Thursday, February 25, 2016

Everyone Love Martin

As Black History Month rolls to an end, one of the most interesting developments is how everyone loves Martin these days.  Martin Luther King, Jr. that is.  He has been used to defend  gun rights and commemorated by no less than Donald Trump for his "record-breaking crowd" at Liberty University this past January.  Everywhere you turn, conservatives are heaping praise on MLK, especially in condemning Black Lives Matter, which they seem to think Martin would have never approved of.  Here is Fox and Friends using his niece Alveda King to say that her uncle would never have condoned such a group.

This kind of cultural appropriation is nothing new.  Few would ever admit that Memorial Day stems from a commemoration first held by Black Freedmen in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865.  Black music was appropriated throughout the 20th century by everyone from George Gershwin to Elvis Presley to the Beastie Boys.  One can also find it throughout the fashion industry, in art and in literature.  So, it is not surprising that we now see it in politics as well.

The most blatant example is the sense of victimhood that has swept the white conservative world.  Everyone is a victim now, whether it is some poor community that can't display a nativity scene in front of its town courthouse, or fly the Star and Bars without recrimination.  Even the KKK feels discriminated against when it had its permit denied to stage a march in New York.  I'm sure Martin Luther King Jr. would have appreciated the irony in this.

What makes this even more ironic is watching Trump rail against what he considers to be too much political correctness in society today.  That we should all be free to shout out whatever petty annoyance, grievance or hate-filled message comes to our mind and not be worried about the PC police, which is just his way of saying to hell with the civil rights of others.  He's sure MLK would have approved.

Well, White Americans had no problem venting their frustration and anger during the Civil Rights Movement, whether it came to dumping food on Blacks at segregated lunch counters or spraying them with water hoses at rallies or blowing up a church that killed four little girls.  These were the most publicized examples, but Blacks and other minorities and their White sympathizers felt thousands of other indignities every day during this long struggle that finally resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a century after it was first proposed.

We have seen a continual assault on this Act ever since.  Most recently, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act that stemmed from the CR Act by allowing states to carry out their voter ID laws and other means of marginalizing minority voters.  Justice Ruth Ginsberg evoked Martin Luther King Jr. in her fiery dissent, saying that his legacy has been "disserved by today's decision."  No matter, Chief Justice Roberts felt there were enough examples of voter fraud to warrant the decision.

Trump has tapped into the long simmering resentment to the Civil Rights Act, which many Whites felt upset the fragile balance in our society, giving Blacks an unfair advantage, especially when Affirmative Action was mandated during the Nixon administration.  This led to the so-called "quota system," which meant universities and employers had to provide fair access to minorities, setting aside a certain percentage of admissions and jobs to minorities.  This was met with angry protests then, and is still much reviled now, with many Whites claiming they were overlooked in favor of a less qualified Black or person of other color.

Many states have tried to block or ban this preferential status, and in 2014 The Supreme Court stepped in once again to uphold a 2006 decision by Michigan voters to do away with affirmative action in their state universities.  Surprisingly, Justice Breyer joined the conservatives on this decision seeming to feel that state voters had the right to decide these issues, not the federal government.

Many have accused President Obama of polarizing the race issue, yet it is decisions like these that polarize our society and give credence to xenophobic populists like Trump who rally supporters behind messages of fear and hate that echo the segregationists of the 1950s and 60s.  He is not alone in these sentiments, joined by other conservative candidates on the stump like Ted Cruz.  Even more shocking are apologists like Dr. Ben Carson, who himself benefited from affirmative action but is loathe to admit it.

Little wonder Fox and Friends called on Alveda King, or that Fox uses other Black surrogates to attack Black Lives Matter, which is again calling attention to the vast discrepancies that characterize our country, to which many of us have conveniently turned a blind eye toward.  What we have learned is that civil rights is a continuous struggle, especially when these civil rights are undermined by a conservative Supreme Court that places state rights over individual rights, counter to the original intent of the US Constitution.

This is what Martin Luther King Jr. fought against.  He wanted the US Constitution to be held paramount over odious state constitutions and laws that expressly limited the civil rights of Blacks and other minorities.  This was also true of the Founding Fathers, who attempted to create a stronger federal union, not a weak one like we already had in the Articles of Confederation.  Unfortunately, here we are again fighting to uphold the US Constitution in the face of antagonistic state interests and the petty grievances of individuals who believe we have too much "political correctness."

You can't claim to love Martin if you fight against the civil rights he fought for.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

O.J. Simpson vs. the Criminal Justice System

You knew it had to come and here it is -- The People vs. O.J. Simpson in all its lurid details for the Millennial generation that was still in diapers when the Trial of the Century took place.  Today this show trial acts more as a footnote to the racial strife that dominates network television, where a Super Bowl halftime show becomes prime fodder for round-the-clock cable news thanks in large part to the bodice-busting Beyonce, who appears to be every white conservative male pundit's wet dream, and her controversial X.

I'm of two minds whether to watch this new crime serial or not.  On the one hand, it is from the hands of American Horror Story creator, Ryan Murphy, who is drawn to all the lurid urban horror stories like a moth to a flame.  He is using this trial to launch a new string of mini-series appropriately entitled American Crime Story.  He couldn't have started with a more juicy trial, especially with the Kardashians as a convenient reference point for the Millennial generation.  Father Rob was initially O.J.'s lawyer.  On the other hand, critics are raving over the all-star cast and many nuances this series provides, as it tries to probe beyond the sensational headlines to the real story that those old enough to remember apparently missed.

June 17, 1994 was the day it all started.  This was the slow-speed chase scene in which O.J.'s white Bronco crept along an LA freeway with seemingly all of the LAPD in tow.  It was more like a funeral procession than a chase and just about everyone assumed at this point that O.J. was guilty, choosing to savor his last moments of freedom before spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Then came the legal dream team headed by F. Lee Baily, Robert Shapiro and Johnny Cochran that would turn the case on its ear.  Wisely, a young Rob Kardashian had stepped aside, knowing he was way out of his league.  Cochran quickly took over, smelling rats in the LAPD and LA county prosecutors office, which he would expose for all to see.  What seemed like a "slam dunk" turned into the most ugly, drawn out trial since the Menendez Brothers, the previous "trial of the century" from five years before.  Only this time, it looked very much like the prosecution was in deep trouble.

America instantly took sides.  The trial was shown on C-SPAN so that you could catch virtually every minute if you chose to, or you could catch the nightly recaps on CNN and the other network channels.  Hard to believe, but Fox was not yet born.  Greta Van Susteren made her mark as the official CNN analyst for the case.  She was often joined by Roger Cossack to present both sides of the ongoing case.  Greta is now a mainstay at Fox News.

The murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman quickly became secondary to the larger implications of what O.J. Simpson's indictment represented.  He spent the year in LA County Jail, guilty until proven innocent, as he was considered a flight risk and not allowed out on bail.  Many speculated if he would even survive the year without committing suicide, so a 24-hour guard was placed on him so that he wouldn't find a convenient way to escape justice.

We did have Ron Goldman's father, Fred, to periodically remind us on CNN and other network channels that his son was the real victim here and not O.J.  Faye Resnick speedily put out a book, which just as quickly became a best-seller to remind us what a beautiful soul Nicole was, and that we should all be grieving for her.

It was hard to believe that one of America's premier sports icons could sink to such a level, but we were quickly shown evidence of previous spousal abuse that led to Nicole filing for divorce in 1992.  They were estranged at the time of the murder.  Simpson periodically visited his two children, who were 7 and 9 when the murders took place.  He had four other children from a previous marriage.

The trial lasted 134 days, keeping the nation on the edge of its collective seat.  It should more aptly be called O.J. Simpson vs. the Criminal Justice System as that is what actually took place.  It overshadowed all news, including the recent takeover of Congress by the Republicans with their Contract with America.  Nothing could compare with the sensational news that sprung from the proceedings, ranging from Mark Fuhrman's racist comments to tainted DNA evidence to a bedraggled Marcia Clark who appeared to be wilting under the pressure of all the evidence the defense team put forward to indicate that the LAPD and county prosecutor's office had corroborated to smear O.J. for a crime he didn't commit.

The interesting thing was how the country became divided over his guilt.  White America overwhelming believed O.J. was guilty, whereas Black America overwhelmingly felt he was innocent.  My mother followed the trial more closely than I did.  As it unfolded, she began to express her doubts about his guilt.  She felt that much of the evidence was circumstantial, as it tried to pin him to the scene of the  crime.  The DNA evidence had fallen apart.  The only thing the prosecution had left in the end was a bloody glove, which they were so sure would tie him to the murders that they made him put it on in court.  This proved to be their ultimate undoing, as the glove was about three sizes too small, and no amount of "shrinkage" could account for this sizable difference.  A crestfallen Marcia Clark had to know what the verdict would be at this point.

Still, much of White America insisted on his guilt, cynically observing that it was only thanks to his high-priced lawyers that O.J. was allowed to walk.  For Black Americans, it was also a case of money buying justice, although they believed it was a well deserved acquittal unlike many Blacks who remained behind bars simply because they couldn't afford a lawyer like Johnnie Cochran.

It is hard to say how deep this television series will go into the trial or if it will cover the subsequent civil trial in which O.J. was held responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, forced to pay a punitive award of $25 million to the respective families.  He spent the next two decades trying to cover it, leading to another ugly trial in which he was accused of staging a robbery and kidnapping to get back sports memorabilia he felt had been wrongly taken from him.

By this point, Simpson was a shell of his former self.  No longer able to get any lucrative endorsements much less meaningful work, reduced to pawning items and writing an ill-advised book to try to cover his enormous debts.  It was the quintessential fall from grace story, where just about everyone who played a role in the "trial of the century" profited from it except O.J. Simpson, who was never found guilty of the crimes he had been accused of.

That story is still waiting to be written, maybe by O.J. himself.  He received a 33-year sentence for his latest crimes but is eligible for parole in October, 2017.  All sorts of speculation swirls around him, including concussion theories in the wake of last year's movie surrounding the high rate of concussions in the NFL.  Cuba Gooding Jr., who plays O.J. in the TV series, even thinks O.J. might have been suffering from CTE concussion syndrome at the time of the murders.  We can only speculate, as many of us still do, as to what was going on in the mind of O.J. at the time of the murders and if he really did it.

To me the real travesty was how the LAPD made up its mind from the start that O.J. did it and made no effort to follow any other leads.  Instead, they tried to assemble as much evidence as quickly as they could so that the LA prosecutor could prove his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.  This is the major shortfall in our criminal justice system, as the accused is presumed guilty unless he can prove otherwise, not just in court but in the eyes of the public.  O.J. was able to establish his innocence in the eyes of a criminal court, but not in the eyes of the public, at least not the white public.

Being Glenn Beck

I guess if Donald Trump can claim the ghost of John Wayne, then why can't Ted Cruz claim George Washington?  However, I have to question if Glenn Beck is the official spokesman for George Washington.

The conservative talk show host has been tromping around the Cruz campaign trail, offering up artifacts like a compass and an 18th century copy of Don Quixote, claiming they once belonged to George Washington.  He says "America needs someone like Cruz who displays the exactness of a surveyor."  That's almost enough for anyone to spit his coffee out on the keyboard.  One can say many things about Cruz, but "exactness" is not one of them.

Don Quixote would be the more apt comparison -- a person with a spittoon on his head that holds onto an archaic set of Medieval knight-errantry values, battling windmills and declaring his love for an old hag in a tavern he thinks is his queen and lady despite the numerous rejections.  Why Glenn would want to hold this book as testimony to his candidate is questionable, but apparently he thinks that it is enough that the book was owned by Washington to reach to him beyond the grave and claim his endorsement.  I guess this makes him Ted Cruz's Sancho Panza.

It doesn't matter that Mount Vernon has refuted Glenn's claims, Beck continues on his quixotic quest to try to turn Republicans to Ted Cruz anyway he can.  He has enlisted the help of armchair historian David Barton, who likewise claims to hold onto original artifacts and texts of the Founding Father, which he loves to share with Glenn on his show.  The two have also written numerous books expounding on the faith of the Founding Fathers, which is at odds with more reputed biographies.  To which Barton responds, "historians don't use original texts."

After Nevada's results, it is not surprising that many Republicans buy into this bunk.  Even though Ted didn't win, he and Trump and Carson combined for a staggering 72.5 per cent of the Republican vote.  Trump and Carson appeal to the same level of ignorance in the GOP.  Of course, Nevada Republicans have long been seen as rather daft.  After all, they chose to run the demented Sharron Angle against the highly unpopular Harry Reid in 2010 and lost.

It's too bad George Washington didn't work for Ted, who saw himself come in third (again) behind Marco Rubio.  Both were well behind Trump, who took a whopping 45 per cent of the caucus vote.  I wonder how much the "Bundy rebellions" figured into this not-so-surprising result, as Trump was appealing directly to anti-federal voters in Nevada.  It probably would have been better for Ted to have sought the endorsement of Cliven Bundy.  Whatever the case, I don't think George would approve of Glenn Beck speaking for him.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Losing Game

Getting a good return on your investment is pretty rare in politics.  What amazes me is how big businessmen will sink their money into losing efforts when the writing was on the wall all along.  Maybe they thought a huge SuperPAC would carry any candidate through the primaries, but with Jeb calling it quits just three primaries into the election season, the role of big money is now being called into question.

Oddly enough it is Donald Trump who is questioning that line of reasoning.  He's more than capable of funding himself, yet has relied on twitter, instagram, numerous appearances on television news programs, as well as "Trumpkins," cyber bullies and trolls to get his message out.  He has spent far less money than any other major candidate in this campaign, and gotten the most bang for his buck.  

In Iowa, Trump spent $90 per vote as opposed to Bush's $795.  In New Hampshire, the Donald spent even less at $40 per vote, as opposed to Jeb's $1200.  Only Ted did better at $18 per vote, investing little energy in the Granite State.  Although, these numbers vary, with some estimates suggesting that Jeb had spent as much $5000 per vote as of February 2.

So, why do billionaires put up so much money early in an election cycle, when it is still essentially anyone's ball game?  Sheldon Adelson has a long history of backing losers from Newt Gingrich to Lindsey Graham.  He supported Carly Fiorina, Sharron Angle and Charlie Crist in Senate bids.  He has poured tens of millions of dollars into each two-year election cycle since 2010, and has lost time and again.  He now seems to be leaning toward Marco Rubio, but is waiting to see how the boy wonder does in Nevada before further funding any presidential candidate.  

Trump's counter-strategy is to threaten big donors from investing in his remaining opponents, claiming he will dredge the skeletons out of the Ricketts' family closet if they go with Rubio or Cruz. After Jeb's SuperPAC went down, Trump has been launching similar pre-emptive strikes at other big name donors, hoping to scare them out of the election by drawing their names into the campaign.  Whether such a bold strategy works remains to be seen.

On the Democratic side, Bernie has made his attacks on Hillary's SuperPAC more broad based.  He's essentially turned it into an us-v-them scenario where he represents the grass roots and Hillary the big-moneyed corporate titans, which Citizens United paved the way for.  He has singled out some of Hillary's more lucrative speaking engagements, like that with Goldman Sachs, but investment banks are everyone's favorite bad guy.

At least, big spenders have a 50-50 chance in the Democratic primaries, kind of like going with red or black at the roulette table.  If it had been Uncle Sheldon, he would have probably backed Jim Webb.  It is either Hillary or Bernie, and Bernie has insisted on only taking contributions within the election limit of $2700 per individual.  Most of his contributions are $30 and less.  He has racked up over 4 million contributors to date, essentially matching Hillary vote for vote.  Where he has fallen short, way short, is in pledged superdelegates, which has heavily stacked the deck against him.

Although superdelegates are supposed to remain unpledged until the convention, many are coming out in support of Hillary in the early primaries.  They were able to offset Bernie's victory in New Hampshire when the state's superdelegates all pledged themselves to Hillary.  To date, Hillary has an outsized advantage of superdelegates, which has many Democrats outraged. What is especially ironic is that Vermont's top superdelegate has already committed himself to Hillary, refusing to back the native son who will no doubt carry the state by a huge margin.

By contrast, Republican superdelegates have to vote for the candidate that won their state.  This was a concession made after the 2012 race when Mitt had sewed up the lion's share of superdelegates early in the campaign, leading opponents to challenge the system.  In a rare move, the RNC actually gave more power to the people.  However, the Republicans still have many winner-take-all states where regardless of the margin of victory, the winner takes all the delegates.  This was the case in South Carolina, where Trump won all 44 delegates with only 32 per cent of the vote.

It won't be so easy for Trump from here on out, as the field of establishment candidates has now thinned substantially with only Rubio and Kasich remaining.  Kasich may not be around very much longer, as the GOP elite is clearly lining up behind Rubio now that Jeb has departed.  This explains why Donald is getting so testy.  To this point he has enjoyed a sizable chunk of the GOP electorate that is deeply committed to him, while the establishment candidates have fought among themselves for approximately half of the GOP pie.

His chief competitor for the anti-establishment vote is Ted Cruz, who has a very large SuperPAC and a well-funded and well-organized campaign that can keep him going throughout the primaries, siphoning away voters who might otherwise lean toward Trump in this battle against the GOP establishment.  Pesky Ben Carson is also peeling away voters from him the longer the good doctor stays in the race.  However, it looks like Trump is making little effort to convert these two to his cause.  In fact, he has done just about everything possible to antagonize them.

Hillary appears to have the Democratic nomination pretty much sealed up.  Super Tuesday, with its majority of primaries held in the South, should just about finish Bernie.  At that point, it will be a matter of what role he plays in the Hillary campaign.

For Republicans, it is not going to be decided on Super Tuesday.  Most likely, we will see a three-way race emerge between Trump, Cruz and Rubio, with Rubio having the solid backing of the GOP establishment.  This will leave Donald and Ted to fight among themselves for the rogue vote.  Uncle Sheldon can breathe a sigh of relief.  Still, the GOP will have to play nice and find a way to accommodate the two rogue candidates, otherwise it could end up with a very nasty convention in Cleveland in July.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Goodbye Harper Lee

Harper Lee had a very short-lived return to the limelight with the publication of a long lost novel, Go Set a Watchman.  It was met with mixed reviews, largely because the novel tarnished the image of Atticus Finch we all had from To Kill a Mockingbird, widely regarded as one of the best American novels of the 20th century.

To Set a Watchman actually predated To Kill a Mockingbird, but never was published because her editor, Tay Hohoff, felt it would be best for Lee to focus on Scout's childhood.  The runaway success of her latter novel meant that her first novel was tossed into the dustbin of history.  It probably would never have been resurrected had not Ms. Lee regained attention in 2007, when George Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Unlike most authors, Lee had only one novel to her credit, and everyone was curious if there was more.  So, we were presented with To Set a Watchman in 2015, as it seems Lee didn't try to publish anything after To Kill a Mockingbird, other than a few extant articles.

It was very hard to top To Kill a Mockingbird, which sold more than 40 million copies and was made into a cinematic classic.  No one has tried to remake the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham as Scout, and for good reason.  Some questioned if it even came from her hand, attributing the novel to her childhood friend, Truman Capote.  Still, you would think Harper Lee continued to write and that there are other manuscripts hidden away, which now may see the light of day.  For the time being, we will have to settle for a 1983 essay, Romance and High Adventure, which was published in an anthology of Southern writers, Clearings in the Thicket, in 1985.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Captain Obvious shoots himself in the foot

or how Jeb's "America" backfires

As Jeb's campaign self-destructs in South Carolina, it is clear that some persons are much better at pandering to the base of the GOP than others.  Jeb is very bad at it. Not only did he shoot himself in the foot with one of his more recent tweets, but his website recently expired and his server redirected persons to Trump's website.  Talk about the ultimate humiliation.

It doesn't stop there.  Jeb spent most of the past few weeks trying to woo Gov. Nikki Haley's endorsement in the upcoming South Carolina primary only for her to endorse Marco Rubio.  Jeb looked positively beaten in this video interview.  It was hard for "Captain Obvious" to put a smile on what has transpired in the Palmetto State.

From the get-go, Jeb has been running his campaign like it was 1999, and I mean that literally.  His campaign team has been blithely unaware of how the internet works, much less how effective it can be as a campaign tool.  Trump has built his entire campaign around twitter and instagram, having to fork out about one-tenth the cash the Jeb! campaign has spent just trying to stay within striking distance of the poll leader.

I suppose Jeb felt at some point Republican voters would get tired of Trump, as he obviously had, and that they would turn to serious candidates.  He campaigned heavily in New Hampshire and managed to scratch out a "respectable" fourth place finish and three delegates, but he is likely to get goose-egged in South Carolina, where his numbers are slipping badly.  All his attempts to pander to the conservative electoral base of the GOP have failed and now he is losing the establishment vote as well, as the three SC heavyweight Republicans have thrown their support behind Marco Rubio.

What has fascinated me about the Republican primaries is that none of the candidates have tried to go after the moderate vote.  They have all decided that they can't win unless they score a certain percentage among the conservative evangelical vote, so they aim their campaigns at the lowest common denominator in the party.

It might surprise you to know that 52 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents accept Climate Change as real.  Only 26 per cent deny it, and 22 per cent have no opinion.  Yet, has any candidate besides George Pataki stressed climate change on the campaign trail?  Kasich begrudgingly admits it is real, but hasn't made it an issue.  He offers this lame response instead.  Jeb thinks climate change will solve itself.  If so many conservatives accept climate change is real, why not make it an issue, as it would distance yourself from idiots like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who persistently deny it is occurring.

Solar energy jobs outpace coal fuel jobs by three to one.  Solar and wind are the fastest growing energy companies in America.  Prices have tumbled on solar panels, making them affordable to most Americans.  Even Walmart has gotten in the game, using solar power to augment virtually all of its facilities.  Yet, not a single one of these candidates is willing to push alternative energy, even though it makes economic sense.  Much more so than Keystone XL, which they all push.

Jeb could have staked out a sustainable energy policy that would have made him a viable alternative to the conservative nay-sayers who dominate the election cycle.  Instead, he chose to pander to the base of the party and now finds himself polling a miserable 4 per cent in national polls.

Another thing you might find quite shocking is that 31 per cent of Republicans are pro-choice.  Of course, you would never know it to watch or read the conservative blogosphere, but this was from a Gallup Survey conducted May 29,2015.  This is a significant group of people, yet neither Jeb nor Kasich will approach the subject with a ten-foot poll, preferring to align themselves with the pro-life majority.  In a 16-way race as it was at the start of the campaign, 31 per cent would have made a candidate the clear front runner.

On gay marriage, you see similar numbers, with 32 per cent of Republicans giving their support.  Even self-professed conservatives showed 30 per cent support.  Again, a very sizable demographic that not a single one of the Republicans left in the race support.

Of course, these are more thorny issues than sustainable energy, as it would be hard to build a consensus in the party at the national convention, but still if a person wanted to stake oneself out as an alternative candidate, why not accept mainstream opinion on these issues and present oneself as a more viable candidate in a general election?

What we have are Republican candidates who are appealing only to the extreme right of their political spectrum, rather than try to play to the different gradients of the party.  Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers are not the only party backers with deep pockets.  North Carolina billionaire Jay Faison pledged $175 million to push the Republican Party on climate change but got no takers.  Why?

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was once the darling of Republicans as Governor of California is a big proponent of green energy, recently joining Bill Nye, the Science Guy, for an interesting and amusing National Geographic segment on climate change.  Surely, this is something you can pitch to Republicans in general and join everybody else in making our planet a safer place to live.

Probably the most shocking blown opportunity was Jeb's refusal to embrace immigration reform, putting border security first.  According to this survey conducted by Gallup in August, 2015, a whopping 50 per cent of Republicans support a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants, and only 31 per cent favor deportation.  Here is a bilingual former governor of Florida with a multi-cultural family and he couldn't make what was an obvious decision to fully support immigration reform.

When Jeb looks back at his failed campaign, he will wish he had been more like Arnold and less like Trump, promoting positive causes, which he initially claimed he was going to do, rather than wallow in the same moshpit with the other candidates in an attempt to curry favor with the base of the Republican party.  He missed out on a large disaffected cross-section of Republican voters who would have been all too glad to support him as the only reasonable candidate in the bunch.  Instead, he will be remembered as the candidate who shot himself in the foot.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Political Tale of Horny Bill and Calamity Hillary

or How I Learned to Love Bill Clinton

Historians will no doubt have a field day with the Clintons in the years to come, especially if Hillary wins in November.  There has never been anything in American history to compare with this power couple, which ruled Arkansas for 11 years and has the potential to make it 16 years in the White House.  Add to that Hillary's 8 years in the Senate and 4 years as Secretary of State.  There was even an attempt at one point to nominate Bill as Secretary General of the United Nations after Kofi Annan stepped down.

The amazing thing to me is how this marriage survived given all the recorded affairs Horny Bill had.  Yet, Calamity Hillary stood by her man, and even helped shush some of the women who brought charges against Bill in the 90s.  Bill's 1992 campaign looked like it was going to unravel much like Gary Hart's campaign eight years before, but thanks to Hillary's unflinching support, Bill survived the numerous sexual allegations that surfaced in the early days of his campaign.

If there had been any doubts that Bill had affairs, the Monica Lewinsky affair erased them.  Horny Bill was finally forced to come clean and what an ugly affair it was,  Not surprisingly, he used much the same defense he used when accused of smoking marijuana, he touched but didn't penetrate. Granted, it wasn't an impeachable offense, but it certainly made BIll look like the predator-in-chief.  The odd thing though is that he escaped this too.  Most Americans actually felt sorry for Bill, and Monica was presented as a Capitol Hill Lolita, whose purpose all along was to entice the President into an affair, right down to her well-publicized dress.

We found out in 2000 why Hillary put up with all this, when she chose to run for the vacant New York Senate seat left by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who gave her his blessing.  This is all the more amazing since Hillary had only declared residency in the state in 1999.  To this point, their official residency had been Arkansas, but there was little chance Hillary would win over the electorate in her home state, so she made New York her home.  Her high profile ensured instead success.  She had no problem fending off her Democratic challenger, Mark McMahon, and when Mayor Rudy dropped out of the Republican primary for health reasons, it left the door wide open for her triumphant victory in November.

You'd think she would drop Bill, who was little more than baggage at this point, but they clung together, amassing a sizable fortune in speaking fees and book deals that would be the envy of any former First Couple.  The former president had time to regain some dignity.  He went through bypass surgery in 2004, and it seems his sins were all forgiven.

After Bill recovered, he spent his time building his library back in Little Rock, enlisting the services of New York architectural firm, Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects) to design the intriguing building that cantilevers over a grassy knoll like a space-age covered bridge.  This is the most impressive Presidential library to date, costing well over $150 million, exceeding the allotted federal budget for such endeavors.  Not to worry, Bill got some financial assistance from his Saudi friends.  When Hillary chose to run for President in 2008, this would become an issue.

Meanwhile, Hillary was trying to make sense of her new role as Senator, wondering what Uncle Daniel would do in these thorny situations that came up.  Should she vote for Bush's massive tax cuts or not?  Should she vote for the Patriot Act or not?  Should she approve the Iraq War Resolution or not?  To her credit, she voted against the tax cuts, but her votes for the Patriot Act and Iraq War Resolution would come back to haunt her in 2008.

Probably the most interesting bill she co-sponsored was the Family Entertainment Protection Act in 2005, intended to protect children from inappropriate content found in video games.  This bill arose over the hidden sex scenes in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which she felt the FTC should investigate.  Needless to say, she didn't support such scrutiny when it came to her horny husband, who was probably trying to find these sex scenes during his idle moments back in their New York residence.

In eight years, Hillary had made quite a name for herself.  She won an easy re-election, and it seemed that the Patriot Act and the Iraq War were behind her.  She had sponsored over 700 pieces of legislation.  She became an active voice in the Committee of Armed Services, and her name was now being mentioned prominently as a presidential candidate.  But, along came a junior senator from Illinois who threatened to undo everything she had put together, everything she had been forced to endure, everything she held dear.

For all of Hillary's name recognition and recent accomplishments, nothing could prepare her for the grueling presidential campaign trail that began in January, 2007.  She had been down this road before with her husband, but Obama proved to be a much tougher challenge than the "six pack" back in 1992.  Horny Bill did his best to offer his support, but you got the feeling he was more in this for himself than he was his wife.  She looked like a surrogate candidate, as Lurleen was for Governor George Wallace in Alabama.  Her voice quivered and broke, and she often seemed at a loss for words on the campaign trail.  Her managers had banked her entire candidacy on Super Tuesday, only to find the sneaky junior senator had pulled off more primary victories than her, including key southern states in Alabama and Georgia.  

It was a calamitous turn of events for the former First Lady and New York Senator.  She came out of Super Tuesday with a slight lead in delegates, but the damage was done.  Obama would tear through the Midwest like a tornado.  Even her last line of defense, Texas, went Obama's way in the caucuses, offsetting her primary victory.  There was no way she could secure the nomination at this point, so it came time to strike deals, making sure she had a place in the Obama administration.  Some were even suggesting her as Vice-President.

Horny Bill could only shake his head.  His White House dreams had been deferred.  Hillary could have returned to the Senate, where she no doubt would have risen in the ranks to become Senate Leader.  Instead, she chose to become Obama's Secretary of State.  This was seen as a big deal, as it helped heal the split in the Democratic Party, and further elevated Hillary's stature in the eyes of her supporters.

The story could have ended here, but Hillary decided to step down as the country's highest ranking diplomat in 2012 and quietly start amassing a war chest for a presidential run in 2016.  Everyone knew what was afoot, but Hillary played coy.  She wanted to check any presidential ambitions of others, particularly Elizabeth Warren, who had become an early favorite among Democrats.  By not declaring, she essentially kept others from running, as few persons wanted to go up against her formidable stature, especially now that she had the presidential seal of approval.  

It seemed that the skies were parting for Calamity Hillary and Horny Bill once again.  All the polls showed her well out in front of any prospective Democratic or Republican challenger.  She just had to bide her time, wait for that propitious moment to declare her candidacy once all the cards were in place.  You could just see Horny Bill savoring his return to the White House.

An independent senator from Vermont became impatient, feeling it was unfair for Democrats not to have a delcared candidate, especially with so many Republicans tossing their hats into the ring.  It seemed like an impromptu event.  Few took Bernie seriously.  Who's going to vote for a 74-year old Socialist Jew, whose track record is that of being a thorn in everyone's side.  

This tale is still in progress, but Horny Bill is showing the same impatience he did in 2008, Calamity Hillary is making the same missteps, the Iraq War Resolution still haunts her, and Trump has threatened to unleash a torrent of abuse regarding Bill's many affairs in the general election if he wins the Republican nomination.  One can well imagine that will be the case with any Republican nominee as the faux Benghazi and e-mail scandals have failed to stick.

Whether or not the Clintons win the White House again, their place in American history is assured.  No power couple has held this much influence in American politics since the days of Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt, inspiring equal parts praise and condemnation.   Not bad for a Boy from Hope and his former Goldwater Girl.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Welcome to the Dumbest Show on Earth

Trump joins Michael Savage in fueling conspiracy theories around the death of Scalia.  Ted Cruz promises no gluten-free MRE's if he is commander-in-chief.  Jeb believes a hand gun is the symbol of America.  Marco Rubio said he was faking it when he showed support for the immigration reform bill back in 2013.  Ben Carson thinks Muslims who embrace American values are schizophrenic.  And, John Kasich doubles down on his proposal to create a new government agency to promote Judeo-Christian values.

This is all well and good as far as South Carolinians are concerned.  A  PPP poll found some rather disturbing opinions being expressed in the Palmetto State.  Not surprisingly, most South Carolinians believe the Stars and Bars should still be flying over the state capitol, but what is alarming is the degree of anti-Muslim sentiment among state residents.  Not only did 25 per cent of those polled believe Islam should be banned in America, but 47 per cent supported Trump's idea of creating a national data base of Muslims. and 60 per cent supported a ban on any more Muslims entering the United States.

Not surprising, the six remaining GOP candidates have all staked out hard right positions with the South Carolina primary on the immediate horizon, which will award the largest number of Republican delegates to date.  Kasich's pronouncements are a bit odd, including his decision to sign a state bill to defund Planned Parenthood, as he isn't expected to do well in South Carolina anyway, so why turn hard right when he has Midwest states later in the primaries, where his more moderate message would resonate.  It just shows the degree to which the tail is wagging the dog in the Grand Old Party.

It is too much for Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who voiced his disdain for the "circus of bombastic attacks" and the "lack of dignity" being expressed in this election cycle.  Billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is similarly upset, once again pondering a potential White House run of his own.

We hear a lot about the conservative billionaires funding Republican campaigns, but we don't hear much about the liberal billionaires who generally support Democrats, but like to exercise the option to run themselves if the mood suits them.  Bloomberg has considered a presidential run probably more times than Donald Trump, but never could bring himself to do it.  At least, he tested the political waters in New York, where he served as mayor for three terms.  He is worth an estimated 37 billion dollars, which is four times more than Trump's own accounting.  So, on paper that would make him a far better candidate.

To Bloomberg's credit, he forsook the Republican Party sometime ago, largely over the lack of fiscal responsibility, but also because of its gun fetish.  However, he hasn't quite been able to align himself with Democrats, although he supported Obama in both 2008 and 2012, and in general promotes the same political agenda.  He isn't overly happy about the Democratic choices this time around, which is why he is considering an independent run for the White House.

This is exactly what Trump wants.  A Bloomberg candidacy would peel away independent and conservative Democratic support for Hillary, giving him a fighting chance in the general election.   I'm sure former Mayor Mike knows that but maybe he thinks he can come away with the lion's share of the votes in a three-way and even a potential four-way race if Trump is forced to run as independent himself.  Then it really would be a circus, as Howard Schultz said.

Right now, it is more a vaudeville act with GOP candidates not afraid to plumb the lowest depths of the lowest common denominator.  Ted going after gluten-free MRE's takes the cake.  He seems to think gluten intolerance is a politically correct condition, not a medical condition, and doesn't believe that persons can have very bad reactions to gluten, including American soldiers.  I think this position may have come from Trump calling Ted a pussy, and now he has to go out of his way to prove what a he-man he is.  Gluten-free bread is apparently for pussies.

It doesn't help when the GOP primaries get the most attention, because Hillary and Bernie have been quite civil for the most part, and have tried to keep the focus of their campaigns on serious issues.  Sadly, however, it is pretty hard to beat the pie-throwing between the Republicans when it comes to television ratings, and that is what drives mainstream news media today.  Case in point, the media chose to magnify Trump's puerile retort to the President's criticism of the GOP field on national security rather than stress what is a very serious concern.

One can understand Mayor Mike's and Mr. Starbucks' anxiety, but adding more candidates to the mix will hardly solve the problem.  It will just split the vote even more.  If their aim is to defeat Trump and Cruz, the biggest Republican clowns, then it would behoove them to consider either Hillary or Bernie, and put the full weight of their sizable fortunes behind one of the Democratic candidates, as obviously their own messages are not going to resonate with the GOP.

Given the PPP poll, I think the media should also discount South Carolina as a failed state, as obviously these people are too fucked up to be taken seriously.  After all, it took an executive order to bring down the Confederate flag, not a public referendum.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The ten-dollar founding father without a father

It's a strange day, to say the least, when Hamilton becomes the most talked about event at the Grammy Awards.  Well, that and Taylor Swift's smackdown of Kanye West with another vicious retort in their on-going feud.

It must be every historian's dream to have his biography of a famous figure made into a Broadway production.  This is exactly what happened with Ron Chernow's epic account of Alexander Hamilton.  There is no doubt that AH was a colorful figure.  He was the illegitimate son of a British-French Huguenot woman and a Scottish laird on the Caribbean island of Nevis, who didn't look like he was going anywhere until adopted by a Nevis merchant who saw great potential in the young man.  Young Alexander won an essay contest that so impressed community leaders that they raised the money to send him to North America for an education.

Hamilton always seemed to be a step ahead of his contemporaries, earning the favor of George Washington during the War for Independence, and anchoring his administration when the General became President.  Our financial system is based on Hamilton's ideas, as is our manufacturing system, but the young man also had quite a life outside politics, ending in an unfortunate duel with Aaron Burr, who has been portrayed in history as Hamilton's dark shadow.

As the story goes, Lin-Manuel Miranda was just biding time in the airport reading Chernow's biography when the inspiration struck.  Miranda researched whether any play had been done on Hamilton and sure enough there was a production in 1917, starring George Arliss as AH.  Miranda decided to give Hamilton a hip-hop score, which he first premiered at the White House back in 2009, earning the favor of Obama.  It took another 6 years to finally get his musical to the stage, where it became an instant hit and now has a Grammy to add to its many credits.

Who needs a ten-bill dollar bill, when you have a Grammy audience eating out of your hand.  Hamilton is hip, and who knows may inspire a new generation.  As for Swift and Kanye, it seems the only way to settle their nasty feud is with a duel.

Monday, February 15, 2016

In George we trust

President's Day is usually a time for sales, everything from mattresses to trucks, as it is out with the old and in with new.  People start thinking about Spring even if still buried in snow.  There are parades and every year a pretty good-sized crowd descends on Mount Vernon to honor our first president.  Admission is free so why not.  I feel most remiss in never having visited Mt. Vernon, even though I had the chance to do so when I lived in Washington, DC.

While most presidents have an air of controversy surrounding them, George has managed to skate clean through the centuries virtually unsullied.  Sure, there are those who complain that he was a slaveholder.  Every year there is a new story about Washington and his slaves, like this one from the Smithsonian that highlighted one of his slaves who escaped rather than be made a wedding present.

Of our first 12 presidents, only two didn't own slaves.  You probably guessed that is the Adams family -- father and son.  Even Martin Van Buren held onto one slave from his family.  Tom escaped in 1814, but Van Buren showed little interest in recovering him.  Martin would later join the Free Soil Party.

George was the biggest slave owner of the Presidents, with an estimated 250-350 slaves.  He also was the biggest land holder of all the Presidents, with an estimated estate of 8000 acres at Mount Vernon and another 50,000 acres in far flung properties.  Washington would often have to ride through his vast land holdings to ensure that no one claimed squatters' rights.  You can find these and other key facts on the Mt. Vernon website.

He is generally seen as boring and not overly erudite.  He liked to surround himself with bright young men.  David and Jeanne Heidler added the newest account to the Washington bibliography, in which they explore his inner circle in the same vein as Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which studied Lincoln's cabinet.

Indeed, Washington was the conciliatory voice that held rival factions together, but when he died in 1799, everything began to break apart.  Jefferson wasn't going to pay deference to John Adams seeking a second term.  Hamilton and Burr were on the verge of a deadly duel.  Plots and intrigues abounded in Washington, which was little more than a malarial swamp when Adams first resided in the White House in 1800.

The former General had taken up residence in New York and later Philadelphia while the White House was under construction.  It was a very modest house, befitting the nature of the young republic, but unfortunately is no longer standing.

President Washington had engaged Pierre Charles L'Enfant to come up with a plan for the new capital.  The French architect laid out a beautiful city on the banks of the Potomac River in the classic Beaux-Arts tradition, but when he heard that Washington planned to sell shares to fund the construction, L'Enfant balked, saying that is no way to build a city.  It would take 100 years for L'Enfant's plan to finally be realized.  The District of Columbia would forever remain a ward of the federal government.

Other presidents have come and gone.  The White House has been remodeled repeatedly over the years to suit individual tastes.  Each president, however, has been held up to the paragon of presidents, whose imperturbable temper is the standard by which all presidents are judged.   This day used to be his day alone, but has now come to symbolize all presidents as there was no longer room to have both a Washington and Lincoln day on the federal calendar.  For the record, George Washington was born on February 22.

No president has had more natural features, towns, schools, universities, roads, bridges and even a state named after him.  Good ol' George stands over us not only on Mt. Rushmore but all things we do today as a mythical figure we cannot escape.   "What does George think?" would best characterize the plethora of books, tracts and unsubstantiated quotes that have been written in his name, most of them wildly straying from the mark in an effort to defend the authors' own causes.

Unfortunately, no one has written a badass book about George, like Seth Grahame-Smith did of Lincoln.  There are depictions of George as a zombie hunter, which I could see made into a video game.  Mount Vernon has this eerie hologram of George Washington.

This brings to mind an actual attempt to resuscitate George Washington so that he could witness the dawn of the 19th century.  This essentially would have made George a zombie, if the experiment had been allowed to take place.  There were also fights over his body parts, including his head.  Fortunately, our first president was entombed intact.

It's great that a historical figure has been able to hold up so well over the centuries and still be universally claimed.  Very few persons have anything bad to say about George Washington, and many historians rank him at the top of the list of best presidents.  So, George, I salute thee, even if it is not officially your birthday.  You will always be number one.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Scalia is Dead

The Republicans lose their biggest ideologue, casting a cloud over the election cycle.  Republican candidates were quick to politicize the Supreme Court justice's death by demanding that the Senate not give into any of Obama's "liberal appointees," while the President struck a more conciliatory and somber tone, saying he will nominate a successor.  It is doubtful that the Senate will agree on a nominee but stranger things have happened.

I guess you could call it a pre-emptive strike on the part of the Republicans, who were quick to evoke the Thurmond Rule.  The only problem is that Uncle Strom's unwritten rule only applies in the last 6 months of a President's term, which as John Oliver noted, doesn't begin until July 20.  It seems the GOP panicked when they heard the news, oh boy!

It is hard to feel too much sympathy for Scalia, who has often struck an inflammatory tone on his decisions, but apparently he was a real pussy cat outside the Supreme Court chamber, not to mention a Bob Dylan fan.  For a man who believed ardently in the original intent of the Constitution, his decisions were riddled with contradictions, which I imagine Judge Ruth pointed out.

It wasn't so much the Constitution he upheld, but rather a right wing interpretation of the Constitution that was often at odds with its original intent that he so much extolled.  His decision on Citizens United being the most blatant example.  It is highly doubtful the founding fathers ever imagined corporations having an outsized influence on politics, as they do today.

Scalia, like SC Justices Thomas and Alito, was driven by purely ideological causes.  There wasn't an ounce of objectivism in his opinions. He was clever enough to find legal precedents for his decisions the same way a good lawyer finds some way to get his defendant acquitted of all charges.  He was only interested in the "original intent" of the Constitution so long as it served the purposes of the political right wing.

Rubio's comment is quite telling, as he sees the Constitution as a dead letter, not a "living and breathing document" or subject to the "latest fads."  There are several things wrong with his statement during the GOP debate.  Most glaringly, the Constitution has been amended 17 times since it was first penned, including civil rights amendments that gave minorities a say in government, otherwise we would have never seen an Italian judge or Hispanic senator.  In fact, it took the 13th amendment effectively nullify the 3/5's clause that only allowed slaves and other non-voting persons to be counted as 60 per cent of the electorate, and further nullify poll taxes and other means of disenfranchising minority voting.

Another glaring error was his statement that no "lame duck" president has appointed a Supreme Court Justice in the last 80 years.  We only have to go back 28 years to when Ronald Reagan appointed Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court, and was confirmed in February, 1988.   But, this is the kind of duplicity we have come to expect from the Republican party.  For the record, a "lame duck" president is any president in the last two years of a two-term presidency.

Antonin Scalia will be remembered for his very narrow-minded decisions that served no other purpose than to uphold a right wing political agenda, which has been in place ever since Reagan and Bush stacked the Supreme Court deck with conservative judges.   Scalia was a Reagan appointee, who had resided on the Supreme Court for 30 years.  He has been the most adamant in defending right wing causes, offering scathing dissents when a decision didn't go his way, and gaining huge favor among right wing ideologues.

For the first time in three decades, there is the opportunity to have a less ideologically-driven Supreme Court.  Of course, the Republican Senate will fight any Obama appointee, especially one they deem as being liberal, so the President will have to make a very prudent choice if he expects his appointee to be confirmed.  However, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has further politicized the issue by saying the next president should appoint Scalia's successor, despite it being the Consitutional duty of the current President to present a nominee in Scalia's place.

One could argue that just about anyone would be better than Scalia.  Other conservative nominees, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy have shown more neutrality on key issues like the Affordable Care Act and immigration.  Alito and Thomas are both ideologues, but tended to take a back seat to Scalia.   Now that he is gone, they will step forward, but they will not exercise the same influence on the bench that Scalia had.

Sri Srinvasin being confirmed by Sanda Day O'Connor

Many are guessing that Sri Srinivasin is the Supreme Court Justice in waiting,  He won a unanimous show of support from the Senate when nominated as Judge for the US District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2013.  Jeffrey Tobin tagged him nearly three years ago for the top bench.  He is the type of moderate who in any other year would probably sail through confirmation hearings, but this is a wild and wacky year.

For Republicans, the death of Scalia is a huge blow and will no doubt ramp up efforts to push for a Presidential nominee who will win the general election.  They see their tenuous grasp on the Supreme Court slipping away, a court they have dominated for 30 years, essentially giving them the last word on any legislative issue.  For them, Scalia will be sorely missed.

However, for the rest of us it feels like the dawning of a new day.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Oh Hillary!

I was hoping Hillary would sit this election cycle out and we would see some new faces in the Democratic primaries.  Instead, we end up with a 74-year old activist as the voice of the young people in the Democratic Party, polling 84% among Millennials and consistently destroying Hillary in social media polls.  In fact, Bernie outpolls Hillary in all the demographic groups except Baby Boomers.

2016 has been a weird election year and it just got weirder with Team Hillary now challenging Bernie's Civil Rights creds.  They called on the Democratic Black Caucus, John Lewis, in particular, to question if Bernie was even there back in 1963 when they all were walking the walk.  Lewis claims he never saw Bernie at any Civil Rights Rally.  Of course, the March on Washington, which Bernie attended, was a very large affair so it isn't surprising that they didn't brush shoulders.  However, John made it sound like Bernie's involvement in the Civil Rights movement was minimal at best.

Hillary Clinton was still a young teen between 1960 and 63.  She started college at Wellesley in 1965, where the self-described "Goldwater Girl" joined the Young Republicans.  It was only after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 that she began to take an active interest in the Civil Rights movement.  John Lewis was quick to vouch for her involvement during his endorsement speech, but by this point just about everyone who had any conscience was standing up for civil rights.

Nothing wrong with switching allegiances, but you really have to wonder about this strategy of going after Bernie's Civil Rights record.  There have already been questions raised about Bernie's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.  Last November, Some unnamed University of Chicago alumni doubted whether it was Bernie in a photo Rachel Maddow presented on her show, claiming it was Bruce Rappaport, apparently Bernie's doppleganger.

Mother Jones came to Bernie's rescue, offering plenty of evidence to show that the future Vermont senator was part of the movement in Chicago and participated in national rallies as well.  Bernie was active between 1960-63 before the Civil Rights Act was passed, but had to step back when his grades slid at the University of Chicago.   Keith Ellison used more colorful language to support Bernie, saying "no matter how good your eyesight is -- if you are standing in Alabama, you can't see people in Chicago."

There really was no reason to drag the Civil Rights movement into the primaries, but it appears that Hillary is worried that Bernie might cut into her overwhelming lead in South Carolina, where black voters make a big difference.  Bernie started running an ad that showed his support for Eric Garner's daughter, which hits very close to the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement.  It is going to make a big impact on voters, especially young black voters, who are leaning toward him.  It's simple really, Bernie's message from the get-go has been about inclusion, and he keeps expanding that message, which is making Team Hillary very, very nervous.

Now come the Civil Rights heavy hitters, all backing Hillary.  Well not all.  Harry Belafonte and Cornell West have chosen to support Bernie, as have other prominent figures like Danny Glover and Ta-Nahesi Coates. breaking down Hillary's firewall that she is counting on to stop Bernie spreading his message in the South.

Even the DNC is rewriting the Democratic playbook to give Hillary more financial support, as Bernie has been tapping into the same level of grassroots funding that Obama had in 2008.  Once a bright young star in the Democratic party, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is now largely seen as a villain trying to undermine Bernie's campaign.

This is what happens when your number one candidate has no message.  From the start, Hillary has been promoting herself.   There is little in her campaign that inspires the base of the Democratic Party.  Worse, she carries all this baggage, notably Bill Clinton, who has been firing broadsides at Bernie as well.  Last time Bill got involved, he pretty much cost his wife the election.  Here he is again sticking his big foot in his mouth.

Hillary needs to hone her message, not launch into a smear campaign aimed at undermining Bernie's Sanders' legitimacy.  But then, she did the same thing with Obama back in 2008, when she saw her nomination slipping away.  Spurious charges concerning his legitimacy began to surface, and the Clinton camp did nothing to tamp them down.  Instead, her campaign team allowed them to grow, and later tried to say they had no part in spreading them.  This time, her campaign is being more upfront, using surrogates like John Lewis to question's Bernie's Civil Rights record.  Lewis should know better, but it seems all's fair in politics.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Black is Beautiful

You have to hand it to Beyonce for making the Black Panthers and Malcolm X a part of Black History Month whether Middle America wanted it or not.  Fox News is still raging over her Super Bowl Halftime performance, with many of their guests calling it "racist" that she could reference these notorious figures in her routine.  Many have compared her performance to the KKK, despite the fact that no crosses were burned during the program.  Suffice it to say, the Black Panthers and Malcolm X are generally seen in a bad light, even by black police sergeants.

Maybe this is a good time to find out more about the two.  For starters, the Black Panthers were founded on Malcolm X's concept of black nationalism.  Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, which was one of the reasons Beyonce was referring to him, and the Black Panthers were formed the following year in Oakland, coincidentally the same year as Super Bowl I.  She, like many others, have linked the two to Black Lives Matter, which has gained a notorious reputation among conservative pundits and city police chiefs as a militant black nationalist group.

One of the many ironies here is that the Black Panthers SAFE program modeled itself after a neighborhood watch group. offering protection to the black citizens of Oakland and eventually other cities.  This was not much unlike the neighborhood watch groups and militia units we see all around the country today.  For the most part, the Black Panthers were unarmed, as gun laws were more restrictive then, but their menacing presence in black jackets and black berets was enough to send jitters through a white establishment that wasn't ready to deal with militant negroes.  This all came to a head in 1968 when two black athletes had the audacity to put on black gloves and give the "black power salute" at the Olympic Games in Mexico City.

The Black Nationalism that rose to the fore in the 60s dates back to Marcus Garvey, who established a colony in Jamaica in 1914.  Garvey preached Pan-Africanism, which spread through the Caribbean and Africa and became the principal motivational tool for independence in the 60s.  There was a Pan-African political party in South Africa, but it was second cousin to the African National Congress, and faded into oblivion when the first truly democratic elections were held in the 1990s.

It was more difficult for these movements to gain a foothold in the United States, especially in the South.  Any kind of black militantism was usually met with harsh violence.  This was sadly true for Black Panthers like Fred Hampton, who was savagely gunned down by the FBI and Chicago police in 1969.  As the movement grew to other cities, the FBI took a strong interest, treating this movement the same as it did the communist movement of the 50s.  This resulted in raids, which led to the arrest and deaths of prominent Black Panther leaders, and cemented in the mind of Middle America that the Black Panthers were bad.

The fact that the Black Panthers started as a community outreach program, providing a breakfast program, health care and other services to local blacks was lost on the broader American public.  SAFE became the most visible aspect of the Black Panthers, a neighborhood watch group that many whites so as a militant organization.  This was similar to the Nation of Islam, which Malcolm X was part of in New York, although the Black Panthers had no specific religious affiliation.

Other key figures emerged in the 70s like Angela Davis with her huge afro that Beyonce's dancers took as well.  Davis was fired as a professor at UCLA for what were perceived as her radical views.  The Board of Regents for the University of California petitioned then Governor Ronald Reagan to dismiss her, which he did in 1969 for her membership in the Communist Party.  She was later arrested for purchasing firearms that 17-year-old Jonathon Jackson used in the takeover of a Marin County Courthouse, which led to a violent shootout resulting in the deaths of a judge and three other men.  Davis faced a lengthy trial but was finally acquitted in 1971.  However, in the minds of the white public she remained guilty of arming Jackson.

The Black Power movement was responding to rampant discrimination at the time.  If white society wasn't going to accept blacks in their midst then blacks had to carve out their own separate identity.  The militia groups served mostly for protection, but when they stood up to local police forces the white media took SAFE and other similar organizations as para-military groups bent on creating havoc in society.

The irony is that today we see many white neighborhood watch groups and local militias that are armed to the teeth with assault weapons that they can openly carry in many states, but this is not viewed in the same sinister light.  When the Oath Keepers came to the aid of Cliven Bundy and his dispute with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, Fox News treated both like modern-day folk heroes.  Fox was a little less committal when Bundy's sons staged the takevoer of a bird sanctuary in Oregon, but still gave Ammon Bundy plenty of airtime during the month-long siege.

Woe be it to Beyonce for bringing the Black Panthers and Malcolm X into the Super Bowl festivities.  Many white conservative groups are planning anti-Beyonce rallies and demanding a boycott of her music sales on social media.  Nothing like deflecting the hate to the other side, with the assist of black surrogates, which Fox generously provides.