And the GOP Outreach Effort Continues

Posted May 17, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Republican follies

Tags: ,

Via Martina Navritalova’s excellent twitter feed, I found this:

House Republican leaders intervened Friday to prevent a vote on immigration legislation, dealing a severe blow to election-year efforts to overhaul the dysfunctional system.

The move came after a Republican congressman from California announced plans to try to force a vote next week, over strong conservative opposition, on his measure creating a path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as children and serve in the military.

Rep. Jeff Denham labeled his bill the ENLIST Act and said he would seek a vote as an amendment to the popular annual defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. [Original at Huffington Post. You've been warned]

Jacopo_Tintoretto_-_Conquest_of_Zara_-_WGA22631

Of note, beyond the obvious — Cantor and his colleagues are killing a Republican sponsored immigration bill — is the fascination in watching the tail wag the dog:

Denham’s measure was widely popular and seen as perhaps the likeliest area for compromise.

But in recent weeks prominent conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation, announced their opposition. Heritage Action, the group’s political arm, announced it would include the vote in its ratings on lawmakers and called Denham’s legislation “deplorable.”

What does Jim Demint possess along with those two little spheres in his hands?…(answer to come in the comments, no doubt).

Truly amazing.  I know the coming election looks tough, but it really does help when the opposing party hands its fortunes over to the likes of Heritage.

Image:  Jacopo Tintoretto, The Battle of Zara, (detail), 1584,

Single Stupidest Thing I’ve Read Today…

Posted April 29, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Republican follies, ridicule, Stupidity

Tags:

…although it’s just gone 2:30, so there’s time.

That monument to stupidity? This John Hinderaker quote in which he describes Douglas “Magic Johnson’s too black for me” Sterling thusly:

“[a] pathetic figure: a reverse image of Othello, a doddering old man with a young black mistress who cheats on him.”

Quentin_Massys_030

Bad Shakespeare, bad simile, and a terrible argument (being old and pissed off means you get a get-out-of-racist-shit-free card?).  The best (worst) of it for me, though, lies with entire conceit.  Sterling-as-Othello (with a touch of Lear — that doddering bit) is at once tragic and heroic.  Sterling as a vicious f**k  who has merely committed the ultimate Kinsey gaffe, revealing the truth about himself that never quite escaped in court or from sealed settlements….that guy never seems to trouble the spotless sunshine of Mr. Hinderaker’s mind.

Seriously — this guy is taken, by some, as an exemplar of learned and rigorous right wing thought.  Subtle bigotry of low expectations, I’m afraid.

Image Quentin Massys, An Allegory of Folly, early 16th c.  And yeah, I’ve used this one before.  Fits, doesn’t it?

 

For A Good Time On The Intertubes Today (And Forever): Annalee Newitz Takes Survival To Extremes

Posted April 23, 2014 by Tom
Categories: evolution, Exploration, Extinction, good books, Science

Tags: , ,

Very short notice this time, folks, but once again, I’m doing the funny intertube-radio thingee.  Today’s broad/podcast brings io9 founding editor Annalee Newitz in to talk about her book Scatter, Adapt, And Remember.*

We’ll be talking at 5ET, 2PT (about an hour and half from now).  Listen live or later on Virtually Speaking Science, or join us in the virtually live studio audience at the Exploratorium’s joint in Second Life, where an implausibly tall and fit Levenson avatar will interrogate Annalee’s robot self.

The focus of our chat — death, destruction, and the possibility of slipping the noose.  Annalee’s book looks at what it will take for the human species to survive another million years — avoiding the threat of mass extinction along the way.  Her book really does two things.  For one, it provides a very good short introduction to the science of mass extinction, what we know and how we’ve figured out about the five times in Earth’s history that ~75% or more of all species on the planet went caput.  Then in the second half, Annalee examines the threats humankind have already confronted, looks at what that history tells us about current dangers, and writes about the ways we can now think about near and long term escapes from the worst outcomes.  It’s a combination (as you’d expect from the mind behind the “We Come From The Future” brigade over at io9) of bravura science writing — imaginative and rigorously grounded accounts of current inquiry — and plausible, exciting speculation.

David_Teniers_(II)_-_Apes_in_the_Kitchen_-_WGA22060

To emphasize:  this isn’t a work of speculative writing, fiction or non-fiction.  It’s an argument that includes speculation, given its weight through the third element of  Annalee’s title:  “Remember.”   There’s a beautiful section in the middle of the book in which Annalee discusses the science fiction of Octavia Butler.  There, she grapples with the nub of the book.  Whatever actual path(s) we take, should descendents of 21st century humans persist for geologically noticeable swathes of time, they will do so as one or many species increasingly divergent from our own.  What will be human about them, Annalee argues, will turn on the power and persistence of memory.  That sounds exactly right to me.

Come join us for the chat.  Should be fun…and more than that too, I hope.

*You can take up that title’s Oxford comma-hood in the comments, if you’re that kind of person.  Me, I’m an agnostic.

Image:  David Teniers the Younger, Apes in the Kitchen, c. 1645.

Wha’d You Bring Him In Here For?

Posted April 20, 2014 by Tom
Categories: In Memoriam, quis custodiet ipsos custodes, Race

Tags: , ,

A11336.jpg

Sad news:

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former boxing champion whose conviction for a triple murder was overturned after he served nearly 20 years in prison, has died of prostate cancer. Carter, whose story inspired a Bob Dylan song and a Denzel Washington film, was 76.

Too soon gone; too much life stolen.

Carter fought the good fight — long after his days in the ring were taken from him:

He was active in the movement to free wrongfully convicted prisoners, reports Jon Kalish for our Newscast unit.

“There are far more people who are wrongly convicted than people would like to think about,” Carter said of his activism. “And this is my work because people came to help me when I was in dire need of help.”

Those who talk of post-racial America forget too easily, I think, how ferociously state violence was employed to enforce racial hierarchy here.  For a different story that conveys this, check out Devil in the Grove, and consider how long the sheriff at the heart of the judicial murders documented there held on to terrifying local power.  It’s a little less explicit now — but those days aren’t all gone yet, not by a long shot.  That’s why, in part, Carter’s post prison cause could keep him so fully occupied.

But for now, let us remember Rubin Carter himself.  A 20th century American life.

R.I.P.

Image:  George Bellows, Both Members of This Club, 1909.

On Money, Power, and How John Roberts Forged One More Link In The History Of White Supremacy In America

Posted April 17, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Law, Race, Republican knavery

Tags: , ,

Yesterday  an essay I wrote appeared over at the Atlantic’s joint. (Originally on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog, the editors there moved it over to Politics after a bit.)  It’s attracted a fair amount of comment over there, including severe disdain from some folks that I infer are somewhat more right of center than your humble blogger.

In it I argue that the McCutcheon decision eliminating some campaign finance limits shows how White supremacy operates in a post slavery-post-Jim Crow-post-Civil-Rights-era environment:  not by targeting race explicitly, but by constraining the paths on which African Americans could engage and acquire power.

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Here’s a taste:

A drastically shortened version of Coates’s analysis is that white supremacy—and the imposition of white power on African-American bodies and property—have been utterly interwoven through the history of American democracy, wealth and power from the beginnings of European settlement in North America. The role of the exploitation of African-American lives in the construction of American society and polity did not end in 1865. Rather, through the levers of law, lawless violence, and violence under the color of law, black American aspirations to wealth, access to capital, access to political power, a share in the advances of the social safety net and more have all been denied with greater or less efficiency. There has been change—as Coates noted in a conversation he and I had a couple of years ago, in 1860 white Americans could sell children away from their parents, and in 1865 they could not—and that is a real shift. But such beginnings did not mean that justice was being done nor equity experienced.

Once you start seeing American history through the corrective lens created by the generations of scholars and researchers on whose work Coates reports, then it becomes possible—necessary, really—to read current events in a new light. Take, for example, the McCutcheon decision that continued the Roberts Court program of gutting campaign-finance laws.

The conventional—and correct, as far as it goes—view of the outcome, enabling wealthy donors to contribute to as many candidates as they choose, is that this further tilts the political playing field towards the richest among us at the expense of every American voter. See noted analyst Jon Stewart for a succinct presentation of this view.

I then go on to cite a study that analyzed just who belongs to the exclusive club directly affected by McCutcheon — the about 1,200 people who brushed up against the limits in dispute.  After going through the predictable demographics — the group is overwhelmingly white and mostly male, I added this:

People of color are almost entirely absent from the top donor profile, and none more so than members of the community that white Americans enslaved for two centuries:

While more than one-in-six Americans live in a neighborhood that is majority African-American or Hispanic, less than one-in-50 superlimit donors do. More than 90 percent of these elite donors live in neighborhoods with a greater concentration of non- Hispanic white residents than average. African-Americans are especially underrepresented. The median elite donor lives in a neighborhood where the African-American population counts for only 1.4 percent, nine times less than the national rate.

…This is why money isn’t speech. Freedom of speech as a functional element in democratic life assumes that such freedom can be meaningfully deployed. But the unleashing of yet more money into politics allows a very limited class of people to drown out the money “speech” of everyone else—but especially those with a deep, overwhelmingly well documented history of being denied voice and presence in American political life.

That seems to me to be pretty obvious — but what really got me going, and what seems to me the crux of the matter, is that McCutcheon isn’t a stand-alone judgment:

combine…decisions [on campaign finance] with the conclusions of the court on voting rights, and you get a clear view of what the five-justice right-wing majority has done. Controlling access to the ballot has been a classic tool of white supremacy since the end of Reconstruction. It is so once again, as states seizing on the Roberts Court’s Voting Rights Act decision take aim at exactly those tools with which African Americans increased turnout and the proportion of minority voters within the electorate. There’s not even much of an attempt to disguise what’s going on.

Add all this to the Roberts decision to free states from the tyranny of being forced to accept federal funds to provide healthcare to the poor. When John Roberts declared that Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion would be optional, the decision sounded colorblind—states could deny succor to their poor of any race— [but] in practice, that is to say in the real world, this decision hits individual African Americans and their communities the hardest, as Coates wrote way back when.

I’d add to that the last step in the syllogism: make money the measure of political speech and inhibit the ability of one group to accumulate not just wages but capital…and that’s a denial of the rights of citizenship just as much as any direct attack on access to the voting booth.

White supremacy as a social reality isn’t (any more) a matter of folks in white hoods or politicians standing around with axe-handles at the ready.  It comes cloaked in elaborately distanced language, through actions that appear on the surface to be aloof from any consideration of race.  Surely campaign finance law would seem to have no connection to civil rights jurisprudence.  Perhaps as a matter of abstract argument, of judicial logic-chopping (and very selective historical memory) it doesn’t.  In the real world, it does.

I’m not arguing that Roberts and his four co-conspirators are racists. I don’t know or care what they feel or how they perceive themselves. The matter is rather, do the actions of the Roberts Court support an ongoing use of power that has a racist outcome?  That question, I think, answers itself.

A nation that can elect Barack Obama is not John Calhoun’s America; it isn’t even Strom Thurmond’s.  It’s ours, and for all the changes I’ve seen in 55 years lived between our two shining seas, it’s one that continues to tell the old story of white-erected obstacles to African Americans seeking to exercise political power.  Again, you can check out the full piece over there.

Image: Anthony van Dyck, Portrait of the Marquesa Elena Grimaldic. 1623.

Only Took A Decade

Posted April 1, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Military, War

Tags:

This:

The Pentagon says there were no U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in March — the first zero-fatality month there since January 2007.

To put that into further context: this is the first month without U.S. combat deaths since March, 2003 — almost eleven full years. [via]

I won’t repeat the line that’s echoing in my head — the one John Kerry said of a different conflict.  But I’m thinking it.

Grandreview

 

One more thing:  US casualties do not write the whole story.  Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly free of conflict.  As we listen to the usual suspects talk war at every turn of events, it’s not a bad thing to think about the last time we listened to their advice.

But I’m not going to go too far down that road in this post either.  This is a moment to be glad no one got the news this month, to hope that record will continue, and to spare a thought for all those who received that awful word over the last decade and more.

Image:  Matthew Brady, Grand Review of the Armies1865. Thought of using this image, but couldn’t bring myself to do so.  NSF those who’ve lost folks — or maybe any of us.

Flop Sweat, GOP edition

Posted March 30, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Republican follies, Republican knavery, ridicule, Stupidity

Tags: , , ,

At least some Republicans have grasped what it means — maybe for 2014, certainly later — if/when Obamacare is and is seen to be a success:

“I don’t think it means anything,” [Sen. John]Barrasso said on “Fox News Sunday” about the news that 6 million people had signed up for health care plans. “I think they’re cooking the books on this.”

Barrasso, (R-Not-Liz-Cheney’s-real-home-state) is not your garden variety Republican talking horse. He is, in fact, the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee — which is a post that puts you on the GOP leadership team in the upper house. This is, in other words, someone taken seriously by people who have plenty of evidence to suggest they shouldn’t. And this Very Serious Person is telling the Most Misled Viewership™ in America that any reports that might have troubled their spotless minds about the possibility that Obamacare may succeed are skewed, false, nothing-to-see-here-move-along lies of the sort they’ve come to expect from the Kenyan Mooslim Usurper.

Frans_Hals_-_Regents_of_the_St_Elizabeth_Hospital_of_Haarlem_-_WGA11139

Given that the argument for the last several months has been that the new health care law is an obvious and abject failure, just waiting for that one last shove to send it crashing on to the ash-heap of history, evidence of the law actually functioning pretty much as designed is a disaster.

I suspect Barrasso grasps the difficulty he faces. Facts have a habit of willing out — and the many millions covered by the new health marketplaces, by Medicaid, by extended access to their parents’ policies — are going to be acutely aware if their health insurance falls under renewed threat. So (in a rhetorical move that might confuse the uninitiated) Barrosso adds the inevitable “numbers are irrelevant” dodge:

Barrasso said people care more about what kind of plans people are purchasing and whether they can keep their doctors, not how many people have signed up for new plans.

Maybe so. Fox News viewers (and anchors) may continue to believe this kind of nonsense. But those who have the good fortune to live in places where denialism isn’t what’s for breakfast know better. And they vote. As do their kids, their friends, the whole shooting match.

I just hope they do so this November.

Image: Frans Hals, Regents of the St. Elizabeth Hospital of Haarlem, 1641.

 

 

 


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