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“Nobody’s Symbol, But Somebody’s Mother”: Toya Graham Simply Doing What Mothers Do

A few thoughts about Toya Graham, just in time for Mother’s Day.

You may not know her name, but you probably know what she did. You’ve probably seen the viral video of Graham, during last week’s unrest in Baltimore, using some rather pungent language and some open-handed smacks upside the head to pull her 16-year-old son out of the riot zone. She told CBS News he had gone there in defiance of her orders. When she saw him, dressed for mayhem in a black face mask, rock in hand, “I just lost it.”

In so doing, Graham, a single mother of six, has inadvertently become enmeshed in the ongoing shouting match between left and right. She has become a symbol — though neither side can agree on what she is a symbol of.

On the right, where many observers seem just a little too giddy over the image of a black boy being smacked, Fox “News” contributor Ben Stein called her “Rosa Parks for 2015.” It was an inane observation that minimized the legacy of Rosa Parks, but it was perfectly in line with the conservative view that says our most pressing concern in Baltimore’s unrest is “behavior” — i.e., the need to rein in lawless Negroes smashing windows and setting fires in the city.

Fact is, behavior is, indeed, our most pressing concern: but it’s the behavior of police in dealing with African-American citizens. Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whom police arrested for carrying an illegal knife — a charge that is hotly disputed — somehow wound up with a partially severed spine while in their custody and died. Death seems to come with jarring frequency to unarmed black men who interact with police, something that ought to trouble us all.

The fact that some knuckleheaded black kids used the protest over Gray’s death as a pretext to riot — in other words, to behave as knuckleheaded white kids do after sports victories, sports defeats, and during last year’s pumpkin festival in Keene, NH — makes that no less true.

On the left, meantime, there is a tad too much dewy-eyed hand wringing over Graham’s resorting to violence to drag her son off the street. While conceding that her actions were “understandable and maybe even reasonable” under the circumstances, Eliyahu Federman, a columnist for USA Today, nevertheless wants you to know her parenting style was not “ideal” — whatever that means.

“Shouting and insulting teens just doesn’t work long term,” he writes. “You are more likely to positively modify teen misbehavior by calmly and maturely discussing the consequences of the misbehavior.” One struggles to imagine how a calm and mature discussion with a willful teenager might have played out at ground zero of an urban riot.

Look: that video — the hitting, the cursing — is not a pretty picture. Such tactics would never be endorsed by Parents magazine. On the other hand, the largely white and middle-class readership of that magazine likely does not live where Graham does, nor struggle with the challenges and fears she faces.

Every pundit, yours truly included, has the sometimes-regrettable habit of reducing people in the news to symbols of our own social and political concerns. But if we want to understand what she did, it might help to concede that Graham is nobody’s symbol, but somebody’s mother. As she said, she “lost it” because she feared her son might end up like Freddie Gray, another tragic police “oops.”

For most of us, that is a distant and unimaginable fear. But for some of us, it is a fear all too close and all too imaginable, a night terror that gnaws at sleep. Understand this, and that video becomes less of a mystery. When she saw her son in danger, Toya Graham waded in to save him from it — at all costs and by any means necessary.

Is that not what mothers do?

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Riots, Black Men, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elephant In The Room”: Equality Ought To Be Considered A Conservative Virtue As Well As A Progressive One

While I remain nervous about the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court ultimately not concluding that gay and lesbian couples deserve equal treatment under the law, I was thrilled to see the scion of one of America’s most prominent right-wing families call for gays and lesbians to be treated as full citizens.

Sean Buckley, the grandson of far-right former U.S. Senator James Buckley (who was, of course, the brother of the late National Review founder William F. Buckley), points out that equality ought to be considered a conservative virtue, as well as a progressive one. Considering the rhetorical brutality visited upon another Buckley–WFB’s son Christopher–when he endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, one can only imagine how much courage it took to write this:

A clear majority of Americans now understand that being gay is not a choice. Gradually, this understanding is also extending among conservatives. And over 60% of millennial evangelical youth now support the freedom to marry.

Historically, marriage was primarily considered an economic and political transaction between families. As such, it was too vital of an institution to be entered into solely on the basis of something as irrational as love. It was not until the dawn of the Enlightenment in the 18th century that the idea of marrying primarily for love arrived. Those who opposed this shift saw it as an affront to social order, and rejected it as a dangerous change in the definition of marriage—similar to the arguments today.

But we’ve evolved, and learned that marriage matters for other reasons. At its core the institution of marriage hinges on two individuals committing to one another in life, for life, on a bedrock of love and self-sacrifice, which results in a better environment for raising children.

Above all else, the greatest gift our parents can give us is to teach us how to love—an emotion that gives the human experience both the purpose and meaning that is so critical to a happy and healthy life. I count this as one of the greatest gifts my parents have given me, and hope to one day give the same to my kids. Conservatives are right to argue that the best environment to raise children is within a marriage. However, it has nothing to do with the gender of their parents but instead the love they have for one another.

Unfortunately, Buckley fails to point out that it was progressives (including some progressive-minded Republicans such as former Massachusetts Governors William Weld and the late Paul Cellucci, who appointed three of the four Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court judges who recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry in the 2003 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health ruling) who paved the way for equal treatment under the law for gays and lesbians, over the fierce and hate-filled resistance of Wingnut World. However, to the extent that Sean Buckley’s position is being embraced by a new generation of Republicans, we could be on the verge of seeing the GOP effectively split into two parties–one representing the views of the James Dobson crowd, the other representing the views of Weld and current Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

Granted, I don’t like the idea of Republicans holding fast to equally backward ideas like denying human-caused climate change and embracing the Tax Fairy despite giving up on the gay-bashing in blue and purple states. However, it is of critical importance that homophobia be deprived of as much political and cultural oxygen as possible–and if Sean Buckley can help us all in that regard, then more power to him.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 2, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Homophobia, Marriage Equality | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Enforcing The Sound Of Silence”: An Epidemic Of CNE Syndrome Strikes Our State Governments

It’s well known that harsh climate conditions can mess with your mind — from cabin fever to heat delirium. But America is now experiencing an even more dangerous mind-numbing disease called Climaticus Non-Vocalism Extremism.

Oddly, CNE Syndrome almost exclusively afflicts a narrow segment of our population: Republican political officials and candidates. Scientific studies suggest that CNE Syndrome might stem from a genetic defect, but scientists say more research is needed on that.

The symptoms, however, are uniform and include an obsessive impulse by GOP politicos to deny that human-caused climate change is happening. It’s often accompanied by a feverish insistence that government employees be banned from studying it, discussing it or even uttering such phrases as “climate change” and “global warming.”

Hard to believe? For an example of the mind-altering impact of Climaticus Non-Vocalism Extremism, look at Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin administration. The Koch-funded governor and Republican presidential wannabe is an ardent climate-change denier — but the state’s public lands board has escalated his denial to Orwellian censorship. The two GOP commissioners on the three-member board, which oversees the ecological health of thousands of acres of Wisconsin forestlands, have banned agency employees from even considering damage caused by climate change. Worse, they have such severe cases of CNE Syndrome that they’ve imposed a gag order on freedom of speech by public lands employees, prohibiting them from even talking about climate change while on the job.The heartbreak of CNE is that its victims even deny that they’re in denial about the disease. Thus, the Wisconsin duo say that their no-speech rule is not censorship, because employees are still free to talk about climate change at home — or even chit-chat about it “by the water cooler,” just as they might talk about sports.

Gov. Walker — who wants to be your president — says that he finds that censorship perfectly reasonable.

But it’s not just Wisconsin that has imposed such ridiculous levels of science denial and censorship. This raises the question: If a state government issues a right-wing political order, but it’s not written down, does it make a sound? Let’s ask Florida.

Bart Bibler, a respected employee of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, says you betcha it makes a sound — even though the order directed at state employees like him was meant to enforce the sound of silence. Since Rick Scott became governor of the Sunshine State, various agencies run by his appointees have issued 1984-style newspeak decrees that “climate change,” “global warming,” “sustainability” and other terms related to Earth’s looming climate disaster are verboten.

Unaware of this censorship edict, Bibler innocently blurted out the phrase “climate change” in a February teleconference. To his amazement, his breach of ideological correctness earned him an official letter of reprimand, a two-day suspension without pay, and — get this — an order to undergo a doctor’s evaluation to verify his mental “fitness for duty.”

When outrage over this blunt attempt to banish the idea of climate change spread across the country, the governor and his appointees doubled-down on Orwellian denial: “It’s not true,” said the slippery Scott, insisting that no such gag policy exists. By “exist,” though, he means his dictate is not written down. As many employees have confirmed, however, state officials verbally impose their policy of outlawing the language of climate change. The official taboo is so extreme that even a phrase as benign and factual as “sea-level rise” is banned. Instead, Scott’s team has mandated that this measurable (and alarming) reality be referred to as “nuisance flooding.”

It’s their mental fitness that needs to be evaluated! Trying to ban words only amplifies their sound, meaning, and impact — while also exposing how pathetically scared and stupid the censors are.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Rick Scott, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Clinton Cash”: Yet Another Charles And David Koch Production

Endorsements from mainstream media figures have provided a scrim of credibility for Peter Schweizer, author of Clinton Cash, the Hillary-and-Bill-bashing book just published by Rupert Murdoch’s HarperCollins. Without the explicit support of respectable institutions such as the New York Times and Washington Post, Schweizer’s lengthy record of inaccuracy and extremism – not to mention the dozens of errors in the book itself – would have doomed his project to the same irrelevance as so many others of its all-too-familiar type.

More than once in recent days, for example, Joshua Green of Bloomberg News has spoken out to defend the far-right author. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, during the pre-release publicity push for Clinton Cash last week, Green said of Schweizer: “He tends to kind of get smeared, but it’s worth remembering this is a serious guy who has done serious work that led to a serious article,” said Green, who went on to complain that Schweizer – whose previous works and connections with far-right dark-money sources were scrutinized by Media Matters, among others – is a victim of “character assassination.”

Character assassination is apparently the least of Schweizer’s worries, if the guy was being serious during his May 4 appearance on former Breitbart blogger Dana Loesch’s radio show. Her very first question recalled a loony wingnut legend concerning the tragic 1993 suicide of Vince Foster, deputy counsel in the Clinton White House:

“I know you don’t want to talk too much about it, but there is that, there is always that concern for anyone who goes up against the Clinton machine that they could be Vince Fostered,” she ventured, “and I’m sure that that was something that you took into consideration.”

In reply, Schweizer swiftly abandoned any semblance of seriousness:

“Yeah, I mean look — there are security concerns that arise in these kinds of situations. You know, you don’t like to go into too much detail, there were some things that were going on that we felt needed to be addressed. The decision on security wasn’t actually made by me, it was made by board members of Government Accountability Institute, and you know, it’s I think showing an abundance of caution. The reality is we’ve touched on a major nerve within the Clinton camp. They are very, very upset, and they are pulling out all the stops to attack me in an effort to kill this book off.”

Kill? Oh dear.

Keep this bizarre exchange in mind when journalists like Green insist that everyone must take Schweizer seriously. By contrast, Green tried to undermine me as an “inveterate Clinton defender” when we appeared together briefly on NPR’s On Point. As I pointed out later, he obviously hadn’t read any of my critical columns on Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary campaign. (Incidentally, Schweizer declined to appear with me on that broadcast, with his Murdoch publicist offering one feeble excuse after another — but I would be happy to debate him about his outlandish charges against the Clintons any time.)

The Vince Foster reference reflects on the mental state of Tea Party cartoon characters like Loesch, who remain obsessed with the most deranged legends about the Clintons. But it is also a timely reminder that the Vince Foster nonsense, like other “Clinton scandals,” was promoted by the late Republican billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who spent millions on the clandestine  “Arkansas Project” in pursuit of the Clintons’ political destruction.

The true story of those covert activities — or as a famous woman once put it, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” — is told again in our new (and free!) e-book, The Hunting of Hillary, excerpted from The Hunting of the President.

Today, Scaife’s role is played by the secretive financiers of Schweizer’s “institute”  — namely, the Koch brothers and their network of Republican billionaires, whose plotting and financing of this attempted “character assassination” of Hillary Clinton is the best endorsement of her that I can imagine.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, May 5, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, Koch Brothers, Peter Schweizer | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Abandon Your Bipartisan Fantasies: The Baltimore Uprising Won’t Make GOP Get Serious About Urban Reform

Elite pundits like Richard Cohen may expect zombie Richard Nixon to soon sweep the nation with a new campaign of law and order, but for those of us who see something more in America’s future than an endless rehash of the 1960s, the political ramifications of the uprising in Baltimore are still unclear.

Are we destined to live through another round of backlash politics, largely driven by white and affluent voters’ fears? Or might the dysfunction and injustice that was so explosively revealed in Baltimore — and Ferguson before it — kick-off a rare bout of genuinely useful bipartisan cooperation?

Cynics will likely find these questions gratingly naive, but you don’t have to be a pollyanna to see reasons for optimism. After all, ending mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system were making their way into the political mainstream before anyone had heard the name Freddie Gray. And even conservative politicians like Sen. Rand Paul, a man some people (wrongly) consider a serious threat to be the next president, have been talking about these issues frequently and at length.

Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but although I think a return of “tough on crime” politics is unlikely, it still appears to me that a serious response to urban poverty and mass incarceration won’t be coming out of Washington any time soon. This useful Tuesday article from the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent helps explain why, but the answer can be boiled down to two words: demographics and location.

If you want to understand why Republicans in D.C. will ensure this problem goes unaddressed, you must start, as always, with the House of Representatives, where the GOP’s grip on power is white-knuckle tight. According to Sargent (via David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report) one way to think of the Republicans’ dominant position in Congress is to look at one of the usual explanations — the fact that Democratic voters are inefficiently packed into a smaller number of overwhelmingly Dem-friendly districts — from a new angle.

Viewed through the lens of land mass rather than population, Sargent reports, Republicans control nearly 86 percent of the United States, despite holding “only” 57 percent of the seats in the House. Democrats, on the other hand, lay claim to 43 percent of House seats yet only control around 14 percent of actual American land. As Wasserman explains to Sargent, what that means, in practice, is something you probably intuitively got already — in the House, the coalition that makes up the Democratic Party is very urban; and the Republican one, conversely, is not.

Put simply, the GOPers in the House whose constituents look like (or care about) the folks in Baltimore, Ferguson and so forth are few and far between. Most Republican members of Congress’s “lower” chamber represent people in rural or suburban areas. Except as a place they fear and prefer kept at a distance, these voters are not thinking about the American city. And even if they are, the fact that they’re Republicans will tell you all you need to know about whether they’d be open to a plan that involved increased social investment, as any bipartisan agreement no doubt would.

If you’re someone who believes politics is driven more by big, indifferent forces — like the economy or geography or demographics — rather than personal relationships, that would seem to be the end of the discussion. Politicians want above all else to be reelected, and they respond to incentives accordingly. It’s hard to see why a far-right representative of rural Kansas would be particularly interested in joining up with Nancy Pelosi to try to make it suck a little less to be an African-American kid in Jersey City. Someone so inclined probably wouldn’t even make it through their district’s GOP primary.

Still, as useful as that political science 101 framing can be in most cases, it is not all-seeing. At least that’s what someone trying to make a counter-argument would say, before pointing to the Senate. In the “upper” chamber, of course, Republican politicians have to worry about representing all of their state’s citizens. So you might expect a GOPer from Ohio (home of Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland) or Virginia (which shares a border with Baltimore’s Maryland to its north) to be more interested in reform. And that goes double for the next Republican presidential nominee, who will need to win some of those big, purple states in 2016.

Moreover, while politicians are often astonishingly simple-minded creatures, the same is not always true for voters. There are plenty of suburban moderates, for example, who don’t want to send a Democrat to Washington to represent their district but don’t want to have a Republican “eat-the-poor” ogre as president, either. Such voters shouldn’t be mistaken for true believers in social justice, mind you — but the desire to assuage a nagging sense of guilt by supporting a “compassionate” conservative can be a powerful thing. Pure self-interest, then, would lead a smart GOP presidential contender to support at least some elements of urban investment and reform.

But here’s the reason why I don’t expect that alternative scenario to play out in the real world, and why I suspect we won’t see a response to Baltimore from Washington — certainly not a bipartisan one — any time soon: Most of these elements were present during the 2012 election, but they had basically no influence on the behavior of House Republicans. Then-candidate Mitt Romney sure could have used some leeway to wander a bit from conservative orthodoxy and prove he was no real-life Mr. Potter. He got an Ayn Rand fanboy as his teammate instead.

It doesn’t feel like that was quite so long ago but, in political terms, America was a different place. This was before the lily-white Republican base had to endure two full terms of a relatively liberal African-American president, and before that same base had begun spending much of its time defending cops and describing poor communities of color as mired in a “tailspin of culture” and “government dependence.” This was when Darren Wilson was just another run-of-the-mill, mildly thuggish cop; and before “black lives matter” became a national slogan.

If the chances of congressional Republicans supporting a bipartisan legislative response to inequality were slim a few years ago, the likelihood of their doing so now, in the face of civil unrest, has to be right around zilch.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Riots, Bipartisanship, Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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