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“A Police Officers Mouth Ain’t No Prayer Book”: Blacks And Whites Need To Wake Up To Racial Injustice

In September, I received an email that should have left me feeling vindicated.

It was in response to the non-fatal shooting of Levar Jones, an unarmed African-American man, by Sean Groubert, a white South Carolina state trooper. Groubert would later claim he shot Jones because Jones came at him in a menacing way. But this lie was unmasked by Groubert’s own dashcam video, which shows Jones complying with the trooper’s orders until Groubert inexplicably panics and starts shooting.

That video moved a reader named David to write the following: “Think I FINALLY get what you’ve been saying all along. That cop just shot him down for doing nothing more than compiling [sic] with his commands. No offense to black people, but I SURE AM GLAD I’M NOT BLACK IN THIS COUNTRY! Re-evaluating my opinions of the last 50 years.”

As I say, it should have felt like vindication. But it only made me sad. I kept thinking that, had there been no camera to prove Groubert lied, had there been only testimony from witnesses and whatever forensic evidence was gathered, Groubert would likely still be making traffic stops and David would support him, his opinions of the last 50 years unchanged.

My point is not that cameras are a panacea for justice — they weren’t for Oscar Grant in 2009, they weren’t for Rodney King in 1991, they weren’t for Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp in 1930. No, my point is that the bar of proof is set higher when white people — police officers in particular — kill black ones. My point is that rules change and assumptions are different when black people seek justice.

Knowing that, who can be surprised at what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, Monday night? Who can be surprised that a prosecutor who didn’t seem to want an indictment did not convince a grand jury to return one in the August shooting of Michael Brown? Who can be surprised that Officer Darren Wilson now goes on with his life after firing 12 shots, at least six of which struck home, at an unarmed teenager while said teenager remains imprisoned by the grave? Who can be surprised people in Ferguson and around the country convulsed with shock, sorrow and disbelief? Who can be surprised some vulturous knuckleheads saw the calamity as an excuse to break windows and steal beer? Who can be surprised at pictures showing that the “injuries” Wilson sustained in his scuffle with Brown, injuries that supposedly made him so terrified for his life that he had to shoot, amount to a small abrasion on his lip and a reddened cheek?

I’m glad that video helped David to “FINALLY get” what I’ve been “saying all along,” i.e., that a police officer’s mouth, to use one of my mother’s expressions, ain’t no prayer book; no source of infallible truth the way too many of us think it is. And that benefit of the doubt is something black people are often denied. And that America devalues black life. But if we have to go David by David to those realizations, each requiring a dashcam video before he gets the point, we are doomed to a long and dreary future of Fergusons.

Last year, when the thug George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, I wrote that black people need to “wake the h–l up” — organize, boycott, vote, demonstrate, demand.

But black people aren’t the only ones sleeping. Too many — not all, but too many — white people still live in air castles of naivete and denial, still think abiding injustice and ongoing oppression are just some fairy tale, lie, or scheme African-Americans concocted to defraud them. Or else that these things are far away and have no impact on their lives. The fires in Ferguson Monday night suggest that they continue that delusion at their own peril.

I still think black folks need to wake the h–l up.

But white ones do, too.

 

By:Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 26, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When The Action Ends, The Cameras Will Depart”: In Ferguson, As Elsewhere, Voting Is What Matters

In covering the violence engulfing Ferguson, Missouri, media routinely cite the following numbers to explain the frustration of the minority community there:

Ferguson’s population is two-thirds African-American, yet the mayor, five of the six City Council members and nearly the entire police force are white.

But there are other numbers. In the municipal election held last year, 52 percent of the voters were white — in a city, to repeat, that is 67 percent black.

The first set of numbers is related to the second.

Clearly, what we are calling a minority population is a majority. If most of Ferguson’s eligible African-American voters feel that the city government treats them unfairly, they have a simple remedy: They can elect a different city government.

Black city leaders have made this case, but their message has been lost in the drama of downtown burning and looting. Chaos afflicted this city in August after a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American. Chaos has descended again after a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved.

In between was a midterm election, in which only 42 percent of registered Ferguson voters turned out to cast ballots for the powerful office of St. Louis County executive. This participation was actually 10 percentage points below that of the previous midterm in 2010.

In the midterm elections nationally, blacks, Latinos, young people, single women and other generally progressive voting groups failed to show up in large numbers. Older white people did.

Of course, calls for civic participation are hard pressed to compete for attention with the world’s news cameras looking for excitement. The Ferguson rioters — a crowd no doubt swelled by opportunists of all variety — are not leaving much to save. When the action ends, the cameras will depart.

The purpose here is not to second-guess the grand jury’s decision. There were highly conflicting witness reports of what happened.

Nor is the purpose to advocate voting along racial (or ethnic) lines. Voters will ideally cast their ballots for candidates deemed most capable of serving their needs.

Nor must a police force perfectly reflect the racial makeup of a population, though, it must be said, Ferguson’s imbalance seems extreme. But again, Ferguson’s black community can change this situation by electing officials sensitive to their concerns.

It’s true that Ferguson’s municipal elections schedule doesn’t encourage turnout. These elections take place in April, far from the traditional voting day in November. They also occur in non-presidential years, when turnout by minorities and young people traditionally drops. In the most recent municipal election, only 12 percent of registered voters — white, black or otherwise — cast ballots. Voters can change those dates.

This poor showing frustrates civic-minded African-Americans advocating change in a normal, nondestructive way.

“Every time there’s an election, we have to show up,” Patricia Bynes, a local black Democratic official, told Reuters. “I don’t care if we are voting what color the trash cans are. We need to show up.”

At Brown’s funeral, a family member called on mourners to make themselves heard at the polls. But only 204 residents of Ferguson registered to vote from the time of the fatal shooting to the Oct. 8 registration deadline for voting this year — only 204 in a city of 21,000 people.

And as pollsters keep reminding us, what determines the end result isn’t how many people register to vote. It’s how many registered voters actually come to the polls on Election Day.

This can’t be said often enough. The power that matters in Ferguson — and everywhere else — is exercised in the voting booth.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, November 27, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Elections, Ferguson Missouri, Local Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rock Bottom Economics”: The Inflation And Rising Interest Rates That Never Showed Up

Six years ago the Federal Reserve hit rock bottom. It had been cutting the federal funds rate, the interest rate it uses to steer the economy, more or less frantically in an unsuccessful attempt to get ahead of the recession and financial crisis. But it eventually reached the point where it could cut no more, because interest rates can’t go below zero. On Dec. 16, 2008, the Fed set its interest target between 0 and 0.25 percent, where it remains to this day.

The fact that we’ve spent six years at the so-called zero lower bound is amazing and depressing. What’s even more amazing and depressing, if you ask me, is how slow our economic discourse has been to catch up with the new reality. Everything changes when the economy is at rock bottom — or, to use the term of art, in a liquidity trap (don’t ask). But for the longest time, nobody with the power to shape policy would believe it.

What do I mean by saying that everything changes? As I wrote way back when, in a rock-bottom economy “the usual rules of economic policy no longer apply: virtue becomes vice, caution is risky and prudence is folly.” Government spending doesn’t compete with private investment — it actually promotes business spending. Central bankers, who normally cultivate an image as stern inflation-fighters, need to do the exact opposite, convincing markets and investors that they will push inflation up. “Structural reform,” which usually means making it easier to cut wages, is more likely to destroy jobs than create them.

This may all sound wild and radical, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s what mainstream economic analysis says will happen once interest rates hit zero. And it’s also what history tells us. If you paid attention to the lessons of post-bubble Japan, or for that matter the U.S. economy in the 1930s, you were more or less ready for the looking-glass world of economic policy we’ve lived in since 2008.

But as I said, nobody would believe it. By and large, policy makers and Very Serious People in general went with gut feelings rather than careful economic analysis. Yes, they sometimes found credentialed economists to back their positions, but they used these economists the way a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not for illumination. And what the guts of these serious people have told them, year after year, is to fear — and do — exactly the wrong things.

Thus we were told again and again that budget deficits were our most pressing economic problem, that interest rates would soar any day now unless we imposed harsh fiscal austerity. I could have told you that this was foolish, and in fact I did, and sure enough, the predicted interest rate spike never happened — but demands that we cut government spending now, now, now have cost millions of jobs and deeply damaged our infrastructure.

We were also told repeatedly that printing money — not what the Fed was actually doing, but never mind — would lead to “currency debasement and inflation.” The Fed, to its credit, stood up to this pressure, but other central banks didn’t. The European Central Bank, in particular, raised rates in 2011 to head off a nonexistent inflationary threat. It eventually reversed course but has never gotten things back on track. At this point European inflation is far below the official target of 2 percent, and the Continent is flirting with outright deflation.

But are these bad calls just water under the bridge? Isn’t the era of rock-bottom economics just about over? Don’t count on it.

It’s true that with the U.S. unemployment rate dropping, most analysts expect the Fed to raise interest rates sometime next year. But inflation is low, wages are weak, and the Fed seems to realize that raising rates too soon would be disastrous. Meanwhile, Europe looks further than ever from economic liftoff, while Japan is still struggling to escape from deflation. Oh, and China, which is starting to remind some of us of Japan in the late 1980s, could join the rock-bottom club sooner than you think.

So the counterintuitive realities of economic policy at the zero lower bound are likely to remain relevant for a long time to come, which makes it crucial that influential people understand those realities. Unfortunately, too many still don’t; one of the most striking aspects of economic debate in recent years has been the extent to which those whose economic doctrines have failed the reality test refuse to admit error, let alone learn from it. The intellectual leaders of the new majority in Congress still insist that we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel; German officials still insist that the problem is that debtors haven’t suffered enough.

This bodes ill for the future. What people in power don’t know, or worse what they think they know but isn’t so, can very definitely hurt us.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 23, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, Economic Recovery, Inflation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Naïve View Of Politics”: The Poison-The-Well Myth, And How Politics Really Works

There are certainly some serious critiques of President Obama’s new immigration policy. It could encourage more illegal immigration in the long run. It may be another step toward an imperial presidency, detached from Congress. It definitely could have been executed less cynically, given that Mr. Obama all but admitted he delayed the announcement until after the midterms, in an (unsuccessful) effort to help Democrats on the ballot.

But there is also one critique that’s getting a lot of attention and isn’t so serious.

It’s the “poison the well” argument — the notion that Mr. Obama’s executive action to shield as many as five million people from deportation will prevent a bigger immigration bill from passing Congress and maybe prevent a whole bunch of other legislation, too.

John Boehner, the speaker of the House, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, have both used the phrase “poison the well.” A spokesman for Mr. Boehner said the move by Mr. Obama would “ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue and many others.” While maybe we should excuse politicians for trying to score political points, neutral commentators have picked up the argument, too. It’s one of those ideas that has the aura of sober-minded political analysis.

Obviously, we can’t run the final two years of the Obama presidency multiple times under different circumstances and see what happens in each. So it’s impossible to know for certain how any one action affects the course of events. But there are all kinds of reasons to believe that the poison-the-well theory is based on a naïve view of politics. And understanding why it’s wrong helps illuminate how politics really does work.

Whatever you may think of today’s politicians, they are highly successful people who have climbed to the top of a competitive profession. Most of the time, they make decisions that are in their interests — whether political interests or policy interests. A few notable exceptions aside (like Newt Gingrich’s infamous pique in 1995 over getting a bad seat on Air Force One), they do not make major decisions the way a small child would, based mostly on whether someone else is being nice or mean to them.

If you ask political scientists what they consider to be the biggest misconceptions about politics, you’ll often hear a version of the Nice-Mean Fallacy. The Obama presidency has offered a particularly rich set of examples. It’s true that Mr. Obama and his White House haven’t done a very good job of building relationships with Congress, and it’s true that the administration’s aloofness has probably hurt its effectiveness in some ways.

But consider the recent president whose relationship skills are often contrasted with Mr. Obama’s: Bill Clinton. Many members of Congress really did seem to prefer Mr. Clinton’s personality to Mr. Obama’s. And yet which of the two presidents failed to keep Democrats united on a major health care bill and thus failed to pass one? And which president held onto every single congressional Democrat he needed to pass such a bill?

Were the roles reversed, we no doubt would hear tales about how the gregarious president used his people skills to pass the biggest expansion of the safety net in a generation while the distant, professorial one failed. In truth, congressional Democrats weren’t making decisions based on either Mr. Clinton’s or Mr. Obama’s personality. They were making them based on bigger issues.

The Democratic Party of the early 1990s included more conservative Southerners than the 2009-10 version of the party, for example. The 2009-10 Democrats were also more desperate to succeed, remembering the disappointment of the Clinton bill and probably aware that economic inequality had worsened over the intervening decades. The Democrats stuck together because they believed doing so was in their interest.

Republicans have done the same in the Obama presidency. From the beginning, Mr. McConnell has understood that Republicans could veto Mr. Obama’s promise to be a bipartisan bridge-builder. “It’s either bipartisan or it isn’t,” Mr. McConnell said in 2010, explaining his caucus’s united opposition to the health care bill. No wonder that Republicans didn’t bite when the White House suggested adding medical-malpractice reform to the bill.

Many Republicans voters back this stance. Polls show that most want their leaders to stand on principle rather than to compromise. Democratic voters are fonder of compromise.

The story on an immigration overhaul has been similar. Some Republicans leaders see a bill as in their interests — helping them with Latino voters — and the Senate passed such a bill, 68-32, last year. Yet most House Republicans have philosophical objections and have few Latino voters in their district. House leaders have refused to bring the bill to the floor.

To accept the poison-the-well argument is to believe, first, that Republicans would have passed an immigration bill if Mr. Obama had not acted. This seems unlikely but not totally out of the question: Perhaps more Republicans want to show they can compromise now that they control both chambers, hoping their presidential nominee can win swing voters in 2016. In that case, an immigration bill might be more feasible in 2015 than it was in 2013.

But the poison-the-well theory then requires a second belief, too: That even if an immigration bill were in Republican interests, they would refuse to pass one, out of spite from Mr. Obama’s executive action. This belief seems strangely dismissive of Republicans’ instinct for self-preservation. It also conflicts with the history of both parties.

On the same day in August 1981 that President Ronald Reagan threatened to fire striking air traffic controllers, many Senate Democrats voted for his tax cut, and House Democrats did the same the next day. Mr. Clinton and congressional Republicans, less than a year after impeachment, collaborated on a sprawling bank deregulation bill in 1999. A few years later, many congressional Democrats voted for the Homeland Security Act even as President George W. Bush was calling them soft on terrorism.

In each of these cases, politicians voted with their interests, not their feelings. There is every reason to believe the same will happen over the next two years.

Some of the same Republicans worrying aloud about poisoned wells no doubt understand this reality. But they continue making the point partly because it helps unify the party on a divisive issue. “It’s a way the G.O.P. can achieve consensus,” as Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth political scientist and Upshot contributor, says. “They’re internally divided on policy on immigration but agree on a process critique of Obama’s actions.”

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio may be on one side of some big immigration questions and conservative House Republicans may be on the other, but they can come together on metaphorical well water. Which is to say that politicians generally act in their interests, even when doing so involves pretending otherwise.

 

By:

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Immigration Reform, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Racism: It’s The Law”: American Institutional Racism Conceals Itself From Those Who Prefer Not To See It And Aren’t Victimized By It

Smoke and fire, sirens blaring, horns honking, a sudden hail of bullets. This is what passes for the American dialogue on race and justice.

It’s hidden until it explodes.

“By 10 p.m., a St. Louis County Police squad car burned just down the street from the Ferguson Police Department, with spare ammunition ‘cooking off’ or exploding in the car,” the Wall Street Journal informed us.

Those who want to shake their heads in disgust can do so. American institutional racism conceals itself so neatly from those who prefer not to see it and, of course, aren’t victimized by it. And then every so often something sets off the public trigger — an 18-year-old young man is shot and killed by a police officer, for instance — and the reality TV that is our mainstream news brings us the angry, “violent” response, live. And it’s always one side against another, us vs. them. It’s always war.

“But what is justice in a nation built on white supremacy and the destruction of black bodies?” Mychal Denzel Smith wrote in The Nation the day after the grand jury announced that police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted. “That’s the question we have yet to answer. It’s the question that shakes us up and makes our insides uncomfortable. It’s the question that causes great unrest.”

What is justice, indeed? And beyond that question are the real questions, perhaps unanswerable. What is healing? What is peace?

If the officer had been indicted for Michael Brown’s killing and then convicted on one charge or another, maybe that would have been justice, in a “case closed” sort of way. In our limited legal bureaucracy, “justice” means nothing more than punishment. Even when such justice is done, it changes nothing. The state’s “interest” has been satisfied, and that’s all that matters. The terrible loss suffered by parents, friends and community would remain a gaping wound. And beyond that, the social brokenness and racism that caused the tragedy in the first place would remain unaddressed, unhealed.

But not even that minimal justice was in the cards for the loved ones of Michael Brown or the occupied community in which he lived — because that’s not how it works. Officer Wilson, whatever he did inside or outside the state’s rules on the use of lethal force when he confronted Brown on the afternoon of Aug. 9, was just doing his job, which was controlling and intimidating the black population of Ferguson. He was on the front line of a racist and exploitative system — an occupying bureaucracy.

The New York Times, in its story about the grand jury’s decision, began thus: “Michael Brown became so angry when he was stopped by Officer Darren Wilson on Canfield Drive here on Aug. 9, his face looked ‘like a demon,’ the officer would later tell a grand jury.”

This sort of detail is, of course, of immense value to those who sympathize with the police shooting and accuse the black community of endemic lawlessness. See! Michael Brown wasn’t just a nice, innocent boy minding his own business. He and his companion were trouble incarnate, walking down the middle of the street spoiling for a fight. He was Hulk Hogan. The cop had no choice but to shoot, and shoot again. This was a demonic confrontation. Politeness wouldn’t have worked.

If nothing else, such testimony shows the stark limits of our “who’s at fault?” legal system, which addresses every incident in pristine, absurd isolation and has no interest beyond establishing blame — that is to say, officially stamping the participants as either villains, heroes or victims. Certainly it has no interest in holistic understanding of social problems.

Taking Wilson’s testimony at face value, one could choose to ask: Why was Michael Brown so angry?

Many commentators have talked about the “anger” of Ferguson’s black community in the wake of the shooting, but there hasn’t been much examination of the anger that was simmering beforehand, which may have seized hold of Brown the instant the police officer stopped him.

However, an excellent piece of investigative journalism by Radley Balko of the Washington Post, “How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty,” which ran in September, addresses the issue head-on. He makes the point that local municipal governments, through an endless array of penny-ante citations and fines — “poverty violations” — torment the locals for the primary, or perhaps sole, purpose of keeping their bureaucracies funded.

“Some of the towns in St. Louis County can derive 40 percent or more of their annual revenue from the petty fines and fees collected by their municipal courts,” Balko writes. The fines are mostly for traffic offenses, but they also include fines for loud music, unmown lawns, “wearing saggy pants” and “vague infractions such as ‘disturbing the peace,'” among many others, and if the person fined, because he or she is poor, can’t pay up, a further fine is added to the original, and on and on it goes.

“There’s also a widely held sentiment that the police spend far more time looking for petty offenses that produce fines than they do keeping these communities safe,” Balko writes. “If you were tasked with designing a regional system of government guaranteed to produce racial conflict, anger, and resentment, you’d be hard pressed to do better than St. Louis County.”

Regarding the anger and resentment in communities like Ferguson, he quotes a longtime racial justice activist, Jack Kirkland, who says, “I liken it to a flow of hot magma just below the surface. It’s always there, building, pushing up against the earth. It’s just a matter of time. When it finds a weak point, it’s going to blow.”

And when it blows, we get to watch it on TV: the flames, the smoke, the rage, the ammo “cooking off.” This is what institutional racism looks like when we finally notice it.

 

By: Robert Koehler, Syndicated Columnist; The Huffington Post Blog, November 27, 2014

November 28, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Ferguson Missouri, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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