Tag Archives: anti-black racism

Ross Perot: Plus ça change…

Early last week, FiveThirtyEight came out with a new episode in its series of documentary-style looks at polling and politicking in elections past. If you’re in need of break between refreshing your poll aggregators, it’s a delightful mix of change of pace from this year’s elections and a curious examination of where this year’s unique character comes from. It seeks to answer one very simple question – what effects did Ross Perot have on US elections?

The bulk of it pulls us back into the 1990s, into a seemingly naïve political climate buoyed between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the World Trade Center. While securely focused on the 1992 election, it ultimately looks to the similarities between Ross Perot and Trump. It ends ominously on that note, however, as Galen Druke predicts that “Just as Donald Trump did better than Perot, maybe the next charismatic populist will do better than Donald Trump.”

Well, then.

That comparison and warning sent me down a rabbit hole of internet research into not just Ross Perot but the political party he spawned: the Reform Party. If nothing else, it’s deeply entertaining as a distraction from tightening polls. The crown jewel of my fervent self diversion is this early 2000 piece by then Trump ghostwriter Dave Shiflett (this guy) for the American Spectator. In it, he advocates for Trump’s candidacy for the presidential nomination within, you guessed it, the Reform Party.

I can forgive FiveThirtyEight for leaving half the story untold (they have limited time in any case), but this article truly is eye-opening. Trump did not wait for 2016. In 2000, his conspiratorial and aggressive understanding of international relations, his view of himself as un-racist for expecting people of color to be among those fawning over him, and his cartoonish misogyny were all already there, even then.

trump 2000.jpg
(No, seriously.)

Here’s just a few choice bits:

“[Trump’s] uncle, an MIT professor, foresaw the day of miniaturized weapons. ‘One day,’ Mr. Trump quoted him, ‘somebody will be able to detonate a suitcase-sized bomb in Manhattan that will flatten the entire city.’ Thus was born what is perhaps the most mesmerizing chapter in [The America We Deserve]—one in which, among other things, Mr. Trump warns that under his presidency, North Korea could experience some live-ammo discipline.”

“As the embodiment of earthly success, [Trump] is highly admired by lower-middle class Americans, many of them Hispanic and African American, who continue to admire the guys who have done well in the world.”

“[Al] Gore’s embarrassing reliance on high-paid political adviser Naomi Wolf also illustrates another difference with Mr. Trump, who is universally recognized as America’s premier Alpha Male. Mr. Trump knows that one never pays a woman for her conversation, but only for her silence.”

Of course, Trump not only failed to win the general election in 2000, but he fell short of the Reform Party’s nomination, to Patrick Buchanan. Both before and after that third party presidential bid, Buchanan has made a career out of White nationalism and other bigotries somehow stated more blatantly than even Trump cares to. Seemingly in an effort to appease Trump’s purportedly more moderate wing of the Reform Party, Buchanan selected Ezola Foster, a Black woman, as his running mate.

Politics journalist David Neiwert has argued that this contributed to George W. Bush’s contested victory in the election that year by dismantling the main third party contender for Republican-leaning independents motivated by racist and sexist ideas. Neiwert found this choice complaint from a close affiliate of David Duke’s (another familiar character!): “after Buchanan chose a black woman as his veep he [Duke] now thinks that ‘Pat is a moron’ and ‘there is no way we can support him at this point.'” Keen not to miss the bigger picture, Neiwert pointed out that the Democratic ticket had the first Jewish candidate for the vice presidency on it that year and the other main third party candidate was Lebanese-American Ralph Nader. The voting bloc that would congeal into the modern alt-right seemingly had no real choice in 2000 for a presidential ticket of only White , non-Mideastern, non-Jewish men, outside of Bush-Cheney.

The picture Neiwert paints of the ensuing relationship between Republicans and this emerging extreme wing of US conservative politics is strengthened by the ensuing confusion over the 2000 election. As he put it-

“No one from the Bush camp ever denounced the participation of [Stormfront-affiliated White supremacist Don] Black and his crew or even distanced themselves from this bunch, or for that matter any of the thuggery that arose during the post-election drama. Indeed, Bush himself later feted a crew of “Freeper” thugs who had shut down one of the recounts in Florida, while others terrorized his opponent, Al Gore, and his family by staging loud protests outside the Vice President’s residence during the Florida struggle.

“These failures were symptomatic of a campaign that made multiple gestures of conciliation to a variety of extreme right-wing groups. These ranged from the neo-Confederates to whom Bush’s campaign made its most obvious appeals in the South Carolina primary to his speaking appearance at Bob Jones University. Bush and his GOP cohorts continued to make a whole host of other gestures to other extremist components: attacking affirmative action, kneecapping the United Nations, and gutting hate-crimes laws.

“The result was that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists came to identify politically with George W. Bush more than any other mainstream Republican politician in memory. This was embodied by the endorsement of Bush’s candidacy by a range of white supremacists, including David Duke, Don Black and Matthew Hale of the World Church of the Creator.”

You probably can tell the history yourself from there. The 9-11 Attacks only further wear down democratic and procedural defenses against these politics, and before we know it, we’re at the place we are now – with Black churches appearing to have been torched by Trump supporters, more anti-Muslim attacks than ever, and a candidate openly running on a policy platform of ethnic cleansing.

What’s curious within all of this is that Buchanan misread Trump’s and his supporters’ jeers in 2000. The story goes, as The Hill described it, that the Perot, Trump, perhaps in LaRouche-esque sections of the Reform Party weren’t even trending towards fascism by 2000. Those voters supposedly left when their “moderate” candidate – that’s Trump – lost. Buchanan, so the story goes, lost another set that stayed by trying to win those already out the door back. But that’s usually boiled down to a very careful reading of Trump’s insults towards Buchanan at the time – those like “Look, he’s a Hitler lover.” Trump certainly presented them as a critique of Buchanan’s bigotry, but maybe it was intended more as a critique of its European and 20th century qualities, as opposed to an open embrace of rhetorical twists more distinctive to 21st American far-right ultranationalism.

That’s not a mischaracterization of Neiwert’s work, by the way. His description of how quickly Perot’s crypto-populism became lousy with White nationalists comes from a series asking whether the Republican Party after 9-11 was at risk of becoming fascist. His answer, while still under the Bush administration, was a concerned perhaps. Returning to his look at the disintegration of the Reform Party and the 2000 absorption of much of its voting base into the Republican Party, he casually describes the process with what now read as dire warnings.

To be fair, not all of those are his alone. He quotes Robert Paxton’s “The Five Stages of Fascism.” Paxton’s essay reads like Nostradamus for something from 1998, a decade before Sarah Palin let alone Donald Trump. As Paxton described it, one key stage in fascists acquiring power is their capture of a major political party or similar institution. In terms of that,

“Success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of the liberal state, whose inadequacies seem to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner. Some fascist leaders, in their turn, are willing to reposition their movements in alliances with these frightened conservatives, a step that pays handsomely in political power”

Anyone else need a drink?

Between Paxton, others, and his own work, Neiwert creates an image of a typically rural-based political bloc preparing for warfare with an existentially opposed other, often one terrifyingly within the country, if only in small numbers. All of that is familiar to anyone remotely familiar with Republican rhetoric – in both pro-Trump and never Trump circles.

What’s more arresting is his description of why so often it’s rooted in rural hinterlands – because historical fascism often began as an arrangement between gangs and malfeasant landowners. When desperate to break agricultural strikes and either unable or resistant to state involvement, the latter turned to the former.

There is nothing quite analogous within modern US politics, but the closest cousin could arguably be the moderately wealthy, rural-dwelling, elder White voters without college degrees that many have seen as Trump’s core constituency. In the 1990s, their votes likely split between idealistic votes for Perot, pragmatic votes for Republicans, and White nationalist votes for Buchanan. Today they are a consolidated voting bloc – and they are Trump Republicans.

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The revolutionary spectacle: Sanders’ answer to Trump?

As the primaries and caucuses have unfolded I’ve spent a lot of time revisiting this piece I wrote about Trump nearly a year ago. In a nutshell, I said his campaign wasn’t viable. It would alienate too many people for him to win the general election, if not the primary itself. While he has managed to become the presumptive Republican nominee, it was only after months of him achieving mere pluralities in state after state. He was the frontrunner from early on, but a limited one who took many months to lock up the nomination. With the steady loss of RNC staffers just in anticipation of having to work with him, a similar uphill slog looks likely to be his best case scenario in the general election. There’s a certain point where you can’t be overtly hostile to everyone outside your narrow part of the electorate and expect to win nationwide elections.

What’s hopefully more interesting, in light of the protracted Sanders-Clinton contest, is turning that question of what an ultimately unsuccessful campaign was actually about onto another target. In Trump’s case, I thought and to a certain extent still think, it’s about reaffirming certain voters’ sense of security. Even in a general election defeat, Trump will have demonstrated to those who feel “silenced” by “political correctness” that many people share at least parts of their White supremacist worldviews. The “silent majority” doesn’t even need voter fraud conspiracy theories at the end of the day – many of its members will probably settle for just not being alone, for being heard and recognized and agreed with by someone.

With Sanders’ campaign looking increasingly similarly non-viable, it seems worth asking what analogous benefit supporters are getting out of it. On the surface, it might seem obvious – Sanders has called repeatedly for a political revolution, and his supporters are hopeful that he might oversee some sort of radical reinvention of this society. But his campaign consistently stepped back from exactly those types of demands at almost every turn. Sanders himself didn’t just dismiss reparations as impractical or difficult, he outright categorized them as outside of his concerns about economic injustice. While he goes further than most candidates in terms of suggesting greater political autonomy for indigenous peoples, his campaign’s messaging confirms that that would remain limited to reservations and similar spaces determined by the settler colonial state.

Actual anti-colonial revolutionaries have rejected this sort of approach pretty explicitly in the very midst of his campaign. Indigenist theorist

[The Americas are] a prison house of nations, and that as such it is without a single, unified class structure. There is no ineluctably singular ‘proletarian’ class here.

[…]

While there have been high tides of radical settler working-class struggle, perhaps most vibrantly seen in the early work of the Industrial Workers of the World, even those movement failed to truly break with general trend of settler labour movements to ignore, submerge and derail anti-colonial movements arising from within the popular ranks of the domestic colonies. Regardless, even that high tide ebbed nearly a century ago. Since then the settler working-class has primarily functioned outright as a bulwark of colonial and fascist oppression domestically and imperialist aggression overseas (it had previously as well, but it was at least tempered at times by nominal anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist organizing by some strata of the settler working-class movement). Both the failure of even the most radical expressions of settler working-class labour organizing, as well as the broader historic trend of the settler working-class to act as a reactionary bulwark is a result of their class aspirations, which are inherently petty-bourgeois in nature, seeking a greater slice of the imperialist pie, or, in the era of neo-liberal globalization, to re-assert their position on the imperialist pedestal at the expense of hightened [sic] exploitation and oppression of colonized peoples.

[…]

The settler left cannot imagine a future where the garrison population does not continue to hold down the majority of the land of A’nó:wara Kawè:note [the Americas]. It doesn’t matter if settler society is re-organized on the basis of a confederation of autonomous anarchist municipalities and industrial collectives, or a federative socialist workers’ state of the marxist sort: so long as the land is not relinquished back to its original owners then all that will develop is settler colonialism with a marxist or anarchist face.

So it must be recognized that all of A’nó:wara Kawè:note [the Americas] is stolen land, and that over the course of revolutionary anti-colonial struggle all of it must be liberated, even if that goes against the material interests of the settler population. The rights and aspirations of the domestic colonies will be given primacy.

This means the return of all land seized via treaty, the overwhelming majority of which are demonstrably fraudulent, and were never signed in good mind on the part of settlers. Many settler anarchists and marxists propose a line of upholding treaty rights, and the full application of previous agreements such as the Two Row Wampum as the vehicle for what they call ‘decolonization.’ However, this politic immedietely [sic] falls into the trap of assuming that settlers have an inherent right to at least posses some of the land, which is in fact simply a more insiduous [sic] form of settler colonialism. Further, the treaties and other like documents are what removed thousands of Indigenous peoples from their lands, marching them hundreds or thousands of miles to foreign lands, and sequestered all of us, even those of us who remained on ancestral lands, onto reserves and reservations. So all of the treaties must be scrapped, and the land returned that they were used to seize. Self-determination that is restricted to the open air prisons in which one is held prisoner is not real national liberation.

Sanders holds that exact policy stance on what reservations could be, and the same dynamic in which he advocates renegotiating the same relationships between groups rather than redefining them crops up on other issues as well. His perspective of Israeli colonialism carefully frames the right of Jewish communities in the region to exist as predicating the Israeli state and implicitly denying at least the vast majority of Palestinians’ right of return to properties seized. Just as he envisions greater autonomy for indigenous groups in their few remaining spaces under US occupation, his language on the Israel-Palestinian conflict suggests he would promote Palestinian statehood and a “freezing” of Israeli expansion. No restitution for al Nakba, no return to land still under Israeli occupation, no accountability for the continuing systemic violence.

So, if Sanders’ campaign isn’t about overhauling the colonial relationships a whole host of people worldwide have with the United States government, what exactly is his “revolution”?  The concessions he’s gotten from the Democratic Party make it seem dourly procedural – that what he’s won is greater influence on the Party platform for significant but still unsuccessful presidential candidates, and what he’d like to also get are various reforms to primaries, namely more open ones. That all does not a revolution make.

Is that really why people have voted for him, donated to him, or volunteered for him though? Obviously there’s as many answers to those questions as there are people who have done any or each of those things for his campaign, but his “revolution” has been for many a potentially approachable “radicalism”. It’s one that speaks decisively about ending this era, particularly in terms of corruption and the excesses of the wealthy, but shrinks back when it comes to some of the key relationships underpinning the US locally and globally: settler colonialism, anti-Blackness, and capitalism.

There is a reason why his support has in general been so markedly White in comparison to the broader electorate – his “revolution” is one that can be palatable to the exact White “radicals”

I’ve written about this before, that in essence Sanders’ socialism doesn’t seek to address the unique forms of exploitation – capitalist and otherwise – experienced by various groups, especially people of color. The question here is what do those politics do for his predominantly White supporters. Their needs ultimately seem fairly similar to Trump’s supporters – to feel comforted. Treating the minor tweaks to existing colonial policies as a revolution places policies more confrontational to White supremacy as safely outside of consideration or acknowledgement.

It’s important for Sanders’ supporters to ask themselves if just like how Trump’s campaign delivers on some people wanting to feel like the omnipresent True American but also a righteously resistant minority, if the Sander’s campaign provides them a similar resolution to contradictory desires. Does it give them a way to feel like they’re dismantling a sprawling oppressive system while continuing to largely benefit from it? Does the right want to stop any tentative steps towards decolonizing this country while the left wants to wash its hands and call the process over and done?

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Wasn’t me

In the past week, a few allegations of wrongdoing jumped back into the spotlight. From a failure to prevent mass lead poisoning to data journalism steadily descending into propaganda-crafting, almost everyone’s been predictably quick to shift blame elsewhere.

A humbling experience

That’s how still sitting Michigan governor Rick Snyder has described the medical crises in Flint. In his own words, they’ve been a “humbling experience” – for him naturally, the most important person in these cavalcade of missteps. From initially a story of rampant cost-cutting and the widespread destruction of local government in predominantly Black communities across Michigan, Snyder has recast the disaster that has left thousands of children exposed to horrifying levels of lead as a tragedy centered on him.

Like an archetypal king hypnotized by advisors with vile designs, Snyder is the true star of this story for having been misled by staff who supposedly convinced him that he would receive alarmist messages about Flint’s water supply. Snyder’s own intentions couldn’t be more clear, since part and parcel with this retelling of the catastrophe is labeling responsibility for the crisis as having been taken.

Whoopsy

Over the past year, calls for raising the minimum wage in many corners of the US as well as nationally have become an almost omnipresent part of the political discussion. More quietly but just as persistently, the popular demand for living wages reflective of the emerging economy has been met by pessimistic predictions of spiraling inflation and anemic employment. To arbitrate between the two, many have turned to data-driven journalists and academics, hypothetically armed with statistics and motivated by a zeal for unveiling the objective truth.

Except, that hasn’t happened. One of the most widely circulated looks into the economic outcomes of raising the minimum wage, penned by economics professor Mark Perry, has fallen under criticism for having drawn from multiple data sets while comparing Seattle (which raised its minimum wage) compared to the surrounding metropolitan area (which didn’t). This may sound minor, but this reads less like mixing together data to reached a more complete picture and matching figures to create the desired result. The goal was never to describe what was happening as a result of the new law, it was to manufacture a glossy statistical justification for a particular take on raised minimum wage.

Perry’s response since the writing of that and other articles describing this and other problems with his research has been to edit the charts in question, noting that the information comes from disparate data sources that aren’t ideal to cavalierly compare. He’s also added an addendum arguing in essence that there’s nothing to see here.

Not caught… not yet

In a bit of lighter news, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have taken the news that no US nationals appear to be implicated in the leaked Panama Papers to heart. They’re now asking the Justice Department to more carefully investigate the matter to make absolutely sure that that’s the case.

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Good news

Trigger warning: indefinite detention, electoral disenfranchisement, racism

The past few weeks have seemed like a bit of a parade of bad news – with Donald Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican primary among other worrisome events. Recently, however, there’s been a few small but significant changes that can give us hope.

Think of the children

After the number of unaccompanied children crossing into the US peaked in 2014, the public’s attention to the issue has steady declined. Even as fewer children have ended up in the overcrowded and dangerous detention facilities scattered across the southwest US, those already here have largely faced a toxic mixture of judicial neglect and increasingly unrealistic orders for them to leave the country.

A new report from Generation Progress touches on the issues that I and others noticed were looming problems just as the crisis began – that very few of these cases have assigned lawyers or even translators. Concerned Senators and Representatives have stepped in with new federal legislation requiring more extensive availability to those services as well as more thorough accountability for the agencies overseeing these detention facilities and court proceedings. Unfortunately, as long as the Senate and House are Republican-controlled, these reforms are unlikely to become law.

The day’s wages

In New York and California a similar tentative step forward, in this case on the minimum wage, has unfolded. In both progressive-leaning states with large labor pools, local activism was sufficient to push for incrementally raising the wage floor. In New York, the main determinant will be regional, with New York City proper seeing its wages move up the most quickly, followed by outlying parts of the urban center, and lastly other parts of the state. To a certain extent, that reflects cost of living, although across the state that will catapult minimum wage workers from $9 an hour into a more manageable economy. In California, the changes will be tailored more to the type of business, with smaller companies given slightly more time to adapt.

072814-minimum-wage_map
(Changes have so far been concentrated in states with minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, however. Image modified from here.)

Many commentators have viewed this as a reflection of the populist politics fueling Senator Sanders’ presidential run, but the piecemeal approach in both California and New York is more reflective of the gradual and contextual increases advocated by Secretary Clinton. Far from outside of these policy victories, Clinton took part in the celebratory rally put on by New York Governor Cuomo in her adoptive state.

Who counts the voters

Whether at the state level or federally, these different movements aimed at improving the quality of life have relied on elected leadership. In short, they have needed at least the possibility of voters caring about these issues to motivate political action. The capacity for that to happen as evenly as possible with the population of a district was upheld 8-0 by the Supreme Court on Monday in Evenwel v. Abbott.

This case was launched by the Project for Fair Representation, which previously played a role in an unsuccessful challenge to affirmative action and a fruitful dismantling of the electoral pre-clearance system. The racial dimensions of their work are deliberate and striking, and Evenwel was no exception. The Cato Institute (known for its own relationship with racist, colonialist, and antisemitic ideologies) published a rather flowery amicus curiae on behalf of the plaintiffs in Evenwel where they argued-

Once again this Court finds itself at the intersection of the VRA and the Fourteenth Amendment. The parties here are caught in the inevitable trap of (1) maintaining majority-minority districts under complex, overlapping standards and (2) administering electoral schemes that do little to advance racial equality while doing much to violate voter equality— the idea that each eligible voter’s vote should count equally. In the background of this conflict, there lurks a cacophony of precedent and oft-conflicting court administered standards that have arisen from Section 2 cases. Basic constitutional guarantees of equal protection inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment— such as OPOV—are getting lost in this thicket.

Avoiding racial discrimination under these circumstances is particularly difficult in jurisdictions where “total population” and “citizens of voting age population” (CVAP)—standard metrics for evaluating whether a district violates OPOV—diverge due to varied concentration of non-citizens. As with the tensions amicus Cato has described before, jurisdictions navigating between the VRA’s Scylla and the Constitution’s Charybdis are bound to wreck individual rights—here, voter equality—on judicial shoals.

The reality that redefining electoral districts across the country by either eligible or registered voters would cast aside representation for people ineligible to vote or unregistered (who are largely people of color) is only indirectly considered. It’s framed as an unfortunate cost needed to make each vote cast equally contested by candidates – a pipe dream as turnout can easily inflate a given voter’s power or swamp their decision in a sea of others’. These organizations, all too recently comfortable with the legal realities of Apartheid, were pushing for a milder version of the same multi-tiered political system, where there are people represented and people beneath consideration.

Perhaps most tellingly, the case here sought a structural response to the reality that millions of people are disenfranchised – while being incarcerated (and depending on the state, afterwards as well), for being undocumented or otherwise non-citizens, or from the inaccessibility of the voter registration system. Instead of asking why those people are beyond the pale of electoral participation and what could be changed about that, it treated their exclusion as an accepted given to be worked around.

Luckily the Supreme Court saw things differently, and as the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund described it:

Upwards of 75 million children—13 million of whom are Black—not yet eligible to vote would have been counted out of the redistricting process had appellants prevailed. Indeed, appellants’ case threatened to take America’s redistricting process back to nefarious periods in our democracy similar to when Black people were counted as 3/5ths of a person for redistricting purposes and expressly excluded from the body politic.

The Court’s decision today vindicates the “one person, one vote” standard, which rightly takes into account Census-derived total population counts when apportioning voting districts. This standard has been applied universally for over 50 years by all 50 states and the thousands of localities within them. Moreover, this clear understanding of “one person, one vote” is already regarded as America’s “de facto national policy” in legislative redistricting, enjoying overwhelming, bipartisan support among state and local governments. Today’s decision reaffirms the guiding logic of this inclusive standard, which fosters access to electoral representation and constituent services for all people, regardless of race, sex, citizenship, economic status, or other characteristics, or whether a person chooses to or is able to vote.

That vision of participatory democracy is the engine that’s helping to drive these modest steps towards a fairer political and economic system. This newly post-Scalia Supreme Court has made clear that they favor that understanding of how this country could organize itself.

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In the News: Black lives within the political process

Between the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the dramatic swing in the presidential primary towards the South, all eyes have been on the ways that anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of all people in the United States in myriad ways.

Flint as unnatural disaster

ThinkProgress has put together a more than century-long timeline of the demographics, budgeting, and general economic health of Flint to create a more contextual view of the city. After decades of growth and success, Flint is now grappling with several health problems as a result of under-investment in water infrastructure. To make the long story short, complex community investment decisions have been decided in ways to prioritize resources for predominantly White communities and to undermine particularly largely Black communities’ expectations of communal responsibility and a democratic process.

flint_river_better.png(The Flint River, from here.)

The results are expensive public amenities that offer virtually nothing of use or provide actively dangerous “resources” like toxic water. The surrounding economics are – perhaps deliberately – complicated, but the ultimate effect is that greater costs are extracted from communities like Flint for dramatically inferior products. It’s a racket, and the greatest beneficiaries of it are the wealthy White communities essentially absolved of any social expectations while places like Flint are asked to pay twice if not more – once for water and again for medical care.

Who isn’t accountable?

Faced with catastrophes like that, Black community organizers and #BLM activists have minced no words in describing how they will hold the entire system responsible. Chicago-based Aislinn Pulley drew directly on the situation in Flint itself when describing why she was dissatisfied with the meeting offered by the Obama administration:

We must ask what is criminal justice when children, the elderly, the disabled and everyday working people in the city of Flint, Michigan, cannot safely drink their water due to lead contamination which has occurred because the local government switched the city’s water sources in 2014 in order to allegedly save money.

That was only one of the calamities befalling Black communities that she covered, however, as she also describing among others the on-going problems unique to Chicago (namely Rahm Emmanuel’s shutdowns of public schools and potential involvement in covering up police violence). The list of unaddressed disasters, which Pulley describes the Obama administration and other powerful actors in our society as failing to adequately acknowledge let alone treat, makes clear the scope of the problem for Black communities – one that exists on an inescapably society-wide level.

New leaders, old problems

With the presidential primaries beginning to take up even larger shares of the national discussion and President Obama as one of the institutional figures who is viewed as having failed to tackle this issue, who will replace him has become a charged question.

With Donald Trump remaining for the most part in the lead in the Republican primary, more detailed attention is being paid to his background. The racially-charged elements of his business experience as a land developer in the New York area have garnered some attention, but the past couple days have specifically seen a remembrance of his volatile comments on a 1989 rape case. Trump was among the prominent New York voices that effectively lobbied for the reinstatement of the death penalty because of that case, in which five men of color were wrongly convicted as the police and state courts later admitted. Luckily none of them were actually put to death, but their years in prison cannot be undone. For many, Trump’s role in this was a testament to how second nature racist dynamics may be for him.

At the same time, Sanders caught many commenters’ eyes with a speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. He was essentially endorsed by nearby Clarkston’s Mayor Ted Terry, who is White, which came in the form of an upbeat comparison of him to Martin Luther King Jr. Statements and interactions like that by White participants at such a culturally significant location for many Black Americans seems to have struck a dissonant chord for many others. As one Black twitter user responding to a video of largely White supporters at the event noted-

Recent news on Hillary Clinton, alternatively, has focused positively on her speech on racism at Harlem. This bodes positively for her campaign, as she seems to be counting on a racial gap in support between her and Sanders. That said, her current success seems less like she has become a favorite among Black voters so much as that she hasn’t yet done anything to illicit the types of responses Sanders has gotten. As someone positioning her potential presidency as in many ways an extension of Obama’s, many of the more nuanced critiques of him and many more will likely be applied to her as well.

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Building Better Districts

Things are beginning to heat up not just in the Presidential primaries, but in more local elections around the US as well. While the writing has long been on the wall for some of the most effectively gerrymandered districts of Virginia Republicans, it wasn’t clear who would necessarily be the biggest loser in a similar campaign for better district boundaries in Florida.

It looked like Democrat Corrine Brown might actually be the most threatened sitting representative by the redesign of her district. As a “dump” district designed to absorb Democratic-leaning Black voters making most nearby districts more easily won by Republicans, her individual interest in keeping her familiar district aligned with those of the state’s Republican Party. Worse yet for the Democrats, the idea was floated that Brown’s district might be expanded into a neighboring district held by fellow Democrat Gwen Graham. In short, an effort to redraw Florida’s districts so there wouldn’t be such a marked difference between districts seemed like it might just exacerbate that problem.

The new congressional map has been released and Brown actually appears to have avoided that worst possible outcome. Her prior district contributes nearly forty percent of the population in her new one, but so does the former tenth district. Her personal political charm will be put to the test with a largely new electorate she has to appeal to. Whether it’s Brown herself or one of her primary challengers who becomes the Democratic nominee, the new district won’t have lost much of its Democratic-leaning character. By one estimate it will be at least a D+10 to the former district’s D+16.

There’s some similar shuffling of populations that will happen to other Democrat-held districts further south within the state, but the ultimate results are more or less the same. While this might disrupt individual Democratic office-holder’s local support, it’s unlikely to cost the Democratic Party as a whole any of these seats. In an odd way, the increased jockeying within the Party might create an environment in which better candidates rise to the forefront of the Democratic Party in Florida.

That is not an apt description of how the redistricting is going to affect Republican representative Daniel Webster. His tenth district doesn’t appear to move very far on the map, unlike Brown’s radically reinvented district. Some of the more rural western parts of it are shaved off, however, and the district incorporates parts of Orlando which were previously carved out of it. The subtle changes are in high enough density areas to make a huge difference: not even forty percent of its original population is still in it.

2016-01-29_13452016-01-29_1342.png
(Left – the former 10th District, Right – the new 10th District. From here.)

This isn’t the kind of situation that Brown finds herself in either, where her losing the district would almost certainly be to another Democrat. Webster’s district is, by most counts, going to be almost as Democratic-leaning as Brown’s new one, and at the cost of most likely zero current Democratic-leaning districts.

While an extremely moderate Republican might be able to shed their skin in classic Floridan political fashion, Webster is fairly fringe. Recently, he was the Freedom Caucus’ alternative to Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) for Speaker of the House. One of the Webster’s premier political accomplishments dates back to his years within the Florida state government, where in 2008 he pioneered a set of anti-abortion restrictions that would ultimately become the widespread requirement of a transvaginal ultrasound. Walking that back to appeal to a roughly D+10 district seems rather unlikely.

This might be the future of representative reorganization in the US: Democratic complacency getting a bit of a shake-up and Republicans falling by the wayside of an electorate that they don’t reflect.

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A limited socialism

Trigger Warning: racism, slavery, lynching

Earlier this week, I noted that Bernie Sanders’ socialism quite abruptly runs aground when applied to some groups peripheral to a lot of his politics. The reality of poverty in the Middle East is something his political view of the world apparently can’t accept, and so he had to essentially deny the reality that the United States is the wealthier nation in almost every respect when interacting with even resource-rich countries like Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

Over the course of this week, a strange domestic cousin to this apparently has come out as a part of what is driving down support for Sanders within many Black political circles. I just wanted to briefly point to what struck me as vital explanations of how Sanders’ comes across on this issue. The always fascinating Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote on Sanders’ statements about reparations:

This is the “class first” approach, originating in the myth that racism and socialism are necessarily incompatible. But raising the minimum wage doesn’t really address the fact that black men without criminal records have about the same shot at low-wage work as white men with them; nor can making college free address the wage gap between black and white graduates. […] Sanders’s anti-racist moderation points to a candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument. To briefly restate it, from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and governments—federal, state, and local—repeatedly plundered black communities. Their methods included everything from land-theft, to red-lining, to disenfranchisement, to convict-lease labor, to lynching, to enslavement, to the vending of children. So large was this plunder that America, as we know it today, is simply unimaginable without it. […] judged by his platform, Sanders should be directly confronted and asked why his political imagination is so active against plutocracy, but so limited against white supremacy. Jim Crow and its legacy were not merely problems of disproportionate poverty. Why should black voters support a candidate who does not recognize this?

I think Imani Gandy quite succinctly wrapped up the issue on twitter a day later:

Much of the presidential campaign so far has been about parsing the ways in which Donald Trump wants to redirect economic redistribution towards certain (implicitly, White) communities. Bernie Sanders’ radical language for himself and his ideas has helped him avoid a similar examination so far, but it’s worth checking to see in what ways he hopes to address the social, economic, and political inequalities felt by people of color.

His treatment so far of those unique experiences as simply more common in communities of color is stopping short of directly addressing them. If that’s the level of consideration his political philosophy has for people of color, it doesn’t really sound like it exists for them.

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Study, mourn, and respond

TW: abortion, sexism, racism, islamophobia, police violence, gun violence

It seems like there’s violence and intimidation cropping up in almost every corner of public life in the United States. This past week, most media coverage and most of my writing on here has focused on the parsing Donald Trump’s language and politics. Today, let me link you to a few examinations and responses to that that were all too easy to overlook this past week.

Anti-abortion violence has crept across the US

UltraViolet came out with a new graphic showing the steady background noise that violence against abortion providers has become in this country. It ticks through the attacks on clinics that have happened in the past ten years, which reveal them to be periodic occurrences, a part of normal life for those working at them.

uv_abortion_clinic_attacks_since_1995

The image was created within a broader push for greater security at those and related locations, given a sense of urgency after the recent attack in Colorado Springs.

Japan: not quite your islamophobic ally

Originally posted by an NRA administrator but quickly picked up by a variety of conservative media figures, a graphic praising Japanese restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of movement and economic activities has gone viral overnight.

GlobalVoices has a great rundown of how critics from vloggers to Japanese public officials have debunked basically every bullet point it lists, but I suspect that’s not really the point. It’s something of a perfect collision of an overwhelming paranoia of Muslims and an exotifying and isolating view of parts of Asia (chiefly Japan) – the legal, social, and economic realities built by and for members of either of those groups aren’t really relevant to the racist revulsion and fascination now on full display.

The public memorial

In the wake of the many recent violent incidents and prominent calls for more violence, something like a memorial, a place for people to gather in mourning and to commit themselves to peace instead, has a lot of appeal.

A group of organizations, most of them multi-issue but growing out labor organization, have created something like an online version of that. It opens asking “Is this America?” before criticizing the violence against abortion providers, police violence towards Black people, and islamophobic and racist rhetoric. It ends with an affirmation that “We are better than this.”

If that fails to move you, you can continue scrolling, past the organizations and leaders who wrote this statement and into the thicket of average citizen signatories. You are not alone in wanting something better.

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How HIV/AIDS warns us

Trigger warning: HIV/AIDS, heterosexism, cissexism, anti-Black racism

Once again, it’s World AIDS Day. Just like last year, there’s no google doodle, which helps dampen the discussion around HIV/AIDS as an on-going problem. It probably didn’t help stir up conversation around the issue that rather recently the disease has already been in the news – either because of price gouging on immunodeficiency drugs or new research into a possible HIV vaccine.

That vaccine – which pushes the limits of common definitions of a vaccine because of HIV’s unique viral structures – actually demonstrates what can happen when public interests are privatized. While to some extent publicly funded (too much to the taste of some), research into ways to combat HIV/AIDS has long sought either this type of vaccine or similar solutions designed around preventing the spread of HIV. What medical options exist for the millions already infected worldwide – who are disproportionately LGBT and Black – is kind of ominously given less focus.

Zambia
A public sign reading “Know your HIV status” in Simonga, Zambia, from here.

This isn’t a new dynamic either. From its inception, the HIV/AIDS crisis was greeted with solutions aimed at containment. From the early debates over abstinence versus protected sex, to the recent sexual revolution heralded by PrEP and PEP, that’s been where most public attention, professional research, and money has gone. A vaccine is just another chapter in that history.

There’s some understandable reasons for the emphasis on preventing infection, admittedly. In the early years of the epidemic, HIV was really baffling, and so medically treating it was basically guesswork. Preventing infections was the easiest and best way to save lives, and to a large extent remains so. Even now, when living with HIV has become less difficult and dangerous, having options for both HIV positive and HIV negative people to choose between in order to reduce risk of infection has its benefits. People can use methods that work best for them – what’s wrong with that?

The logic there is subtly consumerist, of course. The funds – public and private – that have gone into developing different ways of addressing HIV look in the long run more like business research and development. The Martin Shkreli controversy should once again remind us that the medical items designed and tested with those resources, are increasingly lining the pockets of a private medical industry.

Like any business, they’ve assessed their potential clients – and they saw little money to be made in a tighter focus on the marginalized populations with the highest infection rates. Prevention has a broader set of potentially customers, a section of whom have more disposable income than the average person in sub-Saharan Africa or transgender woman in the industrialized world.

The social costs of that commercial outlook have been staggering.

hiv aids subsaharan africa
(From here.)

Since I mentioned this in light of the more market-driven solutions being touted on climate change, I will admit, those are two radically different issues. The flaws inherent in a response to global warming that values certain populations over others will look different than the preference for prevention over treatment in HIV/AIDS research. That said, who’s to say that isn’t already happening?

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Marley’s Ghost

Marley was dead, to begin with.

Well before “once upon a time,” Dickens paints us a portrait of Ebenezer Scrooge, which seems to have more to do with Jacob Marley, his late business partner. While there’s quite a lot of talk of Marley, and his being dead, and tangential notes about ironmongery and Shakespeare, the characterization here serves to suggest something. Scrooge himself is all but dead.

Over Scrooge’s (and previously, Marley’s) warehouse hang still, both of their names, and “people new to the business [at times] called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes [called him] Marley, but he answered to both names.” If that’s merely a path of least resistance to their confusion, Scrooge plods along it oddly, feeling no strange stirrings over being called by the name of his dead friend – “It was all the same to him.”

More than emotionally deadened, he seems beyond almost any sensation as “heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge.”Physically, Dickens describes Scrooge as weathered, like a corpse. “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait, made his eyes red, his thin lips blue” – that doesn’t sound much like someone who’s living, in any sense does it?

Finally, in the social sphere, Scrooge was also largely outside the vibrant living world. “Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ‘My dear Scrooge, how are you?  When will you come to see me?'” Scrooge, in his rare moments of agency, walks in a way encouraging others to stay away and “warning all human sympathy to keep its distance”.

Before we reach the sentence “Once upon a time – of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve – old Scrooge sat busy in his countinghouse” we have been told in Dickens’ typically flowery prose that Scrooge’s harshness has left him in essence dead.

scrooged2
From here.

How does someone already dead to the world – emotionally, spiritually, socially – interact with people?  Now that the story has started in earnest, most people are familiar with a few of the basics. Scrooge doesn’t care for the basic comfort of his clerk, who has draped a comforter over himself in the woefully inadequately heated office. Scrooge discounts his visiting nephew’s well wishes, invitation to dinner, and even cheerful call for help for the unfortunate. The only moment he expresses something like interest or pride in him is when he thinks about how his nephew could capitalize on his speaking ability with a run for political office.

His nephew and his clerk, both yet unnamed, aren’t people to him. They’re investments. Sometimes they don’t yield what’s expected of them, or perform in ways that don’t fully utilize their apparent strengths. At other times, they even incur unexpected costs – like his clerk whom he warns he would fire if he used more coal to warm himself with. Like most investments, they’re easy to quickly and cleanly dispose if they run past their expected liabilities.

Those are a member of his family and a coworker. If they’re so thoroughly less than living, breathing humans to him, what chance do impoverished strangers have? We find out exactly how vastly little they mean to him when some visitors approach him, asking for donations for the poor.

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentlemen, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses,” demanded Scrooge, “are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

[…]

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas, and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

This is where, sadly, what Dickens wrote nearly two centuries ago, becomes horrifyingly familiar. Over the past few decades, debtors’ prisons have reemerged as a part of the judicial terrain in many parts of the United States. Nationally, the welfare system has been restructured to reduce benefits and add work requirements. The effects have been catastrophic, and prominent voices in our society have been asking for even more “reforms” along those lines.

So far, the ways in which Scrooge accepts the social disposal of those unworthy of his attention have been terrible, but non-lethal. He threatens to lay off his clerk, tries to estrange his nephew, and calls for the imprisonment and exploitation of the poor. The ultimate price impoverishment can exact is mentioned, and he doesn’t flinch.

“Many can’t go there, and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it and decrease the surplus population. […]”

We can gaze back at Scrooge, declaring that a few years before the Great Famine in Ireland in which the government and well-to-do in the United Kingdom made horrifyingly clear which populations it thought were in surplus. From our tidier future, that seems so horrible and reflective of another time. Nowadays, in discussions about the deportation of millions of people, even someone like Donald Trump, takes care to stress that no one would be killed.

In spite of that, however. We live in a future in which a staggering number do needlessly die. They die at the hands of the police in moments of fear created or heightened by racial paranoia. They die for providing a legal medical service. They die from lack of access to medical and social services.

Greeted with that stomach-churning reality, many do what Scrooge does. They retreat to their own world, or wherever they won’t be confronted by the lives (and deaths) of those without.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned, “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

With his visitors shortly cast out, Scrooge heads home in the fog and the cold. There’s a flood of scenes familiar to most who have watched an adaptation – Marley’s head appears in the doorknob, the dark stairwell to Scrooge’s room seems haunted by a hearse, and Scrooge somehow manages to after those unsettling images sit in his room by the fire. Then, the house’s bells peal and Marley’s ghost arrives.

Marley comes bearing a message that echoes the deadened nature of Scrooge’s life that we’ve seen so far. He has fashioned himself his own ghostly chains, made in his mortal life by cutting himself off from the concerns of others and which in his next life will weigh him down confine him to that distance.

The situation explained by Marley’s while his hair and clothing wafts “as by the hot vapor of an oven” recalls a parable from Luke. One of the few biblical accounts that depict a fiery hell, a rich man damned for his miserliness pleads with those in heaven to let him or other dead be seen by the living to tell them to help the poor or suffer. In the biblical tale, those in heaven shrug off the suggestion, but in “A Christmas Carol,” we hear of Scrooge’s glimpse at precisely that.

Having delivered the warning to be charitable and expect furthering hauntings from other guests, Marley extends Scrooge’s vision outside. He sees in summary what he has been warned about.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none was free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to his ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom he saw below, upon a doorstep

With that image of what fate awaits someone like him, Scrooge seems to continue to rely on his strategy of withdrawal, and goes to bed.

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One #YearWithoutTamir

Trigger warning: anti-Black racism, gun violence, police violence

Today marks the one year anniversary of Tamir Rice’s death in Cleveland. A Black twelve year old, he was playing in a park near his home with a legal, fake gun. Someone called the police, complaining, and within two seconds of their arrival on the scene, one officer had shot him. Tamir Rice died the following day – November 23, 2014. The killing was legally deemed reasonable after an investigation which the police department used to charge fees to Tamir Rice’s family for holding his body.

In commemoration, activists delivered some 20,000 signatures to a petition calling for the sitting county prosecutor to step aside or step down to his office. Their rebuke here is clear – the system has failed to work, and needs to be challenged to provide justice for the Black community of Cleveland and specifically Tamir Rice’s family.

tamir rice petitions

For more in depth coverage on this subject, I recommend Jamil Smith’s writing and recording at the New Republic. He ties what has happened to Tamir Rice to what is now happening to #BlackLivesMatter activists at Donald Trump rallies, both painting a moving picture of what has already been lost and delivering a haunting warning about who else is at risk.

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Shots across the bow

Trigger waring: climate change, food insecurity, anti-Black racism

The attacks in Paris have dominated the broader news cycle all week as well as my writing on here. That’s exactly the type of situation I started Let Me Link You Fridays to help counteract, so here’s a short list of other events that caught my eye recently. Maybe the attacks in Paris put everyone on edge, because almost everyone was firing shots across the bow at someone or other.

GMOs: not all they’re cracked up to be?

Greenpeace, an environmental organization largely known for activist efforts other than opposing genetically modified (GM) crops, responded to the recent rebranding of genetic modification in agriculture. Seemingly encouraged by the defeat of GM labeling initiatives in 2012 and by the increasing market prominence of GM salmon, advocates of the new technologies have trotted out a number of older arguments for GM products. Chief among them is that the GM industry, which many GM advocates are critical of for its gene patenting and heavy use of pesticides, is separable from the GM technologies which might improve food security and yield other benefits for marginal communities around the rapidly crowding and warming world.

The report released by Greenpeace earlier this month doesn’t mince words on those arguments. The very title of it – “Twenty Years of Failure” – cuts to the core issue with many of those claims. If either GM technologies or the groups wielding them actually could resolve the problems in the world’s food systems, why haven’t they had any measurable impact in that way yet? It notes that literally all genetic modifications are designed with a highly industrialized agricultural model in mind – the same one that has outcompeted fragile food economies in some of the poorest parts of the world. What’s left in GM crops’ favor are only a few hypothetical improvements – better crop yields, ready-made adaptations to climate change, and other changes they haven’t yet been developed and for which local and traditional food production systems often have an already tangible alternative waiting in the wings.

Who doesn’t count in the Census?

More domestically, the American Prospect asked what might happen as a result of increased pressure on the Census Bureau to count the country’s population with online means. An aggressive inclusion of face-to-face counting was the order of the day in 2000 and 2010, and appears to have helped reduce the miscount discrepancy between White people and people of color to historic lows.

As the Census Bureau’s own website makes clear, the assessment of how many people live in a given area is among the deciding factors that “determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services.” Those are the medical, educational, and other community services that people of color in the US have inadequate access to – in part because censuses regularly undercount them where they live and overcount White people where they live.

The American Prospect notes that there is a partisan dimension to this. It’s a largely Republican effort to defund the Census Bureau. The loss of funds is mostly likely to affect the availability of the Bureau’s face-to-face services and other strategies key to creating the most accurate count, so that the government can serve all its citizens.

Who doesn’t count at the polls?

 

The Republicans weren’t just under fire for the racially-charged outcomes of their policies – they also showed they weren’t interested in backing down on those issues. A local court case about Virginia’s state legislative districts, which found that the Black population had been gerrymandered into a single district, has been appealed and may be heard by the US Supreme Court. Considering that the Republicans appealing the case neither live in the district nor represent it, they may be found to lack standing on the matter. Sticking their necks out like that seems a bit bold, possibly in a way that’s more likely to backfire than overturn the decision they disagree with.

One other act of boldness has been the claim from Virginia Republicans that the gerrymandered district was mandated under the (now defunct) preclearance system put in place by the Voting Rights Act. With the NAACP among the organizations arguing that this effectively disenfranchised the Black population of Virginia, and even presenting alternative maps, it’s a bit difficult to believe that the Republicans just had to limit Democratic-leaning Black voters to essentially a single district.

This is a bit of a warning shot that Republicans may argue in the many gerrymandering districts that the alternative to maps which pack Democratic-leaning demographics into “dump districts” are somehow what they were forced to comply with under preclearance. It’s also a bold move, if accepted by the courts, since it would force the plaintiffs to choose between supporting the reinstatement of preclearance (designed to prevent voter suppression measures) or advocating for non-gerrymandered districts. Those are two different issues, ultimately about different things, but Republicans look like they’re hoping to muddy the waters between the two.

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The featured image was produced from 2010 census data of New York City. Red dots represent 25 White residents. Blue are 25 Black residents; green are 25 Asian residents; orange are 25 Latin@ residents; yellow are 25 who marked other. From here.

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Police unions or Black lives: what kind of Democratic Party will this be?

Trigger warning: anti-Black racism, police violence, gun violence mention

Tonight’s Democratic Presidential Primary debate, which I’ll be liveblogging here, is an opportunity for observation. The three major candidates – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sitting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley – have all had various reactions and responses to the many different populist and grassroots political demands made in both the general electorate and within the Democratic Party itself over the past couple of years. While they discuss those and other issues on stage next to each other, something of a contest is unofficially being held, to see what ideas “win” the debate, in terms of both being highly visible and being effectively asserted.

With all three of those candidates having at least once put their foot in their mouth on the current popular discussion around anti-Black racism and police violence, one thing being measured tonight is whether (and if so, how) will they pick apart the increasingly elaborate falsehoods surrounding the police forces in the US as both worryingly vulnerable. The past several months have seen a prominent return of forms of violence sadly familiar to Black communities in this country, with the killings of among others Sandra Bland in police custody.

That violence cuts to the core of the modern Democratic Party, which arguably arose out of Fannie Lou Hamer’s demand for civil rights and political agency at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She recounted a part of her personal history – from facing housing and employment discrimination for attempting to register to vote to its ultimate conclusion of her being violently beaten in a jail cell for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time while Black. Her experiences were sadly typical for her time and have continued into the modern day with deaths like Bland’s. The modern Democratic Party has been profoundly shaped by her testimony, so it is key to ask tonight how each of those candidates carry forward the lessons she asked the people in this country to learn.

Police force members and others aligned with them have sought to obscure that reality, that those specific forms of violence are an on-going problem. Recently, a blatant misinformation campaign of sorts has been launched – misrepresenting the risks of police work and decrying that the police are under excessive surveillance on the job. The numbers are publicly accessible, however, and paint a different picture of slowly but steadily declining non-accidental deaths for officers who are on the job (2003 and 2008 were the only Bush era years with fewer than 50 gunfire deaths, while only 2010 and 2011 have had more than 50 gunfire deaths during the Obama era). The talk surrounding increasing oversight on police conduct has been born out of incidental recordings – sometimes those used to observe other people who are on the job – finding astounding discrepancies between police eyewitness and video testimony.

blm caravan Los AngelesA sign from a Los Angeles #BlackLivesMatter affiliated protest on October 10, from here.

Since Fannie Lou Hamer’s challenge to the Democratic Party, it has become increasingly common outside of Black communities to associate the police and their political pressures with the Republican Party. That’s a mistake, as they are a unionized portion of the public sector workforce. Like most such groups, they do skew towards the Democrats – and donation records (available only in aggregate between police and firefighter groups) show virtually all of their top recipients being Democratic Party members. With the Republican Party making an effort to show that those two unionized groups won’t face the same degree and forms of hostility under their governance as other public sector unions and a large chunk of Democrat-leaning constituencies increasingly critical of the broader system of policing in this country, that is threatening to change. If Democratic candidates want to maintain their edge with that specific type of union, they will likely have to signal their investment in the existing police force tonight. Police force members and organizers will be tuning in and want to see the Democratic candidates side with them over their critics.

In many politically-minded disciplines, it’s increasingly common to find people discussing power as at least in part the ability “to define reality” in the sense of psychologically organizing and labeling the complex world we all share. People with power – which can mean anything from people simply with certain communal or personal identities that are privileged as well as individually empowered people, like major presidential contenders – play a key role in declaring what is real. What the candidates tonight have is inherently a moment in which they have to pick a side in a contest for policy control in the Democratic Party and make it clear how they see the world (and in the process, influence how people like you and me can respond to their rhetoric and their policies). Tonight we will see what choices they make, among other things in terms of embracing, ignoring, or rejecting false ideas that some people are desperate to popularize about the police.

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Onwards and upwards, but not for all

Trigger warning: gun violence, racism

Yesterday, ten people died and seven were injured in a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Motivated by the public outcry, President Obama gave a speech on the event and the issues it raises yesterday which still dominates my newsfeed and in all likelihood yours as well. He laid out a basic argument for gun control and against a hypervigilance for over-regulation of firearms and related weapons:

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston.  It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation.  Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out:  We need more guns, they’ll argue.  Fewer gun safety laws.

Does anybody really believe that?  There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country –they know that’s not true.  We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws — including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

That is understandably deeply moving. It taps into one of the great beliefs in the United States about this country – that we are an evolving country, tethered by traditions but not ensnared by them. We can – and do – blaze forward, the story goes, changing ourselves in order to make life better. This story is sometimes about this type of regulation on a product, but can also come in the form of appeals to how the franchise has expanded, widening the voting population towards something today considered to be an approximation of universal suffrage. Obama is, I suspect, quite consciously marrying those two tales together, crediting the ostensibly safer and healthier life of the average US citizen to the theoretically democratic achievements of this country. We can literally vote ourselves to safety.

Unfortunately, it’s increasingly unclear that any part of this narrative is true. Past regulations on firearms and present day regulations on cars and other products Obama later mentions were opposed at almost every step by a major industry if not several. Those two are some of the most successful campaigns for that matter. Even as cars have reduced the dangers in an accident, they’ve gotten better at concealing their emissions, disguising the threat they pose to a stable and useful climate for us and ultimately everyone else in the world. Almost all of these improvements are rooted in economic bottom lines. It’s better to make a product that doesn’t easily and regularly kill your customers – that’s just basic business sense. But longer term damage to its consumers, to their descendants, and to the broader world can just be “externalities“, at least for much longer than that other kind of threat.

When it comes to more general issues of social and economic security that same statistics crop up repeatedly showing that many problems have lingered or even worsened. Food insecurity remains prevalent in the US. Union membership – long a bulwark for lower and middle classes to protect their interests – has drastically declined, as has (for that and other reasons) the political effectiveness of unions. Fear of poverty, of want, and of homelessness are barely considerations in the economic and political system in which we live, and so have at best been allowed, and at worst encouraged as “motivation“. The idea that we have become safer than those before us downplays these concerns and denies the observable reality that sometimes things actually have gotten worse.

Suffrage, still full of historical holes like felon disenfranchisement, has recently taken a hit from the dismantling of the pre-clearance system. Already, Alabama appears to be coordinating mass suppression of voters of color in advance of the 2016 election with no effective federal oversight. Other states are likely to follow suit. Even before that structural link in US democracy crumbled, we were already facing an effective plutocratic check on at the very least national elections, and by one study’s standards, were no longer a democracy, but rather an oligarchy. A majority of people in this country – citizens or not – might want basic regulations on weapons, but does that mean anything? For years, in spite of popular outcry, it hasn’t.

katrinaNew Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, from here.

Further along in his speech, Obama presented what he viewed as a few analogues to what he hopes we could accomplish on gun control, saying among other things, “When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.” One needs only point to Katrina as an example of how limited those improvements often can be. Over a thousand died, and over a million were displaced. More valued populations threatened by later hurricanes have been better protected, so perhaps the government learned something from that disaster. But those lessons learned in catastrophe haven’t been applied to repair the still hurting (and specifically Black) communities in New Orleans, but to preserve the business centers of Houston and the greater New York area. In fact, as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina created the opportunity for a wealthier and Whiter demographic to move in and replace dead or displaced residents, parts of New Orleans seem poised to attain a similar status, only without the people who originally lived there.

Progress appears to be a privilege, increasingly reserved only for some in this society. It seems vital that we ask who gets left behind, and not only when the answer is “almost everyone.”

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The Five Most Crucial Moments in Last Night’s Debate

Trigger warning: anti-immigrant rhetoric, racism, linguistic imperialism, slavery, abortion, colonialism, islamophobia

Last night, fifteen candidates in the Republican Presidential Primary appeared on CNN over the course of two debates lasting five hours. Almost every word said by their entire group will cast longer shadows than I think most realize, not only through the primary, but into the general election. In such a crowded and raucous field, these individual statements are going to define how many people think about the Republican Party and will play a key role regardless of whether the candidate who said them is necessarily nominated. Here are the five that stood out to me as most emphatically defining the party and its eventual nominee to the general public.

Lindsey Graham didn’t dogwhistle quietly enough

In the lower tier debate round, a number of candidates were asked to speak at greater length on immigration policy than those in the upper tier. For many, the trick was to both avoid alienating statements about immigration that could harm their favorability with many ethnic communities or that would mark them as opposed to the heavy-handed approach to immigration that appears to have built Donald Trump a base of support overnight.

Lindsey Graham intriguingly attempted to not only triangulate between those two diametrically opposed constituencies but also stress the policy desires of business interests within the Republican coalition with the argument that immigration is necessary to maintain economic efficiency. That third consideration may have been too many balls in the air for him to juggle properly, and led to him speaking a bit less indirectly to the racial and ethnic dimensions of anti-immigration sentiments within the Republican Party. As Graham himself put it-

I have a little different take on where the country is going on this issue. Number one, in 1950, there were 16 workers for every retiree. How many are there today? There’s three. In 20 years, there’s going to be two, and you’re going to have 80 million baby boomers like me retiree in mass wanting a Social Security check, and their Medicare bills paid. We’re going to need more legal immigration. Let’s just make it logical. Let’s pick people from all over the world on our terms, not just somebody from Mexico. […] We’re not going to deport 11 million people here illegally, but we’ll start with felons, and off they go. And, as to the rest, you can stay, but you got to learn our language. I don’t speak it very well, well, look how far I’ve come? Speaking English is a good thing. […] I never met an illegal Canadian.

Part of what this reveals is that the comparatively pro-immigration business wing of the Republican Party is quite comfortable with racially and ethnically charged devaluing of specifically Latin@ immigrants, but more broadly immigrants of color in general. That isn’t precisely groundbreaking, but potentially Graham made that obvious to people who hadn’t seen or realized it before. Their alternative to a total restriction on immigration is a restitution of sorts of the historical immigration policies the US has had, which encouraged the “right kind” of immigrants. Whether that will as neatly translate into racially and ethnically “desirable” immigrants as it historically has remains to be seen, but the emphasis on racial and ethnic contrasts between Canada and Mexico that Graham relies on seem to suggest that that’s the case.

With Graham failing to subtly reassure the anti-immigrant parts of the Republican base without telegraphing the racially and ethnically-charged nature of his immigration platform, you would think his dodge and miss would have led to an outcry. According to the google analytics, however, he captured most of the attention over the course of the lower tier debate. He failed to come off as being motivated by legality rather than race and ethnicity in animus towards immigrants, but he managed to appeal to two other typically Republican constituencies: White nativists and the business community. If that benefits him, that will confirm for many hesitant voters what the Republican Party stands for and what policies it as a cultural force wants to advance.

Did Carson just say he wants to reintroduce slavery?

Speaking of the ultimate fate of the millions of undocumented people in the country, Ben Carson touted his plan for them in more extemporaneous detail that he previously has. On the face of it, it’s quite garden variety Republican policy. The currently undocumented people in the US can’t receive citizenship directly without penalty because that would be “jumping the line” or something similar in the eyes of anti-immigrant groups. Carson takes a page from both the compassionate conservative and business community however, and rejected at least the official language of deportation or the immediate hostility towards a guest worker program. The policy carved out by those separate rejections is that immigrants will be offered a guest working program with potentially the eventual ability to apply for citizenship, but with a number of restrictions placed on that to make it as inaccessible for them as possible.

What Carson added last night to that was the florid image that this workforce bereft of the benefits of citizenship would be toiling, specifically, in the fields. The tone of it calls into question whether those guest worker statuses would permit them much latitude in choosing the nature of their work, their employer, and other basic rights taken for granted by many. In effect, they would constitute a legally captive labor force with slim chances dependent on others’ mercy to be granted protections and liberties purported for all but actually reserved for a few.

slaves in fieldUnnamed slaves in a field by an uncredited photographer. From here.

Does that strike anyone else as sounding familiar?

Unlike Graham, Carson isn’t auditioning to make it out of the lower tier of candidates but is rather attempting to maintain his upper-to-middle-of-the-pack status. What’s more, he has to do this as a Black man in a primary election defined by voicing anger, something he may not be able to do without facing negative repercussions others wouldn’t. From those two facts spring a selection of uncomfortable possibilities.

However these statements affect his rank will speak loudly about what exactly it means to be a Republican and more generally vote or support for any of them. Beyond that, they are also a reflection of the historical amnesia and detachment from present realities to be a plausible Black Republican candidate. Simultaneously, this is showcasing to the broader public the policies desired within Republican circles and reflecting the limitations and requirements put upon Black people within those spaces.

Fiorina tried tapping into Trump’s base’s anger

Just before the first debate I tweeted a couple of questions that I wanted anyone reading to keep in mind while watching. One of the most important in retrospect was-

With Carly Fiorina rising from the lower tier and Carson’s surge to second place in many polls, those two candidates seemed both best poised to use their momentum to capitalize on any weakness by Trump. The actual answer to this appears to have been, intriguingly: both.

Carson focused on being an affable contrast to Trump, down to a very even-tempered and counter-conflict personality. He was careful to appear to be that directly towards Trump as well, potentially shaving support off of Trump’s by being policy-wise similar but potentially more palatable from a social standpoint.

Fiorina, alternatively, wasn’t interested in playing the good cop to Trump’s bad cop. She worked to outdo Trump himself in channeling the anger that catapulted him to the front of the polls. She used that far more strategically, building to a fiery crescendo that drew some of the biggest applause of the night:

While Carson may have made some small in roads with a careful play, Fiorina took a big risk in trying to bottle Trump’s base’s anger and redirect it, largely not towards Latin@ immigrants but towards comprehensive healthcare and Iranians. The hostility towards those seen as less important and less socially valuable is maintained, but put to work in ways that safely advance Republican policies more directly in line with the party’s economic elite, in terms of dismantling the health provisions for low income women and boldly insisting on absolute fidelity towards US interests by other countries.

Part of Trump’s whole appeal is that he is breaking the establishment’s mold, so it’s unclear that Fiorina’s play won’t backfire. Keep your eyes peeled to see if the party’s core can camouflage itself with the periphery’s fiery emotions.

The first casualty is the truth

For many this is unsurprising. Everyone expects politicians to fudge the truth in their favor. What’s more, to be fair it can be pretty difficult to be on-call to speak with complete accuracy on all sorts of topics the way they must. That said, the stretched truths in this debate reflect a growing problem within Republican politics, however, where the entire basis for a set of policy decisions is a complete fabrication. The problem is no longer a lie that’s convenient but that’s the entire foundation of a political stance. Immediately after Fiorina’s denouncement of a Planned Parenthood video a whole slew of tweets like this one went out:

The supposed torture of a not only viable fetus, but one that was living after being aborted should, in a reasonable world, tip people off that what’s being stated isn’t true. Not only did that false anecdote prompt invective and applause, however, but it’s the emotional crux at the heart of the fierce demands for absolute defunding of Planned Parenthood.

My own personal version of this was the insistence that not only do most countries not have “birthright citizenship” but that, according to Trump, Mexico is one of them. In a word, that’s wrong.

More generally, while most of the world does indeed have its citizenship system based in jus sanguinis (family background) rather than jus soli (location of birth), the normal state of things in mainland countries in the Americas is to have a basis in jus soli – only Colombia is an exception to that. So, while there is a technical global rejection of that, the hemisphere-wide norm is one that the US fits. The idea of us being strange in terms of that and specifically different from Mexico is, however, the basis of an argument for undoing our legal standards for how citizenship is passed down to specifically target communities of recent immigrants.

One both issues, major candidates are not only stretching the truth, but creating an idea of what is true to validate a political stance that has made them wildly popular. I’ve written before about the unrealness of politics in the US and an emerging post-truth politics, but this is a jolting resurrection of those attitudes after they proved rather useless in the 2012 elections.

Rand Paul endorses secular dicatorships

For those who have been reading this blog for many years, you might remember my misgivings with the libertarian counter to standard Republican security policy. In a nutshell, the criticisms don’t seem to be motivated by much concern for the people most likely to experience violence justified in the name of “national security” so much as fear that that violence is likely to eventually be used against other groups or otherwise is poorly supervised. Rand Paul has long been the most visible example of those types of pseudo-dovish politics on a national stage. He didn’t disappoint on that last night when he explained-

[S]ometimes intervention sometimes makes us less safe. This is real the debate we have to have in the Middle East. Every time we have toppled a secular dictator, we have gotten chaos, the rise of radical Islam, and we’re more at risk. So, I think we need to think before we act, and know most interventions, if not a lot of them in the Middle East, have actually backfired on us.

The possible concern for how US military interventions negatively affect people in the targeted countries is papered over with the fear that they jeopardize if not undermine other US policy objectives. Out of the mouth of the libertarian candidate, supposed speaker for liberty in the room, comes a defense of secular dictatorships in the Middle East, which outside of Syria have by and large operated with significant US support. This is the alternative within the GOP’s major candidates to a neoconservative crypto-colonial approach towards the Middle East: a selective mix of that and a more historied colonial attitude that democracy is a privilege we can deny other nations. That not only limits the debate in that room but speaks to what the limits of the Republican Party’s policies are.

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A transcript of the main round of the debate can be found here, and a transcript of the initial round here.

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