mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“No, Trump, Most Dangerous Place In The World Is Not Ferguson”: It’s Every Polling Place In America, Come November

I hesitate to bring up facts.

If recent years have proven nothing else, they’ve proven that we have fully embarked upon a post-factual era wherein the idea that a thing can be knowable to an objective certainty — and that this should matter — has been diminished to the point of near irrelevancy.

Donald Trump is the avatar of the era. Not content to rest on his laurels, he recently provided superfluous proof of his supremacy in mendacity. Asked by The New York Times to name the most dangerous place in the world he’s ever visited, Trump replied that “there are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.”

You wonder whether it’s worth correcting him. After all, neither Trump nor his followers seem especially interested in truth. But for the record, according to the Citizens Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice in Mexico, which tracks murder statistics around the world, only four U.S. cities make the list of the 50 most dangerous places on Earth. None of them is Ferguson or Oakland.

Trump’s use of those cities, both with high poverty rates and large African-American populations, is, of course, intended as a crude dog whistle to the angry white men he’s courting — some old-fashioned victim blaming and shaming to rouse the rabble. But it got me thinking about this whole concept of the most dangerous place on Earth. If by that we mean the place with potential for the greatest amount of harm to the largest number of people, maybe we should broaden our definition of “danger.”

For example, climate change is sure dangerous, linked as it is to increased risk of fire, flood, famine, drought, freakish storms, high temperatures and resultant illnesses. The World Health Organization says this already contributes to 150,000 deaths a year and that between 2030 and 2050, the death toll could rise to a quarter million a year. A 2015 study in the journal Politics and Policy found the GOP is virtually the only major conservative party in any democracy on Earth still denying this reality — and opposing measures to deal with it.

So the most dangerous place on Earth could be Republican headquarters.

Lead poisoning causes behavioral problems and irreversible brain damage in children and memory loss, high blood pressure, decline in mental functioning, reduced sperm count and miscarriages in adults. The water crisis in Flint, Mich., we now find, was the tip of the proverbial iceberg, with reports that high lead levels have been found in 2,000 water systems serving 6 million people in 50 states.

So the most dangerous place on Earth might be your local water department.

The economic collapse of 2008 wiped out $7.4 trillion in stocks, $3.4 trillion in real estate and 5.5 million jobs, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. It cost the average American household $5,800 in lost income. The effects were felt worldwide amid fears of a global financial meltdown, a Second Great Depression, brought about by too-big-to-fail-banks playing the U.S. economy like a Vegas casino. Some experts say the threat of a relapse endures.

So the most dangerous place on Earth may be Wall Street.

But it isn’t. No, the most dangerous place on Earth is none of the above.

Consider for a moment: To lead America through a world of complex and difficult challenges, the Republican Party offers us Donald Trump. He is pervy, thin-skinned, loud-mouthed and volatile, a preening bully and serial liar who shows little evidence of core values, nor even inner life. Yet, some large percentage of us thinks he should have access to the nuclear codes.

So if you really want to know the most dangerous place on Earth, it’s simple. It’s every polling place in America, come November.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 22, 2016

May 23, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Ferguson Missouri, GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Confronting The Pathologies Of Poverty:” Do We Invest In Preschools Or Prisons?

Congress is often compared to pre-K, which seems defamatory of small children. But the similarities also offer hope, because an initiative that should be on the top of the national agenda has less to do with the sequester than with the A.B.C.’s and Big Bird.

Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programs, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.

President Obama called in his State of the Union address for such a national initiative, but it hasn’t gained traction. Obama himself hasn’t campaigned enough for it, yet there’s still a reed of hope.

One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the program stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan. Colorado voters will decide next month on a much-watched ballot measure to bolster education spending, including in preschool, and a ballot measure in Memphis would expand preschool as well.

“There’s this magical opportunity” now to get a national early education program in America, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me. He says he’s optimistic that members of Congress will introduce a bipartisan bill for such a plan this year.

“When you think how you make change for the next 30 years, this is arguably at the top of my list,” Duncan said. “It can literally transform the life chances of children, and strengthen families in important ways.”

Whether it happens through Congressional action or is locally led, this may be the best chance America has had to broaden early programs since 1971, when Congress approved such a program but President Nixon vetoed it.

The massive evidence base for early education grew a bit more with a major new study from Stanford University noting that achievement gaps begin as early as 18 months. Then at 2 years old, there’s a six-month achievement gap. By age 5, it can be a two-year gap. Poor kids start so far behind when school begins that they never catch up — especially because they regress each summer.

One problem is straightforward. Poorer kids are more likely to have a single teenage mom who is stressed out, who was herself raised in an authoritarian style that she mimics, and who, as a result, doesn’t chatter much with the child.

Yet help these parents, and they do much better. Some of the most astonishing research in poverty-fighting methods comes from the success of programs to coach at-risk parents — and these, too, are part of Obama’s early education program. “Early education” doesn’t just mean prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, but embraces a plan covering ages 0 to 5.

The earliest interventions, and maybe the most important, are home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership. It begins working with at-risk moms during pregnancy, with a nurse making regular visits to offer basic support and guidance: don’t drink or smoke while pregnant; don’t take heroin or cocaine. After birth, the coach offers help with managing stress, breast-feeding and diapers, while encouraging chatting to the child and reading aloud.

These interventions are cheap and end at age 2. Yet, in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evaluation, there was a 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15 among those who had gone through the program.

Something similar happens with good pre-K programs. Critics have noted that with programs like Head Start, there are early educational gains that then fade by second or third grade. That’s true, and that’s disappointing.

Yet, in recent years, long-term follow-ups have shown that while the educational advantages of Head Start might fade, there are “life skill” gains that don’t. A rigorous study by David Deming of Harvard, for example, found that Head Start graduates were less likely to repeat grades or be diagnosed with a learning disability, and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Look, we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.

We just might have a rare chance in the next couple of months to take steps toward such a landmark early education program in America. But children can’t vote, and they have no highly paid lobbyists — so it’ll happen only if we the public speak up.

 

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 26, 2013

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Education, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Times Are A Changin”: Once Upon A Time, Everybody Wanted To Be “Tough on Crime”

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced some policy changes meant to reduce the number of drug offenders subject to mandatory minimum sentences. Across the political spectrum, people have come to view mandatory minimums as a disaster from almost any standpoint, and as some people have pointed out, mandatory minimums were originally a Democratic idea. Those of you who are too young to remember the early 1990s might not appreciate the raw terror that gripped Democrats in those days. People regularly lost elections when their opponent’s opposition researchers found some obscure vote that could be twisted into a direct mail piece saying, “Congressman Smith voted to let violent criminals out of jail—so they could rape and murder their way through our community. Is that the kind of man we want in Washington?”

As it happens, at the time I was working for a political-consulting firm that created some of those mail pieces. Our clients were all Democrats, and we produced crime attacks for both primary and general elections, targeting other Democrats and Republicans alike. In 1994, it reached an absolute fever pitch. My firm had about 30 clients, all Democrats, and we did tough-on-crime pieces for every single one. In many cases, we’d make ten or so different mail pieces for a client, and eight of them would be about crime. In other words, in every last race we worked on, every candidate was accusing every other candidate of being soft on crime. The highlight of my consulting career was when I lay down on a sidewalk so our photographer could trace around my body with chalk for a murder aftermath scene we staged.

Of course, it was all tinged with the inescapable whiff of race—the most famous soft-on-crime attack from the era was George H.W. Bush’s 1988 assault on Michael Dukakis over the “Willie Horton” case.  These days we look at the elder Bush as a kindly old man who does things like wear silly socks and shave his head in solidarity with a young cancer patient, and his place in history has been immeasurably aided by the fact that his presidency was nothing like the spectacular disaster of his son’s. But we shouldn’t forget that in order to reach the White House, H.W. enthusiastically led one of the most despicable campaigns of racist fear-mongering in the history of American politics. It isn’t that crime wasn’t genuinely high in those days, because it was. But the media took people’s real concerns and whipped them into a frenzy of fear, talking about crack babies condemned to lifetimes of mental retardation (which turned out to be completely bogus) and terrifying young black male “superpredators” (ditto), turning individual horror stories into lightning-fast policy changes, like the abduction and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klass, which produced a local-media frenzy the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before or since and led directly to California’s “three strikes” law.

At the time, the question was never, “Is this proposed measure to increase prison sentences a good idea?” The only question, asked by politicians from both parties, was whether it couldn’t be made much tougher. If you suggested that “tough” might not be the best standard by which a policy should be judged, you were risking your political career. Republicans embraced this zeitgeist with glee, and Democrats embraced it out of abject fear.

Fortunately, times have changed, and it’s now possible to have a rational discussion about crime. That simple fact—that politicians can support a variety of proposals on crime and punishment without worrying that their careers will be over as soon as somebody utters the phrase “soft on crime”—is something for which we should be enormously thankful, as much work remains to be done. As Greg Sargent pointed out, “this is an issue around which Dems concerned about racial justice, and conservative libertarians (such as Senator Paul) who share race-based concerns in their better moments, and conservatives who see the issue more through the prism of their opposition to government overreach and ‘one size fits all’ solutions, should theoretically be able to find common ground.”

The most important change in the last 20 years is that crime has fallen so dramatically (see here for instance), and in response we’ve seen a real cultural shift. I’m sure there are still politicians who’d love to tar their opponents as soft on crime. But they know it probably wouldn’t work. And that means there’s at least a chance we can make real policy change.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, August 13, 2013

August 16, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Privilege Of Whiteness”: Since White Is The Default Setting, There’s No Such Thing As White Crime

As a biracial child who spent part of his youth abroad, Barack Obama learned the feeling of otherness and became attuned to how he was perceived by those around him. As a politician, he knew well that many white people saw him as a vehicle for their hopes for a post-racial society. Even if those hopes were somewhat naïve, they came from a sincere and admirable desire, and he was happy to let those sentiments carry him along. Part of the bargain, though, was that he had to be extremely careful about how he talked about race, and then only on the rarest of occasions. His race had to be a source of hope and pride—for everybody—but not of displeasure, discontent, or worst of all, a grievance that would demand redress. No one knew better than him that everything was fine only as long as we all could feel good about Barack Obama being black.

So when he made his unexpected remarks about Trayvon Martin on Friday, Obama was stepping into some dangerous territory. By talking about his own experience as a black man, he was trying to foster both understanding and empathy, to explain to white Americans why the Martin case has caused so much consternation and pain among black Americans. The petty (and not so petty) daily suspicion and indignities and mistreatment black people are talking about? Even I, the most powerful human being on the planet, know it well.

In doing so—and by saying “it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching”—he may have implicitly encouraged white people to think about their own privilege, the privilege of whiteness. Privilege is a dangerous word, one that raises lots of hackles, and one Obama himself would never, ever use. But it’s inescapable.

Despite the way people react when the word is introduced, acknowledging your own privilege doesn’t cost anything. I grew up in a home with lots of books, in a town with good schools, in a country with extraordinary opportunities. I benefited hugely from them all, though I created none of them. I may have earned my current job as a writer, but compared to the labors of those who wait tables or clean houses or do factory work, it’s so absurdly pleasant you can barely call it work at all. But more to the point, in all my years I’ve never been stopped by a cop who just wanted to know who I was and what I was up to. I’ve never been accused of “furtive movements,” the rationale New York City police use for the hundreds of thousands of times every year they question black and Hispanic men. I’ve never been frisked on the street, and nobody has ever responded with fear when I got in an elevator. That’s not because of my inherent personal virtue. It’s because I’m white.

I will never have to sit my children down and give them a lengthy talk about what to do and not to do when they encounter the police. That’s the talk so many black parents make sure to give their children, one filled with detailed instructions about how to not appear threatening, how to diffuse tension, what to do with your hands when you get pulled over, and how to end the encounter without being arrested or beaten. I can tell my children, “Don’t do anything stupid,” and that will probably be enough. I worry about them as much as any parent, but there are some things I don’t have to worry about.

Because of my privilege, I also don’t have to concern myself with how strangers are thinking of me when I leave the house, because their thoughts will bear on me not a whit. Amir “Questlove” Thompson, drummer for The Roots and bandleader for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, wrote last week about how he is constantly made aware of the fact that, as a large black man, he makes other people uncomfortable. “My friends know that I hate parking lots and elevators, not because they are places that danger could occur, but it’s a prime place in which someone of my physical size can be seen as a dangerous element. I wait and wait in cars until I feel it’s safe for me to make people feel safe.” Privilege means not spending any mental energy worrying about how you make other people feel by your very presence. Privilege means never having the thought even occur to you.

My privilege as a white man is to be unnoticed if I choose, because when I step into an elevator or walk through a store or pass a cop on the street, I’m an individual. No one looks at me and says, “Hmm—white guy there,” because I’m the default setting. I’m not suspicious, I’m not a potential criminal, I ring no alarm bells in anyone’s head. And that is a gift. Even as an adult, Barack Obama, the “articulate and bright and clean” Harvard-educated lawyer, had something in common with Trayvon Martin and every other 17-year-old black kid: the presumption of suspicion with which they found themselves treated. They couldn’t just be themselves. To so many people, they were a type, and a bad one at that, or at least assumed to be of a lesser station. So a fellow guest at a posh party in 2003 could walk up to state Senator Obama and ask him to fetch the man a drink. Has that happened to you?

Privilege is also not worrying that the deeds of other people who are like you in some way will reflect poorly on you. As Jamelle Bouie wrote last week, at times like this, some conservatives will always bring up the idea of “black on black” crime as a justification for the presumption that young black men are criminals, but we never speak about “white on white” crime. The reason? When a white person robs a liquor store or beats someone up or commits insider trading, we see it as just a crime, not a crime that has anything to do with the whiteness of the perpetrator. Since white is the default setting, there’s no such thing as white crime. Each white criminal is just himself.

And retaining your individuality means you’re granted an exemption from some kinds of costs. Last week The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen wrote a remarkable column arguing that it’s perfectly reasonable to treat all black men like criminal suspects, since there are some black men who commit crimes. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted, Cohen was “arguing for a kind of racist public safety tax” that black men should be forced to pay. Sure, most black men are perfectly law-abiding, but since some aren’t, you sir are just going to have to put up with getting stopped and frisked, getting followed by store security, and getting pulled over even when you haven’t been speeding. If you’re white, that’s a tax you will never have to pay, because you will be treated as an individual.

As a white person, I’ll continue to enjoy this privilege almost no matter who I am or what I do. In my heart I could be the most kind-hearted humanitarian or the most vile sociopath. I could be assiduously law-abiding or a serial killer. I can dress in a suit or in torn jeans and a hoodie, and no one will react to me with fear or suspicion, because if they don’t know me they will assume they know nothing. I am myself, nothing more or less. That’s privilege.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, July 22, 2013

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“We Know Them From The Nightly News”: Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen Is Terrified Of Black People

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote an offensive, poorly reasoned column about racial profiling. In 1986. And also this week. And once or twice or let’s say perhaps a dozen additional times in the interim. The occasion of this week’s installment of “Richard Cohen explains why black men should be treated as second-class citizens for the safety of us all, which is to say rich old white men” is the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. Cohen is very sorry that Martin is dead due to Zimmerman incorrectly assuming him to be a criminal of some sort based solely on Martin’s demographic profile — in other words, Cohen is sorry that Martin is dead because of racial profiling — but on the other hand, Cohen argues, racial profiling is correct and necessary because black people are scary, at least when they wear certain things.

I don’t like what George Zimmerman did, and I hate that Trayvon Martin is dead. But I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize. I don’t know whether Zimmerman is a racist. But I’m tired of politicians and others who have donned hoodies in solidarity with Martin and who essentially suggest that, for recognizing the reality of urban crime in the United States, I am a racist. The hoodie blinds them as much as it did Zimmerman.

A “uniform we all recognize.” “We all.” “We.” Richard Cohen speaks for us all. Or “us” “all.” That one incredibly dumb assertion, stated with perfect idiotic certainty in the first-person plural, is exactly the sort of thing that makes Richard Cohen America’s worst columnist on America’s worst opinion page.

In the world outside Cohen’s tiny boomer rich guy bubble, “a hoodie” is worn by … nearly all young people and plenty of not-so-young people. To call a hoodie part of a (universally recognized!) “uniform” of Dangerous Black Thuggishness makes about as much sense as invoking high-tops or baseball caps. It is the “uniform” of youth. But then, to Richard Cohen, youth plus blackness makes probable cause.

Throughout much of the column, Cohen, play-acting at being a brave speaker of uncomfortable truths, keeps claiming that no one in America is willing to broach the topic of Black Criminals.

Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males? This does not mean that raw racism has disappeared, and some judgments are not the product of invidious stereotyping. It does mean, though, that the public knows young black males commit a disproportionate amount of crime. In New York City, blacks make up a quarter of the population, yet they represent 78 percent of all shooting suspects — almost all of them young men. We know them from the nightly news.

And, obviously, the nightly news has no ingrained bias in favor of fear-mongering and sensationalist coverage of crime.

That statistic is the only one in the column. Left out are numbers indicating current crime rates, the historical trend of crime rates, the probability of any given person, or any given wealthy white person, becoming a victim of violent crime, the percentage of crimes committed by black men in Sanford, Fla., or really any number at all that would’ve provided more enlightening context than “number of black shooting suspects in New York City.” Political scientist Jamie Chandler says, “Cohen should be embarrassed by his innumeracy,” but Cohen does not embarrass easily.

If he did, he might remember the lesson of his 1986 Washington Post Magazine column justifying racist treatment of black men. In it he defended shopkeepers who deny black men entrance into their stores. “As for me,” he wrote, “I’m with the store owners, although I was not at first. It took Bernhard Goetz, of all people, to expose my sloppy thinking.” Bernhard Goetz was a man who shot four young black men on a New York City subway car after he became frightened that they were going to rob him. (It was never actually proven that they were going to rob him.) Because this column ran in a newly relaunched Washington Post Magazine featuring a cover story on a young black rapper accused of murder, black Washingtonians protested, and eventually earned an apology from Post executive editor Ben Bradlee.

They did not receive an apology, at least not right away, from Cohen, who instead wrote a newspaper column headlined “‘Accused of Racism,’” in which Cohen complained of being accused of racism. In this column he defended cabdrivers who refuse to pick up black people. (Two years later, as Tom Scocca reports, Cohen acknowledged that his critics were “mostly right.” He acknowledged this after he went to Atlanta and met rich black people.)

That lesson, apparently, was short-lived. In an interview with Politico about this week’s column, Cohen explained how racial profiling isn’t inherently racist, because everyone does it:

“Now, a menace in another part of the country could be a white guy wearing a wife-beater under-shirt. Or, if you’re a black guy in the South and you come around the corner and you see a member of the Klu Klux Klan.”

This is Richard Cohen defending his position — that “young black males” dressed in “hoodies” deserve to be targeted not just by the police but by armed idiot civilians pretending to be the police — by invoking the Klan. For Richard Cohen, a young black person dressed in not just politically neutral but also omnipresent attire is basically the equivalent of a guy dressed in the actual official uniform of a terrorist organization dedicated to the violent establishment and maintenance of white supremacy. Richard Cohen just has a pathological fear of black men, and he wants not just to espouse and justify this view, but also to be allowed to do so without anyone calling him racist.

Richard Cohen is obsessed with the notion that no one in America is ever brave enough to talk about race, or at least brave enough to talk about it in the way he would like to talk about it, bearing in mind that he probably doesn’t actually read anyone outside his immediate professional sphere, or anyone below the age of 50, or probably women or writers of color. “In the meantime, the least we can do is talk honestly about the problem,” he says in this week’s column. (“The problem” is the black male crime wave.) “Crime where it intersects with race is given the silent treatment,” he says. He complains that instead of addressing the fears of white people like Richard Cohen head-on, Barack Obama has instead sold out his own grandmother for being racist, a malicious misreading of his 2008 Philadelphia speech that is common among right-wingers complaining of reverse racism. (Cohen does not add, as FAIR’s Peter Hart notes, that in the same speech, Barack Obama did explicitly say that “wish[ing] away the resentments of white Americans” as “misguided or even racist” is unfair, because “they are grounded in legitimate concerns.” It’s not clear that Cohen bothered to read the speech before quoting the bit about the grandma.)

It could be argued that politicians and public officials everywhere are addressing the fears of Richard Cohen, and they are doing so by locking a breathtaking number of young black men in prison, in addition to regularly stopping and harassing them on the streets of large American cities. But Cohen doesn’t concern himself with that. What he wants is for politicians — liberal politicians, preferably black ones — to tell him that it is OK to be scared of black people.

Here is Cohen in 2012, sort of defending stop-and-frisk, and again invoking the story of Trayvon Martin as an opportunity to discuss America’s single most pressing racial issue, people calling Richard Cohen racist:

As with the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, race is not only a complicating and highly emotional factor but one that does not always get discussed in an open manner. A suffocating silence blankets these incidents. Accusations of racism are hurled at those who so much as mention the abysmal homicide statistics — about half of all murders are committed by blacks, who represent just 12.6 percent of the population — and they come, more often than not, from liberals who advocate candor in (almost) all things. Others reply as if there are not basic questions of civil rights and civil liberties at stake.

It never occurs to Cohen that perhaps accusations of racism hurled at Richard Cohen constitute the “open discussion” he is so desperate for.

Cohen is not always such a fan of “open” discussions, as we learned in 2006, when he built an entire column around the fact that he’d received a lot of emails criticizing and insulting him. In that column he described getting a lot of mean emails as being the target of “a digital lynch mob,” so, yes, this is definitely the right guy for an informed and constructive conversation on race in America.

As a man who still somewhat incoherently clings to the label of “liberal,” Cohen does acknowledge, in what amounts to an aside in this week’s column, that there are some complicating factors in his diagnosis of Black Criminality:

The problems of the black underclass are hardly new. They are surely the product of slavery, the subsequent Jim Crow era and the tenacious persistence of racism. They will be solved someday, but not probably with any existing programs. For want of a better word, the problem is cultural, and it will be solved when the culture, somehow, is changed.

Whoops, we created a huge impoverished underclass. There is probably nothing we can do for them now, and they scare me, so they should work on fixing their “culture.”

The problem actually is cultural. It’s the culture that created and still coddles Richard Cohens.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 17, 2013

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: