Saturday, September 22, 2007

Did They Use Color-Blind Nooses in Jena?

COLOR-BLIND NOOSES. Somewhere between 30-60 thousand marchers went to Jena, Louisiana on Thursday to protest the treatment of six young black men accused of beating a white teenager. Racial tension had been developing at the local high school for a year after some white students hung nooses by their favorite tree to show their opinion of the black kids who also started sitting by the "white tree."

There's been an analogous problem at our local high school in Morehead, KY where white students brought guns to the school recently after a dispute with the very few black students at the school.

Funny though, all the white residents of Jena seem to think there's no racial tension in the town.

They have the freedom to march and freedom of speech, but our town is not racist like this is being depicted," said a white resident who would identify himself only as Jay. "The nooses were just a joke."

No officials of the town, which is 85 percent white, offered any comments about Thursday's march. In the past, they have angrily insisted that Jena suffers from no racial tensions.

Those must have been color-blind nooses.

SPEAKING OF NOOSES. It seems that nooses have become the symbol du jour for white racial hatred since the Michael Richards incident. A Waverly, Ohio student at Morehead State University told me that somebody put a noose up on the entrace to her town last December.

Perhaps Confederate flags are no longer an adequate expression for racist sentiment--not that the Confederate flags weren't symbolizing lynching among others.

NEW DIRECTIONS/OLD DIRECTIONS. The prosecutor abuse in Jena represented a reversion back to the traditional kinds of abuses that target the black population. Conservative critics of Michael Nifong's abuses during the Durham rape case must be relieved to see the Jena prosecutor go back to tradition.

However, the march on Jena manifested a new level of strength and influence among African-American bloggers who worked outside the traditional civil rights institutions to publicize the problems in Jena and get the march going.

If only there were more overlap between African-American bloggers and white progressive bloggers.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Reply From Bronze Trinity on BET and gansta rap

Below is Bronze Trinity's reply to a question I asked about the most important factors determining whether the Afro-Sphere's Accurate Images Campaign against BET and gansta rap will be a success:

The most important factors? Well, we are trying something new by appealing to bloggers and individuals to use their buying dollars to stop supporting gangsta rap because there are other forms of music (including hip hop) that does not portray harmful stereotypes in a way that can be construed as glorification. We want consumers to raise their voices by demanding more radio play for alternative music and less for gangsta rap. Gangsta rappers get a lot of media exposure and advertising because they have money. Positive artists do not have as much money or promotion. So to even the playing field we are asking bloggers to promote positive artists for free. Word-of mouth advertising could really help. Many people don't know that there are alternatives or that music executives give preference to gangsta rap (that is very racist and sexist) over music of the same style that is not racist and sexist.

We want them to call BET and request particular artists and types of programming. We want people to watch BET shows for the commercials and then contact the advertising companies telling them that they are sponsoring sexist and racist content. They may decide to advertise somewhere else. This was something that seems to have worked against the Hot Ghetto Mess TV show.

So we think that this will only be as big as people make it. It will be successful if people email the release, make blog entries, post Youtube commentaries on the issue, and actually take some of the recommended actions. We also think that getting sponsors to remove their advertisements from BET, BET websites, and gangsta rappers websites will pressure them to change. This is a new approach because instead of going to the channel or artists themselves (who tend to ignore our requests) we are threatening their source of income.

#1 album sales for Common and Kanye West outselling 50cent are signs that positive/conscious artists are bankable and that there could be a profitable shift in the music industry away from the stereotypes and sexism that is rampant in mainstream hip hop.

Giuliani's Tactical Stupidity on Israel

Visiting in London to be seen with Margaret Thatcher, Rudy Giuliani proposes to promote Israel for NATO membership. Giuliani has a rationale for this proposal in that Israel is a democracy and NATO is an association that includes a lot of democracies.

But the underlying logic of Giuliani's position is that he's trying to be provocatively stupid so that people on the right will think of him as a "true conservative" despite his support for abortion rights and gay rights.

Glenn Greenwald argues that Giuliani's proposal is "extremist" and irrational because it commits the United States to treat all of Israel's wars as American wars and would be yet another way to commit the United States to endless war against our own interest.

Greenwald believes that other presidential candidates would pounce on Giuliani for this kind of fringe position if we lived "in a rational world." However, nobody has objected because of what Greenwald sees as the exaggerated significance of Israeli lobbies and Jewish money in American politics.

These factors might explain the silence from Democratic candidates and the mainstream media, but why is Giuliani articulating a point of view that's so contrary to American interests in the first place?

Obviously, Giuliani's "Israel in NATO" proposal is designed as an "almost-new" way (actually the proposal has been around for awhile) for Giuliani to promote himself as a friend of Israel and enemy of Israel's enemies. In that sense, Giuliani is just trying to differentiate himself from the intensely pro-Israeli positions of Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Fred Thompson.

But Giuliani is also making a finer political calculation here. He's betting that Fox, conservative talk show hosts, the right-wing blogosphere and their audiences will absolutely love the "Israel in NATO." It's apparently new. It's provocative. It provides an occasion for the right-wing media to accuse anybody who disagrees with being anti-Semitic. Above all, the right likes the flamboyant stupidity of the idea--the way that Giuliani is brushing aside any notion of patiently or cautiously pursuing American interests and just throwing all our weight behind Israel.

In the comic book world of the American right, this kind of weenie-ish macho posturing trumps rational self-interest every time. That's a lot of the reason the right used to love George Bush.

I don't know if "Israel in NATO" is going to make a big splash on the right. But Giuliani and his campaign team have shown that they can find their way to the hearts of the GOP right.

Giuliani might be able to survive hard-working Fred Thompson after all.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Day I Stood Up To NPR

There's an article in Time about bomb-throwing Republican senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint who take a lot of symbolic stands against spending. What makes them particularly annoying to other senators is that hold up legislation by refusing to join in the "unanimous consent" resolutions that allow a lot of routing legislation to get passed.

I'm sure they'll both be heroes to the right-wing because the Bush administration has shown that the right would rather throw impotent bombs than actually grow up and govern.

But I won't be too hard on Cobern and DeMint.

I've done the same thing.

When I was in faculty senate long ago, the chair was trying to get a motion passed unanimously to re-authorize $100,000 in funding to get NPR for our campus radio station.

But I can't stand NPR and thought that the campus radio station was pointless for students because it played classical music all day.

So I stonewalled, making several medium-length speeches characterizing NPR reporting as mass media "cliches in depth" and the general NPR approach as "popular culture for people who are too good for popular culture." The university had just downgraded it's football program from scholarship to non-scholarship because of lack of student interest. I argued that students were just as uninterested in NPR. I should have said that students were even less interested.

But the vote was 33-1 and I was the one. Even the token right-wingers supported the resolution because they didn't want to make tenured faculty mad at them. They were certainly mad at me and I was very much untenured.

But they didn't get their unanimous vote either.

Actually, the Senate Democrats could use a few bomb throwers besides Russ Feingold.

African-American Bloggers Against Stereotypes

The Afro-Sphere Bloggers Association has condemned BET and a number of famous rappers for purveying stereotypes of African-Americans.

According to Afro-Spear:
Gangsta rap regularly glorifies sexism, the n-word, profanities, violence, drug use and dealing, sexism, and the dehumanization of Black men and women. Gangsta rap videos and stereotype-filled shows are the programming staples of BET. “BET and hip hop have gone down hill. They were once inspirations. Now they purvey some of the most harmful anti-Black sentiments you will ever see or hear, and this has become a representation of mainstream Black culture,” says Bronze Trinity of the Afrosphere Bloggers Association (ABA). ABA is coordinating the Afrosphere Accurate Images campaign against BET and gangsta rap.

One of the students in my senior seminar last spring on African-American political thought emphasized his belief that African-Americans should take white conservative criticisms of black culture more seriously.

My thought, somewhat illustrated by the statement above, tends to be the opposite--that African-Americans writers are so brutally critical of every dimension of their own culture that white conservatives are superfluous.

The Blackwater Scandal: A New Round of Demoralization Begins

As everybody knows, the primary effect of Gen. Petraeus' testimony was to make Republicans and the right-wing feel better about the failed occupation in Iraq.

But that won't last long.

The unfolding scandal over the conduct of the Blackwater Security company in Iraq is a good bet to restart the process of Republican demoralization. According to Spencer Ackerman of TPM, the State Department has allowed Blackwater to operate with impunity beyond the reach of both Iraqi and American law. Last weekend, trigger happy Blackwater gunmen killed at least nine Iraqis and that might be only the tip of the iceberg.

If this scandal has legs, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice will eventually have to answer for it. But the right is the only part of the American public that's going to be surprised.

Everybody else already knows how bad it is.

Update: Hearings on Blackwater begin on Oct. 2.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yglesias on Politicizing Petraeus

This a comment by Matthew Yglesias that I can endorse:
Meanwhile, Bush's disingenuousness in saying "It is one thing to attack me — which is fine" is just staggering. For years, the man took the view that criticism of his policies amount to criticism of the idea of freedom, that to disagree with his Iraq policy was racist and unpatriotic, and all the rest. Eventually, years and years of fruitless, bungled, unnecessary warfare caused him to become so unpopular that this line of counterattack became unviable. Thus, he hit on the strategy of finding a well-regarded media-savvy general and, in essence, appointing him front man for administration. For months and months and months the administration indicated that to question its policy was to question the Great Man Petraeus. So, naturally, people came to criticize Petraeus. If he doesn't like seeing a politicized officer's corps, he shouldn't have been hiding behind the generals in the first place.

The Bush administration is like an infectious disease. Because of their relentless dishonesty and mind-numbing incompetence, Bush and his people lost all their credibility. As a result, they set up Gen. Petraeus as the spokesperson for their failed war in Iraq. But in the process, the Bush people managed to infect Petraeus with their brand of dishonesty (not that he was unwilling) and destroy his credibility just as surely as they destroyed their own.

MoveOn was right to claim that Gen. Petraeus betrayed our country with his convuluted testimony before Congress. But he's only a pawn in the larger betrayal engineered by his bosses in Washington.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What the War Costs the Right

Right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh and Judge (and prolific author) Richard Posner are fond of saying that the Constitution is not a "suicide pact."

It's a cute phrase that's only meaningful to those who buy into the "be afraid, be very afraid" message of the American right on the war on terror, the Iraq War, Iran, health care, gay marriage, and other national issues.

But, it's the war in Iraq itself which has become a suicide pact for Bush administration, the Republican Party, and the right-wing. And they're suffering on a wide variety of fronts.

THE END OF THE AFFAIR WITH THE RIGHT. The war has already stripped the Bush administration and conservatism more broadly of its reputation. The main words people use to describe President Bush are insults like moron, idiot, and buffoon. My wife and I get regular congratulations for our bright yellow "W: Worst President Ever" bumper stickers. Conservativism in general seems to be sufferiong the same fate. The thirty years of hard-work that the right-wing put into building up the "conservative" brand is going down the drain as majorities of the American population as a whole and big majorities of African-Americans, Hispanics, women, young people, and gays identify themselves as Democrats.

It might not be that long before the only people who identify themselves as conservatives are folks with Confederate flag bumper stickers.

THE HARD AND SOFT MATH OF IT. The war has already cost the Republicans control over Congress and will probably ensure that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is sworn in as the next president. If it's a Hillary/Obama ticket, there's a decent chance that the Democrats will control the presidency for the next 16 years before the country finally gets over its "Iraq Syndrome" and begins taking the Republicans seriously again. At the very least, the Iraq War will be an albatross around the neck of whoever is unlucky enough to be the Republican candidate. That's because the numbers are very tough for the Republicans and the right. According to recent polling, people are somewhat more optimistic about conditions in Iraq but that a large majority disapproves of President Bush and a majority want the Democrats to expedite withdrawal. According to the Pew Research Center, these conclusions have been locked in since last January or February. As a result, war-mongering Republican candidates are going to have a hard time convincing anybody other than partisan Republicans of the wisdom of continuing high levels of troop deployments.

But there's also a "fuzzy math" at work here. There is no good option for the war. If the war in Iraq goes on as it has for the last year, many of the politicians associated with the war are going to have a lot to worry about. But, if the Bush administration caves on the war and accepts withdrawal, it will be even worse for conservative politicians because they'll be left holding the bag of a failed war. They won't have a war to defend. They won't have a policy to advance. They'll be stuck without a readily identifiable agenda outside well-practiced right-wing smearing tactics on gay marriage, abortion, and pedophilia. It's "soft" math because it's hard to translate lack of an agenda into the hard numbers of polling and election results. But a Bush administration "surrender" to the Democrats would be very bad for the Republicans.

EXPANDING DOMESTIC GOVERNMENT. Rich Lowry cautions conservatives to "be afraid" of Hillary Clinton's health care proposal. According to Lowry, HillaryCare 2.0 is different from Hillary's 1993 proposal in that it's merely the logical next step in government involvement in health care rather than a radical overhaul. Government already pays half of the cost of health insurance; government mandates on individual coverage aren't much of a step beyond that. And it's likely that a Hillary administration would take further incremental steps. According to Michael Cannon, "Clinton proposes widening the availability of every government health-care program at hand -- Medicare would be extended to the nonelderly; the S-Chip program for poor children would be extended to the middle class; and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan would be extended to all."

If Hillary or Obama are elected president, they'll carry enhanced Democratic Congressional majorities with them and find a friendly legislative environment for these kinds of incremental proposals. The involvement of the federal government in the domestic economy will grow more extensive and most people who aren't right-wingers won't mind. Combined with the increased visibility of minority groups, feminists, and immigrants, and a general atmosphere of multi-culturalism and negotiated solutions, the election of a Democratic administration will make the country as a whole will be a less congenial place for conservatives. Conservatives had hoped that a long-term Republican domination would result in a radical re-orientation toward a market economy, an America First attitude, and a muscular, confrontational foreign policy.

But all of that might be lost and it might be lost for several electoral cycles.

And it will primarily be the result of the Iraq War.

NOT JUST ISOLATIONISM--ISOLATION. The creativity of the right-wing has been manifested in the formation of a series of alternative institutions ranging from conservative talk radio to Fox News, suburban mega-churches, and the proliferating Christian schools. However, a number of the political institutions and figures that served as bridges between conservative constituencies and the rest of the country are falling by the wayside. The Democratic Leadership Council, the mainstream media, and the New Republic are all good examples. All of these institutions used to take conservative ideas seriously, recast many of those ideas in liberal language, and show how conservative ideas could speak to liberal values. The war has both weakened these institutions and pretty much ended their bridging function.

The looming retirement of John Warner and Chuck Hagel, the rightward march of John McCain, and the electoral defeat of moderate Republicans like Lincoln Chaffee has reduced the number of electoral officials who could speak both conservative and liberal. These kinds of figures won't be replaced and moderate Republicans like Susan Collins are likely candidates for defeat in 2008.

The overall outcome is that conservatives are edging towards greater individual and group isolation within an American society that might explicitly reject them.

Once again, the main cause of this isolation will be the war they've cherished so much.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Brokered Convention?

Michael Barone argues against the possibility of a brokered political party conventions on historical grounds. For Barone, brokered conventions like the Democratic convention that nominated segregationist John Davis in 1924 are relics of a pre-electronic era in which political operatives had to meet personally at conventions in order to iron out agreements.

Like a lot of these kinds of historical arguments, Barone's take on brokered conventions falls well short of being convincing. The problem concerns the failures of particular political systems. In 1924, the Democrats couldn't come to agreement between the urban machines and the Southern segregationists. That's why the convention needed 123 ballots to come up with a nominee.

In general, the American political system is not functioning very well at present. The hijacking of the Republican Party by the extreme right wing has introduced a destabilizing rigidity into every American political institution. Because the conservative movement has succeeded in making refusal to compromise or accommodate into a test of political manhood, everybody else has had to follow suit. As a result, getting anything done through the American political system has become a tremendous ordeal for everyone involved.

In this context, it's easy to see a day when a number of still viable candidates emerge from the primary electoral seasons of one or both parties. Such an outcome would result in a brokered convention of one kind of another. In fact, it might happen to the Republicans in 2008.

Of course, it's not written into stone that a brokered convention would come to agreement either.

Smearkrieg No. 6--"I've Not Yet Begun to Smear"

It looks like Ernie Fletcher wants to be the John Paul Jones of smearing.

Although Kentucky's Republican governor is running 19 points behind in the latest polling, he's extremely confident about his chances.

Just as John Paul Jones dismissed demands for his surrender by crying "I've not yet begun to fight," Fletcher dismisses the polls with a "we've yet to define our opponent."

In other words, Fletcher has "not yet begun to smear."

The usual formula for Republican candidates is to pile up an enormous amount of money and then spend it on negative ads the last two or three weeks before the election.

Unfortunately for Fletcher, it might not be possible to smear his problems away. Widely perceived as incompetent and corrupt, Fletcher has a lot of smearing to do before the public has as much contempt for Beshear as they have for Fletcher himself.

It will be interesting to see if Fletcher engages in creative smearing or decides to go with the old stand-by's of abortion, school prayer, and pedophilia.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Democrats: Suspend Your Campaigns!!

All the talk about Iraq last week boiled down to this: We're trapped in a h ydra-headed religious, ethnic civil war until Congress musters the will to change course.
The Sunday editorial of my local paper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, says it all. The Iraq war is going to go on its pointless way unless "Congress musters the will to change course."

And there's almost no confidence that Congress will muster that will.

The Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate might have enough confidence to pass more legislation with withdrawal deadlines. But neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid have shown any inclination to defy a Bush veto and cut off funding for the war.

However, continuing the war is bad policy, bad morality and bad politics wrapped into one. The Democrats should move to cut off funding and they shouldn't wait for a Bush veto to begin publicaly promoting their cause.

But the Democrats need to concentrate all of their energies if they are going to succeed in ending the war.

And that means temporarily calling off all the presidential campaigns. I mean it. The Democrats should suspend presidential campaigns.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards are three of the best known figures in the Democratic Party and they're all running hard-charging presidential campaigns. But the fact that they're all running to be elected president in November 2008 is draining the Democrats of a lot of their leadership ability, imagination, and firepower in the here and now.

Given the stakes of the upcoming fight over war funding, that's not an appropriate use of Democratic Party resources.

Instead of running for president, Clinton, Obama, and the rest should commit themselves to ending the war. There's no need for the candidates to cancel scheduled events. They should just stop treating those events as campaign events and begin to treat them as anti-war speeches and rallies. Their staffs should stop developing health care initiatives, education plans, and anti-poverty proposals and focus instead on proposals for troop withdrawals and post-withdrawal plans. Their campaigns should stop generating subtle little digs at each other and start cutting through the Bush administration's weak arguments for continuing the war.

In fact, the Democratic presidential campaigns should start cooperating with each other. The Hillary, Obama, and Edwards organizations should be organizing shows of unity among the candidates, coordinating their daily themes about the war, and sharing their ideas. They should be coordinating everything they do with the Democratic leadership.

Suspending their presidential campaigns would be a tremendously innovative political idea that would generate a lot of media buzz. It would jump-start the Democratic base and potentially turn popular anti-war sentiment into anti-war excitement. The Democrats would probably start drawing bigger crowds, raising more money, and getting better media coverage as well.

Suspending presidential campaigns would give everyone more confidence that the Democrats have the backbone to lead the country through difficult times.

People have felt good about the Democratic candidates. People would feel even better if the Democrats stopped campaigning.

But most importantly, the suspension of presidential campaigns would increase the chances that the Democrats could actually cut off funding for the war.

That means that suspending campaigns would be good policy, good morality, and good politics.

The Failed War for Oil

Alan Greenspan is going to claim in his memoir that the U. S. invaded Iraq because of oil. If that's the case, then the war for Mideast oil has also failed. The U. S. invasion of Iraq did not lead to increased Iraqi oil production, has partially destabilized Saudi Arabia, and seemingly put Iran and the U. S. on the road to a military collision.

Middle Eastern oil supplies are less stable than ever.

But perhaps the Bush administration wanted the Middle East to be less stable and wanted lower oil production as a way to jack up oil prices.

Yeah, that's the ticket.

The King of Kentucky

Hats off to Rich Brooks, football coach at the University of Kentucky. Last night's 40-34 win over no. 9 Louisville is yet more evidence that Brooks has done things the right way. Coming into a program that was on probation, Brooks has made gradual progress. Brooks hasn't been getting the 5 star recruits, but he's found 2 and 3 star guys who can make plays. Brooks has caught a couple of breaks. High School football has gotten a lot better in Kentucky since spring practice was instituted several years ago. As a result, UK has a better pool of players to draw from. Brooks was also lucky to have UK alum Joker Phillips on his initial staff. Now offensive coordinator, Phillips is a great recruiter who has a terrific knack for designing plays that work for his kind of players.

But it's Rich Brooks who defines success at UK. Willing to settle for measured progress instead of going for the home run, Brooks was patient with the program, realistic about the short-term prospects, and willing to make adjustments as he went along.

In other words, Brooks did things the right way.

As a result, UK football has gone from being a perennial sad sack to strong wannabe. Kentucky's still well behind top powerhouses like Florida, but they're on a level with Tennessee, Arkansas, and Georgia and deserve to be ranked in the top 20.

That makes Rich Brooks the King of Kentucky.