Tag Archives: new york

What parts of congress to watch

One of the most fascinating moments in Sunday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was this exchange, concerning the checks and balances that glue together our federal government:

CLINTON: Well, here we go again. I’ve been in favor of getting rid of carried interest for years, starting when I was a senator from New York. But that’s not the point here.

TRUMP: Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t you do it?

[…]

CLINTON: Because I was a senator with a Republican president.

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: I will be the president and we will get it done. That’s exactly right.

TRUMP: You could have done it, if you were an effective — if you were an effective senator, you could have done it. If you were an effective senator, you could have done it. But you were not an effective senator.

[…]

CLINTON: You know, under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power. Look, he has now said repeatedly, “30 years this and 30 years that.” So let me talk about my 30 years in public service. I’m very glad to do so.

It gives us a stark contrast between the two of them, and their comparatively normative political approach and Jacksonian strongman theory of politics respectively. But it also serves as a reminder that try as they might neither candidate would really be capable of governing alone. They’re not running for a dictatorial position, just a key linchpin in a bigger political system. So, who else should we watch in the coming weeks?

REPUBLICAN BACKLASH: AGAINST TRUMP OR AGAINST STATE GOVERNMENTS?

The Democrats face a steeper climb than the Republicans in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, given that they have to make up for lost seats from the 2014 midterm election and consolidate large enough supermajorities to overcome procedural blocks – namely the Senate’s filibuster.

Luckily for them, however, in several Republican-held seats they now can run something of a double-hitter against those GOP incumbents. Several Republican-run state governments have been embroiled in serious scandals or become nationally embarrassing over the course of the same election year as the national nomination of Donald Trump for president. Republican-leaning voters are in many corners of the country divided as to which candidates to support. What’s more, the competition between national figures within the Party has left many of them with contradictory queues in terms of how to vote.

These dynamics play out in similar ways in various parts of the country. In Kansas, there’s Governor Brownback’s Republican state administration which has bankrupted basic state services. In Michigan, it’s that Governor Rick Snyder (R) is implicated in mass water contamination. Likewise, in Maine Republican governor Paul LePage seemingly says a new outrageous thing each day.

In four, key, Republican-held congressional districts in those states, the GOP has a slight advantage given that most voters are White and suburban-dwelling, but the compounded scandals have chipped away at their lead. The effect has made KS-02, MI-06, MI-07, and ME-02 all unexpectedly more competitive than originally perceived because of how toxic the Republican Party has become in those places.

THE CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATS: THE CONTINUING MARCH FROM THE SEA

I wrote quite a bit about this dynamic often overlooked in the national press in the last presidential cycle, in 2012. As national politics are coalesced around a pluralistic and urban Democratic Party and a nationalistic and rural Republican Party, the electoral map in California has fallen into a predictable pattern of by and large a blue coast and a red interior. With more congressional districts than any other state, it’s both a block of vital votes in the House that can’t be ignored and something of a microcosm of national political trajectories. When a party does well nationally that blue-red divide tends to shift within California locally.

In 2012, that meant a consolidation of the coast as almost entirely Democrat-held and an expansion into more contested seats right along the dividing line. Two of the districts I covered specifically in that year seem relevant again, with Democrat Ami Bera in CA-07 yet again desperately trying to maintain a blue outpost deep within redder territory and Republican Jeff Denham in CA-10 likewise trying to stave off the steady march of Democrats from the sea to the Sierras.

Further south, however, three other races seem to present interesting tests of this red-blue competition as well. In CA-24, along the southern central coast, Democrat Lois Capps is stepping down, leaving an open seat in one of the more White, rural, and centrist portions of the coast. That poses a question of just how durable Democratic holds on the coast necessarily are.

Meanwhile, in CA-25, Republican Stephen Knight is the last congressional GOP office-holder in any part of Los Angeles county. In a district that is now majority minority, his reelection bid cuts to the core problems faced by elected Republicans – both in California and nationally. Finally, in CA-49, Republican Darryl Issa is running to keep one of the few remaining coastal outposts of the California Republican Party. Can he keep it? Or has an endorsement of Donald Trump been too much even for him?

RURAL, WHITE, GERRYMANDERED… AND RADICAL?

Even with those and other districts in which scandals and demographic transitions give Democrats at least a fighting chance, more seats must flip to change party dominance in Congress. If this proves to be a wave year, and it may very well be, there’s scattered rural districts around the country which seem poised to jump – but it’s not clear in what direction. Angry at an increasingly wide cultural gap and less enthused given the particularly anemic economic recovery, voters in these places seem ready to sabotage the Republican Party by going for Trump, but also ripe for a Sanders-style democratic socialism.

In PA-16 and VA-05, Republican lawmakers may have set themselves up for failure under these types of electoral conditions. Both are suburban-rural and White majority districts, designed to help boost the number of Republican-held districts in their states overall. That type of electoral math has great dividends when the electorate remains predictable, but populist sentiment has prompted voters to behave in ways that many party elites found baffling. While both districts are Republican-leaning, their current GOP representatives are not seeking reelection, adding yet another dose of unpredictability.

Many of those same underlying conditions rear their head in NH-01, but there’s an additional surreal flavor. Arguably one of the most unstable districts in the country, it’s alternated between Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Republican Frank Guinta as representatives since 2006. In the past few election cycles, neither has held it for more than one of the congressional terms (which only last two years). They’re the two major party candidates this year once again. While the district leans right, and with a more rural and White composition it feels quite Republican, Shea-Porter has historically won it each recent year there’s been a presidential race. This election will test that pattern.

Among these types of districts, NY-19 stands out as defined less by dissatisfaction with the Republican Party and attraction to a type of political agitation more at home among the Democrats. It noticeably has more consistently leaned to the left of these other districts in both national and local races. This year, Zephyr Teachout who previously ran to the left of Andrew Cuomo for New York Governor, will try to capture the Hudson Valley area seat by running a Sanders-type Democratic campaign emphasizing economic equality and opportunity. Combined with yet another Republican incumbent not up for election, this is yet another test about how the Democratic Party might be able to reclaim support ceded for many decades to cross-over vote to the Republicans.

…AND THE SENATE?

You’ll note, that all of these places to look at are congressional districts, not Senate seats, like what Clinton held. That’s because the Senate seems to be approaching heat death. For months now, the most likely outcome of the Senate races has appeared to be a deadlocked 50-50 division, with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote. So much for looking back to the house for an answer to where policy comes from. Maybe it’s buried in a classically overlooked spot on the Presidential ticket.

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Debunction Junction

Trigger warning: suicide, racism, classism

David Brooks’ New York Times column for today has already garnered a host of critical responses (most intriguing, in my opinion, this one about his casual equation of Sanders’ and Trump’s support). Let me just quickly hop into the fray to point out a particularly egregious falsehood he lazily propagated: that Trump’s support is being driven by class resentment.

As Brook’s put it:

This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century. This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows. Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it.

The pain he’s talking about there is admittedly as much social as it is economic, but in case the attribution of the Trump (and to a lesser extent Sanders’  too) insurgency to lower economic orders was missed, he spells it out later on – “I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own.”

To be frank, bullshit.

Brooks is a traveler in many circles, overwhelmingly ones that are urban and economically upwardly mobile, but several of them have been epicenters of Trumps ascendancy. Most of his time is in New York City, which Trump carried decisively and was the site of his original announcement that he would be campaigning for president. Brooks is also active at his alma mater the University of Chicago – another city with a Republican primary electorate that overwhelmingly opted support Trump.

Admittedly Brooks holds positions at Duke and a regular spot on the PBS News Hour taking him into the bubbles of moderate Republicans in Durham and Arlington respectively, but that those completely blinded him to the reality of Trump’s support in other places he works is utterly bizarre.

Brooks might claim that it’s a lower order element within New York and Chicago that he doesn’t associate with that support Trump, unlike his refined Republican colleagues. That is also, to be frank, bullshit. The Economist of all sources, a paper that you would expect to be invested in this type of narrative of deluded poor people supporting crypto-protectionism, has compiled data showing that Trump’s support is pretty evenly spread across income brackets but if anything skews slightly towards those with above median incomes.

trump income supporters

As I’ve noted here before, Trump’s support is complicated by region and class and a number of factors, but what appears the most consistent to me is that he appeals to people tired of being told to be nicer, to be better, to be respectful to people they don’t consider worthy of respect. That appeals to a lot of less well off people, sure, but most consistently to certain social not economic demographics. It resonates with White Southerns who have wanted vindication for decades. It resonates with conservative traditionalists outside of the South who live in more generally progressive areas and as a result encounter those messages fairly often.

Can Brooks not see that or does he just not want to?

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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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What’s overlooked and what’s overvalued?

TW: cissexism, transmisogyny, sexism, racism, stop and frisk

Today is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), an annual event held by numerous trans* advocacy groups to honor and bring out of general obscurity the violence that trans* people across the world experience. The closest organization to being the “official” runner of the event – the Transgender Day of Remembrance website – has a non-exhaustive list of anti-trans* murders that they’ve been notified of in the past year alone. If you can at some point today, give it a look, because the reality that transgender people – especially transgender women of color – are subject to a unique form of violence is something that it communicates well.

This year’s TDOR is particularly raw for many because of the new circumstances surrounding the death of Islan Nettles, who died in medical care after being attacked in August. The legal situation of bringing her probable killer to justice hit a snag just a few days ago, with the primary suspect, Paris Wilson, being released by Manhattan police after they failed to construct an effective case against him within the time period they could hold him for. As local reporting explained

“Paris Wilson, 20, left Manhattan Criminal Court a free man — at least temporarily — as prosecutors said they were not ready to move ahead with a homicide case. Wilson had been charged with misdemeanor assault but the charges were expected to be elevated because victim Islan Nettles died at the hospital after his arrest. But after the collar, another man turned himself in to police and confessed to the crime , saying he was too drunk to remember the events. That person has not been arrested and Wilson’s case was older than 90 days as of Tuesday, meaning the speedy trial clock had expired.”

What’s unstated here (and even actively rebuked by an Assistant District Attorney’s claims that the case was actively being pursued) is how criminal and even police resources are being used with regards to this case (and others like it). Or rather, how they aren’t. In the more than a month prior to the attack and the immediately following month and a half, the police in Manhattan alone conducted 2588 stops at which people were stopped, which translated into 481 arrests, out of which the justice department actually generated only 80 court summons, which pertain to anything from a fee to actual criminal charges. New York is not suffering from a minimal police force or a lack of police attention in those contexts, where crimes are not know to have occurred.

Those figures are from the New York Civil Liberties Union’s data on the NYPD from July, August, and September of this year, focusing only on the police precincts in Manhattan (where Nettles was killed), which can be found on the sixth and nineteenth pages of this report. What’s clear is that the bungling of investigating a not terribly credible-sounding confession by a non-suspect is occurring in a context of extensive police and justice department efforts. The inability to sort out the details of this one case, which is known to be a crime, reflects the prioritization of monitoring men of color within New York City over actually addressing existing crimes.

Islan Nettles
(Islan Nettles before being attacked, from here.)

The often repeated assertion that dramatic police activities like stop-and-frisk prevent if not directly deal with crime fails to notice how resources are being drawn away from actual police and criminal justice duties to deal with frankly unnecessary and undemocratic mass policing. This International Transgender Day of Remembrance it seems necessary to notice both how little attention is paid to helping trans* people stay safe and how overly focused too many cis-dominated institutions are on imagined threats other than those actually faced by such vulnerable groups.

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The downside to Glenn Greenwald

TW: police detention, mass surveillance, police brutality

You may have heard about the controversy earlier this week as Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained while returning to the UK from a visit to Brazil. Greenwald was understandably incensed and wrote several thousands of words on the subject for The Guardian over the course of these past few days. While this incident has been largely pushed aside in light of the sentencing news for Chelsea Manning, I think this story from earlier in the week in illuminating in terms of the flaws in Greenwald’s journalistic practices.

To be clear here, this is not to suggest that Greenwald’s reporting on these events was biased or that either he or his partner “deserved” the scrutiny or restrictions placed on them by the UK government (and, as Greenwald and others have alleged, at the US government’s request, which the Obama administration has wholly denied). There’s something of a media campaign underway to paint this issue as reasonable comeuppance for Greenwald and Miranda which is obviously an elaborate profession-wide apology by the highest echelons of US-based journalists who hope to be the best stenographers to power that they can be. Greenwald’s bucking of that trend is something that we should all appreciate, and even if failing that, we shouldn’t hold Miranda culpable for Greenwald’s actions.

That said, the way that Greenwald’s role in reporting international surveillance systems has expanded to experiencing them as well is worrisome. Concerns about bias are understandable, but in this case seem unfounded. Instead, I think the real damage is in how this limits the most public reporting on these issues of the increasing use of mass surveillance by the US and UK governments. As David von Ebers wrote at This Week In Blackness, the UK has its own history of using these same methods of surveillance and detention to crackdown on both anti-colonial activists that had been displaced from British colonies as well as against locally marginalized and anglicized Irish protesters. There’s more than a past pattern of those tactics, actually, as across the UK and other EU countries anti-surveillance protesters took to smashing CCTV cameras (publicly placed video recorders) this very week.

german_dissident
(One German dissident dismantling a public surveillance camera in January, from here.)

On the distinct but related issue of the wave of UK riots two years ago, which were prompted in part in opposition to police brutality, Greenwald struck an odd tone. While he admitted that the riots were rooted in opposition to exploitation and “the system,” he likewise reduce them to being nothing more than “opportunistic criminality and inchoate rage“. Instead of attempting to sort through the diverse motivations for the riots, Greenwald essentially gave up, and missed out on reporting a connection between this larger backdrop of protest and resistance and the state systems he now takes so seriously.

As long as he’s reporting on the US’s possible involvement in detaining Miranda and likewise the US’s National Security Agency’s broad surveillance programs, why can’t he also mention Stop and Frisk, which as near as I can tell, he’s never covered? It’s also rather timely this week, given how New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has responded to the declaration of that policy as unconstitutional with calls for mass fingerprinting in poor, predominantly Black and Latin@ neighborhoods. Both that former policy and Bloomberg’s interest in replacing it with a similarly overpowered form of policing has gone chronically underreported and could do with a larger name like Greenwald’s throwing some attention its way.

The problem here, to repeat myself, isn’t his choice to cover the surveillance state and police overreach as it affects him personally, but his decision to primarily cover it then and only describe the system’s hostile actions as violence in that case. The contours of his reporting on this issue leave so much beneath the surface, unexplored.

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The unfolding disaster

TW: islamophobia, racist criminalization, police brutality, violence against protesters, institutionalization, sexual assault


(Until recently, almost all substantive coverage of this has been actually from foreign media, like the above protest sign that explains “We don’t want a spying, lying NYPD commissioner” which was published in the UK newspaper, The Guardian.)

There’s astoundingly little for me to say about Alex Pareene’s piece on the on-going early contest for the position of mayor of New York. It’s rare to see the larger context of corruption, racism, and fear mongering so effectively pulled together to provide a detailed account of what the current political situation in that city is, so it seems definitely worth a quite read. To give you a taste:

Let’s run down the record quickly: Kelly’s NYPD acts (to the annoyance of the FBI) like an international intelligence agency devoted entirely to spying on Muslims. The department has a network of informants spying on American Muslims known as “mosque-crawlers.” NYPD spies monitored Muslims in Newark as well, compiling a vital list of… restaurants. The NYPD even spied on Muslims who sought to ally themselves with the city against terrorism. (You can read the Associated Press’ award-winning coverage of the NYPD’s inept/counterproductive spying operations here.)

The NYPD has “trained” its officers with a virulent Islamophobic movie called “Third Jihad,” which claims that “much of the Muslim leadership in America” has a “strategy to infiltrate and dominate” the U.S.. Kelly appeared in this movie in an interview. When questioned about this, NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne lied about Kelly’s appearance, because everyone in the NYPD, from the highest levels to the beat cops, lies constantly, to juries and judges and the press.

Kelly’s NYPD costs the city a lot of money. Not just in the “buying drones and military-grade noise cannons while people starve in the streets” sense (though that is one way) but in the constantly getting sued for brutality and wrongful imprisonment and so on way.

The 2004 Republican National Convention took place in New York, and in preparation for the convention Kelly and Bloomberg spent a lot of time spying on activists in order to figure out how best to illegally arrest hundreds of protesters. A judge ruled the NYPD tactics unconstitutional, opening the door to more lawsuits.

The NYPD is a world-leader in marijuana arrests. The vast majority of those arrested have been black men, a group the city has explicitly persecuted under Kelly and Bloomberg in a depressing variety of ways. Between 2002 and 2012 the NYPD made 440,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Until Kelly finally told officers to stop doing so in 2011, a common police tactic was to trick or coerce people being frisked into taking drugs out of their pockets themselves, putting the marijuana in “public view” and making it an arrestable offense. (This is also illegal.)

Of course, another common NYPD tactic is to simply plant drugs on suspects.

And we haven’t even gotten to the massive ticket-fixing thing, which led to charges against 16 officers. And the mass demonstration of NYPD officers outside the courthouse following those arrests, in which the cops said they were “just following orders” and mockingly chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up to receive benefits across the street. (And the officer indicted for trying to pay to have a witness against him killed.) At least the ticket-fixing was one of the very, very few incidents of NYPD criminality that was actually uncovered by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which has otherwise failed to police the police.

There are also the tapes produced by Adrian Schoolcraft, an officer who recorded NYPD activity in Bed-Stuy and revealed the widespread manipulation of arrest data designed to game “CompStat,” the much-vaunted Bloombergian data-driven police management program. Schoolcraft found that an NYPD cop “is expected to maintain high ‘activity’—including stop-and-frisks—but, paradoxically, to record fewer actual crimes.” Schoolcraft also confirmed the existence of “quotas” for arrests, summons and frisks — something else the NYPD lied about for years. Cops were told to arrest people for petty crimes (or for nothing at all) and downplay more serious ones, in order to show that the police were busy but that serious crime wasn’t a problem. Schoolcraft’s superiors sent the whistleblower to a psych ward for six days. Kelly then kept the NYPD’s own internal investigation into his allegations secret for two years.

And let’s not forget the gun-running, the rapes, the various incidents of casual racism, and arrests of black public officials at the West Indian Day Parade. And, of course, lying about arresting journalists at Occupy Wall Street, and destroying the library, and everything else.

It’s hard to be more damning than that in my mind, and keep in mind that’s just a portion of the article.

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The torture we accept

TW: abilism, use of electric shocks as punishment

There’s little I feel I can add to the description here about the practices at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts. I urge you to consider signing the accompanying petition – the more pressure on the center to cease using shock collars and similar “treatments”, the better.

Here’s one video that contains leaked clips of the use of electric shocks to compel Andre McCollins to follow an order to remove his coat, as well as an explanation of the surrounding circumstances:

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Looking away and laughing

TW: Argentinian “Dirty War”, torture, indefinite detention, police brutality, violence against protesters

So yesterday, amid assorted allegations (re)surfacing about the now sitting Pope, this happened:

Erick Erickson tweeting
(Tweet from yesterday, by former CNN commentator Erick Erickson.)

Um, okay then Mr. Erickson. There’s quite a few things that could be said about that type of joke, which I already jumped a bit into last week, but in the meanwhile let’s talk about the humor that people often deploy while trying to distance themselves from and trivialize violence. If you, as Erickson later explained himself, are able to somehow twist this into something else entirely, I honestly have no idea what to say to you.

For those of you who are still reading, allow me to clarify: some of the allegations against the current Pope are indeed false. The Guardian has retracted what they originally published about him in 2011 (namely that he might have allowed the Argentinian junta to move political prisoners onto Church-controlled islands in order to hide them, which seems to be what Erickson was basing his complaint off of). But aside from that, there’s the small matter of him having informed the Argentinian government of a fellow Jesuit he suspected of coordinating with feminine religious orders, guerrillas, and otherwise earned being deported (after being detained and tortured by Bergoglio’s own admission). Isn’t that pretty Pontius Pilate of him?

Bergoglio's memo to the Argentinian government urging the deportation of a Jesuit Priest
(The original document he had sent to the Argentinian government to request the deportation of another Jesuit priest.)

There’s a sort of confusing response that seems to typically crop up over these sorts of situations – where an ostensibly “conservative” or “traditional” government is killing and torturing thousands of people. It seems to be that many celebrate and are entertained by the violence against those they deem as deserving it, but on some level realize that that will be frowned on and deemed unacceptable. So, they joke about those disappeared, while denying that the disappearances happened (or, at least, that anyone prominent in Argentinian politics at the time could possibly have been involved). It’s a strategy of simultaneously reveling in and denying the existence of terrible violence.

That’s unfortunately a very relevant perspective to watch for appearing around Brooklyn today. In the wake of the police shooting Kimani Gray, a purportedly unarmed sixteen year old Black youth in the East Flatbush area, protests against those sorts of incidents failed to pass the police’s test of what was acceptable. As people were imprisoned and homes searched without warrants, the police also managed to remove most professional media from the area. In a very real sense, violence has been doled out in the past few days against an entire community in Brooklyn, and most our society has decided to look the other way.

Still, some accounts slip through. You can read descriptions like this one:

Towards the end of the night, a group of teenagers standing on a curb were taunting a few cops standing several feet away in the street. After a few minutes and seemingly unprovoked, an officer reached onto the sidewalk to grab one of the teenagers, who took off running. This sparked an all out foot-chase, with officers in hot pursuit of the runner and some of the NYPD’s less athletic members cheering their fellow officers on. The runner cut down a side street, media and police giving chase. The suspect got away, but about halfway down the street police briefly detained a separate young man who was going home for the night. He was black—as was the runner—and immediately informed the police that he wasn’t the person they were looking for. One cop was heard explaining that he was on orders from his sergeant to arrest him. While several white cops walked the wrong man toward a police van, they ultimately decided to let him go.

Or you can simply see a few of the clandestine photographs of the situation. Or you can hear about how everyone arrested under suspicion of “rioting” is being held for an extended period. Hopefully those sorts of depictions of what’s actually happening right now in one part of the most populous city in the United States will make you think.

Hopefully, the last thing they’ll make you do is laugh.

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What if the VRA should do more?

Ryan Emenaker has an excellent piece over at SCOTUS Blog on the current challenge to the Voting Rights Act (VRA) before the Supreme Court, which lays out a very convincing case for the court to do nothing. I’m naturally of the opinion that we live in a society where Black individuals are effectively prevented from protesting how they are targeted for attacks and murders by an unfortunately large number of police officers. In that context, does it really make sense to suggest that racism is no longer a force in the United States and existing legal protections against discrimination can be rescinded?

Covered districts in the United States - the states of Alaska, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia
(The states in red, counties in blue, and townships in pink must currently clear any changes in voting procedure with the federal Department of Justice before implementation, from here. Click to see enlarged.)

Beyond the retention of the coverage system (which districts can leave after a decade without being found to have violated bans on racial, ethnic, or similar forms of voting discrimination), Emenaker notes that it’s “difficult to argue that Congress’s coverage formula has no rational relation to reducing infringement on minority voting rights.” He expands on that in multiple ways – including how the process deters states and counties from even drafting biased changes to voting systems.

Still, Emenaker explains how in spite of that currently covered districts are far more likely to have suits of racial discrimination brought against them. Missing from his argument, I think, is perhaps a challenge to how widespread indirectly discriminatory changes in voting procedures actually are. Most topically, we should talk about whether barriers to voting (such as new ID requirements) that we think of as independent issues are perhaps having a racially-distinct impact, even if without racist intent.

Perhaps now is not the time to dismantle the existing system, and also not only retain it, but expand it. Emenaker notes, that in the current case “New York, California, and Mississippi […] filed a combined amicus brief arguing that the preclearance requirement should be upheld.” since their covered “jurisdictions receive benefits from coverage; it grants a measure of protection against lawsuits and provides DOJ feedback on proposed election law changes.” Given that political representatives in parts of this country as distinct from each other as California, Mississippi, and New York can see their personal advantages from this bill, and in such a way that overtly benefits people of color who would like to vote without a hassle, why isn’t the conversation about expanding the coverage system and perhaps making it a universal process for all states, counties, and other districts?

What good is it to have laws against racial discrimination if we don’t actually do something about it when it occurs?

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Violence is multifaceted

TW: racist criminalization, cissexism, transmisogyny, forced displacement of indigenous people

I mentioned this late last week, but one of the key things to remember is how violence and inequality can be expressed in so many different ways. This past week was a fairly blunt remind of this with three separate incidents throughout the Americas – which show that a government’s intervention or non-intervention in a situation can be violent, and that violence is by no means the exclusive property of governments.

In New York, a child was handcuffed and subject to police interrogation for multiple hours. You’ve probably already realized it, but the child was, of course, Black. Likewise the alleged crime, which all indications point towards him not having committed, was stealing $5 that a fellow elementary student dropped on the ground. I tag a lot of things as “racist criminalization“, meaning the way a person’s race can make police and other authorities more likely to perceive them as criminal or their actions as more severely criminal than they actually are, but this pretty much takes the cake.

South of there, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the police are refusing to organize searches or assist community efforts to find Sage Smith, who has now been missing for two months. Again, Smith is Black, but beyond that, she’s a transgender woman. While her race might make her seem to be a more plausible culprit, her gender identity is apparently a plausible reason to particularly ignore her likely status as a victim of kidnapping or murder. This sort of refusal to intervene as police and provide services that are expected is common when it comes to violence against transgender women, which has lead to what many are calling an epidemic of transmisogynistic attacks.

Even further South, in Brazil, the government has essentially ceded control over a mega-dam project in the Amazon to private interests, which won’t be held responsible for the ensuing environmental impacts and 40,000 indigenous people who will be forcibly relocated by the dam. The Belo Monte dam threatens the most politically marginal populations in Brazil, and again the government is refusing to intervene with regulations that are already on the books. You can sign a petition asking for Brazilian President Dilma to review the decision to approve the project, here.


(Indigenous protesters against the project in 2011, from here.)

In short, there’s a lot of violence in the world, and only some of the time is the issue that the police or other governmental figures have intervened where they shouldn’t. Much of the time, protections are selectively enforced, primarily to protect the enfranchised, leaving many diverse groups, from transgender women to indigenous peoples, without recourse should private enterprises or actors harm them. Any effort at establishing actual equality between those who are cisgender and transgender or indigenous and non-indigenous needs to acknowledge both of these dimensions of violence.

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