altar’ is not binding, but to swear ‘by the gifts on the altar’ is binding. How blind! For which is more important—the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear ‘by the altar,’ you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear ‘by the Temple,’ you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear ‘by heaven,’ you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you build tombs for the prophets your ancestors killed, and you decorate the monuments of the godly people your ancestors destroyed. Then you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would never have joined them in killing the prophets.’

“But in saying that, you testify against yourselves that you are indeed the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and finish what your ancestors started. Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?

“Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time—from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation.

Sikkos [sic]

Talking about the terrorist attacks in Paris, Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from Warmonger, South Carolina, said on Fox on Sunday:

I have no idea why the President of the United States won’t call this a religious war.

The Christian Soldier then, quite unbelievably, proceeded to blame Obama for the rise of radical Islam.

Byron York, a reactionary columnist writing for a reactionary news outlet called the Washington Examiner, wrote a piece that was celebrated by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Tuesday. York, among other things, said that President Obama didn’t make a mistake by not attending the big rally in Paris last Saturday. It was all just part of the plan:

The administration no-shows were not a failure of optics, or a diplomatic misstep, but were instead the logical result of the president’s years-long effort to downgrade the threat of terrorism and move on to other things…

So when the president chose not to attend the Paris march, nor to send the Vice President or Secretary of State, the problem wasn’t a tin-ear sense of public relations. It was Obama’s actual attitude toward the terror threat facing not only Europe but the United States. We’ve dealt with the big stuff, Obama has declared, now let’s move on.

Apparently Mr. York’s head has been holed up in Mr. York’s colon for the last six years. Barack Obama, far from moving on from the “terror threat,” has been daily—heck, hourly—dropping bombs on or shooting missiles at terrorists somewhere in the world. For God’s sake, he’s even put troops back in Iraq, where there weren’t any terrorists until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney decided to invade the country.

All that is bad enough, but then there is congressman Randy Weber, who succeeded the nutty Ron Paul in the 14th congressional district in Texas (so you know he’s got his shit together, right?). Weber has previously referred to President Obama in a tweet as “Kommandant-In-Chef”—yes, he said “chef”—and “the Socialist dictator who’s been feeding US a line or is it “A-Lying”—at least he didn’t spell it “dick tater.”

Now Weber has once again not only shown his penchant for avoiding spell check, but his penchant for public displays of stupidity:

randy weber tweet

I get it! Barack Obama is worse than “Adolph” Hitler! How funny! No wonder that’s been Favorited over 500 times.

These people are sick, you know. Nearly every last one of them. And until the Scary Negro leaves the White’s House, I’m afraid they’re just going to get sicker.

 

Muhammad Wept?

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

—Gospel of John

Today’s issue of the “irresponsible newspaper,” featuring the caption, “All is forgiven”:charlie cover

Our Police

As we all watch what French police are doing in and around Paris, perhaps it is appropriate to talk about our own.

The police in this country mostly do a good job of, well, policing. And beyond that, they often directly save lives. You can Google “policeman saves life” and come up with all kinds of stories like, “Prince George’s County Police Officer Saves Life of 14-Year-Old Boy” or “Officer saves baby’s life in Bridgeport” or “Dramatic moment policeman saves man’s life by dragging him from burning vehicle.”

There’s that side of the police, the good side, the amazing side, the side that keeps order and rescues people from danger. And then there’s this side:

NYPD police officers turn back on mayor during eulogy of slain colleague

NYPD Cops Again Turn Backs on Mayor at Second Slain Officer’s Funeral

Using the funerals of murdered New York City police officers—who were killed by a deranged man who had first shot his girlfriend in Baltimore earlier in the day—as a forum to demonstrate disapproval—patently unwarranted disapproval, by the way—of the mayor of New York is not exactly exemplary behavior. The head of the police unions, lacking any class whatsoever, falsely and angrily claimed the mayor had blood on his hands for the murder of those two cops. That sort of police behavior is far short of “Dramatic moment policeman saves man’s life by dragging him from burning vehicle.”

But as graceless as that behavior was, and as embarrassingly self-serving as the ongoing work slowdown orchestrated by New York cops is (the police department is in a contract dispute with the city), it doesn’t compare to what New York police did to Eric Garner last summer on the streets of Staten Island.

One of the officers involved in the arrest, you may remember, put an ultimately deadly chokehold on Garner, who was about to be arrested on suspicion of selling single cigarettes from packages that lacked adequate tax stamps. Mayor Bill de Blasio, after that incident, made some remarks that accurately noted the fear that many members of the African-American community have of the police, particularly as cops interact with black males.

The mayor was careful not to condemn the police en masse, but New York cops, aided and abetted by right-wing media, took offense at de Blasio’s remarks, and the funeral protests and work slowdown ensued. The result of all this may be that the public, and public officials, will become reluctant to criticize, in any way, the actions of the police anywhere.

We all know that police work, when done properly, is what helps preserve our civilization, else the bad guys, including terrorists, would make it impossible to pursue happiness in any meaningful way. But it is precisely because we need the police to preserve civilization that they should be held to high standards of conduct. If they aren’t, if their actions are beyond even reasonable criticism, then we have to question the quality of the civilization we have and seek to preserve.

Not long ago I wrote a piece (“Do Black Lives Matter?“) that focused on the killing, by Cleveland police, of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The sixth-grader was playing in a park near his home, playing with what I described as a “toyish gun.” I wrote:

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.

We now know that the police not only shot the kid in less than two seconds upon carelessly pulling up within a few feet of where he was, but that they lied about what happened prior to the shooting, when they were unaware a surveillance video of the encounter existed.

We also now know that the rookie Cleveland officer who shot Tamir Rice had resigned from his previous job on a small town force just before he was about to be dismissed from the department. His superiors at his previous job regarded him as emotionally unable to do his duties, particularly involving handling his firearm. Cleveland officials hired him without looking into his background.

We also now know that the more experienced officer driving the police car that day in Cleveland, who wildly drove the car on the grass right up to the gazebo where Tamir was initially sitting, was involved in an incident in which the city of Cleveland paid out $100,000 to settle a claim related to excessive force.

We also now know that a Justice Department investigation, done before the Tamir Rice shooting, found that “unreasonable force was part of a pattern of behavior that was in some cases endorsed by supervisors” in the Cleveland police department. The review also found that the department was “sometimes chaotic and dangerous … and frequently deprives individuals of their constitutional rights.”

Finally, we also now know what happened in the minutes following the killing of Tamir Rice. The Northeast Ohio Media Group obtained additional video of the aftermath, after engaging in “protracted talks with city officials, who initially refused to release it.” Cleveland.com reported:

The video confirmed earlier claims made by Tamir’s mother, Samaria Rice, and her legal team at a Dec. 8 press conference that an officer cuffed her daughter as she ran to check on her brother and that officers waited several minutes before administering first aid.

The girl, who was at the park with Tamir, ran to her brother’s side when she heard two gunshots fired by first-year Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann.

As the girl neared her brother, Loehmann’s partner, Frank Garmback confronted her and forced her to the ground. Loehmann rushed over, and the two knelt beside her as she rolled on the ground. Eventually the officers handcuffed the girl and placed her in the back of the police cruiser, less than 10 feet from her dying brother.

Four minutes went by without anyone offering medical attention to the young boy. An FBI officer who happened on the scene was the first to do something for him. And the Cleveland police manhandled the boy’s teenage sister, who, naturally, wanted to run to his aid.

Do the police do mostly good things? Yes. But sometimes they don’t. They didn’t in New York City when they confronted Eric Garner. And they didn’t in Cleveland when they encountered 12-year-old Tamir Rice. And we owe it to our civilization to reserve the right to say so, no matter how many protests the police organize at funerals or how many parking tickets they refuse to write or how disreputable their union leaders act.

Here is the extended video of the Tamir Rice incident:

Humping Jerry Jones, Or, How Our “Democracy” Works

There was, in case you missed it, a celebration of American democracy on Tuesday. Family, friends, and big money folks were on Capitol Hill to usher in the latest incarnation of Congress.

Nancy Pelosi gave a gracious speech, just before she passed on the ceremonial giant gavel to the Grim Weeper, John Boehner. And as an African-American president continued to occupy the White’s House, Congressman John Conyers, an African-American Democrat who is now the longest serving member in the People’s House, swore in the Grim Weeper as Speaker.

And an anything-but-grim Joe Biden, who has more fun being Vice President than he is probably entitled to have, had a lot of fun administering the oath of office to newly-elected Senators. So happy was he in his constitutional role, that he didn’t want it to stop. He reportedly asked the television crew if any of them wanted to be sworn in. That’s a man who loves his job, whatever his job is when he’s not swearing in people.

All of this made our democratic system look good. For a day at least, everyone was gathered around the Capitol campfire and you could almost feel the warmth from the collective breath of the Founders.

But our system is not all it should be. Vox reported that over the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections, the 46 Democrats (including the two independents who caucus with them) who will sit as a minority in the U.S. Senate for the next two years actually “got 20 million more votes” than the 54 Republicans who will control the chamber. As Vox notes, though, “Democrats got more Senate seats than their vote share suggested they should” in the 2008 and 2012 elections:

The problem isn’t that the deck is stacked in favor of Republicans. The problem is that the deck is stacked in favor of small states, which receive equal representation in the Senate despite dramatic variance in population. The Senate is a profoundly anti-democratic body and should be abolished.

I’ve preached that sermon before. Many of us know about this gigantic flaw in our system but it’s not going to change anytime soon. Thus, we don’t have a genuine representative democracy. Maybe that’s because not enough time has passed since our founding. Maybe we are still a young democracy. Maybe we are still in a protracted democratic adolescence and we will continue to grow into a more representative adulthood. Maybe someday we will fix such anti-democracy.

Or maybe we are sick. Maybe there is a disease among us that is stunting our growth. Maybe there is more wrong than just that big state-small state problem.

First, consider that although this is the most diverse Congress in history, 83% of our national legislators are white and less than 9% are black. Only 6% are Hispanic. Even more troubling is the fact that 80% of them are men.

Of the 56 new members on the Republican side, 95% of them are white—47 of them are white men and 6 are white women. Yes, I am still talking about the most diverse Congress in history. (On the Democratic side, of the 18 new members, only 61% are white—8 of them are white men and 3 are white women.)

As far as religion, while only about 73% of American adults identify as Christians, 92% of our legislators do—and only one of the 301 Republicans in Congress is not a Christian. Perhaps more disturbing, while 20% of Americans consider themselves “unaffiliated” with any particular religious group, only one person in Congress—not one percent, but one person!—dares to claim she is unaffiliated (Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona).

Now let’s look at wealth. In the last Congress, there were at least 188 millionaires, which is about 35% (and given the intentionally murky rules that govern disclosure of wealth, there is likely more wealthy legislators than we know). Go ahead, survey your neighborhood and see if 35% of them are millionaires. Nah, I’m guessing you don’t have to ask.

Maybe, though, you might want to ask your neighbors about their net worth. The median net worth for an American adult is about $45,000. Yet, according to Roll Call, last year’s “median lawmaker” had “a minimum net worth of $456,522.” Again, I’m guessing you don’t have to ask your neighbors if they’re as wealthy as a median lawmaker.

Now we get to the sickness, which is related to wealthy people and their disproportionate influence on what is supposed to be American democracy. I want to illustrate this point by way of this now famous picture of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie making love to Dallas Cowboys owner and big-time Republican Jerry Jones last Sunday:

I hope they had paper towels handy in Jones’ luxury box.

It turns out that Christie, who (along with the governor of New York) oversees the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is now in hot water over the free tickets and free travel Jones has supplied to Christie so that the governor could attend games and hump the owner, unashamedly, on national TV.

Christie, according to International Business Times, “personally pushed the Port Authority to approve a lucrative contract for a firm part-owned by Jones.” That contract was “to operate the observation deck on the top floor of One World Trade Center.” Who is surprised? People don’t toss money and gifts at politicians just for the hell of it. Just ask former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell—when he gets out of the hoosegow.

At the end of last year, Politico published a piece by Kenneth Vogel (“Big money breaks out”) that began with the following:

The 100 biggest campaign donors gave $323 million in 2014 — almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less, a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings found.

Worst still is that Politico’s analysis did not “include nonprofit groups that spent at least $219 million — and likely much more — but aren’t required to reveal their donors’ identities.”

Politico also notes what it calls,

a surprising decline in the number of regular Americans contributing to campaigns, as well as a shift in political power and money to outside groups unburdened by the contribution restrictions handcuffing the political parties and their candidates.

Taken together, the trend lines reflect a new political reality in which a handful of superaffluent partisans can exert more sway over the campaign landscape than millions of donors of more average means. And that’s to say nothing of the overwhelming majority of voters who never spend so much as a single dime on politics.

The article quotes Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and an activist trying to rid our system of big money:

As you see that your democracy is controlled by a smaller and smaller number of funders, you have less and less interest to be engaged in it.

And if people are less engaged in democracy, then democracy is not really democracy, is it?

But the system does work for those who fund it, that’s for sure. That is why they fund it. Saint and Senator Elizabeth Warren gave an important speech on Wednesday before the AFL-CIO. Part of the speech was about what certainly will once again rear its ugly tax-cutting head now that Republicans control Congress: trickle-down economics. She said:

George Bush Sr. called it voodoo economics. He was right, and let’s call it out for what it is: Trickle-down was nothing more than the politics of helping the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful, and it cut the legs out from under America’s middle class. The trickle-down experiment that began in the Reagan years failed America’s middle class.

I have a pretty good picture of that failure, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

job growth from wall street journal

That ugly looking hole is voodoo economics working its magic on the American people. It’s the result of what happens when big money people get their way, sometimes by influencing both political parties. Warren said:

Pretty much the whole Republican Party — and, if we’re going to be honest, too many Democrats — talked about the evils of ‘big government’ and called for deregulation. It sounded good, but it was really about tying the hands of regulators and turning loose big banks and giant international corporations to do whatever they wanted to do.

Warren acknowledged that things are better now than when Obama took office and gave him credit. But she also said that, “Despite these cheery numbers, America’s middle class is in deep trouble.” How deep?

These families are working harder than ever, but they can’t get ahead. Opportunity is slipping away. Many feel like the game is rigged against them—and they are right. The game is rigged against them…. The world has changed beneath the feet of America’s working families.

I have another pretty good picture of what a rigged game looks like, also courtesy of The Wall Street Journal:

average hourly incomes change from previous year

Trickle-down economics leads to flatlining wages. Who could have guessed that? That’s about as easy as guessing that tossing free NFL luxury-box tickets at a hump-ready Chris Christie will get you some bidness on top of One World Trade Center.

So, what do Republicans, traditional warriors on behalf of the moneyed class, propose to do about the flat line that represents the lack of earnings growth for average Americans? What will be one of the first acts of the 114th Congress—you know, the Congress that is supposed to represent we the people but was pretty much bought and paid for by big donors? Voodoo, anyone? Yes, sir:

House Republicans on Tuesday formally adopted a controversial change to congressional math rules that will most likely make it easier to cut taxes.

As Ronald Reagan—who first brought us voodoo economics—might say, “There they go again.”

 

#Je Suis Charlie!

From The Wall Street Journal this morning:

PARIS—Armed men Wednesday stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine targeted in the past for its cartoons on Islam, leaving 12 people dead, according to the Paris prosecutor.

The Journal described the satirical magazine, whose editor in chief and at least one graphic artist were slaughtered by Muslim fanatics, this way:

Charlie Hebdo has often put France’s secular dogma to the test, printing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on several occasions. In 2011, its offices were struck by arson, hours before a special issue of the weekly—dubbed “Shariah Hebdo”—was published…In 2006, the paper reprinted images of Muhammad that had appeared in a Danish magazine a year before. The next year, it published a picture of Muhammad crying, with the tagline “It’s hard to be loved by idiots.”

The Associated Press noted:

The extremist Islamic State group has threatened to attack France, and minutes before the attack Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of that extremist group’s leader giving New Year’s wishes. Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, among other controversial sketches, and its offices were firebombed in 2011.

According to The Guardian, a mere six days after that firebombing in 2011—which “completely destroyed the Paris offices”—Charlie Hebdo,

published a new front page depicting a male Charlie Hebdo cartoonist passionately kissing a bearded Muslim man in front of the charred aftermath of the bombing. The headline this time was: L’Amour plus fort que la haine (Love is stronger than hate).

CNN has been reporting that witnesses said the gunmen shouted, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad,” as well as, “We have killed Charlie Hebdo.”

Like hell they have.

Twitter users all over the world are using #JeSuisCharlie, “I Am Charlie.” Many of the magazine’s covers and articles have been reproduced and presented to millions upon millions of people who had never heard of Charlie Hebdo until today. Charlie Hebdo is very much alive, even if some of those who produced the magazine have now been silenced by Islamist bastards.

Kudos to CNN’s Chris Cuomo, by the way. Earlier today, the morning news anchor said the following to the control room at CNN:

Put up the cover! Today’s publication date of Charlie Hebdo—if they’re not able to get their message out, we’ll get it out for them—there’s the cover of the magazine…

charlie hebdo and cnn

…This is a satire of someone who is obviously about to get their head cut off, right? The person who is the victim is supposed to be Muhammad. He’s saying, “Wait, I’m the Prophet, you idiot!” And the guy who is going to cut his head off is saying, “Shut your mouth, infidel!” And it says on the caption on the top, “If Muhammad Were To Come Back.” 

Long live Charlie Hebdo! Even as we mourn the loss of those who died in Paris today, let us champion the work they have done. Let us celebrate free speech:

O-complishments

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.

Dictionary.com

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.

Duane

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.” 

Two Reasons Why The Darren Wilson Grand Jury Did Not Reach The Right Decision

A lot of people, good people, believe that the grand jurors did the right thing when they did not indict Darren Wilson for any crime related to his killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson. I’m not one of those people, as you all know. Neither is MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.

In my last attempt to change minds on this matter, I post below two segments from O’Donnell’s “The Last Word” program from earlier in the week. The first segment has to do with the witnesses in the case, centered on the one known as “Witness #10,” who ostensibly corroborated Officer Wilson’s testimony and who ostensibly was beyond impeachment.

The second segment has to do with a Missouri statute, dealing with a police officer’s use of legal force in making an arrest. Just before Officer Wilson’s hours of testimony, prosecutors presented to the jurors, either mistakenly or intentionally, that state statute, which had been written to authorize the reasonable use of deadly force against a suspect running away from a police officer. Later on the prosecutors had to tell the jurors that they may not want to “necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn’t comply with the law.” Yes, because that “portion”—the portion which authorized the use of deadly force against a fleeing suspect—was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

I urge all of you, those of you who think the grand jury did the right thing, those of you who may not be sure, and those of you who just want to know a little more about what happened inside that grand jury room, to watch these two segments:

 

Ferguson: Justice Is A Journey, Not Just A Destination

Let me declare at the beginning: there is simply no excuse for the burning and looting and violence we saw in Ferguson on Monday night. Most of the people who committed those acts were not protesters. They were opportunists. Criminals. And for those few who were genuinely disgusted by the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and who took their anger out on their surroundings: we don’t settle things that way in a civilized country, no matter how outraged one is about an outcome. It’s unacceptable regardless of what one’s grievance is. It is unquestionably immoral, ultimately counter-productive, and therefore utterly stupid.

Let me further declare that I don’t know whether Officer Wilson is, or should have been found, guilty of any crime. I have seen and read the accounts of various witnesses—including Wilson—some of wilson and brownthem conflicting with each other, and I acknowledge that those accounts can be interpreted in more than one way, as is always the case. I have heard specialists discuss the autopsy results, which also can be interpreted in several ways, including supporting Officer Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown was the aggressor or supporting the claim that Michael Brown posed no threat when the fatal shot or shots were fired. I have seen other evidence in the case, recently released, none of it case-closed conclusive one way or the other, as far as I can tell.

I will also admit that Brown’s behavior just minutes before he was shot—when he stole cigarillos from a store and bullied his way out—could easily be interpreted as supporting Officer Wilson’s account of his initial encounter on the street with an aggressive Brown, even though strictly speaking Brown’s prior behavior had nothing to do with whether Wilson acted lawfully when he fired 12 shots at him, one of them entering through the top of his head.

But even though Brown’s aggressive behavior in that convenience store is technically unrelated to what happened minutes later, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the video of Brown bullying his way out of the store at the very least makes Wilson’s account of a demon-faced aggressor plausible to many people, including people sitting on a grand jury. And it is quite likely that that video, and the images from it that were widely distributed, doomed any prosecution of Officer Wilson from the start, no matter whether the officer’s fact-tailored story of what happened seems “difficult or impossible to believe.

That is why prosecutor Bob McCulloch had little trouble, through his assistants who presented evidence to the grand jury, convincing the jurors that Officer Wilson acted lawfully, even though that is not normally how the grand jury process works. McCulloch’s unusual use of that process, in which his team clearly was acting partly on behalf of Wilson, has a lot of African-Americans angry. Think about it:

1. An unarmed black teenager, who some witnesses say either had his hands up or was otherwise not aggressive, is killed by a white policeman.

2. What followed was an almost unprecedented use of the grand jury system, in which prosecutors presented voluminous amounts of evidence in what was essentially a trial that the prosecutors manifestly controlled.

3. That nearly unprecedented quasi-trial before the grand jury was followed by an equally unprecedented decision not to indict the shooter—almost all such juries hand down indictments if asked to by a prosecutor—done by a grand jury that was 75% white.

Those items and others are why a lot of African-Americans look at this case and find more reasons than ever to doubt the justice in our justice system.

mccullochThat being said, my first thought, when I heard that the district attorney would announce the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown shooting case on Monday evening, was why do it so late at night? That was exactly the wrong time to announce it, as many have now realized. There was no compelling reason to announce it around 8:30pm. It was as if the entire event was designed to cause what we in fact witnessed.  It seemed to be fashioned in order to provide fuel for a easy-to-ignite fire. It took only a handful of violent people, those who burned buildings and cars, threw bricks and fired shots, to make the whole community look uncivilized and out of control. Late into the night, Jon Belmar, St. Louis County Police Chief, said,

I really don’t have any hesitation in telling you that I didn’t see a lot of peaceful protesters out there tonight….What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worse night we ever had in August.

Yeah, well, the Chief should take that up with the prosecuting attorney. Except that Chief Belmar told reporters that it wouldn’t have mattered much when the announcement of the non-indictment was made. Huh? He also said that it would have been a violation of the grand jury process to get advanced notice as to whether there would or wouldn’t be an indictment, so that he could better prepare. What? Hooey.

What happened was an utter law enforcement failure, from the governor on down. These people weren’t powerless in this situation. They could have influenced the timing of the announcement of the decision and been better prepared to deal with the results. (I won’t even get into how Governor Nixon could have and should have appointed a special prosecutor for such a sensitive case, especially since Bob McCulloch, whose policeman father had been tragically shot in the line of duty by an African-American, had close ties with law enforcement and had a history of protecting the police in four out of four similar cases.)

As I said, the whole thing, from the announcement last week that the decision was imminent to Bob McCulloch’s press conference on Monday night, seemed orchestrated to produce the results we all saw on our TVs Monday night. But I confess that I don’t really have the slightest idea what was in the head of the prosecutor. I don’t know why he did what he did when he did it. I don’t have anything but flimsy circumstantial evidence that he was trying to maximize the negative reaction that would, most certainly, take the focus off Bob McCulloch and put it on the black community in Ferguson and elsewhere. I hope that his decision to make the announcement well into the evening was just a very misguided act by a public official who was trying to do the right thing and nothing more cynical than that.

In any case, prosecutor McCulloch’s weird theatrics Monday night struck me as a oddly cold. Like ice. Like ice that would, paradoxically, unleash a protest of fire into the night. His team had brought the case to the grand jury as both prosecutor and defense, which one lawyer said was “not the normal process” and another called “rare.” Yet another lawyer said—a former prosecutor—that not only were McCulloch’s actions during the grand jury process almost unheard of in his long experience, but that often the process is almost as important as the outcome itself.

He’s right about that. The process has to be right. Justice is a journey, not just a destination. It matters how outcomes are achieved. It has to appear that the prosecutor is as aggressively pursuing justice for a dead black teenager killed by a white policeman as he would be for a dead white policeman killed by a black teenager. It may be that had the system run its natural course, from indictment to trial to verdict, Officer Wilson would have and should have been found not guilty of any potential charge. But this McCulloch-guided process didn’t even get to a charge, even though all that was needed to indict was “probable cause.” Thus there will always remain large doubts as to Wilson’s innocence or guilt.

From the beginning, after Michael Brown was shot and killed on August 9, the process did not seem right. It didn’t seem normal. Michael Brown’s body was left on the hot August street for more than four hours, uncovered part of the time. Officer Wilson apparently was never required to offer an official written statement after the incident nor were there any recordings or transcripts of interviews done with him at that time. His first comprehensive explanation of what transpired was a month after the shooting—in front of the grand jury and without real cross-examination—plenty of time for him to lawyer up and shape his story to fit the facts that were subsequently and widely available. That in itself raises suspicions about the process. Then there were the leaks of certain information, leaks that always seemed to exculpate Officer Wilson, like the release of that video of Brown stealing the cigarillos. Tack on the quite unusual way the prosecutor handled the grand jury and you have understandable questions about the justice process, even understandable anger.

President Obama said two days ago that “in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.” No doubt about that. Much of that distrust is generated by police behavior, to be sure. But a lot of it is generated by the legal process itself. The President, ever the optimist, continued:

…there are still problems, and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.  Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion.  I don’t think that’s the norm.  I don’t think that’s true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials.  But these are real issues.  And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down.  What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress.  And that can be done.

I hope he’s right. But what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, here in 2014, makes me wonder if he is.

_____________________________

[image of Officer Wilson on the street is taken from Piaget Crenshaw’s video]

 

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