Monday, November 20, 2017

Here's Looking at Us, Kids


Refugees in frantic, desperate motion. Bellicose leaders bristling with weapons and eager for confrontation. A world driven by conflicts and war. The emerging spectre of Nazis and extremism. We’re talking about the world of 2017, of course. Or are we? The chaos of the world of three generations ago — 1942, to be precise — tragically and capably stands in for our own.

If it weren’t such an obvious period piece from the era of World War II, the Warner Bros. movie Casablanca would be speaking its eloquent volumes about fractured, fractious life in the 21st century. As it is, the film, which marks its 75th anniversary this month, maintains its grip on the popular imagination largely because of the simple strength of its story, a tale of modern good and evil — irresistible force and immovable object — that resonates in our world today.

The Michael Curtiz film premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on Nov. 26, 1942, a date intended to coincide with the capture of the Moroccan port city by Allied forces after the invasion of North Africa. Its general release, on Jan. 23, 1943, dovetailed with the Casablanca Conference, at which President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill hashed out plans for the next phase of the Allied efforts to win the war. ...

Read the rest at The Swamp

Friday, November 10, 2017

Flagging the Wave: The 2017 election


Russia voted last November. Last night, America voted.”
           —  @stevesilberman


A TRUISM of the human condition (and our equally human tendency toward impatience) has it that “good things come to those who wait.” The results of Tuesday’s various elections throughout the United States are a notable exception.

Democrats, 10 months tired of what passes for an agenda from what passes for a president and a Republican Congress, aggressively reasserted their identity and their demographic backbone on Tuesday, courting everyday people where they live and letting House Trump whet its appetite for self-destriuction.

The result — an Election Day of panoramic victory — may well be a sign of things to come, sooner and later.

◊ ◊ ◊

Where to begin? Let’s start in Hoboken, N.J., where Ravinder Bhalla, a Sikh American, was elected mayor of this small, progressive city across the Hudson river from Manhattan. “Given how much we’ve endured in this country, and frankly the fact that we have been here for more than a century now in the U.S. and have felt largely ignored and neglected as a minority community, this is for us a signal shift, where we feel like we’re getting on the map. This is a major development for us,” Simran Jeet Singh, a religion fellow at the Sikh Coalition, told The Washington Post.

In Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney who over the years sued that city's police department for various civil rights abuses, was elected the top prosecutor in Philly. Krasner, who was called “completely unelectable” by opposing forces just days before the vote, defeated Beth Grossman, a game Republican challenger.

Krasner’s soon to be in a position to change decades-old practices — cash bail, criminal asset forfeiture, the death penalty — seen as affecting minority communities more and harder than anyone else. “He has fought and continues to fight the racist nonstop police brutality epidemic,” Attorney Michael Coard wrote in the Philadelphia Tribune. “He is the blackest white guy I know.”

The Los Angeles Times reported: “His lack of experience as a prosecutor will be taken as something of a thumb in the eye of the 300 lawyers in the office he will soon lead. His numerous lawsuits against the Philadelphia Police Department will most certainly be viewed disfavorably by cops, with whom his prosecutors must work. His election, though, is a message from voters that they want to move more quickly down the road toward a sweeping overhaul of the justice system.”

◊ ◊ ◊

In Georgia, Democratic candidates flipped three statehouse seats in Pantone-red congressional districts. Deborah Gonzalez and Jonathan Wallace won election outright; Democrats Jaha Howard and Jen Jordan will contest for a seat representing the Atlanta area in a run-off election in December, The Hill reported.

Similarly seismic were events on Long Island, where Democrat Laura Gillen won a contest for Hempstead Town supervisor, defeating her Republican rival, incumbent Anthony Santino, and becoming the first Dem in the office in 100 years. Gillen ran a strong race, and capitalized on local GOP infighting that’s a microcosm of what the party’s going through nationally.

“Hempstead is typically a GOP stronghold, but the party has been rocked by recent infighting on the town board and the indictment of Councilman Edward Ambrosino on federal wire fraud and tax evasion charges. Fellow Republicans and town board members Erin King Sweeney and Bruce Blakeman have been publicly feuding with Santino over their call for ethics reform,” Newsday reported Wednesday.

Seattle elected Jenny Durkan, former federal prosecutor, as its first lesbian mayor, and the first woman mayor since Bertha Knight Landes wqas elected in 1926. Durkan handily defeated challenger Cary Moon, with more than 60 percent of the vote. Charlotte, N.C., St. Paul, Minn., and five other cities elected their first African-American mayors. One of those five was Helena, Montana.

◊ ◊ ◊


AND THEN there’s Virginia. The commonwealth on Tuesday took a deep pause in its long march toward cementing a conservative legislative identity. Democrat Ralph Northam won election as the next governor, trouncing bloviating conservative mouthpiece Ed Gillespie, whose unwise campaign was a mistake from the jump.

Virginia voters also elected the first Asian and Latino delegates in its history. The state elected its first Democratic Socialist delegate. And Virginia also elected Danica Roem to the House of Delegates — the second transgender statehouse legislator in the country’s history.

“This is our commonwealth too ... and we are stronger together,” Roem said on Election Night.

◊ ◊ ◊

So much for presidential coattails. Any hopes that Trump’s apparent triumph one year ago might have had collateral benefit in the downticket races were thoroughly dashed on Tuesday. The reason why has less to do with the candidates running in those races, and everything to do with the presumed standard-bearer of the Republican party.

With any number of actions and statements from the Oval Office, President* Trump and his selfish, tragically improvisational style of rule — you can't call it governance with a straight face — slowly toxified GOP prospects for the races that were just decided.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Anatomy of a Tragedy



“It’s never been so personal,” says Hana Barkowitz, an infectiously upbeat member of the Kent State College Democrats, in a frank assessment of the waging of the war of the 2016 presidential campaign, and what the outcome would mean to her on that night, one year ago today.

In the new documentary 11/8/16, now streaming on Netflix, the United States of America is on display as a true mosaic, a pointillist canvas whose diversity leads to all kinds of surprises, especially the one handed to the largely gob-smacked nation on Nov. 8, 2016, when, against all odds and most predictions, Donald Trump, billionaire reality TV action figure and walking advertisement for himself, attained the presidency of the United States.

The film is the chronicle of one day in the life of America, and how events affected 15 different people, widely dispersed physically and culturally, on the election day that bent the arc of America’s cultural and demographic destiny. If the country changed last year, this is the veritable tick-tock of that happening. ...

Read the full review at The Swamp

Image credit: Amrit Palsingh: Cinetic Media/Netflix. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Ventures LLC.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Bending the knee at House Trump


IT MAY BE a rule of electoral politics as much as one of human nature: Live with something you resist long enough and it becomes something you can live with. A byproduct of human adaptability is being adaptable to that which you can’t stand. Over time, we become inured, accustomed, almost indifferent — all the states of indolence that supporters of the Republican agenda according to the Trump White House are counting on.

That’s implicit in the reaction of some deep-red conservatives who have finally bent the knee at House Trump, having reckoned that the status quo in Washington, the devil they know, beats the devil they can’t see coming. That certainty’s led a number of presumed GOP thought leader pols to declare themselves in the tank for President* Trump body and soul.

That same certainty about what’s coming has also led some of the GOP’s more apparently humanist members on the Hill to abandon re-election hopes next year — liberating them to speak their minds about what, in their eyes, is the clear and present danger of Donald Trump.

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Nothing speaks to the curiously bifurcated state of the Republican Party in 2017 like these dueling realities: Mainstream Republicans are calling on each other to get behind a man that few of them trusted, or wanted in the White House — a man who couldn’t have been further from the party mainstream when he was a candidate.

The old guard of Republicans may be slowly passing in its influence; the new guard occasionally shows signs of a nasty streak of pragmatism that just won’t fly at all with the base voters, most of whom are ... the old guard of Republicans.

That’s occasionally. Most of the time, the new guard reads from the same hymnal as the old guard, an act of political xerography that doesn’t expand Republican prospects, or numbers, in the long term the party needs to survive. It’s a course of action imprisoned by its own illogic. Politically, it may be the first sign of a change to come a year from this November.

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ON OCT. 26, Jonathan Martin and Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times wrote what amounted to an obituary for centrist Republican identity in a story that essentially said the Trumpian approach was gaining ground, against all odds. “Despite the fervor of President Trump’s Republican opponents,” they reported, “the president’s brand of hard-edge nationalism — with its gut-level cultural appeals and hard lines on trade and immigration — is taking root within his adopted party, and those uneasy with grievance politics are either giving in or giving up the fight.”

Martin and Peters reported that ”[t]he Grand Old Party risks a longer-term transformation into the Party of Trump,” but that’s already happened — that chameleon shift was ratified on Inauguration Day and it’s been solidifying in our politics and culture ever since. Leave it to Andy Surabian, a Republican Super PAC adviser, to reveal something central to the GOP’s dilemma. “There is zero appetite for the ‘Never Trump’ movement in the Republican Party of today,” Surabian told The Times. “This party is now defined by President Trump and his movement.”

And that’s precisely the problem. It’s a matter of identity. Trump’s pugnacious intransigence is a political liability he’s transformed into something close to an asset. True, it’s led to a following of fiercely partisan Trump loyalists who would gladly die on whatever hill Trump demands. But it’s also provoked the early career exits of several optically centrist Republicans, including Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona; Representatives Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and others from states likely to be battlegrounds in 2020.

◊ ◊ ◊

The GOP identity problem most recently surfaced after the 2012 presidential election, when the party, in full sackcloth and ashes mode, went into a period of reassessment and self-reflection, but preaching an Armageddon only it could believe in. One post-election website, White People Mourning Romney, documented in hundreds of images the dashed hopes of rank-and-file Republicans who’d been so sure that the lifeblood of the national identity, and the nation’s future, ran through their veins and theirs alone.

Certain politicians saw some kind of light; “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal famously cautioned in 2013 (in a statement that struck a lot of people as a through-the-windshield credo that ignored everything in the rear-view mirror). “We’ve got to stop insulting the intelligence of voters,” he said. “We need to trust the smarts of the American people.” But the party’s re-examination of itself in a rapidly, demographically evolving America, didn’t last long.

By the 2014 midterms, party identity was again reconfiguring around its more reliable, politically combative reflexes. It was this repositioning that a certain candidate eventually exploited, expressed and channeled for the 2016 presidential campaign. An antagonism to cultural change was already there, simmering under the surface, dormant in the national zeitgeist. It just needed a wake-up call. It found a wake-up bomb in the person of Donald John Trump.

◊ ◊ ◊

NOW, THOUGH, that lightly rejiggered Republican Party faces the existential dilemma it was only starting to address almost five years ago: When what you stand for is rage and bluster, transactions and lines in the sand ... the next question is obvious: What else you got? What else are you? The Republican Party is in no mood for singing Kum Ba Yah across the aisle, not least of all because of something Democrats don’t have much to do with: Republicans are in no mood to sing Kum Ba Yah with each other.

During the deeply partisan debate over the Affordable Care Act, it was evident that some sources of that conflict, that partisanship, came from within the GOP itself. Trump’s prime directive — dismantle Obamacare — was frustrated in recent months by Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and a handful of others that made the difference.

And just below the Oct. 26 page-one Times story that announced the death knell of GOP centrism, another story showed that the death of Republican in-fighting may be greatly exaggerated. Jim Tankersley and Thomas Kaplan of The Times wrote about the tax-cut battle in the House and how “discord grows” within a party “craving harmony.”

◊ ◊ ◊

The brewing conflict, they reported, highlights “the increased importance of the tax issue for a fractured party desperate for a legislative victory. The prospect of a once-in-a-generation bill to cut taxes on business and individuals increasingly appears to be the best hope for a party anxious to find common ground and advance an effort that it has long championed as the pinnacle of Republican orthodoxy. It is a bit like having a baby to save a failing marriage.”

Well ... whatever works. Few things, though, could be more obvious; the eagerness of the Republican party to put one in the Win column reveals the depth of the party’s schism, the internal divisions that make getting that victory so important.

Bending the knee at House Trump is a short-term pledge of allegiance. Any such quickie victory takes only small steps toward solving the GOP’s more enduring and foundational challenge: Deciding what it is and what it will be in the decades to come, and how — or whether — the party will matter to an American electorate that looks less and less like the party’s base with every passing year.

And every election.

Image creits: Trump: via @davidaxelrod. Corker: Talking Points memo, Obama wins tweet: White People Mourning Romney (2012).

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

American Carnage, Trump Edition



What happened Sunday night on the Las Vegas strip was perversely, singularly American. The nation’s sense of its size, its culture, its broad existential vistas, its romance with armada, its literal and spiritual wide-open spaces — all collided with its tragic irony as a nation whose pugnacious, futurist identity derives from the ballistics of 250 years ago. Sunday’s events were a malign form of so-called American exceptionalism: What took place outside the Mandalay Bay Hotel probably couldn’t have occurred in any other country in the world.

When self-described professional gambler Stephen Paddock shot from his 32nd-floor hotel window into a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, 500 yards from the hotel, he would kill 58 people and wound another 527 people with an arsenal that included .223-caliber and .308-caliber rifles, Daniel Defense DDM4 rifles, and FN-15 carbines built, according to the company website, to “withstand the varied and unrelentingly harsh conditions of battlefields around the world.” He would by accident also begin the unraveling of the rationale that weds guns to regional components of the national identity. ...

Read the full essay at The Swamp

Image credits: Running trio: David Becker/Getty Images. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Media Ventures LLC.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The, um, Evolution of Donald Trump II


Sooner or later, every autocrat finds it necessary to embrace some of the tenets of democracy. Sooner or later, kicking and screaming if necessary, every putative ruler obeys the call to govern — with all the parliamentary, deliberative and conciliatory actions the word “govern” implies.

In fits and starts, that’s starting to happen to President* Donald Trump, whether he likes it or not. In a generally increasing series of rebuffs and rejections, the occupant of the White House is learning that the authority of the Oval Office isn’t the same as that in a C-suite in Manhattan.

We remember the fire-breathing ideologue of the campaign days, last year, the man who insisted that if he won, there’d be no quarter asked of or given to the Democrats, scourge of species, Satan’s deputies on earth.

And lo, the commandments were written upon the tablets: The wall protecting the United States from the tide of brown people in the south shall be built. The abomination known as Obamacare shall be defeated. The sellout of the Paris climate accords shall be corrected, with the United States getting out of a bad deal.

Fast forward through the thicket of the 2016 campaign, into the cold light of the autumn of 2017.  . . .

Read the full essay at Swamp

Image credits: Trump: Via @CBSNews. Swamp logo: © 2017 Jerrick Media LLC.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Nation time in Mexico


Sometimes a writer has no words.

This video has been making the rounds of the Interweb all day today. It's a painful snapshot of Mexico, as our neighbor to the south recovers from a devastating earthquake, the most recent in a string of seismic catastrophes. As rescue workers and everyday people dug through the rubble, there was a point where the people stopped to stand and sing the Mexican national anthem.



It's a moving, wrenching event made more powerful by its sheer spontaneity, a suddenness that mirrors the swift onset of the earthquake itself. You can see what it means to a country with myriad problems and challenges, a nation needlessly under fire from its hot-headed, xenophobic northern neighbor.

Even amid the tragedy when this video was made (some time in recent days), it's clearly nation time in Mexico, a time to honor that which binds people together, in defiance of the forces — seismic and geopolitical — that do whatever possible to tear them apart.

Viva Mexico.

A Real Joint Venture



Few things say “normal” like television, our public square, our soapbox in Hyde Park, our platform for the popular and unpopular alike. For friends of herb who watch TV, BurnTV, a new West Coast-based entertainment channel, hopes to fill a niche with programming that both informs and enlivens – presented through the lens of the marijuana experience more than 40 million Americans enjoy on a regular basis. Americans for whom pot is utterly, totally normal.

At least that’s the plan, according to Jason Santos, BurnTV’s man of many hats. “We’ve built our own apps, and we’re beta testing and putting them through rigors, making them more robust, making sure we get as many of the bugs out,” said the CEO, founder and chief evangelist, cornered by phone for a brief interview with Potent, after sprinting from one bit of pressing business to another. “Our target is October, but we haven’t committed to a date yet. As we get closer, we'll be able to pinpoint an exact date. It’s the nature of the beast.

“We hope to have a final announcement of the launch date in a couple weeks. It’s exciting.” ...

Read more at Potent

Image credits: BurnTV splash image: © 2017 Burn Entertainment Corporation. Potent logo: © 2017 Jerrick Media LLC.

TV Throws Down the Gauntlet, Again


THE NIGHT OF September 17 was a cracked bellwether in the world of entertainment. The Emmy Awards, the television industry’s homage to its movers and shakers (and by extension itself) stepped off at the Microsoft Theater in Hollywood, and marked what would become a night of historic firsts, firing broadsides on the complacency of the Emmys' own past:

Donald Glover won Emmy Awards for lead actor in a comedy series and directing for a comedy series, both for his work in FX’s Atlanta. He became the first African American director to win for directing a comedy series, and only the second to win best actor in a comedy series, after Robert Guillaume, the immortal Benson, in 1985.

Sterling K. Brown made history, becoming the first African American to win best actor in a drama at the Emmys in 19 years, for his performance in NBC’s This Is Us.

Riz Ahmed, won the Emmy for Best Actor in a limited dramatic series for his role in HBO’s riveting The Night Of, becoming the first Muslim and the first South Asian actor to be so honored. ...

For the Emmys as an institution, and a community trying not to become an “institution” (with all the word's hidebound associations), it was a very good night. The 2017 Emmy recipients’ list reflected an understanding of how minorities figure as position players in every step of the televisual process, from writing to directing to acting. Thus, the Emmys threw down one gauntlet of implicit challenge to the Academy Awards (“let’s see you top this next year!”) — and then threw another one, with the medium of television itself.

The demographic triumphs of this year’s Emmy winners add to the growing cultural and technological evidence that, as a medium in a refreshing, wrenching transition, television has fully achieved primacy in the national media diet, as much or more an immediate identifier and signifier of American popular culture than the movies were for the previous 30 years. ...

Read the full story at Geeks

Image credits: Sterling K. Brown: © 2017 CBS/Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Geeks logo: © 2017 Jerrick Media LLC.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Pot Advertising Hasn’t Gained Altitude
with In-Flight Pubs



As the United States adjusts to sweeping changes in marijuana laws — 26 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized or outright legalized the herb for personal recreational use — a new green industry has emerged. Marijuana dispensaries and cultivators are actively soliciting new business in the states where it’s legal, and makers of other cannabis-related products are likewise selling their wares in a wide range of earthbound publications.

But marijuana advertising hasn’t yet taken off with one part of the publishing world: in-flight airline magazines whose route systems service the states where marijuana is legal. Almost without exception, you won’t find ads in those publications. And it may not be an accident, despite the growing consumer appeal for recreational pot — and the benefit to states’ bottom lines. ...

Read the full story at Potent

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The real Maverick. Maybe.


READERS OF YOURS truly have probably noticed that, when writing about Arizona Republican Senator John McCain at just about any time since his 2008 presidential campaign, I’ve often invoked the phrase “The Maverick” to describe him, and capitalizing the phrase's operative word to characterize his presumably independent streak in Congress. The word “maverick” was so often used in news descriptions of him, that year and earlier, that it got to be a definitional label — the kind of thing I sometimes thought deserved a “™” (trademark) signature, often applied with all pejorative intent.

We’ve had our differences in the past. But McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has lately taken on not so much a new guise as a new persona. We saw a glimpse of that (more than a glimpse, really) early on July 28, when he arrived in the well on the Senate floor and cast the deciding vote against the “skinny repeal” bid to overturn Obamacare — a vote at odds with nearly all of his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Since then, McCain wrote an op-ed piece in the Aug. 31 Washington Post that sharpened distinctions between himself and House Trump, in clear and unambiguous strokes.

He returns to Washington this week set to take the lead as the Senate debates the National Defense Authorization Act, which determines levels of government funding for the military.

He comes back to Washington facing debate on the DREAM Act and its enforcement; tax reform and other issues amid a jittery and possibly doomed administration frantically flexing its muscles.

And he comes back to Washington after his first treatments for one of the deadliest and most aggressive cancers there is.

The sunset days of the maverick of Arizona may yet be his best.

◊ ◊ ◊

From the Post op-ed: “Our shared values define us more than our differences. …

“Congress will return from recess next week facing continued gridlock as we lurch from one self-created crisis to another. We are proving inadequate not only to our most difficult problems but also to routine duties. Our national political campaigns never stop. We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important.

“That’s not how we were meant to govern. Our entire system of government — with its checks and balances, its bicameral Congress, its protections of the rights of the minority — was designed for compromise. It seldom works smoothly or speedily. It was never expected to.

“It requires pragmatic problem-solving from even the most passionate partisans. It relies on compromise between opposing sides to protect the interests we share. We can fight like hell for our ideas to prevail. But we have to respect each other or at least respect the fact that we need each other.

“That has never been truer than today, when Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct.

“We must respect his authority and constitutional responsibilities. We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people. We must be diligent in discharging our responsibility to serve as a check on his power. And we should value our identity as members of Congress more than our partisan affiliation.”

◊ ◊ ◊

IF THE SUPINE Republicans wanted to send a message to President* Trump, a message from one of their number, they’ve got one in those last sentences alone. For months, Republican senators and congresspeople alike have chafed under the wannabe-tyrannical rule of The Donald, who’s gone so far in his dangerously self-styled approach to governance as to endanger global relationships, the United States Constitution, and this nation’s deepest sense of itself and its future. John McCain’s op-ed was the first concerted pushback from those on his side of the aisle.

And for McCain, the institutionalized dysfunction that the Republicans have visited, or tried hard to visit, on Congress for the last eight-plus years — starting practically the day Barack Obama took the oath of office in 2008 — isn’t working anymore.

He continues: “I argued during the health-care debate for a return to regular order, letting committees of jurisdiction do the principal work of crafting legislation and letting the full Senate debate and amend their efforts.

Monday, September 4, 2017

ACA deadlines: Spread the word


Team Trump has slashed the advertising and outreach budget for HealthCare.gov from $100 million to $10 million. It's easily one of the most pernicious, willfully mean things the presidential asterisk has done since taking office.

Among other things, the White House action complicates the process of reaching out to millions of Americans about Obamacare, enrolling them for 2018 coverage between the dates of Nov. 1 and Dec. 15, informing them of changes in the program, and telling them what they need to be healthier citizens. It goes without saying: If the president* doesn't like your program, it's probably good as dead.

But maybe not. The digital age has made taking matters into your own hands an incredibly viral phenomenon, and a fairly easy one: Copy the graphic up at the top of this blogpost, blow it up to any size you like — then paste it anywhere, in your blogs, your tweets, your Instagram images, your Facebook posts, everywhere it might be casually seen. Let's make this thing virally visible. It may not close the gap of a $90 million budgetary shortfall, but it'll help, a little or a lot, between now and mid-December.

We're a species of procrastinators. But we remember when the stakes are high enough.

Guess what? The stakes are high enough.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

54th: The March, history and now


YOU SEE IT and it breaks your heart. If there is a drop of blood circulating anywhere within you at all, it was aroused by the image of Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., her head and right hand leaning in to his face, in a gesture that poignantly distilled a daughter’s love and a nation’s self-inflicted pain.

If agony can be said to possess the realm of the exquisite, if we ever hoped for a fresh visual distillation of the human spirit … this was it. Samuel Beckett would understand this picture; his own knowledge from the past is here, vivid and inescapable, and now the mantra of America’s vast unnamables: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

It was a picture in a tweet (like everything else these days), one that the youngest of the King daughters sent to Jan. 15, the birthday of her father, who would have been 88 years old. But what it says about Martin Luther King and our national past, and how we reach back to the past to make sense of an angry present and an unclear future, is resonant and ubiquitous beyond the medium that contains it.

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The Root reported on Monday: “A predominantly black Prince William County church has been the latest target of racists after messages of hate were posted up at the church’s front entrance over the weekend. According to Fox 5 DC, church members at Greater Praise Temple Ministries in Dumfries, Va., found the disturbing messages on Sunday. The news station was told that it took officers about two hours to respond to a call from the church after it was reported.

“One of the signs in question showed the front cover of the German magazine Der Spiegel, which features President Donald Trump wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood: an image that came as criticism of Trump’s outrageous response to the violence following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Accompanying the photo were the words, ‘Now that’s white power. Day of the rope is coming niggers.’ ”

“It’s very disturbing … there are a lot of churches in this area,” a member of the church identified only as Sister Gwen told the news station. “But for the people of color, we have to go through this—it’s like taking a step back to the ’50s and ’60s.”

Specifically it was like taking a step back to the America of 54 years ago, of Aug. 28, 1963, when a crowd of about 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Or a step forward into the present day, and the fact of a march still underway, en route to the nation’s capital to address some other of the nation’s unfinished business.

◊ ◊ ◊

PAST IS PROLOGUE: the current march from Charlottesville to Washington and scheduled to end Sept. 6, has its inescapable lineage. The event in 1963 broke new ground in the national discourse; everything that MLK had done to that point had led him there; it was a kind of focal point, not only of his career but also of the question of civil rights as a national matter. But where King’s iconic 16 minutes at the microphone established him as the de facto North Star of American racial morality, we don’t have such a defining, centralizing force in American life today.

That’s both curse and blessing. We can use a moral center in the current debate right now, someone whose animating frame of reference is the spiritual (and not necessarily the religious) instead of the political. King’s oratory that day combined the two, blended the emotional power of homiletics with the everyday pragmatics of common-sense speech, the politics of life.

Who can forget the “promissory note” analogy, crowded with the symbology of quotidian economics? “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. ...

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.' But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

◊ ◊ ◊

For all its power and its place in the national fabric, the totality of the march’s events at the Lincoln Memorial reflected blind spots by the organizers: it was an oratorical sausage fest. Only one woman gave any address at the march: Daisy Bates, a figure instrumental in the integration of the Little Rock Nine into that city’s high school in 1957, was shoehorned in at the last moment, Mother Jones reported in August 2013.

It was a shortcoming that didn’t go overlooked by Anna Arnold Hedgman, scholar, writer, executive director of President Truman’s 1948 presidential campaign, and one of the march organizers. Hedgman called the male brain trust of the event on the carpet: “In light of the role of Negro women in the struggle for freedom … it is incredible that no woman should appear as a speaker.”

The march keynotes revealed other elitist tendencies, freezing out a random “Unemployed Worker” at the podium, Charles Euchner reported in Nobody Turn Me Around, a people’s history of the march..

The march didn’t do everything; clearly, some things it didn’t do at all.  But it did what it had to do: the first televised protest demonstration shocked and galvanized a complacent, quizzical nation; and awakened black Americans, in a broad, mainstream way, to the clarified objective now writ inescapably large.

King distilled the pressing, nervous issues into an address that, in his words, then and now, hastens “to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.” And now is never a rear-view phenomenon.

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THE URGENCY of now couldn’t be much fiercer than it is, now. More than half a century after the fire and agonies of the civil rights era, we’re fighting old battles all over again, on the same turf in the legislatures and in the streets. Black people in the state of Georgia have to contend with a law-enforcement worldview distilled in the dashcam video-recorded words of Cobb County Lt. Greg Abbott, who, after pulling her car over, told a terrified white driver that she had nothing to fear: “We only kill black people, right?”

We as a nation have to contend with the brittle truth rendered by that paragon of journalism — MAD Magazine — which updated one of Norman Rockwell’s more cherished paintings, “The Runaway,” of a lunch-counter encounter between a burly but sensitive cop talking to a boy running away from home. MAD’s update — with a cop in full SWAT/riot-gear regalia, looking at a young black American boy in less than friendly terms — couldn’t be more on point, more accurate in announcing the terms of engagement between police and citizens in a nation Trumped by fear.

Neither could a recent picture I discovered at Shaun King’s Facebook page: A black cop stands a lonely yellow-tape vigil, protecting those people exercising their First Amendment rights at a white supremacist demonstration going on just yards behind him.

The changes sought at the first March on Washington are the same as those pursued by the good people now making the March To Washington. “This is no time to engage in the luxury of coming off or take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” King said, 54 years ago. “Now is the time ... 1963 was not an end, but a beginning.”



1963 was a beginning. 2017 is another one.

Image credits: Bernice King communing with father: @Bernice King. Lincoln Memorial program: Daisy Bates: via EURWeb. Cop and kid: © 2017 Mad Magazine. Cop at demonstration: via Shaun King Facebook page.

Monday, August 28, 2017

High Stream Flavors


Entities of commerce often make strange bedfellows. A great example of how marijuana’s intersection with the wider culture yields surprising synergies between products happened in Los Angeles over the weekend when Netflix, the streaming-TV media giant, opened a pop-up store at a local medical-marijuana dispensary to sell various strains of marijuana as a promotion specifically for one of its newest shows and for other Netflix shows. “Netflix and chill,” indeed. ...

The brandy-and-cigars aspect of Netflix's marketing tactic is well-timed for the arrival of recreational marijuana in California, a social and legal sea change set to begin in early 2018. ...

The weekend’s presumably one-time pop-up has the feel of a trial balloon for Netflix, whose programming taps into popular culture at a number of levels, with shows created with an energy, frankness, and conceptual daring that broadcast networks can’t match. ...

Read the full report at Potent

Image credits: Omega Strain image: Jennica Atkinson/Carrot Creative for Netflix. Potent logo: © 2017 Jerrick Media.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Statues of limitations


IT’S BEEN A rough year for the bronze and limestone paragons of the old South. Partly as a reaction to the horrific events in Charlottesville, S.C. on August 12, and partly the result of people fed up with having the agents of some of the worst of human behavior vaingloriously rammed down their throats, the statuary commemorating the leaders and soldiers of the Confederate States of America are getting a makeover across the country. Let us count some of the ways:

On Aug. 13, a 105-year-old Confederate statue in Atlanta, Ga., was spray-painted and physically damaged by protesters reacting to events in Charlottesville, CBS News reported.

On Aug. 14, In Durham, N.C., a monument to a Confederate soldier was pulled down Saddam Hussein style, the whole thing videotaped for posterity at its location, in front of a government building.

On Aug. 15, in the city of Baltimore, Md., in the dead of night, city officials conducted a statuary surgical strike, a quick broad-brush removal of several Confederate statues, from several different locations, more or less at once. The Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, on Mount Royal Avenue? Gone. The Roger B. Taney Monument, at Mount Vernon Place? Absent. The Lee-Jackson Monument? If you haven’t seen it already, odds are now, you won’t. Same for the Confederate Women’s Monument, on West University Parkway.

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On. Aug. 15, faced on one side with obeying a law barring removal of rebel memorials and abiding the wishes of the citizens on the other, the city of Birmingham, Ala., concealed a prominent, 52-foot-high Confederate monument with plywood.

Aug. 17 was an especially busy day in the annals of racist tribute desecration. The Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway monument in Gold Canyon, Ariz., was tarred and feathered, the New York Daily News reported. A Confederate monument in Phoenix was spray-painted the same day, AZCentral reported.

A Confederate statue outside the county courthouse in Leesburg, Va., got hit by American graffiti, a scrawl that read “You lost,” The Washington Post reported.

Also on Aug. 17, the visage of Confederate icon Robert E. Lee was defaced at the chapel on the campus of Duke University.

Days later, on Aug. 19, the university chose to remove the limestone statue altogether. In a letter to students and staff, Duke president Vincent Price said he took the action “to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university.”

And on Aug. 23, the city council of Charlottesville, Va., voted to shroud two statues, of Lee and Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson — an act almost certain, eventually, to precede their outright removal. Other monuments to the Confederacy have been concealed, vandalized or brought down altogether in Washington state, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, and other states.

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IT’S HARD to know exactly when a society (or the culture that animates a society) comes to clearly decide that a given way of doing things no longer works, no longer makes sense, no longer enhances the life of the collective (if it ever did).

We’re at that point when it comes to the Confederacy. The wider national culture, ever subject to change, has nonetheless crossed a tipping point on homage to the renegade states of the Civil War.

Maybe it’s a consequence of the unromantic times we live in, but wistful longing for the quaint trappings and hoop-skirted deceptions of the era of the Peculiar Institution is under fire — has been, incrementally, for generations, as progress and time marched on, the surviving soldiers of the Confederacy died out, and 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained stripped away the storied gentilities of the Old South where it really resonates: at the movies.

Over recent years, and certainly in recent months, the unthinkable has happened: Bringing down the iconographic infrastructure of the Confederacy is now a Thing. It’s a touchstone of the time, a statement, it’s cool, it’s correct (not politically but humanistically). It’s not just tolerated; in a time of rampant Trumpian relativism, opposing the symbols of our national dalliance with barbarism is one of the few comforting moral absolutes we've got left.

◊ ◊ ◊

People are increasingly willing to express the belief that they see no gray area on this; visible stands against the Stars and Bars and what it represents aren’t revocable. Just like the white supremacist fash bros at the tiki-torched march in Charlottesville discovered after losing their jobs and apartments and friends when the pictures went viral — you can’t hide where you stand.

That’s as true for anti-Confederate protesters as it was for the opposite number. And for those against the social normalization of the Confederacy, they’re taking a visible stand on humanistic principles, one they’re perfectly comfortable with, and one that our society generally approves of. That makes it easy for people to do. Again and again and again.

There’s been a furious debate about HBO’s planned 2018 series Confederate, which will reportedly speculate dramatically on a United States in which the South won the Civil War. While the particulars of the series are nothing but speculation right now, it’s the premise — slavery in modern-day America — that’s got people angry and concerned.

But the what might be of a TV show years from today can’t supplant the power of what is, at this minute: a movement to render obsolete the emblems of the worst that’s within us. Erasing American history isn’t so much wrong as it is impossible. Almost as impossible as people of conscience not resisting that loathsome history in its bid to become our latest, tragic, current event.

Image credits: Lee-Jackson monument removal: Denise Sanders/Baltimore Sun. Robert E. Lee statue (detail): Duke University. Monuments map: The New York Times. Publicity still from 12 Years a Slave. Confederate protest protest: @ianbremmer.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Rubicon of mud: Trump sets the course on Afghanistan


Afghanistan is a complete waste. Time to come home!
Donald Trump, Twitter, 2012

We should leave Afghanistan immediately.
Donald Trump, Twitter, 2013



WHAT A DISSONANCE an election cycle makes. Back in the day, in the hurly-burly of the 2012 campaign, when Trump was more of an outlier prospect for the presidency than he was four years later, the grifter mogul could say whatever he wanted — presumably whatever he believed — and answer to no one, relishing in the comparatively consequence-free zone of the non-candidate.

Trump did just that back then, calling for a full withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the country that was and is, as much as any other, considered a Petri dish for any number of malignant terrorist entities with aspirations of global dominance.

Part of that we know was Trump’s sheer contrariness vis-a-vis anything to do with President Obama. As a reflex, if Obama supported it, Trump was against it. That made calling for a troop pullout “immediately” easy to do. Back then, Trump didn’t have to reckon with the consequences of an idea like that.

◊ ◊ ◊

Fast forward four-plus years. While Obama relishes in the eight years of his presidential era, tranquil by comparison, President* Donald Trump is looking down the barrel of his first eight dismal months in office and the prospect of more to come. And his Afghanistan solution from years ago is confronting a reality he didn’t wargame adequately, or at all.

That much was evident on Tuesday, when Trump, allergic to the wartime policies of his predecessor, gave tacit approval to Defense Secretary James Mattis to add 4,000 U.S. troops to the numbers there now — not withdrawing forces, but doubling down on what his predecessor did to deal with this nation’s longest war.

The most pivotal foreign policy decision Trump has had to make in the seven months since assuming office is one that has, to greater or lesser extent, been made before. And more than once.

◊ ◊ ◊

WE KNEW it was important by the way he talked on Tuesday night, before a crowd of troops stationed at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Md. His usual reverence to the military, his longstanding soft spot for men and women in uniform, were obvious. The bluster machine was dialed way down, but it didn’t obscure or conceal the central fact of what the president* had to deliver: more of the same of what we’ve had for the last 16 years, more of the very conflict that will be his legacy too.



Conflicts were definitely the order of the day. Before he even talked about the prospects of war in a foreign country, Trump obliquely addressed the war at home. With what seemed like an indirect reference to the deadly civil clashes in Charlottesville, Va., Trump made some of his most anodyne remarks since taking office.

“When one part of America hurts, we all hurt. And when one citizen suffers an injustice, we all suffer together,” he said. “Loyalty to our nation demands loyalty to one another. Love for America requires love for all of its people. When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate. The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home. We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other.”

Where the hell was this circumspection, this open-heartedness last week, when we needed it more?

◊ ◊ ◊

IT WAS a moment to glimpse the Donald Trump that might have been, instead of the one we got, bellowing “America first!” in the campaign, and beyond … and now, on Tuesday, about to usher the county into a foreign-policy mission that fates him to steering a raft across a Rubicon of mud.

“[…W]e must acknowledge the reality I am here to talk about tonight; that nearly 16 years after [the] September 11 attacks, after the extraordinary sacrifice of blood and treasure, the American people are weary of war without victory,” Trump said. “Nowhere is this more evident than with the war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history — 17 years. I share the American people’s frustration. I also share their frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly lives, trying to rebuild countries in our own image instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.”

And then it came, the subsequent But language that weds — though some will say “cements” — Trump’s Afghan foreign policy to his two predecessors. “[T]he consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable. 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in our history, was planned and directed from Afghanistan, because that country was ruled by a government that gave comfort and shelter to terrorists. A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and Al-Qaeda, would instantly fill just as happened before September 11th.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Trump: “And as we know, in 2011, America hastily and mistakenly withdrew from Iraq. As a result, our hard-won gains slipped back into the hands of terrorist enemies. Our soldiers watched as cities they had fought for, and bled to liberate, and won, were occupied by a terrorist group called ISIS. The vacuum we created by leaving too soon gave safe haven for ISIS to spread, to grow, recruit, and launch attacks.”

There was a blame game to be played, of course, and Trump played it against Pakistan, an easy whipping boy for South Asia instabilities (its role as Osama bin Laden’s last safe haven doesn’t help). “We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” Trump said. “But that will have to change, and that will change immediately. No partnership can survive a country’s harboring of militants and terrorists who target U.S. service members and officials.”

“We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” Trump said. “Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. America’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.”

◊ ◊ ◊

THE PRESIDENT-presumptive thus marches in lock step with President Bush and Obama before him in rhetorically painting in broad strokes over Afghanistan what can’t be reliably achieved with the fine-point pen. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times grasped this immediately: “If you listened closely, he wasn’t really promising to win the Afghan war, except in the limited sense of preventing the Taliban from toppling the U.S.-backed government … more like a holding action aimed at staving off defeat.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proved that point, betraying a naivete we didn’t think was possible from an administration official not named Donald Trump. “This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand that you will not win a battlefield victory,” Tillerson said to reporters on Tuesday. “We may not win one, but neither will you.”

We may not win one, but neither will you. That may be the textbook embodiment of “hanging fire,” of ratifying inaction, of institutionalizing inertia. Tillerson thus tacitly admits that the United States isn't just ready for stalemate, it’s predicting one — and planning accordingly. Attrition, the presumably incidental act of going nowhere in a military context, is or will be a tactic deliberately employed by the greatest military machine in the world.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Svengali Has Left the Building. Watch Out.


It was January 2017, just days after Donald Trump was inaugurated in the White House, and newly-minted White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon was talking to The Hollywood Reporter, plotting the national future, and feeling his oats.

“If we deliver,” he said, “we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years … Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement. It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. … It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

Say what you will about him, Steve Bannon never dreamed small. That dream of BannonWorld, as related to THR, was preceded by a bigger, wider vision he had during the 2016 campaign — one of a world that danced to his geopolitical tune. ...

Read the full piece at Swamp.

Image credits: Bannon: Alex Brandon/Associated Press. Swamp logo: ©2017 Jerrick Media LLC.
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