Reactionarying the State of the Union

boehner

I confess – it was the first State of the Union I’d missed in years. Jet-lagged from a quick transatlantic trip to mourn the loss of a dear relative, I didn’t make it past 9:15.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I learned about the SOTU that which American major media think was important. Obama got in a zinger. Free community college. A focus on strengthening the middle class.

I also learned this about the SOTU, from my congressman, Chris “ObamaPelosi” Collins:

“Once again, President Obama used his annual national address to double down on divisive political rhetoric and unrealistic ideas. Rather than focus on policies that brighten the future of the middle class in a sustainable manner, the President has instead, sabotaged success and pitted Americans against one another. The President continues to advocate class warfare, and divide our country. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his idea of a bipartisan solution is his way or the highway.

Know thyself, Collins.

“What the President failed to address was that this past election, the country spoke loud and clear about the direction we need to take. The result was the strongest Republican House majority since the 1920s, a Republican Senate majority, and Republican control of 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers. Americans recognize that Republicans are focused on creating an environment friendly to job creation through comprehensive tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and a patient centered health care system. The President needs to accept this new reality, and find a way to unify the country as we move forward.”

Collins’ staff likely crafted that carefully and well in advance of its delivery or release. Let’s examine it, alongside what was discussed in the President’s speech.

Once again, President Obama used his annual national address to double down on divisive political rhetoric and unrealistic ideas.

I’m a big fan of “ideas”, whether they be realistic or not. For instance, it was pretty unrealistic for President Kennedy to declare that by 1969, the US would land a man on the moon and safely bring him home. Indeed, the very notion of “America” as it was founded and constituted was pretty unrealistic for its time. “Unrealistic” is seldom the opposite of “good”, when modifying the word “ideas”. “Divisive political rhetoric” isn’t really something a politician “doubles down” on – it’s what they do. Mr. Collins’ statement is no different. Pot calling the kettle black, one might say.

Rather than focus on policies that brighten the future of the middle class in a sustainable manner, the President has instead, sabotaged success and pitted Americans against one another.

The big announcements from the 2015 SOTU were things like free community college for any American kid who needs it (with certain pre-requisities);  Congress should lift the failed Cuban trade embargo;  Congress should properly authorize and fund the fight against Daesh; Obama will veto Republican moves to restrict abortion rights, repeal Obamacare, hinder immigration reforms, or authorize the Keystone Pipeline; Congress should help the President overhaul business taxes, conclude trade deals, and fix crumbling infrastructure; we should combat climate change, reform our immigration system, and enhance competition for cable and internet service. Congress should raise the capital gains tax from 23.8 to 28% and eliminate a tax dodge that the wealthy exploit. pass paid leave for workers, as well as more generously fund education, child care and retirement savings for the middle class. These would be financed by tax increases on millionaires and fees paid by large banks and investment firms.

In other words, President Obama wants to incrementally raise taxes paid by the well-to-do to help the poor and not-so-well-to-do get educated, insured, and employed.

I didn’t see it, but a correspondent advises that Collins went on WGRZ and claimed that Americans pay the highest taxes in the world. If that’s really what he thinks, he’s ignorant. If it isn’t, he’s just lying. Our tax burden doesn’t remotely come close to being the highest in the world. Aruba is the highest, followed closely by the Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Denmark. Just lies.

The President continues to advocate class warfare, and divide our country. He has repeatedly demonstrated that his idea of a bipartisan solution is his way or the highway.

This is one of those things that Collins’ base likes to hear – that socialist Kenyan Indonesian racist n0bummer is waging class warfare, because he expects the rich to contribute more to help fund America’s international wars and its domestic attempts to help the middle class. They loved the wars – they just don’t want to pay for it, so they throw around “class warfare” while advocating for policies that disproportionately help people with millions – like Chris Collins – and do palpable and real harm to the middle class. The real war has been the war waged by the rich against the poor and middle class, and if we’re going to demand an end to that war, we should at least be consistent.

Make no mistake – Chris Collins is accusing President Obama of waging “class warfare” because he wants to repeal things like the trust fund loophole, which helps the rich and does nothing for anyone else. He wants to block tax credits for average working families because employees don’t matter – only “job creators” do, and then we can continue to follow the false and discredited dream of supply side / “trickle down” economics.

What the President failed to address was that this past election, the country spoke loud and clear about the direction we need to take. The result was the strongest Republican House majority since the 1920s, a Republican Senate majority, and Republican control of 68 out of 98 state legislative chambers.

And the country spoke loud and clear when it re-elected President Obama and rejected Collins clone Mitt Romney. Since the tea partiers to whom Collins panders love to think themselves constitutionalists, let’s talk about divided government and the power of the veto.

But even worse, those sentences look like something Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy would have written – all horse race, all the time. For instance, the people in the 27th district had no legitimate choice in November, but in NY-26, they resoundingly rejected the craven hatemonger in favor of the thoughtful, intellectual incumbent. So, the “country” didn’t speak loud and clear about anything because Congress is divided into separate districts, and the people in those districts each voted a certain way.  But if Collins is suggesting a switch a party-dominated parliamentary system, let’s roll with that.

Americans recognize that Republicans are focused on creating an environment friendly to job creation through comprehensive tax reform, energy independence, entitlement reform and a patient centered health care system. The President needs to accept this new reality, and find a way to unify the country as we move forward.”

There were tax reform initiatives in the President’s address. The unemployment rate in late 2014 outperforms what Mitt Romney promised would happen under him in 2016, and if we hadn’t cut the hell out of public payrolls, the rate would be lower still. In fact, private employment growth has been record-breaking. Seriously, the news in December was great – 2014 was the best year for creating jobs since 1999 – the drop in the unemployment rate from 2013 to 2014 was the most dramatic since 1984. Wages were up, and the construction and health care sector were outperforming others.

Wait – health care?! I was told that Obamacare was going to ruin our health care system. I do, however, applaud Representative Collins’ apparent change of heart and support for a Medicare for all – the only type that could truly be “patient centered”, as it would take private insurance out of the health care delivery equation.

I understand that Chris Collins’ job is to throw shade at President Obama and librulz, and that his base in an overwhelmingly Republican district is hungry for this sort of jejune red meat. He’s just doing what he was elected to do.

Lie, and protect the millionaires.

Dog Whistles of 2015

The incoming Republican majority whip in the House spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002. He claims now that he had no idea who David Duke was at the time, but really dug his “conservative” views.

“I literally defeated the Republican sitting governor of that state,” said Duke, referring to the 1991 race in which he forced a runoff against Democratic candidate Edwin Edwards. “I had a huge amount of Republican support.”

Duke’s 1991 campaign had already made the former Ku Klux Klan leader a pariah in the rest of the country. He ultimately lost the gubernatorial race to Edwards, but many observers noted that he won a majority of the state’s white voters. Duke claimed Monday that within Louisiana, he was still well respected. As late as 2000, he pointed out, he sat on his local district’s Republican Party executive committee.

At the time, Duke had spent two years abroad after federal agents raided his home as part of an investigation into mail fraud and tax charges. He spoke to the 2002 conference via a teleconference link from Russia, so he is not sure whether Scalise would have heard his speech, which referenced his conspiracy theory about how “Israeli treachery” was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

That sounds reasonable. Why, just the other day – on Christmas Eveone of the guys who claimed to have been instrumental in inviting the “Tea Party Express” PAC party bus to Buffalo sent this:

Anyhow, if you’re a Republican in Louisiana and you want to pretend you don’t know that David Duke is a racist, hatemongering, neo-Confederate, then you’re being willfully ignorant. But Mr. Scalise isn’t like that, right? He’s a pretty reasonable guy, right?

Scalise’s own message has not always been one of inclusion. Months after criticizing Duke, he was one of six state representatives who voted against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday. He had also voted against a similar bill in 1999.

Also in 1999, Scalise told Roll Call that he was more electable than David Duke. What made Duke so unelectable?

Twelve years ago, Scalise spoke at a two-day conference hosted by the Duke-founded European-American Unity and Rights Organization, which is recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On Monday, he told NOLA.com, “I didn’t know who all of these groups were and I detest any kind of hate group. For anyone to suggest that I was involved with a group like that is insulting and ludicrous.”

So many dog-whistles, so little self-awareness.

Happy New Year!

Back in the long, long ago – B.F. (before Facebook), I’d find articles that I thought were interesting and I’d briefly blog something about them. Now I can just hit “share” and throw it up to Facebook or Twitter.

I won’t do a 2014 roundup post because year-end roundup posts generally suck.

1. A common refrain among Republicans is that cutting taxes spurs economic activity. Cutting them for the wealthiest Americans is supposed to somehow magically “trickle down” to the rest of us plebes. The problem is that you can cut taxes down to a certain point where the whole thing stops working. Consider, for instance, Kansas, where Governor Sam Brownback cut the living shit out of taxes. He said that doing so would be like a shot of “adrenaline” to the economy.

Like most states, Kansas’ state budget must be balanced every year. As it stands now, Brownback’s tax cuts have been so disastrous that the state is staring down a $280 million budget shortfall that has to be made up somehow. From Salon: 

Brownback has reduced state contributions to Kansas’ pension fund — already one of the worst-funded in the nation — and cut highway funding. In an ironic twist, the vociferously anti-health reform governor is also relying on Obamacare to help fill the state’s budget gap; Brownback is transferring $55 million in revenue from a Medicaid drug rebate program expanded in the Affordable Care Act into the state’s general fund.

But those measures won’t suffice to make up Kansas’ budget shortfall, and with education and health services already cut virtually to the bone, Brownback may have no choice but to rethink his tax cuts.

That’s too bad for anyone in Kansas who relies on state services of any sort. In Forbes, one commentator says that tax cuts may not have had enough time to work (LOL), but admits,

Everybody knew the tax cuts would cost money; the fiscal note for 2014 estimated that the cuts would cost $800 million in 2014. But the tax cut package was sold as a panacea for all that ails the Kansas economy. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) predicted that the tax cuts would spur economic development, investment, and a lot of job creation. Indeed, Arthur Laffer, who developed the Kansas tax cut plan, practically guaranteed success. But it didn’t work. The Kansas economy is stagnating, the deficit has grown, and the state’s bond ratings have been embarrassingly downgraded.

And in case you were wondering,

The tax cuts’ failure to magically transform Kansas has prompted much discussion. Michael Leachman and Chris Mai at the CBPP wrote a paper skewering the Kansas experiment, saying the tax cuts cost money, the benefits inured to the rich, and the economy took a hit because of less government spending. They say that as a result, the state’s economy remains in the doldrums. The CBPP opposed the Kansas tax cuts from the beginning, and Leachman and Mai’s paper is one big “I told you so.” Even The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece noting that the Kansas failure has caused conservative politicians in other states to rethink significant tax cuts.

On another note, remember how people like Kathy Weppner and Carl Paladino feted former Texas Governor Rick Perry? Let’s see how great Texas’ economy does in our new era of $60/bbl oil. The Erie County unemployment rate is 5.7%. The national average is 5.8%. And unlike Texas, our public schools don’t teach kids that Moses was one of the Founding Fathers.

2.  Here are some arguments as to why prosecco is as good as – if not better than – champagne.

3. The Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 18,000 last week. Let’s revisit a great anti-Obama op-ed from March 2009 entitled, “Obama’s Radicalism is Killing the Dow”. Ah, memories.

The cartoons are courtesy of Marquil at EmpireWire.com.

Enjoy 2015.

Merry Christmas!

TpUE29w1. On Tuesday December 23, 2014, The Dow Industrial Average traded above 18,000 for the first time in its history.

2. Have you bought gas for your car lately?

3. The US economy grew 5% in 3Q 2014, the most since Bush’s Iraq quagmire began.

4. More than 50% of Americans now think the economy is “good” as opposed to “poor”. Consumer confidence was higher than expected, thanks in part to gas prices coming down.

Are We All Defined By Our Lunatic Fringe?

1. Speaking of the recent assassination of two New York City cops in Brooklyn, craven opportunist Rudy Giuliani claims that such a thing never would have happened if he was mayor.

Under Giuliani’s mayoralty, 27 members of the NYPD were killed, not counting 9/11. Giuliani claims that protesters are to blame, and current Mayor DeBlasio gave them “too much power”.

Blaming the Brooklyn assassination on people protesting excessive police force is a common theme. 

2. Jim Kelly’s nephew Chad is a football star who has evidently done wonders for the Mississippi Community College pigskin circuit.

Kelly, 20, of Niagara Falls, refused to leave Encore at 492 Pearl St. about 3:15 a.m. and punched a bouncer in the face, Buffalo police said. Kelly’s companion, Brandon Hickey, 21, of Clarence, had been thrown out of the bar earlier and tried to re-enter, police said.

Kelly continued to fight with two bouncers and stated “I’m going to go to my car and get my AK-47 and spray this place,” according to a report.

Buffalo police officers responding to that alleged threat stopped a 2005 Ford F-150 pickup truck in which Kelly was a passenger at 458 Pearl.

Kelly was forcibly removed from the vehicle, officers said. Police said Kelly kicked and tried to swing at officers as they removed him from the vehicle. They said he resisted getting into a patrol vehicle and struggled with staff at central booking.

The bar’s security staff, Scott May and Clay Hubert, suffered minor injuries in the melee, including pain and swelling, according to the report.

What is a 20 year-old doing at a nightclub at 3:15 am? But more importantly, Kelly was belligerent, violent, threatening, and resisting arrest. I’ve heard a lot of people arguing recently that this sort of behavior justifies an arresting officer choking the suspect to death. However, this kid for some reason was released on his own recognizance unscathed.

3. This is going to be a little tough to articulate because it involves nuance and thought – things that don’t fit on a bumper sticker.

People protesting the police are, for the most part, opposing excessive police force; police brutality. A Google search reveals far too many instances of homicide by cop of unarmed Black suspects. One mentally ill suspect in Wisconsin got a hold of a cop’s nightstick during a struggle and was shot 14 times. His original crime? Sleeping in the park. Eric Garner was selling loosies. Mike Brown was jaywalking and was accused of ripping off a convenience store.

These crimes are petty, not capital. The black community in particular has a right to understand why it is that these young men end up dead, but Chad Kelly can hit and kick cops, and threaten to spray bullets into a nightclub with the “AK-47” in his truck, and sleep in his own bed that same night.

People want better policing and the black community in particular would appreciate it if police would maybe stop treating their young men like animals. It’s notable that the assassination of the officers in Brooklyn by a deranged recidivist psychopath (who also shot and wounded his girlfriend earlier that day) has been universally and unconditionally condemned.  Eric Garner’s daughter came to show support for the fallen officers, attending their memorial service.

The point isn’t a war on cops; the point is to stop unnecessary violence and killings.

Oh, but what about the lunatic fringe that is genuinely anti-cop? What about the self-declared leftist revolutionaries who support assassinating cops?

Well, yes. There are lunatic assholes in America. Some of them are leftist “revolutionaries”. Some of them are right-wing “sovereigns”. Luckily, America and her people have a knack for rejecting extremism such as this.

Last week someone clued me in to a relatively new anti-cop activist group in Buffalo that has posted some videos to YouTube and been involved in recent protests in town. A minimal amount of digging revealed that our revolutionary vanguard is led by a privileged 30-year old woman who still lives with mommy in a tony colonial in Snyder, and attended a private local Catholic college. She has bounced around different activist groups and causes in the short time she’s been out of school, and she seems to be a supreme poseur of the highest order. Her services were bought by political opportunists on at least two occasions, unsuccessfully. She is as ineffective and profane as she is fake. I have toyed with the idea of writing extensively about her, but then I see that her group’s YouTube account has fewer than 10 subscribers, very few views, and that she’s basically just a nobody accomplishing nothing more but looking like a clown, there’s no point. Let her flail in the ether, on the fringe.

Our society depends on and relies upon police protection, and that’s why we give cops special privileges that you and I don’t share. With those expanded privileges come heightened responsibility and accountability. It is incumbent on people to keep that privilege in check when the authorities won’t do it themselves, and protests are part of that. Every protest movement or event is going to have somebody in it that takes things too far or is inflammatory and not worthy of support. That’s how it goes. But condemning all protests and demonstrators for the misdeeds of the lunatic fringe is unfair and misdirection.

Police officers aren’t under siege from hostile elected officials. At no point, for example, has de Blasio attacked the New York City Police Department. Instead, he’s called for improved policing, including better community relations and new training for “de-escalation” techniques. “Fundamental questions are being asked, and rightfully so,” he said at the beginning of the month, after the grand jury decision in the death of Eric Garner. “The way we go about policing has to change.”

Likewise, neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder has substantively criticized police. After a Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown, Obama appealed for calm and praised law enforcement for doing a “tough job.” “Understand,” he said, “our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.”

When directly asked if “African-American and Latino young people should fear the police,” Holder said no. “I don’t think that they should fear the police,” he said in an interview for New York magazine with MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid. “But I certainly think that we have to build up a better relationship between young people, people of color, and people in law enforcement.”

Even Al Sharpton supports cops. “We are not anti-police,” he said after the Wilson grand jury concluded. “If our children are wrong, arrest them. Don’t empty your gun and act like you had no other way.” And on this Sunday morning, Sharpton held an event where he and the Garner family condemned the cop killings in Brooklyn. “I’m standing here in sorrow over losing those two police officers,” said Garner’s mother. “Two police officers lost their lives senselessly.” The family of Michael Brown has condemned the shootings—“[We reject] any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement”—and in a statement, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, said, “This is not about race or affiliation, and it isn’t about black versus blue. All lives matter.”

Query why we have to have so basic a discussion as to the relative value of lives. Query further why it is that an insane man was able to obtain a gun – legally or otherwise.

People are angry about Eric Garner’s death. In the Michael Brown case we learn that one key witness who corroborated Darren Wilson’s story is a white supremacist who clearly lied about witnessing the altercation between Brown and Wilson, yet prosecutors knowingly brought her unvetted testimony before the grand jury with no cross-examination, and helped bolster the narrative that Michael Brown charged the cop and deserved to die. This is, as I argued weeks ago, why Wilson should have been indicted and subjected to the rigors of a trial – so that all stories could be presented to a jury under oath, and that these stories could be vetted through cross-examination.

Shit is all fucked up and shit, but no responsible person is anti-cop or thinks that shooting cops is a great idea. This idiot who did this in Brooklyn was a recidivist violent criminal and representative of the miniscule number of psychopaths who unfortunately infiltrate any political movement. That’s it.

Blaming the assassination on “protesters” and “demonstrations” is a sly way to outlaw speech. The right, who oppose the very notion of “hate speech” when used against them, have suddenly found an affinity for it, because it suits their aims. They lump the peaceful protesters in with those few on the fringes who spew hatred and commit violence. They point to the hate speech in an effort to ban and blame all speech.

(By the way – union boss Pat Lynch, shown above, has managed to do the unthinkable. He has made it safe for America’s right wing to lurve a public sector union boss.)

But these same people on the right wing have argued for years that hate speech on the public airwaves, day after day, can never be blamed for bad deeds. If it’s true that an endless barrage of hate-speech can lead to violence, when does the right begin monitoring what their favorite radio commentators say?

And whom do we blame for anti-government murderer Eric Frein? For “Liberty and Truth” murders Jerad and Amanda Miller?

The Las Vegas attack came just two days after a member of the “sovereign citizen” anti-government movement waged a brief war outside a courthouse near Atlanta. Dennis Marx came supplied with an assault weapon, “homemade and commercial explosive devices,” as well as “a gas mask; two handguns; zip ties and two bulletproof vests,” according to the Associated Press. He opened fire, shooting one deputy in the leg. Sovereign citizens are militia-like radicals who don’t believe the federal government has the power and legitimacy to enforce the law. The FBI has called the movement “a growing domestic terror threat to law enforcement.”

Fox News barely covered the Marx attack on law enforcement. Nor did Fox assign collective blame.

On May 20, 2010, two West Memphis, Ark., police officers were shot and killed by a father-son team during a routine traffic stop. The shooters were AK-47-wielding sovereign citizens with ties to white supremacy groups and who had posted anti-government rants on YouTube.

And in April, 2009, 22-year-old Richard Poplawski grabbed his guns, including an AK-47 rifle, and waited for the police to respond to the domestic disturbance call his mother had placed after she had fought with her son. When two officers arrived and knocked on the the front door, Poplawski ambushed them, shooting them both in the head. Then he killed another officer who tried to rescue his colleagues. Poplawski was convinced Obama was going to take away Americans’ guns, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

If we’re going to blame anti-brutality demonstrators for the Brooklyn shootings, oughtn’t we blame whomever inspired the shooters above? The American right’s hands aren’t clean on this.

I think that the blame for these horrific crimes lies squarely on the ignorant psychopaths who committed them, regardless of what sort of hate speech – whether from poseur “activists” or right-wing hate radio – inspired them. After all, millions of people listen to stuff like Rush Limbaugh and Tom Bauerle and don’t decide that, e.g., the Obama administration is worse than Al Qaeda, and then decide that they should start assassinating.

The rank assholes blaming politicians and lumping peaceful demonstrators in with the looters and shooters are wrong and misguided.

The tree of liberty doesn’t need any blood today, thanks.

Obama Channels Presidents Romney and Gingrich

In 2012, Mitt Romney told Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin that by the end of his first Presidential term (i.e., 2016), he would get the unemployment rate “down to 6 percent, perhaps a little lower”:

HALPERIN: Would you like to be more specific about what the unemployment rate would be like at the end of your first year?
ROMNEY: I cannot predict precisely what the rate would be at the end of one year. I can tell you that over a period of four years, by a virtue of the polices that we put in place, we get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, perhaps a little lower.

He later went on Fox News to repeat his promise, and added,

“People all across the country are saying, ‘Wow, 6 percent sounds pretty good,’”

Mitt Romney lost. So, how did the unemployment rate do under Marxist Fascist n0bummer?

Well, consider this:

1. During George W. Bush’s second term, the US saw a net loss of 671,000 jobs. So far, in President Obama’s second term, the U.S. has a net gain of 4,784,000 jobs.

2. Friday’s jobs report showed 321,000 new jobs, and 91% of them were not in health care, showing that other sectors are showing signs of growth, confidence, and improvement.

3. Here’s how employment has gone, starting with the 2008 Bush economic collapse:

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Courtesy @ddiamond

In 2012, President Newt Gingrich blamed President Obama for high gas prices, claiming that he had a plan to bring prices at the pump at or below $2.50/gallon. Just about anyone with a brain dismissed Gingrich’s promise as utter nonsense. The President has no power over global oil prices, much less the cartel of oil producing nations. The price of gasoline had climbed during the last decade with turmoil and supply disruptions arising out of the Iraq war, and was exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina, which took a huge chunk of America’s refining capacity offline. Gas prices plummeted in late 2008 / early 2009 thanks to the global economic downturn, but oil prices soon rebounded and until recently had been north of $100/bbl.

But OPEC leaders recently were unable to agree on production cuts to prop up the price of oil, and prices have plummeted – both crude and at the pump. The average price for a gallon of gas right now is reaching $2.50 nationally.

 

Of course, when you compare the national average to Buffalo, you get higher spikes locally, and much slower responses to drops in prices.

Even if you compare us to Rochester, it’s evident that Buffalo seems to be taken advantage of.

I don’t think it’s because we’re at the end of some pipeline, and it can’t be taxes. It’s something else, and it’d be nice if someone figured out what.

But if you look at the national average, Gingrich’s dopey promise is coming true. The national average for a price of a gallon of gas is close to $2.50, and that’s under President n0bama.

So, thankfully we didn’t have to do a thing – the economy has been making improvements in spite of Congressional gridlock and malfeasance, such as the 2013 shutdown. The price of gas has fallen in recent months because of things that have happened in the global marketplace, rather than by Presidential fiat.

As consumers find they pay less to fill up cars that are now significantly more fuel efficient than 20 years ago – the average MPG has jumped from 20 to 25 just since 2007 – that’s money back in their pockets and helps to stimulate other spending. American crude oil production has skyrocketed since Obama took office, thanks in large part to shale oil (not to be confused with hydrofracking, which produces natural gas).

So, more efficient cars help to lower demand, and a combination of increased domestic production, and OPEC stalemate help to keep supplies high, and even with a rebounding domestic economy, we’re seeing gas prices come down to Gingrichian levels.

The current unemployment rate is 5.8%, which outperforms what Mr. Romney promised might happen under him by 2016. December’s jobs report represented the 10th straight month of job gains surpassing 200,000.

Thanks, President Obama!

#BlackLivesMatter

Oh, hey. It’s been a banner week for cops killing unarmed black people. First a grand jury in Missouri refused to indict Darren Wilson, who shot and killed an unarmed kid last summer from 150 feet away, and yesterday a New York grand jury refused to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed an unarmed Eric Garner on Staten Island.

Let’s not forget the 12 year-old who was “open-carrying” a pellet gun, who was shot by a cop in Cleveland before he could so much as say, “stop” or “hands up”.

Unlike the case of Michael Brown, which raised much uncertainty due to the he said / they said nature of the evidence, the homicide of Eric Garner was captured on video.

Here it is.

I heard some people on the radio Wednesday talking about how Garner had a long rap sheet.

So?

Garner was a city employee – he was a horticulturalist for the city. His rap sheet wasn’t for anything violent. It was for selling loose cigarettes and vehicle and traffic law issues. He was married with 6 kids. He was a man. He was a human being. He wasn’t a thug or any other epithet you can muster.

Garner was arrested while standing on a sidewalk. Seriously, that’s something you get arrested for? That’s not a ticket? Anyhow, Garner was standing on the sidewalk when police approached him, and he said, “I was just minding my own business. Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today!” After the cops tried to subdue Garner, and after he told the cop holding him in an illegal chokehold that he couldn’t breathe, Garner died.

Died. He died because he was standing on a sidewalk, and cops thought he might be selling loose cigarettes.

The video shows the whole thing.

How about now? Now is it ok with you if black people are angry and upset? Tell me more about how black people are supposed to trust and cooperate with law enforcement. Don’t try and change the subject to “black on black crime” this time – it was irrelevant then, and it’s irrelevant now. This isn’t about a neighborhood beef – this is about violence taking a life under color of law; this is a fundamental civil rights issue.

You want to go on Facebook or elsewhere and bitch about how racism is over, or how there was no racism before Kenyan Muslim Usurper n0bummer got into office?

Here are white people pointing assault rifles at federal agents. None of them went to jail, no one was arrested, no one was shot and killed on sight.

Now, I don’t know whether the cops in New York intended to kill – much less harm – Eric Garner, but that’s what happened. Cops are allowed to use reasonable force to do what they need to do – protect themselves, protect others, or subdue and arrest a suspect. Was the chokehold in this instance “reasonable force”? Could some other method have been employed to subdue and arrest this man who was standing on the sidewalk? This is why we have trials. But if a grand jury doesn’t bring an indictment, you won’t have a criminal proceeding.

And even when you do have a criminal proceeding against a cop who needlessly kicked a handcuffed, prone suspect repeatedly in the head, the cop gets away with a slap on the wrist. In Buffalo.

Should Garner have simply gone with the cops and not resisted? Sure, that would have been swell, too. But he resisted, so the police had the right to use reasonable force to arrest him. They did not have the right to end his life, however.

Don’t touch me, please. I can’t breathe.

A trial. That’s all that was on the table – arresting the officer and requiring that he answer for this homicide. Grand juries – secret law enforcement proceedings – are not where these things should be adjudicated.

There’s some consolation in the fact that the Justice Department is looking into this case, and the family will bring a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the cop and the city. But none of this can undo something that never should have happened.

Here’s the kicker – unlike high school graduate Michael Brown, who had enrolled in college – Garner couldn’t be accused of being violent or belligerent. In fact, just moments before he was killed, he had broken up a fight. He was a peacemaker. (By the way, even if it’s true that Michael Brown had cursed at a cop, it’s not a crime to curse at a cop.) From the Daily News,

But Esaw Garner and other family members said it was a trumped up claim.

“They’re covering their asses, he was breaking up a fight. They harassed and harassed my husband until they killed him,” she said. Garner’s family said he didn’t have any cigarettes on him or in his car at the time of his death.

She said she pleaded with police at the hospital to tell her what happened, but they brushed her off.

“They wouldn’t tell me anything,” she said.

I don’t think the cop on Staten Island was racist, and I don’t think he killed Eric Garner because he was black. But black lives matter, and the system should work for you no matter what your skin color.

The quip about grand juries being able to indict a ham sandwich has to do with the fact that the grand jury process is controlled completely by the District Attorney – if they wanted an indictment, you bet your ass they’d have gotten it. People in New York and Missouri are scratching their heads, wondering why these particular homicides don’t even merit a trial.

Just a trial.

The police are not above the law. A little justice isn’t too much to ask, is it?

Protests and Riots, Same as it Ever Was

In the week since a Missouri grand jury returned no indictment against Darren Wilson, the killer of Michael Brown, a lot of whitesplaining has taken place, mostly from non-lawyers who deliberately or ignorantly misapprehend what a grand jury is and how it works. That’s before we get to Darren Wilson’s unvetted story.

Here are three facts: there was no trial, there was no verdict, and Darren Wilson was not found innocent, much less “not guilty”.

In that time, there have been protests both peaceful and violent, and I’ve seen many commentators dismiss the rioters as “animals” and “thugs”, or worse.

Rioting, however, doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

From the Buffalonian, via Reddit, here is a summary explaining why African-Americans on Buffalo’s East Side rioted in the summer of 1967.

A preliminary report

Looking at and considering the reasons why people riot isn’t the same as excusing it or condoning it. But if we want to stop violence like that from happening again, perhaps we – as a society – could consider what’s working, what isn’t, and why the problems identified in 1967 persist so pervasively to this day.

The Ferguson riots didn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t matter anyway, because even when African-Americans have the audacity to protest peacefully – whether in Buffalo, Los Angeles, or St. Louis – there will be white people around to remind them that they’re being uppity, and that it’s not at all their place.

Which is it? That they should protest peacefully, or that they should STFU and not protest at all because a “jury” reached a “verdict” that Wilson was “not guilty”?

People in Ferguson were angry there won’t be a trial. Courtesy of PBS Newshour, here is why there should have been a trial. Not a guilty verdict – just a trial.

Maybe that’s why people in Ferguson reacted violently – years’ worth of frustration, sparked by apparent and perceived injustice.

table-finalfinalup4

Click to enlarge

 

Turning Tide

This is the way homophobia ends Not with a bang but a whimper

It was just 14 short years ago that Vermont allowed civil unions. It was the first state to do anything of the sort, and it was groundbreaking. It wasn’t too long before the word “marriage” began replacing “civil unions”. Not unsurprisingly, none of this has led to a breakdown in traditional marriage. In 2013, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional mid-90s federal meddling through the “Defense of Marriage Act”, leading to civil rights lawsuits throughout the country to allow same sex couples to marry. 

This has all happened, and public sentiment about same sex marriage has changed, much more quickly than anyone could have anticipated 14 years ago. Good job, America. 

David Bellavia on “Pigment Whores” : Counterpoint

I am a well-off white male with a graduate degree and a professional license. Some of this I owe to hard work, some of it I owe to luck, but almost all of it is due to extremely generous and brave parents who came to this country with nothing but an education. 

Because of who I am, and the America that I experience, I fail to see the need to lecture women or minorities on, for lack of a better term, proper behavior.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in America, or black, or Asian, or American Indian, or anything other than what I am.

100 years ago, women couldn’t vote. 150 years ago, women were considered to be their husband’s property – chattel. Black people were brought to this country against their will to be bought and sold as slaves. For 100+ years after that, they lived, (in many cases, still do), as second-class citizens, and we struggle as a society with issues of race and class to this day. 

I’m sure there’s a great deal of woman-on-woman crime, but we become especially outraged when, for instance, some bemuscled cretin beats his girlfriend to within an inch of her life. It’s upsetting because there’s a long and sordid history of our society condoning male brutality against women. Rape still goes underreported, as victims find themselves subject to withering cross-examination by defense attorneys about their every sexual experience and article of clothing. “She dressed like that, she deserved what she got”. It was a joke when, 50 years ago, Ralph Kramden threatened to send Alice “to the moon”.  

We don’t lecture women about what they should be upset about when, say, a feminist decries abuse and inequality. Well, sometimes we do – for instance, men often tell women to shut it when the idea of equal pay for equal work is raised. Suffice it to say that female-on-female crime and abuse happens all the time, and is reported and prosecuted. But when a man abuses a woman, it calls for a special response, partly because of centuries of male subjugation of females, and because the idea of women being people is relatively new to our society, and not yet adopted by others. It is about power and rights. It’s about liberty. It’s about humanity. 

But for some reason, white males feel perfectly comfortable lecturing black people about how insignificant their concerns are. Somehow, it’s perfectly reasonable to hector black leaders that they should STFU about police brutality or systemic racism because black people hurt black people all the time, and why don’t you talk about that, huh?

Black people have endured centuries of subjugation and racism.  Between Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education – about 60 years – the Supreme Court of the United States (all white males) declared that black Americans could be subjected to “separate but equal” public accommodations. The reality was a postbellum century of two Americas – white and black; the accommodations for black Americans were separate and palpably unequal. The country that, in 1776, declared that “all men are created equal” didn’t just omit women, but the definition of “man” did not include black people. 

It’s 2014 and there’s still a lot of work left to do. 

This country never bothered to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which stood for the radical notion that women were equal to men, and should be treated thusly. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that the country codified legal equality for racial minorities. But that didn’t magically make racism and racist attitudes disappear. 

It’s become chic among the contrarian, reactionary American right to dismiss any grievance that blacks or women might have. The most fashionable argument is to dismiss leaders in the black community in part because they supposedly don’t criticize the right things

I’m not a black man in America, so far be it from me to lecture black people about what they should and should not be concerned. 

Batavian conservative commentator and former Congressional candidate, David Bellavia, wrote an article for Michael Caputo’s PoliticsNY entitled, “Say Hello to the Pigment Whores”.  The tl;dr: national leaders and commentators in the black community have no moral authority to comment on what’s up in Ferguson because they don’t say anything about black-on-black crime. 

The issue of white subjugation of black people manifests itself nowadays in many ways. Among them is predominately white police forces made up of non-residents, who patrol black communities in cars as if they’re on safari. That’s not to say I think that black people are animals – that’s simply the optics of what’s going on. This is how it works in Buffalo, too – we don’t have much community policing, we don’t have a residency requirement, and cops drive around instead of walking a beat. This reinforces the notion of “us vs. them”, and that the cops are there to keep the blacks in line – placid and quiet. 

Similarly, Bellavia’s piece is breathtakingly condescending, lecturing black leaders on what they should be thinking and doing, and conveniently concludes that contemporary African-Americans have let Dr. King down. 

… the President can’t take the facts of this case and invent a cause that is noble and just for people to shoot at civilians, police, steal from their neighbors. He also can’t excuse and nullify all the criminality that is occurring every night. 

Ferguson’s Michael Brown, the unarmed black man who was gunned down like a dog in the street by a white cop in a cruiser, was not a thug. He was an American teenager living in a tough neighborhood who was exceeding the expectations that our society settles on for kids like him. He graduated high school. He was going to college. He was creative musically. If every teenager who challenges authority is a thug, then ours is a thug society. 

The cause?  White cops shooting unarmed black kids under questionable circumstances, including (but not limited to) the cop being incommunicado and the department refusing to release the incident report, is something that legitimately outraged people in Ferguson. Theirs is a noble cause. Of course, because there are some violent elements among the peaceful protesters, it’s easiest to simply paint all of the demonstrators with the “looter” brush and dismiss them – and their grievances – as illegitimate and criminal. You could always search Twitter to see images that don’t comport with a media narrative, but don’t question that jerk in your knee, right? 

[Michael Eric] Dyson and Spike Lee are not outraged of the black on black violence in Chicago, Washington and Detroit; why are we all now incensed when a police officer kills a black man? (regardless of the facts that show it was most likely a clean incident)

“Clean incident” is one helluva way to pre-emptively sanitize a homicide. Just like people shouldn’t rush to judgment against the cop and wait for the facts to come out, they shouldn’t rush to judgment in his favor. Any time an unarmed person of any race is shot & killed by law enforcement, there should be an investigation and legal process before any conclusion of purported “cleanliness” is declared. 

And from where do we get the idea that black commentators and pundits do and say nothing about black on black violence? Anyone who says something so ignorant simply isn’t paying attention. Spike Lee focuses on, aptly enough, black male treatment of black females in his films. He has consistently been vocal about “colorism“. The right-wing commentator’s playbook requires equality of outrage in response to unequal and often irrelevant incidents.

Furthermore, what is it about Spike Lee’s alleged silence about black-on-black crime in Chicago that renders invalid his comments about racism? If he argues that black males are victims of government brutality, how about arguing that point with him, rather than pivoting to something completely different. 

Hey! You can’t care about Jim Kelly’s mouth cancer, because you didn’t care about every other mouth cancer, ever!

Michael Eric Dyson is an academic and commentator whose main intellectual focus is on race and class relations in America. You’ll forgive him for not taking career and scholarly advice from conservative WNYers. 

But what about the central thesis here – that black leaders have no right to comment about Ferguson because they’re silent about “black-on-black crime”? 

It’s bullshit. 

Where was Al Sharpton when it comes to Chicago violence? In fucking Chicago

Sharpton made a publicized trip to Chicago in November to focus attention on the city’s chronic violence. Last year, Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old black honor student who was shot, allegedly by a black gang member.

The first lady later returned to Chicago to converse with students at a school that is nearly 100 percent African-American. “In choosing Harper High School for the visit, the White House noted that 29 current or former students there had been shot in the last year, eight of them fatally,” reported the Tribune.

The president also came here, meeting with kids involved in a mentoring program for at-risk adolescent boys, bemoaning gun violence and telling a crowd on the South Side, “Our streets will only be as safe as our schools are strong and our families are sound.”

That’s not to mention the local Chicago-based activists who deal with the crime epidemic on a daily basis. Also, this

It’s no secret that rates of violent crime are far higher among blacks than among whites. What is generally overlooked is that these rates have dropped sharply over the past two decades. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reports that violent crime by young blacks has plunged 60 percent. In 1995, the FBI reports, 9,074 blacks were arrested for homicide. In 2012, the number was 4,203 — a decline of 54 percent. But conservatives don’t labor endlessly to publicize that trend.

So, black-on-black crime is declining. Ta-Nehesi Coats expounds on why violence by – and against – police is treated differently, adding: 

I have said this before. It’s almost as if Stop The Violence never happened, or The Interruptors never happened, orKendrick Lamar never happened. The call issued by Erica Ford at the end of this Do The Right Thing retrospective (link here, ff to 16:31) is so common as to be ritual. It is not “black on black crime” that is background noise in America, but the pleas of black people.

Bellavia continues,  

Like the N word, death is apparently acceptable when it comes from the hands of blacks, but outrageous when it comes from whites. Murder is abhorrent. Dehumanizing a race is un-American. We cannot ignore the culture that cannibalizes its own and blame it on racists in a town elected by the same culture.

The homicide of a black person is not acceptable under any circumstances, barring some legal justification like self-defense, and white people should stop whining about who is and isn’t allowed to call someone else a “nigger”. Because, really

We have an African American President. He was elected by white people in the majority – twice. This president has bent over backwards to elevate young people to dream to aspire to be a part of the American Dream. This president has done more to bring the Internet, exercise and free everything to people in the inner city who have little of their own. Still, Dyson wants to remind us “It is simply not enough.” Nothing is ever enough.

I have to say it’s a tough row to hoe for white conservative commentators – are you blind to race, or are you going to bring it up constantly, in order to lecture black people about the insignificance and invalidity of their concerns? Did you catch that patronizing phrase – “free everything”. This black president has showered black America with freebies, and yet they’re still getting pretty uppity! Gah!

No, it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough until a black kid in a hoodie is no more or less threatening to you than a white kid in a hoodie. It isn’t enough until you stop mistaking a fraternity sign for a gang sign. It isn’t enough until you consider as legitimate and valid the grievances of an America with which you’re not especially familiar, and of which you’re not a member. Instead of dismissal, maybe listen.

To turn the hatred on the President at this time just underlines what the agenda of soulless peddlers in the bigotry industry is and has been all along: To stoke the embers of inequality and promote racial tension.

Sure, there are people who do this. For instance, I am by no means a fan of Al Sharpton, whom I can’t forgive for the palpable crime that was the Tawana Brawley hoax. But what this amounts to is a distraction – whenever there is anything of news import, people will parachute into the imbroglio in order to grandstand or self-promote. Focus on that, and you ignore the underlying, real problems. 

Michael Eric Dyson, Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Spike Lee went all in on Michael Brown and lost; you went all in on Trayvon Martin and lost. Double down in your own community. Stop expecting government to save you. The one thing that history has taught us is that we must save ourselves. If you don’t trust the people you elect in St Louis County, elect other people. There’s a process and a schedule for that – it has always been there.

I have no clue what that’s supposed to mean. When it comes to the cherry-picked alleged “pigment whores” (notice the glaring absence of the word “race”) black America is their community, and the treatment it receives by America’s power structure is a valid topic of discussion and, sometimes, agitation.

Bring up Trayvon Martin, and while George Zimmerman was cleared of any crime, the fact remains that he used deadly force against a kid whom Zimmerman was stalking as part of a “neighborhood watch”. 

Bring up Michael Brown, and the fact remains that no one yet knows all the details of what happened, except that Brown was shot six times, with his hands up, and was left to bleed out in the street for hours.

How is outrage over this illegitimate? Martin is dead. Brown is dead. It’s not Jesse Jackson or any other conservative bogeyman who has “lost”. The Martin and Brown families have lost. A strong argument can be made that the Martins did not receive justice, and it’s indisputable that the same is true of the Brown family. 

These men have no problem abandoning the cause when it comes to lining their own pockets, but they now speak to inflame the same people they long left behind. Jackson even tried – and #FAILed – to raise money while fanning Ferguson’s flames.

How many inner city youths attend your Georgetown classes or afford your degrees, Dr. Dyson? How many can afford your racially based films, Spike? How many black community members donate to your coalitions and think tanks, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton?

Talk about missing every available point. 

These men feed at the trough of the rich to remind them of the poor, but what are they doing to save those they claim to represent? They are pigment whores, blinded by a skin color they exploit and agnostic of personal responsibility or character.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s message has been hijacked. And for that, I don’t believe that there is a Hell hot enough for any of them.

Blame the victims. Trayvon Martin deserved to die. He was a thug. He started it.  Michael Brown deserved to die. He was a thug. He may have (but likely didn’t) steal some cigars. He shoved a guy. He was big. Here’s a picture that people spread around that turned out not be him at all. It’s uncomfortable to point out when white people kill black people, because it might mean we need to examine race and class in America again. It’s much easier, and more convenient, to simply treat blacks as, if not inferior, then defective, or congenitally violent – just ask Anthony Cumia.

Consider: 

From the Chicago Tribune: 

There’s another, bigger problem with the preoccupation with “black-on-black crime.” The term suggests race is the only important factor. Most crimes are committed by males, but we don’t refer to “male-on-male crime.” Whites in the South are substantially more prone to homicide than those in New England, but no one laments “Southerner-on-Southerner crime.” Why does crime involving people of African descent deserve its own special category?

The phrase stems from a desire to excuse whites from any role in changing the conditions that breed delinquency in poor black areas. It carries the message that blacks are to blame for the crime that afflicts them — and that only they can eliminate it. Whites are spared any responsibility in the cause or the cure.

Excluding them from complicity is harder to do when the killer is white and the killed is black, as in the shooting in Ferguson. Raising “black-on-black crime” right now is not a sincere attempt to improve the lot of African-Americans. It’s a way to change the subject and a way to blame them.

Just as we blame Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown for their own killings. 

As Ta-Nehesi Coates adds

There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people. Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.

The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.

This history presents us with a suite of hard choices. We do not like hard choices. Here’s a better idea: Let’s all get together and talk about how Mike Brown would still be alive if Beyoncé would make more wholesome music, followed by a national forum on how the charge of “acting white” contributes to mass incarceration. We can conclude with a keynote lecture on “Kids Today” and a shrug.

White people need to stop the “moral hectoring” of black people. The issues in Ferguson do not exist because of black commentators or “pigment whores”, nor do the occasional outbursts of violence by demonstrators render the underlying grievances invalid. The issues in Ferguson, after all, are not unique to that town.

As an American, I can abhor violence and looting while treating the black community’s anger and frustration as legitimate. As an American, I can demand justice for Michael Brown while simultaneously holding no love for Al Sharpton. As an American, I can recognize that it’s not necessarily my place to lecture black Americans on what they should and shouldn’t worry about, but that it is my place to help identify problems, and fix them. 

There are far more peaceful demonstrators in Ferguson carrying out Dr. King’s ethos of nonviolence than aren’t. 

David Bellavia from rural WNY wants to lecture black America on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Let’s start with Dr. King’s own words, then: 

The Triple Evils of POVERTY, RACISM and MILITARISM are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all-inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community. When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils. To work against the Triple Evils, you must develop a nonviolent frame of mind as described in the “Six Principles of Nonviolence” and use the Kingian model for social action outlined in the “Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change.”

Anyone who has been paying attention to Ferguson knows full well that poverty, racism, and militarism still exist as forms of violence, and are now brought to the fore, yet again. As an overwhelmingly white police presence appears in Ferguson with MRAPs and guns aimed at men, women, and children marching, let’s consider maybe that this underscores the marchers’ points, rather than disproving them. 

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