Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is #Ferguson an opportunity for ... centrist bipartisanship?

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has had good coverage and editorials about Michael Brown's killing by white Ferguson cop Darren Wilson. But in Can the mourning of Michael Brown help us find our common language? 08/25/2014

Indeed, the past two weeks of unrest in the St. Louis region have brought attention to not just racial divides we have ignored for too long, but our country’s difficulty, magnified in recent years, to find common ground on most issues. It’s not just race. It's climate change. It's Obamacare. It's Gaza. It’s war and peace. Our nation is divided. Ferguson is just one place where the division is laid bare.

To some, for instance, the mere mention of Mr. Sharpton’s name causes them to close their ears. On MSNBC, the cable news channel where Mr. Sharpton works as host, Michael Brown was a gentle soul who didn’t deserve to die. On Fox News he’s a thug of questionable character.

There is no in between.

The truth, however, almost always lives in that space between the extremes.
As a pious platitde, it's harmless enough. And instantly forgettable.

But, no, The Truth does not always lives "in that space between the extremes." Not even almost always. Especially on the issues they name.

And when it comes to combating the politics and the structures of white racism, if you assume that the solutions lie "in that space between the extremes," you've pretty much given up the fight.

And that's a comfortable position. For white people.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#Ferguson and naming white racism

Peter Coy has a good description of the structures of white racism in Ferguson MO and St. Louis county in Injustice in Ferguson, Long Before Michael Brown Bloomberg Businessweek 08/21/2014. It was the cover story on last week's print issue.

Although he doesn't call it white racism. In fact, the only time the word appears in the piece, he's talking about (white) racism in a form that it is no longer practiced:

Overt financial racism is mostly gone, but the legacy of that time lives on, suffocating present-day residents. "There's a very real sense in which resources for living a healthy, productive life aren't evenly distributed throughout the region," says Jason Purnell, a Washington University in St. Louis professor of public health. [my emphasis]
And "racist" appears once, and that in the middle of a paragraph in which a local NAACP leader is praising the local One Percenters:

Ferguson is not a crime-ridden economic disaster area like East St. Louis, Ill., on the other side of the Mississippi; it's lower-middle-income, with a healthy business district and a range of big, close-by employers, including Emerson Electric (EMR), Express Scripts (ESRX), the University of Missouri at St. Louis, Christian Hospital, and Mallinckrodt (MNK). It also benefits from a reasonably enlightened business community. John Gaskin III, a spokesman for the St. Louis County NAACP, is no pushover. He calls Missouri "the most racist state in the country." But he praises the leadership of Emerson, Boeing (BA), and others. Patrick Sly, who heads the Emerson Charitable Trust, "is one of the most genuine men that you could meet in this town," Gaskin says. And Danny Bradley, who runs Boeing’s diversity program for St. Louis, is "a gentleman." [my emphasis]
This is ironic because, as I said, the article does a good job of describing the structures of racism in and around Ferguson. For example:

The natural result is a county whose towns are highly stratified by both race and income. The wealthier southern part remains largely white. The northern section in the elbow of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, the home of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Ferguson, is increasingly black. Some towns in the north have managed to maintain a stable racial mix. Often, though, as blacks move into a town, whites move out. The tax base shrinks, and blacks feel cheated that the amenities they came for quickly disappear, says Clarence Lang, a University of Kansas historian who has studied St. Louis. Class interacts with race. In Ferguson, investors who bought foreclosed homes are renting them to poorer people than the homeowners — both black and white — whom they're displacing. That's one reason Ferguson's median household income adjusted for inflation fell 25 percent from 2000 to 2012, to less than $36,000 a year. [my emphasis]
Chauncey DeVega, on the other hand, doesn't shy from being more explicit. As in The New York Times 'Niggerizes' Michael Brown: I Wonder How They Would Slur My Life and Memory? WARN 08/26/2014:

America's news rooms are predominantly white, the media is dominated by white men, and the American "public" as imagined by the corporate media elite is "naturally" white. Consequently, the white racial frame operates at every level of the corporate media to naturalize whiteness as good and normal while blackness is made into something grotesque, bad, maladaptive, and deviant.
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

#Ferguson and focusing new attention on the structures of white racism in the US

"Racism is not an opinion. It is a dominant fact in American life, culture, and politics. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are one more data point in support of that truth."

-Chauncey DeVega, The Profits of Racism: The Coward Darren Wilson Who Killed Michael Brown Has Now Raised 170,000 Dollars WARN 08/21/2014)

One aspect of American Exceptionalism that no decent person can be proud of is the depth and breadth of white racism in our society.

It has never gone away, to put it mildly, though whites have more options to pretend that it has gone away or somehow moderated that African-Americans or other non-white minorities do.

The Roberts Supreme Court striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, the Trayvon Martin's murder by the white thug George Zimmerman, and now the chain of events known as "Ferguson" touched off by the shooting to death of Michael Brown by the white cop Darren Wilson have been major moments that has increased general awareness of - and justified anger about - numerous aspects of the structures of white racism as it exists in the US today.

Carol Leonnig et al have a revealing description of the training in white racism the killer cop Darren Wilson experienced even before he joined the force in Ferguson: Darren Wilson’s first job was on a troubled police force disbanded by authorities Washington Post 08/23/2014.

Charlie Pierce posted on an aspect of the Ferguson events that has particular resonance for me, The Body in the Street Esquire Politics Blog 08/22/2014. There may be some disagreement as to how long the Brown's dead body was left uncovered. But the body was left in the street for an unconscionable number of hours. And that was a major factor in the events that unfolded.

A police officer shot Michael Brown to death. And they left his body in the street. For four hours. Bodies do not lie in the street for four hours. Not in an advanced society. Bodies lie in the street for four hours in small countries where they have perpetual civil war. Bodies lie in the street for four hours on back roads where people fight over the bare necessities of simple living, where they fight over food and water and small, useless parcels of land. Bodies lie in the street for four hours in places in which poor people fight as proxies for rich people in distant places, where they fight as proxies for the men who dig out the diamonds, or who drill out the oil, or who set ancient tribal grudges aflame for modern imperial purposes that are as far from the original grudges as bullets are from bows. Those are the places where they leave bodies in the street, as object lessons, or to make a point, or because there isn't the money to take the bodies away and bury them, or because nobody gives a damn whether they are there or not. Those are the places where they leave bodies in the street. [my emphasis]
The small town in which I grew up, Shubuta MS, has the dubious distinction of being the scene of the lynch murder of two 14-year-old African-American boys in 1942. They were killed, presumably after being brutalized in ways typical of lynchings, by being hung from a bridge in the nighttime. The following day, someone brought their bodies on a truck and displayed them to the kids at the white school, including elementary school kids. They were also displayed in the middle of town on the main street. No one was ever prosecuted for the murders. Although this happened years before I was born, the aftermath of that event is still felt in that small community to this day.

Displaying a body as the trophy of a human kill definitely evokes the aura of a lynch murder.

Now, unlike Michael Brown, the white cop Darren Wilson who acted as his judge, jury and execution will get due process, if he's charged at all.

But the event known as "Ferguson" is not solely about Wilson's fatally shooting Brown, pumping six bullets into his body in the process. It is about the effectively all-white police force and its bad relations with a majority-black town; it is about leaving the kill displayed as a trophy in the street for hours; it is about the militarized and extremely hostile response to the demonstrations and looting that followed; it is about the secrecy and arrogance of the police and city officials in the aftermath; it is about the outpouring of white racism in defense of what even the most obtuse white folks can surely see is a highly dubious shooting to death of a young black man by a white cop who apparently had experienced policing nearly if not completely exclusively in distinctly racist environments; it is about the African-American communities response including the justified anger and frustration and the constructive protests along with the more destructive manifestations.

Supporters of white police exercising police-state powers against black citizens will continue to focus only on the alleged irresponsibility of the black community in Ferguson. For segregationists, black people are always to blame.

Chauncey DeVega gives a good description of the differing collective tendencies in viewing an event like Wilson shooting Brown to death among African-Americans and whites:

The killing of Michael Brown is not a surprise or a shock to most black Americans. We have either personally experienced racially motivated harassment by police authorities, have a relative or friend who has, or live in a community where such norms govern our day-to-day lives and limit our full citizenship. Police abuse is part of the collective memory of black Americans. Understanding how to navigate that maze and mine field is a necessary skill which is taught to us early in life. ...

For many white Americans, the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer is an anomaly; in their cognitive framework, there must be some reasonable explanation for why a police officer would kill an unarmed person. The collective experience of White America is one where its members are not routinely abused, violated, killed, and harassed by the police. Of course, individual white people may have negative encounters with a given police officer. However, those interactions are not reflections of an institutionally biased set of power relationships where that negative treatment is legitimated and encouraged as both a normal and expected type of public policy. [my emphasis]
Whether the institutional white racism of the criminal justice system and the Republicans' push for more-and-more segregationist laws like voter-suppression and Stand Your Ground/Kill at Will (whose main practical effect has been to increase the number of whites who kill black people and get away with it) depends on our collective political process.

Which in turn depends in no small part on how many white people can get their heads out of their rear ends on the issue and make their own demands for more responsible, non-racist policing felt.

But, as DeVega observes, that process has some ways to go:

White people are the most economically and politically dominant racial group in the United States. Yet, many white folks are delusional: they believe that they are actually victims of "racism", and that "discrimination" against white people is one of the United States’ biggest social problems. Their anger is also misdirected. Instead of raging at the plutocrats, robber barons, and their assorted enablers in the Republican Party, white racial resentment points their ire towards black and brown folks, the poor, and the working classes.

Darren Wilson is not a victim. He has been protected by a militarized police force that ran amok in Ferguson, Missouri, terrorizing tens of thousands of black people, all for his sake.

Like the white welfare king Cliven Bundy, Darren Wilson is a beneficiary of one of the most gross and obscene demonstrations of white privilege in recent memory.
This has to end.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

From saving Yazidis to stopping New Hitler

It's disappointing but sadly not surprising. The humanitarian justification to save the Yazidi from impending genocide that the Obama Administration first used for his new military intervention in Iraq is apparently now "Mission Accomplished." But the Obama Escalation is just getting started.

Nancy Youssef and Anita Kumar report in U.S. declares Yazidi intervention a success, says rescue mission unneeded McClatchy/Sacramento Bee 08/14/2014:

Military advisers who earlier in the day visited the Sinjar mountains, where as many as 30,000 people were thought to still be trapped, said that they found “far fewer” Yazidis than expected and that those who were there were in better condition than anticipated. Food and water dropped in recent days have reached those who remain, the Pentagon statement said.

The Pentagon said the visit proved that the actions the United States had taken in recent days had succeeded in preventing the Islamic State from capturing and executing the Yazidis, members of a religious sect that Sunni extremists view as heretics. It said the assessment team encountered no hostile forces during its visit and “did not engage in combat operations.”

Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Near East Affairs, said the assessment team had spent 24 hours in the mountains. He declared via Twitter that the U.S. actions had “broken the siege,” a sentiment repeated by State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: “President said we're going to break the siege of this mountain, and we broke that siege.”

This Reuters report (Islamic State message to America: 'we will drown all of you in blood' 08/18/2014) dials the threat to the Yazidi down to this:

U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq have helped Kurdish fighters take back some territory captured by Islamic State militants, who have threatened to march on Baghdad.

The latest advance by the Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, sent tens of thousands of members of the Yazidi ethnic minority and Christians fleeing for their lives and alarmed the Baghdad government and its Western allies.
There are always humanitarian issues in war. And always political reasons that are rarely, if every in history, restricted to humanitarian issues.

Youssef Boudial also reports for Reuters, Kurdish militants train hundreds of Yazidis to fight Islamic State 08/18/2014:

Kurdish militants have trained hundreds of Yazidi volunteers at several camps inside Syria to fight Islamic State forces in Iraq, a member of the armed Kurdish YPG and a Reuters photographer who visited a training camp said on Sunday.

The photographer spend Saturday at the training camp at the Serimli military base in Qamishli, northeastern Syria on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, where he saw 55 Yazidis being trained to fight the Islamic State.
Boudial sketches the events around the Obama Escalation this way:

Iraq has been plunged into its worst violence since the peak of a sectarian civil war in 2006-2007, with Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State overrunning large parts of the west and north, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives and threatening ethnic Kurds in their autonomous province.

Thousands of Yazidis have also been trapped in searing heat on the mountain near the Syrian border. They fled there this month to escape the Islamic State, who deem Yazidis "devil worshippers". Yazidis follow an ancient faith derived from Zoroastrianism.

So now we're in Iraq in direct military intervention against to stop the latest Hitler, this time in the form of ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/Caliphate. Usually, when we start bombing New Hitler, we've at least got a more-or-less consistent name. The war propaganda operation may be slipping a tiny bit here.

Jim Lobe in Obama Mulling Broader Strikes Against ISIS? Inter Press Service 08/23/2014 explains:

While Obama himself has long resisted pressure from neo-conservatives and other hawks to intervene more directly in Syria’s civil war, senior administration officials suggested strongly in the wake of ISIS’s grisly execution of James Foley that expanding U.S. military intervention across the border was indeed on the table.

The most pointed remark in that regard came from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who until now has been considered one of the strongest opponents of any expanded U.S. military role in the region, particularly in Syria where ISIS has emerged as the strongest among the rebel groups fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organisation which resides in Syria,” Dempsey said in answer to a reporter’s question, “the answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border.”
And since ISIS/whatever is our current New Hitler, we can't make Syrian President Bashar al-Assad New Hitler. And, anyway, he looks like he's going to be part of the Free World (i.e., Our Side) for a while:

Thus, the primary battlefield beneficiary of U.S. strikes against ISIS in Syria is likely to be Assad, a prospect that cannot please Sunni-led allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which, despite their new concerns about the threat posed by ISIS, have invested heavily in the Syrian president’s ouster.

Nonetheless, the administration is likely to push hard on its allies to co-operate in weakening ISIS in Syria, as well as Iraq, mainly by cutting off private external funding of the group and sealing porous borders that have been used to infiltrate ISIS fighters and recruits into Syria.
I realize we always have to fight New Hitler. But, gee, I think Republican Defense Secretaryy Chuck Hagel needs to dial back the hysteria over ISIS by several notches: Clara Ritger, Chuck Hagel: ISIS Is 'Beyond Anything' the U.S. Has Seen National Journal 08/21/2014. Obama's second Republican Defense Secretary let loose in his 0821/2014 press conference:

[American journalist] Jim Foley's murder was another tragic demonstration of the ruthless, barbaric ideology of ISIL. ISIL militants continue to massacre and enslave innocent people and persecute Iraq's Sunni, Shia and Kurdish and minority populations. ...

ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They're beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded.

Oh, this is beyond anything that we've seen. So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it and-- and -- and get ready. [my emphasis]

Also, of course: "9/11 ... 9/11 ... 9/11"

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey was at the same press conference reminding us all about the Long War:

So, in general, the conflict against those [jihadist] groups, most of which are local, some of which are regional, and some of which are global in nature, that's going to be a very long contest. It's ideological. It's not political. It's religious, in many cases. So, yes, it's going to be a very long contest.

But when you ask me if the American people should steel themselves for this long conflict, there will -- there will be required participation in the -- of the United States of America, and particularly in a leadership role, to build coalitions, to provide the unique capabilities that we provide, but not necessarily all the capabilities, to work through this thing ... [my emphasis]
How long before John Kerry is making a presentation to the UN saying, "I'm holding here a vial of powder that could bring the greatest horror the world has ever conceived to kill us in our beds and turn us all into space-alien vampires with snaky tentacles coming out of our mouths!"


Thursday, August 21, 2014

#Ferguson produces echoes from the past

Amanda Marcotte has a piece in USA Today on Ferguson that offers an interesting comparison to real-time white response to what are now viewed as iconic moments in the civil rights movement, Ferguson needs the empathy of tomorrow, today 08/20/2014:

There's a tendency these days for Americans to look back at the 1960s with rose-colored glasses, to believe that the horrors that were visited upon protesters back then -- from the dogs sent to attack Selma marchers to the four dead at the Kent State shootings -- were watched by a nation that had come together in horror at these events. It's a myth that allows modern people to believe that if they had only lived through those times, they would have had the opinion that history has shown to be the correct one: They would have sided with the protesters against the police and the National Guard sent to stifle them. But the sad fact is that protesters back then, just as the protesters in Ferguson nowadays, were not actually greeted with a strong wave of support across the land, and quite a few people who'd like to believe they would have been on the side of the protesters back then were just as likely to have sided with the forces trying to suppress them.
FOX affiliate KDFW reports on gun owners demonstrating in Dallas in solidarity with the victims of the Ferguson police. Only this particular set of gun owners to not appear to be of Northern European "continental origin," as Congressman Peter King might say: N. TX demonstrators protest police shootings 08/20/2014.

George Zornick notes in The Nation, For Many Politicians, Ferguson Isn't Happening 08/20/2014. This reluctance by many politicians to confront white racism was also a prominent feature of the 1960s.

That reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail of 1963 responding to an appeal from other clergymen to tone down his nonviolent protests:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? ... More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. ... Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity. [my emphasis]
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been running some good editorials including this one, Eric Holder comes to Ferguson. Change is coming. 08/20/2014. It gives an approving account of Holder's stands against voter suppression laws, and puts the Ferguson events in the context of the Roberts Supreme Court's shameful and destructive decision in the Shelby County decision that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and opened the floodgates for Republican attempts to pass voter suppression laws aimed at denying the vote to black and Latino citizens:

Here in Missouri, Republicans have been trying for several years to diminish that right by passing unnecessary voter ID laws. Thankfully, the courts have stood in the way. But it doesn’t take much parsing of words to understand the dynamic that is at play.

Just Tuesday, Matt Wills, the executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said it was "disgusting" that some activists at the protests were registering people to vote.

"If that's not fanning the political flames, I don'’t know what is," Mr. Wills told Breitbart News, a strange characterization of a peaceful attempt to help people exercise their constitutional rights. "Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace."
Meditate on that for a moment.

The director of the state political party that controls the Missouri Legislature by veto-proof margins doesn't believe that the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, and the following 11 days of nonstop protest, have anything to do with race.

Welcome to Missouri, Attorney General Holder. You've got your work cut out for you.
Joe Conason also gives us some of background on segregationist politics in the state of Missouri, Missouri Burning: Why Ferguson’s Inferno Is No Surprise National Memo 08/19/2014. The "White Citizen's Counciler" of King's letter also appears in Conason's article.

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Does #Ferguson require Obama in no-drama mode?

President Obama has made a couple of public statement relating to the Ferguson unrest following the death of Micheal Brown, shot to death with six bullets by white cop Darren Wilson under dubious circumstances. Both of them were in statements that began with updates on Iraq and the battle against the Islamic State (IS), in which the announced direct US role is still increasing.

This is the text and video of Obama's August 14 statement:

Here is the text and video of his August 18 statement, in which some commentators found him tired and dispirited in his comments on Ferguson:

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks is very critical of Obama's reluctance to address the racial issues directly that have been once again raised by the recent events in Ferguson, Obama Fulfills Demand For Weakness In A Time Of Crisis 08/19/2014

The basic argument Cenk makes here is that Obama as President not only has an obligation to oppose racial discrimination and to set his own framework for moments like this one with a strong statement against white racism and police brutality. Also, Cenk argues that as the country's first African-American President, he has a unique perspective that he brings to table, as he has shown on the rare occasions when he has addressed racial discrimination directly.

Charlie Pierce takes off from the August 18 statement (On Weariness Esquire Politics Blog 08/19/2014):

His press conference yesterday was profoundly desultory, his statements worse than useless. He seemed rather spent. Today, the White House seemed to go out of its way to emphasize that Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to go to Ferguson of his own volition, also emphasizing that the president did not order Holder to do so, which seems extremely strange, and which makes it a fair question whether or not the president has made a political calculation to distance himself from the most serious outbreak of racial tension since the Los Angeles uprising in 1992. And the explanations from anonymous White House sources indicate that the people around the president still do not recognize the fundamental flaw in the allegedly transcendent event that the president's election was said to have been.
Pierce argues that while the functional political vocabulary in American politics for talking about class is vague - "Joe McCarthy ran the last serious attempts at that conversation out of the national dialogue" - there is a well-developed vocabulary about race, which the Republicans are using effectively to mobilize and radicalize their base. And the Democrats need to counter it:

Weariness in a president is understandable. ... But weariness in a president can be dangerous. Vietnam -- and the national upheaval it occasioned -- nearly killed LBJ. Nixon was eaten alive by Watergate. Reagan was a symptomatic Alzheimer's patient for most of his second term. ... But, even at the end of their respective ropes, LBJ got a gun-control law passed, and Nixon increased the minimum wage, and Reagan managed to work with Gorbachev, and Lincoln managed to win the Civil War. The president can say anything he wants now. He will never run for re-election again. His opponents are going to screech like ravens on meth no matter what he says. [my emphasis]

Marcy Wheeler takes a careful look at Attorney General Eric's holders words in his editorial this week to the people of Ferguson in Holder's Agency in Ferguson Emptywheel 08/19/2014. It's actually a very well stated look at how "violence" is legitimated and delegitimated by language. The American political vocabulary on civic-political violence strikes me as also vague and inadequate. But in this case, there is a far-right/segregationist narrative on violence that is highly influential.

James Jennings has a paper at the English-language website of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Lift the Load of Poverty: Fighting for Black Equality in the Age of Obama July 3013 that has a good formulation of Obama's dilemma in addressing racism. (Note: the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is close to the German Left Party; actual lefties, in other words.) He writes:

... the 2008 presidential election marked the culmination of a trend in Black politics that started in the late 1980s. The "old guard" of Black elected officials from the civil rights generation had come from Black majority districts. They would thus define their politics, to a large degree, as being representatives of and spokespeople for the Black community. Beginning in the late 1980s, some of a younger generation of African American politicians running in white majority districts (or cities) downplayed their racial identity and affiliation with institutions in the Black community. They favored a "deracialized" approach to politics and refused to act as spokespersons of the Black community - a shift that came to be labeled "post-Black politics," and later "post-racial politics." [Quotes from Manning Marable] These new Black politicians have been “just as likely to see themselves as ambassadors to the black community as they are to see themselves as spokesmen for it." [Matt Bai] Barack Obama is the most prominent but—as Newark mayor Cory Booker, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, and many others prove—by no means the only example of a "post-racial" politician.
Jennings also connects it with the President's embrace of neoliberal economic policies:

The administration has sought to justify its tepid approach to social justice by arguing that the Republican Party’s control of the House of Representatives limits the President’s options. Under this proposed scenario, Obama is advocating reduced Social Security benefits and has proposed budgets with diminished support for the local and community-level initiatives that provide health, housing, and employment assistance for vulnerable populations. The White House is blaming the Republican Party for its failure to prioritize or fight for racial equality, jobs, and the basic bread and butter issues that are important to millions of Americans, but the Republicans should not bear all the blame for this situation. Essentially, President Obama pursues neoliberal polices while adhering to the rhetoric of social justice. This is why the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz described the President’s second inaugural speech as "soaring language to reaffirm America's commitment to the dream of equality of opportunity" but added that the "gap between aspiration and reality could hardly be wider." [my emphasis]
And for Obama, this combination of considerations has also meant a tendency to simplify real issues of social inequality and discrimination by the rhetoric of personal responsibility:

Martin Luther King, Jr., believed poverty to be a major charge for African American freedom struggles. But for him, poverty was not a behavioral problem. People are not poor due to their unwillingness to work, or because the government dole has made them lazy or incompetent to advance themselves economically, or — as implied in Obama’s speeches to Black audiences — because Black men simply don’t take responsibility for their children and their communities. Obama has repeatedly reiterated this notion, and he has reinforced it by focusing not on structural inequality or racism but rather on the need for Black people to lift themselves up by their bootstraps.
As Chauncey DeVega has noted, the President does not scold predominantly white audiences over common white pathologies in the way he scolds black audiences about their alleged group shortcomings.

Those who support Obama's reluctance to address racial issues in a context like right now tend to see the idea that he should as an example of the "Green Lantern" theory of the Presidency. The conservative realist Norm Ornstein describes the derivation of the term in The Most Enduring Myth About the Presidency National Journal 04/22/2014:

The meme is what Matthew Yglesias, writing in 2006, referred to as "the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics," and has been refined by Greg Sargent and Brendan Nyhan into the Green Lantern Theory of the presidency. In a nutshell, it attributes heroic powers to a president—if only he would use them. And the holders of this theory have turned it into the meme that if only Obama used his power of persuasion, he could have the kind of success that LBJ enjoyed with the Great Society, that Bill Clinton enjoyed in his alliance with Newt Gingrich that gave us welfare reform and fiscal success, that Ronald Reagan had with Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Bradley to get tax reform, and so on.
Green Lantern himself, of course, is a comic-book character, whose first incarnation was this:

Ed Kilgore defends Obama's holding-back position in No Green Lantern For Ferguson, Either Washington Monthly 08/19/2014:

If Obama's speeches aren't as dramatic as they used to be, this is why: the White House believes a presidential speech on a politically charged topic is as likely to make things worse as to make things better. It is as likely to infuriate conservatives as it is to inspire liberals. And in a country riven by political polarization, widening that divide can take hard problems and make them impossible problems. ...

More to the point, whatever mojo Obama has probably needs to be held in reserve in case he finds himself announcing or defending a federal civil rights indictment of Darren Wilson after local prosecutors have failed to act. Now that will take some heavy lifting, and perhaps magical powers.
The first paragraph quoted seems to me to be just another way of saying that Obama doesn't want to be seen as a Democrat who aggressively counters white racism. And it's not as though that the Republican Party hasn't been escalating its segregationist stand pretty much constantly since Election Day 2008. It's the high-level pushback from the Democratic Party that has been lacking.

In the 1950s and 1960s, whites who wanted a respectable-sounding way to tell African-American protesters to just shut the hell up would warn them about provoking a "white backlash." But the Republicans have been in White Backlash mode since 1964. Since so much of the Segregation 1.0 era is coming back, I wonder how long it will be before "white backlash" re-enters the everyday political vocabulary.

Maybe not long. Ezra Klein writes, repeating the White House spin (Why Obama won’t give the Ferguson speech his supporters want Vox 08/18/2014):

The problem is the White House no longer believes Obama can bridge divides. They believe — with good reason — that he widens them. They learned this early in his presidency, when Obama said that the police had "acted stupidly" when they arrested Harvard University professor Skip Gates on the porch of his own home. The backlash was fierce. To defuse it, Obama ended up inviting both Gates and his arresting officer for a "beer summit" at the White House. [my emphasis]
This touches on Kilgore's point that Obama may be saving his verbal fire for defending a prosecution against Darren Wilson later. But it's not really appropriate for a President to make statements that sound like pre-judging a criminal prosecution. It will be telling in practice to see, if a federal or local prosecution of Wilson occurs, if Obama will make statements about touching on Wilson's legal guilt comparable to the ones he has made about Edward Snowden.

I think there's a good case to be made that the "beer summit" was actually a case of Obama's backing down in the face of a Republican standard "hissy fit," a term Digby Parton helpfully popularized in this context. He took a stand against racial profiling and police abuse, then wound up treating Both Sides equally in that famous "beer summit" visual.

Eric Boehlert also defends the holding-back stance in Obama, Race, And The Right-Wing Media's Heckler's Veto Media Matters 08/19/2014, and references the Gates incident:

In case people forget, since becoming president Obama has talked about race relations during national flashpoints. He addressed the topic just six months into his first term after prominent Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested at his own home by a Cambridge, Massachusetts police officer who was investigating a report of a break-in.

Denouncing Obama's response, Glenn Beck condemend [sic] the president on Fox as a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." (Sean Hannity backed up Beck's "racist" claim. So did Rupert Murdoch.) That same week, Beck pointed to health care bill provision as evidence Obama supports reform as a form of "reparations"; to "settle old racial scores."
This is also just another way of saying what Cenk Uygur does, which is that Obama is letting FOX News and the Republican echo chamber bully him out of taking a clear stance.

It probably comes down to a sense of how you have to deal with hardcore segregationists. In my definition which is very much historically based, anyone who support voter suppression laws that disenfranchise black and Latino voters (and poor whites in non-trivial numbers) is a segregationist. My own sense is that the hardcores have to be treated as incorrigible, at least in the short run. But there is also a schizophrenic dynamic in segregationism that goes beyond simple lying. Since the dominant culture and the Christian religion says at least on the surface that racism is wrong, racism denial is also an integral part of American segregationism.

Elaine Frantz Parsons has a fascinating study, "Klan Skepticism and Denial in Reconstruction-Era Public Discourse" in the Feb 2011 Journal of Southern History, in which she writes:

For roughly five years, from the spring of 1868 through the election of 1872, the Klan was central to national discourse. Throughout this period, surprisingly, the debate over the Klan never effectively silenced the position that the Klan did not exist at all. Despite massive and productive public and private efforts to gather, circulate, and evaluate information about the Ku Klux Klan. and even though the federal government, in pouring unprecedented resources into countering it, certainly was behaving as though it were a real threat, the national debate over the Klan failed to move beyond the simple question of the Klan's existence. The idea of the Klan as a fundamental threat to the nation coexisted in tension, throughout the Klan's existence, with the idea that the Klan was simply a product of overheated imagination. Often, an individual would toggle between a passionate conviction that the Klan's threat was real and a real skepticism about its existence or nature - a position resembling the psychological phenomenon of "knowing and not-knowing" that is associated with trauma. The persistence of skepticism about the Klan even in the face of powerful proof of the Klan's existence reflected that individuals on all sides of the era's partisan conflicts at times found ambiguity about the Klan desirable and productive. [my emphasis]
She recounts the experience of the Mardi Gras parade in Memphis, 1872. The Klan, which had theoretically been abolished in Memphis, appeared in their robes and enacted scenes of anti-black terrorism. The parade and the reporting on it by pro-Klan newspapers showed:

... a proliferation of both comic and sensationalist Klan narratives and an explicit dismissal of the reliability of Klan narratives influenced by Republicans [then still pro-civil rights].

The fact that these Klan denials were taking place in one of the very epicenters of Klan support. however. makes their complexity even starker. On the one hand. audiences simply saw men representing Klansmen committing atrocities. The transparencies explained to them, however, that these paraders were not actually representing Klansmen, but depicting the "false" representations of Klansmen in the northern press. On the other hand. it is likely that many of the men representing Klansmen were. or had been. actual Klansmen. The Memphis Klan, officially, had voluntarily disbanded three years before the parade, but members had never been prosecuted. and they continued to maintain their contacts with one another through legal organizations like Democratic clubs, Masonic lodges, and probably (as has been shown in the case of New Orleans) carnival societies. So the parade, presumably, presents the bizarre spectacle of actual Klansmen marching in Klan uniforms, attacking both blackfaced white performers and actual black onlookers, to make the point that Klan violence was a figment of the northern imagination. [my emphasis]
It would be interesting to see this denial traced forward and connected with the denial of white racism through Segregation 1.0 (1875-1970, more or less) and the postracial Age of Obama.

The hardcores aren't going to be converted. But what an effective Democratic pushback can do is to stigmatize the tribe of white racists so that white voters who may be inclined to support the Republicans for a variety of reasons will shy away from being associated with the white racism displayed by the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world. It can also help to deligitimize careless murder of young black men in particular. And shame potential white supporters of such murderers from publicly agitating in favor of them. As Parsons writes of Klan denial in Reconstruction days, denial of white racism in the US today requires "a certain self-deceit on the part of cultural producers and consumers alike." Making that self-deceit more difficult to maintain would be a good thing.

Lesley Clark and Anita Kumar address Obama's dilemma in Obama on race: Watch what he does as much as what he says Charlotte News-Observer 08/19/2014. The headline is uncomfortably reminiscent of one of the Nixon Administration's more disturbing messages about their own mealy-mouthing on racial discrimination as they promoted the Southern Strategy. They report:

Civil rights groups noted Obama would draw criticism regardless of what he says.

"In this particular case, he can’t win for losing," said Pamela Meanes, president of the National Bar Association, noting that if Obama were "too passionate," he’d be accused of meddling in the investigation. But she acknowledged his tone on Monday [Aug. 18] left some saying "he's not passionate enough."
I like that way of putting it. He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

But since the Republican segregationists are going to damn him for the next 2 1/2 years and for decades after that no matter what he does or says, it's hard to see what he actually has to lose by taking a more principled anti-racism stance.

They also quote African-American studies professor Shawn Alexander:

Obama in 2009 admitted that he hadn't helped calm a racially charged debate by saying that police acted "stupidly" for arresting a prominent African-American professor in his own home and a "beer summit" on the White House lawn among the principals yielded little.

Obama as the first African-American president is in a unique position and hasn't always figured out how to respond, Alexander said.

"We constantly view him through the lens of race and that puts a different pressure on him," Alexander said. "We need now a spokesperson to talk about race and because he’s in the Oval Office, he must be that person and at same time he’s trying to be the president of the nation."

"He sometimes gets stuck between a rock and a hard place and I don’t know he’s figured out how to navigate it," Alexander said. "Should he speak out more? Probably. We have serious problems and if you’re going to lead it, get out in front of it, speak about it."
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#Ferguson as a segregation issue

At this stage in the unfolding Ferguson drama, I feel a discouraging sense of deja vu but am also unwilling to be resigned about these conditions. Bad racial conditions and relations have changed for the better in American history at various times. And have also changed for the worse. Often simultaneously.

It's my modified Hegelian theory of history: some things get better, some things get worse, and hopefully people can make more of the first happen than the second.

White racism has been successfully combated in the past. But it's never been successfully combated by people ignoring its existence.

Paul Waldman addressed that important point in By all means, we should ‘politicize’ Ferguson Washington Post 08/19/2014:

“Let’s not politicize this” is something we hear whenever a dramatic (and especially tragic) event occurs, and talk inevitably turns to the larger issues and policy implications raised by the event in question. The guardians of the status quo always say that this isn’t the time to talk about those implications (this is particularly true of gun advocates, who inevitably argue that the latest mass shooting isn’t the time to talk about the fact that our nation is drowning in firearms).

But what’s a better time to talk about those larger issues than when the nation’s attention is focused on a particular crisis or tragedy? The events in Ferguson have highlighted a number of critical issues — the treatment of black people by police, the unequal distribution of power in so many communities, the militarization of law enforcement, and many others. Does anyone think that if we all agreed not to propose any steps to address any of those problems for a few months, that we’d actually restart the debate over these issues unless there was another tragedy that forced it into the news?
This posture from what Waldman calls "the emerging conservative 'move along, nothing to see here' caucus" on white racism and police brutality in Ferguson is a segregationist way of saying the substantive concerns of black citizens are not something white people should bother to take seriously.

I generally take the attitude that cops shouldn't kill people if it's not necessary. It's understandable enough to me that the basic facts so far known about the shooting look suspicious to people in Ferguson, maybe even to some white people. But then, I grew up in a Mississippi town where whites were a minority, so I know I may be over-generous on that last point. So far as we know, there was an unarmed guy who most likely looked like a Big Scary Negro to the two cops who confronted him. The unarmed Big Scary Negro wound up dead with six bullets in him. The city left his dead body lying uncovered in the middle of the street for hours. (See below for more on that.) And there's considerable evidence that the nearly-all white police force had a record of misconduct towards the black majority of the town. Then even some segregationist Republicans like Ted Cruz and Baby Doc Paul have thought it appropriate to mildly comment on on the excessive behavior of the police in the aftermath.

Regardless of what actually happened in those moments where a white cop killed the unarmed Big Scary Negro, the incident and the aftermath have raised some serious questions about institutionalized white racism in practice in many places today. I also have the strong impression that politics in Missouri is highly racially polarized.

If anything at all from the rancid Breitbart News can be believed, the state Republican Party executive director thinks it's outrageous ("disgusting [and] completely inappropriate") that local activists are encouraging black citizens in Ferguson to register to vote as a way of addressing their grievances. (Charlie Spierling, Missouri GOP: Michael Brown Voting Registration Booths 'Disgusting' 08/18/2014)

The Republican legislature there passed a Calhounian attempt to nullify federal gun laws, which Gov. Nixon vetoed, that would have required fine public servants like the Ferguson Police Department to block federal agents who tried to enforce them. I was also quite impressed in 2012 to see that Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, along with his famous views on female anatomy, also advertised on his campaign website that he had been endorsed by John Stormer, author of the 1964 None Dare Call It Treason which was about as frequently found in Mississippi segregationist home as pictures of John Kennedy in African-American ones.

As a child and well into the 1970s, I don't ever recall going into a black person's home in Mississippi in which there was no picture or bust of John Kennedy. Often there was one of Martin Luther King, Jr., too. Always John Kennedy though.

So I'm glad the segregationist practices in Missouri are coming under critical scrutiny, even if it turns out that the Big Scary Negro who the white cop shot to death in Ferguson was a serial killer with a dozen dead bodies buried in his back yard and an al-Qaeda terrorist who was wearing a suicide bomber vest at the time of his death. In fact, the rightwing chain-e-mail channel is probably already saying that and worse about him.

On a Facebook thread, someone argued with a comment I made about Brown's body having lain in the street for hours "uncovered." It seemed like some stock segregationist comma-dancing tack. But I checked on reports of Brown's body lying in the street. Brittney Cooper wrote on Salon, , "His uncovered body was left in the street for hours, as a crowd from his neighborhood gathered to stand vigil." (In defense of black rage: Michael Brown, police and the American dream 08/12/2014)

Elisa Crouch reported for McClatchy and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri man killed by police remembered as 'gentle giant' 08/10/2014):

Friends of Brown's learned about his death shortly after he was shot Saturday afternoon. They saw photos of him lying in the street in Canfield Drive where his body remained for hours. Some joined the crowds of mourners and protesters who have gathered there since the shooting in protest of how Brown had died: black, unarmed and from multiple gunshots.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial called it part of "a series of shockingly poor law enforcement decisions," saying that series "continued when Ferguson police left Mr. Brown’s body on the street for four hours. How long does a crime-scene investigation take? Does Ferguson not have a tent?" (In Ferguson, a new sheriff in town. About time 08/14/2014)

They didn't use the word "uncovered" but that seems to be the meaning of the statement. It's always possible that the "uncovered" part was just an invention of the Mean Librul Conspiracy. But covered or not, it was part of the mix of the events of the last several days.

Michael Doyle provides some background information on how the federal investigation could proceed: Feds could go several ways in probe of Ferguson shooting McClatchy Newspapers 08/19/2014

Sunil Dutta's I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. Washington Post 08/19/2014 attracted some attention. Since it seems to be asking us to accept arbitrary behavior by police, it understandably attracted criticism, including: Joanna Rothkopf, There is so much wrong with this cop’s victim-blaming screed Salon 08/19/2014 and Charlie Pierce, Here With An Opposing View ... Esquire Politics Blog 08/19/2014.

Cliff Schecter joins in the mocking of the White Man's tribal group, the NRA, for not jumping to the defense of black citizens in Ferguson facing actual tyranical behavior by police in Why Isn't the NRA Defending Ferguson’s Blacks? Daily Beast 08.19.14

Recovering Christian fundamentalist Frank Schaeffer doesn't mince words on the larger conclusions he's drawing from the Ferguson events (America is now an NRA wet dream ... Patheos 08/21/2014:

Here's proof that we are a racist nation losing our civil rights while watching as our black brothers and sisters are brutalized. Yes, we are a racist nation. Period. There is a strong growing fascist movement building in the pro-gun, pro- law enforcement community. Post 9/11 we’ve become paranoid and deluded turning local cops into over-armed vigilantly storm troopers. America is now an NRA wet dream.
Eric Holder has A message to the people of Ferguson in the St Louis Post-Dispatch 08/19/2014.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson and Forth Worth: life and death in black and white

The St Louis Post-Dispatch editorializes on the Ferguson situation and the murder of Michael Brown there by a white policemen, A 'generational event' demands a generational change from complacency 08/18/2014. Th editorial notes that there has been some progress in St. Louis, of which Ferguson MO is a suburb in the same county:

But it didn’t transform St. Louis.

Because of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many of the more egregious manifestations of racism have been mitigated. They have not all been erased, no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court suggested last year when it struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Until an unarmed 18-year-old man, Michael Brown, was shot dead by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson a week ago Saturday, St. Louis has enjoyed, if that’s the right word, 50 years of racial peace and some important progress. Not enough, but some.

Fifty years is two generations. In most cases, two generations of whites enjoyed those years more than their blacks counterparts, who found fewer job opportunities, fewer good schools and fewer housing options. The reasons for that are many and complicated, but the least that can be said is that St. Louis didn’t often go out of its way to do much about it. [my emphasis]
Missouri is a half-Southern state. They have a Democratic Governor and one Democratic Senator. Missouri state Republicans nominated segregationist and woman-hater Todd Akin for the Senate in 2012. Harry Truman in an recorded interview I heard years ago - I believe it was from the recording called The Truman Tapes - joked that his mother always refused to sleep in the Lincoln Room of the White House when he was President, referring to the (white) Southern influence in Missouri politics.

They link to an article of their own about the Lincoln Bank protest of 1963, which became an important moment in the civil rights movement in St. Louis: Todd Frankel, 50 years later, Jefferson Bank protest refuses to fade away 08/31/2013.

The Kansas City Star has a recap of the Ferguson events of the last week in this editorial, Lessons of Ferguson: Why a week of rage didn't have to happen 08/15/2014 (last Friday):

Brown was shot several times, and reportedly from a distance at which he presented no threat to Wilson. Some witnesses said he had his hands in the air. Brown and a friend were walking down a street when the officer engaged with them.

Wilson and a companion of Brown’s have presented conflicting accounts. The officer contends he was threatened. But it is difficult to believe that deadly force was the only option available. There are few more urgent tasks for police departments than to train officers how to deal with threatening situations without resorting to firearms.

Police took much too long to process the crime scene. Brown’s body remained on the sidewalk where he died for four hours, during which time a crowd gathered and anger mounted. The Ferguson Police Department doesn’t work many homicides, but it should have had resources to draw upon to move more quickly.

The police cruiser Wilson was driving had no dashboard camera or recording device. People have understandably remarked on the irony of a police department in possession of military artillery but unable to afford basic equipment that can protect both officers and citizens in the aftermath of incidents.

On Friday, Ferguson police disclosed that Brown was suspected of intimidating a convenience store worker and stealing a box of cigars shortly before he was shot but added that the robbery report was unconnected with Wilson’s stop. The timing of that disclosure, coinciding with the much-anticipated release of Wilson’s name, infuriated Brown’s supporters and may have contributed to more mayhem early Saturday. It was inept at best and possibly malicious. [my emphasis]
Bill Quigley of the Center for Constitutional Rights argues that the police reaction on Sunday night of the 17th was also excessive and inappropriate, Ten Facts About Police Violence in Ferguson Sunday Night Common Dreams 08/18/2014.

Jarrod Hayes speculates about the connection between US foreign policy and domestic policing in Ferguson and American Foreign Policy Duck of Minerva 08/16/2014.

A St. Louis area legal aid group recently put out a white paper on how "driving while black" has been a major source of tension in Ferguson and nearby towns: ArchCity Defenders: Muncipal Courts White Paper; accessed 08/15/2014.

In a court-observation project involving 60 courts, they found a bright side: "We are encouraged that about half of the courts we observed did not engage in the illegal and harmful practices described above while we were present." Wow, only half the courts in the area are breaking the law in their proceedings! It also talks about how communities like Ferguson milk the DWB tickets for city revenue, and how court misconduct over routine traffic tickets often has big negative effects on people's lives. Almost exclusively black people, even though all loyal FOX News viewers know white racism doesn't exist any more and those people of a certain "continental origin" should just "git over it."

Vox has a longish article on the legal standards on justifiable shootings by police: Dara Lind, Was it legal for Darren Wilson to shoot Michael Brown? 08/15/2014.

German Lopez also has an online fact sheet about Brown's murder on Vox 11 things you should know about the Michael Brown shooting 08/18/2014

Civil rights attorney James Meyerson writes in What Is the Kerner Commission and Why It Should Be Revisited in Light of Ferguson Huffington Post 08/18/2014 about the continuing relevance of the 1968 Kerner Commission findings on domestic race relations and civil unrest:

What we must remember always -- and something I have told many juries in the past -- is that the most powerful person in the world, on a day-to-day basis, is not the president of the United States. No, it is a police officer. Your local police officer can engage you -- one-on-one, every day of the week, anywhere and any place. Your local police officer has the authority and power to take your life; and more often than not, get away with it; particularly if you happen to be a black or brown male in our society.
Stephen Menendian of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society also writes about the continuing relevance of the Kerner Commission report in How Many Black Boys Have to Die? Berkeley Blog 08/14/2014.

As he did with the Trayvon Martin case, Bob Somerby is diligently criticizing the mean librul media for any suggestion that any kind of white racism might be involved in any way in the Michael Brown murder. Scolding the Washington Post for a piece that apparently erroneously says the white cop Darren Wilson shot Brown in the back, Somerby seems to think it's far more virtuous on Wilson's behalf that the private autopsy just reported by the New York Times found that Brown was shot from the front (and once on tope of the head). Six times. (NO JOURNALISM, NO JUSTICE: The Washington Post's (rather bad) front page! The Daily Howler 08/18/2014)

Roy Edroso in his weekly roundup of conservative blog opinion, focuses on their response to events in Ferguson, Rightbloggers Try Anti-Cop Angle on Ferguson, But Revert to Old Ooga-Booga Village Voice 08/17/2014:

After Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson on August 9 and word started to get around that the killing might not have been as kosher as the cops said it was, many of the brethren went about dealing with this dead unarmed black guy the way they deal with all dead unarmed black guys: slurring the deceased, and portraying the negative reaction of his friends, family, and community as proof that black people are thugs, the real racists, etc.
Victor Davis Hanson, reportedly Dick Cheney's favorite historians at one point during his Presidency anyway, sees the specter of the the French Revolution and the guillotine in Revolutionary Justice National Review 08/17/2014. Charlie Pierce rightly refers to National Review as "the longtime white-supremacist journal, National Review."

As a comparison, here's a case involving a 72-year-old white guy shot by Fort Worth TX police, in which the white guy was apparently armed: Mitch Mitchell, Neighbors await answers in death of man shot by Fort Worth police Ft Worth Star-Telegram 12/26/2013:

Jerry Waller, 72, was shot seven times — three times in the chest, once in the right abdomen and left hand, plus two grazing wounds to the left wrist and forearm — after confronting two rookie officers checking out a reported burglary.

Waller's death has sparked two investigations — one by the Police Department, another by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office — but definitive information has been released only intermittently, with each new revelation seemingly raising more questions.

"The Waller case is tragic, no matter how it happened, and certainly there are going to be lessons learned from it," said Fort Worth City Councilman Danny Scarth, who lives in Woodhaven. "But just like we hold our citizens accountable, we are going to hold our public servants accountable for their actions."

Becky Haskin, a former councilwoman who lives on Waller's street, said the lack of information has caused some of her neighbors to mistrust the department.

"This case has become a lot more clear-cut as time has gone by and as some information has been released," Haskin said. "It makes people not trust the Police Department when people are thinking that you can shoot an innocent man on his own property in his own garage and there is not a word."
What? Questions about cops killing an armed white guy makes good Christian white folks "not trust the Police Department when people are thinking that you can shoot an innocent man on his own property in his own garage and there is not a word"?! Gosh, what kind of deep-seated "cultural problems" must be going on among people that European "continental origin"?

Anna Tinsley reports in Vigil will remember homeowner killed by Fort Worth police Ft Worth Star-Telegram 12/26/2013 reports that the grand jury declined to indict the shooter in the incident. And yet his family has put up a Justice for Jerry Waller website expressing their outrage this way, from his daughter Angie Waller:

We are not only suffering because we lost our beloved Jerry. We suffer because we cannot trust a system that promoted dishonesty and perpetuated injustice. The police directly responsible for my father’s death are not the only ones who acted unprofessionally and unethically. We waited eight long months for the city to allow us access to documents that would explain what happened to my father. With so many inconsistent statements, mishandled pieces of evidence and glaring omissions, we can see why the Fort Worth Police Department might want to keep these documents under wraps. Our resolve to get justice for my father has only grown. Our blood has boiled as we listened to false statements fed to the media that aimed to make this case sound tidy and closed. Jerry Waller was protecting his family in the early hours of May 28th. This case is not closed for our family or this community.
Do I even need to ask if there have been rightbloggers denouncing Tinsley's family, "portraying the negative reaction of his friends, family, and community as proof that [white] people are thugs," as Roy Edroso reports they are doing in Michael Brown's case?

In case anyone from Waller's family or friends happen to come across this from a search, I want to point out that I'm not criticizing them for their concern over the incident, or over the police handling of the aftermath, or their concern to see that justice was done in Jerry Waller's death. I hope that I would do the same if one of my close family members had such an incident. In fact, a close family member of mine did have a run-in with the law several years ago over a charge not involving violence and I did actively concern myself to make sure he had a proper defense.

My point in that the segregationist response of National Review writers and others are quick to side with white cops killing a young black man under highly questionable circumstances and to demonize the response of the dead man's family, friends and community members to the outrage. And yet white families that experience some similar loss also feel the same kind of outrage at police misconduct.

I don't know whether most white people hearing about Jerry Waller's death at the hands of the Fort Worth police tended to sympathize with the police more than with the dead man. It wouldn't surprise me if they did. On the other hand, I'm guessing that most white people would tend to react less negatively to a white man defending his home with a gun in an apparently legal way in Texas than to an unarmed black man shot to death by a white cop. And long as that's the case, racial disparities will continue in the criminal justice system. I don't say that to encourage any sense of resignation. On the contrary, I take it as a measure of the urgency of recognizing not just the real problem of "militarization" of policing in the US but also of the major role white racism plays throughout our justice system. And the urgent need to change it.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ferguson and the politics of the Michael Brown murder

More civil unrest took place Sunday night in Ferguson MO: Live from Ferguson: Police try to calm a gassed and angry crowd St Louis Post-Dispatch 08/17/2014.

Frances Robles and Julie Bosmanaug report on Michael Brown's autopsy in Autopsy Shows Michael Brown Was Struck at Least 6 Times New York Times 08/17/2014.

The politics of this will be tricky, as always. For Republican segregationists, it's fine that yet another young black man was murdered by a white cop. And they will grasp at any piece of real or imagined evidence against the murdered man to justify the shooting.

But it's not legal or any any way okay for a cop to fire multiple bullets into the body of an unarmed man, suspect or not, who is not resisting or threatening the cop in any way.

And if this is going to stop, the Democratic Party will have to start taking a stand against this and find a way to make the politics work by discrediting the Republican Party's segregationist position rather than pandering to it. And cops who murder people under cover of their uniforms and badges need to be prosecuted and sentenced just like any other murderer.

There have been some encouraging moments, including the following.

Capt Ron Johnson Receives Standing Ovation At Michael Brown Memorial MOX News 08/17/2014:

Gov. Jay Nixon Denounces Release of Tape - Put Ferguson " On Alert Again " - MSNBC - 8-17-14

Missouri's Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon also had some decent things to say on the case. He will no doubt be bitterly criticized by Missouri Republicans, who nominated the egregationist and woman-hater Todd Akin as their 2012 Senate candidate.

Sarah Gray also reports on Nixon's statements in Gov. Jay Nixon: “We disagree deeply” with release of security camera footage Salon 08/17/2014.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Vulture battle #GrieFault #GriesaFault

The legal battle between Argentina and the vulture funds is back before the federal appeals court. Argentina and Citigroup have a court appearance scheduled Monday over the blocking of payments Argentina has made to the bank as paying agent for holders of renegotiated debt - known as the Exchanges of 2005 and 2010 - from being actually paid to the bondholders. (Cristian Carrillo, Nueva fecha para seguir la pelea con los buitres Página/12 16.08.2014; Holders of Argentina eurobonds appeal US Judge Griesa ruling Buenos Aires Herald 15.08.2014) Argentina is also asking the US Executive Branch to intervene on the grounds that the Nixon zombie judge Thomas Griesa is encroaching on its prerogative to conduct foreign affairs.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is stressing that it's a national struggle for Argentina. And that the problem is not just a matter of the vulture funds' avarice but also "una decisión política y geopolítica de querer volver a endeudar a la Argentina y tirar abajo, de cualquier modo, la reestructuración de deuda soberana" ("a political and geopolitical decision that wants to return Argentina to an indebted state and to shoot down the restructuring of sovereign debt by whatever means"). (CFK: "La amenaza de los fondos buitre es a todos los argentinos") (CFK: "La amenaza de los fondos buitre es a todos los argentinos" Página/12 16.08.2014)

Argentina has also appealed to the International Court of Justice over the case, Visión 7 - Fondos buitre: Argentina demandó a EEUU ante La Haya TV Pública argentina 07.08.2014:

But even though the Obama Administration theoretically supported Argentina's position, it quickly declined to accept The Hague's jurisdiction over the Nixon zombie judge case. As Joseph Ax and Andrew Chung report in Argentina threatened with contempt order by U.S. judge Reuters 08/08/2014:

... a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said the United States would not permit the International Justice Court in The Hague to hear Argentina's claims that U.S. court decisions had violated its sovereignty.

"We do not view the ICJ as an appropriate venue for addressing Argentina's debt issues, and we continue to urge Argentina to engage with its creditors to resolve remaining issues with bondholders," the spokeswoman said in an email.

Argentina petitioned the International Court of Justice on Thursday, but the lawsuit could only move forward if the United States submitted voluntarily to the court's jurisdiction.
Despite its origins in judicial malpractice, the case has become "completely political" ("absolutamente política"), as Edgardo Mocca wrote a couple of weeks ago. (Malvinas no es sinónimo de derrotas Página/12 03.08.2014)

Ellen Brown describes thew conflict in Cry for Argentina: Fiscal Mismanagement, Odious Debt or Pillage? Web of Debt 08/12/2014. The current standoff with the Nixon zombie judge, she writes, "underscores the need for an international mechanism for nations to go bankrupt."

And she argues:

Who is at fault? The global financial press blames Argentina’s own fiscal mismanagement, but Argentina maintains that it is willing and able to pay its other creditors. The fault lies rather with the vulture funds and the US court system, which insist on an extortionate payout even if it means jeopardizing the international resolution mechanism for insolvent countries. If creditors know that a few holdout vultures can trigger a default, they are unlikely to settle with other insolvent nations in the future.

Blame has also been laid at the feet of the IMF and the international banking system for failing to come up with a fair resolution mechanism for countries that go bankrupt. And at a more fundamental level, blame lies with a global debt-based monetary scheme that forces bankruptcy on some nations as a mathematical necessity. As in a game of musical chairs, some players must default.
She also has a memorable quote from Adrian Salbuchi, "the IMF was to Argentina what Arthur Andersen was to Enron, the difference being that Andersen was dissolved and closed down, whilst the IMF continues preaching its misconceived doctrines and exerts leverage." (From How to Solve Argentina's Recurrent Foreign Debt Crises: Proposal for a Long-Term Solution Global Research 11/07/2006.

Stefan Kaiser describes the general conflict in Argentinien und die Hedgefonds: Duell der Erpresser Spiegel Online 28.06.2014.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Michael Brown's murder and the aftermath

"Racism is not an opinion. Racism is a fact." - Chauncey DeVega

"The authoritarian impulse is vividly on display among the right wingers today. They hate government --- until it brings the hammer down on people they don't like." - Heather "Digby" Parton

DeVega also has an informative post, It isn't Rocket Science Folks: On the Civil Unrest Following the Killing of Michael Brown by the Cowardly Thuggish Police in Ferguson, Missouri WARN 08/11/2014.

He lists five sets of "questions and observations" that offer a good approach to the question of civil-political violence:

  1. The cycle of police militarization is a predictable one. In many communities, the police act as though they are fighting insurgents in Iraq. The people respond in a predictable way. The police can then justify their militarization and thuggery.
  2. What about a national law requiring that police wear cameras at all times and that the data is continuously uploaded to a publicly accessible server which is monitored by an ombudsmen or citizens community police review board? This would cut down on frivolous lawsuits against the police. It would also provide some protection for citizens. I wonder why police unions do not support such a move ... that question is meant to be facetious.
  3. Have you seen any serious people, i.e. professionals, academics, etc. who study social psychology, "riots", or protest behavior, quoted or interviewed on a major news network or other outlet about the murder of Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson?
  4. The pictures of the locations in Ferguson where civil unrest has taken place are depressing. Does every black "inner city" have the same dilapidated strip malls with hair extension and beauty supply stores, convenience stores, car parts and rims joints, check cashing stores, and fast food restaurants? Is this a zoning issue? A market demographics issue?
  5. As a practical matter, when I see urban unrest I default to a worry about economic opportunity and infrastructure. Many areas in "urban America" are still demilitarized zones decades after the civil unrest of the 1960s. Ferguson will have fewer economic opportunities (and thus more anger, despair, and upsetness) following the cathartic release which is provided by public violence. This is a sad cycle of events. [my emphasis]
We've seen a crass re-emergence throughout the Republican Party of segregationist, Massive Resistance type expressions of white racism.

What we haven't seen much of in the Democratic Party is a revival of the serious thought and discussion of civic-political that was common at the time of the Kerner Commission Report that he cites. The Milton Eisenhower Foundation describes itself as "the international, nonprofit continuation of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Riot Commission, after the big city riots of the 1960s) and the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (the National Violence Commission, after the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy)." It has some important resources at its website, including a 40-year update of the Kerner Report.

The segregationists, of course, never wanted to reflect seriously on civil violence. They just wanted more of it on Their Side, less of it on the part of Those People.

Urban riots in the 1960s, which many and perhaps most whites coded as "race riots," terrified white people. The George Wallace and Richard Nixon campaigns in 1968 promoted a law-and-order theme to capitalize on that fear. Part of the pitch was to stigmatize any mention of "social conditions" or the like in the context of civil violence as being soft-on-crime.

Basically since then, the general approach to crime in the US has remained heavily racialized. And talking about civil violence, i.e., riots or something approaching them, as anything but rampant evil, intolerable lawbreaking and "bad choices" has been effectively marginalized in the political discussion. Democrats and Republicans fall over each other to show how tough they are against crimes of all kinds.

Jonathan Simon has been closely following the extent to which crime-fighting has become increasingly prominent in governance in the US generally. He is the author of Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear (2007) and has a blog called Governing through Crime. In one intriguing post from earlier this year, he talked about how the image of "zombie" in popular culture connects to racial stereotypes about scary blacks and scary Latinos (From the War on Crime to World War Z: What the Zombie Apocalypse can Tell Us About the Current State of our Culture of Fear 01/08/2014):

Zombies form an undeniable symbolic stand in for the twin racialized fears that have helped fuel our punitive culture of control producing both mass incarceration and mass deportation.

One is fear of violent crime and riots, which were reaching one peak in 1968, and were mostly linked in the popular imaginary to African Americans (Director and co-writer George Romero may have subverted this by casting a black male as the heroic protagonist of the movie [Night of the Living Dead]). While the riots mostly subsided, sustained high homicide rates in inner-city neighborhoods during the 1970s and 1980, shaped an image of violent youth who did not respond to normal human incentives, some criminologists called them "super-predators" because zombie would have been to self parodying. The crack epidemic further crystalized this association with its imagery of stick like figures shambling toward anyone who could feed their craving.
It's as touchy as ever to say so. But the incivility of looting and whatever level of rioting occurred in Ferguson MO have forced white Americans to confront for a moment some of the ugly realities of militarized police forces and the deeply white-racist criminal justice system in the United States. I posted last year about historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. scolding Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse in 1968 for declining to make a blanket condemnation of civil violence by oppressed people, but including in his finger-wagging the observation that a "limited amount of violence may stimulate the process of democratic change."

Let's hope that such is the result of the aftermath of white police-created violence and disorder in Ferguson.

Here are several articles that I've found shed some useful light on this situation.

Governor must let Ferguson be where better begins St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial 08/12/2014

Joe McNamara, 50 Shots Wall Street Journal 11/29/2006 (behind subscription) These appear to be full reprints here and here. Digby quotes part of the piece in The war at home Hullabaloo 11/16/2011.

Joan Walsh, Nightmare in Ferguson: Cops become a brutal occupying force Salon 08/13/2014

Adam Serwer, In Ferguson, the blurred line between law enforcement and combat MSNBC 08/13/2014

Greg Howard, America Is Not For Black People The Concourse 08/12/2014

Alec MacGillis, Those War-Ready Cops in Ferguson Are 9/11's Awful Legacy—and Your Taxes Are Paying for It New Republic 08/14/2014

Scenes from a War Zone in the Middle of America New Republic 08/14/2014

Josh Marshall at TPM 08/14/2014, 'Militarization' and More on "Hollywoodization".

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