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]


The Joplin Globe’s “Monkey House” Problem

In his response to my post about a local Joplin Globe columnist’s racist tweet, Anson Burlingame, a local blogger who sometimes contributes to the Joplin Globe and who often contributes to the comment section of this blog, wrote in to defend columnist Geoff Caldwell’s use of the term “monkey” in reference to President Obama:

…a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing”. When one is accused of “acting like a monkey” I never considered it a racist comment. Get off this liberal racist accusation against any and all opposing Obama.

Another frequent contributor to this blog, King Beauregard, wrote in response to Anson’s claim:

“Monkey” carries racial baggage and you know it, and more importantly, Geoff knows it. That was the entire point of his tweet.

Exactly. That was the entire point of the tweet, whether Anson realizes it or not. And another commenter, Henry Morgan, put some force behind King Beauregard’s claim:

Anson tells us that “a monkey is another word for a funny and scatter brained like “thing.”
Yes, and a “coon” is a small animal of American forests known for its fastidious eating habits.
And an “ape” is a member of a family of primates inhabiting tropical environs.
A “buck” is a male deer.
A “boy” is a young human male.
And most certainly, as Anson implies, one’s first meaning attached to these words when African-Americans are part of the discussion, is the denotative, not the connotative.
Gee, just nice, kindly words.

Brilliant stuff.

Another frequent contributor, Jim Wheeler, doubted whether Anson was unaware of the obvious fact “that the monkey reference is terminology historically used to deprecate the inferiority of the black race.” Jim writes:

Anson presents an apparently blind eye to this, despite having grown up in Kentucky. That he really didn’t understand the slur is about as likely as believing that Archie Bunker wouldn’t. But wait. I can picture Archie using it and not even realizing its effect, so never mind. ;-)

Okay. I’m going to assume, for the sake of argument, that Anson genuinely was not aware that the term “monkey” has historically been used as a racial epithet and worse. I’m going to assume that Anson didn’t see the story earlier this year about North Korea’s state media describing President Obama as a “wicked black monkey.” I suppose it could be that the North Koreans were just saying that our wicked president was a “funny and scatter brained like ‘thing.'” They’re known for their playful chatter, right? Not even Anson Burlingame would believe that, I am sure.

In any case, in order to help make Anson—and others tempted to think that a local columnist comparing our first African-American president to a monkey was just a playful form of criticism—aware of the awful history behind the connection, I’m going to introduce them to Ota Benga, a Congolese man who actually became part of an exhibition at the Bronx Zoo in 1906.  According to Encylopedia Virginia,

…tens of thousands of people came to see the famous Pygmy who shared a cage with an Asian orangutan, several chimpanzees, and a parrot…The so-called man and monkey show was immediately controversial. 

As Wikipedia notes, Benga was displayed in the zoo’s famous “Monkey House,” which closed in 2012. But pay particular attention to this historical fact on the Wiki page:

Displays of non-Western humans as examples of “earlier stages” of human evolution were common in the early 20th century, when racial theories were frequently intertwined with concepts from evolutionary biology.

It’s no accident when someone who wishes to disparage an African-American uses the term monkey. It’s not just “another word for a funny and scatter brained like ‘thing,'” as Anson claimed. And it is especially no accident when someone who literally despises Barack Obama tweets the following:

caldwell and monkey tweet

Geoff Caldwell, a disturbingly reactionary columnist for the Joplin Globe, may never have heard of Ota Benga and his appearance as an exhibit in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. But he most certainly knows the awful and racist meaning behind calling President Obama a monkey. And that is precisely why he did it.

The only question remaining is whether the Joplin Globe will tolerate such behavior.

Joplin Globe’s Local Columnist Writes Racist Tweet

Every Wednesday someone working on behalf of the Joplin Globe throws trash in my yard.

That trash comes in the form of a column on the editorial page inside the “free” newspaper that is distributed to non-subscribers. That column is written by a man who is now a regular columnist for the Joplin Globe. His name will be familiar to long-time readers of this blog: Geoff Caldwell.

Caldwell is a troll that I banished from commenting on this blog a long time ago, details of which I won’t go into now. Neither will I go into the details of why I think calling Caldwell’s columns “trash” is, well, an understatement. But even though I hesitate to even bring attention to him—because he is starving for attention from me or anyone—I do think that my fellow Democrats out there, as well as independents, who support the Joplin Globe through subscriptions or daily purchases should be aware of what your money is subsidizing.

As we all know, President Obama decided recently to take executive action to defer deportment of some undocumented immigrants, which would, among other things, help keep families together. You would think that keeping families together would be something that self-professed “family-values” Christians like Geoff Caldwell could appreciate. But hatred for Barack Obama has poisoned the minds of so many teapartiers like Caldwell that instead of appreciation of a humane act, or instead of reasoned criticism of what some consider executive overreach, we get this:

caldwell and monkey tweet

Now, Caldwell may think he can get away with this obviously racist tweet because of the “banana republic” reference, but he and I both know better. We’ve been down this road before.

I am sure the Joplin Globe will continue to litter my lawn with Caldwell’s columns on Wednesday mornings in an effort to more widely distribute the advertising that is stuffed into that edition, as well as to pick up new subscribers. But I am also sure that as long as my local paper publishes a column by a pedestrian writer who calls our first African-American president a “monkey,” I will never again be a subscriber.

By the way, for those of you interested in expressing your displeasure to the Joplin Globe, the phone number is 417-781-5500. If you want to make a written complaint to the Globe’s parent company, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., here is a link to its site:

‘Nuff Said About Benghazi?

From the Associated Press:

A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees. 

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

No wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.” “Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies.” “No, no, no.”

How telling is this:

The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.

After all the hysterics, after all the accusations, after all those “dark conspiracies,” the Benghazi “conspiracy” dies with a gobble-gobble.

That’s it? Don’t bet on it:

The eighth Benghazi investigation is being carried out by a House Select Committee appointed in May.

What A Leader Does When The Cowards Won’t Act

When President Obama was speaking last night, I was thinking, “Dammit, this is what Democrats are supposed to do!” We’re supposed to bring some measure of mercy to people who otherwise would be without it, who otherwise would be at the mercy of the merciless. We’re supposed to lead this country into a more hopeful future. And, for all the foolish talk about how weak a leader he is, President Obama was a powerful leader last night. He looked right into the eyes of the American people and asked:

Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, immigration speechand give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works together to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs here, create businesses here, create industries right here in America?

That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration. We need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

Hope over fear, help over hate. That’s what the Democratic Party should be about, and its leader should be about leading the country to embrace those values. President Obama, after waiting so long for Republicans to act, finally just shoved the cowards out of the way.

The President told the story of Astrid Silva, a beneficiary of his earlier order deferring deportation action for those undocumented young people—”DREAMers”—who were brought to the country as children. Silva became an immigration activist who demanded a more comprehensive fix to what “everybody knows,” as the President noted last night, is a “broken immigration system.” About her he said,

Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and she became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mom cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school, not because they didn’t love her, but because they were afraid the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant –- so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid, or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

astrid silvaMost of the people who oppose this president—the people who want his political scalp, who want to sue him or impeach him or worse—are not fighting against Obama so much as they are fighting against the changing face of America that Obama, so dramatically, represents. Many of the millions of people who will be helped by his executive actions look like Astrid Silva and not like Rush Limbaugh. And you are kidding yourself if you don’t think that makes a difference. If those undocumented immigrants were mostly white, immigration reform would have happened a long time ago.

The questions that journalists should ask every single Republican in Congress who opposes Obama’s action are these: Why do you want to load up buses with hard-working people who adore America and send them away? Why do you want to break up families through deportation while simultaneously championing “family values”? And if not Obama’s way, then what way?


The Chaos To Come Will Be John Boehner’s Legacy

Barack Obama’s political life will be over on January 20, 2017, and he has some things he wants to do before the end comes.

One of those things is immigration reform. There is a bill in Congress that would go a long way toward fixing our immigration system, a bill that has been passed by the Senate—in June of 2013—with, gasp, 14 Republican votes. But that bill, a bill that would quiet all the fuss over executive orders if it reached the President’s desk, will never get a vote in the Tea Party-controlled House because Speaker John Boehner knows it would pass with Democratic votes, joined by a handful of Republicans. And the Speaker knows that if that were to happen, he wouldn’t be Speaker anymore. There would be a rebellion of historic proportions.

So, let’s get it straight: There is a bi-partisan solution to the immigration problem that has been rejected by a Republican leader because he values his leadership job over the well-being of the country. It’s pretty much that simple. And if journalists spent as much time reporting on that salient fact as they have on the issue of Obama’s executive oJohn Boehner smilerder—which he will announce tonight—an order that would only partly and temporarily address a long-standing problem, then maybe there would exist some decisive pressure on the Speaker to allow the immigration reform bill passed by the Senate to come to a vote. And we could move on to other things.

But there has been no real pressure on Speaker Boehner. He is rarely, if ever, asked a question about why he is tearing the country apart by not allowing that vote on the Senate bill. Most of the questions these days are focused on just how ridiculously nuts will his caucus go, if the President issues his order, an order that will not only help millions of undocumented immigrants and the country as a whole, but would also help Republicans in the 2016 presidential election (just ask the Chamber of Commerce). Those questions raised about the craziness of the Republican reaction are certainly legitimate, but they shield Speaker Boehner, who is the real problem in this mess, from the criticism he richly deserves.

When President Obama (Boehner’s spokesman now calls him “Emperor Obama”) finally announces his executive action on immigration reform (Boehner himself falsely but intentionally calls it “executive amnesty”), the resulting tumult, both in the Congress and throughout the foaming-at-the-mouth conservative media complex and beyond, will be Speaker Boehner’s responsibility. Whatever ugliness happens after tonight—and it will get ugly—history will blame much of it on John Boehner, even if contemporary journalists have largely given him a pass.

[AP photo]

Claire De Lune?

clair de lunea very pale blue color…

Let me begin by showing you this headline over a Huffington Post story posted on Sunday evening:

Sen. Claire McCaskill Distances Herself From Obama, Senate Democrats

That characterization of McCaskill’s appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation wasn’t a totally accurate one, as you can see by this exchange with the program’s host:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me talk a little bit about what [Romney] said on immigration. He said what the Republicans have been saying up on the Hill, the President taking unilateral action on immigration is a poke in the eye like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Are you comfortable with the President taking unilateral action?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: You know I’m not crazy about it. But let me say this, I’ll tell what you a poke in the eye is. A poke in the eye is for the United States Senate almost a year and a half ago passing by a two-thirds majority and a comprehensive immigration bill with Republicans voting for it from places mccaskill on face the nationlike Tennessee and South Carolina that just got re-elected by double digits. And Speaker Boehner has refused to debate one of the most complicated and difficult problems facing our country. They won’t take our bill up. All he has to do next week if he doesn’t want the President to act is take up the Senate bill, amend it, change it, put up your own bill. Let’s get back to doing our work instead of just blaming the President for everything.

I actually don’t see much distance between her and Obama, at least in that statement. I would venture to say that President Obama isn’t exactly “crazy” about the idea of unilateral action either, but he understands the reality of the politics facing him, especially given the fact that next year’s Congress will be even more reactionary than the present one.

But there is some awful truth to the other part of the claim about McCaskill made in that HuffPo headline. Clearly she is distancing herself from some Senate Democrats (many suspect she is going to run for Missouri governor in two years). She was one of only six Democratic senators not to vote for Harry Reid as their leader next year. But even more troubling for me is that she is distancing herself from those Senate Democrats who actually stand for something, who actually stand for what should be important Democratic values. McCaskill made it clear she preferred more “moderate” voices over clearly liberal ones:

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this: Elizabeth Warren, the fiery populist from Massachusetts has now been part of the– voted in as part of the leadership in the Senate. How do you feel about that? It’s another woman in leadership. But is this going to leave the impression that the party is moving to the left when a lot of people think the only way that you can get anything done is if both parties move toward the center?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL: I think that the leadership team, hopefully, may expand even more with more moderates in it. And by the way the same day that Elizabeth Warren was selected, so was Jon Tester, a flat top farmer from Montana who is about as salt of earth as you can get, and who is a moderate through and through and so his voice is going to be in that room along with Elizabeth Warren’s.

“Moderate through and through,” she said. She admires that. During her campaign in 2012 she emphasized just how moderate she was.  No, she actually bragged about it. Who could forget this commercial:

I have been mostly supportive of Claire McCaskill over the years. I’ve even knocked on doors for her. I know what politics is like here in half-Democrat, half-Republican Missouri. I understand the need for compromise (which she appropriately embraced on Face the Nation). And I wish her luck should she decide to run for governor in 2016. But I confess there is something about that whole moderate thing that just bothers the hell out of me.

Last year McCaskill became an honorary co-chair of Third Way,” a group of “Democrats and Independents” who “believe that America is best led from the center” and who are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” They say,

Third Way’s role in these debates is to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity – forces that serve only to preserve the status quo.

That sounds nice to a lot of people. I know it does. But think about it. What it actually means is that this group of Democrats, presumably including Claire McCaskill (she said on Sunday that she hopes “to be somebody who is driving people to the center”), actually think there is an equal amount of blame to go around for the polarization and ideological rigidity we have seen, especially over the last four years. But there most certainly isn’t an equal amount of blame. Even Claire McCaskill at one time recognized the reality of the situation.

In 2012 McCaskill said that “the far right-wing base of the Republican Party” wanted candidates who believe “we need to turn out the lights on the federal government and go home.” She was absolutely right about that. But no one could say the same thing about the liberal base of the Democratic Party. They actually want candidates who want to govern. It’s what they send them to Washington to do because they actually believe in government. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is a democratic socialist, actually compromises with Republicans, for God’s sake.

So any Democratic group that says it exists “to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity” has it wrong from the start. And one suspects that something else is cooking, and it doesn’t smell much like working class populism to me.

But there’s more to it than that. As I noted earlier, the Wall Street-backed group of so-called moderate Democrats in Third Way claim they are “highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.” That highly suggests they think the visions of the Elizabeth Warrens out there are as extreme and disturbing as the visions of the Ted Cruzes, that the economic populism championed by the senator from Massachusetts is as bad for the country as the know-nothing Tea Party extremism advanced by the senator from Texas.

And if that is what Claire McCaskill believes, she should say so.

-CINCpt_07-18-2014_Enquirer_1_A009~~2014~07~17~IMG_0210_sherrod_brown.j_1_1_.jpgOne Democratic Senator (and one of my favorites) who isn’t afraid to speak up in defense of working class populism is Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Last week in The New York Times he said,

Too many Democrats are too close to Wall Street. Too many Democrats support trade agreements that outsource jobs, and too many Democrats are too willing to cut Social Security — and that’s why we lose elections.

I don’t know if Brown is completely right about why Democrats lose elections. But if the Democratic Party, in the name of “moderation” or “centrism” gets even chummier with fat cats on Wall Street, if the party helps make it even more profitable for American companies to outsource jobs, and if party leadership agrees to additional cuts to social programs, then I will know that the Third Way moderates have won the battle for the soul of my party—and the forces of reaction and regression will make life even harder for the poor and for the working-class, often, we all should be ashamed to admit, the same people.


[Sherrod Brown photo: AP]

Breitbart: “Impeachment Goes Mainstream”—Yes!

It’s official: Charlie Krauthammer, the ringmaster of reactionary columnists, has blessed impeachment. Alas, my strategy is working!

After last week’s election, I published a piece (“Get Out Your Matches, Mr. President, And Start A Circus”) in which I urged President Obama to go ahead and incite incitable Republicans with his promised executive action, including de-prioritizing deportation of certain classes of undocumented immigrants (“deferred action”), such as those who have been here for some time and those who have families here. His action would not be unprecedented (even Republican presidents have done it), nor would it be outside of his authority as chief executive of the country, which, after all, does give him discretion on how to use the limited resources available for prosecution of any crimes (the Feds, for instance, aren’t prosecuting marijuana munchers in Colorado).

After Fox “News” and The New York Times reported that Obama may in fact throw his executive authority on the side of immigration reform next week, the circus clowns began putting on their creepy makeup and the sideshow artists began honing their acts—rumor has it that a sword-swallowing Sean Hannity will attempt to deep-throat Rush Limbaugh’s sweaty sword. Anything for the team!

It was one thing when Sarah Palin, who knows more than a little about not completing terms in office, called for impeachment this past summer:

…we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment.

The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored. If after all this he’s not impeachable, then no one is. 

Or when right-wing legisnutters like Joe Barton of Texas floated the idea last week:

…impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir.

breitbart on impeachmentBut when Ringmaster Krauthammer says that action by Obama on immigration reform “is an impeachable offense,” then, God bless P.T. Barnum, it’s time to set up the big tents!

Just yesterday I heard a smug John Boehner say, “All of the options are on the table,” when it comes to depriving the President of his executive powers. He also claimed that he wanted to stop Obama “from violating his own oath of office and violating the Constitution.” Now, if he really means that, it’s impeachment, baby!

But then, dammit, The Washington Post came out last night with a report that suggested the House would only consider a lawsuit as a response:

The idea to use the courts as an initial means of dissent, should the president move forward in the coming weeks to protect millions from deportation, moved to the front of the House GOP’s playbook after the leadership reviewed it. Boehner reportedly wants to respond forcefully and quickly should the president act and believes a lawsuit would do that, as well as signal to conservatives in his conference that he shares their frustrations about the president’s use of executive power.

Darn, darn, darn! Maybe the clowns and Sean The Sword-Swallower will have to wait on the lawyers. But the sue-Obama-for-doing-his-job lawyers are sort of hard to find:

Boehner first announced plans to initiate a federal suit against Obama in late June, when he called the president’s executive orders an unconstitutional power grab by one branch of government.

But the suit has wallowed ever since as GOP lawmakers have struggled to find a D.C. area law firm willing to take up their legal fight.

The good news is that if the House is serious about finally bringing a lawsuit against the President, as opposed to bringing up articles of impeachment, that means Obama can go even further on immigration reform than he might now be contemplating. And that would be good not only for the immigrants involved, but good for the country.

And going even further would, Allah willing, bring us Ringmaster Krauthammer and The Greatest Show On Earth. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, get ready!

Rosetta And The Future Of Man

I’ve been a fan of space travel and NASA since I was a little boy. I read about the Mercury and Gemini programs and followed the Apollo missions. I dreamed of earthlings colonizing Mars, a dream helped along by Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and other books.

But I never thought I’d live to see mankind land a probe on a comet! Did you get that? Just when we thought the world was going to hell in all kinds of ways, when we felt all our institutions were failing us (they really aren’t, of course), we landed on a comet. Wow.

By “we” I mean the European Space Agency, with help from NASA. All morning I waited for the big event, and a little bit after 10 this morning it happened, as this tweet from ESA indicates:

rosetta mission landing tweet

 “Philae” is the landing craft that left its mother ship, Rosetta, and landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which is currently 300 million miles away from Earth and headed toward the Sun. All of which merited a shout-out from Captain Kirk himself:

captain kirk tweet

The journey to the comet took more than 10 years, after its launch in March of 2004. That was before some guy named Barack Obama gave the famous keynote speech at his party’s convention that first brought him national attention. Think of all the events we have witnessed since then. Yet, during all that time there was Rosetta speeding its way to a rendezvous with, and carrying a probe that would eventually land on—let me say it again—a comet! One of these things (photo of Comet West via NASA; Comet 67P can’t be seen with the naked eye):

Comet West

Comet 67P actually looks like this closeup (the primary landing site is enlarged):

Philae's primary landing site, Site J, now named Agilkia

Needless to say, this is one stunning technical achievement, even though as of right now the probe Philae hasn’t been secured on the surface of the comet. Because Comet 67P is so small, its gravitational pull is hundreds of thousands of times weaker than Earth’s and harpoons were suppose to fire from the lander to help keep it in place. They didn’t fire and no one knows why. There are, though, ice screws on each of the lander’s three legs that are supposed to use the impact energy from the landing to drive them into the surface. Hopefully that will be enough to keep it attached while the science is conducted.

In any case, whatever happens, it is a remarkable day for our kind. I want to share with you what Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, had to say about the event. Mr. Green was at ESA when Philae touched down and couldn’t contain his American-style enthusiasm in front of the distinguished guests:

Personally, from my perspective, how audacious! How exciting! How unbelievable to be able to dare to land on a comet! To take that step that we’ve all wanted, from a scientific perspective…It is the start of something important. The Solar System is mankind’s. This mission is the first step to take it. It is ours! Let’s learn about the environment that we are in. It’s these steps that will lead us beyond this planet and onto Mars and out into the Solar System. I truly believe that a single planet’s species will not survive long. It’s our destiny to move off this planet.

You have to love the guy. He thinks big. Like human beings should do. This planet is too small to hold us!

I want to inject into this tribute to human ingenuity a note about a couple of old friends of mine. The old friends are actually spacecraft that were launched in 1977, one just before and one just after I turned 19. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still alive and transmitting data back to earth, even though by the time the radio signals arrive here, they are less than a billionth of a billionth of a watt. Yet, those signals shout out our expansion into the universe.

Both Voyagers flew by Jupiter and Saturn, and Voyager 2 managed to also take in Uranus and Neptune on its scientific sightseeing tour of the Solar System. After their planetary missions, they headed for interstellar space. Voyager 2 is 10 billion miles away from home and counting and hasn’t yet reached the boundary that defines interstellar conditions. Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space—the first man-made object to do so—and is more than 12 billion miles from Earth. Travelling at 38,000 miles per hour, it is headed in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, which brings us back to the comet.

In Book II of Paradise Lost, John Milton compared Satan to a spectacular comet flashing across the constellation Ophiuchus:

Incens’d with indignation Satan stood
Unterrify’d, and like a comet burn’d
That fires the length of Ophiuchus huge
In th’ arctic sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes pestilence and war.

Paradise Lost is based on the story of the Fall of Man found in the book of Genesis, a story that attempts to persuade us that death is God’s punishment upon us for our failure to resist Satan’s offer of forbidden knowledge. Milton’s use of the streaking comet as a metaphor for Satan shaking “pestilence and war” on mankind is perfect, now that we have actually set our collective feet on a real comet today. Perhaps it is that all the knowledge and imagination and intelligence that went into the ESA’s Rosetta mission represents a metaphorical conquering of our ancient fears and superstitions. And perhaps Voyager 1’s planet montagestreaking “the length of Ophiuchus” represents a newer, far superior image of mankind than the horrific imagery found in the Old Testament and in Bible-based epics like Paradise Lost.

Aboard Voyager 1 is a 12-inch gold-plated phonograph record that holds selected cultural sounds and images of life on Earth. Featuring sounds of nature and music and a sampling of the world’s languages, NASA says the record is “intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.” But I think the story is better told to ourselves. We are an amazing species when we want to be.

The great Carl Sagan, who chaired a committee that determined the content of the record aboard both Voyagers, said,

The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced spacefaring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet.

Indeed, it does. And so does riding a comet.

A Veterans Day Lesson On Our “Democracy”

I will acknowledge from the start that I know why we have the political system we have today. I can read history books (or Wikipedia), too.

But on this Veterans Day, a day celebrating those who actually defend what we often call a democracy, it is worth taking a look at just how un- or anti-democratic our system really is, a system first constructed from a blueprint in west point first black graduateour Constitution, and modified by court decisions, amendments, and evolving practices.  And of course I know there will be no constitutional convention to alter our system of governance or no new and radical amendments to a document that is damned hard to amend under the best of circumstances. All that being said, we owe it to ourselves now and then to note just how we fail to govern ourselves democratically in some important respects and why we have failed from the beginning.

1. To start with, the  successful attempt by Republicans to suppress voter turnout among Democrats by enacting needlessly burdensome voting laws, which disproportionately affect African-Americans and other minorities, is as shameful as anything one can think of for people who live in a democracy. But the right-wing “patriots” who engage in such voter suppression are beyond shaming. Winning will only produce more attempts to skew the vote their way and undermine the principles of democratic government. But there’s more to the story of why they are doing such nasty things to our system, which I will get to at the end.

2. Next, we have the issue of money and politics. Theoretically, we all have the ability to influence the electoral process by making contributions to partisan candidates, or on behalf of or in opposition to ballot initiatives. Yes, we are all free to inject into the process a million or ten million or a hundred million dollars, right? Of course not. But people with real money can and do buy votes and people without real money can and do suffer because of it. Undemocratic or anti-democratic? You pick. Either way it is also a shameful aspect of our system.

3. Another people-unfriendly flaw in our electoral schemata was illustrated just 14 years ago. Everyone remembers that Al Gore, former Vice President of the country, actually got over 500,000 more votes than George W. Bush did in the presidential election of 2000. Yet there was no President Al Gore. The Constitution, in all its compromising glory, denied him the office, by virtue of a partisan Supreme Court decision that prematurely settled a messy election in Florida, which then led to Gore’s subsequent defeat in the very weird and anti-democratic electoral college.

Al Gore’s I-won-the-popular-vote-but-I-lost-the-election misfortune (and the country’s misfortune, given what happened on 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, which has set part of the world on fire), though, is a relatively rare event. Such an outcome is not a regular occurrence even under our Constitution. Before the 2000 election, the last time a candidate won a presidential election without at least a plurality of the vote was in 1888. But still it happened and its consequences were costly and catastrophic, and given the trends in our electorate, it may happen more frequently in the future.

4. A more regular anti-democratic feature of our system is gerrymandering, a process of manipulating demographics in order to achieve lopsided outcomes by drawing up Ebola-looking congressional districts. For instance, here’s Maryland’s 3rd District and North Carolina’s 12th District, two of the most gerrymandered House districts in the country:

gerrmandered districts

The most recent beneficiary of this form of voter manipulation is, of course, the Republican Party. After that Democrat-shellacking 2010 election, right-wingers got to draw boundaries for a larger number of congressional districts than Democrats did. After the 2012 election, the results were in: Democrats outpolled Republicans by about 1.4 million votes nationally in House races, but were under-represented by 18 seats. We saw the effect here in Missouri again this year, where even last Tuesday’s pitiful statewide electoral performance by Democrats (they only received 36% of the vote in all U.S. House races) would, under a more people-friendly system, have entitled them to an additional representative in Congress.

Consider the following analysis of the 2012 election done by Sam Wang, who founded the Princeton Election Consortium:

In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Given the average percentage of the vote it takes to elect representatives elsewhere in the country, that combination would normally require only 14.7 million Democratic votes. Or put another way, 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.

5. Another regular anti-democratic feature of our strange electoral system is what happened last Tuesday relative to the U.S. Senate, which, as some political scientists claim, “may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.” Let’s look at Louisiana. There were eight candidates in the Senate race. Here are the top three finishers:

Democrat Mary Landrieu: 618,840  42.1%
Republican Bill Cassidy:    602,439  41.0%
Republican Rob Maness:   202,413  13.8%

Rob Maness is a typical Tea Party wingnut Republican. As far as I’m concerned, Maness shouldn’t be allowed to decide whether to buy a new street sweeper for the city of Baton Rouge, let alone make reactionary whoopee with Mitch McConnell in Washington, D.C.  But Maness did manage to get over 200,000 votes in a multi-candidate race. Compare that to fairly-liberal Democrat Chris Coons in Delaware. He won his race by almost 16 points, yet he received only 130,645 votes. Coons will be a U.S. Senator and Maness will not, thank God and, in this limited case, the Founding Fathers.

But there is something about that 130,645 vote total in Delaware that should unsettle us all, at least those of us who value representative democracy. And there is something unsettling about Mike Rounds’ U.S. Senate victory in South Dakota. He got 140,721 votes. Republican Senator Mike Enzi was reelected in Wyoming with a whopping 72% of the vote, but he got a total of 119, 534 votes. In Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is leading with 110,203 votes. Compare all those totals with what Republican Senator John Cornyn received in his Texas race: 2,855,068. That far exceeds the vote totals of 12 U.S. Senate winners, Republicans and Democrats, last Tuesday. Think about that. There were 36 Senate seats up for grabs and John Cornyn got more votes than one-third of the winners put together. Yet Cornyn, who represents 26.5 million people, will have only one vote, and those 12 other Senators, including Mike Enzi from a population-poor state like Wyoming—583,000—will each have a vote that counts as much as Cornyn’s. In effect, Wyoming citizens enjoy 46 times more representation than do Texans—and 66 times more than Californians!

Put another way on this Veterans Day, an American soldier from Texas or California who is fighting on behalf of the country’s democratic values, is getting considerably shortchanged. Those soldiers from Wyoming or Delaware have, democratically speaking, more to fight for and more to lose. And the small-state advantage is not only big, but it is increasing because of the population growth in large cities in the larger states. Because of the nature of that population growth—African-Americans and Latinos tend to live in the largest states—the smaller states with the lopsided representation make the country’s governance much more whiter and conservative than it would or should be. As The New York Times pointed out,

Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.

The Times reports another disturbing feature of our political life related to the anti-democratic Senate:

In the last few years, 41 senators representing as little as a third of the nation’s population have frequently blocked legislation, as the filibuster (or the threat of it) has become a routine part of Senate business.

Given that reality, even when Democrats do manage to control a majority of Senate seats, they are still fairly powerless to do anything. One-third of the country’s people can stop two-thirds. It’s hard to see how that is anyone’s idea of representative government.

As I said, there isn’t going to be any mad rush to change any of these flaws in our system. We’re stuck with it, as far as the eye can see. But I do want to point out a dark and disturbing connection between all of the items on my list of anti-democratic elements in our political system, starting with voter suppression efforts by Republicans and ending with the very anti-democratic U.S. Senate.

It is well established that conservatives in our country, whether they have called themselves Democrats or Republicans historically, have always had a problem recognizing the citizenship-legitimacy of African-Americans. The obvious attempts by conservative Republicans today to discourage black people (and other minorities, to be sure) from voting is just another manifestation of institutional discrimination that has bedeviled our democracy since its founding. From the Times:

Robert A. Dahl, the Yale political scientist, who is 97 and has been studying American government for more than 70 years, has argued that slavery survived thanks to the disproportionate influence of small-population Southern states. The House passed eight antislavery measures between 1800 and 1860; all died in the Senate. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, he added, was slowed by senators representing small-population states.

Related to that excellent Times article, professor of political science and author Corey Robin wrote,

…for all the justified disgust with Emory University President James Wagner’s recent celebration of the 3/5 Clause, virtually no one ever criticizes the Senate, even though its contribution to the maintenance of white supremacy, over the long course of American history, has been far greater than the 3/5 Clause, which was nullified by the 14th Amendment.

Now you can see why we have had, and continue to have, such an anti-democratic system. The causes are rooted in white supremacy, and we see a manifestation of that same spirit in the Republican-led defense against what they Gordon, scourged back, colored slide 2.pngperceive as threats to white Western culture. The voter suppression of minorities is part of that defense. The big money that controls our politics is part of it (how many black billionaires do you know?). The Electoral College system, which is directly related to the issue of slavery, is another part. Gerrymandering, where minority voting power is diluted by packing voters into often-convoluted districts, is still another part. And, finally, the Senate is part of it, too, a place where, as Corey Robin wrote, “democracy goes to die.”

So, the next time you hear a Republican talk about voter fraud and the need for stricter ID laws, or talk about how money equals free speech, or how the Electoral College “keeps the values of traditional America relevant,” or how gerrymandering “isn’t really about race,” or how the U. S. Senate balances rural interests against big-city interests, you will know what that Republican is really saying: white might makes right.

Democrats Need To Learn Something From The 2014 Election And Evangelicals May Be Their Best Teachers

I know Democrats are still stunned and angered by last Tuesday’s election results. Over the weekend I heard a lot of talk about what went wrong and why it went wrong. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion, including me.

Beyond the unfavorable mathematics of the situation—so many Senate Democratic seats to defend in so many indefensible places—and beyond the problems with voter ID laws that right-wingers used to make it more difficult for Democrats to cast votes, there was the troubling notion that voters, who said they were dissatisfied with the economy and believed the country was on the wrong track, looked to Republicans to help fix things. That in itself is enough to tempt a rational person into abandoning all hope that there is in fact any rationality in our electoral process.

We all saw the news last Friday that 214,000 more jobs were created in October, lowering the unemployment rate to 5.8%, the best it has been since 2008. Amazingly, it was 7.2% just a year ago. We now have seen nine consecutive months in which more than 200,000 jobs were created—the strongest job growth since 1998—and in just over four and a half years 10.6 million private-sector jobs have been added to the economy. The stock market has soared beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. More people have health insurance now. We’ve come a helluva long way since Barack Hussein Obama’s first few months in office.

Yep, all that makes one wonder what people were thinking on Tuesday. And it makes one wonder what Democratic candidates were thinking before Tuesday when most of them didn’t bother to run on the progress that has been made—progress made despite Republicans sabotaging the economy with shutdowns, threats of shutdowns, threats of defaulting on our debt, not to mention their strategic legislative obstruction in Congress. You gotta scratch your head.

But the biggest head-scratching fact of the election was, of course, the problems our side has with turnout. Hispanics, a strong Democratic Party constituency, constituted 11% of eligible voters this year yet only represented 8% of actual voters. And although Democrats won a significant share of the overall Hispanic vote nationally, in places like Texas, where Hispanics represent 17% of the electorate and where Democrats expect to become competitive in the near future, Hispanics gave Nugent-loving Greg Abbott 44% of their share. Texas Senator John Cornyn actually outperformed his Democratic opponent among Hispanics, 48% to 47%, as did reactionary Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who won his race with only 49.96% of the vote but managed to win the Latino vote 47% to 46%. (I should point out that there are some analysts who believe the exit polling showing these results was skewed and that Republicans didn’t do so well.)

Democrats, as usual, won the 18- to 29-year old vote, this year by 11 points. Problem is that they only represented 13% of the electorate on Tuesday, down from 19% in 2012. Turnout among single women, another stronghold for the Democrats for many important reasons, was also down and those who showed up only favored Democrats this time by a 60-38 margin. Women overall only favored Dems by five points, compared to +11 just two years ago. African-American turnout was down slightly from 2012, even though they remain a reliable voting block for Democrats.

I can’t explain to you why all those groups, groups that have so much to lose if Republicans have their way, don’t bother to show up in droves for the mid-term elections. It boggles my brain. The folks that Democrats help the most aren’t very good at helping Democrats when they need the most help. I just don’t know why that is. I don’t know why such folks need to be energized by a presidential campaign. Makes no sense to me. And I don’t know how long the country can continue progressing with what essentially are two distinct electorates, a younger and darker and more liberal one for presidential years and an older and whiter and more conservative one for off years.

But as a former evangelical Christian, something I do know and understand is this:

White Evangelicals turned up at the polls in large numbers on Tuesday, playing a key role placing Congress in the hands of the Republican Party.

That’s from a HuffPo article on “the religious landscape” of the 2014 election. The fact that conservative Christians showed up and voted, and voted in large numbers like they always do, doesn’t surprise me a bit. Those folks, even though they sometimes get frustrated with politics, nevertheless play the long game. They organize at the local level, move on to control their state’s GOP, and have a big say in who gets on the ballot. They then volunteer in campaigns and make sure to get out their vote, no matter what the election is. They are largely responsible for what we have seen since 2009. Barack Obama scared the devil out of them, or somewhat more accurately from their point of view, Barack Hussein Obama is the devil.

Take my next-door neighbor, Arkansas:

52 percent of the electorate was composed of self-identified white evangelicals or born-again Christians. About 73 percent voted for Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, which helped unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.

Now, Mark Pryor was no atheist. In fact, he was co-chair of the National Prayer Breakfast—where Republicans take time out from demonizing Democrats in order to assert their Christian values—four times. He was as sincere a Christian as one can find in politics (don’t laugh). But that didn’t stop the National Republican Senatorial Committee from attacking Pryor’s faith in December of last year, an attack that Tom Cotton even criticized, that is, just before Cotton attacked Pyror’s faith himself in July:

Barack Obama and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings. That’s when we worship, but faith is what we live every single day.

Cotton, who apparently has more ambition in his bones than Christian charity in his heart, didn’t know in July whether he would beat Mark Pryor. Polls showed the race was fairly tight. But he had good reason to believe a whole lot of evangelical Christians would turn out to vote in November—turnout was actually up in Arkansas over what it was in 2010. So, why not take a shot at Pryor in Jesus’ name? And it was a nice touch putting Barack Obama’s name in that statement, don’t you think? What most evangelicals in Arkansas heard was, “The Devil and Mark Pryor think that faith is something that only happens at 11 o’clock on Sunday mornings.” Pryor, who didn’t want anything to ralph reed and faith and freedom coalitiondo with The Scary Negro because he is so unpopular in Arkansas, didn’t even get 40% of the vote last Tuesday. He lost by 17 points—in a state that saw 168,000 people, out of a population of only three million, benefit from ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion (the state had, until Tuesday, a Democratic governor).

But I can’t really blame Tom Cotton—who once called for the prosecution and imprisonment of three New York Times’ journalists—for such tactics, given the nature of electoral politics in Arkansas and across the Deep South (where, if Mary Landrieu loses in December, there will be no white Democrats in Congress). It isn’t as though we should expect that Cotton, being an “every single day” Christian, has any better manners or morals than your average beer-slamming blogger (don’t judge me too harshly). But he and his handlers understand his base. They know what buttons to push. They know what will get even more evangelicals than usual to the polls on Tuesdays in any November when there is an election going on. Cotton doesn’t care that he slandered a fellow Christian (actually, two fellow Christians, if you count that crypto-Muslim in the White’s House) in order to score points with white evangelicals in Arkansas. He wants to be a senator for God’s sake!

All of which gets me back to Democratic constituencies and our problems with turnout. It is simply a stubborn fact that we have to cobble together enough votes to win by appealing to a more diverse collection of people. We can’t rely on an overwhelming number of white voters (whose electoral strength is slowly dissipating), who this election made up 75% of the electorate, compared to 72% in 2012, and who gave the GOP 60% of their vote. Or, I hate to say it, we can’t rely on 65-year-old and older voters, who this time made up 22% of the electorate and, although most of them are living off Democratic programs like Social Security and Medicare, nevertheless voted Republican 57-42 .

We continue to heavily rely on the under-45 vote, the female vote, the union vote, and the minority vote, while getting significant shares of those between the ages of 45 and 64—they make up 43% of the electorate and we got 45% of their vote (yes, I know, these groups overlap). And as noted we continue to fail to get out our voters in sufficient numbers in off-year elections. As I said, beats me as to why that is or what we can do about it. I suggest, for a starter, not running away from our leader or our accomplishments.

But beyond that Monday-morning analysis, maybe we need to stop underestimating the power and influence of  white conservative evangelicals, who make up about one-fourth of the national electorate and a much higher percentage in states like Arkansas. There is no other group in American politics quite like these evangelicals. I think this explains a lot about why Republicans have a habit of winning mid-term elections. These folks don’t quit. They don’t tend to stay at home out of frustration. They don’t tend to let anything stand in their way, including voting for a Mormon in 2012, even though many evangelicals consider Mormonism to be a cult. They seem to have an immunity to apathy. Most of them believe every election, every vote, is crucial to fighting the tides of secularism that they are certain threaten their faith, perhaps their very existence. It is a good-versus-evil choice for them each and every time a national election is held.

Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, don’t seem to understand this reality. For some reason, instead of attempting to match or exceed evangelicals’ electoral enthusiasm—if that’s even possible—liberals keep wanting to wish it away. ThinkProgress published a piece two years ago, after Obama’s victory over Romney, that ended with this:

The 2012 election season appears to have been an ominous one for the Religious Right, and – if the trend continues – may very well signal the end of their traditional dominance of Republican politics…the Religious Right looks to have already lost persuasive power with many American voters.

Nope. Just ask Tom Cotton, uh, I mean, Senator-elect Tom Cotton.

Finally, I want to say that as a former evangelical I have spent a lot of time over the past several years writing about the influence of conservative Christians, whom I consider to be the most reactionary force in American society, especially in our politics. And I want to end this rather sad blog post by noting just how powerful the evangelical movement has been in terms of restricting reproductive freedom for women. Anyone who thinks that conservative Christians are losing their political clout, anyone who wants to ignore their influence over what happened last Tuesday in evangelical-rich Arkansas or Iowa or Colorado or Georgia or North Carolina or elsewhere, need only look at this headline:

Anti-Choice Group Moving Into Planned Parenthood Clinic Closed By Texas Abortion Restrictions 

Let that sink in for a moment or two. Now read this:

BRYAN/COLLEGE STATION, Texas, Nov. 6, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ — The worldwide 40 Days for Life movement is moving its headquarters into a former Planned Parenthood abortion center in Bryan/College Station, Texas. The pro-life initiative began outside that same facility ten years ago.

“This news shows what God can accomplish when His people pray,” said Shawn Carney, campaign director of 40 Days for Life. “More than 6,400 children lost their lives in this building, but God is making ‘all things new.’ What was once a place of death and despair is now going to be a place of life and hope. We are excited to start using this location to aid the rapid worldwide growth of 40 Days for Life, and to help other cities become abortion-free.”

Instead of ignoring or writing off right-wing Christians in America, Democrats have to find a way to stir up the same passion and commitment that evangelicals attach to their theocratic vision of a better society. If we don’t, then not only will the on-again, off-again electoral cycle we have seen continue, but in more places than Texas we will see liberal values diminish or disappear.


UPDATE: A commenter directed me to the following video, which captures much of the frustration on our side but also demonstrates the passion necessary for us to win again (for you folks who don’t like profanity, there are a few naughty words toward the end):

Get Out Your Matches, Mr. President, And Start A Circus

My favorite moment in John Boehner’s post-election, in-Obama’s-face press conference Thursday afternoon was when a reporter, Nancy Cordes of CBS News, ask him this question:

Mr. Speaker, you have a new crop of conservatives coming into the House who have suggested, among other things, that women need to submit to the authority of their husbands, that Hillary Clinton is the anti-Christ, and that feel that the Sandy Hook victims should just get over it. So, the “Hell No!” caucus,” as you put it, is getting bigger and some of them think you’re not conservative enough. How will you deal with them differently than you did in the last Congress?

boehner news conference nov 2014The way that question was set up was priceless. But the question itself was absolutely the right question to ask. Problem is, Boehner didn’t answer it. What he said, in my loose translation, was essentially this: Look, you’re right, there are some nuts in the new crop, but most of the new guys are “good candidates.” Yikes.

The reason Boehner couldn’t answer that question is pretty simple. He has no idea how he will deal with the Hell No! caucus. I mean, how do you deal with, say, the “Neo-Confederate Christofascist” who just got elected in Maryland? And he may not be the nuttiest new member, to say nothing of the nuts who were reelected. Boehner knows controlling these people is going to be harder than ever before, since the caucus, though larger, is also much more reactionary and since his members, with the Senate as partners, will expect real ideological action, not pragmatic compromise of any shape or form.

And speaking of the Senate, it is the same for McConnell. His majority in January will be much more radically conservative than the minority he leads now. He knows how difficult it will be to rein in Ted Cruz and other extremists, especially now that they have zealous reinforcements in the persons of Joni Ernst, Thom Tillis, David Perdue, Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner and probably Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (after a runoff on December 6).

So, now that we have heard from the two gloating GOP leaders, as well as a strangely but touchingly romantic President Obama (“I continue to believe we are simply more than just a collection of red and blue states”), what should our side, meaning our leader who will today meet with Boehner and McConnell, do? The clue is in what both Republican leaders have now famously said relative to immigration reform. Both of them went out of their way to assert that if Obama takes executive action to help fix the immigration mess, it will “poison the well.” That very much sounds like a threat, right? Boehner said, which everyone is quoting,

When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself. And he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.

Yes, that sounds like a threat. It sounds like an impeachment threat. But there is another way of interpreting his language. It is a plea. It is Boehner begging Obama not to set his House caucus on fire, not to make the job of herding his members, which under the best of circumstances is close to impossible, completely impossible to do. And McConnell, too, is begging the President not to give Ted Cruz and the other nuts in his caucus their own matches to play with, matches they will use to burn not just Obama, but burn the whole damned place to the ground.

Listen to what John McCain said on Thursday afternoon:

I literally am pleading with the president of the United States not to act. Give it a chance. We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate. Let’s let the House of Representatives decide if they want to move forward on immigration reform or not.

It couldn’t be any plainer. No relatively sensible leader in the GOP (and I emphasize the qualifier, “relatively sensible”) wants Obama to act because they know what will happen to their party. The impeachment circus will come to town. There will be freak shows with bearded ladies and two-headed men talking about the President’s lawlessness. There will be Obama-hating fire breathers and glass eaters on every news show. The Cruz-led clowns will come out and shut down the government.

That’s what would happen if Obama were to do what, in his own press conference, he indicated he was going to do sometime this year:

...we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take that I believe will improve the functioning of our immigration system that will allow us to surge additional resources to the border, where I think the vast majority of Americans have the deepest concern.  And at the same time, I’ll be reaching out to both Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican as well as Democratic leaders to find out how it is that they want to proceed.  And if they want to get a bill done — whether it’s during the lame duck or next year — I’m eager to see what they have to offer.

But what I’m not going to do is just wait.  I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully through executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.

He said a bit later:

But what we can’t do is just keep on waiting.  There is a cost to waiting.  There’s a cost to our economy.  It means that resources are misallocated…separating families right now that most of us, most Americans would say probably we’d rather have them just pay their back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line, but we’ll give you a pathway where you can be legal in this country. So where I’ve got executive authorities to do that, we should get started on that.

Well, he should have already been “started on that,” but that’s another argument. What he should do now is light the match of executive action and move as boldly as any generous reading of the law will allow. There are two reasons for doing this, one moral and one political.

The moral reason: Such executive action will actually help real people in real time and it won’t get done otherwise. De-prioritizing deportation action against non-criminals who are here without documentation, particularly folks who have been here a long time and have family here, would do a lot of instant good.

Not only that, Obama could, and should, go further and build upon his executive move in 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). As the Immigration Policy Center pointed out, that action has, as of March of this year, helped more than half a million undocumented young people gain “widened access to the American mainstream,” including legally joining the workforce and attending college. Many legal minds believe the President has the executive authority to go further, as Talking Points Memo pointed out:

The American Immigration Lawyers Association has recommended an expanded deferred action program for close family members (including parents, children, spouses and siblings) of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents and DACA beneficiaries.

“Technically under the law there is not a specific constraint preventing the president from designating a broad category of individuals for whom he’s going to suspend enforcement against,” said Greg Chen, advocacy director for [the American Immigration Lawyers Association].

That would be a lot of people that President Obama could help immediately, if not permanently. And there is exactly no reason, given what we have seen Republicans do on this issue for the last two years, to think that those undocumented people will get any relief from right-wingers in Congress. The President said himself yesterday:

I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated by any executive action that I may take.  Those are folks, I just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being able to pass a bipartisan bill.

Exactly. And nothing has changed except those anti-reform folks have grown stronger.

The political reason: As far as politics, the reason the President should proceed with executive action on immigration is that it would do two things. As I suggested above, it would throw Republicans in Congress into ideological convulsions, which would be both entertaining and electorally useful. And that’s worth doing even if that were the only reason. But executive action would also certainly strengthen the attachment between Hispanics and the Democratic Party for the upcoming presidential election, an election we obviously cannot now afford to lose.

It’s no secret that the President’s hesitation to act this summer on the immigration issue hurt the Democratic Party. If he does nothing this year, if he waits too long for Republicans to act when there is almost no chance of their acting, then the unfortunate—and unwarranted—apathy we saw this past election among Hispanics will likely get worse.

Look at this from NBC News:

Hispanic voters made up only 8 percent of 2014 voters, compared to 10 percent in 2012, a disappointment to voter advocates who hoped that Latino votes would increase at least due to the growing population. In 2010, the last midterm election year, they were 7 percent of voters, according to Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project.

And Democrats did not garner the support they were hoping to get from Latino voters.

In 2012, Democrats enjoyed a wide margin over Republicans; 71 percent of Hispanics voted for Obama to 27 percent for Romney – a 44 percent advantage for the Dems. But as NBC News’ Carrie Dann reports, in Tuesday’s elections Hispanics voted for Democrats by a margin of 28 percent.

If President Obama unilaterally acts this year on immigration, he will have done all he can to make life better for undocumented immigrants, most of them Hispanics. That would be the right thing to do no matter the politics. But it would also help whoever is the Democratic presidential nominee and the many Democratic candidates running in 2016.

Exit polling from this last election, as bad as the election was for Democrats, showed that 57% of voters believe that undocumented immigrants should have “a chance to apply for legal status.” Most non-Tea Party folks, by the time the next election comes around—the electorate will be more Democratic than Republican—will have forgotten about Obama’s executive action—his DACA order wasn’t an issue on Tuesday. But Hispanics everywhere will remember, and it will be much easier to get them to the polls to vote, and to vote for Democrats.

Bottom line: There simply is no good reason for President Obama to wait too long on John Boehner and Mitch McConnell to figure out how to work a miracle and get an immigration reform bill— one that Democrats could support—through this lame-duck Congress or through a much more conservative Congress next year. But there are moral and political reasons for him to act in the next month or so.

Do it, Mr. President. And then we’ll all get our popcorn and sit back and watch the Tea Party circus.


[Matches by; Republican Cirque by Mario Piperni]

Apathy And Its Consequences, Part 2

“Fear is better than apathy because fear makes us do something.”

—Emiliano Salinas, anti-violence and anti-corruption activist from Mexico

No further commentary necessary:

huffpo post election header

Apathy And Its Consequences

All Democrats who live where I live expect our candidates to lose each and every election. That’s just the way it is here in ruralish Southwest Missouri. This year, of course, was no exception. Ozark Billy got almost 64% of the vote against Jim Evans, the valiant Democrat who received only 29%.

Most of Missouri’s eight U.S. House districts produce pretty lopsided election results, six of them going for Republicans and only two for Democrats. That’s the way the Republican-dominated legislature designed these districts. They are heavily partisan with predictable results.

But there is a fact that stuns the soul of every democracy-loving Missourian, or at least it should. Democrats got 41.8% of all votes cast in Missouri’s eight U.S. House races in 2012, when turnout was 65.7%, yet it was only possible for them to end up with 25% of the seats, which were essentially capped at two. Republicans got 54.6% of all votes in House races across the state in 2012 but ended up with 75% of the seats. Some of us don’t think that is very democratic, but that’s the way it is.

This year turnout in Missouri was a paltry 35.2%. Think about that. A little more than half of the registered voters in this state who voted in the presidential election two years ago bothered to vote in this one. That amounts to 608,119 fewer Democrats and 627,051 fewer Republicans who didn’t vote, all things being equal. Those numbers look like they might be an advantage for Democrats, since more Republicans bugged out this year than Democrats. But it is a matter of percentages.

In 2012, as I mentioned, Democrats got 41.8% of House votes and Republicans got 54.6%. But in 2014, with the dropout of voters, Democrats only got 35.9% of House votes and Republicans got 58.8%. The lesson: voter apathy hurts Democrats in states like Missouri much more than it hurts Republicans. (Another lesson is that even just getting 35.9% of House votes would, if this were a perfectly tuned democracy, get Democrats an additional House seat, but that’s another matter.)

As an example of how this phenomenon can affect individual races, let’s look at House District 5, which comprises a big chunk of the Kansas City metro area, as well as some suburbs in Jackson County (by the way, that’s where many Mormons believe the Garden of Eden was and where many believe God will return to establish the New Jerusalem—I kid you not). Normally this seat is a very safe one for the Democrat. Emanuel Cleaver, an African-American pastor, was a city councilman in Kansas City for 12 years and mayor of the town for eight years. He first won this House seat in 2004 with 55% of the vote, and has since faced the same Republican opponent, Jacob Turk, five times. Yep. Five times.

Cleaver, who is fairly liberal, beat Turk, who is really conservative, in 2006 and 2008 with 64% of the vote. But he only beat him in 2010 with 53% of the vote. Remember that year? Of course you do. It’s the Democratic Party’s ongoing nightmare. It was a very low turnout year for Democrats, especially in Kansas City, which that year saw only 38% of its registered voters show up. In Jackson County, with all the suburbs, the turnout was almost 48%. One of those suburbs was Independence, Harry Truman’s hometown. Turk beat Cleaver there. Thus, with that turnout disparity, you can see why Cleaver only got 53% and Turk got his then-best mark of 44%. In 2012, with a turnout of 65.7%, Cleaver rebounded and beat Turk with 60.5% of the vote.

Now let’s finish up with this year’s race, which, you will remember, featured a statewide turnout of 35.2%. Cleaver and Turk tangled again and Cleaver only got 51.5% of the vote versus Turk’s 45%, his best showing ever. The Libertarian got 3.5%. Now, it’s true that Cleaver still won the race by 6.5 points, but it’s also true that had voters had a different Republican candidate, one with new ideas and a new face and one that didn’t have any Libertarian pulling votes away from him, Cleaver may have gone down to defeat. That could have happened to a long-time and popular Kansas City Democratic officeholder.

It’s this simple: No Democrat should struggle to get 51.5% of the vote in a metro area like Kansas City. But apathy is not just poison for the soul—for the soul of democracy—it is especially dangerous for the soul of the Democratic Party here in Missouri and elsewhere.

Dear Barack

Dear Barack,

Yep. It was a tough night. I, too, wonder if Alison Lundergan Grimes, who lost to Mitch McConnell by a whopping 15 points, is sorry she didn’t admit she voted for you. Or, maybe, she didn’t vote for you! That would explain a lot.

I’m writing to tell you not to dwell on the defeats last night, even though you said your policies were on the ballot. Everyone makes mistakes and saying such a thing turned out to be a dumb one, but at least it had the benefit of being true. Obviously, some of your policies were on the ballot; it’s just that too many Democrats didn’t bother to defend them. It probably wouldn’t have made much difference, though. The fact is that Americans are in no mood to hear the truth, as the Ebola mess and the vastly improved economy have made clear. As I heard Alexandra Pelosi say last night, “One of the curses of being a Democrat is that the people don’t vote to say ‘thank you.'” She’s right you know. The people Democrats are trying to help often don’t bother to show up to help the Democrats. So don’t take it too personally.

Here’s what you should do now: nothing. Oh, you should publicly make a show of saying you want to work with Congress, with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Tell all the folks you are ready to do the “80% of things we agree on” and all that stuff. But, really, it should be all talk. There’s nothing in it for you and, more important, there’s nothing in it for the country. Why? Because anything of consequence that can get passed in the reactionary-controlled House of Representatives—yes, Tea Party types will still run things, no matter what Tom Brokaw says about how “the GOP showed the Tea Party the door”—is not likely going to be anything worth signing and not likely anything that will help the country.

Just keep acting like you want to work with the obstructionists and, when they inevitably refuse to offer you anything of value, be sure to loudly blame it on them. Like they have done to you for years now. What’s the worst that can happen? Gridlock? That turned out to be a winning strategy for Republicans. It’s our turn now. Besides that, they shouldn’t be rewarded for such creepy cynicism that has brought them control of Congress. It will never stop if they are. You owe it to the country to let them, now that they have governing power and therefore responsibility, squirm in dysfunction.

In the Senate, Republicans won’t have Harry Reid to kick around anymore. Ol’ Mitch is in charge now, as hard as that is to stomach. And, God, I hope that story about you being “liberated from deferring to Harry Reid” is all bullshit. Surely you know better than that. But here’s the thing: McConnell has his own problems in the Senate. He’s got more than a few nuts there to crack, and some new ones now to go along with them. Ted Cruz has already been running his zealous mouth and he will put the pressure on Mitch to be much more radical than he wants to be. Cruz will use the Senate floor and committee hearings to trash-talk you and gum up the works, which means Mitch will eventually have to make a decision: feed the radicals or marginalize them. Let him swing in the wind as long as you can. Don’t give him any quick and generous deals. After all, Mitch knows 2016 is just a stone’s throw away. He knows that his fortunes today can be gone faster than you can say, “Don’t boo, vote!”—by the way, why didn’t more Democratic folks do that yesterday?

In any case, Republicans may tempt you by attaching crappy amendments to necessary appropriation bills that keep the guv’mint running. They may try to chip away at the Affordable Care Act by making devastating changes and attaching them to legislation you otherwise like. They’re certainly going to dare you to use your veto pen. Well, ink it up, buddy. You’re probably going to need it, after Mitch gets things in order in the Senate. I mean, if he gets things in order. Among other things, he’ll have to get that ball-clipper Joni Ernst—a radical extremist whose extremism the media largely ignored in favor of her folksy castration fixation—to be more pig-friendly, as well as keep her from droning on about that Agenda 21 conspiracy and how zygotes are people too.

Oh, before I forget: don’t worry about that impeachment stuff. Unless you go really crazy on your executive orders on immigration and climate change, they won’t dare to risk their majorities in 2016 trying to impeach you. You can thank Bill Clinton for that—and, by the way, the Clintons sure had a bad night, eh? A lot of folks they campaigned for got, as you said in 2010, shellacked! I remember when pundits were saying how Bubba could so much better relate to those rednecks, I mean, Southern Gentlemen. Didn’t work out that way. Ask Mark Pryor, an Arkansan like Bill, and Ms. Grimes, who sort of considered Bill her political papa. And neither Clinton was all that effective in Iowa, as Senator-elect Ernst will tell ya. Rand Paul has already been rubbing their noses in it, as he makes plans for what he thinks will be his epic battle with Hillary. That’s another problem Mitch will face: keeping presidential aspirants Paul and Cruz and Marco Rubio from stooge-slapping each other in front of the cameras.

But, hey, back to impeachment. In case you’re in a fightin’ mood, go ahead and go balls-to-the-wall on the immigration thing. Free as many of those folks as you want to and sit back and enjoy the three-ring circus in Congress that ensues. I, for one, would pay to see that show. Dammit, the more I think about it the more I want you to do it. Come on, Barack. Let loose a little bit and have some fun! The worst that could happen is that Joe Biden would have to light the White House Christmas tree. In the mean time millions of undocumented immigrants will have a Merry Christmas!

Look, your biggest worry is that the God Of Mercy will call some Supreme Court justice home, or to that big courtroom in the sky, in the next two years. Man, what if Clarence Thomas drowns in Rush Limbaugh’s hot tub? Have you thought about that? That would be a real problem. It would be hard for you to sneak a nominee by that wily farmer-not-a-lawyer from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, who will be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That guy can smell a liberal a corn field away. You’d be lucky to get Sam Alito confirmed. But, hell, try it anyway. Dare the bastards to deny you your choice. And if they do, send them an even more liberal nominee. And if they deny that one, send them Bill Maher. That would be a trip. Point is, don’t give in and nominate someone you, and history, will regret. Be bold. Ronald Reagan got Antonin Scalia on the Court for God’s sake. Try to one-up him. Do it for the Gipper!

Finally, you have to look on the bright side. Even though a lot of dopes won last night, dope did too. Recreational pot won handily in Oregon and Alaska and, uh, in Washington, D.C. You and the fellas ought to light up a blunt and rest easy for awhile.

The burden now is all on the Republicans. And 2016, where we will have all the advantages, is only 25 full-moons away.

Your faithful friend,

Here’s What Democrats Losing The Senate Would Mean For The Country

I watched in amazement on Monday night, as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes put in perspective what the repercussions will be if Republicans regain control of the U.S. Senate and thus completely control the legislative branch of government.

The reason I was so amazed is that Hayes is the first one I have seen who has gone into any detail about what a GOP victory today, in this mid-term election, would mean. Why haven’t Democrats made the case so comprehensively? Why haven’t they told people, as Hayes did, that “it is a dangerous delusion” to believe “it doesn’t really matter what happens” in today’s election? Beats me. I wish I knew. Maybe it is just too hard to wedge into 30-second commercials the danger involved.

In any case, here is most of the transcript of Hayes’ informational and, to be honest, depressing segment last night:

I get it, after watching the least productive Congress in U.S. history, it is in fact hard to get invested in the idea that four or five Senate seats changing parties will make that much of a difference. So I think a lot of people, understandably, have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter what happens tomorrow. The next two years will be the same, more or less, no matter what.
2014 mid term election interest
And it is tempting to believe that. But it is not true. In fact, it is a dangerous delusion, because which party controls the United States Senate matters a lot.

It is pretty grim to talk about, but four of the nine Supreme Court justices…are over the age of 75. So there is a very real, actuarial possibility of a vacancy on the court in the next two years and the Senate needs to confirm whoever fills that vacancy, which means that tomorrow, the Supreme Court, one third of the branches of the U.S. government, is on the ballot.

And not just, I should add, the Supreme Court in some abstract sense—that building there with the columns and the justices firing questions during oral arguments. There are specific, big cases we already know about right now that are very likely headed to that building you see there on your screen.

threat to obamacare in 2014 electionsLike the case, for instance, that threatens to destroy the new ObamaCare insurance exchanges in 36 states. Or the case that will decide whether Texas can potentially disenfranchise some 600,000 voters, many of them black and Latino, under the state’s new voter ID law. Or the biggest case on abortion rights, frankly, since Rowe v. Wade was decided. Which could determine whether it’s okay for states to regulate abortion clinics almost completely out of existence and still pass constitutional muster, as Texas has just done, passing a law that shuddered 80% of its clinics.

So, health reform for millions of people in 36 states, voting rights not just in Texas but across the South and throughout the country, abortion rights not just in Texas but throughout the country, they’re headed to that court and that court is on the ballot tomorrow, which means all of those are very much on the ballot tomorrow. 

Also up for a vote tomorrow, the way the government spends money, which sounds banal or whatever, but is more important than you might think. The real victory of the 2010 Tea Party wave, let us recall, the wave that was brought into power during the last midterms when conservatives came out to vote far great than liberals and progressives, the greatest victory of that wave election was taking a hatchet to that part of the government that happens to spend money on lots of public goods and a lot of people who don’t have much power.

Congress—the Congress produced by that election—Congress cut $8.7 billion from the food stamps budget. The National Institutes of Health alone lost $1.71 billion during sequestration, a process put into play in 2011 after those conservatives were elected. Those cuts, they were big and they were real. And they might be just the start. Because if Republicans control the Senate, they will have two key pieces of leverage the next time they want to go after programs they don’t like and cut them.

One, they will be able to pass spending bills with a simple majority through a process known as reconciliation. And that is important because it means they don’t have to meet the 60-vote filibuster threshold. They just need a simple majority. And, number two, they will be able to control the amendment process, which sounds obscure and boring but is actually the most powerful thing you can do in the United States Senate, because they can add whatever they please to a spending bill and send it right to the president’s desk.

And the president will then be presented with a choice, veto a bill chock-full of GOP amendments and thereby risk a big, messy government shutdown that hurts millions of people—many of the people that are his supporters and  constituents—or sign a bill chock-full of GOP amendments and potentially do great damage to his own agenda and lots of struggling Americans who are counting on him.

mitch and 2014 consequencesAnd this isn’t just my pet theory of how this will play out. Mitch McConnell made an explicit promise to do exactly, precisely what I`m describing, if Republicans do in fact get a Senate majority tomorrow, telling Politico over the summer, Obama “needs to be challenged and the best way to do that is threw a funding process. He would have to make a decision on a given bill whether there’s more in it that he likes than dislikes.” A “good example,” McConnell said, is adding restrictions to regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Let me be clear for a second. The regulation the EPA is issuing right now for coal-fired power plants is basically the most important thing the government is doing right now, the biggest part of the Obama domestic policy legacy since he was reelected. And those regulations are set to
reduce emissions and more importantly could permanently alter the trajectory of American power generation towards renewables and away from coal and the carbon pollution that is threatening mass catastrophe and all civilized life.

And that, that signature achievement, hangs perilously in the balance. That is very much on the ballot tomorrow. The Republicans have told you it is.

Here’s What Really Should Be Pre-Election News

In a better world, that is, in a world where journalists weren’t obsessed with ultimately meaningless and self-serving polling results, the Sunday news shows before Tuesday’s elections would not have been all about the results of this or that poll, or the likelihood that Republicans are going to take over the Senate, or the idea that people have turned on President Obama. Nope. In a better world the Sunday shows would have featured a stunning—and depressing—investigative news report titled, “Jim Crow Returns: Millions of Minority Voters Threatened by Electoral Purge.” Here’s how that report, which was released last week, began:

Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voters from the rolls. Millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters, are at risk. Already, tens of thousands have been removed in at least one battleground state, and the numbers are expected to climb, according to a six-month-long, nationwide investigation by Al Jazeera America.

Now, that’s news. That’s the kind of stuff journalists ought to be doing and the kind of reports that ought to be the focus of endless hours of pre-election political chatter on TV, including Sunday shows like NBC’s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face the Nation, and ABC’s This Week with jim crow returns from al jazeeraWhoever’s Turn It Is, or CNN’s State of the Union. I mean, if Al Jazeera America’s report isn’t worthy of at least a segment on any of the pre-election Sunday news programs, then one has to wonder just what kind of democratic values do TV journalists respect or give a damn about?

Without going into too many details (you should read the report for yourself, written by Greg Palast after a six-month investigation), the person in the middle of this absolutely anti-democratic scandal is Kris Kobach, the ghastly but influential Republican from Kansas whose day job is supposed to be secretary of state. He apparently invented a system called the Interstate Crosscheck program, “which has generated a master list of nearly 7 million names,” supposedly representing “legions of fraudsters who are not only registered but have actually voted in two or more states in the same election — a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.” Problem is, it’s all bullshit.

The original selling point of the program was that it “would match possible double voters on multiple points: first, middle and last name; date of birth and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.” Turns out that most of the matches were of names only, and the program even mismatched middle names and Social Security numbers. As Greg Palast noted:

In practice, all it takes to become a suspect is sharing a first and last name with a voter in another state.

The result of that intentionally sloppy practice is that the purge lists disproportionately include African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans. Why? Because, for cultural reasons, “a sixth of all Asian-Americans share just 30 surnames and 50 percent of minorities share common last names, versus 30 percent of whites.” Here’s what the results look like in graph form:

crosscheck program and minorities

That’s no accident, folks. Blacks (93%), Hispanics (71%), and Asian-Americans (73%) overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2012. In 2008, it was 95%, 67%, and 62%, respectively. Republicans had to do something about such numbers, since changing their extremist ideology wasn’t an option. So, they figured out a way to purge as many minority voters as possible from the rolls under the cover of preventing non-existent “voter fraud.” Pretty slick. And pretty sick.

Here’s the way it affects three states, including important battleground states this election cycle:

tagged minorities as double voters

In close races, like the Senate races in North Carolina and Georgia, those numbers can mean the difference between victory and defeat, between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. Yet, not a word about the Interstate Crosscheck program or the extensive Al Jazeera investigation on Sunday’s “news” shows. Apparently, unless such reporting comes from The New York Times or The Washington Post, it ain’t worth talking about.

NBC’s Chuck Todd did mention voter ID laws to his guest Rand Paul, as did CBS’s Bob Schieffer. Both of them, though, let Paul escape rather easily (Paul claims he generally favors voter ID laws, but thinks the GOP shouldn’t make it a “big issue.” What the hell does that mean? They have made it a big issue.). CNN’s Candy Crowley allowed Paul—is it just a coincidence that Paul, who is trying to snuggle up with African-American voters, appeared on three Sunday shows in order to explain how friendly he is to them?—to advertise his very good idea about restoring voting rights to millions of convicted felons who have served their time, many of them African-Americans. Fine. That would be a great accomplishment. But what’s the chance of getting a majority of Republicans, especially House Republicans, on board? Zero. Ain’t gonna happen. In the mean time, what about the efforts by Republicans all over the country to purge minorities from the rolls? Huh? Silence.

But we did hear from Jonathan Karl, a conservative pretending to be an objective correspondent for ABC’s This Week, that,

in a bid to boost the African-American vote, some Democrats are resorting to scare tactics.

The only reason Republicans like Kris Kobach can get away with voter suppression efforts is because of shitty journalism like that.

As a final note, the state of Missouri is listed by Al Jazeera America as a participant in Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck program. Our secretary of state is a Democrat, Jason Kander. I have met him and like him very much. So, I called the media contact for the secretary of state’s office, Laura Swinford. I talked with her about the Al Jazeera article and Crosscheck. She didn’t think Missouri was utilizing the program in the same way that Kris Kobach of Kansas and others were doing so, but she said she would get back with me after I sent her the link to the article. I’ll let you know what I find out, if anything.

More Disturbing Ebola Hysteria

Now the Ebola panic has moved to a new level. Science magazine reported yesterday:

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH says that the annual meeting is its “flagship event” and “is the premier forum for the exchange of scientific advances in tropical medicine and global health.” The jindal and doctororganization also says it “is proud to be the professional home for scientists, clinicians and program professionals who lead the fight against infectious disease – in the lab and on the ground.”

Yet, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals—whose Secretary was appointed by the very right-wing Governor Bobby Jindal—and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has taken the position that if anyone shows up, say, someone with expertise in Ebola transmission and who has actually been to West Africa, they will be given the Chris Christie treatment and quarantined for 21 days.

It’s bad enough that an Ebola-fighting nurse was imprisoned in a tent in New Jersey, now we have scientists and other infectious disease experts being treated like they are a threat to public health in Louisiana.

ASTMH had little choice but to warn those who were planning on attending the important event:

We deeply regret that some of our attendees are affected by Louisiana’s travel advisory and as a result, we have requested that people planning to attend the Annual Meeting cooperate with the state’s policy.

Science magazine quoted Daniel Bausch, a researcher at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans, as saying, “This policy is fundamentally flawed and not evidence-based.” Who is surprised at that, given the dominance of the anti-science party in Louisiana? The magazine also offered us this quote from Peter Hotez, who is Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine:

It’s very unfortunate and could potentially be counterproductive by preventing health care workers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea from sharing their experiences and findings at one of the most important tropical disease meetings globally.

Yes, it is unfortunate. But it seems more than potentially counterproductive. It seems obviously counterproductive.

All of this Ebola fear and hysteria, all of this haste to quarantine healthy people, reminds me, for some reason, of the post-Pearl Harbor internment of U.S. citizens who happen to have had Japanese ancestry. That sad episode happened because large numbers of people, including people in power,  suspected that tens of thousands of Japanese Americans might actually have had some American-killing blood in their veins. That infamous interment order was signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, but a commission authorized by Congress in 1980 found that the order  “was not justified by military necessity.” Further, the commission said:

The broad historical causes that shaped these decisions were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership. Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan. 

There may not be race prejudice involved in Americans’ reaction to Ebola here at home, but there is a whole lot of hysteria and a blossoming failure of political leadership, especially Republican leadership.

The Anti-Science Party And Ebola Politics

“I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa. I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganization, fear and, most frightening, quarantine.”

Kaci Hickox, nurse for Doctors Without Borders

Much of the Republican Party is at war with science, as its last political platform and other sources of Republican opinions would indicate. Consider:

♦ A majority of Republicans believe global warming is a hoax, therefore drill, baby, drill.

♦ The 2012 GOP platform expressly opposes embryonic stem cell research because, as many conservatives believe, embryos should be constitutionally protected people.

♦ That also means, of course, that the creation of surplus embryos used for in vitro fertilization is a no-no.

♦ Many religious conservatives falsely believe that IUDs and emergency contraception pills are abortifacients and, thus, baby-killers.

♦ Anti-choice Republicans also claim that abortion is more dangerous than childbirth, which is not only not true but its opposite is overwhelmingly true.

♦ A vast majority of white evangelical Republicans don’t believe in evolution and many want to teach a version of creationism in science classrooms.

So, because he wants to be his party’s presidential candidate in 2016, it should come as no surprise that Chris Christie is the first Republican governor in the country to do something utterly anti-scientific, if politically popular, regarding Ebola.

Not only did Christie forcibly quarantine Ebola-fighting super-nurse Kaci Hickox in a tent outside a hospital in New Jersey, but after receiving some fairly intense criticism from medical and health professionals, he actually defended his actions by appealing not to other health professionals in his state or elsewhere, but to the American people, who have been scared out of their wits by people like Chris Christie:

The American public believes this is common sense and we’re not moving an inch. Our policy hasn’t changed and our policy will not change.

It doesn’t matter that Christie and his policy of forcibly quarantining someone without symptoms of Ebola infection lacks any scientific or medical justification. Nor does it matter that forcibly quarantining Ebola-fighters might make it more difficult to fighkaci hickoxt the virus at its source in West Africa. What matters is that he has a frightened public behind him.

But this would be a great time for Christie to demonstrate his much-touted leadership skills and lead his party, and the American people, away from fear and misconceptions about the transmissibility of Ebola. Instead, he feeds those fears and, worse, feeds off those fears.

He ought to be ashamed of himself. But he won’t be, obviously. Maybe some journalist should shame him by asking him whether he would have ordered Kaci Hickox, who was not sick and did not test positive for Ebola, shot and killed should she have tried to leave that tent.


Worst Than The Willie Horton Ad, Or Why You Should Vote Against Sam Brownback, Even If You Like His Reactionary Politics

It’s no secret that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is a reactionary who is hell-bent on taking the state backwards in time. And it is no secret that many Kansans, including many Republican Kansans, don’t want to go back in time as far as Brownback wants to take them. Thus, his reelection is in some doubt, even in such a conservative state.

And that is why this weekend, as I watched local TV here in Joplin, Missouri (just a few miles from the state line), I finally saw Willie Horton come to Kansas.

As essential background for understanding the point of this post, a little history is in order. Willie Horton and two of his criminal friends robbed and brutally murdered a 17-year-old service station attendant in northeastern Massachusetts in 1974. The young man was stabbed 19 times and bled to death in a trash barrel where his body had been stuffed. Horton, who had previously served time in South Carolina for assault with intent to murder, was eventually convicted of actually committing murder in Massachusetts and sentenced to life without parole.

Except that as part of a weekend furlough program, which was designed to help rehabilitate criminals other than first-degree murderers (the state’s highest court eventually decided the program should also apply to those criminals too), Willie Horton was released in June of 1986 for a weekend of unsupervised freedom. It was his tenth such weekend out, and it was at that time he decided he wasn’t going back to prison. He fled instead.

The next year, still a free man, Horton went to a home in Maryland one evening, in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and pointed a gun at the man who came to the door. For seven hours, Horton tormented the 28-year-old by punching and kicking him and whipping him with his gun. He also sliced his torso multiple times with a knife. Horton bound and gagged the man, who then listened as his fiancée unfortunately came home during this horrific episode. Horton similarly abused her for four hours, but added to her torments by raping her. Twice.

Horton was eventually captured, after a police chase and shootout. He is still in prison today in Maryland, a judge there refusing to send him back to Massachusetts for fear officials would let him out again on another furlough.

It was in 1988 that Willie Horton was introduced to the nation via the following infamous—and effective—ad produced by a man who used to work for Roger Ailes and put out by supporters of the George H. W. Bush campaign that year:

After that ad was taken down, the official Bush campaign ran another one, which did not use Willie Horton’s image or mention his name. But the message was already out there. A vote for Dukakis was essentially a vote for Willie Horton’s freedom.

Now, the original ad makes two claims about Michael Dukakis, who was governor of Massachusetts from 1975-1979 and from 1983-1991. One, that Dukakis “opposes the death penalty,” and, two, that he “allowed murderers to have weekend passes.” Famously, Dukakis did (and presumably still does) oppose the death penalty, having hurt himself in the 1988 campaign by too-soberly answering a question related to the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife. But did he also allow murderers, murderers like Willie Horton, to have weekend passes?

Well, sort of. Like other states at the time and still today, Massachusetts had a furlough program in place when Horton killed that young service station attendant. And that program was signed into law by a Republican governor in 1972, although it was understood that the program would not be open to killers like Willie Horton who were serving life terms without the possibility of parole. No state had such a furlough program, all of them sensibly denying the benefit to first-degree killers.

As I mentioned, though, the state’s highest court ruled that the language of the law that established the program did not specifically prohibit first-degree murderers from benefiting from it. Soon after that ruling, the legislature passed a bill in 1976 that would have unequivocally prohibited Willie Horton-type criminals from getting weekend passes. But Michael Dukakis vetoed that bill and therefore the court’s interpretation of the law stood, resulting in Willie Horton’s tenth state-sanctioned weekend of freedom in June of 1986.

So, as far as raw electoral advertising goes, it was plausibly true that, as that ad claimed, Dukakis “allowed murderers to have weekend passes.” In politics, it is close enough to the truth to say he did, considering that if he had not vetoed that bill, it is quite unlikely that Willie Horton would ever have been out in 1987 to commit those awful crimes in Maryland. (By the way, Dukakis eventually gave into pressure and in 1988, the same year he was running for president, the questionable furlough program was abolished.)

But the point of that ad was, as Republican political strategist and “Southern strategy” proponent Lee Atwater said later, to make Willie Horton “Dukakis’ running mate.” The ad would not have been nearly as effective, in terms of appealing to the fear and angst of white people, if Willie Horton had been as white as they were. It is incontrovertible that Willie Horton’s likeness, more than the crimes he committed or the situation in which he was able to commit them, was the main reason that ad was conceived. The ad, after all, was initially limited to running on cable channels and ended up in the mainstream because of press attention to its overtones.

Having said all that, let’s look at the latest ad from Sam Brownback in Kansas, attacking his Democratic opponent Paul Davis with a Willie Horton-style ad:

Is there any doubt that the following image is really what this ad is all about:

carr brothers

No, there is no doubt. It is more their complexions than their crimes, as brutal and as awful as they were, that make them perfect stars of a Republican political campaign ad in mostly rural and mostly lily-white Kansas. And make no mistake about it, their crimes were bad, as The Wichita Eagle described them:

The brothers were convicted of murdering five people, including a brutal execution-style quadruple murder, during a weeklong crime spree of killing, rape and robbery in Wichita in December 2000.

But here is the reason why I went to all the trouble of explaining the context of that original Willie Horton ad. There is absolutely no connection between what the Carr brothers did and Paul Davis. Unlike what Michael Dukakis did, which was veto a bill that would likely have kept Willie Horton in prison forever, Paul Davis had nothing to do, directly or indirectly, with the Carr brothers. As the Wichita paper reported, here is Brownback’s defense of the ad:

Brownback said during and after a debate Tuesday that he thinks it’s justified to link Davis to the Supreme Court decision because Davis would appoint judges who are more liberal than those Brownback would pick.

You see? Davis can be married to the Carr brothers in a political ad not for something he did as an elected official or as a lawyer, but because of something he might do as governor of Kansas. But of course that is not the real reason Brownback is using that ad. He is in a tough campaign. He needs every white vote. And as the Willie Horton ad proved so long ago, there isn’t a better way for a white candidate in a challenging campaign to get those extra white votes than by featuring images of psychopathic black killers in the same 30-seconds of air time in which your Democratic opponent also appears. It has become a classic sign of desperation.

If this ad doesn’t disgust even white Republicans in Kansas simply as a cynical attack on their intelligence, not to mention as a cynical appeal to their implied fear of black people, then all hope is lost in my old, fast-declining home state. The Brownbacks will have their way.

Finally, I must note that the former district attorney who prosecuted the Carr brothers, Nola Foulston, said this about Brownback’s ad:

It is beyond disgraceful that Sam Brownback would exploit this tragedy and make the victims’ families relive that horrific crime every time they turn on their television just for the sake of getting re-elected.

And I must note that the Carr brothers are not out roaming the streets of Kansas. They will spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison. The state supreme court, despite finding flaws in their sentencing, upheld a count of capital murder for each of them.

Dumb Republicans

Conservative Republicans, it being their nature, say and do some dumb things. Take, for instance, this one:

A Michigan Republican with a criminal record for breaking into cars and masturbating is urging residents to move out of state to avoid the “homosexual agenda.”

You’ll be happy to know that this guy is running for a seat in the Michigan legislature. And, if you live in Michigan, you’ll be happy to know that he thinks “as long as there are those that love God here, we can win souls and see God move in this city and state.” Yes, in case you didn’t know, legislating is all about winning souls watching God “move.”

And speaking of God moving, mysteriously he was moved yesterday to reveal to the Huffington Post a video he shot of Joni Ernst, the testicle-hating senatorial candidate from Iowa, telling folks at some gun rally in 2012 that she packed heat and reserved the right to use it against “the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.” As many have now pointed out, this is the same wacky ball-hater that wants to castrate the rights of women to control their own reproductive health.

But even slightly more sober conservatives say and do dumb things. Chris Christie recently said to his Chamber of Commerce pals that he is “tired of hearing about the minimum wage.” Then, after he realized how dumb it was to say something so dumb, he said something equally dumb:

My comments are never almost universally interpreted the way I mean them.

And we can see why.

But some Republican conservatives not only say dumb things, they say dumb and dangerous things, things that scare and mislead people. Rand Paul, plagiarist and self-certified ophthalmologist, said recently that the Obama administration has inaccurately described Ebola to the public and has “tried to downplay the transmissibility” of the disease, when, in the opinion of the self-certified ophthalmologist, Ebola “is something that appears to be very easy to catch.”

Man, that level of numb-headed irresponsibility makes Chris Christie look good, which is no small feat.

Speaking of small feats, there is my congressman Ozark Billy Long. Let me show you a still from a campaign commercial that is airing here in Hooterville, and I should tell you this commercial was actually “Approved by Billy Long. Paid for by Billy Long for Congress”:

billy long commercial

Shouldn’t the Democrat running against Long, Jim Evans, be running that ad? I mean, Long is bragging that he did something 56 times that failed. He was recently accused of being an ineffective legislator and it turns out his own ad proves it! Brilliant stuff that.

On the darker side of local politics around these parts, I present to you a scene from a campaign commercial running here in Joplin put out by Rep. Lynn Jenkins. She is a Republican from Kansas who represents my old home town and who, in August of 2009, told Kansans that “Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope.” Here is a screen shot of the ad I saw last night:

jenkins ad against wakefield

Just who is that woman in the ad? And who is that shifty and scary looking negro standing behind her? Well, the woman is Democrat Margie Wakefield, who happens to be Jenkins’ opponent and who happens to be giving Jenkins a run for her money. And I think you all know who the other guy is. He is The Scary Negro himself. And, man, doesn’t he really look like he’s up to no good? Maybe he has a gun in her back or maybe he’s about to stick a shiv in her. Maybe he’s about to rob her and take her money or, God forbid, something worse like force her to support ObamaCare. What other reason would he be standing so close and looking so creepy?

Sad thing is, this ad doesn’t really qualify as another dumb thing conservative Republicans are saying or doing these days. It’s actually pretty smart, in a Southern strategy political sense, to remind people in mostly rural Kansas that The Scary Negro is out there, ready to do something ugly. But whatever ugly thing that Barack Obama might do between now and the end of his term, it won’t be nearly as ugly as that ad.


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