June 28, 2010

Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means

One of the things that still appalls me – although not surprises me – is the fact that so often some of the people we trust with our very lives; like first responders and 911 operators, are simply not interested in doing their jobs and have no passion around them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this about everyone, and I’m not saying it’s even a majority, but I am saying that these kinds of cases happen entirely too often for them to not be systematic problems, and I am saying that these kinds of cases can only come up so frequently before they really can be considered “common” and “the norm.”

As much as authorities when confronted with the behavior of their staff will try to downplay them and claim that the responsible parties have been dealt with and that these are “isolated incidents,” they truly are not by any means, and they’re truly troubling. These particular cases are specifically distressing because they deal with something that really is a life or death issue where police are desperately needed and their response can mean the difference between life or death: domestic violence.

I even hate the term, because it sounds almost so pedestrian these days, but domestic violence, spousal abuse, partner abuse, all of these situations deserve the same if not more urgency on behalf of first responders than a burglary call while the offender is still in the home, or a kidnapping or robbery in progress. How the 911 operator responds and how quickly they respond can be the difference between someone living or dying that day.

Here’s what’s so horrific, thanks to Tiger Beatdown:

Marie Celeste Arraras is a lady. She is a lady that some of you–including, shamefully, your humble correspondent who really needs to expand her horizons once again–may not have heard about. But if you watch Telemundo, you probably have seen her on “Al Rojo Vivo,” her daily news broadcast, or her work as a contributor for the “Today” show. She’s pretty, talented, and good at her job — she’s been called the “Katie Couric of Spanish television.”

She’s also a lady. I believe I mentioned that. Because it turns out to be pretty important.

On May 28, Arraras called Miami 911, telling the dispatcher to send the cops right away because her boyfriend had hit her and was trying to choke her. The police did eventually come to the house, arrested her boyfriend, and observed that she had a swollen lips and marks on her arms.

All this you can read in this story from the Sunday New York Daily News, like I did. What I find interesting is that in the online version, they left out the transcript of the call. Which makes for some…what’s that word we use? Interesting? Infuriating? Depressingly typical?

Yeah, that one.

Here, in living Minou Transcription, is the 911 call:

Operator: Miami Dade, where is your emergency?

Arraras: Please send the police to [redacted] right now. Somebody is about to kill me. Please.

Operator: What are they doing?

Arraras: Choking me. Please hurry.

Operator: They are choking you?

Arraras: Please.

Operator: Ma’am, you are on the phone; they are not choking you. What did they do?

Arraras: They just hit me and tried to choke me. Please.

Operator: Who did that to you?

Arraras: Somebody that lives with me.

Operator: Okay then, who is that somebody? Let’s not be silly. Ma’am, answer my question.

Arraras: I have three kids here.

Operator: And who is this someone that tried to kill you?

Arraras: It’s somebody that I’m dating, that lives here…please, could you send somebody right away?

Operator: Okay, ma’am. Hello. Instead of just saying hurry up, why don’t you answer the question?

Arraras: Listen to me, I have to go because he’s trying to get back in. Could you please…

Operator: So the person is outside?

Arraras: Outside, but not for long.

Operator: So, he lives there with you?

Arraras: Are you sending somebody right now?

Operator: I said, yes, if you would have listened instead of just talking. Okay.

I’ll say two things right away, because I have to, because if you’re going to be outraged, on the Internet, while female, you have to say things to cover your ass before the nitpickers and MRAs and rape apologists descend upon you. First, I don’t know if that’s the full transcript. I tried to dig it up via diligent net browsing, but the best I could find was the print edition of the News. There are a few ellipses in the transcription which could be gaps in the transcript, or capturing pauses in Arraras’ speech. Second, I haven’t heard an audio of the conversation, so I can’t speak to the tone of either Arraras or the operator.

Within those narrow dimensions, I’m still pretty appalled.

We are told, all of us, lady and dude and every other fantastic gender under the sun, that you call 911 when there’s an emergency. We are especially told that if we are people of the lady persuasion–not only because we are assumed to be incapable of dealing with anything messy and violent (except, you know, housework and rape), but because if, Cthulu forbid it, something happens to us, and we didn’t call, well then it’s clearly all our fault.

I tend to have a pretty good nose for tone, and even if the things that the operator is saying are in the most innocent and benign tone, they would be unacceptable. And frankly, something tells me that they’re not being said in the most innocent and benign tone. A 911 operator taking the approach of a disturbed call center staffer (trust me, I know how that is) who’s annoyed enough to be bothered to answer the phone, much less do actual work is by definition unacceptable, and I sincerely hope that this person isn’t just out of a job, but finds it incredibly difficult to work in their field in the future.

This is part of the problem frankly – as with any profession or job, when someone leaves one job after having done it for a long time, even if they did it poorly and they were dismissed, they frequently go to another place that doesn’t bother to check up on them and they wind up doing the same job again – often just as poorly and often just as dangerously. It makes me wish there background checks and permanent records for people who want to be 911 operators, but they’re already in short enough supply that anyone can get the role…as we can see here.

Now we can be horrified as much as we want because this particular woman has some celebrity status, but this makes me terrified for every woman who doesn’t and doesn’t have the means to have her story told in this way. And like I said above, I can only read stories like this so many times before it starts to look awfully common.

C.L. Minou, author of the post, goes on to explain that there are some groups that simply don’t call 911 in case of emergency, and she’s absolutely right. Queer folk, most minorities and especially Latinos (for fear of our “papers please” culture) have come to understand that the police and authorities are very frequently not their friends and have no interest in coming to their rescue in times of crisis. This is a mindset I can certainly corroborate in my own experiences.

My own calls to 911 over the years for various reasons go largely like this, with the operator more interested in getting off of the phone (partially likely because their lines are ringing off the hook, understandable) than there’s any interest in actually helping, lending an empathetic voice, and making sure I’m aware help is on the way. My experiences with police later in life (although earlier in life was different) go to prove the same point – officers less interested in hearing the full story and actually helping a victim and more interested in listening long enough to convince you to let them get back in the cruiser and drive away.

It’s a shame, because I know there are 911 operators and police officers out there doing amazing work and really making an impact and a difference in the lives of the people they touch. I honestly wish I could take whatever secret sauce that makes them successful and spread it around their colleagues so they don’t feel alone and don’t get jaded – even often times in the face of a community that already hates them and sees them on the other side of the line from them.

Regardless, for example, there’s no excuse for this, taken from the same piece:

Now look. I get that this is a horrible job, that most 911 dispatchers’ workday probably consists of prank calls, folks calling without a real emergency, and depressingly repetitive crimes all sandwiched around a few cases of pure brutal horror. So I’m not saying that 911 is sexist or that you shouldn’t call 911 if you’re in trouble. You should. But at the same time, I’m hardly doing much more than raising the MacKinnon Memorial Prize for Repetitive Observation by pointing out that all too often people in authority don’t take domestic violence seriously.

Like, for example, this story:

As we first revealed, when Sheila Jones needed help, help never came.

That despite repeated calls to Metro Nashville’s 911 over a three-hour stretch about an ex-boyfriend who’d assaulted her and was threatening to come back.

Sheila to 911:”They ain’t sent nobody. I just don’t understand. Is it ’cause I’m black? Is it ’cause of the neighborhood. What is it?”

And our investigation discovered, this is how one of the last calls ended:

Sheila: “I’m scared to even leave out my f***ing house.”
911: “OK, ma’am, I updated the call. We’ll get somebody there as soon as possible.”
Sheila: [Hangs up.]
911: “I really just don’t give a s**t what happens to you.”

You know what that voice is? That’s the voice of every MRA [ed. note: MRA = Men’s Rights Activist] troll who gets smug with you online about “if it was such a big deal, why didn’t you call the police?” That’s the voice of anyone who makes the victim in a battering case the one to hang her head in embarrassment. That’s the voice of everything that keeps a woman for asking for help, that’s the smug assurance that it just doesn’t matter.

That, ladies and assorted dudes of good cheer, is the voice of patriarchy as sure as if it was broadcasting on Radio Free Patriarchy.

This terrifies me, because frankly, the authorities should be the bastions of trust and protection that we’re taught they are since childhood. When I call 911, I should know the person on the other end, while I certainly know I’m not their only call, should make me feel like I’m the only one in the world – because that’s likely how I feel right now. Every other public or customer-facing job in the world would never settle for less; there’s no reason to expect some of our most crucial public services to be any different at all. It’s a systematic problem and it demands a systematic solution.

[ Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means ]
Source: Tiger Beatdown

Obama Making BP Pay Is Good Government, and That’s Why Republicans Are Freaking Out

I really couldn’t agree more with this post. I actually heard someone on the radio expecting sympathy from a Republican candidate for office, claiming that somehow the oil spill in the gulf is the fault of the EPA and President Obama – clearly a Tea Partier with more opinions than facts – who got shut down by their so-called friend.

Even Republicans who aren’t necessarily on the far right will tell you that making BP pay for the spill in the gulf is exactly what America should be doing – because the alternative, making the taxpayer pay for the damage, is unacceptable on any front. However, even with Republicans like Joe Barton groveling to BP and unintentionally exposing the Republican pro-business and anti-American platform, none of them want to be on the record stating that they’d rather oil spill into the gulf for decades, putting Americans out of work, food supplies and health at risk, and let the oil industry off with a slap on the wrist and force the American taxpayer to foot the bill (or more likely just go into debt via deficit spending.)

What President Obama is doing here – by forcing BP to get in there and clean up their own mess, even if it’s messy and takes a long time and costs BP a lot of money – is the right thing to do. We can debate whether everyone jumped on the problem fast enough (and I think that’s a good debate to have, not necessarily in a finger-pointing way, but definitely in a “do we really want this risk in our energy profile, what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again” kind of way) till we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t stop the oil from gushing and it won’t pay back the people whose lives and livelihoods have been lost because of the spill.

And the fact that President Obama is doing what’s right for the situation is what terrifies Republicans so much – he’s managing this crisis the best way any American President possibly could – and while that doesn’t mean that he or anyone else can just slip underwater and plug up the leak, he is taking BP to task for their mistakes, dedicating resources to the cleanup effort (no matter how much Bobby Jindall whines) and he’s riding BP every day until they get this taken care of and start paying claims to the people who need the money.

Last week, the nation witnessed an act of good governance when the Obama administration put the full-court press on oil giant BP to set aside $20 billion in assets to compensate the thousands of Americans whose livelihoods — and in some cases, lives — are being devastated by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. It was an example of exactly what government is supposed to do; whatever it can, within the limits of the law, to protect its citizens’ interests.

Team Obama was shrewd to get a fund set up now, with the nation’s outrage focused on the calamity, rather than allow the company’s army of lawyers to drag a settlement through the courts for years. The agreement, entered into voluntarily by BP, ensures that the firm can’t escape legal judgments by paying out all of its current profits as shareholder dividends and then claiming insolvency.

The fund is about the equivalent of a year of BP’s profits — the Associated Press called the sum “a drop in a very large bucket” for the company, and reported that BP could raise the cash “without batting an eye.” It will be administered by an independent third party — the same administrator who handled billions of dollars worth of claims stemming from the attacks of 9/11. And President Obama secured it using little more than his bully pulpit and the pressure it allowed him to put on BP execs.

But here’s the clincher that I think is an essential piece:

The fact that applying pressure to a corporation whose risky cost-cutting resulted in what may prove to be the worst man-made disaster in history is seen as an act of government overreach says a lot about how deep down the rabbit hole of corporate propaganda we’ve gone since the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution.” Whereas at one time analysts warned of governments nationalizing firms or distorting the market with rigid price controls, we’ve now come to a point where a strongly worded letter or a few harsh words are enough to elicit mainstream hand-wringing on behalf of delicate multinational corporations like BP.

Exactly. Joshua Holland takes more than just the Republicans to task over this, he also rides the media that’s in their pockets for coming to the defense of the company and opposing any strong language or talk by the Obama Administration. While it’s likely that those elements of the media are simply in the pockets of the oil industry, it’s also likely that their fear that the President is doing the right thing and looking good in the process that makes them whine so much.

Frankly, if any President had done anything differently, there would be the same questions about the beginning, but if President Obama had laid off of BP and allowed them to voluntarily pay claims that they felt were appropriate (like the insurance industry post-Katrina; thanks to George W. Bush) there would be outcry about the people of the Gulf region being not just out of work but with no way to recover their lost income and livelihoods, which would quickly dovetail into the Republican’s head-in-the-sand complaints about job growth (as in, they admit it’s a problem, but have no ideas to do anything about it and nothing to say aside from “The President should do more about jobs.”)

Holland then goes into why putting the squeeze on BP was the right thing to do, especially by looking back at the way Exxon managed to slither its way out of paying the appropriate damages for the spill they caused with the Exxon Valdez. It’s a good historical story for an America with very short memories. He concludes:

As it stands, getting BP to set aside a year’s profits to pay for some of the damage the firm has done in the Gulf of Mexico, using nothing more expansive than the power of persuasion, is simply good governance in action. People died, many others’ livelihoods have been ruined, and a foreign corporation that has no legal obligation to pay more than $75 million in damages will do so nonetheless.

Only someone deeply steeped in an almost religious reverence for some mythically pure “free market” could see it any other way.

[ Obama Making BP Pay Is Good Government, and That’s Why Republicans and The Corporate Media Are Freaking Out ]
Source: AlterNet

June 21, 2010

Blaming Obama Is Easy and Irresponsible

I’ve said this a number of times – while the people on the right are frothing at the mouth and burning effigies and carrying their torches and pitchforks every time anyone who doesn’t feel exactly the way they do opens their mouth (to the point of cannibalizing their own), those of us on the progressive left have a job to do that we’re not doing very well right now.

I’m without a doubt a politics-over-person, belief-over-candidate progressive, but I’m not stupid – I know when I have a good thing and I know that there’s work required to make that good thing keep working for me. Right now, my fellow progressives, we have a good thing. President Obama may not be the panacea of progressive governance, but he’s not only the best thing we’ll get right now, he’s the best thing to come along for a long time.

And yet, many of us are beating him up for not being progressive enough, not moving fast enough, not ending the war fast enough, not giving us all the full boat of health care reform enough, not reforming our financial markets enough, not creating jobs fast enough, not giving us all cupcakes and ice cream enough – and it’s really got to stop.

We’re poised with politicians in office that want positive and progressive change in America, but right now they don’t think the American people have the backbone for it because they’re too busy getting beat on by progressives who want them to move faster while the rest of us in the center and the left and even many on the right are sitting back, complacent, with our hands folded.

Many of us thought we did all we had to do when we elected Obama and the majority of Democrats that we elected in 2008 and we sat back and essentially said “go forth and make the world a better place, we’ll be here when you’re done.” We have, and continue to forget that this is a participatory process, and we need to not only encourage our politicians to make progressive change, we need to create an atmosphere and environment in not just our political discourse and media, but in our communities where that change is welcome, celebrated, and wanted.

Writing for Reader Supported News, Scott Galindez echoes this point:

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can’t happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other. – President-Elect Barack Obama

When President Obama accepted victory in Grant Park, he called on all of us to join him in ushering in the change we all were seeking. Did we answer the call? Have we rolled up our sleeves and fought for real change?

I would argue that very few did. Most of us celebrated and waited for Obama to do the heavy lifting. The country was facing a devastating financial crisis while conducting two wars. We were celebrating the victory, but not looking at the overwhelming challenges our new leader was facing. We expected sweeping change, but for the most part we left the battlefield and expected Obama to bring us that change.

It’s about time that we returned to that battlefield, and Galindez is absolutely right. He can’t do this without us – he never could, and although the sweeping changes that have already been made (Health Care Reform alone puts Obama in the same caliber as Presidents like Roosevelt, to be truthful) he can’t press the country forward and away from the distractions of things that will only serve to slow us down without the help of the American people. Whether it’s energy and climate change, jobs, financial market reform, or immigration, he won’t be able to do it without us.

Galindez goes on to address specific topics, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy, climate change, energy, and finally financial reform, where he says this:

That has to change.

On that historic night in Grant Park, Obama also said:

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as president.

He was right, many liberals and progressives disagree with many of Obama’s policies, but let us focus on what we agree on.

While it isn’t a perfect bill, millions of Americans will have access to health care that didn’t before, and millions more will not lose their health care coverage if they get sick.

Did you know that Obama signed legislation that forces banks to honor your lease if your landlord goes into foreclosure? I wonder if McCain or Bush would have done that?

While the financial reform legislation isn’t as strong as we wanted, it is more than we would have gotten from “Keating Five” McCain.

Then there is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 that moves us closer to pay equity for women.

The list goes on, but too often we forget the gains and focus on the areas that we disagree on with the president.

Obama always said he couldn’t do it alone; the entrenched powerful interests in Washington are not going to just surrender. We need to support him when he is doing the right thing, and create a new political climate that allows him to change his policies when we think he is wrong.

I believe that he believes in the right things, but he can only achieve what the political climate allows. We have failed to provide the political climate for the change we believe in. It is time for us to organize and seize back the momentum for change.

Galindez apologizes for potentially offending anyone who may feel that they’ve been wrongly or inappropriately targeted by the post, but I won’t go that far. Frankly, I think the majority of Americans, especially us progressives, are perfectly happy cannibalizing Obama if he doesn’t align with us specifically on the issues that we want him to, or push as far as we want him to push.

And we desperately need to remember what our options were (McCain/Palin) and we desperately need to remember that we have a job to do here as well – and that job doesn’t entail all-out loyalty to the President, not the way the Republicans were under President Bush – but it does entail standing up for him so he can push forward even a little on the things that are important to all of us against those people who would tear him down and hold him back.

[ Blaming Obama is Easy and Irresponsible ]
Source: Reader Supported News

The GOP Grovels to BP

There’s been more than enough media coverage of Joe Barton begging BP CEO Tony Hayward for the escrow fund that the White House asked BP to set up in order to pay claims and damages for the oil spill in the gulf to the families and businesses that have and will be affected by the magnitude of the catasrophe.

Normally I wouldn’t pile on, but it’s worth pointing out a couple of things:

First, even his own colleagues have told him to step down or resign (from ThinkProgress):

arlier this morning, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) called the $20 billion escrow fund BP agreed to set up yesterday to pay for oil spill damages a “slush fund” resulting from a “shakedown” by the White House. Though many conservatives agree with Barton, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) refused to endorse Barton’s position. Now, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) has called for Barton to step down as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee because of his comments.

Even other Republicans are steering clear of this one, and they’re not stupid – they’re doing so for a reason.

This brings me to the second point: this isn’t a gaffe or just the blind, out of touch commentary of one politician – this is a peek behind the veil at the GOP’s internal policies and principles. They claim to be against government intervention in the markets, but only when it doesn’t benefit their friends. More importantly though, in this case, the GOP has the apologize and fight for their friends – the people with the money who put them in office.

The oil industry likely elected Barton, and he has no desire to be on record as one of the congressmen that dared to hold BP accountable for the massive oil spill still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, or accountable for the lives and livelihoods of the 11 people who died on the Deepwater Horizon, or the thousands of people in the Gulf States whose lives will be forever changed because of this.

So in this case, “accountability” is “government intrusion into the markets.” Follow? Put bluntly, the GOP simply doesn’t want to hold BP accountable because the oil industry is their friend – the same reason they have no desire to hold the energy (and specifically the oil) industry accountable for climate change, or press forward on rules that would decrease our dependency on fossil fuels entirely, even if the same old energy companies were the ones to lead the way into a sustainable energy future.

What perplexes me the most is that Barton is speaking as though he’s not a representative of the people – he’s behaving like he’s a representative of the oil industry on the inside, apologizing for the behavior of the people he’s supposed to be defending. The industry/regulator relationship is designed to be professionally and collegiately adversarial for a reason – because it’s clear that left unchecked, industry will roll over people, safety, society, and the world we live in so they can report profits to their shareholders, without regard for the people.

Congress and the regulatory system is supposed to be the people’s seat at the table – but when people like Barton (and by proxy, his friends in the Republican Party) sit in that seat, they’re perfectly content to count the pile of money in front of them and keep their mouths shut – even after something goes wrong and they need to be held accountable.

Why Fearmongering About a White Minority in America Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

As I watch the people of Arizona become more and more terrified of the notion that the complexion of America is darkening – the same way they were terrified in the 50s and 60s of much the same thing – due to the influence of and mingling of people of different races and cultures in America, and as I watch the Aryan Nation gather on the hallowed ground of the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania to spout hatred and illogical conspiracies and be afraid of the same thing, (although I have to applaud the fine people of Gettysburg who turned out in droves to outnumber and out-protest them) this article is especially timely, I think.

These people are motivated at their core by fear, fear of a loss of power, fear of a loss of privilege, and fear of a changing world that may not have room for their hatred and bitterness in it. However, the more they crow, the less they actually have to worry about – so the next time someone comes along and asks you why there’s no “white history month,” here’s the answer (other than the obvious – that every month is white history month.) Joshua Holland, writing for AlterNet, explains:

Whites are projected to become a minority in the United States in the year 2050. It’s a terrifying prospect for Americans who fear the loss of their privileged status.

In 2050, white people will not only remain a majority, but they’ll also retain their disproportionate cultural, political and economic influence. In other words, people freaking out about the loss of white privilege have no cause for alarm — it is safe. As Chauncey DeVega put it, “whites are by definition the majority group in the United States,” and “while heavily policed,” the definition of “whiteness as a racial grouping is ever expanding.”

So when that date comes around, it’ll be Y2K for white people in America — expect plenty of teeth to be gnashed and then brace yourself for nothing to happen.

Sounds about right. If anything, it will at least illuminate exactly how pervasive privilege is in our society, who’s really afraid of losing it, and who’s willing to speak to the fact.

Holland goes back in time to dissect this difference in interesting terms, like the history of the Italian community in the United States, including the differences between so-called “Mediterranean” Italians and people from Northern Italy, and how their respective histories parallel a great deal the changes we may see in America as the Hispanic population in the United States continues to grow.

Holland rounds out the piece with an excellent criticism that’s just too good to be broken up, so I’ll excerpt it here:

In The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter argued that many white Americans have come to believe in a mythic pale race whose ancestry can be traced back for centuries. She, too, went on to detail the many twists and turns that the majority’s views of who “white people” are have taken as new lighter-skinned immigrants came to our shores bearing the burden of “minority” status, and then pushed themselves into the mainstream and demanded — and eventually got — the privileges that accompany whiteness in American society. It’s long been argued that various groups of lighter skinned immigrants have only truly been assimilated into the fabric of the nation once they began to see themselves, as a group, as superior to African Americans.

2050 will only be a terrible year for those white folks who hold a rigid, 19th-century definition of whiteness — white supremacists, in other words. They will become a minority, but, fortunately for the country, they already are (at least the ones who are open about it).

Here’s how Pat Buchanan, one of the few white supremacists offered a big media forum, views this ticking demographic time-bomb:

By countries of origin, America will be a Third World nation. Our cities will look like Los Angeles today. Los Angeles and the cities of Texas, Arizona and California will look like Mexico City.

When we all belong to “minorities,” what will hold us together? With the rise of group rights and identity politics, we are already falling out and falling apart over racial preferences and ethnic entitlements.

Among white nationalists less polished than Buchanan, the coming non-white majority is nothing less than an act of deliberate “genocide” against the Caucasian “race.” As one of them explained it, “social engineers have in fact orchestrated the demise of white people.” And since “many of these ‘social engineers’ are actually white themselves,” the shift represents a betrayal of “their own people out of a sense of self hatred.”

Of course, white supremacists are still the best evidence there is against the superiority of white people. What they fail to grasp is that only whites who fit their uniquely narrow definition of the term — descendants of Northern and Western European nations (it varies depending on whom you ask) — are in decline.

That America’s white majority will endure will no doubt disappoint anyone hoping that a demographic shift might mark the end of racist “dog-whistle” politics in the United States, yet it is the reality. But perhaps we shouldn’t tell people like Pat Buchanan that they’ll remain comfortably in the majority. Watching them freak out for the next 40 years over nothing but a bit of short-lived demographic trivia might be entertaining.

[ Why Fearmongering About a White Minority in America Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong ]
Source: AlterNet

June 14, 2010

Americans Have Worse Opinion of Tea Parties Than Ever Before

From the “about time” department, the American people are starting to see in front of their eyes exactly what the Tea Party “movement” is, something I’ve been saying for a while, a gathering of political thugs with torches and pitchforks and no real understanding of politics, history, or the world outside of their own windows – unless that world is shown to them through the fine, bright, whitened lens of Glenn Beck and Fox News.

Devona Walker has some thoughts on the matter:

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggests that whatever populist hypnosis many Americans were under when the Tea Party folks first came onto the scene may now finally be wearing off. The poll says that now the percentage of Americans who hold an unfavorable view of the movement has jumped from 39 percent to 50 percent. The group that has led the drop has been a collapse in support from 18 to 29-year-olds. In March, they had a positive, 43-38 view of the Tea Party. But now they’ve shifted in the other way, to a negative view, 27-60.

Who can we thank for that? Perhaps it was Rand Paul and his insanely unrealistic worldview that government cannot police racism, and that parts of the U.S. Civil Rights Act should be repealed. Perhaps, it’s because the Tea Party is losing some of its independent luster, as people realize that folks like Dick Armey are behind the curtains pulling the purse strings.

True enough – and I have to admit, the political dramady that is Rand Paul is hilarious and fantastic to watch, but here’s the real breakdown:

But the biggest credit belongs to the Tea Party itself. You see this whole mantra of small government and freedom, which only works in a society where there is corporate altruism. That place does not exist. If the BP oil spill has proved one thing, that is you cannot have a government that is intimately connected to industry. Think of the BP oil spill and all of those secret meetings that former Vice President Dick Cheney had with the oil industry in developing energy policies. Think of that fact that Cheney went from being the top brass at Haliburton, who is actually partly to blame for the leak in the Gulf coast to running the country. Think about the fact the Bush and Cheney era Treasury Secretary was a former executive at Goldman Sachs.

For the Tea Party folks to appeal to most reasonable-minded people, you have to accept that industry, that corporations are less threatening than government. You could make the argument that government is perhaps incompetent when it comes to policing corporations, you can also make a damn good argument that they are too influenced by corporations, but you can’t really say they are more threatening.

The truth is, it ain’t your guns and the government you need to fear, but Haliburton, British Petroleum, Bank of America, etc. And they could care less about your guns, they are coming for your life’s blood: the air you breath, the ocean, the land. They want it all.

[ Americans Have Worse Opinion of Tea Parties Than Ever Before ]
Source: AlterNet

Like Glenn Beck, Ayn Rand Peddled Garbage As Truth — Why Did America Buy It?

Ah, finally a dissection of the origins of the Libertarian mindset that caused millions of privileged white Americans to somehow think that they’re nothing of the sort and that somehow the society and communities they live in are somehow not related to them or connected with them. A look at Ayn Rand herself, in all of her misguided glory.

Writing for The Nation (and re-published at AlterNet), Corey Robin explains that Rand may have been the Beck of her time – the trick was always that Rand was able to translate her sense of self and her personal fantasy about American society into terms that other people could identify with. Like the best storytellers of all time, she was able to sprinkle her stories with enough truth that they made people sit up and fall in line because they identified with the fantasy that she managed to spread between points of validity.

Robin starts with a searing rebuke of Rand’s personal affection (which was mightily returned) of Hollywood, where she likely drew inspiration from what was truly “American” and what wasn’t – something that some of her staunchest fans, people like South Park creators Parker and Stone, would probably appreciate (since they’re part of the Hollywood machine) but hate (since they make their living dissing the hollywood machine and people who like it) at the same time.

He goes on to describe how self-entitled Rand really was, with this glorious snippet:

But Rand, at least according to her fiction, shouldn’t have attracted any fans at all. The central plot device of her novels is the conflict between the creative individual and the hostile mass. The greater the individual’s achievement, the greater the mass’s resistance. As Howard Roark, The Fountainhead’s architect hero, puts it:

The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid.

Rand clearly thought of herself as one of these creators. In an interview with Mike Wallace she declared herself “the most creative thinker alive.” That was in 1957, when Arendt, Quine, Sartre, Camus, Lukács, Adorno, Murdoch, Heidegger, Beauvoir, Rawls, Anscombe and Popper were all at work. It was also the year of the first performance ofEndgame and the publication of Pnin, Doctor Zhivago and The Cat in the Hat. Two years later, Rand told Wallace that “the only philosopher who ever influenced me” was Aristotle. Otherwise, everything came “out of my own mind.” She boasted to her friends and to her publisher at Random House, Bennet Cerf, that she was “challenging the cultural tradition of two and a half thousand years.” She saw herself as she saw Roark, who said, “I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”

Which I think is absolutely fabulous. She’s like a con-man, gloriously trumpeting her own achievements long enough for people to start believing her. But as with just about any libertarian mindset, this one’s based in a personal reality that simply doesn’t translate to the real world – a belief that the rest of society functions in a way it simply doesn’t, one that’s out to get the reader for just being too brilliant and inspirational and powerful just for being an individual (just like everyone else, of course) and one that ignores at best and negates at worst the concepts of privilege and institutional injustice.

But then again, the self-tortured Rand believed this world was reality as well, and convinced herself as such. Claiming she was standing alone, oh so alone, against the masses that were out to denigrate her and harm her….except for her fans, even of the day, who eagerly looked forward to her books:

Rand may have been uneasy about the challenge her popularity posed to her worldview, for she spent much of her later life spinning tales about the chilly response she and her work had received. She falsely claimed that twelve publishers rejected The Fountainhead before it found a home. She styled herself the victim of a terrible but necessary isolation, claiming that “all achievement and progress has been accomplished, not just by men of ability and certainly not by groups of men, but by a struggle between man and mob.” But how many lonely writers emerge from their study, having just written “The End” on the last page of their novel, to be greeted by a chorus of congratulations from a waiting circle of fans?

Had she been a more careful reader of her work, Rand might have seen this irony coming. However much she liked to pit the genius against the mass, her fiction always betrayed a secret communion between the two. Each of her two most famous novels gives its estranged hero an opportunity to defend himself in a lengthy speech before the untutored and the unlettered. Roark declaims before a jury of “the hardest faces” that includes “a truck driver, a bricklayer, an electrician, a gardener and three factory workers.” John Galt takes to the airwaves in Atlas Shrugged, addressing millions of listeners for hours on end. In each instance, the hero is understood, his genius acclaimed, his alienation resolved. And that’s because, as Galt explains, there are “no conflicts of interest among rational men”—which is just a Randian way of saying that every story has a happy ending.

But here’s the crux:

No, what truly distinguished Rand was her ability to translate her sense of self into reality, to will her imagined identity into material fact. Not by being great but by persuading others, even shrewd biographers, that she was great.

That sounds about right, and sounds like exactly the kind of person that she – and her following – wish to be: they spend so much time trying to convince the rest of us that their reality and their ideals translate into the real world that they’ve altogether stopped paying attention to the fact that their reality is complete fiction and their ideals don’t translate at all into a real, interconnected, interdependent society.

[ Like Glenn Beck, Ayn Rand Peddled Garbage As Truth — Why Did America Buy It? ]
Source: The Nation (courtesy of AlterNet)

June 7, 2010

Virginia AG and Tea Party Favorite Sues Scientist for Studying Climate Change

Ever the strident right-wing apologist and bootlicker of corporate and energy interests, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli hauled off and sued a scientist for doing his job – just because he doesn’t like what his job is. Lacking evidence of any kind, Ciccinelli is ready to bring a nearly entirely fabricated story to trial in order to squash real scientific debate and study into global climate change as a knee-jerk reaction to some perceived fraud on his part, in the most flimsy, clearly “I’m doing this to quiet you” kind of way. Here’s the full scoop:

Virginia’s recently elected attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has his hand in just about every divisive issue of the day. He is leading his own charge against the constitutionality of the health care bill, he is suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block it from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and he is tussling with state universities over whether they can bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But the local fight with potentially the broadest reach is the one Cuccinelli has picked against a single scholar — Penn State climatologist Michael Mann.

Mann is the author of what’s known in climate research circles as the “hockey stick graph” that charted rapidly rising temperatures in the 20th century. He came to wider attention last November as one of the researchers at the heart of the “climategate” e-mail controversy.

Critics accused Mann and other scientists of manipulating data to portray a climate threat that doesn’t really exist. Their research, though, has since been cleared by Penn State, as well as the University of East Anglia, from which the disputed e-mails were originally stolen.

Cuccinelli, still a skeptic, is now investigating Mann’s 1999-2005 stint at the University of Virginia using an unlikely tool — the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act. He wants to know if Mann defrauded taxpayers in search of grant money for his research, and last month he served the university with an extensive “Civil Investigative Demand” for documents.

That’s about right. And it doesn’t take too much effort to dig into Cuccinelli’s own background – and that of his boss, newly elected Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell – and find that they’re some of the farthest right of the right-wingers in office these days, so much so that McDonnell had to cover up his past as a far far right conservative, complete with outlandishly racist and sexist views, just to get elected, and Cuccinelli essentially ran unopposed so no one asked what his beliefs were until it was far too late. Both of these men were fully supportive of the whole “Confederate History Month” idea, just to give you an idea where they’re coming from.

So what does this most frivolous of frivolous suits (the kind that doesn’t just suck up taxpayer money in the defending of the frivolous case but also in the pursuit of it, since it’s the government of Virginia that’s taking up this flag) wind up doing? Nothing, in the best case, but even in the slightly worst it’s a chilling effect on other scientists who are working with their data and want to make their findings public.

Science is an ever-evolving and growing practice, changing as new data is made available. If scientists have to fear political persecution if their data changes in the future, they’ll never release studies or speak to the public again – which keeps them quiet and the public controllable by corporate interests like the ones that back men like Cuccinnelli – which is why he wants them quiet.

Frankly, I would think that he people of Virginia would – in their centrist way that’s seen fit to elect Democrats and Republicans to state offices – stand against an Attorney General that’s wasting their tax dollars to fight personal political battles that stand only to earn him favor with his preferred special interests, in spite of the good of the people of the Commonwealth. But that’s just one progressive’s opinion.

[ Virginia AG and Tea Party Favorite Sues Scientist for Studying Climate Change ]
Source: AlterNet

June 1, 2010

The Party of “No” is Officially Now the Party of “No Clue”

Over at AlterNet, Devona Walker has an excellent dissection of the Republican Party’s “opposition” to President Obama and the progressive movement in America today: it’s not so much about actually coming up with ideas of their own, it’s not about coming up with solutions to the problems that America is facing, it’s not about providing an actual alternative to the Democrats in power, it’s about stalling, obstructionism, and blockading.

The thing that the Republicans have forgotten is that this is the same mentality that lost them seats in 2006 and 2008, and lost them the Presidential election in 2008: they’re devoid of ideas, governance, and moral direction – all they know how to do when in power is give away money and power to their friends:

Ever since the 2008 presidential election, the GOP has positioned itself firmly as the opposition party. Opposed to everything and clearly unable to deliver any policies on their own. Republican legislators have had a laser focus on one thing; regaining control of Congress. They are unwilling to see past that and that has made them entirely useless as it relates to legislating.

In fact, Republican Whip Eric Cantor admitted as much to the Washington Post. He said the Republican Party’s approach to the Obama agenda is “just saying no.”

So what do they do now that they’re out of ideas? They wade back into their horrible attempts at crowd-sourcing ideas by building a website where people can suggest the things they want to be American policy direction. And again, as the Republicans always find out when they do things like this, that their “base” are really the dregs of American society and that they represent the fringe of American politics – not the mainstream. For example:

Well, now the Repbulicans have outdone themselves. Their new scheme to regaining the political majority in Congress and reclaiming the White House? A website. Americanspeakingout.com, they are hailing as “revolutionary” in its democratization of the political process.

Here’s the plan: We, citizens make policy suggestions, vote on them, then the most popular policy suggestions, Republicans claim, they will take to Congress and turn into law. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich framed the idea as the first step in the process of remaking a Contract with America — a set of policy proposals that Ginrich pulled together back in 1994 and led to the Republican takeover of Congress.

One suggestion, so far, has been to repeal section II of the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Another suggestion: Keep closer tabs on Muslim-Americans than other citizens. And here’s this gem: “When my ansestors came to this country, they knew that GOD had given it to them and not the animals that was here before. It makes me sick to see this scum pullutin our godly values with there heathen ways. all forerners must leave or die!”

But here’s the real problem. Doesn’t this website illustrate the very thing that many Americans suspect is wrong with the GOP, that it is void of ideas and clueless when it comes to moving this country forward?

Here’s the other obvious problem with the site, it’s not revolutionary. What do they think the netroots have been doing on the left for the past several years. Well, the site is already being mocked for that: DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said in statement that “only House Republicans would think that talking with the American people is an ‘unprecedented new initiative.’”

If that’s not proof that representative democracy is absolutely essential to keep the mindless hordes from trampling on the rights and liberties of minorities, I don’t know what is. But even that statement gives these people too much credit – it implies that there are lots of people who share this belief. I’m sure there are some, but they’re by no means a majority in any sense, even likely within the Republican party. But the problem is that the Republicans are listening to these folks, and these are the folks who are turning out to elect their Libertarian and Tea Party brethren – not only do the American people need to be kept safe from wingnuts like this, but you could argue that for the Republican party to really remian as a viable alternative party in any sense that they need to be stopped from cannibalizing themselves like this.

Regardless, the poor Republican party, completely out of ideas, turns to their base for feedback and what do they get in return? Racism, hatred, and intolerance. Fitting.

[ The Party of “No” is Officially Now the Party of “No Clue” ]
Source: AlterNet