Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Confederate Flaggery

People so want the Civil War not to be about slavery. They so want that old plantation way of life to be some kind of jolly role playing, instead of the brutal ownership of human beings of color by human beings of no color. It says something that people are still asking stupid questions like “Didn’t the slaves actually have it pretty good back then?” Uh…no.

This story from VOX tells about the stupid questions the tour guides get at Mount Vernon.

As FoxNews sees it, removing the flag of the traitors who fought a bloody war against the United States to preserve slavery… is a kind of fascism.

There’s such pervasive certainty about this across the South people get confused.

From Salon: This Confederate-flag-wearing woman of color thinks slavery was a choice. Like on a menu. Uh huh.

It’s what they are taught.

This article from Salon describes some of the ways school districts try to pretty up the old South and slavery.

And it doesn’t only happen in the South. Here's an instance from a grade school in suburban Boston.

100 years ago you could be considered progressive and still be a deep dyed racist. Woodrow Wilson, a progressive by most standards, purged black workers from the federal government. Hell, 75 years ago The New Deal was created by FDR––but only with the help of similar racists from the South. Which is why the New Deal didn’t help people of color.

Republicans might not know this: 40 years ago President Nixon had the idea of inviting all the white supremacists and racists and segregationists to come and join his party. Which is why now the Party of Lincoln is the one most associated with the Confederate Flag. Nixon’s Southern Strategy is (to borrow an old line from Edmund Wilson) “...the worst thing that has happened to Lincoln since Booth shot him.” (Wilson was referring to Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln biography.)

The New Yorker's John Cassidy on the racist strain in the Republican Party today.

This is how our best satirists have commented on the Confederate flag issue.

From the Daily Show this past week.

Bloomberg has an article about Stephen Colbert's war on the Confederate flag.

The best piece of patriotic performance art was this woman’s heroic climb. From Mother Jones.

By the way, the first casualty in the Civil War was a Union officer who was shot dead while trying to remove a Confederate flag from the roof of a hotel in Alexandria, Virginia. I remember this story from my grade school book of the Civil War. I remember the story well. It was illustrated with the same painting Smithsonian includes in their story here. Hard to believe we still see people proudly flying the flag of a treasonous army the U.S. defeated 150 years ago this year.

On a more self-aggrandizing note, media critic Jim Romenesko ran my short piece about the group that kidnapped the New York Times url (or a very convincing counterfeit of it) to prank people. It is getting harder to tell news from satire these days, especially when the stories are about Republicans. But it doesn’t help us when the joke makes people cynical.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Differing Takes On The Shooting In Charleston

"I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.

And that’s the part that blows my mind. I don’t want to get into the political argument of the guns and things. But what blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves.

If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism, it would fit into our — we invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries, all to keep Americans safe. We got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We gotta do whatever we can to keep Americans safe.

Nine people shot in a church. What about that? “Hey, what are you gonna do? Crazy is as crazy is, right?” That’s the part that I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my head around, and you know it. You know that it’s going to go down the same path. “This is a terrible tragedy.” They’re already using the nuanced language of lack of effort for this. This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emanuel Church in South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100 and some years and has been attacked viciously many times, as many black churches have.

I heard someone on the news say “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.

And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it. In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. That’s — that’s — you can’t allow that, you know.

Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not s— compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis."

~Jon Stewart, The Daily Show

“I find it extraordinary that people would call this a hate crime.”

~Steve Doocy, Fox-N-Friends

“Wait for the facts, don’t jump to conclusions ... most people jump to conclusions about race… There does seem to be a rising hostily towards Christians across this country because of our biblical views… [The shooter] didn’t choose a bar, he didn’t choose a basketball court [i.e. places where “black people” are usually found]… He chose a church. I would urge pastors and men in these churches to prepare to defend ourselves. We’ve got to arm ourselves... when women and children are attacked.”

~E.W. Jackson, a pastor and the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 2013, speaking Thursday morning on Fox-N-Friends

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Unequal Justice

First off, a brilliant accusatory letter to Antonin Scalia from the Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts Jr., which I will insert in full. Emile Zola couldn't have done it better.

To the Honorable Antonin G. Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States:

Dear Sir:

Twenty-one years ago, your then-colleague, the late Justice Harry Blackmun, wrote what became a famous dissent to a Supreme Court decision not to review a Texas death-penalty conviction. In it, Blackmun declared that he had become convinced “the death penalty experiment has failed” and said he considered capital punishment irretrievably unconstitutional.

The death penalty, he wrote, “remains fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination...and mistake...From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

You mocked him for this stance in an opinion concurring with the majority, invoking as justification for capital punishment the horrific 1983 case of an 11-year-old girl who was raped then killed by having her panties stuffed down her throat. “How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection,” you wrote, “compared with that!”

A few months later, the very case you had referenced came before the court. Henry Lee McCollum, a mentally disabled man who was on death row in North Carolina after having been convicted of that rape and murder, applied to the court for a review of his case. You were part of the majority that rejected the request without comment.

The demagoguery of your response to Justice Blackmun is pretty standard for proponents of state-sanctioned death. Rather than contend with the many logical and irrefutable arguments against capital punishment, they use a brute-force appeal to emotion.

Certain crimes, they say, are so awful, heinous and vile that they cry out for the ultimate sanction. For you, Sabrina Buie’s rape and murder was one of those, a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

As you have doubtless heard, it now turns out McCollum was innocent of that crime. Last year, he and his also mentally disabled half-brother Leon Brown (who had been serving a life sentence) were exonerated by DNA evidence and set free.

A few days ago, McCollum was pardoned by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

The case against him was never what you’d call ironclad. No physical evidence tied him to the crime. The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was a confession McCollum, then a 19-year-old said to have the mentality of a child 10 years younger, gave with no lawyer present after five hours of questioning.

“I had never been under this much pressure,” he told the News & Observer newspaper in a videotaped death row interview, “with a person hollering at me and threatening me...I just made up a false story so they could let me go home.”

But he didn’t go home for over 30 years. You and your colleagues had a chance to intervene in that injustice and chose not to. Not incidentally, the real culprit avoided accountability all that time.

The argument against the death penalty will never have the visceral, immediate emotionalism of the argument in favor. It does not satisfy that instinctive human need to make somebody pay — now! — when something bad has been done. Rather, it turns on quieter concerns, issues of inherent racial, class, geographic and gender bias, issues of corner-cutting cops and ineffective counsel, and issues of irrevocability, the fact that, once imposed, death cannot be undone.

Those issues were easy for you to ignore in mocking Blackmun. They are always easy to ignore, right up until the moment they are not.

This is one of those moments, sir, and it raises a simple and obvious question to which one would hope you feel honor-bound to respond. In 1994, you used this case as a symbol of why we need the death penalty.

What do you think it symbolizes now?

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald

The problem we have in this country is too many public duties are handled in a "businesslike" way, as cheaply and superficially as possible. But complex matters like criminal justice shouldn't be managed the same way we manage a fast food restaurant.

There's also this story, from Texas Monthly. A prosecutor loses his job after a man spends 18 years on death row only to be exonerated.

And meanwhile (in case you didn’t think our justice system kicks down and kisses up) there are these stories:

From TIME, a story about a rich kid getting off after using the excuse that he suffers from being rich.

From Alternet, a perp walks free and an innocent goes to prison.

It gets hard to tell satire from reality.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Planned Ignorance

There is a well-funded effort in this country to hide, suppress, distort and outright kill the truth––to kill the truth about a lot of things––about climate science, about the economy, about the ways concentrated wealth distorts our democracy and our justice system. Mostly they are determined to suppress the truth about their dangerous power. They have the power to hide the truth, to distort the public conversation, to suppress the public’s right to know things. They benefit from our ignorance and confusion.

Truth and honesty and understanding are inconvenient for certain powerful people and groups. The Founders of this country believed and never hesitated to say that the full and honest truth is a public good. It’s a conversation, a process, not a fixed truth but something we are constantly working out. This is why the public conversation cannot be a private one carried on in board rooms. But some very superior people hate the notion that the public has a right to anything. They believe nothing is deserved, that no one is entitled to anything unless they have the money to buy it. They believe this knowing that they have a growing monopoly on wealth.

Of course those with infinite wealth think it's appropriate (and safest for them) to keep information from the public: nobody is entitled to the truth. They own it and can dole it out as they like. They think nothing is deserved–––except the wealth they inherited, their dividend checks, their annual bonus. Owning for a living entitles a person to everything; working for a living entitles you to nothing. The democrats who founded this country invented our system of government to guard against this idea of narrow privilege. But that history is also being suppressed and distorted.

(The Chronicle of Higher Education has published an essay about this suppression and withholding of information from the public.)

Realizing that knowledge is dangerous to them, the fossil fuel billionaires have leveraged their influence to blackmail universities and professors and scientists. “If you publish your findings you will lose your professorship. You will lose the funding for your research. Your university won’t get the grants it needs in other areas. You will be targeted by our news organizations. We will question your integrity. We will investigate your private life. We will target your family.” Al Gore gave his film a perfect title: the overwhelming science on climate change was an Inconvenient Truth. He became inconvenient. They succeeded in making him disappear.

(From the Guardian: 125 million dollars have been spent hiding, disputing and distorting key climate science the public is entitled to know.)

Luckily there is some pushback… But what this does is promote the idea that climate scientists aren’t sure about what is happening. And the media owned by the fossil fuel billionaires will broadcast “the controversy” which doesn’t really exist.

(From VOX: luckily there is money being spent to get the climate science out there.)

I mentioned that concentrated wealth has also distorted the measuring and regulation of our economy. It’s a fundamental conundrum: is cash value the only measure of validity? Actually, the answer is Yes and No. Those with the most money can, in the words of Karl Rove, “create their own reality.”

(An excellent article from Bloomberg about the illogic and biased nature of modern economics and finance.)

But bad math and bad economics will have consequences somewhere. Great wealth insulates the wealthy from consequences. Great wealth has even been able to persuade the millions who suffer from the the wrongdoing of the billionaire class that these consequences were properly paid out and to applaud the vulgar excess of the billionaire class the way the poor used to applaud kings and queens. It’s all very different from what Franklin and Jefferson and Paine and Washington planned. Of course Franklin warned about this very thing.

Here's some further reading:

A new book about the problem of Willful Blindness.

What is the Dunning Kruger Effect?

What is Illusory Superiority?

What is Hanlon's Razor?

Why do some people believe knowledge is a curse?

(Now that we have a full Republican Clown Car) what is the Imposter Syndrome?

What is the ultimate insult you can throw at a foolish pundit?

Meanwhile, Red States across America are rewarding their citizens by dismantling their education systems.

(The Nation reporting on the dismantling of higher ed in North Carolina)

(Salon reports on college dropout Scott Walker's defunding of the university system in Wisconsin.)

Adam Smith was the father of capitalism. Today's capitalists worship him. But (as reported in MinnPost) even Adam Smith knew the immense value of a liberal education.

(Rolling Stone looks at the dystopia that will remain after the oligarchs are done with our public education system.)

And even if the public is able to think clearly, Congress doesn’t care. Why? Money. Concentrated wealth and power has completely corrupted our democratic system.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Two Vocabulary Questions

1. Why has the word “militant” only been used to describe workers and unions and never to describe employers, even when they've used armed force against unarmed workers?

2. Why is the word “conservative” used to describe right wing groups seeking to break down long-established and necessary institutions?

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Founding Principles of Kiss Up, Kick Down.

I came across an interesting article from the Economic Policy Institute. Look at the graph. 1. Reaganomics killed the middle class 2. Productivity rose by a greater percentage when workers were paid better.

The business end of the Reaganomics tool sees need and vulnerability as a business plan and profit opportunity, an opportunity to exploit people. The Washington Post describes ways hospitals exploit the uninsured by jacking up their costs.

That was the hospital/healthcare business, here’s how they exploit need in the judicial/penal business. John Oliver explains. (Funny and true as hell.)

The poster child for pure Reaganomics is the state of Kansas, where Governor Brownback hoped to prove lower taxes would increase revenue like Papa Reagan promised. I’ll let Doonesbury explain how well that works out...

And SLATE reports that if the Kansas courts rule against him, Brownback “has a way of shutting that whole thing down.”

If Reagan was the messiah, who wrote the gospels? (Ayn Rand. Here are some interesting conclusions we're meant to draw from Atlas Shrugged.)

A purer libertarian and Republican world functions on a mixture of wishful thinking and “I don’t have to if I don’t want to.” This one's from The Onion, which is nearly as hilarious as Ayn Rand herself.

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Monday, June 08, 2015

Racism Top to Bottom

Racism top to bottom.

No matter if you’re president of the United States.

(Obama's re-election resulted in a flood of deeply racist tweets)

Or those trying to advance the agenda of this black president of the United States.

(The Atlantic reported on the Republican obstruction of Obama)

Or if you’re the best female tennis player ever to play the game.

(Serena Williams gets more racist catcalls on court than Sharapova does.)

Or some middle class black kids using a public pool.

(You no doubt heard about the mass arrest of teens swimming-while-black in Texas)

(Reported in The Guardian)

Or if you are black and behind the wheel of your own damn car.

(Reported by the Washington Post)

(The ACLU began responding to this problem 16 years ago)

God help you if you are voting-while-black

(The National Memo reports on the GOP push to limit voting)

If you are black or a person of color in this country, you have powerful enemies who will oppose your right to do anything. Still. In 2015.

If you are president and black and are attempting to advance the interests of ALL working Americans, there are many millions of white Americans who will despise and oppose you because you are doing this while black.

Voting while black. Getting elected while black. Driving while black. Playing tennis while black. Using a public pool while black. Walking on the public sidewalk while black. Breathing while black. All these things are up for debate, insulting opposition, hatred, violence and arrest.

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Saturday, June 06, 2015

Middle America Has Gone Insane

In Nebraska, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats voted to repeal the state’s death penalty. So the Republican governor says he’ll have all the inmates on death row put to death before the law takes effect.(Reported in the Atlantic)

Kansas is falling apart because of the extreme Republicanness of Governor Brownback's fiscal policies. Even the rather conservative USNews and World Report knows this is a crazy way to run a state.

In Tontitown, Arkansas, in that obey-your-husband-and-older-brother church life isn't as pretty as you might think. (Reported in Salon)

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Scott Walker says women made pregnant from incest or rape are only upset about it for a very short time and will accept the blessing of bringing a new life into the world... (New York Magazine reports)

Scott Walker is also eagerly defunding the state’s top university system and public schools. (Reported in the Washington Post)

The latest idea (reported by an NBC affiliate in Wisconsin) is to allow public school students to be taught by teachers who never graduated from college.

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Friday, June 05, 2015

The Civil War Never Ended

I came across this NYTimes essay today, which says the Civil War persists to this day. It's less simple than you think. The Civil War changed more than the slave issue; it recast our nation as an economy in which larger players dominated. Those who lost out economically were instructed to blame the freedom of the black man for their reduced status. The old hatred was recast and became very useful. The battlefield was still in the South.

The pleasure of old hatreds explains a lot about our present dysfunction. Hatred is a great business model; consider FoxNews. Disinformation is another wonderful profit engine, and Fox knows that too.

Here’s an example of how people’s ignorance and easy gullibility can be shaped into an eager and militant constituency.

A Union Soldier's grave allegedly predicted the disaster of having a black president.

What this dead Union Soldier and Republican did not know (and this ignorant readership would rather not know) is that the Democratic Party that favored slavery in the 19th century would repudiate racism in the 20th and that his and Lincoln’s beloved Republican Party would seize the opportunity to invite those white racists to become Republicans. Nixon’s White House would formally devise The Southern Strategy, which adopted all those unhappy worshippers of the Old Confederacy and made them diehard Republicans, who would vote down their own economic interests for the pure joy of suppressing black and brown people (…and women… and foreigners… and non-Evangelical Christians… and Muslims… etc.) “I may be poor and ignorant but I still get to feel superior to somebody!”

That is the legacy of the perpetual Civil War. Today’s Republicans are actually the New Confederacy. As a recent Washington Post essay pointed out.

It’s worth noting that Nixon, whose minions came up with the Southern Strategy also invented FoxNews.

The Washington Post reports on the invention of FoxNews by Nixon's backroom boys.

Bloomberg on the invention of the Southern Strategy.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Tricking The Poor Makes Surefire Television Entertainment

CBS has come up with a surefire ratings winner. Every American enjoys watching poor people squirm! Everybody finds tricking the poor very amusing! Fun for the whole family!

(Read the story in New York Magazine)

The BBC has something similar going in in David Cameron’s UK, where mocking the poor is a popular sport. This "reality program" is being compared to the Hunger Games. I guess fiction is reality.

(You can read this story in The Independent)

(The BBC defends its programming decision, but the Guardian doesn't buy it.)

Desperate people will never disappoint! They’ll do anything, degrade themselves in all kinds of unexpected ways, and all for our entertainment!

It’s like junior high, where there were always a few creeps who enjoyed teasing the special needs students. Those same creeps seem to have found a home in network programming.

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