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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 Donald 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.

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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.

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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 wind 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?

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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 that of 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.”

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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.”

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THE PRESIDENT-presumptive thus marches in lock step with Presidents 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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Justine and Heather

They’re an unlikely duo, Justine Damond and Heather Heyer, on opposite sides of the country but wed by circumstances and tragedy, the new hashtag saints in the American victimography, anomalies, outliers, everyday people, two who made history by being at the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the wrong time.

The fact that they’re both white women who died via an agent of institutional power (a police officer acting on a mistaken assumption) or at the hands of a white supremacist driving a car through a crowd (and maybe really intending to kill a person of color instead) complicates the established narrative of 21st-century race relations, simply by undercutting the rationale for its continued oversimplification. The circumstances of their deaths are inimical to the received wisdom of American race relations, the customary equations of the histories of black and white Americans alike.

Not least of all because of Damond and Heyer’s tragic, sudden visibility in the culture, the perceived calculus of who lives and who dies in racially-impactful situations is a little different now — and you dismiss the social importance of perception at your peril. The notion of “skin in the game,” actionized faith in the principles basic to the fight for social justice, looks to be more of the ecumenical civic experience it’s always been.

Read the full essay at The Omnibus @Medium

Friday, August 18, 2017

Charlottesville and America

WE LIKE TO THINK we learn from history; that is one of humanity’s more charming self-deceptions. Every so often over the past four generations, we — the students, the curious, the media — have looked back into the genesis metastasizing years of one brutal regime or another, usually through a fresh survey of imagery common to the era, the photographs and newsreels, the ones that still burn, and soar, and hurt. There: the nascent Nazis, the Brown Shirts, burning the books in a Berlin square. Those same Brown Shirts roughing up the locals or singling out someone in a crowd in the street, pushing them around because power.

And there: the authorities, harassing citizens with dogs, birdshot and high-pressure water hoses, roughed up on the street by other, different everyday people who pushed them around because power. We look at these photographs and newsreels, marvel at the ease with which brutality could be dispensed back then, and take some quiet solace in how far we’ve come, we postmodern, enlightened, educated, yoga-flexible, 21st-century souls. It can’t happen here, we think. It can’t happen here.

Like events in Germany of the 1930’s, the townships of South Africa in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and the Jim Crow South in the 1960’s, the brutal alt-right pogrom that took place on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, was proof of an institutionalization of racial and ethnic mayhem, and one with deadly results. One woman was killed in the space of the protests themselves, run over after apparently being struck, with others, by a raging white supremacist behind the wheel of a gray sports car with Ohio license plates. Two Virginia state troopers were killed in a helicopter crash while working in a protest-related assignment.

It is the first high-profile spasmodic racial event of the presidency* of Donald Trump, and his first comments about it were not exactly inspiring. Their deliberate ambiguity, their studied, toxic nuance would become a huge problem not just for political consumption, but in the wider sense of American identity. But that should have been no surprise: American identity —and who gets to decide what it definitively is — were at the root of the madness on Saturday.

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History set the fuse for this current event. White supremacists were intent on hosting a “Unite the Right” rally, meant to show their support for leaving intact a Charlottesville statue of famed Confederate general Robert E. Lee — one of the bronze symbols, scattered throughout Virginia and around the South, celebrating the Confederacy and, by definition, the millions of human beings whose enslavement made the Confederacy viable.

The rally was to be a kind of right-wing Woodstock, with alt-right darling Richard Spencer and others concealing defense of white American identity in an ardent, muscular denunciation of the nation’s mosaic demographics. The night before, white supremacists marched on the campus of the University of Virginia … marched en masse carrying … Tiki Torches probably containing citronella-scented mosquito repellent, and just as probably acquired in bulk at the Lowe’s store on Woodbrook Drive.

The derision machine cranked up on Twitter, big time. @TheFaceofBoe87: ““I find it ironic that a bunch of racist[s] are using tiki torches. Y'all can't even hate without appropriating another culture #Charlottesville.”

@SmashracismDC: “Did fash bros use their bed bath and beyond coupons for the tiki torches littered on UVA campus last night?”

That was Friday. That was as light-hearted as this could get. Then it got serious. Then it got ugly.

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ON SATURDAY, James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Ohioan, a man whom his former high school history teacher told a TV station was “infatuated with Nazis,” was in his gray 2010 Dodge Challenger. Fields had … issues. “Once you talked to James for a while, you would start to see that sympathy towards Nazism, that idolization of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy,” said Derek Weimer, the teacher. “It would start to creep out.” In an interview with The Associated Press, Weimer said Fields also told him he’d been diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child, and was also prescribed anti-psychotic medication.

A potpourri of white supremacists showed up; Klan members, skinheads, neo-Nazis, and members of Vanguard America, a group that deeply believes in an essential, fundamental whiteness of the United States, a group that Fields was apparently a member or supporter of. They faced off against the anti-racist protesters. Punches and screams, pepper sprays and projectiles; it was a distillation of the fight between democracy and extremism. There might have been more or less than the same for a while: a battle in the streets, but one whose weapons were evenly matched.

Then the car, a gray Dodge Challenger, came barreling down the road, a few blocks away from the statue of Robert E. Lee. Fields is believed to have driven at high speed into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, as she crossed the street. At least 35 19 other people were reported injured. Fields was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. In the course of surveilling the demonstrations, a helicopter manned by two Virginia State Police troopers, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates, 40, crashed. Both troopers were killed.

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It was a horrible day for America, and the man in the White House didn’t make things any better. When President* Donald Trump spoke about the incident, he did even more damage to his biography with a speech that desperately sought to establish a false equivalence between the white supremacists and the counter-protesters. “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides," the president* said while on vacation in Bedminster, N.J. Then, repeating for emphasis (as if the fake equivalence wasn’t already clear enough), “on many sides.”

In the days to follow, the weight of the incident and Trump’s reaction to it jumped the oceans. German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Trump’s initial comments, saying: “It’s racist, far-right violence and that requires determined and forceful resistance no matter where in the world it appears.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May, similarly condemned Trump. “I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them, and I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views whenever we hear them.” May said Wednesday in Portsmouth, England.

Trump’s comments blew back on him in ways closer to home. Within days of his initial comments — remarks he’s both walked back and doubled down on since — the CEOs of Merck, 3M, Campbell Soup and Under Armour resigned their positions on the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, launched by Trump on Jan. 27.

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IT’S A GIVEN of the 21st-century American presidency: When an expansively tragic national event occurs, the president is called upon to be the empath in chief, the anodyne presence on the national stage, a bridge over troubled water. It’s not in the oath of office, it’s nowhere in the Constitution, but it remains a real and present responsibility for anyone who’d lead this country. There's maybe no other time when a president is more the avatar of a nation then when he presides over a nation in pain.

President Obama knew this, and lived this capably and eloquently in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Aurora theater shootings, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Tucson shootings, the slaughter at Fort Hood … and far too many incidents of racial injustice, incidents in which someone died. The 44th president rose to these horrific occasions and did what he could to both transmit our grief and our resolve to move past it.

In this unwritten task, as it relates to Charlottesville, in the need to reinforce American values in a moment of national shock, Donald Trump has failed utterly and miserably. And in that failure may lie the biggest tragedy in the Charlottesville disaster: Our nation has lost its top unifier. The ability to speak painful truth to redemptive power has been replaced by dissipated, desiccated emotions served up 140 characters at a time. The brutality of a given event has met its match in the rhetorical brutality of the one reacting to it, minimizing it, from the White House. It couldn’t happen here. Until it did.

Image credits: Charlottesville car attack: Ryan M. Kelly/Daily Progress. Racist protesters (2): via The Root. Fields: Alan Goffinski via Associated Press. Trump: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Disney Gets Ready to Stream the Magic Kingdom

TECHNOLOGY has blown a hole in the traditional entertainment business model. That’s been true for some time — at least since 2007 when Netflix vastly reduced its position in the DVD rental business and committed to streaming content directly to consumers. Now, Disney, the whale in the waters of entertainment content, has announced plans to get into the streaming game.

Disney announced on August 8 that it’s planning to start two streaming services: one, aimed at sports fans and capitalizing on the ESPN brand, will launch in early 2018. The other, geared toward Disney’s legions of entertainment fans hungry for its vast movie library, is set to kick off sometime in 2019. ...

The new streaming strategy is risky for Disney, and only some of it may be navigable at this early stage. No price for the prospective new services has been revealed yet, for example, so it’s anyone’s guess whether the cost of Disney streaming services will be competitive with Netflix. Safely assuming it will be, though, other risks remain for streaming the goodies in the Mouse House. ...

Read the full story at Geeks

Image credits: Disneyland fireworks: Michael James (screenshot from You Tube). Netflix logo: © 2017 Netflix. Geeks logo: © 2017 Jerrick Media.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Rhinestone Cowboy rides away:
Glen Campbell (1936-2017)

Glen Campbell, the Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, guitarist, actor and TV show host whose performing career was as panoramic as his talents, died Tuesday. He was 81. ...

Campbell, who had been living in a long-term care facility in Tennessee, was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disorder Alzheimer’s disease in late 2010, and it was announced publicly in June 2011.

Over his career, Campbell — perhaps best known for the 1975 hit “Rhinestone Cowboy” — released more than 60 albums and sold 45 million records, many achieving gold, platinum and double-platinum status and posting hit singles on the country and adult contemporary charts. He won 10 Academy of Country Music Awards, six competitive Grammy Awards and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. ...

Read the full story at TheWrap

Monday, August 7, 2017

Seeking adult supervision on the Trumptanic

IF WASHINGTON politics was Wimbledon tennis, the events of the last two weeks would show the Trump administration is playing from behind right now, and it is glaringly obvious. All the screams from the baseline, all the huffing and puffing at the line judge won’t change a thing. House Trump is in what appears to be a permanent defensive crouch, even when they’re on offense.

This White House is in a predicament rare for an administration this young: on a kind of war footing with much of the American public that helped Trump get elected, and, weird enough, on a war footing with itself.

The polling tells part of the story. To go from the politically ecumenical reaction to his first six months occupying the Oval Office, Trump has inspired by accident a bipartisanship he couldn’t possibly compel on purpose. Democrats oppose Trump, that’s hardly breaking news. But what’s emerging in a flurry of new and recent polling indicates something bigger, wider, and more dissatisfied under his own tent:

The Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday, Aug. 5: “Since the election, in which he received 46% of the vote, Trump’s popularity has slumped. Polls by a half-dozen nonpartisan survey organizations in the last week have shown his job approval dropping again after several months of a stable, albeit low, plateau. Fewer than 40% of Americans have a favorable view of his performance in office, the polls indicate.

“Trump’s drop in polls has featured a notable decline in support among independents and a smaller, but still significant, decline among moderate Republicans. That decline was reflected in all three focus groups, both a Republican-dominated one and two that included Democrat-sympathetic voters.”

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There’s been more, of course. Lot more. Some of last week’s debacle was self-inflicted, the walkback as blowback, much of it from Congress. Look at Wednesday, Aug. 2. Rick Wilson of the Daily Beast did:

“On Wednesday, Trump was forced into signing the bipartisan Russian sanctions bill. Passed by overwhelming, veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump was trapped like a Russian mink in a snare. After pretending the dog ate his homework for a day by claiming the White House didn’t have the bill, and with the knowledge that he would face the staggering political loss of a veto override, he grudgingly, reluctantly, painfully signed it.”

House Trump’s breathtaking levels of organizational dysfunction, already bad before, took a turn into the Shakespearean over the last two weeks. Weaved in between the various polls were White House dramas too thick and fast to be believed. “You don’t know the players without a scorecard,” the old saying goes. But since January 20, with the installation of Donald Trump as president*, it’s been hard to know the players with or without a scorecard. Some of them aren’t in the game long enough for a scorecard to matter in the first place.

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AS THE TRUMPCARE bills self-destructed on the floor of the Senate, various people were called on to fall on various swords. Communications director Mike Dubke resigned after Trump’s first foreign trip; Politico reported that Dubke bolted “after Trump criticized him for not fiercely defending the firing of former FBI director James Comey.” Then came press secretary and word-salad enthusiast Sean Spicer, who was cashed out on July 21. But the events of the days that followed made a bad situation ... a lot more interesting.

Despite his being a chief of staff — the one presumably in charge of daily operations, the White House’s air traffic controller — Reince Priebus never really had much control over anything. From July 28 Politico: “From the start, Priebus—whose presence was intended to give the Establishment wing of the Republican Party a line into the White House, and to smooth Trump’s relations with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders on Capitol Hill—was hemmed in, with senior advisers like Bannon, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Kellyanne Conway reporting directly to the president.

Politico: “The unpredictable nature of the information flow in the White House made him uneasy, several administration officials say. He lost his cool when other West Wing staffers knew things that he didn’t, and he would call people who had spoken to the president to ask them what Trump had told them. He would run from meeting to meeting trying not to miss anything. He would corner people who criticized him publicly and ask them to stop – but admit the criticisms were close to accurate. He would rarely leave Trump's side and rush into the Oval Office when he saw others were in the room.”

Politico also reports how the idea developed that — somehow — Priebus was to blame for the debacle of the Trumpcare legislation that died serial deaths in the Senate. “Priebus’ failure to smooth passage of health care legislation through the GOP-led House in March infuriated the president, according to people close to him, and may have made his departure inevitable.”

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Multimillionaire businessman Anthony Scaramucci, scourge of Spicer and Priebus, was tapped as White House communications director, over Priebus’ especially vocal objections. Spicer resigned in protest. In short order, Scaramucci proceeded to create his own White House meme: Out with Priebus’ nebbish-accountant mien and Spicer’s angry-word-salad shtick, in with Scaramucci’s elegant swashbuckler at the podium.

In the White House press briefings room, in his maiden voyage, appeared to be everything that Priebus and Spicer were not: suave, glib, apparently capable of some self-deprecation, seemingly not afraid of interactions with reporters that didn’t involve gnashing of teeth for one or the other.

But then he had to go and spoil it all by saying what he said in a rambling, free-wheeling, strangely unhinged interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.

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WHAT I’M GOING to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we’ll start over,” said Scaramucci, in the first movement of the Fandango. “They’ll all be fired by me. I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.”

“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. Pizza said he later channelled Priebus while he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ”

You want a perfect example of how toxic the atmosphere in House Trump really is? Consider this: Within minutes of ending the July 26 interview with Lizza, minutes after telling Lizza that “I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy,” Scaramucci, the communications director in the White House, sent out a tweet that asserted Priebus, the chief of staff in the White House, had illegally leaked information on Scaramucci’s personal finances.

This alone distills the generally apparent down to something that couldn’t be more obvious, to anyone: House Trump is a White House in internal crisis, divided against itself.

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It was obvious again when Priebus resigned as chief of staff two days later, embarrassed, maybe even humiliated, a broken man walking, angry and bewildered across a tarmac in the rain. soaked to the skin by a narrative that painted him some time ago as a man out of his depth, Willy Loman in the West Wing.

Establishment Republicans, movement conservatives needed someone in the White House who could act as a check on Trump’s wild, reflexive machinations. To some degree, that’s what they had with Priebus for six precious months. Now, with Priebus gone— and with Trump acting as his own one-man, 140-character communications department — those mainstream, Pantone-red conservatives will likely be coming after Trump all over again. Scaramucci, Priebus’ implacable adversary, blindsided him. George R.R. Martin couldn’t have come up with what happened next.

Ten days after taking the comms job, Scaramucci was gone as Comms Chieftain, ushered out the door by the new sheriff in town, the closest thing to true adult supervision this administrationette has ever had. And that still may not be enough.

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A FORMER Marine and former Marine Corps liaison to Capitol Hill, John Kelly looks like a man who doesn’t suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. On that basis, how he got sucked into this tighter orbit of House Trump in the first place is a mystery. But Kelly, previously the director of homeland security, was named on July 31 to replace Priebus as chief of staff. And shortly after that, maybe even hours later, that afternoon, Kelly fired Scaramucci.

The Washington Post reported: “The chief of staff took his oath of office early Monday in an Oval Office ceremony thronged by senior staffers, including Scaramucci. But a short time later, Kelly told the communications director he was out, leading Scaramucci to offer his resignation instead, according to four White House staffers and outside advisers not authorized to speak publicly about personnel matters.

“In the brief, cold words of the White House announcement, Scaramucci was leaving because he ‘felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.’ The three-sentence release concluded, ‘We wish him all the best.’ ” The Mooch, who announced his intention to “go dark,” was last seen scuttling down Pennsylvania Avenue carrying a Bankers Box and a ten-pound brick of Priebus Schadenfreude™ cheese.

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Kelly went further imposing his will in the playground. The New York Times reports: “Mr. Kelly cuts off rambling advisers midsentence. He listens in on conversations between cabinet secretaries and the president. He has booted lingering staff members out of high-level meetings, and ordered the doors of the Oval Office closed to discourage strays. He … has demanded that even Mr. Trump’s family, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, check with him if they want face time with the president.

“On Wednesday, his third day on the job, he delivered a message about respecting chains of command, backing the decision of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, to dismiss Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Kushner ally and staff member on the National Security Council.”

It’s as if the camp counselor at TrumpCamp walked to the threshold of the door to a darkened room filled with noisy, raucous, pre-teen boys at summer camp … walked to the door while they were rioting in the dark … and turned on the lights

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Alt-American History (X)

The process to end slavery in the United States formally began with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863. The actual impact of slavery hasn’t observed such convenient finality; the debate over the “peculiar institution” — how and how much it affects our 21st century lives — rages today, and popular culture has hardly escaped.

The announcements of two ambitious television projects with American slavery at or near their core have jump-started the national outrage machine (masquerading these days as the Internet). ...

For Robert J. Thompson, a student of the Gordian knot of television’s impact on society and society’s impact on television, this fascination with alt-black American history is more than just TV chasing the shiny object of the moment.

“If we’re talking about African American identity as a broad thing, we’ve been seeing a lot more of that in the last decade partially because there are so many more places for it,” said Thompson, Trustee Professor of Television and Popular Culture at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. ...

Read the full story at The Omnibus

Image credit: From CSA: The Confederate States of America (The Weiunstein Company/IFC Films

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