The color of power.

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What a horrendous week for New Yorkers. Condolences to those affected by this ghastly Halloween attack. Don’t wait for words of encouragement and sympathy from the big cheese – he’s too busy attacking your senator on Twitter. Literally insult upon injury, but not surprising. It’s also been a pretty rough week in Puerto Rico, still reeling from Hurricane Maria, and of course in Somalia, in the aftermath of that horrific bombing. I could go on, but what’s the point – you know it. Sad thing is, none of these people will get any reasonable amount of moral or material support from the current administration. The reason couldn’t be clearer: too many dark people, and no potential Trump voters.

How low can he go?Not that Somalia has been treated like anything other than a doormat in previous administrations. Trump, though, has singled out Somali refugees in America for criticism, sowing hatred and distrust among his legions. The refugees are black, like the family of La David Johnson, and like the Congresswoman that is a family friend of theirs, and like the football players taking a knee, and … need I go on? Puerto Rico, well … that place is full of dark people too, and so they’re not going to get the kind of help that goes to Florida and east Texas. It just seems like whatever belligerent stand Trump takes, there are dark-skinned people on the other side of it.

I suppose I should consider it fortunate that crypto-racists have a tendency to reveal themselves gradually, however unintentional that process might be. Case in point is Trump’s Chief of Staff, General Kelly, who launched into a gratuitous character assassination attempt on Florida Congresswoman Wilson (hint: she’s African American) using a story that was easily dis-proven, as the event he was describing was captured on video. In remarks to the New York Times, Kelly praised Confederate General Robert E. Lee and opined that the Civil War was the result of a “lack of ability to compromise”. I think Lawrence O”Donnell had it right when he suggested that Kelly – who grew up in the same area of Boston as O’Donnell did – is channeling a racist upbringing in what was a caldron of prejudice against black people, brown people, anyone other than the Scotty B’s of the world.

Let us face it. In this culture, white, heterosexual people are normative; that is the default position. Anyone else needs qualification and justification. So when a crazy cracker shoots up 500 people in Las Vegas, we won’t ask ourselves what the problem is with these rich, white Christians. But when a crazy ass Uzbek mows down a bunch of innocent people for no reason, all Muslims are expected to apologize. That’s a power relationship at work.

luv u,

jp

Brown shirt redux.

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The thing about Trump is that he never knows when to shut the hell up. The events of the past ten days put this into stark relief. His post-Charlottesville comments are driven as much by his insistence on being right as by anything else. That said, the man knows how to court his core constituencies – namely, by abandoning any semblance of the traditional presidential role of being the nation’s consoler-in-chief and weighing in on the side of white sheets and brown shirts. Classy. I guess that roughly comports with Bannon’s avowed strategy of calling out Democrats on race issues, though he claims now to want to crush the “clowns” in the white nationalist movement. (I suspect he’s attempting to blow smoke here.)

The Trump armyThere is little doubt in my mind that Trump is a deep-dish racist fuck. His personal history alone is enough to convince any reasonable person, from his early days as a landlord to his vocal advancement of birtherism to his targeting of immigrants, Muslims, you name it. After the attacks in Barcelona, his first impulse was to tweet a reprise of his celebratory comments about General Pershing’s participation in America’s early 20th Century colonial pogrom in the Philippines – the story about killing 49 Muslim resistors with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. What is more bigoted than that? His blood libel against Muslims in New Jersey re the days following 9/11? Perhaps.

Trump’s next stop is Phoenix, AZ, where on Tuesday he will hold one of his regional Klan rallies, full of the kinds of crackpots that marched through the streets of Charlottesville with citronella torches and various tattoos. Too soon, you say? Not a bit of it. This tactic reminds me of what the NRA used to do (and may still do) in the wake of a mass shooting; namely, hold a massive pro-gun rally in or near the affected community. You can bet that Trump will have an incendiary tale to tell of how the Antifa counter-protesters were, in essence, outside agitators, at least as culpable as the neo-Nazis he tepidly disavows. I would still say the apple didn’t fall very far from the Klansman Fred Trump tree.

Is anyone surprised by all this? Well … if so, they haven’t been paying attention. Expect more, folks, and worse … much worse.

luv u,

jp

Stirring the pot.

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Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump recalls seeing footage of “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering as the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001. Fellow candidate Ben Carson briefly claimed to have seen the same inspiring vision in his mind’s eye, too, then backed off. (He seems to be recalling the clip of five Palestinians jumping up and down that was most likely a hatchet job.) Trump’s claim is the ideal bookend to his recent suggestion of maintaining a federal database of Muslims in America, a component in his new post-Paris attack national security platform. It’s a simple, time tested formula: call out a domestic population that you can term a fifth column and associate with a foreign enemy, then repeat your rhetoric and watch your polling numbers rise. Oldest trick in the book.

Look in the mirror, America.The thing is, Trump is a mirror to the Republican base, as Sam Seder and others have pointed out. This is a mostly white minority of virulently anti-immigration, nativist, evangelical Christian Americans who are attracted to Trump for the time being because he arrogantly articulates their hatred of the “other” and gives voice to their sense of outrage over being relegated, however temporarily, to opposition party status. I have heard commentators blame this constituency on Obama – the nauseating former Bush adviser Nicole Wallace, for instance – but it’s useful to remember that even in the depths of his second-term unpopularity, Wallace’s former boss retained a solid core of conservative support, including the same crackpots that showed up at McCain/Palin campaign rallies in 2008. That was the nascent “tea party”, the constituency that has kept Trump in the high twenties for months now.

Stirring up racist or bigoted sentiments is always a dangerous game, but it’s one that remains popular with politicians who have no real value to offer the constituencies they seek to serve. We white people tend to think of non-white, non-European, non-Christian people as different. We see this in the response (or lack of same) to the Beirut bombing, compared to the near media obsession over Paris. Even the President does this. When he talks about Paris, he refers to the fact that we see ourselves in the sidewalk cafes; that Parisians are like us. There is a deep reservoir of anti-foreign, anti-other sentiment in our society. It is hard to avoid this mentality when you become an imperial power. You can mask it, conceal it, but it tends to bob to the surface.

We’ve all seen this movie before. I like to think that there are enough decent people in this country to overcome this type of ugliness, but if there is some kind of attack in the United States over the next year, all bets are off.

luv u,

jp

Ban the bullet.

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What is there to say about the Charleston shooting? Another three-foot creep with a four-foot gun. That’s the long of it. I notice most of what’s being talked about is this generic “pure” hatred, evil, etc. Most of the television commentators have been avoiding the “R” word. Hey, folks … it’s called racism. Combine a racist history with a birthday gun, and you’ve got the recipe for Charleston. School friends talk about racist jokes that nobody took seriously. He wore flag patches on his jacket for both Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa, Confederate flag license plates. No particular concern? We shall see.

Victim of racism. Say it, people.The sad fact is, racism is a default position in white society, south and north. I grew up in white society, and I have been surrounded by racism my entire life, at various levels of severity. I am certain that, had it not been for the guiding efforts of my mother and my older siblings, I might well have ended up as racist as some of my neighbors. It was, in many ways, the path of least resistance in ’60s middle America. And to this day, when I’m in a room with just white people, racism will occasionally join us in the form of a comment, a joke, etc.

So … that’s a thing. Then there’s the gun culture. The birthday pistol. How you can sell a pistol to someone who advocates race war is beyond me. As much as we have to examine our tendency to look upon black Americans as the “other”, we also have to ponder our devotion to uncle bang-bang. And yes, we’re very unlikely to do anything to slow down the proliferation of firearms. But there is one thing we can do without violating the extremist notion of the 2nd Amendment: ban bullets! You can have all the guns you want, but no freaking bullets. Guns don’t kill people … bullets do. Or adopt Chris Rock’s idea – make bullets cost $5,000 each. That might slow down the Jared Lee Loughners of the world.

Again – these are hard problems. That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about them. If we are appalled by Charleston, it is incumbent upon us to act. And soon.

luv u,

jp

What does it.

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As Americans, we crave the simple solution. Just give us that one thing we can do to make a problem go away. There has to be an answer, right? Anything can be fixed. The trouble is, the actual world is more complicated than that. Most of our problems will not yield to easy answers. In fact, very often, if a solution to a serious problem is even possible, it is likely to be a very complex, multifaceted, and inconvenient one. That’s the last thing we want to hear.

What California used to call a riverAnd yet, here we are, faced with enormous challenges, decades – even centuries – in the making. Problems like climate change, a matter so enormous most of us just turn away. For those of us who believe the overwhelming scientific consensus there is a human role in climate change, far too many feel that this is something that can be solved by driving a Prius and screwing in a few LED light bulbs. Those are good things, but this is not the type of challenge that is going to yield to small-bore actions carried out at a personal level. This will take a major reshaping of our economy, our use of resources, our entire approach to the Earth. Half measures won’t do it.

Same thing with regard to the rash of police killings of unarmed black men.  It’s easy to lay it on the cops, and sure, police practices nationwide need reform, but this problem runs much deeper than law enforcement. Issues of race and racial exclusion on a profound level, reflected in government policy at the local, state, and national level, have brought us to where we are today. The practice of criminalizing black life goes back to slavery, to be sure, but so does shutting black families out of certain neighborhoods and effectively confining them to others. This is a case wherein justice delayed is truly justice denied – keeping these families out of home purchases in the years following World War II denied them the ability to build equity, increase their wealth, and move into the middle class. Employment discrimination contributed to this, of course. New rules for the police won’t undo that sad, sick history.

No quick fixes, people. We need to find solutions that match the scale and depth of the problems we’re attacking. Easy just won’t do it.

luv u,

jp

War comes home.

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Obama now has something like 1,000 American military personnel “on the ground”, as they say, in Iraq. The situation for the Yazidi families, while serious, was not as dire as the government had suggested apparently, as thousands had been escaping their mountaintop exile every night, according to the NY Times. Just yesterday, NBC’s Brian Williams characterized their plight as “a modern Exodus,” though I don’t recall him using that terminology to describe the thousands upon thousands of Palestinians driven from their homes in northern Gaza under withering Israeli fire (that would have been all his job is worth).

Mine proof assult vehicles. That's community policing?Still, the U.S. military action will continue in Iraq, sans dramatic justification. Neatly done. And we will continue to provide arms to the people fighting those other people we provided arms to. There’s a foreign policy for you. What’s even more worrying than that, though, is the degree to which our military have been providing arms, armored vehicles, and advanced tactical gear to police departments across the country, like the one in Ferguson, Missouri. In the wake of the seemingly arbitrary police killing of teenager Michael Brown, this mostly African-American community looks reminiscent of Soweto, South Africa, during the bad old days of Apartheid.

This is not limited to one small Missouri town. Police tactics with regard to young Black men appear uniformly driven by aggression and the presumption of guilt, even in the absence of any definable criminal transgression. Michael Brown was walking up a street with his friend. Eric Garner, in New York, was selling individual cigarettes. Ezell Ford, in Los Angeles, was lying on the ground, under arrest, when he was shot in the back by the police. We have seen this movie before, right? Only now, it seems, the tactics and firepower of the U.S. Military are being brought to bear to confront communities justifiably outraged by these killings. What are these police departments so afraid of? Why do they always turn the amp up to 11 when it comes to Black people?

There are many answers to that question, and they’re all pretty ugly. Suffice to say that there’s a culture of discrimination in law enforcement in the United States. After over a century of deliberately criminalizing Black life, it’s a hard habit for them to break. But we must break it … peacefully … with our collective resistance.

luv u,

jp

White hats.

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Ladies and gentlemen, Cliven Bundy has spoken, and mainstream conservatives are now running for the exits.

Well, his hat's in the right place.I use that term “conservative” in the very expansive sense that is in common usage now, descriptive of the type of “conservative” who appears to favor facing off against federal law enforcement officers with firearms. That’s the kind of conservative we saw praising Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his militia-inspired neighbors as he took his somewhat bizarre and incoherent stand against the Bureau of Land Management. It was the classic reactionary fairy tale, and our friends at FoxNews, the Drudge Report, and Limbaugh central sucked it up with great relish and spewed it out over the airwaves so that everyone in America knew the name of this rambling, aged, white-hatted patriot.

I’m no fan of extreme police tactics (like, for example, the violent dispersion of Occupy Wall Street), but pulling guns on federal agents is a serious matter, and I was flabbergasted over the past couple of weeks that I would need to explain that fact to people who term themselves conservatives. Of course, it seems that they didn’t make a very close study of the man they were raising to the level of Paul Revere, as it seemed to come to them as quite a surprise when he piped up with this little gem about African Americans:

They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.

Okay, I may as well just say it. Not only is this guy a racist, he appears to be suffering some form of dementia; perhaps early stage Alzheimer’s. I think the latter condition may play a role in his lack of the ability to conceal the former. I would almost feel sorry for him, frankly, were it not for the fact that he’s bilking the federal government for a million dollars in back grazing fees and fines (note: the fees are very, very reasonable) and apparently content to start the equivalent of a modern range war to keep from parting with his cash. (It’s not hard to imagine what would happen to black people in, say, Philly if they were to try something similar.)

My advice to the Feds is this: the man has bank accounts, doesn’t he? Do to him what you are doing to the Russians and the Iranians. Freeze his assets until he complies. No guns needed for that.

luv u,

jp

Making a killing.

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I’ll keep this short, because there’s stuff to do. My advice to anyone who wants to kill someone (non-white) with impunity is simply to follow these three steps:

  1. Invite said person down to Florida
  2. Take them somewhere where no one can observe you closely, perhaps the Everglades, and shoot them dead
  3. Claim they made you feel threatened, thereby invoking  the “Stand Your Ground” law (signed by noted moderate Jeb Bush)

That’s pretty much all you need to know. Watching the Zimmerman trial, I can’t help but feel like he’s going to walk through that massive legal hole opened for him by bullet-brained state legislators (fueled by ALEC) and Big Jeb. I am struck by that sense, and by the overwhelming irony of the defense’s efforts to frame Zimmerman as the target of racial profiling. Cross examination of Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel was ludicrous. The girl did not want to be there, but felt she had to. She lost her friend, and she was herself being stereotyped on the stand. The insinuation that her use of a very standardized form of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) was just bad speech, uneducated muttering, etc., was quite simply racist. Watching the defense attorney, surrounded by white people, disrespecting this young lady was truly nauseating.

Regardless, though the Zimmerman defense team seems less than stellar, their fight is downhill all the way. All they need to do is sow doubt. It’s Zimmerman’s word against the silence of a dead young man. Seems like there was a time when a jury might take one look at this 200-plus pound vigilante, look at the slight kid he shot, and toss him in the slammer.  That time, if it ever existed, was before “Stand Your Ground”. (I’m not certain it ever existed when the young man was black and the shooter white, particularly in a place like Florida. )

Color me disgusted. On a week when they’ve gutted the voting rights act, it’s appropriate that we should be reminded of our deep cultural racism.

luv u,

jp

American take-away.

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It’s official: if you get pulled over for an out-of-date inspection or soft tires … or perhaps nothing at all, you can be strip searched. Thank you, Anthony Kennedy. Thank you, George W. Bush.

Why George W. Bush? Because he appointed a right-wing chief justice when Rehnquist had to step down in 2005. In truth, I should blame voters in the 2004 election for reelecting a right-wing imbecile to the presidency – one who would be there to appoint Scalia clones as needed. The Roberts appointment was particularly crucial in that Supreme Court Justices – who are imagined to be somehow magically apolitical – always seem to delay their retirement until the presidency is held by someone who shares their ideological world-view. Because of failing health, Rehnquist would have retired in 2005 no matter who won the 2004 election. Ergo, that election was our last opportunity to shift the balance of the court back from right-wing extremism, and we basically blew it.

That’s as it may be. But this FLORENCE v. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF COUNTY OF BURLINGTON ET AL. decision is truly odious, particularly at this moment in our political-cultural history. Think of it: we are in the grips of a national debate about the Trayvon Martin killing – a young man who likely would be alive today if he hadn’t been black. The Martin case is far from unique. Democracy Now! has been reporting on a remarkably heinous police killing of a 68-year-old Marine veteran with a heart condition who rolled over on his medic-alert badge – a false alarm that for some reason brought on the equivalent of a SWAT team from the White Plains PD. (He too was, of course, African-American.) It seems our society is going out of its way to demonstrate how little it values the lives of black people in general, and black men in particular.

That’s how the Supreme Court made a bad thing worse. The “Florence” in Florence v. Board is Albert Florence, a black man riding in the passenger seat of his BMW (his wife was driving) when they were pulled over by the White Plains police. They arrested Florence for a purportedly unpaid fine – which he had paid, and for which he had proof of payment handy when stopped by the police – and took him in, strip searching him (twice) before releasing him after the error was confirmed (presumably by a trustworthy white person). This was just fine with the 5 conservative justices on the court. Now, every black person in America knows what this means – it’s a green light for abusive practices in custody, the humiliation of repeated strip searches. And it will fall disproportionately on them, because they are arrested at a much higher rate than are white people.

It’s the cherry on top of the shit sundae. Just more confirmation of the thesis of The New Jim Crow and Slavery by Another Name. Criminalization of blackness is once again validated at the highest level of our “justice” system.

luv u,

jp

Requiem.

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The killing of Troy Anthony Davis has demonstrated one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: that we as a people cannot be trusted with the death penalty. To that I will add my modest opinion that no people can be trusted with this brutal and most final punishment.

I am not suggesting that that is the most compelling reason to abolish the death penalty. I think the reasons are legion. The first should be no surprise to anyone who calls themselves religious in any major monotheistic tradition – killing is morally repugnant, particularly in a situation in which the intended victim is powerless, such as someone who is incarcerated and therefore a danger to no one. Beyond simple humanity, it is legally and ethically indefensible – the ultimate denial of due process under the law. So long as you may be proven either innocent or not as guilty as first thought, there is no justification for execution.

Also, in a nation so fraught by its racist history; a nation whose justice system is shot through with the remnants of that history – particularly, it seems, at the state and local levels – there is no chance that the death penalty will be applied fairly. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that it has been applied in an unjust and biased fashion over the last three decades. In light of our very recent past – still very much with us, as evidenced by Wednesday night’s execution – we are simply incapable of conducting such a policy in any way that could be considered remotely equitable.

Not that being equitable would result in anything other than an atrocity. Uniformly applied, capital punishment might add up to thousands upon thousands of executions each year, depending upon where we draw the line on heinousness. Speaking of heinous, Governor Perry (a distant cousin, I hear) feels comfortable with a standard he claims Texas has set regarding execution of only those perpetrators who have committed the most horrible crimes. With 240+ judicial killings under his belt, one might think that the standard could apply to the governor himself. (His predecessor, of course, had opportunity to make that record seem positively progressive.)

It’s too late to save Troy Davis, I’m sorry to say – deepest regrets to his family. I only hope that Troy will, even in his absence, open the national conversation we simply must have if we are ever going to put a stop to this visceral, vindictive madness.

We have prisons that could hold the incredible Hulk. We don’t need to kill another prisoner, ever. We need to stop… now.

luv u,

jp