Steve King, You’re Incompatible with Western Civilization

This is the only election I’ve heard neo-Nazi and white supremacist arguments being side by public officials.

Steve King, a Representative from Iowa, repeated the idea that non-white people haven’t contributed to history. Not writing, not agriculture, not corn and tomatoes and chickens.

If Trump wins, white supremacists will think that this rhetoric is acceptable. These ideas have a long pedigree and they don’t become that much less dangerous with time. I never thought that I’d see the kind of things I used to only see on message boards offered by anonymous people in the mainstream, and yet here it is. People like King feel emboldened.

Too many people in this country think that you get a freebie on issues like this. That, whenever you please, you can trot out the idea that this is your country and civilization, and you’ll take back the nice things you gave. Steve has the right to say these things. And in a civilized society, he would be voted out of office and his ideas would see universal censure.

We’re nowhere near that. Our moves toward basic decency and courtesy (what dishonest people called “political correctness”) mean nothing if these ideas aren’t extinguished. Not by censorship, but by being roundly defeated in the intellectual arena and rejected as immoral statements.

And while many conservatives may get scared by that kind of rhetoric, and I understand to a point, these are the same people saying that radical Islam is not compatible with Western civilization. Neither is what Steve King said. It’s not compatible with any kind of civilization, anywhere.


Boo, Hillary. Boo.

So Sarah Silverman and Al Franken got booed by Bernie supporters at the DNC, chanting “Bernie!” in response to her effort to get us to be proud of voting Hillary.
I appreciate the effort Sarah is making to try to defeat Trump. I do. I was never a diehard #BernieOrBust guy. 
Just today, I had someone point out to me how Hillary’s record as a feminist, in pushing education, in It Takes A Village, and elsewhere are impressive. And the RNC had made me sympathize with her massively.
But as I listened, I realized that the DNC doesn’t have a leg to stand on. 
Hillary didn’t make Bernie the VP. She didn’t do that despite the fact that she clearly knew about the collusion between her and the campaign. She gambled on us not finding out.
The Democratic Party wants us to vote for them when they loudly indicated that they didn’t want our vote. Sure, perhaps Bernie might have lost either way. But in this world, we didn’t get to find that out, because the Democratic Party didn’t want to let their members decide. They want us to be happy to be in a rigged game.
And they want us to vote for them to avert Trump, but they don’t want to earn our vote. They don’t want to actually apologize for what happened in any systemic way or rectify it. Nor do they want to actually do the work to get progressives.
Want my vote, Hillary? Earn it. Energize me like Bernie. Because you intentionally stole my opportunity to see him try for it. #jillstein2016

Minimum Wage and Social Mobility

AlterNet has a great article today in line with my Dusk Magazine piece on the minimum wage and how the minimum wage to be minimally just would have to be set high enough for people to be able to climb out of the rut in a meaningful and realistic way.

Of course, the reason why it isn’t is because conservatives (and a lot of people further on the left) really do want an underclass in our society of people who pick up crap and can’t ever leave that job. They want a permanent underclass.

So, surprise surprise, that’s what has happened. Of course, it’s not just the minimum wage that has led to this social stratification with very little opportunity to escape the low-wage cycle: it’s also an inefficient private health care system, failing infrastructure, an unregulated financial sector that causes cascading problems in the rest of the economy, etc. But it is government and private actors in collusion that insure that, unlike in the golden age of state capitalism, people stay trapped in low-paying jobs with no job security.

Image credit: Sorbis/Shutterstock

politics, Uncategorized

Trump Will Be The Golf President

Trump wants to be the CEO President. What that means is the golf President.

It’s not just that electing Trump would be electing a shadow President, with the VP doing all the “foreign and domestic policy” duty. It’s not just that, contrary to those who want to vote the guy in to burn the country down, we would ultimately just get a pretty standard far right-wing Presidency because his advisors will all be far-right.

It’s that we’ve already seen that Trump can’t delegate worth a damn. Put aside his failing businesses. His campaign, right now, is a traffic pileup. He couldn’t manage a shoe store. From Lewandowski’s ignoble ejection to the fact that they’re struggling to pay people to the infamous Iowa debacle where he didn’t realize you need to actually get your supporters to talk to actual human beings to get out the vote, he’s proven that he isn’t a good delegater. Trump creates vacuums of leadership that lead to confusion in the ranks rather than exemplary development.

He’s a terrible boss. Whatever would make him a good President?

activism, race, racism, social justice, Uncategorized

Why I Support Black Lives Matter

After the Dallas shootings of officers by an unhinged individual (not associated with BLM), I feel that it is important to reiterate support for Black Lives Matter and discuss why so many of the arguments raised against them are fraudulent. Below is an adaptation of an OpiWiki response that I made at http://opi.wiki/discuss/190010/What-is-your-attitude-towards-the-Black-Lives-Matter-movement

Black Lives Matter, by and large, has been a peaceful movement that has raised serious issues that just weren’t being acknowledged prior to their work.

Dave Chappelle had a bit about police brutality in his comedy special, “Killing Them Softly”, focusing on how much white blindness there was on the issue. That was back in 2000. The Rodney King beating was in March 3, 1991. The Wire was discussing police brutality issues in the context of Baltimore back in 2002. When I was in high school and college, police brutality issues got raised by politically-minded people on the left wing.

The black community has dealt with a toxic and moronic war on drugs, the devastation to black communities as a result of neo-liberal investor’s rights globalization, and too many police departments having a siege mentality for decades.

None of it broke into the mainstream or got conservative networks like FOX to even talk about the issue until #BlackLivesMatter.

Even if the only legacy of the movement is that a discussion about the proper role of the police enters the mainstream and remains there, that will be a colossal victory, and one that anyone that is part of that movement can be proud of.

But, of course, there is no reason to believe that #BlackLivesMatter won’t accomplish major objectives beyond that already-titanic success. We’ve already been moving toward legalization of marijuana and a scaling back of the war on drugs, and #BLM arrived at just the right time to push that forward even further. And many police departments are stepping up and recognizing that they need to do something about bias in policing. While Michelle Alexander’s recent AlterNet analysis is an appropriate bit of perspective, I disagree strongly with her that we won’t see huge improvements if law enforcement at a national level takes the challenge of community policing, bias training, sensitivity to the diverse communities they serve, and a real ethos of community improvement to heart. While it’s true that such institutional measures can only go so far, such institutional measures also themselves push forward the deeper structural and cultural changes that need to happen.

There are a few arguments made against Black Lives Matter that need to be addressed, because they are themselves monstrous obstacles to progress and reconciliation.

The notion that Black Lives Matter has to say that every life matters is just imbecilic. It’s a trite statement that no one disagrees with conceptually. There’s simply no need to say that white lives matter, because there is no institutional threat to white lives as white lives. But there is such a threat to people of color, and almost every major social institution, from the media to the criminal justice system, routinely reiterates the notion that black lives in fact are problems to be contained or controlled.

Chainsaw Suit's fantastic strip.

A lack of specificity is the goblin of trite minds and of those who want to cheat you. “All lives matter” is a non-threatening slogan that suggests precisely no course of action. Worse, as Kris Straub points out humorously here, it’s actually misleading and counter-productive to talk about everyone’s problems as if they are all of equal magnitude at all times. We deal with specific problems at specific moments. The reason why all too many people say that #AllLivesMatter is because the status quo is generally fine for them, so dealing with the specific problems that produce the issues BLM is protesting is costly. That’s fine: We’re all stakeholders and we all have legitimate concerns about the consequences and direction of social change. But the notion of #AllLivesMatter is a disingenuous way to shut down conversation instead of starting it.

Even the fact that “All Lives Matter” emerged as a counter to #BlackLivesMatter is, when one thinks about it, so grotesque that it’d be hysterical if the consequences weren’t so real. As Arthur Chu’s fantastic tweet points out, “Do you crash strangers’ funerals shouting I TOO HAVE FELT LOSS”? It’s a funny notion to imagine someone doing that precisely because it’s so absurd, cruel and stupid. A person doing that would have a psychopathic sense of entitlement and a deep, unabiding narcissism. Yet collectively, all too many people of all stripes feel that it’s appropriate to respond to people expressing grief, heartache, rage and, yes, hope for improvement with the idea, “Well, we all have problems”.

And those who offer this tripe are usually being colossal hypocrites as well. Imagine how the right wing would scream if those of us who want to regulate guns responded to gun rights advocates by saying, “Hey, it could be worse, you could live in North Korea” or “Hey, buddy, all rights matter”.

Some have said that they’d rather have the statement be “Black Lives Matter Too”. While I’m sympathetic, once again it’s easy to see why it’s such a toxic suggestion. No one should have to append “too” to a statement that they matter. Rhetorically, the notion that people have to say “black lives matter too” is a statement indicating, “White folks, and cops, matter by definition, first and foremost. You have to append your mattering afterwards. You do matter, sure, but you’re the last people we mention. You’re an afterthought”. The fact that it is so difficult for so many people to just say, without any proviso, that black lives do in fact matter is precisely why BLM chose that slogan.

Similarly, the black-on-black crime argument isn’t just an evasion, it’s actually a colossal act of racism in and of itself.

Again: Imagine if this were used against any common conservative bugaboo. Imagine if the liberal response to the “War on Christmas” allegations weren’t, “You have no special right to have your holiday dominate public spaces” but was instead “Hey, guys, as long as Christians are bombing people and torturing captives, you should expect that you get shut out of public spaces”. Imagine if anyone complaining about affirmative action costing them their job was told, “You know, as long as white collar crime is disproportionately white, you should be glad you have a job”.

It’d be monstrous to say those things. It’s monstrous here.

A whole community cannot be judged by their criminals. The fact that some black individuals are guilty of crime is in fact no justification for naked black teenagers to be shot. There is no collective racial responsibility unless one is in fact not just a racist but the kind of venal racist that assumes that there’s some kind of mystic connection between people who share some genes. Bringing up black-on-black crime in response to complaints of police brutality to the face of grieving mothers and tormented communities tells them, “Until you fix every problem in your neighborhood, I won’t even listen to you”.

Of course, the argument is stupid on many more levels, but just the colossal racism involved in asserting that argument alone should give any reasonable person pause. In reality, police brutality helps cause black-on-black crime. Criminals in minority communities are more able to get away with violence because their victims are much less likely to trust the police or want to cooperate with them. Moreover, when justice is arbitrary and random, actual criminals are able to plausibly claim that they’re just being set up or facing the same injustices that other people have. An “us-versus-them” dynamic is why gangs tend to emerge. Organized crime overwhelmingly tends to come about when people can’t rely on the ostensibly legitimate authorities to protect their turf, honor and respect them, and give them real opportunities. Organized crime acts as a de facto militia, government and underground economy all in one, as destructive as it is. Again, one only need to watch The Wire to see how poor police behavior helps push communities away into the kind of isolation, fear and desperation that breeds crime.

And, of course, men like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama have all harshly criticized gang violence and criminality in black communities and have made many major efforts to try to resolve them. I have not met a single person anywhere in BLM or in groups that sympathize with and ally with BLM who don’t say loudly that black-on-black crime is a serious problem.

Oh, and another niggling little point: We don’t pay the salaries of gang members. There’s no collective social responsibility for the actions of criminals. There is for anyone who we employ as our civil servants. The fact that this tiny distinction has to be repeatedly pointed out shows just how deep the well of denial of racial animosity goes in this country.

But, of course, black-on-black crime is supposed to be something that the black community fixes. The very same people who claim that we’re all in this together as Americans then want to cut their fellow Americans out to dry and not help. The causes of crime everywhere are complex, but we have decades of sociology about those causes, and poverty and community structure are the leading suspects. Crime isn’t a black, white, Hispanic or Asian issue: it’s an American issue. Resolving long-standing issues like failing infrastructure, poor employment prospects, a low minimum wage, segregated and failing schools, etc. is part of the picture of solving crime.

The black community and the white community aren’t monoliths. There are specific neighborhoods, specific people and specific groups. Yes, we are all in this together, and yes, there are shared responsibilities that we all have. I’ve talked extensively about how white communities need to take some responsibility for the poison of racism. A huge part of that is that “With great power comes great responsibility”, of course, but ultimately what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

But no movement toward justice should ever be forestalled because of another tangentially related problem. That’s not how responsibility works.

Let’s conclude by thinking again about Rodney King. Did the man lead police on a drunken car chase? Yes. That was a colossal mistake and a serious crime, and he deserved to be brought to justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law. But he didn’t deserve to be beaten by hotheads. We don’t want police officers cracking the skulls of unarmed men like, say, Henry Davis, a man in Ferguson who got put into jail because of a confusion about his identity.

In a democracy, we should never be afraid of our police. We are paying their paychecks. We should expect that they can execute justice calmly, compassionately and intelligently. If they can’t, they don’t deserve their job. If police are to (reasonably) expect that their sacrifices are honored, then they have to earn our respect with exemplary behavior. If the job matters, it has to be done right.

activism, changemaking, politics, social justice, Uncategorized

Bill Gates and Technocratic Solutions to Social Problems

Patrick Bond, a really insightful thinker, offers a really good analysis of the limitations of charitable approaches like the ones Bill Gates proposes.

I’ve actually been impressed by how erudite and compassionate Bill can be on issues, recognizing risks ranging from the serious threat of a pandemic to the still-salient specter of nuclear war. But Gates is at his heart an engineer, and he embodies a problem I’ve often discussed before and been disappointed to see in otherwise-decent people: the idea that problems can always be solved by a technical or engineering or technological approach, and indeed that such an approach is always the best. But human beings aren’t machines and societies aren’t computers, and you can’t just hack problems away. It’s always worth it to try for clever solutions and to try to leverage technology and creativity to go for unorthodox approaches, but the problem is that those ways of thinking are usually efforts to try to be apolitical. A political problem doesn’t become less political when you try to pretend it’s just a debugging exercise. Smart technological and scientific solutions to social problems need to occur alongside political, social, economic and cultural change, in conjunction with artists, activists, attorneys, civil servants, social workers, psychologists, and others. Instead, folks like Bill tend to try to skip that part.

We should always try to look for win-win solutions, and we should have optimism in the power of the brain. But we should also have optimism in the power of the heart too, and when we use exclusively technical approaches, we’re actually expressing severe pessimism in human potential.