Saturday, February 28, 2015

Walker Leading The Red Meat Primary

Perception is reality, some people say. Actually, perception isn't reality. If it were reality, it would be spelled "reality.".

So Scott Walker recently claimed

I have two sons. … I know all of you as parents feel the same way. I want a commander-in-chief who will do everything in their power to ensure the threat from radical Islamic terrorists will not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately will send the message that will protect American soil but “Do not take this upon freedom-loving people here or anywhere around the world.” We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.

Some conservatives, astonishingly and boldly, criticized Walker's remarks. Once and possible future GOP candidate Rick Perry noticed "These are Americans (and) to try to make the relationship between them and the unions is inappropriate.” The National Review's Jim Geraghty found Walker's comment "insulting to the protesters, a group I take no pleasure in defending," one which "earned plenty of criticism but is "not ISIS." "The protesters in Wisconsin, asserted Geraghty, "so furiously angry over Walker’s reforms and disruptive to the procedures of passing laws, earned plenty of legitimate criticism. But they’re not ISIS."

The Republican critics, though bold given their audience of elites which believes pro-union protesters may be worse than ISIS, at least did not argue they would harm the Wisconsin governor's presidential prospects. Meanwhile, Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall stated "Walker managed to come off as offensive, callow and silly, all at the same time" while Firedoglake's GS Wright maintained "Walker either genuinely thinks unions are truly as wicked as ISIS or is incapable of articulating himself without saying something dumb and offensive."

Skepticism of Walker's comment as strategy extends even to those who ostensibly defend the governor.  John Dickerson of Slate argues the Walker argument

"is reductionist foreign policy aimed at protecting every free country across the globe is a little trickier than that- and it's a logical fallacy, but it's not a comparison.The logical fallacy is that strength in one category can be transferred to another. (You may know its cousin: If we can put a man on the moon … ) It’s also a familiar candidate gambit.

He adds, nevertheless, "At the start of his CPAC remarks, Walker said that President Obama 'thinks we grow the economy by growing Washington.' That’s not exactly a complete and fair rendering of the president’s views. Walker has just now gotten a taste of what it’s like being president."

And if he keeps doing this sort of thing, he may get halfway to president (in a sense, more than halfway) by winning his party's nomination. Steve M. quotes Laura Ingraham at CPAC (in video below, beginning at approximately 4:20) stating

But we have to realize, my friends, you go into battle with the political system you have. And we already know that the media and much of the donor class is hostile to conservatism. And guess what? That's been true for a very long time. They were joking on MSNBC this morning about Scott Walker's comment yesterday....

My friend Craig Shirley reminded me of this. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was campaigning—I think it was before the New Hampshire primary -- and he said, I know how to deal with the Soviets. I can bring them to the negotiating table. After all, I had to deal with the old studio chiefs in Hollywood. And the media, just like they did with Scott Walker, went after him. Oh, how could he compare dealing with the studio heads? And Ronald Reagan basically said, 'I have a sense of humor, and you don't.

Recognizing what the GOP has become, SM comments

Even if Ingraham is trying to help Walker to do a climbdown, she's saying his remark is being pounced on by the same sorts of evil media liberals who hated and underestimated Reagan, the greatest human being who ever walked the earth. 

How the hell does that comparison leave Walker with any lasting damage as far as rank-and-file Republicans are concerned? If you say Walker joked the way Reagan joked, how does he lose face with the voters he seeks?

SM believes Walker is hitting the sweet spot with the GOP voter base. And if he is doing so, it appears, he is accomplishing it without alienating members of the donor class with no talk of "legitimate rape," without saying their gay daughter should not be able to marry her friend, and without even suggesting any specific military response to ISIS (or any terrorist group). SM continues

By the way, I can't find Shirley's anecdote online. I searched a number of ways, including within the texts of Shirley's voluminous history of the 1980 campaign. My search skills may be failing me, but if I'm right, this never actually happened.

Then again, Reagan liked to make up stories that "proved" his point, didn't he? Reagan was criticized in the media for this, but it never seemed to do him serious harm.

Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) was the master of anecdote, some truthful and some made up, the latter no obstacle.   As of now, the only Republican contemplating a presidential run who has been at all courageous or "tough" (as Donald Trump would put it) is Rick Perry.  But his party's voters aren't looking for a candidate who will call out another politician for blasting middle-class and working-class people.  They're looking for someone who is certain who the villains are, and that they're all the same.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Same Old Record, Different Recording Artist

Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin recently revealed that when Senator Elizabeth Warren met, at Hillary Clinton's request, in December at the Clinton home in Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Clinton solicited policy ideas and suggestions from Ms. Warren, according to a Democrat briefed on the meeting, who called it “cordial and productive.” Mrs. Clinton, who has been seeking advice from a range of scholars, advocates and officials, did not ask Ms. Warren to consider endorsing her likely presidential candidacy.

Good thinking, Hillary.  Tuesday, Reverend Al Sharpton asked Warren  "you had a meeting with Hillary Clinton, and I`m not even going to ask you about your private meeting, you didn`t invite me, but a lot of progressives have question about whether she`ll be a progressive warrior. What would you say to them?"

The Massachusetts senator responded "You know, I think they`re told what we`ve got to see. I want to hear what she wants to run on and what she says she wants to do. That`s what campaigns are supposed to be about."

Coincidentally, on that same day, Mrs. Clinton had appeared at the first annual Waterrmark Silicon Valley Conference for Women in Santa Clara, California, for which she was paid $300,000. In a question-and-answer session, Clinton, the New York Times reports, "called for a variety of policies like equal pay for women, paid leave, a higher minimum wage, and incentives for corporations to provide better wages and benefits to workers."

If you think that's fairly tepid stuff, you probably heard also

She spoke at length about bipartisanship and promoted her record of working with Republicans in Arkansas and as a senator from New York. Her objective, should she run for president, would be to end partisan gridlock, she told Ms. Swisher.

“I’d like to bring people from right, left, red, blue, get them into a nice warm purple space where everybody is talking and where we’re actually trying to solve problems,” Mrs. Clinton said.

This should sound familiar.  Campaigning with vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden in August, 2008, Senator Obama asserted "After decades -- after decades of steady work across the aisle, I know he'll be able to help me turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people."

We all know how that turned out.  That probably is among the reasons Senator Warren (unrelated video, below) has chosen to be non-committal about an HRC run for the presidency, now that even President Obama is getting the message.  At his town hall meeting, co-sponsored by MSNBC and Telemundo Wednesday

Obama rejected accusations that he failed to act to get immigration done early in his administration while Democrats controlled Congress. He got a little piqued when a member of the public accused Democrats and Republicans of playing "political ping pong" with immigration.

"That's just not true … Democrats have consistently stood on the side of comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats have provided strong majorities across the board of comprehensive immigration reform," Obama said. Suggesting no one was focused on the issue, said Obama, was a "disservice" because "then you don't know who is fighting for you and who is fighting against you."

President Obama, uncharacteristically, stood up for Democrats and called Republicans out. It might be the new Obama, who after after six years which included two devastating mid-term elections, no longer needs to be clubbed over the head with a baseball bat to realize that Repubs believe the way to electoral success is to throw a temper tantrum against anything Democrats propose.

And now, we have the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee maintaining- with a straight face and without fingers crossed (as far as we now)- “I’d like to bring people from right, left, red, blue, get them into a nice warm purple space where everybody is talking and where we’re actually trying to solve problems."

While far less eloquent, that sounds a lot like someone who declared "Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America." Four and a half years later, he became President of the United States of America. He now realizes- however the rest of his second term may play out-  that was a pipe dream.    Either Hillary Clinton is merely blowing smoke, is naive enough to believe what she said, or is signaling another center-right Administration. Unless it's the first, we're in trouble.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It's For The Children. Don't Argue.

Wrong again, Keith.  It's hard to believe that ESPN host Keith Olbermann (photo way below from Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images) was dead wrong in getting into a Twitter scuffle with a few Penn State students- and wrong in his apology. Quite a trick.

It started when one Penn State alumnus (with two Nittany Lion alumni) sent to Olbermann a link to a charity event held annually at the college. She accompanied it with a tweet reading "We are!"  (as in We are... Penn State). Olberman responded ".... Pitiful."

Short and to the point, albeit overly general and with a capital "P" where a small "P" would have been more appropriate, the tweet should have been the last one from the Cornell University graduate.

But oh, no.   What followed was a series of tweets between Olbermann and one or another Penn State apologists- uh, er, students, including Olbermann's "Dont make shit up, Sonny. You'll wind up running Penn State."

Both funny and well off point, it suggests the problem with Penn State University is not its students but the current Administration. However, you may recall in November, 2011That was both funny and well off point because- as Olbermann well understands- the problem with Penn State University is not its current Administration but many of its current (or very recent) students.   You may remember in November, 2011

After top Penn State officials announced that they had fired Joe Paterno on Wednesday night, thousands of students stormed the downtown area to display their anger and frustration, chanting the former coach’s name, tearing down light poles and overturning a television news van parked along College Avenue.

The demonstrators congregated outside Penn State’s administration building before stampeding into the tight grid of downtown streets. They turned their ire on a news van, a symbolic gesture that expressed a view held by many: that the news media had exaggerated Mr. Paterno’s role in the scandal surrounding accusations that a former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, sexually assaulted young boys.

“I think the point people are trying to make is the media is responsible for JoePa going down,” said a freshman, Mike Clark, 18, adding that he believed that Mr. Paterno had met his legal and moral responsibilities by telling university authorities about an accusation that Mr. Sandusky assaulted a boy in a university shower in 2002.

Demonstrators tore down two lampposts, one falling into a crowd. They also threw rocks and fireworks at the police, who responded with pepper spray. The crowd undulated like an accordion, with the students crowding the police and the officers pushing them back.

An orderly crowd first filled the lawn in front of Old Main when news of Mr. Paterno’s firing came via students’ cellphones. When the crowd took to the downtown streets, its anger and intensity swelled. Students shouted, “We are Penn State.”

But of course, they are- or, in most cases, were- not Penn State, only symbolic of the reaction of the student body.  The view in "Happy Valley" (that's what they call it, I swear) seems to have changed little in the intervening 3+ years. Nonetheless, Olbermann still was painting with an overly broad brush.

While real, the apology he delivered was way off-mark. "I apologize," the big guy tweeted, "for the PSU tweets. I was stupid and childish and way less mature than the students there who did such a great fundraising job."

How about this instead: "I was stupid and childish and way less mature than most of the students at Penn State and the vast majority of young people."   He does not know about the students who did the fundraising. Nor is it likely he knows much about where the money goes and to what use it's applied. That is the way it generally is about charity- very few people ask questions. If you say "charity," you've blocked most questions. If you say "for children," you've completely eliminated them and can await a "thank you for your service."

Don't take it from me, but by someone much younger and closer to the college who positively nailed the controversy  (the article with the tweets she includes, here; the full twitter conversation, here):

What kind of jerk criticizes students who raise money for kids with cancer?

Keith Olbermann makes no secret of the disgust he harbors for Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal; in January, he declared the NCAA and PSU “the worst in sports.” His well-documented disdain for the institution is probably what inspired a Penn Stater to mention him Sunday in a proud tweet about the 2015 Penn State Dance Marathon, an annual fundraiser (known on campus as THON) that raises money for children with cancer.

“We Are!” refers to the Nittany Lion chant “We are … Penn State.” And Four Diamonds—an organization that helps families pay for cancer treatment, funds research, and more—is the recipient of the THON money.

Olbermann responded to the “We are” tweet with one word: “…Pitiful.”

Soon Penn State students and others were attacking him, and he was hitting right back.

The pompous, elitist tirade earned him a suspension from ESPN. (Olbermann, if you’re wondering, went to Cornell—ever heard of it?) As a Penn State alumna who knows the difference between your and you’re, I’m pleased to see him get spanked on this one. But I also think that he wasn’t entirely wrong to roll his eyes at attempts to use THON to deflect criticism about the university.

THON is billed as “the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.” Groups and organizers spend the fall semester and first month of the spring semester preparing for it. On designated “canning” weekends, clubs, Greek organizations, and other clusters of students fan out from State College, Pa., to stand at street corners and collect money. At the main event, held this past weekend, more than 700 students serve as “dancers” who go 46 hours without sitting or sleeping. The idea, as I understand it, is to give the dancers a taste of the pain that kids with cancer endure.

It’s a noble goal. But when I was on campus, as THON got closer each year, the scent of self-congratulations grew stronger. The THON slogan is FTK—“for the kids.” In my more cynical moments, I sometimes thought that it should be “FTT”—“for the T-shirt.”

In the Deadspin comments, another alum put it nicely:

THON had great results, but to me it always seemed to serve as a vessel for fraternities, sororities, and those that crave attention to pat themselves on the back. There are a lot of people who participate selflessly, but the most vocal element are those that want the attention for “doing a great thing.” To boot, most of the fundraising doubles as a social/ pledge event for a lot of the greeks. TL; DR - great results, questionable means.

The results are great, and many of the participants are entirely sincere. But still, some students, especially Greeks, use it to excuse a lot of things: You can’t criticize fraternities—we raise money for kids with cancer!

It’s unfair for Olbermann to condemn the entire university because of the child sex abuse scandal (or because a few students on Twitter made grammatical mistakes that are widely accepted on the platform). Though the campus culture went too far in worshipping football, the ones to blame for the abuse are Jerry Sandusky and the handful of men who shielded him—including, yes, Joe Paterno. I railed about my alma mater’s moral hypocrisy after the scandal broke, and I remain furious about it. But it’s also illogical and disingenuous for Penn Staters to use THON as a shield against criticism. What did the original tweeter expect from Olbermann? I can’t imagine that she genuinely thought he would say, “You’re right. I’ve been unjust all along.”

Despite his presumably ESPN-mandated apologetic tweet, I doubt that Olbermann will emerge from his suspension with a greater respect for the school. And he’s right not to change his mind based on a fundraiser.

The net benefits, usually overstated, of charity events need to considered on their own. They are not valid excuses for the behavior of Jerry Sandusky, and the wink and a nod given it by the late, but then all-powerful, coach Joe Paterno.  Most people- probably even most PSU students- understand that. There still are many students there who do not, and despite his hostility to the university, Keith Olbermann may not, either.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rice Bows Out. California Wins.

At first, Condoleezza Rice appears humble.  Amid considerable criticism of Rutgers University's decision to give a platform to one of the architects of Gulf War II, Ms. Condoleezza graciously decided not to give the commencement speech in spring 2014 at New Jersey's state university. Now according to Politico 

It is a testament to the dormant state of California’s once mighty Republican dynasty that the only GOP candidate either party gives a shot at capturing Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat upon her retirement next year is the one who is resolutely refusing to run: former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Last week, Rice topped a statewide Field Poll of 18 potential candidates, drawing the support of 49 percent of likely voters, compared with 46 percent for state Attorney General Kamala Harris, the only declared Democratic candidate so far. That sparked a fresh flurry of speculation about a Rice candidacy — and the latest emphatic denial from her chief of staff that she has any interest in the race.

Evidently, unless her arm is twisted, the woman affectionately called "Condi" (isn't that sweet!) will not be running for a US Senate seat from California.

Wise decision, that, not to relinquish what little credibility is still attached to the former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State.  On January 10, 2003 Secretary Rice gravely warned "there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." She played a leading role in trying, largely successfully, to convince voters of the likelihood that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program. But it's not only that Rice was grotesquely wrong about Saddam Hussein's intentions. In March, 2013 the newspaper of the University of Texas-Austin reported

Two days before the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, a conflict that resulted in the deaths of 4,488 U.S. soldiers and thousands of civilians, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed her support for the war and the ouster of former President Saddam Hussein.

“I would have overthrown Saddam Hussein again,” Rice said to a packed house at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium on Monday.

No, Ms. Rice, you did not overthrow Saddam Hussein- the American military overthrew him, Then you and the other propagandists, and architects, of an arguably unprecedented American foreign policy fiasco thoroughly botched the aftermath (Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson with Lawrence O'Donnell in 2013, video below),

The adventure itself was based on false pretenses, and the reconstruction of Iraq suffered because of the rush to war and the blithering incompetence of the Administration, Condoleezza Rice included.

ISIL probably never would have arisen without the Bush's Administration invasion of Iraq. But even before we were alerted to this newest threat in the Middle East, at the time of the Rutgers commencement controversy, Juan Cole summarized 

As for Iraq, she left it a broken country, with hundreds of thousands dead, 2 million displaced abroad, 4 million displaced internally, likely 400,000 badly wounded, where car bombings and sniping still take some 800 lives a month and where radical Sunni al-Qaeda affiliates have established themselves and Iran-linked radical Shiite militias have free play. She hinted around at an al-Qaeda link to Iraq before she invaded it, but there was none. She brought al-Qaeda to Iraq and it has killed far more Iraqis than the 3000 Americans whose lives it took on September 11. Iraq never had anything at all to do with al-Qaeda, but she made it a scapegoat so as to get at its petroleum resources.

Yet, Ms. Rice still claims the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was strategically beneficial to the United States,  She is either delusional, lying, or less aware of foreign policy than your typical dogcatcher, who fulfills one of a many jobs- including US Senator- Condoleezza Rice shouldn't be trusted to perform.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

It's A Start

Everybody is buzzing about Patricia Argquette's response to being named last night best supporting actress at Sunday night's Academy Awards extravaganza. Well, maybe not everyone, but it's an excuse for a post.  Upon accepting (video below) her award, Arquette stated 

Okay, Jesus. Thank you to the Academy, to my beautiful, powerful nominees. To IFC, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, Cathleen Sutherland, Molly Madden, David DeCamillo, our whole cast and our crew. My Boyhood family, who I love and admire. Our brilliant director Richard Linklater. The impeccable Ethan Hawke. My lovelies, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater. Thomas and Paul, thank you for giving me my beautiful children. Enzo and Harlow, you’re the deepest people that I know.

My friends who all work so hard to make this world a better place. To my parents, Rosanna, Richmond, Alexis and David. To my favorite painter in the world, Eric White, for the inspiration of living with a genius. To my heroes, volunteers and experts who have helped me bring ecological sanitation to the developing world with

To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America. 

Backstage, she clarified her earlier remarks, explaining

It’s time for women. Equal means equal. The truth is the older women get, the less money they make. The highest percentage of children living in poverty are in female-headed households. It’s inexcusable that we go around the world and we talk about equal rights for women in other countries and we don’t. One of those superior court justices said two years ago in a law speech at a university that we don’t have equal rights for women in America and we don’t because when they wrote Constitution, they didn’t intend it for women. So the truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America right under the surface there are huge issues at play that really do affect women. It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.

Salon's Katie McDonough argues

White women need to stand in solidarity with the women of color who are already organizing for fair pay, reliable scheduling and living wages — not the other way around. (White women also need to stop voting against those interests.) It’s essential that this kind of an intersectional analysis shape how we talk about equal pay, particularly when white women talk about equal pay.

Even less generously, Amanda Marcotte contends

Where to begin? Perhaps with pointing out that “gay people” and “people of color” are both categories that include women. Indeed, when it comes to wage inequality, race is as much a factor as gender....

Arquette's comments also erased the major contributions made by women of color and lesbians to the feminist movement, as if they haven't been fighting all this time. That's a troubling message to send at any point, but it's particularly disturbing right now, when some of the ugliest attacks on women's rights, particularly when it comes to reproductive health care access, are aimed at low-income women who are disproportionately women of color. 

Where, indeed, do we begin? Perhaps by pointing out that the breathless Arquette, who spent most of her time thanking personal and professional colleagues, also didn't mention the minimum wage. Or attacks by the right on unions. Or tax breaks for the  wealthy. Or terrorist attacks by Boko Haram.  As an actress bringing attention to a problem, she needn't have mentioned those things, nor lesbians or "women of color." (And why do some media leftists persist in referring to "women of color," A/K/A colored women?)

But McDonough may be on to something when she refers to reproductive health care access. Today, schools and businesses were closed in Dallas, Texas due to ice and sleet and people there could be forgiven for thinking the end of the world was near,  On this date, Rush Limbaugh made a good point. Amidst his usual nonsense, he remarked

All right, stop the tape.  To every woman (panting) to every woman (panting) who gave birth.  Did she just diss women who've had abortions?  You don't hear this. That's a mistake, it's a faux pas.  I'm sure she didn't intend it, but you don't hear this kind of reference in Hollywood, particularly at the Oscars, honoring women who've given birth. 

A reasonable person might ask: what the heck was Arquette (or her ghostwriter) thinking? No, really- what was she thinking when saying "To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation?" Arquette was reading a script as she made a plea for pay equity and equal rights, which one would think would have been unnecessary given that the statement was vague and fairly unobjectionable- and given by an actress, who should be able deliver a brief commentary on the fly.

Still, it was a beginning, and not without criticism. Most of it was unjustified. McDonough, Marcotte, and Think Progress' Tara Culp-Ressler are exorcised that Arquette failed to exhibit a special concern for "women of color." (Presumably, that is black women, though that would leave out Hispanics and Asians. Someone should ask the linguistically deprived.) The right was also not pleased, with  actress Stacey Dash admitting "I miss the glamour, the elegance, the class, the majesty of the Oscars." If Arquette had mentioned the dirty little secret- that restricting women's reproductive rights renders attainment of pay equity impossible- there is no telling how upset conservatives may have gotten.

Dash's reaction demonstrates that even Arquette's message- short, clumsily written and delivered- is likely to have a beneficial effect. The Academy Awards is an orgy of elitist self-congratulation, bad taste, and superficiality, not unlike Hollywood generally. If an injection of realism into the event, a reminder of the real world, reminds a few people in the motion picture industry that the planet does not revolve around them, Patricia Arquette has performed a major public service.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Something Else For The Right To Whine About

Dan Balz and Robert Costa odThe Washington Post write

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.

“I don’t know,” Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Told that Obama has frequently spoken publicly about his Christian faith, Walker maintained that he was not aware of the president’s religion.

“I’ve actually never talked about it or I haven’t read about that,” Walker said, his voice calm and firm. “I’ve never asked him that,” he added. “You’ve asked me to make statements about people that I haven’t had a conversation with about that. How [could] I say if I know either of you are a Christian?”

Walker said such questions from reporters are reflective of a broader problem in the nation’s political-media culture, which he described as fixated on issues that are not relevant to most Americans.

“To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”

Walker said he does not believe that most Americans care about such matters.“People in the media will [judge], not everyday people,” he said. “I would defy you to come to Wisconsin. You could ask 100 people, and not one of them would say that this is a significant issue.”

“To me, this is a classic example of why people hate Washington and, increasingly, they dislike the press,” he said. “The things they care about don’t even remotely come close to what you’re asking about.”

Steve M. realizes "That's nonsense, of course -- the right-wing base is obsessed with the question of what Obama believes in (short answer: not America, not capitalism, and not Christianity). The wingers got thrills up their legs when he said this."

They did, especially because Walker combined it with a slap at both Washington and the press, always a cheap thrill for Repub primary voters. Narrow-mindness aside, however, a portion of the popular base is not even aware that Barack Obama is a Christian.

Before his departure, Barack Obama was (in)famously a member of Jeremiah Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ.  The governor himself recognizes the UCC (although he may not want to admit it, videos below), a mainline Protestant denomination.  Walker himself was raised by parents who were active in an Iowa church of the American Baptist Church, another mainline Protestant denomination. Many of his supporters, however- most of whom are Roman Catholic or non-denominational Christians- simply may be unacquainted with the UCC.

Further, to many of the latter Christians, whether Barack Obama (or anyone) is a "Christian" hinges less on whether the  latter is officially a Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox Christian. That is, for instance, why a Christian witnessing to another individual- even if a member of some Christian sect- will refer to the person as as simply a Christian, not a Christian, or in the process of becoming a Christian. They are concerned primarily with whether the subject is a "believer."

Of course, that is no excuse for Scott Walker not simply to demonstrate leadership and assure his fans that President Obama is a Christian, nor for Balz and Costa not to probe Walker's refusal to give a straight answer, nor for the reaction of many right-wingers.

A Red State diarist agreed with Walker and believes the question was "another 'trap the Republican and make him look bad' moment from the press."  (At least he didn't say "media liberal.") Jon Gabriel tweets "For the love of God how is, 'Do you think Obama is a Christian' a relevant question?"   Kemberlee Kaye of Legal Insurrection blogged "How Walker’s opinion on the matter is remotely relevant or newsworthy is unclear to normal people."

If it wasn't a relevant question before, Walker's refusal to answer, rather than laying the question to rest, makes it so. (Afterward, Walker's spokeswoman stated "of course, the governor thinks the President is a Christian." His theocratic supporters noticed he did not retract his statement.) And if a likely presidential candidate believes the President of the United States of America is lying about his faith, that is relevant.  But conservatives must play the victim, or turn in their membership card.


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Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Little Bit Of Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing

On Wednesday, GOP TV's Bill O'Reilly in his "Talking Points" segment declared "The holy war begins…. The holy war is here and unfortunately it seems the President of United States will be the last one to acknowledge it…. President Obama needs to lead – needs to lead the world in this holy war.” The following night, he told Reverend Jim Wallis of Sojourners (video below)"The ISIS people would behead you, your family and everybody you know and you’d be saying, ‘You know, the Muslim people have got to deal with it from within."

In his "What ISIS Really Wants," Atlantic contributing editor Graeme Wood uses the phrase "Holy War" but once, in referring to Peter Bergen's "Holy War, Inc," so titled, Wood reports, "in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world." Though he believes some military action by the US is unavoidable, Wood cautions against invasion and occupation specifically because it would confirm the suspicion of jihadists worldwide, who "all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims."

ISIS will not be beheading Wallis, O'Reilly, and not "everybody you know" anytime soon. Wood explains

The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the United States, the application of Sharia in the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much directly: in November he told his Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Shia] first … then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.”

However, O'Reilly was not completely delusional when he contended the President would be "the last to acknowledge" disturbing reality.   On Thursday, President Obama stated

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders -- holy warriors in defense of Islam.  That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.”  And they propagate the notion that America -- and the West, generally -- is at war with Islam.  That’s how they recruit.  That’s how they try to radicalize young people.  We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.  Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.  They are not religious leaders -- they’re terrorists.  (Applause.)  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.  (Applause.)  

In his research, however, Wood found "every academic I asked about the Islamic state's ideology sent me to (Bernard) Haykel," who grew up in Lebanon and the United States and is of "partial Lebanese descent."   Muslims, Wood writes

who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

Further, Wood remarks

Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether. Barack Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfiragainst Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).

I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’t susceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the United States lies about religion to serve its purposes.

There is little doubt that most Muslims did appreciate the President's sentiment, which may in part have prompted William Saletan to argue that Republicans who believe that Obama is "unwilling to see, or unwilling to acknowledge, that the vast majority of terrorism in recent years has been perpetrated by Muslims" are mistaken about him. "There's a difference, Saletan writes, "between what he says about Islam and what he thinks about it. The difference isn't dishonesty. It's prudence."

But it's what Barack Obama believes is prudence- and it is dishonest from a President quite capable of being knowledgeable and insightful, and simultaneously misleading. Absence of discord, Wood discovered, is a prime interest of a majority of Muslims worldwide and in the affected region. They probably realize they are ill served by an American president who purports to know what their religion teaches, especially when it is inaccurate.   It is instead a gift to religiously-motivated terrorists, as are dire warnings  from American opinion leaders of a Holy War.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Giuliani's Kernel Of Truth

In court, one is asked to swear, or to swear or affirm, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Slate's Jamelle Bouie tells the truth and nothing but the truth, though not the whole truth, which is far more than almost anyone will tell about Rudy Giuliani's recent loathsome comments about President Obama (photo illustration below entitled "a little off: Rudy Giuliani," by Slate; photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images). Bouie writes

On Wednesday, Rudy Giuliani spoke to an audience of businesspeople, conservative elites, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. He made news.

“The former New York mayor,” reports Politico, “directly challenged Obama’s patriotism, discussing what he called weak foreign policy decisions and questionable public remarks when confronting terrorists.”

To Politico’s credit, this is a generous summary of Giuliani’s remarks, which in reality glowed with aggrievement and disdain. “I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

There’s no need to litigate this charge;outside of campy political thrillers, no one devotes his or her adult life to national politics—or the presidency, for that matter—without an outsized patriotism and belief in the basic worth of the United States. But if we’re feeling generous, we can say that in the course of his rant, Giuliani touched on a real difference between Obama’s brand of national exceptionalism and the kind we tend to see from America’s presidents.

Take his remarks after the initial temper tantrum. “[W]ith all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world. I’m looking for a presidential candidate who can express that, do that, and carry it out,” said the former New York mayor and onetime presidential candidate. “What country has left so many young men and women dead abroad to save other countries without taking land? This is not the colonial empire that somehow he has in his hand. I’ve never felt that from him.”

He continued: “I felt that from [George] W. [Bush]. I felt that from [Bill] Clinton. I felt that from every American president, including ones I disagreed with, including [Jimmy] Carter. I don’t feel that from President Obama.”

Crude as he is, Giuliani isn’t wrong to sense a difference between Obama and his predecessors. Previous presidents have been profuse with their praise of America’s perceived exceptionalism. And they’ve done so without question or reservation.

“More than any other people on Earth,” declared John F. Kennedy in a 1961 address to the University of Washington, “we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free.”“Across the world,” said Ronald Reagan in his 1982 remarks at Kansas State University, “Americans are bringing light where there was darkness, heat where there was once only cold, and medicines where there was sickness and disease, food where there was hunger, wealth where humanity was living in squalor, and peace where there was only death and bloodshed.” Then, soaring with more outsized rhetoric: “Yes, we face awesome problems. But we can be proud of the red, white, and blue, and believe in her mission. In a world wracked by hatred, economic crisis, and political tension, America remains mankind’s best hope.”

Bill Clinton echoed his predecessors in a 1996 speech defending NATO’s intervention in Bosnia. “The fact is America remains the indispensable nation. There are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression, between hope and fear.”

Likewise, throughout his administration, George W. Bush emphasized America’s exceptionalism and expressed it in terms of its war against terror and tyranny. “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom,” he said in his second inaugural address. “In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty.”

Barack Obama’s view is a little different. Compared with the visions of his predecessors, his is less triumphant and informed by a kind of civic humility. “I believe in American exceptionalism,” he told Roger Cohen of the New York Times while still just a candidate, but not one based on “our military prowess or our economic dominance.” Instead, he said, “our exceptionalism must be based on our Constitution, our principles, our values, and our ideals. We are at our best when we are speaking in a voice that captures the aspirations of people across the globe.”

As president he echoed this during a now-famous (perhaps infamous) 2009 news conference in Strasbourg, France, where he elaborated on his sense of exceptionalism. “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”Every nation has a sense of its unique place in the world. Even still, Obama said, there are things especially exceptional to the United States. “I think that we have a core set of values that are enshrined in our Constitution, in our body of law, in our democratic practices, in our belief in free speech and equality that, though imperfect, are exceptional.”

To be clear, Giuliani wasn’t somehow right, and to say he even made a point is to overstate the case. But it is true that Obama stands outside the norm. No, he’s not Jeremiah Wright, but he’s not Reagan either.

The obvious question is, Why? Why is Obama more circumspect than his presidential peers? Why does his praise come with a note of reservation?

The best answer, I think, lies in identity. By choice as much as birth, Obama is a black American. And black Americans, more than most, have a complicated relationship with our country. It’s our home as much as it’s been our oppressor: a place of freedom and opportunity as much as a source of violence and degradation. We’re an old American tribe, with deep roots in the land and a strong hand in the labor of the nation. But we’re often seen as other—a suspect class that just doesn’t fit.

As a president from black America, Obama carries this with him, and it comes through in his sometimes less-than-effusive vision of national greatness. He loves this country, but he also tempers his view with a nod toward the uglier parts of our history.

This isn’t the exceptionalism of the Republican Party or much of the national mainstream, and it can alienate Americans not used to a more critical eye—it’s why Mitt Romney chose “Believe in America” for his 2012 election slogan. But it is as authentically American as any other. And while Obama is far from a perfect president, I’m at least glad he’s here to give it a greater voice.

In Bouie's telling, "black Americans, more than most, have a complicated relationship with our country" and "Obama carries this with him, and it comes through in his sometimes less-than-effusive vision of national greatness," though he "loves this country."

This is all valid and accurate, as well as relevant, and Bouie is bold to say what few if any others are saying. But it probably is not quite the whole truth, rather 80-90% of it.

The impact of someone's upbringing upon the development of a person varies tremendously, and it is difficult to discern and dicey to speculate. Still, it likely is of some importance that Barack Obama is not your father's president (or your father's Oldsmobile) and the reason goes beyond- at least a little bit- Obama's race.  American presidents like to claim, figuratively, that they were brought up in a log cabin. Bill Clinton, who spent a lot of time in Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas, was "The Man from Hope."  Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), an actor by vocation and as President, claimed humble origins. The images created are not all myth, however; Jimmy Carter really is the man from Plains.

Barack Obama hails from a different past, having been (as a promotional booklet by a literary agency once put it), "raised in Indonesia and Hawaii (and) is the son of an American anthropologist and a Kenyan finance minister."   He lived and went to school in Indonesia from age 6 to 10 and (reports Wikipedia) "reflecting later on his years in Honolulu, Obama wrote: 'The opportunity that Hawaii offered—to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect—became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.'" It is the only state with a plurality of ethnic Asians.

It is ironic that this different kind of American became a centrist and highly pragmatic president.   Still, this gives Barack Obama a larger perspective than any president has had or that most Americans ever have had.  It may not be as important to what one is as being black, but Bouie himself quotes Obama acknowledging "every nation has a unique sense of its place in the world"  and "we are at our best when we are speaking in a voice that captures the aspirations of people across the globe."

Rudy Giuliani knows Obama's background and may even understand its impact. But he is speaking to a largely Republican and conservative audience and reciting facts and offering a reasoned explanation would be just so boring.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

They Have An Agenda, And They Stick To It

In an op-ed Obama wrote for the Los Angeles Times about the terrorist threat, he ended by remarking

Our campaign to prevent people around the world from being radicalized to violence is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds. With this week's summit, we'll show once more that — unlike terrorists who only offer misery and death — it is our free societies and diverse communities that offer the true path to opportunity, justice and dignity.

It is our free societies and diverse communities that offer the true path to opportunity, justice and dignity. On his way to blasting Obama for "a very, very damaging statement," Rudy Giuliani should have read the last paragraph of the piece before maintaining "I do hear him criticize America much more often than other American presidents.  And when it’s not in the context of an overwhelming number of statements about the exceptionalism of America, it sounds like he’s more of a critic than he is a supporter."

Unlike the President, who cited our free societies and diverse communities, the failed New York mayor apparently could find no examples of American exceptionalism, though he did exhibit the conservative trait of excessive testosterone. Steve M. notes

Our pols and reporters aren't much on picking up guns these days, but boy, do they love words. Words are obviously the journalists' stock in trade, but words are pretty much all we ever get from right-wing politicians -- they don't do anything. (OK, OK -- at the state level they bust unions and shift the tax burden away from the rich.) So they've persuaded themselves that words are the secret weapon. They shout "Radical Islam!" and tell themselves: THIS CATCHPHRASE KILLS ISLAMOFASCISTS. They think trash-talk equals valor. (Yes, I'm talking to you, Rudy Giuliani and Dinesh D'Souza. They're still the self-deluding 101st Fighting Keyboarders -- but now they have the mainstream media on their side.

Many of Obama's critics do have an obsession with proving their masculine bonafides, shouting about Islamism but always stopping just short of recommending American ground troops, re-instituting the draft, or practically any solution. (See video below in which Bill O'Reilly stops just short of recommending American soldiers- or anything definitive; and below it, Chris Hayes' response.) Surveying the very secretive No Drama Obama Administration, John Ellis Bush
claimed "With grandiosity, they announce resets and disengage. Hashtag campaigns replace actual diplomacy and engagement. Personal diplomacy and maturity is replaced by leaks and personal disparagement."

Only a Bush would have the gall to condemn simultaneously a Democrat for "weakness" and for abandoning diplomacy. It was followed by nothing constructive, which is becoming a John Ellis Bush specialty.

The GOP's fascination with toughness is manifested in (intentional) carelessness, demonstrated by Giuliani slamming the President's alleged reluctance to tout America's exceptionalism," while himself avoiding  himself avoided specifics.    Similarly, Town Hall's Katie Pavlich is exorcised Obama stated

Governments that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies.

She remarks

What, exactly, does Obama mean when he says "legitimate grievances"? The grievances Al Qaeda and ISIS hold are against infidels and Muslims who don't go far enough to wage jihad on the West. These "grievances" aren't economic, despite what the State Department would like us to believe. 

In a post preceding the other quoted above, Steve M. observed this right-wing complaint and explained

Obviously, the president is referring to the legitimate grievances of citizens in many countries who are not members of ISIS or other terrorist groups. Some of them, he believes, might turn to extremist organizations out of anger at the state of their own countries.

Right-wingers know that, of course. They know the president is not legitimizing terrorist organizations. They're just exploiting the ignorance of their target audience, because fostering hatred for their political enemies is -- now and always -- their #1 priority. They care about that far more than they do about fighting terrorism or keeping America safe.

If you talk to many extreme conservatives, you probably have noted that while hatred of Barack Obama is priority #1, speaking in broad generalities is #2. Usually, they do not do nuance, and neither do their political and media stars, as when Bill O'Reilly Tuesday declared "The Holy War is here and unfortunately, it seems the president will be the last one to acknowledge it."

President Obama at times has gone overboard in suggesting both that global violence is unrelated to religion and that Christians have been as culpable as have Muslims. The global threat posed by radical Islamism exceeds that posed by radical Christianity. Still, proclaiming a holy war is irresponsible, as are the constant invocations of  American "exceptionalism." They threaten to take us down a very dark road.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Not So Hard

Justin Peters addresses in Slate a largely ignored situation: police officers shooting children with fake guns, sometimes referred to as toy guns.  Peters believes police officers and departments should be held more accountable and argues "the 'shoot first, ask questions later” mentality is a problem, too. “Cops have no choice but to shoot' is an inadequate defense, one that discourages actual examination of these sorts of incidents and why they happen."

Along the way, though, Peters notes that when a 15-year-old boy (who survived) was shot in the back by a police officer,

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck rested the blame neither on the teenage victim or his own officers, but on the toy-gun industry. The problem wasn’t that the officer shot too soon, but that the fake gun looked too real. The solution, Beck argued, is for manufacturers to take steps to make these guns look less real. “How about not configuring them to have the exact dimensions and machining as a real gun?” Beck told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

Beck believes that fake guns too closely resemble real ones, a safety hazard that imperils officers and civilians alike. Why? Well, a police officer approaching someone holding a gun can’t be expected to presume the gun is a replica. That’s why the officer may respond by firing.

Peters concedes

It’s worth acknowledging that Beck has a good point about toy weapons. Legislators have tried to address it by passing laws that make it easy to distinguish real guns from fake ones, but their solutions have been imperfect. Since 1989, federal law has required toy guns to have bright orange caps at the tips of their barrels. But the caps are easily removed. And even when the caps remain, they can be easy to miss: The orange cap was still affixed to the fake gun that precipitated the Nicholson shooting. In 2014, California passed a state law mandating that all fake guns sold in the state come in bright, nonmenacing colors. Sen. Barbara Boxer has introduced a similar bill into the U.S. Senate. But real guns can come in gaudy colors, too, and, anyway, you can paint over the fake guns.

FBI chief James Comey delivered a speech (from which this excerpt, below, is taken) on February 12 at Georgetown University embracing police officers while suggesting an unconscious racial bias in law enforcement.  He would be expected to be aware of the danger of toy guns but instead of addressing structural issues, he maintained

As a society, we can choose to live our everyday lives, raising our families and going to work, hoping that someone, somewhere, will do something to ease the tension—to smooth over the conflict. We can roll up our car windows, turn up the radio and drive around these problems, or we can choose to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today—what it should be, what it could be, and what it needs to be—if we took more time to better understand one another.

Though decidedly avoiding labeling the American people- or police- as racist,  Comey remarked "Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. In fact, we all, white and black, carry various biases around with us." He states "We simply must speak to each other honestly about all these hard truths."

These "hard truths," however, turn out to be that biases are "inescapable parts of the human condition," there are "shortcomings as (to) law enforcement," and "law enforcement is not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods."

They are not hard, but easy, truths. FBI director Comey skirts deficiencies in law enforcement- with which he should be intimately aware- in favor of focusing on the prejudice "we all" harbor. He does us no favors.

A harder truth: there is plenty wrong with crime and punishment in this country- and very little of it has to do with black and white. The intersection of law enforcement with race is a complicated matter, and one that Comey takes on to the exclusion of more important factors.  In his recent post "Race and Justice: Much More Than You Wanted To Know,"  Scott Alexander (who apparently is in the medical field) recently reviewed studies as to encounter rate, arrest rates for violent crimes, arrest rates for minor crimes, police shootings, prosecution and conviction rates, and sentencing. Most applicable to James Comey's speech was the "encounter rate," from which Alexander summarizes

There is good data that police stop blacks more often, both on the road and in neighborhoods. Studies conflict over whether the extra stops are justifiable; likely this varies by jurisdiction. Extra neighborhood stops are most likely neighborhood-related effects rather than race-related per se, but the neighborhood effects do disproportionately target black people.

But Comey gives a nod to the importance of neighborhoods precisely to make a distinction among them on the basis of race, and race alone. He comments

A tragedy of American life—one that most citizens are able to drive around because it doesn’t touch them—is that young people in “those neighborhoods” too often inherit a legacy of crime and prison. And with that inheritance, they become part of a police officer’s life, and shape the way that officer—whether white or black—sees the world. Changing that legacy is a challenge so enormous and so complicated that it is, unfortunately, easier to talk only about the cops. And that’s not fair.

No, but Comey is no psychologist, and "the cops" are presumably his area of expertise. Moreover, some of those neighborhoods are not black. And even in many of those black neighborhoods, there are impoverished, disadvantaged whites (and/or hispanics) who suffer some of the same problems as the blacks there do. And though blacks, to be sure, are disproportionately stopped and frisked, arrested, and incarcerated, most of the statistical discrepancy results less from race than from other factors, given that so many of the social ills afflicting America afflict ethnic minorities to a greater extent than whites.

If Comey understands this, he hides it well.  That might not be surprising, coming from a corporate attorney and executive, recently with defense contractor and a hedge fund, yet told his Georgetown audience "I come from a law enforcement family. My grandfather, William J. Comey, was a police officer. Pop Comey is one of my heroes. I have a picture of him on my wall in my office at the FBI, reminding me of the legacy I’ve inherited and that I must honor."

It would be unfair to label James Comey as a phony, notwithstanding an address offering soft truths while entitled "Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race." He does speak sensitively of the difficulties facing young black males while recognizing "a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color" and that the resultant cynicism is not limited to white police officers.

But Comey challenges neither established corporate power, the gun lobby, nor politicians who promote law enforcement by emphasizing military hardware at the expense of staffing in urban neighborhoods.  It should come as no surprise that the right has refrained from criticizing the FBI director; he challenges none of their sacred cows.  The afflicted are comforted, however minimally. The comfortable may rest easy.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Selective Hard Truths

If this were Jeopardy, E.J. Dionne would be king.  He asks the right question... then gives the wrong answer He is not, however, alone in saluting  FBI Director James B. Comey (photo by Cliff Owens/AP) for his recent speech at Georgetown University about race and the police.  Dionne, as well as this analyst in The New York Times board, this Daily Kos contributor, and others on the left, were quite impressed. The syndicated columnist, who actually struck a better balance than most other people, concluded by writing

It’s worth remembering that liberals were once attacked for being “root causers” trying to downplay the problem of criminality itself. But maybe it takes a cop’s grandson to prod us to act on both the problem of racism and the economic, social and familial challenges faced by young African-American men.

In this sense, Comey really is a subversive. He’s trying to subvert and thus transform a debate that leads us into ideological cul-de-sacs. He must stay at it.

Comey made several points in an apparent effort to evaluate and help close the divide between law enforcement and "young men of colored." (Fascinating how "colored people" once was properly viewed as a slur. Now progressives and poseurs say "people of color.") He noted

First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups. It was unfair to the Healy siblings and to countless others like them. It was unfair to too many people...

A second hard truth: Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. In fact, we all, white and black, carry various biases around with us.

Progressive stuff that, public discussion of race by law enforcement is virtually always a positive, and one hopes he does stay at it.  Nearly orgasmic, the NYT editorial board contended the "remarks also went beyond what President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have said since an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August." More circumspect, Dionne noted

Let’s face it: If Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder had given the same speech (and they’ve said many of these things), the response would have been political and in some cases nasty. This only underscores why it was essential for the words to come from a white director of the FBI.

Dionne then asked the $69,000 question: "Was Comey trying to shift some of the heat away from police and toward society as a whole?"  Unfortunately, he answered "No, because he was clear on law enforcement’s need to examine and reform itself. But yes, he was trying to concentrate our energies on the root causes of crime, and good for him."

Comey did not completely ignore the root causes of crime. But as a law enforcement officer, his effort to shift some of the heat from police toward society, unnoticed by practically everyone including Dionne, is concerning.  Comey argued

A second hard truth: Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. In fact, we all, white and black, carry various biases around with us. I am reminded of the song from the Broadway hit, Avenue Q: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Part of it goes like this:

Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.

You should be grateful I did not try to sing that....

But racial bias isn’t epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts. In fact, I believe law enforcement overwhelmingly attracts people who want to do good for a living—people who risk their lives because they want to help other people. They don’t sign up to be cops in New York or Chicago or L.A. to help white people or black people or Hispanic people or Asian people. They sign up because they want to help all people. And they do some of the hardest, most dangerous policing to protect people of color.

Surely, Comey is directing heat from police toward society as he  argues that officers aren't racist and if they are, so are all of us, It may be true, as the FBI director maintains, that racial bias is no more common in law enforcement than in academia or the arts, though if he has the statistics, he ought to ante up. But signing up because they want to help all people (as is the motivation for many, but not all, men and women who apply to be police officers) is no guarantee of an absence of racial bias. And by the way: teachers, firefighters, members of the clergy, nurses, probation and parole officers, and members of a few other professions signed on in order to help people of all ethnic groups. It is no guarantee that none in their ranks harbors racial bias.

Most police officers aren't racist. Nonetheless, as The Atlantic's David A. Graham points out

The broader issues include the disparate arrest rates between whites and blacks for the same crime. One prime example is marijuana, where usage rates are comparable among whites and blacks, but blacks are four times more likely to be arrested. About 50 percent of officers on the beat for the NYPD are black, but that didn't prevent disparate racial demographics in stop-and-frisk incidents. In this way, racism isn't a piece of individual behavior or belief. It's a cultural behavior.

Give Comey points for not retreating to the "if we only hired more blacks" dodge, similar to the "if we only elected more women" dodge.  (At one time, we heard "if only there were more women in office, there would be fewer young men dying in wars." That may be another stereotype Hillary Clinton breaks.)  He points out that people in disadvantaged minority communities "too often inherit a legacy of crime and prison. And with that inheritance, they become part of a police officer’s life, and shape the way that officer—whether white or black—sees the world."   But take points away because he does not recommend the legalization of marijuana or termination of "broken windows" policing.

It's not surprising, though, that the FBI director would not criticize the broken windows concept, one which might be rational if there were enough police in urban areas to address relatively inconsequential infractions. Comey actually said this, and I'm not kidding:  "Let me be transparent about my affection for cops. When you dial 911, whether you are white or black, the cops come, and they come quickly, and they come quickly whether they are white or black. That’s what cops do, in addition to..."

Welcome to Planet Comey, in which a fabulously successful attorney is unable to grasp a basic reality for most people in communities across the U.S.A. that are not affluent.  In arguably most towns, response time of police far exceeds what the FBI director imagines. Rapid response often is beyond the control of individual police officers (let me, too, "be transparent about my affection for cops") due to circumstances such as work responsibilities or road/traffic conditions. Underprivileged communities typically are understaffed, a reality Comey seems blissfully unaware of.

Comey's major contribution might be a more practical one than joining the conversation on race and law enforcement.  He lamented incomplete reporting of  "demographic data regarding officer-involved shootings" and insufficient data about individuals who are arrested, obstacles to crime prevention given insufficient attention.  Nonetheless, he emphasized American society's legacy of racial discrimination and the impact that has had on relations between police and people "of color." His is an important contribution- but not a wholly positive one.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Nothing To Do With Islamism. Nothing At All.

In mid-January, a few days after the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, Vox's Max Fisher wrote

In October, as American attention to ISIS coincided with the previous of many upticks in media Islamophobia, the center of the conversation was Bill Maher, a comedian and HBO talk show host who is well-known for his Islamophobic views. Maher said that month that "vast numbers of Muslims want humans to die for holding a different idea" and share "too much in common with ISIS." This was all part of his ongoing argument conflating the tiny number of violent extremists with the 1.6 billion worldwide Muslims who largely abhor those extremists....

While Maher isn't just the loudest and most candid voice on the left in his bigotry toward Muslims, he is the ideological counterpart to Fox News that helps make hate bipartisan.

With their help, there is a subtler, more pervasive, and far more dangerous Islamophobia that has crept into mainstream news coverage. This is the Islamophobia that presents itself as a critical and candid study of Islamist extremism, but in the process does just what Maher and Fox News do: conflates extremists with the vast, un-extreme majority, perpetuating the assumption that extremism is the default, that Muslims share inherent traits that make them worse than the rest of us, and that they are guilty of extremism until proven innocent.

It seems that Islamist extremist has struck again, now that, as The New York Times reports

After killing a Danish film director in a Saturday afternoon attack on a Copenhagen cafe and then a Jewish night guard at a synagogue, the 22-year-old gunman responsible for Denmark’s worst burst of terrorism in decades unleashed a final fusillade outside a four-story apartment building before dawn on Sunday.

Cornered by the police in a narrow street near the railway station in Norrebro, a heavily immigrant, shabby-chic district of Denmark’s capital, the Danish-born attacker opened fire and was killed in a burst of return fire, the police said....

Though the gunman’s name and basic biographical details were still unclear late Sunday, he appears to have shared some traits with at least two of the militants responsible for the Paris violence, notably a criminal record and an abrupt transition from street crime to Islamic militancy.

This was no random attack, given that the afternoon attack took place when the gunman

sprayed bullets into the cafe where Mr. Vilks, who had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, was speaking. That attack killed one man, identified by the Danish media as Finn Norgaard, 55, a film director. Three police officers were wounded. Mr. Vilks, who was attending a meeting on freedom of speech, was not hurt.

Muslim organizations denounced the attack, and much speculation centered on whether it was a copycat crime.  It was carried out by a 22 year old man very tentatively identified as Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, who like the assailants in Paris

was born in the country he sought to terrorize, into a Muslim immigrant family. He had a criminal record, and Danish TV2 television said he had been released from prison just weeks earlier.

The gunman then fled by car, and the vehicle was later found abandoned. Video footage from surveillance cameras showed the suspect talking into a cellphone, apparently to order a taxi. He then took a cab to Mjolnerparken, an area of Norrebro, where surveillance cameras caught him entering a housing compound and leaving 20 minutes later.

He then reappeared, according to the police, shortly before 1 a.m. Sunday at a synagogue in the center of the city, opening fire on the police and security guards, one of whom was killed.

Fisher, who condemns the "anti-Muslim bigot" Maher (with Charlie Rose last year, video below) for his "out-in-open racism," imagined the mainstream media "so effective at engendering Islamophobia that you can see attitudes hardening right before your eyes."  Given the scant attention paid in the USA to the weekend's incidents in Denmark, Fisher may want to lie a little low right about now.

He would be modeling President Obama, who left it to the spokeswoman for the National Security Advisor to state "The United States condemns today’s deplorable shooting in Copenhagen," thereby saving Mr. Obama the uncomfortable task.

It might be rude, then, to ask the President about his remark at the National Prayer Breakfast

And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults -- (applause) -- and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech. 

It was generous of the President a couple of weeks ago not to contest "the legal right of a person to insult another's religion," though insertion of the word "legal" suggests that he finds any other right to insult another's religion to be mildly nauseating.   And it might have been vaguely hypocritical for the condemnation to have been issued directly by Obama, given that the perpetrator targeted "an event that featured Lars Vilks- a controversial cartoonist who has faced numerous threats for depicting the Prophet Mohammed."

Many conservatives believe President Obama defends only Islam and treats "Islamophobia" as a disease. But pending clarification, we know only that Obama believes insulting another's religion, whatever the faith may be, is unsettling and distasteful.  Still, he ought to be asked, given the Hebdo/Copenhagen killings, whether what is rotten in Denmark is due to failure of religious people generally to give the right of free expression its proper due, or to Islamist extremism specifically.  His response might be enlightening.

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