Barack Obama: The Man of Zen

DDI am one of the few who has made the argument that the President’s style is a classic example of the practice of the high art of Zen, one prescribed by its greatest masters and rooted in the classic book of wisdom, the I Ching.

It’s an easy case to make! Zen focuses on inner strength, not outer conflict. It is a quiet and presence of mind that sees both the short and long term by a presence of heart that is calm and reserved; it values wisdom above force.

The comparisons and the parallels with Zen never come up in the media. After hundreds of microphone sound checks by top analysts and thinkers, the Zen meme, in plain sight, is without a peep. It reveals how terribly and narrowly one-sided American thought presented by media has become: they claim insights on world traditions, but they established a multi-channeled agenda to build an intellectual frame, with Obama’s image as the poster of misgovernance.

Zen, by definition, is smart action, wisdom deftly applied. For deep, contextual reasons of power and privilege, Obama was a threat to all a circle of special interests cherished, and they needed desperately to portray him to their followers and to America as dumb.

The I Ching finds its roots in China as a work whose system of insights and actions explains the social and spiritual conditions that at times appear chaotic and bewildering, while at other times appearing calm and clear. Each set of conditions has hidden meanings and passages. If respected and tempered, through actions and virtues, these insights and steps bring forth inner truth, guide choices, and direct the path to change.

Simply, the I Ching defines relations between men, women and the world, and the forces beyond, the unseen conditions once known as the zeitgeist and weltanschauung and the things of heaven. The I Ching defines both the inner and outer nature of conditions and change in society and in the hearts of men and women. It is a manual that tells how to progress and benefit while being morally responsible; it addresses prosperity and security and the attitudes of good and evil; it maps out when to be patient and when to advance and warns of the dangers, both visible and hidden, from people and conditions.

Barack Obama has faced both during his two terms as our elected President; he has faced dangers—from people and conditions. When he stepped into office in 2009, some of the country’s most powerful institutions and people immediately formed organized resistance, and global conditions were at their global worst.

But his refusal to fight was classic Zen: engagement would have only stirred and strengthened evil and confusion. A fight would have only served his enemies. Despite his victory, he and the country were too weak to win and fight when others defined the terms and were willing to weaken the country even further.

His patience served America, and patience is an inner virtue, but in the President, many—both enemies and supporters—called it weakness, indecision. Many were drawn in by the anger his opponents displayed, by the force of their hatred and their demands for absolute power over his office as they blamed him for disturbing the status quo and not submitting to their “compromise.” They shut down the government and said he wouldn’t meet them halfway—to give them all of what they wanted to end their threat. They skipped 200 years of time to draw on a model of government that has no models of success.

The President did not respond until conditions were right. Zen teaches the right conditions are when your opponents think they are at their strongest, but have in their zeal for power left many things neglected, failing to attend to social needs. So after the midterm elections that put Republicans in charge of both the House and Senate, the President has made his opponents look incompetent and revealed them as servants of special interests whose tools are anger and bluster and money and whose goals are power and disrespect.

Like now, when the President without fanfare issued the third veto of his five years in office, striking down a bill in which Congress voted to approve the building of a Canadian pipeline across America’s plains, over America’s vital Midwestern aquifers, across sacred Native American sites, to bring the dangerous Canadian tar sands oil to Texas refineries. His opponents called his veto an “embarrassment.”

So America’s energy policy is a principal concern about not being “embarrassed?” What about merits? Were there none to criticize the President on? Was an embarrassment the worst result of his veto? The criticism hides a deeper failure by his opponents to pass a bill with substance they could defend.

Barack Obama has seen the institutions of power align to belittle and willfully oppose his every act, politically and personally. His legislative initiatives were wrong, his vacations too expensive, his head nods were considered bows that displayed gross violations of unwritten protocol and submission to foreign heads of state—even as his opponents were unrepentant about their violations, one yelling out during the State of the Union speech to say to the President, “You lie!” Continue reading Barack Obama: The Man of Zen

The Will to Kill

DDWhich of the two holds the greater attraction: helping an organized rebel group under attack by an international coalition to establish a caliphate governed by Sharia law, or the right to kill without consequences far-ranging straw populations turned into enemies? This is the divide which reflects the debate about the global attraction of ISIL. But it’s really a choice that represents the same side: help establish the caliphate and kill; kill and help establish the caliphate.

The two realities are married. The caliphate is a process, a goal to be pursued; its outlines measured in captive cities and mapped territories. The other is a reality shared daily, like the rites of morning prayer or tea.  ISIL’s rituals of death are displayed, taped and broadcast across the globe. The images include fire fights with irregular troops and the defeat of national armies, but more often with a solemn horror, the bodies of civilians—women, children, men and boys, in uniform or out, laying dead, still, scattered in the streets. Or as short and long lines of captives made to kneel as they are executed, their heads whacked with knives or blown away with guns. To an amazed global audience, there are those who want to participate in the killing, drawn to wielding the evil pleasure of meting out death as a witness or by their own hands.

There is a time when activities leap forward to create new forms, and the old thinking is slow to catch up. From where I watch, the old thinking is tied to a conflict narrative of political ideology that misses the new motives. Evidence—the old thinking misses the new evidence. And because it does, it is unable to contain a force whose spread will consume civilization. The caliphate will be a rogue organization with stateless boundaries through which random terror will threaten and disrupt the world order of global societies. The caliphate’s only purpose will be to provide the resources and safety to serve death again and again until fear and grief shut freedom and liberty down.

ISIL is a death cult. It attracts those fascinated with killing. Its main activity is murder. Its survival and media is giving similar-minded groups the will to copy its blood trails. It is swiftly attracting recruits.

The caliphate is like the leather jackets of Hell’s Angels or the Disciplines, an identifying style to mark them apart, to signify their outlaw status, a display of their pride in defying the social order for the wild satisfactions of the fringe. Even the motorcycles of the gangs became secondary to the gangs’ corruption that reveled in the dark side of crime and violence. For ISIL, the caliphate, too, is a symbol, nothing more, of those who are consumed with the electrifying rush related to killing, and who seek to establish communities of killers, those who share and glorify the same rush, inflicting death across the globe.

ISIL is not so much a political problem as a psychological one. It is the ground zero point for a part of our culture that many thought had been successfully repressed. But its horrors have risen from time to time, albeit short-lived.

During the Civil War at Ebenezer Creek, Georgia, in a little-known incident, Confederate cavalry leader and West Point graduate Joseph Wheeler killed over 3,500 slave “contraband” who were following the Union army. Their bodies washed out of the black water creek to dam its mouth for six months after the incident. The locals found women, children—infants–men among the dead. At Fort Pillow, Confederate Nathan Bedford Forrest ordered the killing of surrendered, unarmed black soldiers and ran the Mississippi red.

Throughout the 20th century, in race riots in Florida, Tulsa, Cincinnati, in thousands of lynching incidents including 15 year old Emmett Till’s death in Mississippi, in officially sanctioned police actions like the one in 1969 that killed Chicago Black Panther Fred Hampton in his bed in a pre-dawn raid as eight police officers fired 99 shots, death has been the quick, easy solution for fears and slights. But its presence in society goes deeper than its ease. Continue reading The Will to Kill

Hillary Clinton: Will Her Economic Policies Follow Best Global Practices?

DDHillary Clinton’s search for an economic policy seems to forget the phrase used to caution investors: “Past results are not indicators of future success.” The world of her husband’s administration is long gone. The great goods of all economies are now commodities; volume produces wealth and flatlines jobs and wages. Apple, Monsanto (80% of world corn seed), American Water Supply (the largest water utility), Pepsico and Google are diverse examples of commodity enterprises operating in global markets that increase capital wealth with little increase in jobs; yet they are vital to economic growth.

Clinton’s advisers don’t seem to get this paradox: the modern economy is built on essential commodities that transfer wealth without the traditional means of adding value through labor and large workforces. In fact, work itself is becoming a commodity, priced by industry and region, in the same way as good and services.

Clinton economic panels ignore this reality. Yet the US economy is deeply entwined with monopolies by companies and by regions (China’s Pearl River zone, Foxconn; Vietnam, Indonesia, clothing; Brazil, agriculture; the big banks, cell, music and cable services; et al.). Working around the economic margins through taxes and fees will not restructure a system designed to vacuum up cash and maintain rock-bottom wages while the private sector shifts social costs to government.

But more importantly, her panels of economists overlook global best practices and opportunities! They agree and disagree about the wrong things! Models in several countries have successfully produced rapid growth and gains for the middle class in the last two decades (interrupted by the global recession) and continue to do so!

To cite four: China, Brazil, Botswana (per capita income, $17.1k, one of Africa’s highest!), and Mexico. Each country has structural issues, several confront major corruption and crime, but their political economies have increased wages and the size of the middle class by taking advantage of training, government partnerships, economic planning and global growth.

All four share two essential features: modifying social capital to invest heavily in health and education incentives, and protecting wages and investments for families by safety nets and identifying markets through planning with high-paying, sustainable jobs.

US politicians look at polls and avoid plans. The US creates international agreements, but lacks domestic strategy. The private sector and conservatives applaud the open market, but ignore its chaos and corruption, and see government as an adversary rather than a partner, a view contrary to the emerging global vision of government’s role in expanding national economies.

On taxes, Congress closes doors and opens loopholes. The controlling party of Congress wants to tell the sick they are unaffordable, the illiterate they are flawed, and to describe the jobs in which workers are stuck for decades as entry-level. Their proclamation of progress has no plan or specific details. We are deluding ourselves. Especially if we think only the market can pick winners and losers.

Successful models don’t debate ideas, abandon common sense, or solve blame. They don’t tilt policy to accelerate the flow of wealth to the rich while blaming others for the lack of virtues that supposedly cause income inequality and static wages. Successful models promote growth. They engage stakeholders and establish activities—real organizations and businesses supported by advanced knowledge and research, highlighted and included in state and regional plans, aided by federal policies that will innovate as markets expand.

This approach would give rebirth to America’s economy. Developing global models are driving micro (for families) and macro (for companies) growth and job expansion around the world (except Haiti, close to home). Here in the US, partisan calculations blot out the rich benefits of using the models’ far-reaching economic calculations.

Three Global Opportunities: Rails, Smartphone Operating Systems, Hydro and Solar Energy

Though it expands year over year, the US has abdicated the global rail market to China and Europe. It is a huge missed opportunity. Rail’s five main market segments (high-speed, mainline, freight, light rail, metro) include 150 or more sub-industries, among them electronics, safety, signaling, communications, maintenance, interiors, metallurgy, construction, power engines and assembly, and will have steady long-term growth, powered by the need to transport grain, coal, chemicals, automotive, intermodal freight and urban ridership.

But rail’s sustained, high-wage jobs are ceded to Canada (Bombardier), Germany (Siemens), and France (Alstom), among others. In a global market approaching a trillion dollars annually, two-thirds of rail revenues remain directly accessible to the US—orders are open and awarded to the best bids from competing global suppliers! Yet, as an example missing the present and future, the US share of the rail car market is only 5% and is not using its superior financing, technical and research knowledge, experience with large-scale projects and skilled workforces to compete for dominant share.

China holds two of the top three positions as manufacturers and suppliers of rolling stock equipment, positioned to take advantage of new sales: in the next ten years, Europe will replace 10,300 locomotives, and Africa’s demand for rolling stock will double.

Consider these recent global rail projects:

  • In Basque, a 172km high speed network in Spain between three regional capitals.
  • In Algiers, Africa’s second metro system carries 300,000 daily riders underground on a 9.2km line, with ten stations.
  • In Ankara, Turkey, three new lines, Kizilay-Cayyolu, 16 stations, 18km; Ulus-Kecioren, six stations, 7.9km; TBMM-Dikmen, five stations, 4.8km; 108 metro cars.
  • In Warsaw, a 19km route with 19 stations.
  • In Mexico City, North America’s second largest rapid transit, a new Gold Line, 24km with 18 stations.
  • In Brazil: Bidding a 511km high-speed line (with 90 km of tunnels!) with contracts for tracks, stations and infrastructure.
  • In Argentina, a 710km high-speed line, $4B.
  • The Trans-Asian Railway, a 14,000km main rail link between Singapore and Istanbul, with connections to Europe and Africa.

US companies received none of these bids or subcontracts, missing out on 80,000 to 250,000 new jobs. Nor do they recognize a key value of rail is its stable long-term growth through flexible and sustained mobility.

With rails, entrepreneurial opportunities exist in adhesives, sealants and fixings; cables, hoses and connectors; paint and protective coatings; electrification, power supply, lighting, electromechanical systems and drives; fire safety, detection and suppression; computer hardware and software, controls and monitoring systems, door systems, gangway systems, public address and alarm systems; track engineering and construction, track maintenance and repair; fare collection and ticketing; noise, shock and vibration control; heating and cooling systems and compressors; and wash plants—leaving aside the importance of locomotive, rail and passenger car design.

Research for innovation include sensors, computers and digital communications to collect, process and disseminate information to improve the rail safety, security and operations. Research also includes alternative fuels and energy sources, reducing life-cycle costs while increasing reliability of equipment and infrastructure assets, and maintenance.

Chinese high-speed train makers are increasingly selling their products to Western countries. Experts say the established European firms in the sector urgently need to develop strategies to counter the competition.

Chinese high-speed train makers are increasingly selling their products to Western countries. Experts say the established European firms in the sector urgently need to develop strategies to counter the competition.

In fact, the US is absent from rail and many economic niches.

Apple dominates the high end of the smartphone market, but opportunities exist and are expanding for inexpensive models, a market in which India and China lead with no US competition. The Indian smartphone market for phones under $200 grew 186 per cent in the first six months of 2014. Other developing countries hold the same market potential.

Recently, Google announced Android One, a standard operating system intended to become the first choice for millions of new customers globally. Continue reading Hillary Clinton: Will Her Economic Policies Follow Best Global Practices?

In Politics and Public Life, Do the Odds Favor the Cynics?

DDA cross-section of ideas and acts, global, national and local, haunt the negative and positive spaces of our lives, influencing our decisions and thoughts, our choices, our feelings about progress or defeat.

A good deal of America is engaged in cynicism, reducing complex issues to a short list that squares with a wish list of beliefs and desires.

Michelle Obama often is an object of choice by cynics, who find it easy to shave off the responsibilities she has as a mother and as a public figure married to the President from her duty to share her authentic self, which often flows into a space beyond what many expect. When disappointed, they assume an attitude of “I told you so” (smug about never mentioning what was told!) and then assume the imagined gross error that exists in their minds speaks for itself. Thus they retain in their hearts what they really wanted to believe in the first place—and forever more.

One common cause of cynical angst is First Family travel. Its critics make the small large, pride themselves as spending sentinels, pat themselves on the back with the shared disgust of those who feel being black and having a family and being President is just too much for anyone to accept. After all, if it were not for those 62 million votes, Barack Obama might well be unemployed and certainly not a world leader of note and renown.

Those people also feel John Boehner is perfectly capable of running things in the White House from his seat in the House, if they could just get Obama impeached and Joe Biden to step aside.

The suggestion of budget abuse by the First Lady for travel generally offers no details, and, as is usually the case, no logic braces the cynical foregone conclusions.

That Michele Obama has abused public money is ridiculous! American Presidents, First Ladies and their children (from Eisenhower to Obama) don’t ride Greyhounds. It is a point of national pride, and respect for the office, that America, no matter what the ideology or color of the President, provides first-class travel and top security (the same as other nations!) when the First Family travels.

Surely the cynics know this! What is their real motivation? What leads to the cheap shots that single out Mrs. Obama? Why is she so often the target of fact-free smears?

Have her accusers forgotten John Sununu, who flew to New York at taxpayers’ expense for a $300 haircut? Or the junkets of Congress? Here are two current examples, one about Tea Party fiscal fanatic Steve Pearce and the other involving former Congress member Michele Bachmann. Travel spending is replete with examples of abuse; the narrowed, unsupported focus of the cynical looking glass tells me something else is at work in their thinking.

Cynicism abounds in more difficult arenas as well. The complex problems of foreign and economic policy are being met, in the popular mind, with spreading cynicism. The array of forces circling the globe is being viewed with an inherent mistrust. Goals are reduced to simple measures, with success or defeat assigned to reflect ideology and personality. The cynics are consistent and confident as they engage in enlightenment by doubt.

Hence the craziness around vaccines: sound, sensible medical practice, a patriotic principle in the 1950s and 1960s, when whole towns turned out on vaccination days and nurses visited schools to end the scourge of polio and measles, whooping cough and other deadly diseases of childhood, is now a battle front over freedom. Vaccines have become a cause some parents are unwittingly willing to follow politicians and have their children die for, or at least experience the nasty conditions of measles they themselves avoided because their commie parents who voted for Eisenhower got them vaccinated. So along with Agenda 21, Executive Order 12333, the New World Order, and the Haitian earthquake, we can add vaccinations to the sinister exercise of power of Big Government, as California’s vaccination rates in wealthy areas fall behind South Sudan’s. Continue reading In Politics and Public Life, Do the Odds Favor the Cynics?

Media's Direct Reporting Omits Deep Background

DDGrowing frustration exists about the role of global media in sharing the truth and facts about politics. Even the media’s cherished idea of balance has taken a slant. The American media’s direct reporting omits deep backgrounds. In print and broadcast, anonymous sources are assigned the duty of representing an ideology and attacking those who disagree. In live reports, face time is more important than oral intelligence. And no news broadcast is complete without a YouTube clip.

What recent stories has the media missed and how have the omissions affected the country?

The biggest missing story is about the media itself: it has abandoned analysis. Instead of being shaped by insights and history, or by conflict and values, stories are “blocked.” They are packaged for immediacy rather than viable information, and immediacy has come to mean any story which zooms in on a crisis in the social order, a threat to well-being or life.

Blocking a story means it will be limited to reviewing events without examining causes; limited by sensationalism that ignores the mainstream; limited by the next big story without any follow-up on the previous big story. But the story’s limits always include speculation, no-rules chatter about what happens next. Speculation, and its inaccurate prophecies, unleashed fears and violations of logic and common sense, is featured without critical review. By offering speculation, media abandons the idea of wrong or right; its stories are blocked to show who is for and who is against.

For example, in one recent big story about Ebola, a deadly, contagious virus spreading in three West African countries, media helped generated mass fear and hysteria in America. Justified by media stories, rather than experience, experts and successful protocol, civil liberties went flying out of the window faster than domestic cases of the disease, amid calls for restricted travel to and from the region.

States demanded medical professionals be quarantined even when displaying no obvious symptoms of fever and coughing. Twice-a-day telephone monitoring was put in place for persons returning from countries experiencing the Ebola epidemic. Hours of hard news time were devoted to tracking each single potential threat as the source of an impeding holocaust. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bad-mouthed a nurse who had demonstrated the courage to travel to the medical front to fight the disease by caring for infected patients.

In the midst of the Ebola fear, Congress members proclaimed the likelihood of legions of Ebola-infected terrorists arriving in Mexico, walking like zombies across unsecured borders—yet so heavily monitored by manpower and technology that enforcement agents intercepted nearly 40,000 unescorted children last year. Many of the same Congress members who conjured a deadly and imminent link between terrorists and Ebola believed this undocumented children’s crusade also had come to destroy the American way of life, stain the American Promise, and end freedom as we know it—by busting public budgets and demanding the right to education. Continue reading Media’s Direct Reporting Omits Deep Background

The State of the Union and America's Middle Class

DDIn the final two-year sprint of the Presidency that created the biggest political backlash since Reconstruction, one that reawakened ancient divisions of class and race, the State of the Union Address displayed the latest strategy of President Obama to avoid the traps, schisms and pitfalls in the road forward for his vision; a vision matched with peerless skills: his impeccable timing, his understated demeanor that lulls his opponents to be overconfident and underestimate his options and resolve, his deep knowledge of the power of small steps.

His sixth State of the Union speech unfolded his vision for this generation’s reset of the American Promise.

“The shadow of crisis has passed,” he said. The troops are home, the economy is growing,  America’s jobs and energy production is “booming,” “10 million” uninsured have gained health insurance.

He noted his critics along the way said he was “misguided” and would “crush jobs,” and met him with “fiscal showdowns, government shutdowns, and re-fighting past battles.”

But in his speech, President Obama was clear: the American Promise means giving the middle class a fair share. This is the year of the middle class.

It is clear, by facts and anecdotes, the middle class has suffered more than the rich, having lost 67% of their net family wealth during the 2009 recession, many losing their homes and jobs and income along with their wealth.

“Families need our help,” the President said without misgivings. He detailed several laws and policies to come to their aid. Provide a tax credit for child care. Pass equal pay. Raise the minimum wage. Make two years of community college free and universal. Protect a free and open internet.

In foreign policy, to secure safety for American families, the President turned to the importance of values: “We stand united with people targeted by terrorists.” “Cuba policy was long past its expiration date.” Close Gitmo: “Why keep open a prison terrorists use to recruit?” Continue reading The State of the Union and America’s Middle Class

Prepare for the New Lie

DDI personally enjoy observing social behavior, looking for patterns, finding tendencies and connections at hidden levels that make things work they way they do. I have a fondness for truth and putting ideas to the test.

Which one of the two traits above make me unlikely to be a Republican?

Actually, both traits are at the heart of the Republican paradox—the idea that you can lie and win elections, that truth doesn’t matter, but correctly analyzing social behavior contributes to victory. Like the double helix of DNA, Republicans take these twin strands which seem to be at odds, and from their different functions create the twisting rungs of a winning strategy.

Democrats take heed.

For Republicans, lying is big business, especially for elected officials and media personnel. But the new lie is not the old lie.

The new lie incorporates new, multiple functions and has improved deniability and staying power. Among the most important of its new functions is that the new lie sanitizes itself. Newly sworn House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana is a practitioner and high expert of the new lie. He denied knowing he had once spoken to a white supremacist group organized under the patronage of Louisiana’s most famous white supremacist and former state senator, David Duke. The Scalise new lie: “I didn’t know who the group were or what the group stood for.” Could I have spoken to a group of Black Panthers in South Carolina and not known who they were? Continue reading Prepare for the New Lie

The GOP Strategy from Day One

DDOn day one, the new GOP-led Congress has inserted a House rule making a technical change in the way funds for Social Security disability are allocated. On day one, in its first act, before any legislation is introduced, in the very procedures of its operation, the GOP House has set dead aim, targeted, and is going after the nation’s cripples. I use the word “cripple” to reflect the GOP pejorative world view—their insensitivity and demeaning, brutish, lowered standard of human virtues and afflictions, their harsh, punitive, belittling, angry, mocking, power-mad oppression of the weak.

So on day one, the nation’s 8,956,000 disabled, along with 1,825,000 children of the disabled, will find their benefits at peril. What the new rule does is separate Social Security as retirement income from its function as disability income. The rule no longer permits the reallocation of monies from one fund to the other without Congressional approval. Right now, the disability trust fund is underfunded. It is at risk of expiring within the next year. The GOP rule blocked its automatic save; the retirement trust funds can keep both programs solvent, with no changes, until 2033.

So we see the unveiling of the GOP strategy: create and advance crises by using Congressional authority to squeeze and micro-manage safety net program funds. Use the same authority to eliminate regulations that control the greed of big business and the rich. Finally, expose the country to the pillage and theft of resources and end broad family prosperity by creating a government that both gives away and takes away benefits that increase growth, income, freedom, security and opportunity for individuals.

Reporter Michael Hiltzik writes in the Los Angeles Times about the social security rule change:

The rule change reflects the burgeoning demonization of disability recipients, a trend we’ve reported on in the past. it’s been fomented by conservative Republicans and abetted by sloppy reporting by institutions such as NPR and 60 Minutes.

Disability recipients are easily caricatured as malingering layabouts by politicians, academics and journalists too lazy to do their homework. They’ll say disability benefits are easy to obtain, so lavish they discourage work, and convenient substitutes for welfare payments. None of that is true.

Hiltzik’s article explains who receives benefits and how they qualify, dissembling the characteristic stereotypes the GOP desperately seeks to protect as it pretends to defend the retirement benefit.

Seal_of_the_United_States_Congress.svg

On the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate chamber, on day one Republicans introduced a bill to change the definition of “full-time worker” in the Affordable Care Act (ACA, widely known as Obamacare) from 35 hours to 40 hours a week. The bill quickly received loud criticism from arch-conservative pundits, including Bill Kristof. But the 40-hour redefinition will make it easier for businesses to exempt their employee’s from coverage without lowering productivity—by cutting just one hour a week from their labor schedule! This technical workaround is an example of the kind that will become common in the 114th Congress over the next two years. Continue reading The GOP Strategy from Day One

Race and the New Year

DDLet us not forget: the year will end with the Republican Speaker of the House giving his full support to a closet racist in the House leadership, who will hold the number three position, as Majority Whip. The Speaker issued a preemptive statement, intended to tamp down the growing furor over a speech the yet-to-be sworn Whip made ten years ago to a white supremacist organization’s convention, the group founded by his buddy and fellow politician, the former KKK Grand Wizard from Louisiana, David Duke.

Now, one speech doesn’t make you a racist. But one lie will. The new Whip has exceeded his quota. His lying about his ties to Duke and his speech make him a repeat offender. His lies include pretending not to know what the organization stood for. Does any politician at any level accept an invitation to speak without reviewing the goals, mission and agenda of the group before which he will appear? But more, Duke says the man soon to be the third highest ranking member of the House leadership knew exactly what the group stood for and knew of his own ties to its founding. So who is lying? The former Grand Wizard or the soon-to-be sworn Majority Whip?

Having renounced ten years late the goals and mission of the organization he voluntarily appeared before, the incoming Whip claimed higher ground, as a father, Catholic and leader. Then he supports voting rights, equal pay, Obamacare and raising the minimum wage? Well, no—but as a good Louisiana politician from a small, solid red district, not for racial reasons, but to preserve cost benefits for businesses, public fiscal integrity and personal liberty.

It’s hard to see the defense of liberty as offensive, or to abhor fiscal integrity and concern for small business. Surely, these positive goals are common to the American Promise and have little to do with race or racism, the ugliness of  denying equal opportunity, restricting persons by color and ethnicity, and using the law for the economic advantage of a specific group.

There is the greatness of the Republican party: it has honed the most shameful of political practices into a narrative that omits race as it confesses its love of American’s greatest traditions: liberty, integrity, prosperity! Boehner often uses this narrative even as he adds an element of blame; but not this week: the Whip was absolved of all sins left unconfessed for ten years and felt the fresh splash of the Speaker’s absolution.

Those who heard the Speaker’s words witnessed what the writer Karoli (read her at Crooks and Liars.com) calls “flag-wrapped racism,” racism concealed by being buried in patriotic promises in which the actual implementation of ideas limits and restricts opportunities by race. Patriotic racism ignores cause and effect and overweighs the balance of gain and loss to the benefit of one race or group. It narrows participation rather than broadening the paths of opportunity.

By wrapping the presumptive Whip’s speech in the flag, issuing a proclamation of forgiveness, and extending the stiff right hand of political fellowship, Boehner is also saying race is no longer a game-changer; it is a forgivable indiscretion even when associations “accidentally” involve speaking to white supremacists, or when the indiscretions are discovered when they are ten years old—or whenever they are discovered—they can be overlooked if denied, and blame shifts to the whistle-blowers, media and political opponents for raising old news, moot issues, and the unfair practice of citing racial views and associations as a litmus test of character. Continue reading Race and the New Year

Jumping the Thin Blue Line: Police, Death and Justice

DDThe media has abandoned the idea of a roundtable discussion with guests in actual dialogue, organized with a moderator who directs the conversation and highlights strong points of interest; this form is the most useful for a discussion that has the hot elements of race, murder, justice, protests, and the American world view that makes demagogues of some communities where crime is high.

To provide that discussion, I’m organizing my essay today as a dialogue, drawing from my comments and replies from the New York Times online. Limited in the Times by space, they are heavily edited and extended. You are invited to weigh in with your comments on Democrats for Progress. ~ Walter Rhett

Ow—Rep. Charlie Rangel makes very good sense! The fault for the shooting of two New York City police officers lies with one person. A nut with a gun. Often, mentally ill people who engage in shootings have issues with family, intimate relationships or authority, and make them targets.

Rather making the police targets, the demonstrations and protests have focused on the absence of justice and accountability. In Gabby Giffords’ case, a rush of politicians and spokespeople vehemently denied any connection between speech about violent revolution, images with target bullseyes superimposed on the faces of elected officials, rallies attended by people openly carrying a variety of guns. Many of those who denied a connection between speech and gun violence, calling the Giffords instance “isolated,” have now rushed to draw a line of cause and effect between protest (against violence!) and violence.

Protests aside, it is clear many New York City police have no respect for law and resist civilian control as they violate administrative rules and criminal codes at will. By abundant evidence: recall the $1,300 an officer in Brooklyn took in October from the shirt pocket of a person not in custody who was pepper-sprayed in the face. The person, in a park with several friends who are heard on camera demanding the police return the money, withdrew the money from his bank to celebrate his wife’s birthday later that evening. None of the other officers at the scene attempted to stop the illegal act, which was a deliberate theft (in New York, larceny). One pepper-sprayed his sister for protesting.

The same officer had been previously sued the year before for using excessive force.  The suit claimed the officer beat a citizen and, after kicking him in the throat, fractured his larynx. The city settled the case for $25,000. With no evidence of accountability, the police department claimed the money taken by the officer (also improper, as no arrest was made!) was properly vouchered as $62.

This week a Brooklyn phone video captured a plainclothes officer charging a youth in custody in front of officers and witnesses and striking several violent punches against the youth’s ribs and kidneys. The excessive and unnecessary use of force was ignored by the other officers on the scene. Going back, videos made during the Occupy movement demonstrations show wanton, excessive force to non-aggressive protesters.  The videos include beatings and the heavy, direct, almost gleeful use of chemicals.

The police would like us to believe that their violence really represents an abundance of caution because of the dangers of their jobs, but many of the police are out of control. They seek absolute power justified by the dangers they face—but too often their violence is not justified by the threat or the crime.

Sadly, the excessive force is ignored by other officers, which shows how deeply embedded is the egregious misconduct of officers who break the law, and then defend themselves by claiming to uphold it. The line has moved further and further and resists any checks or restraints. The rhetoric from many speaks to the ego, narcissism, isolationism that colors their world and permits illegal acts to gain tacit approval as the force closes ranks in silence and the command fails to make the lines clear.

I deeply regret the death of two of NYC’s finest, but it is not an excuse for more of the same. The law doesn’t belong in anybody’s hands, only its enforcement. There is a collective mindset by NYC police that they owe allegiance only to themselves and that they are the law rather than its servants. Closed minds, circular reasoning and exaggerated hyper-vigilance have created a core of undisciplined marauders no one is willing to take on.

“Blame society and the environment in which these officers have to do their job. Surrounded by savages armed to the teeth, what do you expect the police to do? They fight fire with fire. Like it or not. Let’s address how violent our society has become. How self-centered. How unwilling to follow even basic law if it interferes with what we want to do. Don’t blame the police. Blame society!”

“Savages”? Wow. My brother was a 25-year career officer in Columbus, Ohio, working 11 to 7 am, in the heart of the inner city (Main Street to Kelton); the location of every after-hours bar in the city, during the heart of the crack epidemic. The only thing he ever shot was a dog.

Blind labeling and dehumanizing individuals whose children go to school, grandmothers who lived all their lives on the street and who are beloved in their communities, single parents often working two low wages jobs is a ridiculous way of having an honest dialogue.

It’s sad you will never attend NYC’s Abyssinia Baptist Church, or have dinner at Marcus Samuelson’s The Red Rooster, or visit Strivers Row. Or go over to Brooklyn to attend music and dances performances at BAM (the Brooklyn Arts Museum). It’s disappointing that you know so little about a life and place you are so quick to condemn and alienate. The invective in your description shows both your judgment and perception are off, but how would you know? You don’t know, do you?

But like the police and others, you want all of us to buy into the we vs. them narrative, to believe all the right is on one side and the other side bears all the blame.

“It’s a sad day in America when a guy can’t even do a strong armed robbery of a store, attack a cop and try to get his gun, try a second time (according to witnesses, ballistics, forensics and such) without getting shot by a crazed, murderous, racist cop. A sad day indeed…”

It’s a sad day when satire and sarcasm replace humanity and hide an anger and outrage that burns inside to shut off reason: the “strong arm” was a petty thief (no weapon used; a case can be made for assault). Eyewitnesses dispute the police officer’s testimony and the evidence is contradictory—the testimony you cite was by a witness who had a history of racial bias and who, now, the prosecutor acknowledges lied and wasn’t present at the scene, but truth matters no more than compassion, only your mistaken willingness to amplify ineptness and/or irresponsible power into “crazed and murderous” and your refusal to see racism not in the police officer but in the system—the highly irregular way the grand jury was presented the case, even to presenting the grand jury the wrong law, which had been unconstitutional for 30+ years.

Not racism, but ignorance hidden by sarcasm; not sadness, but grief; we weep for those who can not see that a life is precious and should not be surrendered for stolen cigars, and that justice should be honest.

“‘Many police are out of control.’ And what do you base that generalization on? It is precisely this type of rhetoric that inflames the uneducated to assault police, as they did on the Brooklyn Bridge last week. Which by the way was not ‘alleged.’ it actually happened. While I think it’s a stretch to blame the Mayor, his statements have only served to heighten tensions. He might think about attending some classes in basic leadership instead of ‘conferring’ with the likes of Al Sharpton.”

I cited two examples above. I encourage further research. Videos are available across the web that include Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, NYC, Ohio, Texas, California and many other places. Note: of the two examples I provided, one is not a shooting or excessive force, but theft under the color of authority.

I’ll offer one example of how police have strayed dangerously from their training standards. My brother is federally certified in firearms. Standard police training calls for using deadly force in three-shot bursts, assess, and then fire additional three-shot groups if warranted. This concentrates focus on the target, improving the likelihood of an effective stop and reducing the possibility of civilian injuries. An empty clip means an officer was firing out of control, decreasing his effectiveness despite increasing the number of shots, while increasing the potential harm to civilians.

How many three-shots bursts were there in police shooting situations versus emptied clips? But in the current system, a choke hold doesn’t become a choke hold when presented to a grand jury. Negligence goes away, too. Historically, violence by police is sanitized of any crime. But that violence has increased and expanded across a line that confused selfish acts with the protection of liberty; not the selfishness of survival—to which we all can agree—but the selfishness of taking a life because empathy has been replaced with indifference and “serve” has become “subdue and stop or I will shoot.”

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My earlier phrase, “out of control,” referred to the NYC police attitude, the creed in their bones that demagogues anyone who disagrees with the actions of police, no matter how clear the evidence; that makes crimes “tragic” rather than criminal because of technicalities or the freedom of subjective, singular judgment, and a culture that demands a blind eye by peers, enforced by supervisors, that exempts officers from being called out by other officers when they violate training standards or the law, establishing a blue line between a police culture incapable of policing itself when single incidents of force and theft have become the rule, as everybody—except the cameras of the public—looks the other way. Continue reading Jumping the Thin Blue Line: Police, Death and Justice