Monday, August 31, 2015

Chris Christie Is Still The Master

When the most sensible comment by a GOP presidential contender is from Rand Paul, you know the Repub field is descending even deeper into the rathole.

There have been a lot of dumb ideas put out,” the Kentucky senator observed. “One that the Mexicans will pay for a wall, was probably the dumbest of dumb ideas. But putting a wall up between us and Canada is sort of a ridiculous notion."

That is an idea from Governor Scott Walker as he heads, if the country is lucky, toward political oblivion.  He spoke on Meet The Press Sunday of his town hall meetings in New Hampshire and in an exchange that wasn't shown on television, Walker was asked about building a wall on the USA-Canadian border. He replied "They raised some very legitimate concerns, including some law enforcement folks that brought that up to me at one of our town hall meetings about a week and a half ago. So that is a legitimate issue for us to look at,"

There are reasons that is a harebrained idea. It is at 5,525 miles the largest international border in the world, although 1,538 of that is between Canada and Alaska. The USA-Mexico border is a relatively paltry 1,933.4 miles, and you can see how quickly that is going up. Most Democrats are ideologically opposed to construction, and Republicans are still trying to figure out how it can be done for free. There are, additionally, a lot more Mexicans streaming into the USA than there are Canadians because it's, well, Canada. Charlie Pierce remarks

... consider the vast and staggering vista of stupidity opened up by the idea of building a fence from upper Maine to the shores of the Pacific. Leave aside the basic impracticality of the entire idea- What the hell are you going to do about that part of the border that runs through Lake Superior? Submarine nets? Sonar? Volunteer muskie fishermen with AK's intheir boats? Yikes. Forget I said that last part....

But if building a northern wall is impractical to the point of ludicrous, it is not as appalling as a suggestion from Chris Christie who, rumor has it, is still the the governor of New Jersey. The New York Times reports

 “At any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is. It’s on the truck. It’s at the station. It’s on the airplane,” Mr. Christie told the crowd in Laconia, N.H. “Yet we let people come to this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them.

He added: “We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in.”

He said 40 percent of illegal immigrants are allowed into the United States legally with a visa and then stay longer than their visa allows.

It's that police state element that might concern you, though for fans of American literature, it could be entertaining as a throwback to the Scarlet Letter.   However, the concept has been put into practice elsewhere in the world before, albeit in a more extreme fashion, with rather unpleasant consequences.

Cattle are branded (video, below) but human beings might be a little trickier. It would require a major expansion of government power, right up the alley for a guy whose authoritarian nature can rival that of Donald Trump.   But few middle class jobs would need to be created because a President Christie would take it private, and handing out subsidies to private companies like they're candy canes at a children's Christmas parade is his modus operandi.

Still, Christie's idea has the advantage, in a GOP competition, of being both inhumane and impractical. Scott Walker- and maybe even Donald Trump- have a lot of learning to do.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Respect, Maybe

Rationalizing support of evangelical voters for Donald Trump, Tony Perkins, who once hired Josh Duggar as director of Family Research Council Action, says "Evangelical voters are more complex than people give them credit for. They don't vote just for who goes to church on Sunday. They vote for someone who they feel confident will lead this nation forward."

Evidently, Donald Trump disagrees with Perkins because, although he hasn't claimed to go to church weekly (which could be confirmed), he recently had advocated the Lord's Supper and the Bible. At an event in July sponsored by the aforementioned Family Research Council,  Trump was asked whether he asks God for forgiveness and replied "I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so.  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't..."

Asked about communion, Trump tried to clean that up a little, contending

We I take, when we go, and church and when I drink my little wine – which is about the only wine I drink – and have my little cracker, I guess that’s a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed, OK? But, you know, to me that’s important, I do that, but in terms of officially, I could say, ‘Absolutely!’ and everybody, I don’t think in terms of that. I think in terms of, let’s go on and let’s make it right.

As Ed Kilgore notes, Catholics would not be attracted to that "little cracker" remark about one of the two elements which they recognize not only as a sacrament, but believe necessary for salvation. Most evangelicals opt for grape juice rather than wine and Presbyterians, of whom Trump  counts himself, typically celebrate communion only monthly. (Admittedly, the "I do that as often as possible" may be referring more generally to "asking for forgiveness.")

In the same interview, Trump stated that he now attends Marble Collegiate Church, and expressed admiration for its founder, the late Robert Schuller, though the candidate is not an active member. Never a favorite among evangelicals, Schuller might be thought of as a New Age minister before there was a New Age.

Seemingly going unnoticed, however, is that the purpose of communion is not to ask for forgiveness- the first clue might have come in the word "communion."  While Catholicism and Protestantism differ on whether the bread and wine are magically transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ (or are mere symbols), both traditions interpret the sacrament as partaking in commemoration of Christ's suffering on behalf of the believer. Prayer- especially the Lord's Prayer- is a more common way of "asking for forgiveness."

Though taking his first crack at running for public office, Trump knew he had some making up to do, and at a Lincoln Day party in Birch Run, Michigan, delivered a statement (video below), stunning in transparency. A follower evidently was holding the real estate baron's best-known book and the candidate maintained (video below)

He's got the Art- hold that book up, please.   Okay, one of the great ones. That's my second favorite book of all time. Do you know what my first is? The Bible! Nothing beats the Bible. Nothing beats the Bible.  Not even the Art of the Deal. Not even close.

As if to make it even more clear he was pulling our collective legs, Trump didn't have much of an answer when asked by Bloomberg's Mark Halperin about the Scriptures (video, below). Kevin Drum, who attributes the flailing about to laziness or a determination to put the question behind him, recounts the interview as

I'm wondering what one or two of your most favorite Bible verses are and why.

Well, I wouldn't want to get into it because to me that's very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible it's very personal. So I don't want to get into verses, I don't want to get into—the Bible means a lot to me, but I don't want to get into specifics.

Even to cite a verse that you like?

No, I don't want to do that.

Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?

Uh, probably....equal. I think it's just an incredible....the whole Bible is an incredible....I joke....very much so. They always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it's my second favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special.

No one says the Bible "is just something very special."  It is the inspired word of God- which is far better than "very special"- or it is not.  Extraordinary, too, is it that in the days since he declared it was his favorite book, Trump couldn't come up with a favorite verse, not even John 3:16, traditionally adorning banners at football games.  Psalm 23, popular at funerals and with Christians and atheists alike, also would have done the trick.

While it seems remarkable that the thrice-married, formerly pro-choice Trump is doing well with evangelical Christians, an explanation may be found in Digby's revelation, in which she explains that the Daily Beast's Betsy

Woodruff agrees with Sullivan’s take that the evangelicals are very upset with the status quo and like the fact that Trump isn’t taking any guff from the GOP establishment. And rather than thinking he might be wobbly on the issues they care about, they seem to be impressed with the only kind of evolution they believe in: the evolution from pro-choice to pro-life, which Trump has embraced with the fervor of the recently converted. This stands in sharp contrast with their concerns about Scott Walker, who has been a committed evangelical his entire life and yet has been put on notice by the leadership for having very slightly deviated from approved religious-right rhetoric.

One might think this was odd, but I’ve long observed that the right has a very different way of looking at hypocrisy than the left. They actually appreciate it when someone respects their power enough to pander to them and pretend that they believe something they don’t. Perhaps the conservative Christians in particular see religious hypocrisy in terms of the old cliché that it’s “the tribute vice pays to virtue,” and feel that a blatant phony like Trump might actually be more likely to follow through on his promises to them, whereas someone like Walker took them for granted.

They actually appreciate it when someone respects their power enough to pander to them and pretend they believe something they don't.    This reminded me of asking a friend in 1991 about his support in the 1988 presidential election for George HW Bush. As a candidate, Bush had famously vowed as president to tell Democrats "read my lips, no new taxes."  He later infamously broke the pledge.  But I was told that at least Bush, in promising not to raise taxes, signaled his aversion to increased taxes and his intent to avoid raising them.

Bush's sincerity wasn't actually assumed by those voters. Rather, they appreciated a politician willing to tell him what he wanted to hear or, as Digby interprets its, to respect their power enough to pander to them.

This probably isn't rational. Still, in a party in which the candidate coming in second in national poll(s) (and highest in favorability rating) has compared abortion and the Affordable Care Act to slavery, it seems about right.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

In Court, They Call This Perjury

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness  (Exodus 23:1, ESV).

In Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday, Hillary Clinton noted

Now extreme views on women, we expect that from some of the terrorist groups, we expect that from people who don't want to live in the modern world, but it's a little hard to take coming from Republicans who want to be the president of the United States. Yet they espouse out-of-date, out-of-touch policies. They are dead wrong for 21st-century America. We are going forward; we are not going back.

In the months ahead, we will find out whether Mrs. Clinton was correct in asserting "we are going forward; we are not going back" now that, The New York Times reports,

Planned Parenthood on Thursday gave congressional leaders and a committee that is investigating allegations of criminality at its clinics an analysis it commissioned concluding that “manipulation” of undercover videos by abortion opponents make those recordings unreliable for any official inquiry.

“A thorough review of these videos in consultation with qualified experts found that they do not present a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict,” the analysis of a private research company said.

Vox's Sarah Kliff summarizes

The Center for Medical Progress has, since early July, released two types of videos. Planned Parenthood has long argued that the short ones — about 10 to 15 minutes long — are highly edited.

There are also longer videos, which range from one to five hours, that CMP edited down to make the shorter pieces. CMP has described these videos as "full footage," creating the impression that they show a complete interaction with the Planned Parenthood employees.

Except they aren't as Kliff, who has viewed the entire footage CMP has released, explains:

The GPS Fusion report argues this isn't the case: The authors cite moments in the video that suggest the supposedly full videos were also doctored.

One of the most compelling examples is a few minutes into a five-hour video from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas. If you look at the timestamp in the lower left-hand corner, it jumps forward by nearly a half-hour (from about 7:46 to 8:18) in just a few seconds. You can watch it happen here, if you fast-forward to about eight minutes and 55 seconds into this video:

CMP released also for each video what it has alleged are full transcripts but Kliff found

The new report suggests, however, that the transcript has inaccuracies. Fusion GPS had an independent transcription agency make its own transcription. Comparing the two, it found that the CMP transcript had "over 4,000 words of dialog that does not appear in the independent transcript or the video." In that dialogue, a Planned Parenthood official "allegedly discusses her 'a la carte' budget ... and engages in a detailed discussion of intact fetuses and the use of medically induced abortions."

This could suggest a few things. Most innocently it could show that CMP did a sloppy job transcribing the long videos. Or it could show that there is either fabricated dialogue in the transcript, or possibly transcription of dialogue that did indeed happen but was cut from the video labeled as "full footage."

According to MSNBC's Irin Carmon, Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards wrote congressional leaders that Center for Medical Progress director David Daleiden had tried for three years "to entrap Planned Parenthood (but) he failed to succeed in convincing even a single affiliate to enter into a procurement contract with his false company."  Richards maintained that in a video filmed in Colorado, the doctor "repeatedly told the Biomax representative that legal counsel would have to review any contract with Biomax.  These references were consistently deleted from the video excerpt Mr. Daleiden released. Indeed, legal counsel did in fact review the proposed Biomax contract and objected to its terms because it did not comply with federal law."

Notwithstanding Hillary Clinton's charge, anti-choice activists have little in common with terrorists other than a habit of playing fast and loose with facts, an aversion to women making their own decisions, and an extremist views toward childbearing.  And one other thing: a contempt for the Ninth Commandment, that silly stricture against bearing false witness.  Other than that, there is nothing to her complaint.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Or Maybe He's Just A Fraud

On August 14 at the Wing Ding Dinner in Des Moines, Hillary Clinton declared "Don't let the circus distract you. If you look at their policies, most of the other candidates are just Trump without the pizzazz or the hair."

She was right about immigration, as the video below demonstrates, about abortion and a few other issues, but on at least one thing John Ellis Bush stands apart from the rest of the GOP presidential field: he shows evidence of being delusional.

When it was discovered earlier this year that he had listed himself as Hispanic on a 2009 voter registration application in Miami-Dade County, John Ellis Bush tweeted "My mistake! Don't think I've fooled anyone." His son, named John Ellis Bush Jr. (because dad is so immersed in Latino culture), agreed, tweeting "come on, dad, think you checked the wrong box."

Just this past Monday, upon being criticized for using the term "anchor baby," Bush maintained "My background, my life, the fact that I’m immersed in the immigrant experience — this is ludicrous for the Clinton campaign and others to suggest that somehow I’m using a derogatory term..."

The John Ellis Bush who is "immersed in the immigrant experience" was born in Midland, Texas, approximately 107 years after Texas was admitted to the Union. He is not a naturalized citizen; he was born in the actual United States of America.

Bush wasn't confused only for that moment in 2009. In November, 2013 he stated (video below)

I’m bicultural—maybe that’s more important than bilingual. For those who have those kinds of marriages, appreciating the culture of your spouse is the most powerful part of the relationship. Being able to share that culture and live in it has been one of the great joys of my life. We chose Miami to live because it is a bicultural city. It’s as American as any, but it has a flair to it that is related to this bicultural feeling. I wanted my children to grow up in a bicultural way.

Of course, John Ellis was being interviewed at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y, likely in front of an audience which would be much more amenable to someone bicultural than someone proud of a WASP background, whose family includes a governor, two US Senators, a Supreme Court Justice and two bad Presidents. and whose family tree "includes the Spencer family that produced Diana, Princess of Wales."

John Ellis Bush is married to the former Colomba Garnica Gallo, with whom he lives in a "classically inspired townhouse" bought for $1.3 million in 2008 in "the sumptuous Almeria Row development that has won numerous architectural awards."  But being married to a woman from Mexico, being bi-lingual, and having lived a few years in Venezuela does not make a Bush "immersed in the immigrant experience."  He is very knowledgeable about, and perhaps fond of, the immigrant experience. He is not immersed in it.

The immigrant lifestyle claimed by John Ellis Bush  has not, through PACs, SuperPacs, and his own effort, brought in $120.0 million to his campaign as of August 1, more than twice as much as raised by any of his rivals.  It is because he is a Bush, heir to an extraordinary business and political tradition of his white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant family.  His familial background is not something he emphasizes (except when convenient), nor need he.    The idea that he is some sort of super ethnic could be considered delusional. However, as a Bush, he less likely is delusional than singularly opportunistic.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

And For Balance, David Duke Will Be Reporting

In New York, it's three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000; in Florida, up to five years imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000; in Texas, two to 20 years and a maximum fine of $10,000. (Everything is big in Texas, they always say.)  And in the largest- and in this case, most important- state, California, it's prison up to five years plus a fine.

That is the maximum sentence for a fairly common crime, an assault of a felony nature.  To Salon contributor Brittney Cooper, however, it may as well be the sentence for that crime most dreaded by white America. Laughing While Black. She writes

But this is the indignity of racism. It is not simply that these women were removed, but that they were humiliated, treated as criminal and then publicly maligned with false accusations. Why did the junior staff person perceive laughter, joy, and friendship as “verbal and physical abuse”? Why are Black women communing together enjoying themselves seen as an encroachment upon white people’s joy? Why is Black joy criminal?

She is speaking about the group ("Sistahs on the Reading Edge") of nine adult black women, one elderly black woman, and one white woman which was unceremoniously asked to leave a Napa Valley Wine Train after one or more white women on the trip complained about its apparently boisterous behavior.  At a stop in St. Helena, Florida (as of a year ago, the end of the line).- where police were waiting by at request of the company- the women left the train, uneventfully, and later were given a refund.

"God is in the details," it is said, and details, alas, may be critical and elusive. We do know, however, that

Book club member Lisa Renee Johnson, an author from Antioch, Calif., admitted to KTVU that a manager on the train repeatedly told the women they were laughing and talking too loudly, but insisted "we didn't do anything wrong." 

The women said that servers and bartenders on the train apologized, telling them previous groups had been more rambunctious without being asked to leave.

Johnson said the train company contributed to the situation by selling them seats that were scattered throughout the car, even after the members made clear they were traveling as a group. The seating arrangement made conversation more difficult, Johnson said.

"Noise is going to come along with that," admitted Johnson, "and laughter, because it's fun! It's wine and not just a glass of wine, it's free-flowing wine."

Johnson chronicled the episode via cellphone videos. On Facebook, Twitter and Yelp on Monday, defenders of the women posted videos of other, past noisy groups celebrating on the wine train, which offers food and wine to passengers as they roll to Napa County wineries in updated Pullman cars.

Spokesman Sam Singer of Napa Wine Valley Train Inc. explained "The book club clearly was fun-loving, boisterous and loud enough that it affected the experience of some of the passengers who were in the same car, who complained to staff." (He included an ambiguous apology, to which this video was reacting.)

Almost immediately afterward, however, the company's chief executive officer in a letter to the group apologized, claiming

Clearly, we knew in advance when we booked your party that you would be loud, fun-loving and boisterous—because you told us during the booking process that you wanted a place where your Club could enjoy each other's company. Somehow that vital information never made it to the appropriate channels and we failed to seat your group where you could enjoy yourself properly and alert our train’s staff that they should expect a particularly vibrant group.

The ABC piece was posted 13 hours, 40 minutes prior to the posting of Brittney Cooper's hit piece. Cooper noted the apology but neglected to mention the offer of free passes for 50 people for a future trip. The recipients of this reward are the women who were "treated as criminal," according to Cooper, who further asserted

When we refuse the script of social quietness, white people’s ears ring with derision. In those moments, whiteness asserts itself. It gets angry and loud. It complains. It passive aggressively deploys words like “respect,” “decorum,” “civility” and “courtesy.” It overestimates the slight and misrepresents the facts. White resentment precedes in an irrational manner. But it is not recognized as resentment. It is recognized asconcern, as fear, as the right to remain unbothered.

It's not only white people, it's now "whiteness." It's hard to determine what "whiteness" is, given that (fortunately) we are everywhere spared the odious term "blackness." Evidently, though, it's exhibited not by people because "it gets angry and complains." An instructor of Africana studies, Cooper envisions herself a psychologist, arguing "it passive aggressively deploys" such intolerable values as "respect, decorum, civility, and courtesy."  This behavior is not demonstrated by individuals (or by any beings of a human nature) but is "white resentment."

When we refuse the script of social quietness, white people’s ears ring with derision, Cooper contends. Not the ears of people, or of some white people, but of "white people," who- apparently- are all the same. Not all stereotyping is inaccurate of course, but the burden is on the speaker to demonstrate that it is accurate.   When followed by "In those moments, whiteness asserts itself," you can guess the argument is not proven, nor is a serious effort made to prove it.

Readers can decide what to read and what to believe at, as everywhere, and at Salon for free. However, Brittney Cooper is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University and in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama.    Those students are paying to be taught- probably propagandized- by her, and for a hefty fee.  These students, as the cliche goes, are our future, and it's a harrowing thought.

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Never Retreat

Forget Louie CK. Forget Kevin Hart. Forget Amy Schumer. Forget Aziz Ansari (especially Aziz Ansari).

Roger Ailes is the newest sensation in stand-up. Politico reports

Late Monday night Trump tweeted several times about Kelly, who had just returned to hosting after a vacation, writing that he "liked The Kelly File much better without @megynkelly. Perhaps she could take another eleven day unscheduled vacation!”

Trump also tweeted that Kelly was "really off her game" and retweeted a tweet that called Kelly a "bimbo."

While declining to remember those stand-up comedians, you may recall that at the main GOP presidential debate (repartee below) in Cleveland, Trump whined "Honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, even though I don’t have to be given the way you treat me, but I wouldn’t do that."  The next night, he would say "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, "Blood coming out of her wherever."

Trump refused to apologize.  As e-mails and tweets to Fox News overwhelmingly supported the candidate, Ailes and Trump kissed and made up. Trump appeared on the network to chat it up with Fox and Friends- including the friendly and approving Brian Kilmeade- and then with Sean Hannity.

Kelly was sent away on a ten-day vacation. But now after Trump's tweets, Ailes complains

Donald Trump's surprise and unprovoked attack on Megyn Kelly during her show last night is as unacceptable as it is disturbing. Megyn Kelly represents the very best of American journalism and all of us at Fox News Channel reject the crude and irresponsible attempts to suggest otherwise. 

He certainly had not rejected it a couple of weeks ago. Still, he continued

I could not be more proud of Megyn for her professionalism and class in the face of all of Mr. Trump’s verbal assaults. Her questioning of Mr. Trump at the debate was tough but fair, and I fully support her as she continues to ask the probing and challenging questions that all presidential candidates may find difficult to answer...

As if by script, Ailes' belated defense of one of his network's stars was preceded by criticism of Trump by Fox News' personalities Brian Kilmeade, Dana Perino, and Sean Hannity.

Why Trump would back off the snide comments he tweeted last night was a mystery,  But Ailes must continue the charade, and remarked further

Donald Trump rarely apologizes, although in this case, he should. We have never been deterred by politicians or anyone else attacking us for doing our job, much less allowed ourselves to be bullied by anyone and we’re certainly not going to start now. All of our journalists will continue to report in the fair and balanced way that has made FOX News Channel the number one news network in the industry.  

Trump pointedly has refused to apologize or back down, which Ailes must have expected, given that he failed to back his employee when he should have. It probably was unsurprising to anybody that the candidate Tuesday responded in part "I do not think Megyn Kelly is a quality journalist. I think her questioning of me, despite all of the polls saying I won the debate, was very unfair...."

Of course,  Trump's response was nonsensical because Kelly's "questioning of me," given that it occurred at the debate, could not have been "despite all of the polls" (which did not show him a clear winner, anyway). That doesn't matter, however.  Typically, there is only one way to handle a bully- to act in kind. Trump understands that, and has gotten the best of Roger Ailes, at least for now. Call it being hoisted by one's own petard.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Good Starting Point

There is a little hopeful news coming out of the state in which Barack Obama polled only 39% in his match-up with Mitt Romney in 2012.

The Johnson City Press reports

Johnson County commissioners let state officials in on what they think about privatizing the local prison.

It’s “No way.”

The Johnson County Commission and Mayor Larry Potter sent that message to Nashville Thursday night, unanimously approving a resolution to “strongly oppose any privatization of Northeast Correctional Complex.”

The County Commission went a step further.

In honor of the passage of the resolution against privatization, the body designated the third Thursday of each August as a day to recognize the staff of the Northeast Correctional Complex.

The resolution passed by a vote of 14-0, with Commissioner George Lowe absent. 

“A vote of confidence in the staff of the prison is all it is,” Potter said. The resolution cited three ways the prison has contributed to the community: providing good jobs to local people; community service projects the prison has supported with its labor crews; and the assistance provided by the prison after a tornado on April 27, 2011.

The resolution said the prison “has been a great employer for our county, employing many citizens of Johnson and Sullivan counties.” It also said the prison’s support of community projects are “too numerous to mention” and “would never have happened” without the prison’s support.

It was because of those contributions since the prison’s 1990 opening that commissioners said they opposed any type of privatization. They said privatization “would be detrimental to our county, citizens, and staff of Northeast Correctional Complex.”

Potter said the resolution came about because of comments about privatization that appeared in the media over an extended period of time. Potter said people began to discuss it and things got hotter when newspapers in Nashville and Knoxville carried stories about possible privatization of state parks and colleges as well as state prisons.

There are various motivations for opposition to private prisons. In Johnson County, it was support by the corrections department of "community projects," a questionable reason, and maintaining decent jobs, an excellent one.  For Bernie Sanders it is a different impulse (photo from UMWomen/Flickr via Alternet) as the

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Tuesday that he will introduce legislation to abolish private prisons, one piece of his comprehensive racial justice reform package that has won praise from Black Lives Matter activists.

“When Congress reconvenes in September, I will be introducing legislation which takes corporations out of profiteering from running jails,” the independent senator said at a campaign rally in Nevada.

Sanders released his racial justice platform last week after Black Lives Matter activists repeatedly disrupted his speeches in Seattle and Phoenix, demanding that he address racial inequalities in policing and in the criminal justice system. The platform he announced in response addresses both police violence against African Americans in the United States and the problems associated with mass incarceration.

Black Americans are imprisoned at six times the rate of whites, Sanders notes on his campaign website, and if the trend continues, one in four black males born today can expect to spend time in prison. One of the methods Sanders proposes to address mass incarceration is eliminating the private prison industry.

“It is morally repugnant and a national tragedy that we have privatized prisons all over America,” his website says. “In my view, corporations should not be allowed to make a profit by building more jails and keeping more Americans behind bars.”

If we want determination of sentence for defendants to be based on campaign contributions or a statutory requirement to keep prisons to be occupied, there is no better way than to expand the presence of private prisons.   Writing in The Washington Post, Michael Cohen explains

private prison contracts often require the government to keep the correctional facilities and immigration detention centers full, forcing communities to continuously funnel people into the prison system, even if actual crime rates are falling. Nearly two-thirds of private prison contracts mandate that state and local governments maintain a certain occupancy rate – usually 90 percent – or require taxpayers to pay for empty beds. In Arizona, three private prisons are operating with a 100 percent occupancy guarantee, according to Mother Jones.

Additionally, Cohen notes

several reports have documented instances when private-prison companies have indirectly supported policies that put more Americans and immigrants behind bars – such as California’s three-strikes rule and Arizona’s highly controversial anti-illegal immigration law – by donating to politicians who support them, attending meetings with officials who back them, and lobbying for funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Showing just how important these policies are to the private prison industry, both GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America have warned shareholders that changes in these policies would hurt their bottom lines.

Bernie Sanders already had been critical of the private prison industry. However, ending it has gained relatively little attention from Black Lives Matter and Repub presidential candidates, especially its most plausible one, generally have been sympathetic toward turning the penal system into a profit-making enterprise for special interests (photo below from Lauren/Flickr via Alternet). If ending "mass incarceration" is as important to both Democratic and Republican reformers as we have been led to believe it is, there is no better place to start than to stop converting public correctional facilities into private ones.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Not The Worst Law In American History

When a faction of Black Lives Matter confronted Hillary Clinton on August 11 in Keene, New Hampshire, its spokesman contended

I think that the next step, respectfully, and I have attempted to allow you, and I feel like we have allowed space for a nice conversation and it is a pleasure and an honor to be in this dialogue with you but i think that a huge part of what you haven’t said is that you have offered a recognition that mass incarceration has not worked, and that it is an unfortunate consequence of government practices that just didn’t work. But the truth is that there is an extremely long history of unfortunate government practices that don’t work that particularly affect Black people and Black families,.

Presumably, the "mass incarceration" refers to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, advocated by Mrs. Clinton and proudly signed into law by Bill Clinton.  Admittedly, we cannot be sure, given that there was no direct reference to the law, and the argument was made by the same individual who a moment later  would maintain "the mass incarceration system mirrors an awful lot like the prison plantation system."  (You probably never realized locking a guy up for a few years for profiteering from the sale of cocaine is the same as spending one's whole life as a slave.)

Nonetheless, many criminal justice reformers have honed in on the Clinton-era legislation, especially to denounce the vast increase in the prison population in the past two decades. The sane, sober, and insightful Andrew O'Hehir recently wrote

The aforementioned Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (whose principal legislative sponsor, by the way, was Sen. Joe Biden) almost certainly did more to drive the boom in prison-building and mass incarceration than the policies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush put together. Furthermore, it epitomized the cynical Clintonite strategy of “triangulation,” which in this case specifically meant co-opting a core Republican issue while marginalizing or repudiating poor black people, the most vulnerable element of the most loyal Democratic constituency.

The Act very likely was fueled by political considerations, tamping down on GOP anti-crime mania, and was a prime example of Clintonian triangulation. Unfortunately, O'Hehir went further, maintaining

that the vast prison-industrial complex created by bipartisan consensus was brutal, corrupt and inefficient — to state the case in its narrowest possible terms. Many went on to observe that its principal product, and arguably its intended purpose, was a “new Jim Crow,” to borrow the title of Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking study. In practice, mass incarceration amounted to the selective and systematic oppression of poor people in general and African-Americans in particular. It hardened patterns of enduring racial injustice and widening economic inequality.

O'Hehir deserves a break, if only because taking Michelle Alexander seriously is an occupational hazard of the leftist commentariat.  The notion that mass incarceration "hardened patterns of enduring racial injustice and widening economic inequality" is very much debatable, though one worth exploring in great detail, especially given BLM's virtual dismissal of economic inequality as a core element of modern America. However, if the purpose of mass incarceration was a "new Jim Crow," the perpetrators- focusing almost exclusively on lawbreakers- proceeded in a highly inefficient and preposterously stupid manner.

Nonetheless, Salon's title, "HIllary and Bernie at the prison gate; Mass incarceration is finally a hot political issue- if we want to save America we must seize the moment," is unnecessarily apocalyptic. Focusing instead on the silly theses of Michelle Alexander, however, would be unfair to the serious issue of incarceration and the opportunity for presidential candidates to address it. O'Hehir slams Hillary Clinton's

rhetorical turnabout on the issue of mass incarceration, including the fact that she now routinely utters those words aloud, is an important signal of the changing tide. Clinton vigorously supported her husband’s massive anti-crime bill of 1994, which provided almost $10 billion in prison funding, stripped state and federal prison inmates of the right to higher education, made gang membership a crime in itself (almost certainly a violation of the First Amendment), and implemented the infamous “Three Strikes, You’re Out” policy mandating life sentences for repeat offenders, even for certain nonviolent crimes.

Routinely ignored are other provisions, including prohibiting firearm sales to domestic abusers; expanding firearms licensing; banning assault weapons; funding the Brady Act; establishing drug courts as an alternative to incarceration; expanding victims' rights; support for enforcing laws protecting women against domestic violence; funding battered women's shelters; providing recreational facilities and services for at-risk-youth.

Other provisions were not as progressive. Moreover, vastly increasing allocation of funds for police officers (to a lesser degree, other law enforcement components) as well as for prisons undoubtedly did result in the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of more individuals. Building more prisons, though, has lessened overcrowding in prisons, a reality unacknowledged by either leftists or rightists, the latter of whom are often unmoved by punitive treatment of criminals.

But there is the matter of the complicated three strikes clause in the 1994 legislation. In a 1995 memorandum from the Assistant Attorney General to U.S. Attorneys, Jo Ann Harris explained

Under the federal "Three Strikes" provision, which is now codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c), the defendant receives mandatory life imprisonment if he or she:

is convicted in federal court of a "serious violent felony" and
has two or more prior convictions in federal or state courts, at least one of which is a "serious violent felony." The other prior offense may be a "serious drug offense."

Under the statute, a "serious violent felony" includes murder, manslaughter, sex offenses, kidnapping, robbery, and any offense punishable by 10 years or more which includes as an element the use of force or that, by its nature, involves a significant risk of force. The statute also enumerates certain nonqualifying felonies, including unarmed robbery offenses and arsons that posed no threat to human life.

It appears, therefore, that (as interpreted by the Clinton Administration) "three strikes" is invoked when a defendant commits murder, manslaughter, sex offenses, kidnapping, robbery, or a major offense which threatens significant violence.  (Whether the enumerated offenses must be punishable by at least ten years to qualify is unclear.)    He or she previously must have committed a "serious violent felony" as well as two offenses, one which must have been serious and violent.  (The "serious drug offense" does not refer to mere possession.)

While this aspect of the law applies only to defendants found guilty of violating a federal statute, it probably proved the inspiration for similar laws in several states, in which the concept often was memorialized relatively broadly and resulted in more prison sentences than provoked by the federal statute.

Still, O'Hehir implicates both Democrats and Republicans when he writes "For at least 35 years, the only perceptible division between mainstream Democrats and Republicans on the prison issue was over whether we should simply build more and more prisons and stuff more and more people into them (the “moderate” view) or whether we should do that and hand the whole enterprise over to private, for-profit corporations." Given he criticizes Democrats as well as Republicans and does not specify any state laws, his primary focus is on the federal government.

In imprisoning defendants under "three strikes," federal prosecutors are not hounding the most altruistic members of society nor producing anything which would "mirror" a "prison plantation system," as members of BLM imagined.  There is little to suggest, in either their rhetoric or that of O'Hehir, that the individuals may be largely responsible for own their plight. The vast majority of these inmates are bad people;  in fewer instances, good people who simply have done bad things.

Severe punishment is just deserts for most of the individuals to whom the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act pertains. The difference, moreover, between imprisonment in public, and in private, institutions is not insignificant.  It is not an important distinction- or rather a critical distinction as, happily, the second leading contender for the presidential nomination of the nation's mainstream political party (AP photo from Christian K. Lee via Think Progress) understands.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hit 'Em Hard

You are looking at an optical illusion. It may seem that it's a middle-aged woman in a red apron whom you're looking at. But it's really an empty suit. And Donald Trump knows it.

Carly Fiorina gained a lot of favorable media attention when, at the GOP presidential debate on August 6 featuring the candidates with little support, she went hard after Donald Trump. She remarked

Well, I don't know. I didn't get a phone call from Bill Clinton before I jumped in the race. Did any of you get a phone call from Bill Clinton?  I didn't. Maybe it's because I hadn't given money to the foundation or donated to his wife's Senate campaign...

I would also just say this. Since he has changed his mind on amnesty, on health care and on abortion, I would just ask, what are the principles by which he will govern?

It seemed such an effective attack. Fiorina called Trump out for both being a closet liberal, and for being a good buddy of the Clintons.  The media gushed as poll numbers for the failed businesswoman soared.

But fame has its downside.  On August 15 at the Iowa State Fair (video below from one day earlier, in New Hampshire)

while repeatedly describing her as “nice woman” -- took aim at his GOP rival, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, attacking her record in the private sector and her failed California Senate bid.

“She's a very nice woman, she got fired, she did a terrible job at Hewlett-Packard, she lost in a landslide -- other than that, she's a very nice woman," Trump, echoing recent comments, told ABC News Martha Raddatz when asked for his thoughts on his solo female GOP competitor for the nomination.

It had the desired effect. Three days later, Breitbart reported (video below)

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina came out in support of some aspects of fellow GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s immigration plan, even after a reporter from the Wall Street Journal attempted to get Fiorina to say Trump’s plan “went too far.”

The Journal caught up with Fiorina at the Iowa State Fair and asked if she had a response to Trump’s immigration plan, released over the weekend. WSJ posted a video of the exchange with Fiorina.

“I think there are aspects of his plan that make a lot of sense,” Fiorina answered in the video as she was walking, surrounded by a group of reporters. “It makes a lot of sense for example to deport illegals who have committed crimes.”

The WSJ reporter followed up by asking, “But to deport everyone who is here illegally in this country, is that practical or do you think that’s a bridge to far for you?”

Fiorina again responded to the WSJ reporter’s question.

“I think we must begin by securing the border then when we’ve done all of that, then we can decide what to do with the people who have come here and stayed illegally. My own view is they do not earn a pathway to citizenship because I know too many people, as do all of us, who have done it the right way.”

The reporter tried to ask another question, “Has Trump gone too far?” However, Fiorina interrupted.

“You’ve had five questions so far,” Fiorina said, interrupting the reporter and turning her attention to another reporter in the crowd that was surrounding her as she walked around at the Iowa State Fair.

Besides being accurate, the front-runner may have figured slamming the only woman in the race wasn't much of a gamble.   After being annoyed by Megyn Kelly in the main debate earlier this month, Trump said of the Fox News host "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever." I and most people thought ripping a popular GOP TV personality would prove counter-productive but in a matter of days, Trump and Roger Ailes had made up, the candidate would have his rear end kissed on Fox and Friends and by Sean Hannity, and Megyn Kelly would suddenly depart on a ten-day vacation.

In retrospect (always 20-20) it might have been predictable.  After Republican Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled "you lie" at President Obama during the 2009 State of the Union address, Wilson was "rebuked" on a nearly party-line vote in the House of Representatives. He apologized as some Republicans, including Rush Limbaugh, vowed revenge. Nothing transpired.

Republicans the past several years have proven themselves to be excellent punchers. However, as Carly Fiorina most recently demonstrated, they are poor counter punchers.  Hit back hard, and most of them wilt.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wait For Hearts To Change. And Wait. And Wait. And Wait.

In the unlikely event that Hillary Clinton is brought down by the matter of State Department e-mails or some other real or trumped-up scandal, we should remember some of the high points of her candidacy. They included her discussion last week with representatives of Black Lives Matters, including spokesperson Julius Jones who in admonishing the former Senator stated

I think that a huge part of what you haven’t said is that you have offered a recognition that mass incarceration has not worked, and that it is an unfortunate consequence of government practices that just didn’t work. But the truth is that there is an extremely long history of unfortunate government practices that don’t work that particularly affect Black people and Black families, and until we as a country, and then the person who’s in the seat that you seek, actually addresses the anti-Blackness current that is America’s first drug.

Mrs. Clinton might have asked whether "anti-blackness" is  a recent phenomenon in society.  The argument she faced appeared predicated on the idea that whatever racism or white supremacy once existed in America still does- or has gotten worse. She might also have asked how anti-blackness is a "drug"; the claim is at best hyperbole, at worst, incoherent. Does anti-blackness mimic marijuana or heroin, Oxycontin or alcohol?

Mrs. Clinton was told "You know, I genuinely want to know, you, Hillary Clinton, have been in no uncertain way, partially responsible for this.  More than most.  There may have been unintended consequences." That's an awful amount of responsibility to place upon the shoulders of someone who served as merely one of 100 US Senators and went on to serve as Secretary of State, in which the dilemma of mass incarceration was understandably not her highest priorities.   The activists might have confronted a President or two, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama- who had more impact- and then they might have had to suggest, well, something.

And that they did not want to do, as Clinton must have begun to realize as she explained

I think there is a sense that, low level offenders [inaudible] treatment, we’ve got to do something about that. I think that a lot of the issues about housing and about job opportunities — “Ban The Box” — a lot of these things, let’s get an agenda that addresses as much of the problem as we can. Because then you can be for something, in addition to getting people to have to admit that they’re part of a long history in our country of, you know, either, you know, proposing, supporting, condoning discrimination, segregation, etc. Now, what do we do next? And that’s, that’s what I’m trying to figure out in my campaign, so that’s what I’m doing.

Little could have annoyed the BLM folks more than the suggestion that the politician confronted might want to effect change, for they responded

The piece that’s most important, and I stand here in your space, and I say this as respectfully as I can, but you don’t tell black people what we need to know. And we won’t tell you all what you need to do.

As politely as possible, Clinton responded "I'm not telling you–I’m just telling you to tell me." She went on to call their bluff:

QUESTION: The piece that’s most important, and I stand here in your space, and I say this as respectfully as I can, but you don’t tell black people what we need to know. And we won’t tell you all what you need to do.
HILLARY CLINTON: I’m not telling you–I’m just telling you to tell me.
QUESTION: What I mean to say is– this is and has always been a white problem of violence. It’s not– there’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well if that—
Q: And it’s a conversation to push back—
HILLARY CLINTON: Okay, Okay, I understand what you’re saying—
Q: Respectfully, respectfully—
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, respectfully, if that is your position then I will talk only to white people about how we are going to deal with the very real problems—
Q: That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I mean....

Bluff called, Jones got to the crux of the disagreement, maintaining "Right. you were saying that what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts."

It's understandable these folks don't understand that changing hearts is difficult and wouldn't accomplish much,  anyway (discussion with CNN's Don Lemon about the confrontation, below). Unsurprisingly, Brittney Cooper, a Rutgers University professor who regularly excoriates white people in Salon, fails to understand. ("....white people got significant joy out of the encactment of violence upon American Black people," she once wrote. She'd be disturbed to learn I knew one of two who didn't.) .Responding to the confrontation with Clinton, she remarks "I think we have to go back to the question of trust and changing hearts. The real question is 'Can and will White people change?' It’s an uncomfortable question, because change means relinquishing power and privilege."

Well, no, it's not, though stereotyping all people of one race is an old game. ("They're all the same," many individuals said of blacks in mid-20th century. They were not being complimentary.)   Hearts eventually change. They did so after President Johnson- considered racist by some people- effected passage of three civil rights laws.  As people were forced, legally, into changing their behavior, they found out that these black people (or Negroes, as known at the time) really weren't quite so bad. Ending legal discrimination has a way of doing that- changing perception for the better.

Improvement of attitudes, or "hearts," through the law is one common denominator of the past half century.  Additionally (and notwithstanding her reference to "even for us sinners"), Hillary Clinton is running for President- not for the pastor of your local church. Nor does she wish to act en loco parentis.   Cooper refers to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. changing the hearts of Americans- but he was not running for President and HRC has not compared herself to him. She understands her role, her part in this great drama.

"At the end of the day" goes the cliche popular with politicians. Whether at the end of the day, the end of the decade, or the end of her term, Clinton nailed it with

Look I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts .... But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation. 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Landlord Which Didn't Get The Communities Of Color Memo

Words have meaning and words have have consequences. Eventually, that reality will sink Donald Trump and Ben Carson; whether it will do so for Black Lives Matter is more complicated.

Video footage has emerged of a portion of the discussion between BLM activists and Hillary Clinton at a town hall meeting last week in New Hampshire.

When the issue turned to criminal justice reform, Mrs. Clinton noted that circumstances are different now than in the 1980s and 1990s, early in the period of "mass incarceration." The activists responded
"Yeah. And I would offer that it didn’t work then, either, and that those policies were actually extensions of white supremacist violence against communities of color. And so I just think I want to hear a little bit about that, about the fact that actually while—"

Though applied there directly to criminal justice, arguably the primary theme of this faction of BLM was white supremacy.   "But the truth," the leader stated, "is that there is an extremely long history of unfortunate government practices that don’t work that particularly affect Black people and Black families" which reflect a history of "anti-blackness."

That's the only concern of these activists- but not of the residents of a "senior citizen" apartment complex in downtown Atlanta. Zaid Jilani writes in Alternet

Friendship Tower was built with funding from the Housing and Urban Development department’s Section 202 program, which provides subsidies for housing seniors ages 62 and older. Yet it has a private owner: Friendship Baptist Church, Atlanta’s “first black Baptist autonomous congregation,” which independently organized itself shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War.

When the apartment complex’s air conditioning abruptly malfunctioned in late April, residents hoped FBC would quickly spring into action to fix the system and protect the senior citizens, many of whom have disabilities such as asthma, from the harsh Georgia summer.

But three weeks passed and the system remained in disrepair. Temperatures in some apartments reach higher than 90 degrees, according to readings taken by a local news station. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a pro-business Democrat who recently helped FBC sell part of its property to the Atlanta Falcons for its new stadium for $19.5 million, appeared at the site and promised he would do “everything that I can to make sure those good people have air right away.”

Weeks passed, and the temporary small air conditioning units Friendship Tower placed into individual apartments did little to cool down residents. Federal officials from HUD inspected the units and deemed they were sufficient for cooling. The residents disagreed.

Eventually, residents filed a lawsuit against FBC, leading to a late May ruling by a local judge that the complex was failing to care for the welfare of its citizens, ordering the complex to provide an additional air conditioner for each unit. The judge was likely impacted by the emotional testimony from residents, one of whom described passing out from heat; another outright collapsed.

“The residences are in a livable condition; not ideal but livable,” protested attorney Robert Bozeman, hired by FBC to represent its case. Those were odd words coming from a lawyer whose professional webpage boasts about “providing strong and effective representation to those injured as a result of wrong or negligent acts of others.”

In mid-June, the tower installed a new comprehensive air conditioning system, but it failed to properly cool the units. Some units still reached a hot 87 degrees. The facility attempted to evict some of the tenants, but was blocked by the courts. By the end of July, tenants took their grievances directly to FBC, marching into one of its Sunday services while singing and praying. Perhaps this direct action finally spurred the church leadership to take a more direct interest; the church’s minister visited the complex shortly after the protest.

The city of Atlanta moved to allow a group of residents to stay at a hotel while Friendship Tower was still in disrepair; in the first week of August, FBC lawyers told a dozen of these residents that they must vacate their hotel rooms and return to the sweltering heat of their apartments. Residents also began to receive letters demanding rent for the month by August 10, even though the complex had previously told them they would not have to pay rent for July and August. Some of the tenants have filed a motion to recuse the judge presiding over their case, citing communications between the judge and management outside the courtroom.

On August 5, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed returned to Friendship Tower. He inspected five different apartments and met with residents, citing improvements. The local news claimed this visit showed the problems were “nearly resolved,” but the residents disagreed. The next day, they held a rally outside the apartment complex, calling attention to FBC’s continued refusal either to fix the air conditioning or move all residents to a more humane location.

The rally, which I attended, brought together around three dozen people and was organized by Derrick Boazman, a local radio host with roots in the community. Boazman introduced a number of activists and concerned individuals who had come out to support the struggling seniors.

Bobby Heard, who is head of the tenants association at Friendship, described the mayor’s visit as a sort of whitewashing of the problem. “The mayor came down here and inspected five units,” he explained. “But there’s a hundred units.”

Another resident, who had temporarily moved out due to the unbearable heat, explained that his thermostat that day read 87 degrees. He is temporarily staying in a hotel, and he said a police officer in the building told him he wasn’t even welcome in his own apartment. Another resident, Lynda Brooks, got a reading of 80 degrees on her thermostat.

Many of those who attended the rally had heard about the situation in the media over the summer. “I’ve been hearing about this on the radio too long,” explained one woman, who said she left work after a 10-hour shift to “do something about this.”

Many demonstrators carried signs adorned with variations of Black Lives Matter hashtags.

One prominent attendee was State Senator Vincent Fort, the Democratic majority whip and a staple of the state’s progressive community. Fort has long been an ally of the grassroots left in the state, even going so far as getting arrested in Medicaid protests last year.

Fort, as well as numerous other speakers at the event, spoke to the religious commitments of the demonstrators, as opposed to the overt religiosity but poor ethics of FBC. “Anytime you stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, you’re doing God’s work,” he said.

Boazman, Fort and the others standing with the residents that day plan to escalate their actions. Their next target is Glass Ratner, the property management firm that is in charge of day-to-day operations at Friendship Tower. Fort and others said they are prepared to be arrested on the premises to draw attention to the plight of the senior residents.

Unfortunately, as Jilani observes "There are no television stars or prominent political donors living at Friendship Tower, just low-income seniors, struggling against a political and economic system that doesn’t value their lives because they simply don’t have the dollars to make them care."

Still, the mostly black residents of Friendship Towers are not deterred, though the owner of the complex is a black, and historically black, congregation; nor that Mayor Reed (uncle of the overrated Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson) is black; nor that they are supposed to ascribe to white supremacy the oppression they face. They understand, as Senator Fort stated at the demonstration, "This is not about A/C. You need to know that. This is about money. Who got it, and who don’t.”  Similarly, a speaker affiliated with the Nation of Islam noted “This isn’t the Caucasian holdin’ us back here today. It’s people who look like us.”

This is not the only instance in which, as Jilani summarizes, "the divide is over raw access to money, and the power it brings." It is not the only instance in which "race, gender and religious background are not the dividing lines."  And, he might have added, it won't be solved by rhetorical flourishes about "anti-blacknesss" and "white supremacist violence against communities of color."


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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Not So Exceptional

Tom Sullivan asks

Has America – and the American Dream itself – gone into retreat? Once the largest, most prosperous in the world, the American middle class is faltering, crumbling like our nation’s schools and bridges.

Flag-pin-wearing American exceptionalists tell crowds this is the greatest nation on Earth, and then repeat “we’re broke.” They hope to dismantle safety net programs, telling Americans working harder than ever – at jobs and looking for jobs – that they don’t have enough “skin in the game.” Wake up and smell the austerity. America can no longer afford Americans.

The flag-wearing American exceptionalists would be hard pressed to convince Ed Green, husband of a social worker, whom The Washington Post earlier this year found

grew up in the middle class, the son of a New York City bus driver. He also went on to drive a bus, after he dropped out of technical school, got married and started having kids. He was earning $68,000 a year in a union job and was on track to retire with full benefits.

But cancer struck his mother, who had moved to North Carolina after Green’s father died. Green moved his family there to help care for her, and he went looking for the sort of good-paying factory job that powered the Carolina economy for a long time. It was 2000, and as Green was about to discover, America’s middle-class job machine was starting to sputter....

Green starts work every weekday at 7 a.m., driving the paving truck when the weather allows, pitching in on odd tasks when it doesn’t. He gets a half-hour for lunch, finishes his shift midafternoon, then changes in a transportation department locker room and usually drives to a sports stadium. In the summer, he goes to the baseball field, where the Dash, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, plays 70 games a year. In the winter, he works security at Wake Forest University’s arena, for basketball games and the odd concert. On fall weekends, he’s an usher at the school’s football games.

One day last year, when it was too cold for paving, Green and his road-crew colleagues slowly trawled up Interstate 40 east of town, clearing brush from the side of the road and feeding it into a wood chipper. Cars buzzed past at 70 miles per hour. The workers on the crew, Green said, know to listen for tires on the serrated edge of the pavement. Or for brakes screaming. You hear those things, you don’t look — you just run.

That would be difficult for a young, healthy man. Unfortunately, Green has

had shoulder problems, a pinched nerve in his back, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, a stroke.

Several years ago, doctors told him he had prostate cancer. He submitted to radiation treatment, five days a week, four straight months.

He never missed work.

Though more industrious than most people, Green isn't alone, for as technology and globalization take their toll

Today, a shrinking share of Americans are working middle-class jobs, and collectively, they earn less of the nation’s income than they used to. In 1981, according to the Pew Research Center, 59 percent of American adults were classified as “middle income” — which means their household income was between two-thirds and double the nation’s median income. By 2011, it was down to 51 percent. In that time, the “middle” group’s share of the national income pie fell from 60 percent to 45 percent.

There are other indications America's exceptionalism is winding down, just as- not coincidentally- Republicans have been ramping up the rhetoric.  Fox News recently reported

The Defense Department is taking another look at the military prison in Kansas and the Navy Brig in South Carolina as it evaluates potential U.S. facilities to house detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, part of the Obama administration's controversial push to close the detention center.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said a team was surveying the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth on Friday and will do a similar assessment at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston later this month. Davis said the team will assess the costs associated with construction and other changes that would be needed in order to use the facility to house the detainees as well as conduct military commission trials for those accused of war crimes.

The closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center has been a top priority for President Barack Obama, who pledged on his first day in office to shut it down. But that effort has faced persistent hurdles, including staunch opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress and ongoing difficulties transferring out the dozens of detainees who have been cleared to leave.

Officials have to identify countries to take the detainees and must get assurances that they will be appropriately monitored and will not pose a security threat.

About 52 of the 116 current detainees have been cleared for release, but Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his predecessors have made it clear they will not release any detainees until they have all the needed security assurances. The remaining 64 have been deemed too dangerous to be released.

The inmates are not going to be set free, merely transferred. Nonetheless

Lawmakers from Kansas on Friday quickly denounced the survey.

In a letter to Carter, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he has consistently objected "to the idea of moving these terrorists to the mainland, and more especially to Kansas. I will continue to be a vocal and staunch advocate against closing our current detainment facilities due to the high security risks and economic waste doing so would cost the American public."

He said Leavenworth is not the right location because it sits on the Missouri River, "providing terrorists with the possibility of covert travel underwater and attempting access to the detention facility."

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said, "Terrorists should not be living down the road from Fort Leavenworth - home to thousands of Army soldiers and their families, as well as military personnel from across the globe who study at the Intellectual Center of the Army."

That would be Leavenworth Kansas (the most famous inmate incarcerated there, below) "a city of 35,000 just west of Kansas City, Missouri – has had an ominous place in pop culture. The name alone conjures images of chain gangs of prisoners in zebra-striped uniforms cracking rocks with pickaxes — all under the gaze of cold-eyed guards atop watch towers."  However, the American military, according to two Kansan members of the US House of Representatives, might not be able to maintain security there.

As Sullivan notes, today

America is in retreat. Its dreams are shriveled. Instead of investing in public infrastructure like aqueducts, highways and bridges, we watch ours collapse as China’s rise. In Washington, pundits and politicians wring their hands over nickels and dimes for Americans while spending hundreds of billions of deficit dollars to maintain a global empire. Almost 900 overseas military bases? Was that our Founders’ vision of greatness?

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Not A Moron

The extremism from the candidates for the Repub presidential nomination is mounting. From Sunday's "State of the Union" interview (video below) by Dana Bash of Mike Huckabee:

BASH: Governor, I want to bring it back home and to an issue that's really been percolating in the Republican race, the issue of abortion. 

Now, you oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest. I want to ask about a story, because it's really getting a lot of attention from our readers on A 10-year-old girl was raped by her stepfather in Paraguay, and the government wouldn't allow her to have an abortion, because that's the policy there. The girl, who is now just 11, had the baby. 

If you're president, and you have your druthers, that would be the policy here. Some of your Republican opponents say it's too extreme. What do you say? 

HUCKABEE: I think what we have to do, Dana, is remember that creating one problem that is horrible -- horrible -- I mean, let nobody be misled. A 10-year-old girl being raped is horrible.

But does it solve a problem by taking the life of an innocent child? And that's really the issue. I know people. I worked for a man for several years, James Robison, who was the result of a rape. His mother went to three doctors in Houston, Texas, in 1943, begged doctors to abort the baby. None of them would do it. 

They all refused. Today, his organization feeds, cares for, and brings living capacity for water to hundreds of thousands of people across the world. That would never have happened, Dana.


So, when I think about one horror, I also think about the possibilities that exist. And I just don't want to think that somehow we discount a human life. 

BASH: And that's understandable, but the flip side is, looking in the eyes of a 10-year-old girl, saying, you know, you had this horrible thing happen to you, and you're going to have to carry it out for the next nine months. That's also not easy. 

HUCKABEE: No, it isn't easy. And I wouldn't even pretend that it's anything other than a terrible tragedy.

But let's not compound the tragedy by taking yet another life. And I always think we sometimes miss the fact that, when an abortion happens, there are two victims. One is the child. The other is that birth mother, who often will go through extraordinary guilt years later, when she begins to think through the -- what happened with the baby, with her. 

And, again, there are no easy answers here. And I realize there are some people that will be very different in their view of this than me, and I respect that. I don't want to get into a shouting match with people who think I'm wrong. I respect that. 

But I just come down on the side that life is precious, every life has worth and value. I don't think we discount the intrinsic worth of any human being. And I don't know where else to go with it, but just to be consistent and say, if life matters and then that's a person, then every life matters.

Figjam on the Jezebel website commented "As a Republican voter myself, I am endlessly frustrated at the morons taking up valuable airtime from candidates I would rather hear from."

If only it were so. Unfortunately, Mike Huckabee has said nothing much different than what other Repub presidential candidates have said and, intentionally, has promoted two false memes.

Huckabee is not commenting only about a 10-year-old Paraguayan girl, but of American women of whatever age.  "When an abortion happens," he says, "there are two victims."  Labeling as a "victim" an individual who has made a thoughtful, gut-wrenching decision is glaringly paternalistic, and suggests the decision is made lightly.

The former Arkansas governor also repeats arguably the most commonly claimed myth of the entire abortion debate. He maintains the "birth mother" (actually, a woman rather than a birth mother, given that she did not give birth) "often will go through extraordinary guilt years later."

Not unless "often" means 1 in 5.  Inconveniently

According to a new study that tracked hundreds of women who had abortions, more than 95 percent of participants reported that ending a pregnancy was the right decision for them. Feelings of relief outweighed any negative emotions, even three years after the procedure.

Researchers examined both women who had first-trimester abortions and women who had procedures after that point (which are often characterized as “late-term abortions”). When it came to women’s emotions following the abortion, or their opinions about whether or not it was the right choice, they didn’t find any meaningful difference between the two groups.

These findings contradict the notion that women experience negative mental health effects after ending a pregnancy, as well as the idea that later abortions are more psychologically traumatic. 

That's right.   Conservatives tell women- uh, er, "birth mothers"- that they're committing murder, and most of them, by a wide margin, nonetheless conclude they did the right thing. But it's repeated ad nauseam while little counter-narrative is offered for fear that people will mistakenly think that abortion is being minimized. "Safe, legal, and rare" is a more cautious approach.

There is another advantage to the claim "there are two victims" in the procedure.  It enables anti-choice activists and politicians to prohibit as many abortions as possible while absolving women of any responsibility for the act they have enshrined in the law as murder.Tara Culp-Ressler of Think Progress is justifiably angry at the lack of compassion shown women who have been" charged with murder for allegedly seeking to harm their fetuses by attempting suicide, using illegal drugs, or even falling down the stairs." But these are very rare cases, in which women typically have been accused of committing acts illegal apart from abortion.

Aside from these outliers, women in the USA are not considered criminally culpable for seeking an illegal abortion because the political viability of the anti-choice movement otherwise would evaporate. Paternalistically labeling the woman a "victim" is a vital component in maintaining this rhetorical and legal jiu-jitsu.

The paternalism embedded in the myths of the woman sure to have regret after being coerced into an abortion is not peculiar to Huckabee.  He is not the first to imply that the woman is an ignorant being we must save from herself. The sentiment was encapsulated chillingly by Justice Kennedy when, in delivering the deciding vote (and majority opinion) in Gonzalez v. Carhart, he wrote 

It is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound, when she learns, only after the event, what she once did not know: that she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast developing brain of her unborn child, a child assuming the human form.

As one individual who responded to the criticism of the candidate as a "moron" put it, Mike Huckabee "is a former governor and Fox television host. He's not making some crazy rant on the internet. He is the Republican Party. He is not a moron. He is a cruel, calculating man" rather than "some fringe person not worth taking seriously."

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