Friday, December 19, 2014

A Pirate Looks at 90


Cuba looks so small, yet it has loomed so large in American politics for decades.  From Colonel Lansdale's failed Operation Mongoose to Jesse Helms notorious Helms-Burton Act, Cuba has been able to thumb its nose at the United States for over 50 years.  As Stephen humorously noted on one of his last episodes of The Colbert Report, "the CIA was this close to taking down Fidel Castro with the deadliest weapon of all -- time!"

Fidel is 88, and while it is hard to guess how many years he has left in him, he no longer represents a threat to the United States.  Don't tell Marco Rubio that, who flew off the handle in his latest rant against the President, claiming that the deal to free Alan Gross has put a price on all Americans' heads, echoing the same reaction Congressional Republicans had to the deal Obama struck for the release of Bowe Bergdahl.  Remember him?

In case your curious, Alan Gross was working for USAID at the time he was arrested, er abducted, for providing satellite phones and computer equipment to the Jewish community in Cuba without a permit.  Not like he felt he needed one.  He was part of a "democracy promotion program" initiated under the Bush administration, to provide communications equipment to break Cuba's "information blockade."  It was like one of those lamentable Lansdale schemes, doomed to failure, as Gross couldn't speak a word of Spanish and was an easy target for Cuban officials.  Maybe it was meant that way to divert attention away from other nefarious schemes.  Who knows and who really cares?  These subversive campaigns have gone on long enough and are no benefit to anyone, as I'm sure Cubans can get plenty of computer hardware and software through Latin America and Europe.  It's not like they are that isolated, although I suppose the satellite phones were meant to help offset the antiquated phone lines and Internet connections.

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has been cultivating stronger ties with Europe.  The EU has slowly opened up relations with Cuba over the last 20+ years, with large strides made since Raul Castro took over for his ailing older brother in July, 2006.   Granted, Cuba has yet to renounce Communism, but it is a far more open country now than it was 10 years ago.  It has bilateral relations with Canada, including a joint venture in developing Cuba's recently discovered offshore oil reserves.  Something, American oil refineries have long coveted.

Cuba is a lucrative market in many ways, not just rum and cigars.  This is what led the US to take such an active interest in the 1950s, propping up a failed dictatorship for the better part of a decade so that it could exploit the island nation.  None other than Errol Flynn pointed this out in 1959.

We could have established relations with the new government in Havana, but instead chose to place Fidel Castro on the most wanted list, turning him into the biggest hero in Latin America since Simon Bolivar.  This political pirate has obviously gotten the last laugh and there are a lot of conservatives who don't appreciate the irony in it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

It began with a handshake




The writing had been on the wall for quite sometime, but it still took Congress and the media by surprise that the President actually normalized diplomatic relations and eased traveled restrictions with Cuba.  Opportunities date back to Jimmy Carter, but there had been too much political pressure against Democratic administrations to do so.  With the reviled Fidel Castro on the sideline, Pres. Obama finally seized the opportunity with Raul Castro to end this ridiculous embargo, which has plagued US relations with Latin America for decades.

Of course, this latest executive decision was not received well among conservatives in Congress and in the media.  Marco Rubio offered a particularly vitriolic retort,  but let's face it Cuba is no longer the bogeyman it once was, if it ever was.

We made a demon out of Castro because it suited us politically.  It allowed successive presidential administrations to bring the Cold War closer to home.  Conservatives had all the justification they needed in the Cuban Missile Crisis, even though the US had previously positioned nuclear warheads in Turkey aimed at the Soviet Union.  Kennedy was able to "stare down" Khrushchev by promising to remove the US warheads from Turkey, which he did after the Soviet Union had removed its warheads from Cuba.  Tit for tat, as was so often the case during the Cold War.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the US maintained the same Cold War attitude toward Cuba, despite what were seen as largely positive signs coming out of Cuba for normalization of relations.  However, the shooting down of two "civilian" planes by Castro in 1996 led to the Helms-Burton Act, further freezing relations with Cuba.  Clinton tried to ease those restrictions in the wake of Pope John Paul II's historic visit to Cuba in 1998, but his measures only went so far given a recalcitrant Republican Congress.

The Helms-Burton Act is still in effect, so Obama cannot lift the trade embargo without Congress's consent, which seems unlikely in the immediate future.  However, American business interests will most likely push Congress to lift these restrictions as they smell a new market in Cuba.  The 1996 Act is regarded as one of the most heinous set of foreign policy restrictions passed in the last 20 years, and seems pathetically antiquated given that we are one of the few countries not to have normal relations with Cuba, pretty much negating the intended effect of the embargo.

What it has done is split families and engender hostilities between Cuba and exiles living in the United States.  Rubio represents the conservative wing of those Cuban exiles, which once commanded a strong influence in American politics.  This latest action by Obama indicates that this influence has waned and that we have truly entered a "new chapter" in our relations with Cuba. To think it all began with a handshake.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What ever happened to Juan?



A few years back Fox poached CNN and NPR for a few liberal faces to give some credence to its news motto, "Fair and Balanced."  If you remember, Juan Williams (in)famously defended Bill O'Reilly, which he said earned him the enmity of NPR, and led to his subsequent dismissal.  Juan had been "moonlighting" for quite sometime, and the last straw was his defense of O'Reilly over racial profiling regarding Muslims.

Since 2010, Juan has been working for Fox, which pays him much more than he ever got at NPR.  He is co-host of The Five, which actually has seven Fox personalities sharing the honors, but who's counting.  Among them is Bob Beckel, another token "liberal" on the network, who has generated his fair share of controversy with some of the comments he has made, proving he can be as good a bigot as anyone else at Fox.

You have to wonder what these once respected journalists gain by serving as pundits for Fox other than money?  Their credibility has deteriorated during this time.  In Beckel's case, it is virtually non-existent.  Juan still has some clout thanks to the books he wrote in the past, and often cites on the program.  However, after this outburst you really have to wonder why anyone would give him anymore credence.

It seems Juan is still smarting from being let go by NPR.  It may not have paid much, but working with NPR gave one significant clout in the news media.  Why else would Bill even invite him on his "Factor?"  Juan's comments regarding NPR are particularly amusing since any number of noted conservatives contribute to the program, including David Brooks, who also writes for the New York Times, which is also considered part of the "liberal elite."  If Juan has learned anything over the last four years with Fox it is to blame his own shortcoming on the liberal media.

Juan offers his broader view on his relations with NPR in Muzzled, which NPR was gracious enough to review.  Unfortunately, he no longer seems to matter much either at Fox or the news world at large, which is a shame since he offered one of the best books on the Civil Rights Movements, Eyes on the Prize, that was made into a PBS documentary series in 2006.






Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Remembering Tara




It seems Gone with the Wind doesn't have the same hold on the American imagination it once did.  The film has been a perennial television favorite for decades, long after its premiere at the Loew's Grand Theater in Atlanta, 1939.   The epic classic has been dressed up in a 75th anniversary edition DVD box set and is enjoying another run at select movie theaters around the country.

GWTW was a good bad book made into a good bad movie that rekindled the American imagination for the Deep South, ravished during the Civil War.  It was kind of a War and Peace for Americans, a romance novel writ large set against the backdrop of war.  It lacked the philosophical insights of Tolstoy's great novel but made up for it with a whirlwind of emotions best captured in this signature scene.  Like the novel, the dialog was so far over the top that you can't help but laugh at many of the scenes, especially with the greatly inflated musical score.

The Washington Post interviewed Mickey Kuhn, who played 7-year old Beau Wilkes in the movie.  Olivia de Havilland offers more pithy insights in this interview in the Garden & Gun (now that's a magazine title you won't forget soon).  The grand dame seems to bristle at some of the questions.  I loved her response to "who got the best performance out of you?"  --  "They didn't get the performances out of me.  I gave the performances to them."  The interview actually dates from 2010, and was reprinted in the magazine.

Olivia played Melanie Hamilton, a distant cousin to Scarlett O'Hara.  She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 1940 Oscars, but that award went to Hattie McDaniel, pictured above with Vivien, for her role as Mammy.

GWTW swept the Oscars, although Clark Gable lost out to Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  Of course, "Windies" saw this as a brazen oversight but Clark already had an Oscar to his credit (the much better It Happened One Night), so it was no great loss.

Love it or hate it, this film still lingers in the imagination, and for many will continue to do so long into the future.  There is something about love among the ruins of a great war that grips us to the depths of our soul, no matter how well or how badly it is told.  Even Tara is being restored.

Monday, December 15, 2014

My City for a Horse





It seems Rudy knows as much about horses as he does the black community in the city, or maybe he thinks they are one in the same.  Giuliani personally looked into the issue of the carriage horses' well being while mayor and found that they were well treated.  Maybe he should have watched Blinders.

Bill De Blasio has put a bill to ban horse-drawn carriages before the city council, as he said he would during last year's campaign, and what a stink it has raised.  Everyone form the AFL-CIO to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy have come out against the bill claiming that it will cost jobs and take away the glamour of the city.  Even the FBI is investigating claims of extortion filed by Christine Quinn, who says she was strong-armed into supporting the ban by an animal rights group.

While Big Bill may have stepped into some horse hockey on this issue, he isn't taking anymore of Rudy's shit.  Recently, he blasted the ex-mayor on his statements regarding the black community in New York, stating that Giuliani "fundamentally misunderstands the reality" of the situations that led to the massive protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of the police.

The New York Observer tries to get to the bottom of this story, noting that Gotham is an entirely different city now than it was 15 years ago when Rudy was in town.  Giuliani prided himself as a "law and order" mayor, which is not surprising since he had previously served as the US Attorney for the greater New York metropolitan area under Ronald Reagan.  He rode into the mayor's office as a result of widespread dissatisfaction of David Dinkins, particularly among whites in the city, who felt Dinkins was unduly favoring minorities.

Twenty years later, De Blasio gets his chance to enact his revenge, by shifting the focus of municipal government back to the days of Dinkins, whom he served.  This doesn't sit well with the white community, but they are pretty much powerless to do anything about it, given the demographic shift that has taken place in the city.  De Blasio is loathe to mention Giuliani by name, treating him more like a distraction than anything else.


It's too early to tell how De Blasio is doing, but he seems to be galvanizing minority support as he defends the right of those to protest the lack of an indictment in the strangulation death of Eric Garner.  He has even gone so far as to say that he too was forced to teach his son how to handle himself when confronted by police because of the well known bias of the NYPD toward black youths.  This, of course, was met with profound indignation by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.  Ross Barkan, writing for the New York Observer, is not quite sure if this posturing is real or gauged to help secure what has grown into a majority voting block that could keep De Blasio in power for a long time to come.

From what I've seen so far, I like De Blasio.  I'm glad to see someone stand up for traditional liberal values, including a return to the fundamentals of public education.  De Blasio has spoken out strongly against charter schools, which many studies have shown have failed to deliver the great promise they advertised, particularly for minorities in inner cities.  His "school renewal program" aims to fund struggling public schools, rather than phase them out in favor of more charter schools.  This too rubbed Rudy the wrong way, as he was a big advocate of charter schools.


De Blasio also wants to see more public housing, which likewise hasn't gone over too well with the white community, who see a massive influx of minorities.  Shades of Robert Moses here, as De Blasio plans to fundamentally reshape the city's demographics with affordable housing.  It used to be that cities prided themselves on housing projects, but Pruitt-Igoe and other massive projects soured many persons on the benefits of such projects.  Much of that negative image was blown out of all proportion, as this documentary shows.  The country shifted to the right politically and wanted to detach itself from such public works projects that had once been the lifeblood of the economy.

It's a bold new direction for New York, and if De Blasio succeeds (which of course conservatives don't want him too) it could signal to other cities that public works is a good thing and other mayors shouldn't shy away from it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In CIA we trust



All good things come to an end -- waterboarding, rectal hydration, and most sadly The Colbert Report.  No one gets to the bottom of a story (in this case quite literally) better than Stephen Colbert, who skewers the media response to the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Progam.

Of course, Stephen mainly goes after Fox, who for whatever reason thinks this is all in the past and shouldn't be dredged up again, unlike Benghazi.   Colbert also nails Wolf Blitzer, who gave Diane Feinstein the third degree for the report's untimely airing, as if any future American deaths will be pinned directly on the release of this report.  I suppose Wolfie felt the need to say that, but as Colbert noted this is an all too often case of the media trying to cover up the story rather than exposing it.

These days, the mainstream media is more interested in setting its own narrative, and the report seemed to take them by surprise, as they haven't had a chance to read it and wrap their thoughts around it and shape it into a neo-Hollywood production.  So, they do the next best thing and make it into a reality show, allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to come on the news show to criticize it without obviously having read it.

The report contains over 6000 pages of testimony and other information that has been collected over five years, including numerous interviews with the people directly involved in the grotesque incidents described.  It has been condensed to 525 pages for public consumption.  Dick Cheney would like us to think that these "enhanced interrogation" techniques resulted in valuable information being gained on terrorist activities.  Tom Blanton tells us that these were nothing more than Chinese communist torture techniques designed to get propaganda statements out of American detainees during the Korean War, which were dredged up by two psychologists who were paid $81 million for their efforts.  There is nothing in the report to indicate that the enhanced interrogation methods worked.

What is particularly scary about the CIA today is how much of its work is being outsourced, which was also covered in the report.  Not only does the CIA hire outside sources for consulting, but also to help interrogate alleged terrorists.  "Private contractors made up 85% of the workforce for detention and interrogation operations," making me wonder just how "clandestine" this organization now is with so many persons involved outside the agency.  Much of this information had already been leaked to the press over the years, including CIA "black sites" in Eastern Europe, which meant the CIA had managed to get other country officials involved in the interrogations as well.

Many Americans feel that the awful event of 911 justifies the methods used to attain information from suspected terrorists, even if many persons forced to submit to these interrogation methods were released because they had been "held in error," like Mr. Bashmillah who suffered through eight years of CIA custody.

The report is so damning that probably the only way to approach it is through comedy, as it is going to be very hard for many Americans to come to terms with it.  We still seem to believe that our institutions represent our interests, when in sad reality agencies like the CIA represent primarily corporate interests abroad.

That had long been the case dating back to the coup attempts in the 1950s, notably the successful coup of the democratically elected Iranian government in 1953, and the reinstatement of the Pahlavi Dynasty to secure unfettered access to Iranian oil fields. The CIA was finally forced to admit its role in this coup d'etat last year.

Rather than dealing with these ugly truths, we instead shower praises on the CIA with movies like Argo and television shows like Homeland, with former and current agents actively involved in the scripts, presumably to give the stories verisimilitude.  Argo was particularly amusing, as the premise for getting six Americans who had managed to slip out of the Iranian embassy during the takeover in late 1979 was to stage a phony Hollywood movie in Iran.

Homeland at least explores the moral ambiguity in the decisions being made in regard to our current involvement in the Middle East and Central Asia, humanizing the agency thanks to compelling performances by Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, which has made it a very popular show.  Ultimately, however, the decisions are seen as part of a "greater good," despite the consequences of the actions.

But, this is what Americans remember most.  For many, the end justifies the means in this ongoing "War on Terror" even if there appears to be no end in sight.  So, it is Diane Feinstein who comes under attack for daring to hold the CIA accountable, not the CIA itself.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Not Ready for Primetime Players




It must feel that way for Wendy Davis after failing to muster the groundswell of support many thought she could do in October, 2013, when she announced she was running for governor.  Apparently, a defiant legislative stand doesn't make you a good bet in the Democratic Party, which really let her down statewide.  Texas had one of the worst voter turnouts in the nation -- 28.3 per cent.  You really have to wonder why more Democrats didn't pitch up to knock the Republicans out of Austin, who have been there since 1994.

Texas Monthly blames her demise on a poor campaign, which had numerous shake-ups and was unable to stay on message during the long slog that is our silly primary and general election process.  Mostly, it seems Wendy wasn't ready for all that attention, and the Abbott campaign seized on a number of inconsistencies in her "story" that undermined her credibility in the eyes of Texas voters.  Washington Post offers a more detailed account of her campaign failings.

Similarly, Alison Lundergan Grimes fell well below expectations, losing by 15 points to Mitch McConnell, even though she led the embattled Senate minority leader at several points during the long, arduous campaign.  She seemed to have a much stronger campaign and was able to get the heavy-hitting Clintons to support her, but in the closing month her campaign unraveled before our eyes.  The signature moment came when she was not prepared to admit she voted for Obama.

From there it was all downhill, as Alison seemed to realign herself to the right of Mitch, attacking him for everything from being weak on coal to soft on immigration.  She looked less like a Democratic candidate than a Tea Party insurgent hoping to unseat the incumbent.  In the process, she lost a tremendous amount of support among her Democratic base, which is still relatively strong in Kentucky, since the state has a Democratic governor, who had embraced the Affordable Care Act, setting up the state's own highly successful health insurance exchanges.

Davis was always a long shot, but Alison had a real chance to unseat Mitch, who was very unpopular within his own party.  It is hard to understand the tack Alison took in October because even if Republicans are disgruntled with their candidate, they will still vote for him or her over a Democrat.  Alison seemed to honestly think she could cut into the base of dissatisfied Republicans.  Wendy similarly tacked right late in her campaign, but didn't swing all the way over to the dark side like Alison did on immigration, resulting in a strong backlash from the left.

While Wendy Davis may have failed to live up to initial expectations, Alison came out of this election covered in soot from head to foot, which will be pretty hard to wash off.  There is talk of her running for governor next year, but for the time being is keeping a low profile.  It is hard for me to imagine Democrats trusting Alison after that public meltdown.  Whereas, Wendy can still hold her head up high, even if she ended up with a bit of cow shit on her trademark pink Mizunos.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blue Highways



On my first trip through Oregon I took the scenic byway at State Route 234 into the Blue Mountains.  I wish I had a more sizable camper shell because I could have spent much more time there.  It was spellbinding.  As it was, I camped at Whitman National Forest.  I was reading William Least Heat Moon's book at the time.

Years later, I read Francis Parkman's The Oregon Trail, charting a trip he took in 1846, which followed a well-traveled route to the West Coast, originally set by Lewis and Clark along the Missouri River.  Much of the route was still in British hands at the time Parkman traveled it, but two years later the Oregon Territory would belong to the United States.

The vast territory included all of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming.  It was primarily occupied by the Nez Perce, but many other indigenous people lived in the area, particularly along the Pacific Coast.

Russia had laid claim to the coastline years before, with settlements as far South as the San Francisco Bay area, but it was the Hudson's Bay Company that had active interests in the region, with the United States working out a deal with the British in the late 1840s to divide the territory.  The northern parallel remained contested for many years afterward.


Statehood followed in 1859, further dividing up the territory, as Washington and Idaho had been split into separate territories, although not admitted into the Union as states until many years later.  Oregon came in as a free state, but its two senators were pro-slavery Democrats, not surprising since both Joseph Lane and Delazon Smith came from the Midwest, which was known for its "Copperheads" at the time, snakes in the grass as depicted by Harper's Weekly.

Out of this rough and tumble history a state began to emerge in the late 19th century, driven largely by logging and game interests.  Ken Kesey marvelously depicted a logging family in Sometimes A Great Notion, a somewhat autobiographical account of his coming of age in his adopted state.

Oregon has a rough-hewn liberalism, driven more by a fierce sense of independence than by any ideological position.  It is kind of a left-leaning Libertarianism that appeals to both moderates and liberals as well as a few conservatives.  Oregonians love the outdoors, and you feel this when you pass through the towns and cities.  There is a lot of woodland, divided by the tail end of the Cascades as they merge into the Sierra Nevadas.  Mount Hood is the tallest peak, looming over Portland, which is one of the most progressive cities in America.  It's unofficial slogan is "Keep Portland Wierd."



I didn't spend too much time in Portland, but I liked what I saw.  For all of Seattle's professed liberalism, Portland seems to be one step ahead of its sister city to the north, especially when it comes to microbreweries.  You won't find any better beers in the country than in Portland or along the Pacific coast towns.  My favorite is Shakespeare Stout from the Rogue Brewing Company in Newport, Oregon.  I had to spend the night there.

The coast line is amazingly diverse from tall rugged cliffs to towering sand dunes.  I remember stopping off at one beach and walking out at low tide to a rock outcrop covered in pulsating orange and purple starfish from top to bottom.  A seal played in the distant surf.

It is really hard not to love this state, especially now that it has made marijuana legal.  Not that anyone really gave two hoots about it before.  Pot had been decriminalized since 1973.  At worst, you would pay a small fine if caught with a lid on you before the new law passed this November, which made it completely legal.  This is one of the few times Washington got the jump on Oregon.

Whatever your tastes, you will definitely find something to like in Oregon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Obama Report



The President took over The Colbert Report Monday night, which Stephen seemed a little too willing to concede.  I guess now that his days are numbered, Colbert is letting his "conservative" persona slip, because he hardly challenged Obama in the interview that followed.

For years now, Stephen Colbert has made a mockery of the conservative talk show, much to the chagrin of his acknowledged "mentor" Bill O'Reilly.  Colbert's satire was always skin deep but very effective in parodying the way the conservative media sees the world, because that's about as far as you need to penetrate.

Of course, President Obama was well prepared, delivering Colbert's "The Word" while mocking himself.  During the interview, he also took jabs at himself, noting how his wife and daughters tease him unmercifully after a day in the Oval Office.  I imagine he got quite a bit of ribbing after this performance as well.

Obama has long been accused of being a haughty intellectual unwilling to listen to other arguments, much less make fun of himself. Yet, time and again he has shown much more humility than his conservative counterparts in Congress.  Colbert has had conservative politicians on his show, but to my knowledge not John Boehner or Mitch McConnell.

The President took the offensive after the midterm electoral defeats, pushing his agenda while a lame duck Congress futilely argued over Keystone XL.  He has set the agenda for the new session by issuing executive orders on immigration and climate change, which will have the new Congress scrambling to come up with counter legislation.  Meanwhile, Congress quietly passed a spending bill rather than risk another year-end confrontation with the President.

This isn't the first time the President has tried comedy.  He had similar fun on Between Two Ferns, giving as good as he got from Zach Galifianakis.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holding onto Pearl Harbor


Well, I don't know what to be more mad about -- Pearl Harbor or the fact that Japan has upstaged Scottish whiskys as the new number one?  If this is true, this is a "Peat Harbor."  I have always been partial to the lslay whiskys myself.  I even own two square feet of land at the Laphroaig distillery, thanks to a promotional a few years back, although I haven't gotten a chance to plant my flag there yet.  Next thing you know the Japanese will be trying to shape a Bourbon into their own.  Not my Maker's Mark!

It seems that after more than 70 years there isn't much in the way of hard feelings left.  Japan is now one of our closest allies, despite having usurped us in everything from electronics to whiskys.  Can anyone remember the last television made in America?  I'll give you a hint.

Yet, no trip to Hawaii is complete without a visit to the site of the USS Arizona.  There have been all kinds of speculation surrounding the tragic event.  The most popular is that FDR was warned and didn't say anything because he needed a reason for the US to enter the war.  Congress had yet to give him that authority, despite two years of pitched battle in Europe.  This is similar to the conspiracy theories surrounding the 911 attack, which indicates a lack of imagination on the part of conspiracy buffs.  Whatever the reason, Japan paid a heavy price for that act, losing the war and being the testing ground for two nuclear warheads, which for many Japanese is a similar date that has lived in infamy.


My personal feeling is that it is better not to remember these dates as it only evokes bad memories, like the time the US rounded up Japanese-Americans and placed them in internment camps, presumably for their own safety.  This is odd, because there were not similar German or Italian-American camps, although similar bad feelings emerged in the wake of the war.  Conversely, there were all those awful Japanese prisoner of war camps, and the ethnic cleansing that the Japanese carried out in China, as if they could ever wipe the Chinese from the face of the map.  Such memories end up leaving a pretty bad taste in the mouth.

Anyway, I will have to try this Yamazaki whisky and get back to you on it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Exit Stage Left




In defeat, Mary Landrieu described her own record as one of "courage."   Keystone Mary first came to Congress in 1996, the same year Bill Clinton secured his second term.  She won a hotly contested election over Republican Woody Jenkins for a seat vacated by Democrat J. Bennett Johnson, Jr, who had served Louisiana for 25 years.  Her victory was one of the bright spots that election year as the Republicans had retained control of Congress.

I suppose by "courage" she meant she voted for the Stimulus Bill, the Affordable Care Act and other Democratic sponsored bills that came back to haunt her in this election.  The Republicans made a big deal out of a leaked memo where a Landrieu staffer proudly proclaimed she had voted with Obama 97 per cent of the time.  However, if we look back at her time during the Bush years, she voted for the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continued to support these efforts throughout the Obama administration.  She only managed a 52 per cent progressive rating, leading Move On to campaign against her in Louisiana.

Basically, Mary has been a good Democrat when it suited her.  She worked her way up the ranks to Chair of the Senate Energy Committee by knowing when to give into the party line.  It was here that her true colors came out, pushing Keystone XL once again in Congress.  In fact, she was decidedly pro-oil at a time the Democrats appeared to be shifting toward alternative forms of energy.  It may make sense coming from Louisiana, but as far as the national picture is concerned this was a big step backward.  One has to wonder what Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, was thinking other than to offer her a plum for her support of other Democratic initiatives.

This is pretty much how the political process works -- you scratch my back, I scratch yours -- but at a time Obama needed all the support he could get in Congress to push through new energy alternatives,  Keystone Mary was the last person you wanted to see heading up the Energy Committee. She scuttled any bill that didn't favor her interests in the Gulf and pushed for lucrative oil and natural gas tax incentives in her home region.  With friends like that, who needs enemies, as the incoming Republican majority will do exactly the same thing.

Maybe this election is the house cleaning the Democrats needed to pursue candidates in "red states" that truly represent their interests, not ones like Mary Landrieu.  She can blame Obama and the Democratic National Committee all she wants for her loss, but in the end it was her own poor decisions that cost her this election, biggest among them running against the Democratic party line in a state that still has a sizable Democratic base.

The exit poll numbers during early voting sealed her fate.  Democratic voting was down across the board, while Republican voting was up 3 per cent.  Little wonder she lost by 14 points to Bill Cassidy, who had to do very little campaigning this past month except make a few perfunctory appearances, such as the debate this past week.  It really didn't matter by this point, as her last act as head of the Senate Energy Committee had been a miserable failure, unable to muster the necessary Democratic votes to carry her Keystone XL bill, much less challenge an Obama veto.

Bye bye Mary.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Reagan Enigma



Certainly a very apt title for a new book that charts the "enigmatic" years of Reagan from 1964-1980.  Thomas Reed claims to be a "Reagan insider" so what we get is the "definitive treatise on Reagan's mind," according to the Heritage Foundation.  Not surprisingly, this book has not been reviewed outside right wing foundations and blogs, because most historical scholars regard Lou Cannon as the definitive biographer of Reagan, having written five well-respected books on the Gipper, including The Role of a Lifetime.

Reed has a chapter on the acrimonious relationship between Reagan and Bobby Kennedy, which focuses on the 1967 debate held between the two in front of an "international town hall."  They get grilled by an English student in this segment on the Vietnam War.  Conservatives naturally feel that Reagan got the better of Kennedy in that debate, which some saw at the time as a precursor to a potential 1968 Presidential general election.  The National Review goes as far to say there was total agreement that Reagan "won" this debate.  Reed makes the comment that Kennedy was so pissed off afterward that he said "don't ever put me on stage with that sonofabitch again!" quoting some ambiguous source.

Reed takes back this bitter rivalry to 1962 when Kennedy purportedly had Reagan audited to find out if the Gipper had been cutting some shady deals while President of the Screen Actors' Guild between 1952-55.  The primary sources appear to be Michael and Maureen Reagan, his son and daughter from his first marriage to actress Jane Wyman.  Michael and Maureen distinctly remember their Dad telling them he had lost his job as presenter of General Electric Theater due to Kennedy's skullduggery.

Kennedy was known to be pretty hard on his political opponents, and Reagan was one of the names being floated out there for President in 1967, but Reagan was fired from GE in 1962.  That's quite a pre-emptive strike, especially since Reagan wasn't even Governor of California yet, an election he won in 1966.

Reagan had been a Democrat up to 1962.  Maybe this bitter experience led him to switch parties?  It's all a little bit before the time Reed sets in his book, but I suppose he needed some back story to help explain the 1967 debate.  Whatever the case, when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in 1968, Reagan and his wife Nancy expressed their condolences and offered help to Ethel Kennedy in a short letter penned by hand.

This book looks like the kind of hagiography we have come to expect from the conservative press.  Most of the advance publicity is coming from the chapter Bobby Kennedy: The Nemesis.  You can read an excerpt if you like.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Do they know it's Christmas?

'Tis the season when we scramble to get our Christmas cards out by mail.  Those of us who still do anyway.  I was surprised that the first US postage stamp to commemorate Christmas wasn't issued until 1962.  It was a pretty simple stamp.  Christmas stamps have tended to be  pious even though many persons seem to believe the federal government has abandoned the meaning of Christmas all together.

There have also been playful stamps issued, as well as ones marking Hannukah and Kwanzaa.  There have even been stamps commemorating Muslim holidays, simply referred to as EID stamps, which have generated a fair amount of controversy since the first such stamp was issued in 2001.  We live in a pluralist society, like it or not, and stamps are a way of commemorating the diversity of this nation.

Nevertheless, there remain those ardent religious conservatives who believe the true spirit of Christmas is in danger and are determined to save it through such films as Saving Christmas, soon to come to a theater near you.  Sarah Palin had similarly issued a call to arms last year with her book, Good Tidings and Great Joy, against those nasty Christmas deniers, which was soundly debunked.

Every year, Fox news can be counted on to rekindle the faux "War on Christmas."  Last year was a real doozy, as a Festivus Pole in Tallahassee, Florida, became the whipping post of Fox pundits.  For those of you who don't know what a "Festivus pole" is, here is a clip from the Seinfeld episode in which it was first presented.  The pole in question was put up in response to Governor Scott wanting to have a nativity scene in the state capitol, but in order to do so he had to allow persons to express themselves on this holiday, so one enterprising man erected his aluminum pole.   Apparently someone had already seized on the joke with his own commemorative US postage stamp in 2009.

We need to be reminded of all the hunger and great sorrow in the world as well.  A new British pop dream team has rekindled that old favorite song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" for Ebola victims in West Africa.  But, that's nothing like Mariah Carey struggling through an a cappella version of "All I Want For Christmas" to open Rockefeller Center for the holidays.

It is unfortunate that Christmas inspires such anxiety and overwrought performances, but then it has never been a particularly easy time for anyone.  Bringing the family together again under one roof often brings with it many tensions, sometimes long suppressed, which have a nasty way of rising to the surface.  That is why it may be better to just send a nice card with a commemorative stamp to mark the occasion.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Who Framed Ferguson, Missouri?




Much has been made of the poverty in Ferguson as the mitigating factor in the violence, linking the suburban city's violence to its failed economy, and in turn Obama economic policies.  While Ferguson is below the state and national average in per capita income, it is not as bad as  Carbondale, Illinois, which is a predominantly white community also in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area.  Unemployment rate is not the only figure one should consider, Lou Dobbs, as 48 per cent of Carbondale residents live below the poverty line, whereas only 22 per cent of Ferguson residents do.

It just shows how you can pick and choose statistics to suit your argument.  For Fox pundits, it is convenient to look at the Ferguson protesters as a lazy, jobless lot, more interested in looting than in expressing their First Amendment rights.  During the most recent protests, this is what Fox News has predominantly focused on, essentially shaming Ferguson residents.  It allows Fox to avoid the questions that concern Darren Wilson's testimony, and continue to treat Michael Brown as a "thug," and product of a dysfunctional society.

As protests spread, and were reflected in NFL Sunday, Fox news pundits went into overdrive trying to diminish the impact of the public outcry.  Even Sir Charles Barkley, one of the most eminent sports broadcasters, came out in support of the grand jury decision and said that it was time for Ferguson residents to move on.   He also admonished the looters as scumbags.

Since then, other prominent Black figures have similarly chastised Ferguson for its protests.  Notably, Dr. Ben Carson, who blames the unrest on Feminists, saying the lack of "father figures" is partially to blame for this incident.  It doesn't seem to matter that Michael Brown has a father, actually two fathers, who have been at the forefront of the protests along with his mother.  Here are his parents on Charlie Rose.

Michael Brown doesn't exactly fit the image of a thug or his parents that of a dysfunctional family.  From most indications, he had a supportive family and was scheduled to attend technical college this fall before being gunned down.  There is that nasty bit of video tape, which shows him strong arming a shop clerk over a box of cigarillos, which has become the single defining moment of his "character" in the conservative press, and also Darren Wilson's testimony.

Not only has Michael Brown been racially stereotyped, or profiled if you will, but so too has Ferguson.  In the conservative mind, the suburban St. Louis community is emblematic of all that is wrong in the nation, especially in regard to "Obamanomics," and the perceived lack of respect for law and order among youth, particularly Black youth.  It has even led to photoshopped memes that have been widely distributed through the social network.

Once again we see a narrative being set that contradicts the reality on the street.  It is amazing in this age of high speed Internet that news networks like Fox, and to a somewhat lesser degree CNN, can get away with setting the narrative to suit their viewing audience.  You would think viewers would be circumspect, given the number of times these news channels have been "punked," but apparently not.


Guns for hire

The newest wrinkle in the Ferguson protests is the arrival of the Oath Keepers to help "protect" private businesses that have been subject to looting, such as Natalie's Cakes and More.  Sam Andrews took a personal interest in Natalie DuBose's story, which was aired on television, and vowed to protect her establishment as well as others in the area.

Sam heads up the local Missouri chapter of Oath Keepers, which according to its national webpage is in all 50 states and numbers 40,000 strong.  This paramilitary organization has strong right-wing leanings, but apparently Sam wanted to show that Oath Keepers is non-discriminatory, after the Cliven Bundy fiasco, by protecting local black business owners' interests.

This represents another headache for local and state police forces who are having enough trouble dealing with the situation on the ground.  Now, they have to watch out for snipers on rooftops.  St. Louis County Police ordered the Oath Keepers to clear the area, but Andrews is challenging the injunction in court.  As you would expect, Fox 2 Now was on the scene to get Andrews' side of the story.

The Oath Keepers were formed in 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, and if the numbers are to be believed, has spread into a huge paramilitary force that actively recruits current and former National Guard reservists, military soldiers, police officers, and even fire fighters to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, according to its webpage.



The number of militia groups since the election of Obama has grown tremendously.  If you look at this bar graph put together by the Southern Poverty League, you see that these "patriot" movements swelled in the wake of the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents, dissipated during the latter years of the Clinton administration and the Bush tenure, only to sharply rise again under Obama. The biggest spike in such groups was in 2011.  The Oath Keepers doesn't see itself as a "hate group" although its motivations have been called into question by various periodicals.  As Justine Sharrock notes in the article, many of the federal policies the Oath Keepers have spoken out against were initiated under the Bush administration.

In an effort to ease the situation in Ferguson and other cities where these protests have spread, Pres. Obama has requested 250,000 police body cameras as part of a new appropriations bill to offset the military ordnance these police departments now have ready access to through federal equipment programs.  The President is hoping to demilitarize local police departments, which has been on full display in Ferguson, with police officers dressed in military riot gear and sporting army-issue firearms, but no body cameras.

Cities that have mandated body cameras have seen a sharp drop in police brutality incidents.  In Albuquerque, a police officer was fired for turning off his body camera, before shooting a 19-year old woman he claimed pulled a gun on him.

Each year there are a reported 400 persons shot and killed by police, far more than any other Western country.  This is just a partial database of 750 local agencies, out of an estimated 17,000.  Many of the victims are under 21.  Some as young as 12.  This despite the fact violent crime has steadily dropped over the past decade and is at its lowest level since the 1970s.

It seems many persons still see our cities as urban war zones, with police departments requiring the necessary firepower to combat violent gangs that roam the city streets.  We also have politicians stirring up emotions over Islamist movements within our cities, generating the same kind of paranoia that characterized America in the turbulent 60s and early 70s.



Yet, we are told by Fox News pundits that it isn't Lindsey Graham pouring gasoline onto the fire.  It is Rev. Al Sharpton.  Well, we all know Reverend Al is an ambulance chaser, but why call him out specifically?  Of course, Sean Hannity takes it two steps further, adding Pres. Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder.  Look who was there to back him?  None other than notorious former LAPD detective Mark Furhman, whose own racism was probably the main reason O.J. Simpson was acquitted.  Hmmm?

Right on cue, the Oath Keepers step into the breach, kind of like the Pinkerton Gang of the 19th century (which still exists today), to restore law and order at the point of a barrel.  These vigilante snipers add a scary new dimension to crises, as we saw in the Cliven Bundy standoff early this year.  This "cattle-rustling" incident looked like a page ripped from the annals of the Old West.  This time around, the Missouri chapter of the Oath Keepers is in Ferguson to protect Black small business interests.

It seems Stewart Rhodes, the founder of Oath Keepers, is savvy enough to understand the importance of demographics.  He is a Yale-educated lawyer, who at one time supervised interns for Texas Congressman Ron Paul.  This Libertarian-minded Oath Keeper traces the roots of his organization back to the American Revolution, and sees Obama less as President as he does King George III.

It seems to me that the main problem in our restless society is that there are way too many firearms available, and that any Tom, Dick or Harry can come together and form a "militia" in the name of the Second Amendment.  This despite a steadily decreasing national crime rate, better border security and distant international conflagrations that have no bearing on our national security.  But, woe be it to anyone to question the sanctity of the Second Amendment!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Men Behaving Badly




First, a top physicist was forced to make an apology for the loud bowling shirt he wore while telling the world of the incredible landing of a robot spaceship on a far distant comet, and now Coca-Cola has come under fire for its splashy new milk ads.  Apparently, there is no longer any room for pin-up girls on the wall.

The incredible landing of the spaceship Rosetta on a comet far, far away was no match for the indignation voiced over Matt Taylor's shirt, which featured a collage of pin-up girls.  Granted, it was probably not the best choice of wardrobe for the occasion, but it seems the media was less excited about this major accomplishment than they were his bowling shirt.  We all know scientists are eccentrics after watching The Big Bang Theory.   Fashion faux pas are the norm on the show, and what is Kaley Cuoco if not a pin-up girl come to life.  However, Matt probably should have taken fashion tips from Sheldon Cooper, eccentric but not overtly sexist.

No beverage seems out of bounds for Coca-Cola, which has launched its new premium milk product with a retro set of advertisements that would make Sterling Cooper proud.  For seven seasons Mad Men has presented the sexist world of 60s advertisement in the name of high brow entertainment.  It seems Coke's "Drink What's She's Wearing" ad campaign lacked the requisite irony to consider it good taste.  For the record, the Fairlife milk webpage is much more prosaic and informative.

The sad part is that all this angst over what physicists wear and how Coke chooses to package its new product diminish what are actually two major accomplishments.  I guess you can blame Matt for distracting the media with his "offensive" display, but what Matt had to say for outweighed what he wore.  Coca-Cola actually has a good product, which it distributes for the McCloskeys, who developed the high nutrition drink, thanks to better care of cattle and a filtering process that removes much of the fat and sugar from the product, without any additives.  Of course, you would never know it the way the media has seized on the ad campaign.

We have to be ever more careful how we present ourselves to the public these days.  In a lengthy interview with Frank Rich, which has been heavily cribbed by the media, Chris Rock says it's tough to play a college crowd today, as you don't know who you will offend with your off-color humor and/or political views.  Just ask Bill Maher.  Tough to play any place for that matter.

Yet, we see Mad Men get away with its haughty brand of sexism in the name of irony, even if the show essentially condones men behaving badly.  The same could be said for the highly popular The Big Bang Theory, as it gets away with the same rude behavior in the name of good clean fun.  Even Yahoo News! can't resist using a provocative photo as a link to a news story.

We pick the strangest things to vent our moral outrage on.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse ...




Six minutes must seem like an eternity in front of the camera, especially listening to your father crack bad jokes.  Any normal person could pardon the President's daughters for fidgeting and rolling their eyes while waiting for their father to finish this traditional executive order, but not Elizabeth Lauten, who used the opportunity to launch a screed on bad parenting.

Ms. Lauten has since retracted her facebook post and issued an apology.  Not that it did her any good after this major breach of protocol.  The President's family is regarded as off limits (just ask John McCain) except for the gentle barb here and there.  Elizabeth went so far over the line in her critique, that she was called out by fellow conservatives and most likely will lose her job, as I doubt Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee will want this kind of publicity.  She serves as his communications director.

She was quick to make her facebook page private but you can still find her resume on LinkedIn, noting her impressive ACT and SAT scores, knowledge of Latin and Ancient Greek, as well as numerous organizations she is part of, including the Daughters of the American Revolution.  You really have to wonder how such a smart woman could make such a stupid comment?

Most of her contempt was directed at Obama.  The girls were no more than a convenient foil for her disgust with the President and First Lady.  Picking on the girls' short dresses and apparent lack of attention (in her mind anyway) point to bad parenting skills, which she readily pointed out.  Elizabeth believes that President Obama has not only failed the country but his children as well.

She tried to distance herself from this politically motivated attack in her apology, but it too fell short of the mark, as Elisa Doucette points out.

Ms. Lauten hasn't been the first to attack President Obama's family.  Conservatives have long regarded Michelle Obama as fair game, particularly her fight for better school lunches.  Like the President's legislation, conservatives have gone out of their way to defeat any legislation that would offer better nutritional standards for school lunches, which Michelle has advocated since coming to the White House, not to mention attack her personally.

Even the daughters have come under right wing criticism for having a secret service detail. If you dare, you can find much worse things said in the extreme right wing blogosphere, where anything related to Obama is under constant derision, not least of all his family.

I suppose Elizabeth Lauten wanted to hurt Obama in the wake of executive orders regarding immigration and global warming that have Republicans once again clamoring about impeachment.  Since the President appears oblivious to these rants, she goes after his daughters, much like the NRA did when Obama announced he was issuing executive orders in regard to gun control.  In the end, she only hurt herself.  Not that anyone will feel sorry for her.

PS:  The RNC apparently feels sorry for Lauten.  Sean Spicer, the Republican communications director, feels that Elizabeth Lauten is the real victim here, not Sasha and Malia, considering it a "partisan attack" on the part of the "mainstream media" to focus so heavily on Lauten's comments.  She has since resigned as Fincher's communications director, and will no doubt take her case to Fox News.

Tough Love, New York Style



Big  Rudy would never have presented the Darren Wilson case to the Grand Jury.  According to the former New York prosecutor and mayor, there wasn't enough evidence for an indictment, based on his pain-staking research, let alone a conviction of Wilson for even excessive force in this case.

Giuliani doesn't stop there, however, he condemns Black society as a culture of violence given its disproportionate murder rate as compared to any other ethic group in this country.  Earlier on Meet the Press, the former mayor noted the high intraracial homicide rate of 93% among Blacks, saying that an outside police force was necessary to protect Blacks from each other.

He echoed those same sentiments in his latest harangue on Fox News, saying that "if I put all my police on Park Avenue instead of Harlem, thousands more Blacks would have died during my time in office."  I guess you could call it "tough love."  Big Rudy only had the best interests in the Black community in mind by beefing up police in their neighborhoods so that he could bring down the overall crime rate in the city, which he has long extolled as the greatest hallmark of his tenure as mayor of New York City.

One problem with Giuliani's assessment of the situation in Ferguson is that the intraracial homicide rate is pretty much the same across the board.  Eight-five per cent of White homicides are committed by other Whites.  By his logic, Black police should be called in to protect Whites form each other, even if the per capita homicide rate is significantly less.

Whether he meant to or not, Giuliani essentially promoted a plantation system of White police officers overseeing Black communities.  He couched his argument by saying that he has only Black residents' better interests in mind, casting himself as the benevolent plantation owner.

It is precisely this kind of paternalism that has incensed Black communities, and why Republicans have struggled to cut into the Democratic hold of the Black vote.  It's not that Blacks are particularly happy with the Democratic Party either, but at least they have far greater representation in the DNP and find themselves in far more leadership positions, including the current US Attorney General, Eric Holder, who continues to press the federal investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown.

Meanwhile, Darren Wilson has resigned from the Ferguson Police force, citing "credible threats" to himself and fellow officers in the wake of the Grand Jury decision.  That maybe true as tension continues to run high in the city in the wake of this decision, but the problems that led to the shooting are ingrained in the police force, which is why there is a separate federal investigation into discrimination charges filed against the Ferguson Police Department.

No doubt, Big Rudy will continue to vent his opinion, bolstered by a conservative audience that largely sees the situation the same way he does.  Inner cities have long been depicted as dens of Black crime, with corrupt local governments incapable of governing themselves, let alone provide the requisite security.  Sadly, Rudy Giuliani has given into the conservative groupspeak, even made himself a spokesman based on his past experience, reinforcing these stereotypes.

What any of this has to do with the shooting death of an unarmed Black teenager is anyone's guess?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Helium Gas Shootout



Nothing like Thanksgiving and the advent of the holiday shopping season to put troubled times behind us.  A few citizens tried to stage protests at shopping malls around the country, in response to the grand jury decision in St. Louis, but for the most part it was business as usual, as crowds thronged to take advantage of "Black Friday" deals.

Despite its retail struggles, Macy's still stages its annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, but it looks more and more like a dinosaur.  The era of the big department store seems all but over as most persons shop by Internet these days.  Count me as one of those.  I have no desire to fight crowds at shopping outlets, no matter how good the deals.  But, Americans still like their consumerist traditions.

I thought one of the funniest moments was Seattle enjoying the turkey repast at the 50-yard line of the new Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, after whipping the San Francisco 49'ers.  The turkey dinner was a new wrinkle in interviews with the stars of the game afterward, but former 49'er great, Jerry Rice, was none too pleased, as were the owner and managers of the team after their poor showing.  They felt it was adding insult to injury.

Football is an indelible part of the four-day weekend with big games at the college and professional level scattered over all four days.  This tradition goes back to the advent of the National Football League in 1920, but the concept stretches back even further to 1876 when Princeton and Yale took to the field in the inaugural Turkey Day gridiron match.

Princeton, 1876

It used to be that Texas and Texas A&M squared off during the weekend, with the winner earning a trip to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, but since the Aggies jumped to the SEC, this long-standing rivalry has been lost, with Texas suffering a humiliating loss to the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian.

Just to remind us once again, five St. Louis Rams players came onto the field holding their hands up in tribute to Michael Brown.  There were protests outside the stadium as well.  The St. Louis police were not happy with this gesture of solidarity.  If there is any consolation for the SLPOA, there probably weren't too many persons watching this game, as the Rams pummeled the lowly Raiders.   It will be interesting to see if the NFL takes any action.  After all, it has an "image" to protect.

The world is changing right before our eyes.  There isn't much we can do about it, but we still cling to our traditions as silly as they may seem to the outside world.  One of my favorite movie scenes is in Broadway Danny Rose, when Danny gets stuck with the gangster's moll in the hanger of the Macy's floats outside New York, better known as the Helium Gas Shootout.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ferguson and beyond

The promise of Civil Rights deferred

Ferguson 2014
With riots spreading throughout the country, the story in Ferguson has resonated in the international media.  The lack of an indictment has been widely disparaged.  Ever since the incident was first reported in August, journalists from around the world have used the shooting to illustrate that the United States has yet to overcome its racial differences.  A Russian newspaper even dubbed the situation in Ferguson "Afromaidan," an all too obvious response to the way the US media has portrayed the events in the Ukraine, as protests have been ongoing in Ferguson since the incident first took place three months ago.

Yet, a large segment of American society seems inured to the events.  Robert P. Jones opins that this is in large part due to the self-segregated communities we live in, unable to appreciate, let alone understand, what it is like to live in black communities like Ferguson.  Decades of desegregation attempts have failed to achieve the desired result.  We still live in a largely segregated society, mostly of our own choosing, and to a large degree shut everything out that doesn't directly concern us.

Many Americans conveniently accept the stereotypes of each other.  Some even take pride in their own stereotypes, especially when portrayed in the ubiquitous reality shows.  Politicians take advantage of the racial divides in their voting districts, especially in the way these districts have been gerrymandered to favor one political party or another, all too often along racial lines.

St. Louis County is little different than any other metropolitan area in the country in the way it is split demographically, with these racially divided communities having little contact with each other at a social level.  Like many Midwest cities, St. Louis attracted Blacks seeking better opportunities in the wake of Jim Crow laws in the South, only to find themselves segregated from the mainstream of society in much the same way.  They settled into racially-defined communities with little representation in local government.

Over the years, the percentage of Blacks living in St. Louis County has increased to nearly 25 per cent, but they still find themselves largely marginalized in local politics.  Even the Ferguson police force, overseen by the county, is mostly White in a community that is predominantly Black, which sadly echoes the plantation system.  Protest becomes the only form of political recourse, evoking the Civil Rights movement.

Birmingham 1963
This is what has captured the attention of the nation and the world.  Ferguson has become a symbol for what is largely seen as a failed promise of civil rights in this country, despite a Black president.  Many see Michael Brown as a martyr.  Conversely, the Ferguson Police Department is seen as the Birmingham police, ca. 1963, led by Bull Connor, who would use any means necessary to quell the protests.  Jay Nixon, governor of Missouri, finds himself in the role of George Wallace sending in National Guard and state police reinforcements.  Like it or not, the stereotypes persist, largely due to the insular worlds we live in.