August 30, 2010

The Backlash Against Obama’s Blackness

The beauty of this piece is that it calls out the Tea Party and their thuggish leadership and financial backers for being essentially what they are – a loosely organized group of people whose platform stands entirely on and for hatred and intolerance. There’s no political ideology behind them, and there’s no real conservative set of ideals either. Observe:

The August madness into which America has descended is about several things. It’s about the still-sputtering economy, of course, and the fear it engenders. It’s about xenophobia, never far below the surface. And it’s about a rightwing media-political complex that plays on the public’s ignorance.

But there’s a unifying theme that few wish to acknowledge. What we are witnessing at the moment is the full, ugly furore of white backlash, aimed directly and indirectly at our first black president.

The case was made, inadvertently, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece last week by Republican congressman-turned-lobbyist Dick Armey, the godfather of what might be called the Tea Party movement’s corporate wing. Armey and his co-author, Matt Kibbe, proudly dated the birth of the Tea Party to 9 February 2009.

Barack Obama’s $800m stimulus bill was not approved until three days later. Which is my point. The most notorious political movement of the Obama era, grounded in racial fears if not flat-out racism, sprung into being within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, before he’d had a chance to do anything, really. If Obama was for it, they were against it.

The Tea Party winter and spring of 2009 led to the “death panels” of summer, and to rightwing hero Glenn Beck’s declaration that the president harboured “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture”. Minor issues involving Acorn, a heretofore obscure agency that helped register urban, mostly minority voters, became a cause célèbre. A little-known African American bureaucrat, Van Jones, was hounded out of office for having allegedly expressed offensive views about the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 – views he later said he had never voiced and did not hold. Protesters spat upon and directed racial epithets at African American congressmen as the healthcare debate reached its climax.

And now we come to the full fruition of all this race-baiting. According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 18% of Americans – and 34% of conservative Republicans – believe Obama is a Muslim, proportions that have actually risen since the 2008 campaign. Another poll, by CNN/Opinion Research, finds that 41% of Republicans believe Obama was definitely or probably not born in the United States.

It’s something of a sad summation, and proof positive that more progressive groups, as opposed to paying attention to their pet causes, should rally together to help control the message and spin a bit. When you have an “opposition” who stands not to inspire ideas or call to action but instead to do nothing but bait and inflame the masses, you need a voice of reason on the other side of the line – and the halls of government can’t do it, they have a job to do in terms of keeping our democracy running, and they would only be perceived as defending themselves from attacks by the people. The American people – the True Majority – need to stand up and end the silence that’s allowed this hatred to bloom as much as it already has. For example:

But to experience the pure fury, you have to watch this video of a black man who had the temerity to walk through a group of people protesting the centre. It is a terrifying moment.

There is more – so much more. The anti-immigration law approved in Arizona, which made a star of Republican governor Jan Brewer, notwithstanding the inconvenient truth that illegal immigration across the Mexico-Arizona border is at its lowest level in years. The political crucifixion of Shirley Sherrod. The continuing phenomenon of Sarah Palin, who, at long last, feels empowered enough to reach inside the deepest, darkest recesses of her tiny little heart and embrace a fellow rightwinger’s repeated use of the N-word.

It’s a frightening time to be an American and to watch this insanity unfolding all around us. There’s a sense that anything could happen, none of it good.

What’s all too easy to forget is that though Obama was elected with the strongest majority of any president in recent years, he received only 43% of the white vote. Now, it’s true that no Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 has won a majority of whites. But it’s also true that 100% of voters who would never support a black presidential candidate cast their ballots for someone other than Obama. Now they’re roaming the countryside, egged on by the Republican party and the Tea Party and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, looking for new objects on which to unload their bitterness.

The traditional media, built as they are on the notion of fair-minded coverage of equally responsible, equally reasonable political forces, can barely process what’s going on. You literally cannot understand the current moment without watching the political satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But, hey, they’re only comedians.

Strangely, there are virtually no political observers who hold out the prospect that the folks whom the right has alienated will turn out to vote against the Republicans this November. George W Bush, after all, worked mightily to appeal to Latino voters. That’s gone. Bush even won 70% of the Muslim vote in 2000. That’s long gone.

The Republicans hope to ride the white backlash back to power, and perhaps they will. But they may also find that the hatred they have embraced will come back to haunt them this November – and well beyond. For the rest of us, though, the consequences of that hatred have yet to play out.

And that’s the clincher: there’s nothing to make us believe that any of these rabid tea partiers will actually turn out to vote. These people had nothing but hatred in their hearts from the moment that President Obama took office – there’s no way they could be somehow against his platform, opposed to his policies, or prefer a different course of action in government. There were none of those things when they formed, and they had already lit their torches and tied up their nooses before the Bible he was sworn in on was put back into safe keeping.

There have been a few surprise primaries lately, but they’re primaries, and mostly in areas where any representative with fire in their bellies and money in their pockets can overturn an incumbent or play to the beliefs of their base and their party. The truth will come in November, and while I don’t expect it to be completely positive news, I do hope that it plays out moderately well for our country.

[The Backlash Against Obama’s Blackness ]
Source: The Guardian UK

August 23, 2010

Lest We Forget: What it means to be an American – Have You Forgotten? [Video]

Found on YouTube – absolutely fabulous, and I think it should be required viewing for some of our conservative friends, if not in most schools. Maybe we should re-do this with a modern twist, but I worry it might lose some of its effectiveness.

Conservatives Try to Smear Islam the Way they Smear Judaism, but Voters don’t Care

I’ve been pretty quiet about the matter of the community center near ground zero that everyone is calling a “mosque,” when in reality it’s nothing of the sort. I’ve also been quiet because logically it doesn’t make sense to care so much about a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, because if people cared so much about such things they would have shut down the other community centers nearby, the strip club nearby, and just about everything else the conservative right could work themselves into a lather over that’s just as close or closer than the community center that’s being planned for the region.

Sadly, it’s just another example of first – how there’s a small group of very vocal people who are still trying to use a tragic event in American history that occured almost 10 years ago to benefit themselves both monetarily and to their own political gain, with no respect for the events of the day or the people who died, and how there’s a small group of people who are still trying to use that same event to steer political policy in a way that retains their power and privilege, making sure that Americans live in the same state of fear we experienced that day – only now backed with a strong dose of hatred against a minority group that, the way the Germans did with the Jewish people after World War I, are easily blamed for all of society’s ills and dangers without demand of evidence.

Over at Tablet Magazine, Daniel Luban explains why this is exactly the issue at hand, and why this isn’t about one community center, this isn’t about a mosque, this is about the rampant Islamaphobia that’s spread out from the ignorance and bigotry of Americans far from New York City and is sweeping the nation thanks to the fervent push from the conservative right to actively deny and smother education to the contrary:

After Abraham Foxman waded into the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy,opposing plans to construct an Islamic community center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site, the Anti-Defamation League chief was assailed by critics who charged that the ADL was giving license to bigotry and betraying its historic mission “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike.” A week after initially coming out against the mosque, Foxman announced that the ADL was bowing out of the controversy, but the damage to the group’s reputation had been done.

The problem for the ADL is that there simply isn’t much anti-Semitism of consequence in the United States these days. While anti-Semitism continues to thrive elsewhere in the world and to molder on the fringes of American society, Jews have by now been fully assimilated into the American ruling class and into the mainstream of American life.

At the same time, many of the tropes of classic anti-Semitism have been revived and given new force on the American right. Once again jingoistic politicians and commentators posit a religious conspiracy breeding within Western society, pledging allegiance to an alien power, conspiring with allies at the highest levels of government to overturn the existing order. Because the propagators of these conspiracy theories are not anti-Semitic but militantly pro-Israel, and because their targets are not Jews but Muslims, the ADL and other Jewish groups have had little to say about them. But since the election of President Barack Obama, this Islamophobic discourse has rapidly intensified.

While the political operatives behind the anti-mosque campaign speak the language of nativism and American exceptionalism, their ideology is itself something of a European import. Most of the tropes of the American “anti-jihadists,” as they call themselves, are taken from European models: a “creeping” imposition of sharia, Muslim allegiance to the ummah rather than to the nation-state, the coming demographic crisis as Muslims outbreed their Judeo-Christian counterparts.

Heard this story before? Of course you have – it’s what led to the Germans locking up Jewish families and barricading Jewish communities during the early years of World War II. Now I normally hate to Godwin’s Law up any discussion like this, but the parallels are too close to ignore – and the frothing hatred is starting to get to that eerie fever pitch where an entire group of people are to be subjugated to culling and retribution by the masses because of the actions of a few. The last time I saw behavior like this was in the 1970s and 1980s when the conservative right, largely White Americans, were outraged at the so-called epidemic of “Black on White crime,” while killings among and between other minority groups went largely ignored. I fear we’ll see the same apathy until the drug war simmering in Mexico spills over enough to take White American lives; then Latinos may find themselves bundled up with Muslims.

Here’s the clincher though – voters really don’t care. Over at The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel points out some interesting statistics about recent polls:

Pundits and politicians are working themselves into hysteria over a mosque near Ground Zero. But this election won’t be about mosques in Manhattan. It won’t even be about the deficit, really. It will be about manufacturing on Main Street, and which party can talk effectively about the progressive solutions Americans desire.

Not surprisingly, polls from Gallup to the Wall Street Journal show Americans are worried most about the economy and jobs. And a just-released poll—from progressive outfits Campaign for America’s Future and Democracy Corps with sponsorship from MoveOn.org Political Action and two labor unions—gives a more detailed look at what voters are looking for. Respondents, in particular the “rising American electorate” —youth, single women and minorities that constitute a majority of voters and are President Obama’s most supportive base—support bold steps for renewing the economy.

The poll tested a range of messages, with the greatest support for one calling for “rebuilding infrastructure” and another calling for constructing “an economy on a new foundation”—that is, investing in education and a 21st century infrastructure, leading in the green industrial revolution and balancing our trade.

But what about that deficit? Americans worry about the deficit, but less for reasons usually given by deficit hawks than because they think it may get in the way of creating jobs and of protecting Social Security. The poll shows equal support for a five-year plan to revive America’s industry and a five-year plan to cut deficits—and in equal intensity. The two are linked. Put people to work and revive manufacturing, and you will bring the deficit down. Bring the deficit down, and you’ll help put people to work.

And by large margins, Americans don’t think deficit-cutting should include cuts in the federal benefits workers have already fought to get. It is widely rumored, for example, that President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission is considering raising the retirement age on Social Security as part of a deficit-reduction plan. It better think again. Poll respondents want Social Security and Medicare protected. Over 60 percent of Republicans, of independents and of Democrats oppose raising the retirement age on Social Security—or Medicare, for that matter. Similarly, when AARP asked if Social Security should be cut as a “way to help reduce the federal deficit,” 72 percent of respondents were strongly opposed.

Proof of the matter is that right now, the American people care more about the economy and jobs, and care enough in an intelligent way, that it’s safer to say “It’s the economy, stupid,” and that the President is doing the right thing by dismissing the entire controversy about the community center in Lower Manhattan as exactly what it is – an arbitrary attempt by a few bigoted people who are more interested in carrying the American flag for their own benefit and trampling the graves of those who died on 9/11 in a rush for their own personal and political gain than it is any substantive controversy or matter of concern. He points instead at the first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as a shining example of exactly why such a community center should be built, over all opposition.

He’s right – but the conservative right in America has never listened to reason over the voices of hatred in their own heads – it’s up to the rest of us to make sure they listen to us and our voices at the polls instead.

[ Rage Against Islam: The New Anti-Semitism ]
Source: Tablet Magazine (courtesy of AlterNet)

[ It’s About Main Street, Not the Mosque ]
Source: The Nation

August 9, 2010

That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking!

I’ve never been a fan of bumper sticker politics: I find it overall relatively crude and demeaning not only to everyone involved (both the person idiotic enough to put something like “Miss Him Yet?” on their car and the person who has to see it while they’re headed to work or home from it) but there’s been one little trend of short-memory and revisionist history among conservatives and Republicans that I feel compelled to note.

Admittedly, the Right’s attention span has always been short, and their capacity to revise history to make themselves look glowing (see Ronald Reagan) has always been remarkable, but President Obama has been in office for 18 months and not only are conservatives trying to pretend that he’s not still busy cleaning up the messes of the past 8 years (“hurr when will you stop blaming the last guy for what’s happening now, hrurr”) but also conveniently shaping today’s issues in short-term language (instead of properly pointing at the near 30-year history of American conservatism as responsible for the deregulation of our financial industries, energy industries, and transportation industries to the point where they’re only accountable to their shareholders and the desires of their executives to line their pockets – at the expense of the American people.)

Bumper stickers like “How’s that change working out for you” and “Miss him yet?” have been appearing on the cars of the angry, who want you and I to believe that the world may as well have ended 18 months ago and now we’re all picking through the smoldering ashes of our civilization. To those questions, I have two very simple answers:

* That change is working out great for me, thanks for asking!
* No, I don’t miss him at all – in fact, I’m happily on my way to forgetting he ever existed.

Starting at the very bottom, I’m particularly glad that I have a President who, while he isn’t perfect, is leaps and bounds more perfect than the last guy, and a President who I don’t have to worry will lock me up and waterboard me if I disagree with him and don’t march in lock step behind. Now I have a President who, as a matter of policy, doesn’t strip American citizens of their rights and due process just so they can be thrown in a dark cell until the powers that be can think of what do to with them. Again – our current Administration isn’t perfect on this point, but at least they’re willing to listen to suggestions and open to changing course – the last Administration would have simply called you “un-American,” “un-patriotic,” and thrown you in a cell just for speaking your mind.

The last Administration listened in on the phone calls of American citizens without a warrant, and the last Administration locked up American citizens for no reason. The last Administration was responsible for the Patriot Act, which while it hasn’t been repealed, has been used with significantly more caution and judgment than it had been in the past. The last Administration was obsessed with the State Secrets Act and shutting down human rights lawsuits just by invoking it.

So no, I don’t “miss him yet” at all, and that “change” has been a huge breath of fresh air.

Let’s move on to some more tangible examples though:

Would Mad King George have appointed two women to the Supreme Court? Likely not.

Would McCain have signed the Lucy Ledbetter Act, mandating equal pay for equal work? Never.

Would Bush Jr. have committed to drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, even if those plans are slow to take shape? Never – they would have said even talking about leaving would have emboldened our “enemy.”

Would the Little Bush or McCain ever strive to provide health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, pass a Patient’s Bill of Rights, put Medicare on sound financial footing, and cut near a trillion dollars from the budget defecit over the next 10 years by reforming the way Americans get and spend on health care? It would have been a laughable proposition.

Would McCain or Palin have signed an executive order mandating that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed? Wouldn’t have even crossed their minds.

Would Bush Jr. ever thought to close Guantanamo, much less actually try? Never.

Would a Republican president ever have sought to re-vitalize the Civil Rights wing of the Department of Justice, ousting political appointments that sought only to minimize the amount of work the agency did by throwing out legitimate cases and complaints and marginalizing career lawyers who have fought for equal rights their entire lives? Nope.

Would McCain or Palin have fought to restore science and scientific analysis to its rightful place in American discourse, especially on such important topics as climate change, space science, and medicine? Never.

Would McCain or Bush Jr. be on nearly as solid terms with our allies as Obama is, and managed to completely turn around our antagonistic relationship with Russia the way he has? Never – we would have seen more bluster and saber rattling, and likely be in the middle of another war with another faceless enemy designed to make us afraid by now had we voted differently.

Would McCain ever have gleefully signed ethics reform into law that would ensure there were strong rules to make sure the the field day that Republicans had during their majority time in office prior to 2008 (remember the cascade of ethics and sex scandals coming out of Congress back then? Oh how soon the right wing forgets…) never happen again? Not a chance.

Would Bush Jr. ever have given woefully needed money to the American auto industry – even if it was unpopular – and then been able to stand behind them as, as happened last week, they all post revenue gains and profits as opposed to the record losses and debts they had over a year ago?

The economic downturn was in full swing when President Obama was elected, as were both wars and all of their issues – so blaming President Obama is only ad accurate as you can blame someone for not cleaning up someone else’s mess fast enough. Someone recently pointed to a story about the vast majority (something like 96%) of money slated for reconstruction in Iraq being unaccounted for, and snarkily commented about whether or not this was something that people would just blame President Bush for – to which I responded that yes, it is – it’s only the right that seeks to unload accountability for their own actions and leadership decisions onto the people that follow them. President Obama has accountability to cleaning up that mess, but he has no accountability for having made the mess in the first place.

To that end though, would Bush Jr. or McCain ever have pushed through legislation designed to stimulate the economy, fund thousands of new infrastructure projects, put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work, and, with time, eventually turn the job decline into a slow but steady job incline? Not at all – there would have been some tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans (like the Bush tax cuts being debated now in Congress – you remember, the ones that did nothing to stimulate the economy or create new jobs?) and the Republicans would have resorted to their old stand-by, that people who are unemployed somehow “want to be jobless” or “deserve it.”

Would Bush ever have had the gravitas or political will to push through a massive financial system reform bill into law that not only forces more accountability in the financial sector but also establishes a new government agency that the public can turn to for their own protection against those massive Wall Street entities? Never. Would McCain? Hardly – he may have handed over some more money to them, but never have fought on our behalf.

So when you ask me if that “change” is working out for me, I’m more than happy to say yes.

When you ask me if I “miss him yet,” I can answer with a smile and say “miss who?”

Because overall, there’s plenty of work left to be done, and we’re not out of the woods, and everything isn’t perfect, but I’m more hopeful now than I ever have been, and I’m confident that America is moving in the right direction under a leader who at least considers the best interests of the people and the nation over their own personal whim or delusional personal “calling.”

Yup, that change is working out for me just fine, thanks. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Conservatism Is Bad for Your Health: “Red” States Sicker than “Blue”

For all of their fighting over the health care reform law, and their continued desire to try and sue it out of existence so – heaven forbid – conservatives don’t have to help their fellow Americans get adequate health care and insurance, it turns out that the proof really is in the pudding and so-called “red states” are actually sicker and have worse health care than “blue states.”

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone – most red states don’t believe in community well being, instead touting the line of low taxation as the path to prosperity, which in turn means that everyone gets more money in their pockets due to low or no state income or sales taxes but also has the side-effect that conservatives ignore: poor health care, underfunded health and wellness programs, understaffed and understocked hospitals, health clinics that are few and far between, and fewer doctors left to take care of the people who need medical care the most.

Blue Texan over at Instaputz pointed to a couple of data sets, where I found an interesting correlation.

The first is Gallup’s ranking of states by ideology, according to the share of residents who self-identify as liberal or conservative. The second is this United Health Foundation ranking of states by the health of their citizens, according to a combination of 22 different metrics.

The ten least healthy states are all among the “red” states*. Five of the least healthy states are among the ten most conservative.

Nine of the ten healthiest states are among the “blue” states. Five of the healthiest states are among the ten most liberal.

Sound familiar? Now of course correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, and there are several factors at play here, but it’s hard to not acknowledge that the people who most self-identify as conservative, claiming that they can take care of themselves and they don’t need “big government intruding into their lives” are the ones who really are the least likely to take care of themselves and the most likely to wind up being the problem that the rest of us have set out to solve: the people sitting in emergency rooms because they have no primary care physician, because their communities couldn’t raise the money to build a clinic in their neighborhoods, for example.

It’s very likely we’ll see more of this kind of conservative ideology coming home to roost in the next several decades unless we do something to stop it – but there’s only so much you can really do when you have an entire group of people who are not only willing to deny the medicine that can save them, they’re willing to deny everyone else the same medicine as well.

[ Conservatism Is Bad for Your Health: “Red” States Sicker than “Blue” ]
Source: AlterNet

July 19, 2010

The Patient’s Bill of Rights

One of the fabulous side effects of the Health Care Reform legislation that President Obama and Congressional Democrats can take credit for is a new Patient’s Bill of Rights designed to protect patients from mistreatment and abuse not just from the medical community, but from the medical industry, including insurance companies and others looking to make money on the backs of the health of the American people. Here’s what President Obama had to say about it:

“Starting in September, some of the worst abuses will be banned forever. No more discriminating against children with pre-existing conditions. No more retroactively dropping somebody’s policy when they get sick if they made an unintentional mistake on an application. No more lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on coverage. Those days are over.” – PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA

And here’s the Patient’s Bill of Rights. Make yourself familiar with it, because even if you never voted for Obama and even if you’re one of these tea party nuts out there calling for the repeal of the reform act, these are the rights and privileges you enjoy under the new law – and these are the rights and privileges that Republicans and their far-right allies are looking to take away from us as soon as possible:

The Patient’s Bill of Rights:

  1. Prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick. Right now, insurance companies can retroactively cancel your policy when you become sick if you or your employer made an unintentional mistake on your paperwork.
  2. Stops insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Beginning in September, discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions will be banned—a protection that will be extended to all Americans in 2014.
  3. Prohibits setting lifetime limits on insurance policies issued or renewed after Sept. 23, 2010. No longer will insurance companies be able to take away coverage at the very moment when patients need it most. More than 100 million Americans have health coverage that imposes lifetime limits on care.
  4. Phases out annual dollar limits on coverage over the next three years. Even more aggressive than lifetime limits are annual dollar limits on what an insurance company will pay for your health care. For the people with medical costs that hit these limits, the consequences can be devastating.
  5. Allows you to designate any available participating primary care doctor as your provider. You’ll be able to keep the primary care doctor or pediatrician you choose, and see an OB-GYN without referral.
  6. Removes insurance company barriers to receiving emergency care and prevents them from charging you more because you’re out of network. You’ll be able to get emergency care at a hospital outside of your plan’s network without facing higher co-pays or deductibles or having to fight to get approval first.

Read the whole thing and a few more details at WhiteHouse.gov, and start to read about how the health care reform law is making a difference in the lives of everyday Americans right now at HealthCare.gov.

[ The Patient’s Bill of Rights ]
Source: Organizing for America

July 12, 2010

Jan Brewer’s (and John McCain’s) Immigration Lies Destroyed

This is why I’m absolutely thrilled that Eric Holder is ready to bring the legal smackdown to Arizona’s now-legalized racism and “papers, please” regime – and why I’m equally thrilled that he’s already said that additional legal challenges on additional grounds may be forthcoming against Arizona and its horrific so-called “immigration” law, which really amounts to an “anti-Latino” law.

The problem is that the political right, and people like Arizona governor Jan Brewer (and her patrons, people like John McCain, failed Presidential candidate) insist on believing a series of lies and half-truths about immigration and migration that have been disproven over and over again. Sadly, the right has never needed proof or evidence to back up their beliefs; they’re perfectly happy subsisting on privilege, lies, mistrust, and hatred.

So in an amazing piece at Alternet, Joshua Holland channels Dana Milbank, who both tear some of it apart in glorious fashion:

Dana Milbank can be annoying at times, but his column today is well worth a read.

A sample …

Jan Brewer has lost her head.

The Arizona governor, seemingly determined to repel every last tourist dollar from her pariah state, has sounded a new alarm about border violence. “Our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert either buried or just lying out there that have been beheaded,” she announced on local television.

Ay, caramba! Those dark-skinned foreigners are now severing the heads of fair-haired Americans? Maybe they’re also scalping them or shrinking them or putting them on a spike.

But those in fear of losing parts north of the neckline can relax. There’s not a follicle of evidence to support Brewer’s claim.

The Arizona Guardian Web site checked with medical examiners in Arizona’s border counties and the coroners said they had never seen an immigration-related beheading. I called and e-mailed Brewer’s press office requesting documentation of decapitation; no reply.

Brewer’s mindlessness about headlessness is just one of the immigration falsehoods being spread by Arizona politicians. Border violence on the rise? Phoenix becoming the world’s No. 2 kidnapping capital? Illegal immigrants responsible for most police killings? The majority of those crossing the border are drug mules? All wrong.

This matters, because it means the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy. Arizona officials say they’ve had to step in because federal officials aren’t doing enough to stem increasing border violence. The scary claims of violence, in turn, explain why the American public supports the Arizona crackdown.

Holland and Milbank also refute the so-called criminal concern around immigration – noting that immigration was much higher when the economy was doing better in the late 90s, and yet crime was at its lowest point in decades. Between this and the whining “they’re taking our jobs” privilege argument and the “they’re sucking up our school money/medical services/other social services” privilege argument, both of which have been proven hilariously false (especially considering this is a community that works and pays taxes on benefits they’re not eligable for in numbers that can’t be counter) it’s remarkable that these people are allowed to hold public office while lying through their teeth the way they do.

Still, what did I say about the political right? They’ve never really needed truth or facts in the past – there’s no reason to expect them to start now.

[ Jan Brewer’s (and John McCain’s) Immigration Lies Destroyed ]
Source: AlterNet

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

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

May 24, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?

A number of other blogs and sites have had a great time bashing poor Rand Paul these days, and while I’ve been sitting back and watching the whole thing happen, I can’t help but laugh and join in.

This is the same man who said – and was forced to significantly backtrack from – that not only would he have opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act – which ensured Black Americans had the unfettered right to vote and ended segregation and the policies of the Jim Crow south – but that he also had reservations about the Americans with Disabilities Act. The way he characterized his remarks implied that he would also have issues with the Lucy Ledbetter “Equal Pay for Equal Work” Act, with the right of women to vote, and just about any other Federal law that protects basic human rights in America without exemptions for private industry.

I think J Smooth said it best in this video about Rand Paul and his beliefs:

He’s absolutely and utterly correct, of course – and while he’ll stop short of saying that Rand Paul is racist, I think it goes back to another one of his videos that describes the difference between being a racist and saying or doing something that is racist. One is calling someone out on their behavior, the other is a character judgement you simply can’t make – and I think that’s Rand’s issue – he’s doing things that pave the way and open the doors to institutional racism, but is he a racist? Can’t say – all I can say is that his ideals and policies support institutional racism and he clearly prefers those policies to actual people.

What’s that? You haven’t seen the interview to which J Smooth is referring? Rachel Maddow has the lowdown on her blog, where she corrects a New York Times story on Paul and links to her own interview where Paul does some artful dodging of pointed questions:

[ New York Times gets Rand Paul wrong ]
Source: The Maddow Blog

Still, over at TruthDig, the venerable Robert Scheer – writing before the explosion of idiocy that’s been spewing from Rand Paul’s mouth like so much BP oil into the Gulf of Mexico, asks the question, “Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul?” and pointing out both sides of why we should be concerned about him – not because of the so-called rise of the Tea Partiers, because they’re willing to elect anyone who embodies their rage without checking to see whether they actually share that person’s beliefs, clearly – but because they may prove a way for fringe and extreme right-wingers to get elected. But in the long run, at least he’s not a traditional Republican, right?

Tuesday’s election results were pretty good for progressives. The retirement of that windbag chameleon Sen. Arlen Specter is long overdue, and pro-labor forces were able to push Sen. Blanche Lincoln into a runoff in Arkansas. Even the big tea party win in Kentucky has its bright side.

Count me as one lefty liberal who is not the least bit unhappy with the victory by Rand Paul in Kentucky’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Not because it might make it easier for some Democratic Party hack to win in the general, but rather because he seems to be a principled libertarian in the mold of his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and we need more of that impulse in the Congress. What’s wrong with cutting back big government that mostly exists to serve the interests of big corporations? Surely it would be better if that challenge came from populist progressives of the left, in the Bernie Sanders mold, but this is Kentucky we’re talking about.

[ Who’s Afraid of Rand Paul? ]
Source: TruthDig

Scheer tries desperately to make the best out of the election of Paul, which could very easily have been spun positively, but since he’s outed himself as anything but libertarian and more of a fringe-right corporatist when the pressure is on and only libertarian when it comes to revoking human rights by law and instead preferring the law of the market to rule not just business life but all life, I doubt even Scheer could defend him now.

Joshua Holland, writing for AlterNet, completely dissects Rand Paul’s attempt to be libertarian and winding up father right than most Republicans, specifically with regards to his desire to let BP off the hook entirely for the oil still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico:

Rand Paul’s supporters argue that his greatest flaw is his relentless honesty. In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto gushed that “Far from being evasive, Paul has shown himself to be both candid and principled to a fault.”

But in an Appearance on Good Morning America, Paul proved that he is just another corporate-power-loving wing-nut who believes companies can do no harm, and there’s nothing principled or libertarian about that stance.

As Matt Corley reported earlier, Paul said Obama’s promise to put his “boot heel on the throat of BP” was “un-American.” He mused that it was an example of our “blame game society,” in which “it’s always got to be someone’s fault,” and added: “maybe sometimes accidents happen.”

The context here is important. Obama was talking about forcing BP to accept full liability for its actions. Libertarians believe that we are all autonomous agents who should be free to make our own rational choices, and then we must take responsibility for the results of the decisions we make. BP has caused billions and billions in damages to others, and its liability for the mess is capped at just $75 million plus the actual costs of the clean-up (but since BP will likely be found negligent in operating the rig, those caps are not necessarily going to apply).

Along the way, the company made choices. Its managers chose to drill in 5,000 feet of water, and then cut corners in terms of safety not only on the Horizon, but as a general operating principle. They made a rational decision to drill with a blow-out preventer that had a dead battery and was effectively “useless.” And they chose not to invest a half million dollars in a back-up system that might have prevented the worst damages.

That’s right – 11 people died on that rig from a completely preventable explosion and now near immeasurable damage is being done to the ecology and economy of the Gulf of Mexico – and as rare and unusual as it is for such a thing to happen, Rand Paul wants to chalk it up to an “accident” and move on without looking into it any further or holding anyone accountable for their actions. This is the kind of behavior I would expect from a Tea Partier or a webertarian (eg, the ignorant, mom’s-basement libertarians that troll YouTube and Reddit), but not someone who actually understands and wears the label of libertarian.

Holland continues:

The people of the Gulf whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the spill had no say in those decisions. It’s what economists call a “negative externality” — effects of a private transaction on a 3rd party. True libertarians believe that government’s only role should be to keep the peace and to correct market failures when they occur. Negative externalities represent the classic market failure.

Libertarians believe the government doesn’t need to regulate — to, for example, force oil-rig operators to have redundant systems and tightly monitor their safety routines — because the market will punish those actors who make the wrong choices. BP, according to the “logic” of the free market, should now bear the full burden for the results of the choices it made. Libertarians believe that when a free individual makes choices that harm others, litigation from other private actors will result. That’s known as “private enforcement,” and true libertarians argue that it is far preferable to “public enforcement,” AKA regulation.

I have a whole chapter in my book about how ours is a political culture that embraces the idea of free markets, but only in principle. BP made those choices I mentioned above because they were the economically rational things to do — they knew that if they destroyed a large swath of the Gulf Mexico in the process, they wouldn’t end up paying for it in its entirety, so management could rationally take more risk than they would have in a real free market system.

If Rand Paul were truly a principled libertarian, he’d be out in front of Obama, demanding that BP take full responsibility for its actions because it’s the free market thing to do. Instead, he dismisses the whole notion of taking responsibility for one’s decisions with an airy statement that “accidents happen.”

That makes Rand Paul just another Republican whose first instinct is to bow down in obeisance to the corporations that he apparently believes can do no harm — they only suffer “accidents” — even while thousands of barrels of oil continue to leak into the Gulf.

That about sums it up – Paul is completely willing to shield BP from the ramifications the market will take on their actions, when in reality what he would be doing if he were remotely libertarian. But then, this psuedo-libertarian scourge goes all the way back to his father – the man that Robert Scheer was trying in vain to defend in some regard, which I wrote about at length in my column The Ronulan Menace back when he was running for President.

Will this nonsense be the end of us all or the dooming of American politics? Not likely, especially as long as people like Paul pretend that he doesn’t have another election to win come November and keep his foot firmly planted in his mouth, but even if he does win that Kentucky senate seat, he’ll be so fringe he’ll likely find his time in Washington short either by will of the poeple or his own inevitable weakness.

In the interim though, it all makes for excellent, if not facepalm-worthy, political theatre.

[ That Was Fast — Rand Paul Throws Libertarian “Principles” Out the Window ]
Source: AlterNet