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Updated: 12 min 14 sec ago

Why we must not accept the new normal

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 18:31

After watching the results of the New York primary, I knew the activity level in my sphere of Facebook would get very active. I have three distinct group of followers: conservative Republicans, Democrats, and left-wing liberals. Conservative Republicans were pretty quiet.

A few of my left-wing liberal friends went a bit overboard with conspiracy theories about the New York primary outcome. Some were unnecessarily disrespectful to Sen. Clinton. Feelings are still raw on both sides. Of course, I suggested that it be toned down.

As a left-wing liberal myself, I was disappointed that Sanders has yet to make the sale with enough people in other demographics. People, in general, want familiarity. You have to reach them through their hearts, and Clinton did that long ago, her perceived sins to these communities forgiven by many. Sanders got a late start. He never endeared himself to other communities in a timely manner, and it may be a hill that’s too steep to climb.

Drew Westen's book The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation doesn’t only apply to talking to the hearts of conservatives to have them vote in their own interests. It applies just as well to liberals. You have to reach people where they are.

After watching the reactions of many, I posted a little rant of my own. In that rant, I pointed out:

Look Hillary has more popular votes and pledged delegates. That is a fact. It will take a lot of grassroots work to overcome that. It will likely not be overcome in this election. That must not stop engagement. Suits, superdelegates fights, and all that stuff are not the answers. Continuation in building the movement irrespective of the outcome is. Keeping the people who finally entered the political process is. To do that requires that we give them a purpose and achievable goals.

Every politician is an empty vessel to be filled. So far it has been filled with the will of the plutocracy. It is time for us to concentrate more on movement building, a movement that will replace the pollution they are filled with, instead with the values of the movement. Again, achievable goals that keep people engaged and not deflated.

This rant led to a very healthy, civil, and respectful Facebook discussion. A dear friend, Professor Cody Pogue, started a new Facebook discussion that encapsulated much of what afflicts today's body politic.

Retracing my Cold War history

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 17:01

In December 1985, I was a very young 18 years old when I arrived at the Wildflecken Training Area, aka "The Rock," in what was then known as the Federal Republic of Germany. That was 30 years ago, and yet today I remember it as if it were yesterday: Arriving in Frankfurt after a long trans-Atlantic charter flight that took me from O'Hare Airport to Rhein-Main airbase. It was only my third commercial flight. I was leaving behind my home, my family, and my high school sweetheart. I had no idea of what was before me.

After arriving at Rhein-Main I spent the better part of the day waiting for my orders at the 21st Replacement Battalion. Then it was on to a bus that took me from Frankfurt to the border between the states of Hesse and Bavaria, to my home for the next two years—Company D, 54th Engineer Battalion (Mechanized), 130th Engineer Brigade.

We trained in the German countryside, practicing our real jobs for what was then thought to be inevitable: The Soviet invasion of Western Europe. I was the driver of an M113A2 Armored Personnel Carrier, which is how I saw most of Germany—from the driver's hatch of that thirteen-ton tracked vehicle.

I had a love/hate relationship with Wildflecken. It was on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with weather that was unbelievably bad. A two-day stretch of pleasant weather was extremely rare. My memories are of a place shrouded in fog with a cold drizzle falling most of the time. During winter, which lasted from October to May, it was cold, and I experienced the most snow I have ever seen in my life. But on those rare pleasant days, it was beautiful. The two years I was there did afford me some time to travel, but for the most part my duties kept me busy.

Let's not party like it's 1984

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 15:31

In the wake of this week’s New York primary, Hillary Clinton’s path to securing the Democratic nomination for president seems increasingly clear. What is less certain is how the candidates, their campaigns, and their supporters will handle that looming outcome between now and the close of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28. The stakes couldn’t be higher. After all, the strategies and the tone that Sen. Bernie Sanders and Secretary Clinton adopt from here on out will help determine not just whether Democrats capture victories in the White House and Senate races they should win, but whether the groundwork for more progressive policies in Washington and the states will be laid for years to come.

Which is why I have a simple message for my friends in the Sanders and Clinton camps: #ImWithHer and I #FeelTheBern, but a plague on both your houses if either does anything to hurt Democrats’ chances come November.

That plea isn’t merely rooted in the belief that we have a unique opportunity to both build on the very real—and very hard-fought—progressive gains of the Obama presidency and to roll back a morally and ideologically bankrupt Republican Party (see Trump, Donald and Cruz, Ted). My electoral angst also comes from personal experience and lingering regret. During and after the 1984 primaries fiercely contested by Gary Hart and Walter Mondale for Democratic voters much more divided than those today, I was an uncompromising purist and a sore loser who sat on the sidelines when the outcome didn’t go my way.

That history goes a long way in explaining my unease with the tenor of the race between the “idealistic” Sanders and the “pragmatic” Clinton.

Feeding the black and brown poor to the maw of neoliberalism and military academies

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 14:00

When I was in high school, I wanted to join the United States Army or Marines. Raised on 1980s action movies and comic books like G.I. Joe, I saw myself jumping out of planes as a paratrooper, or maybe skulking about in a jungle like a scout sniper. The recruiters made their rounds and tried to snatch me up. I was a smart young black kid from the working class who scored, in their words, “amazingly high” on the ASVAB test. I would never be courted by a college sports team, but I would be repeatedly called by military recruiters for months, each one trying to increase their offer in order to secure their human prize. The intimidating bald white Marine with a huge neck sat with me in his office and asked, “Do you want to be part of the country’s most elite fighting force?” The African-American Army sergeant told me that the Marines were “crazy,” and that I could “join up with the 101st or 82nd airborne as an officer one day.”

My father, a World War II veteran, entertained my schoolboy dreams of military fame and fortune. But one day while sitting in the family car, he told me we were going to take a trip to the VA Hospital. He wanted me to see the “basket cases”—men with no arms or legs, their bodies destroyed by war. I was scared, embarrassed, as my made-in-Hollywood and by video game militarism and masculinity wilted away. I never did take the trip to the VA. It’s easy to play wannabe soldier when you don’t have to face the human consequences of when the bullets are real, and the pain is not pretend. 

I was lucky. I would not have to mortgage my body to go to college. I had a father who had seen war and other relatives who told me, “No way! The Army ain’t for you!” My dad fought in the “big one,” my cousins and uncles in Vietnam and Korea. They were both united in their belief that as Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler famously said, “War is a racket,” and Uncle Sam has little to offer working-class and poor black and brown folks. 

During my Friday morning train ride here in Chicago, I see young boys and girls, some high school-aged, others much younger, in their military uniforms. Khaki pants, shiny black shoes, white or tan shirts with banners or insignia on the sleeves and chest, and blazers with the names of schools on the arms, the occasional rank insignia on the collar of a dress shirt. The clothes may be ill-fitting—allowing for growth spurts is more important than a perfectly tailored fit. These young folks wear them with pride and a sense of destiny and purpose. 

These are “public” school students who attend one of Chicago’s many military style “academies.” I hope that they have someone like my father or other kin to tell them the truth about service, war, and glory. If they are really lucky they will have a man like Rory Fanning tell them the things—about American empire, the military, and how the poor and working classes are ground up by the system—that their teachers and recruiters will not.

New Obamacare data shows how the struggles for economic justice and racial justice are connected

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 12:30

Rhetoric matters because it motivates people to act. Data is how we measure the effects of the actions taken. In recent months a number of studies have looked at the effects of the Affordable Care Act, i.e., Obamacare. The most recent release, examined by our own Joan McCarter, demonstrates that the law greatly increased access to health care—with a disproportionate amount of the benefit going to non-white Americans.

Thanks to other studies, we also know that, for example, the gap between whites and blacks in terms of the percentage of children uncovered completely disappeared by the end of 2014. Additionally, the law has reduced medical debt for those who gained access to insurance thanks to Obamacare.

It is important to note that the failure to expand Medicaid nationwide has blunted the law’s impact on African Americans in particular because the Republican-led states that have rejected Medicaid expansion have larger than average black populations. Obamacare helped—but could have helped even more. On that point, white Americans gained coverage largely because of expanded access to government-run insurance like Medicaid, while gains among non-whites came primarily from private insurance.

In addition to bearing his name—unofficially, at least—Obamacare reflects this president’s approach to the intersectionality of racial and economic issues more broadly. He has long argued that the most effective way to help the greatest number of non-white Americans is through programs that are universal in terms of race. Obama further explained in The Audacity of Hope:

Universal appeals around strategies that help all Americans…along with measures that ensure our laws apply equally to everyone and hence uphold broadly held American ideals (like better enforcement of existing civil rights laws) can serve as the basis for [multiracial] coalitions—even if such strategies disproportionately help minorities.

Such appeals helped put him in the White House. The policies he enacted, imperfect as they may have been, helped him win a second term.

A look at Rebecca Traister's new book, 'All the Single Ladies'

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 11:01

Rebecca Traister’s new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, opens with an examination of the treatment of Anita Hill by the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Rather than refute any of her charges of what came to be known as sexual harassment, the conservatives on the committee and in the media attacked Ms Hill. It was suggested that she suffered from erotomania or had certain “proclivities” (according to William Safire, this word, used by Senator Alan Simpson, was “a code word for homosexuality”).

As Hill would later write of her experience, “Much was made in the press of the fact that I was single, though the relevance of my marital status to the question of sexual harassment was never articulated.”

The relevance of her single status was how it distinguished her from established expectations of femininity. Hill had no husband to vouch for her virtue, no children to affirm her worth, as women’s worth had been historically understood. Her singleness, Hill felt at the time, allowed her detractors to place her “as far outside the norms of proper behavior as they could.” Members of the Judiciary, she wrote, “could not understand why I was not attached to certain institutions, notably marriage,” and were thus left to surmise that she was single “because I was unmarriageable or opposed to marriage, the fantasizing spinster or the man-hater.”

It turns out that her marital status did not, in fact, place her “outside the norms of proper behavior.” Rather, it placed her right smack dab in the middle of what was becoming a national movement away from marriage as the mark of adulthood for American women.

Why Britain's possible 'Brexit' from the EU matters to the U.S.

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 09:30

Let’s turn away from the national obsession that is the 2016 U.S. presidential election to look at another contest the world is watching. In two months, citizens of the United Kingdom will be asked to vote on a major question regarding their future—should the UK stay in the European Union?

Campaigning has officially begun for parties on both sides of the June 23 referendum issue to argue their cases to the voting public, and polling shows that UK citizens are split evenly down the middle, with many still on the fence. The outcome of the vote—the question is widely known as “Brexit,” for Britain exiting the EU—will have long-range implications for the economy and stability of the UK, as well as countries throughout Europe.

The forces backing the exit (the “Leave” campaign) argue that it’s not fair for Britain and the rest of the UK to pay a higher share for the running of the European Union than many of the other 28 member countries. They don’t like the added regulations imposed on the UK by EU governmental bodies. They say the profit from open trade isn’t worth the cost or the amount of regulation, and they predict a jobs boom for British natives if fewer immigrants can enter the country.

Those in favor of staying in the EU (the “Remain” campaign) predict economic calamity if the UK leaves. They’re afraid that the city of London, one of the world’s leading financial centers, will see devastating losses, as the UK would no longer be an entry into European trade. They also claim that every family in the UK will be 4,300 pounds poorer if there’s a Brexit. The Remain camp sees huge job losses as manufacturing moves to lower-cost countries in Europe. Negotiating a new trade deal with European partners will be tough and could take years.

In other words, both sides are describing boom times if their side wins and economic Armageddon if their side loses.

Why should we care, you may ask. The answer is twofold. Any change in Europe’s economic balance will boomerang onto this country in matters of trade and security, and will produce a more unstable Europe. Just as important, if the UK leaves the EU, that indicates a victory for the nativism crowd and its anti-immigration, anti-Islam sentiment—a school of thought that is all too influential in this country already.

Blacks, black Jews, and Black Panthers in Israel

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 08:01

I have had a fascination with Israel for many decades. It probably started when I was a child growing up in the Orthodox Jewish community of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, and my parents would discuss “planting a tree for Israel” with some of our neighbors. At age four and five I knew nothing of the politics that engendered Israel’s birth. A few years later I learned about the Holocaust, and the role it played in spurring the creation of a homeland for the Jewish diaspora. It never occurred to me that all those within its borders were not like the Jews I knew from Brooklyn. It also didn’t occur to me that not all Israelis were Ashkenazim. My parents’ leftist friends were also white, but secular. When we moved to Queens in the late 1950s I became friends with a girl who I thought was Puerto Rican—only to find out she was a Sephardic Jew from Spain. 

In the mid-60s I went to high school in Harlem and while hanging out, met black Hebrews who were part of a broad cross-section of Afrocentric groups who were active up there at the time. I heard that a group of them from Chicago, the African Hebrew Israelites, had left the U.S. and relocated to Liberia. I found out later that they had migrated from there to Israel. In 1971 after spending some time in Algeria at the headquarters of the International section of the Black Panther Party, I was made aware of the formation of a radical movement that had borrowed the Party name—the Black Panthers of Israel. We announced our solidarity with their efforts. After returning to the U.S. I noticed that there was very little in the press about their struggle inside Israel.

Over a decade later in 1984, I had an atheist sabra as a roommate, and learned yet another facet of what an Israeli was or wasn’t. She grew up on a kibbutz, was raised non-religious and left Israel after doing her military service, angry about the presence of and tolerance for Haredi Jews by the state. She and I were similar in skin coloring due to her family ancestry as a Mizrahi Jew from Yemen. That same year, Operation Moses took place, taking the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews home, or ‘making Aliyah’—which I was curious about and discussed with her. The Moses airlift was followed six years later by Operation Solomon in 1991. That was the year I entered my graduate studies in anthropology, and when thinking about my doctoral topic I decided to do my field research in Israel—I wanted to examine the acculturation of non-European origin Israelis. For a variety of reasons that subject did not become the topic of my research, but I have continued to follow news about each of these disparate groups with deep interest. 

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 06:36

Hello. If you read Daily Kos during the week (and don’t just dart in on Sunday mornings for the compressed wisdom of Ross Douthat), you might have noticed a curious thing over the last two weeks. My name has been on the front page rather more often than over the previous decade+ in which I’ve stumbled around this place.

That’s because I work for you now.  Well, Markos. And Dr. Barbin. But mostly for you guys. I’ve made the transition from volunteer to staff, and it feels pretty good. So… good morning!

It also figures that this morning I would fumble the publishing of APR. Sorry about that.

And now…

Leonard Pitts on what Flint is really about.

As you no doubt know, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, returned to the headlines last week with news that the state attorney general is charging three government officials for their alleged roles in the debacle. It makes this a convenient moment to deal with something that has irked me about the way this disaster is framed. ...

As has been reported repeatedly, Flint is a majority black city with a 41 percent poverty rate. So critics ask if the water would have been so blithely poisoned, and if it would have taken media so long to notice, had the victims been mostly white.

It’s a sensible question, but whenever I hear it, I engage in a little thought experiment. I try to imagine what happened in Flint happening in Bowie, a city in Maryland where blacks outnumber whites, but the median household income is more than $100,000 a year, and the poverty rate is about 3 percent. I can’t.

Pitts point is that Flint is about the mistreatment, the dismissal, of people who are poor. Are many of them black? Yep, but the important thing here was that they are poor and more or less powerless to stop the actions of a state government whose stated philosophy is to rate people on their net worth.

The idea that what happened at Flint is racist, isn’t something gen’d up by the “liberal media” in order to make the state seem like racists. It’s an idea created to make poor whites think that the target isn’t painted on their Dollar General T-shirts.

In the Civil War, white men too poor to own slaves died in grotesque numbers to protect the “right” of a few plutocrats to continue that despicable practice. In the Industrial Revolution, white workers agitating for a living wage were kept in line by the threat that their jobs would be given to “Negroes.” In the Depression, white families mired in poverty were mollified by signs reading “Whites Only.”

You have to wonder what would happen if white people — particularly, those of modest means — ever saw that gap for the fiction it is? What if they ever realized you don’t need common color to reach common ground? What if all of us were less reflexive in using race as our prism, just because it’s handy?

If poor white people realized that race was not just being used to divide them from minorities with which they hold great common interest, but also as a sop to allow their own needs to be ignored in the name of directing punishment at those Other People, they might aim their anger and energy where it’s needed. Which is why racism is so, so important to those at the top. This plutocracy runs on racism. Without that hate, the engine would stumble.

Come on in. Let’s pundit.

Confused millennial blaming millennials for millennials' problems

Sun, 04/24/2016 - 02:36

The millennial in the clip above, Alexis Bloomer, displays a classic case of self-hate. Or is it a right wing-inspired subliminal message from a Koch stooge? The problems millennials face that this ill-advised young woman speaks about were inflicted on them by my generation—their parents. Now she is kind enough to absorb the guilt that my generation should justifiably bear. This rant is dangerous, especially during this election year.

My generation took advantage of affordable education, and a system that invested in people. Instead of paying it forward, we elected selfish deviants who cut taxes and starved the government, leaving millennials with unaffordable education and much fewer services from society. In other words, we cut civics and many programs that taught people how to be productive Americans. In the process, we were conned into accepting an economy where we worked harder overall while receiving less, forcing mother and father to work instead of rearing kids most effectively with proper supervision. We built prisons (many of them private) to incarcerate those unsupervised kids, which instead of rehabilitating them turned them into hardcore criminals. It goes on and on. Suffice it to say: Don't blame the millennials for a situation created by their parents.

Sadly, this young woman, likely because of a comfortable life, is unable to empathize with millennials in general. She buys into the standard Randian ideology of individualism and selfishness. She is unable to see that the advantages of the previous generations were, in many instances, secured by loans. It turns out that millennials will be responsible for paying the bill with high education costs and skyrocketing medical costs, all while receiving fewer services.

So why post this? At 13 million views and counting, her video is surprisingly going viral—and one hopes there is pushback. Quite often, unanswered right-wing rhetoric becomes reality within the psyche of many. Below, you can watch my point-by-point video response to her rant.