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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 15 August 2006
Race: A Minor Incident Turns Major as People Put Two and Two Together
Topic: Race
Race: A Minor Incident Turns Major as People Put Two and Two Together
The incident occurred the week before but didn't hit the wires, or whatever they're called these days, until August 14, and the whole thing exploded in the press and other news media on Tuesday, August 15 - Republican Senator George Allen has said what? He's in an increasingly pesky reelection campaign - still ahead by quite a bit but things keep shifting. And he's considered one of the front runners for the Republican nomination to run for president against whoever the Democrats settle on in 2008.

The New York Times sets out the problem quite succinctly here -
If Senator George Allen of Virginia is thinking of running for president in 2008, as is widely believed, what he said in a little town in southwestern Virginia several nights ago may haunt him.

"This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent," the Republican lawmaker said on Friday night at a rally in Breaks, next to the Kentucky border. "He's following us around everywhere. And it's just great."

Mr. Allen, a Republican running for re-election to the Senate, was singling out S.R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old volunteer for Mr. Allen's Democratic challenger, James Webb. Mr. Sidarth's mission was to trail Mr. Allen and videotape his speeches, in the hope they would yield grist for the Webb campaign.

But it was Mr. Allen who supplied grist for his rival with his use of the term "macaca," a genus that includes numerous species of monkeys found in Asia.

Mr. Allen said Monday that he meant no insult, that he was sorry if he hurt anyone's feelings and that he did not know what "macaca" meant, according to the Washington Post, which reported about the incident today.

Mr. Sidarth, who is of Indian descent, was not convinced. "I think he was doing it because he could, and I was the only person of color there, and it was useful for him in inciting his audience," Mr. Sidarth told the Post.

The senator's communications director, John Reid, said in an interview today that Allen campaign workers had good-naturedly nicknamed Mr. Sidarth "Mohawk" because he would not disclose his name and the sobriquet seemed appropriate for Mr. Sidarth's hair style.

Perhaps, Mr. Reid suggested, "Mohawk" morphed into "macaca," with results that turned out to be regrettable.

After his initial use of the term, Mr. Allen went on to urge the crowd to "give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Unfortunately, Sidarth was born in Fairfax County, right there in Virginia.

And what's this "macaca" business? Asian monkeys?

The Times is being kind.

As noted below, it's a coded racial slur seemingly well understood in the South. No one who wasn't an "insider" was supposed to get it. But that's just not how things go these days. And this wasn't supposed to hit the national media. The whole thing is on tape and all over (see it here) - CNN and all the rest run it and people talk about it. And folks use Nexis and Goodle these days on who uses this odd term, and how it has been used in the past. There's nowhere to hide.

The Times quotes Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, saying that this "verbal gaffe" would probably not keep Allen from being reelected to the Senate, but if he runs for president the word "macaca" will hurt him, "not only because it is offensive on its face but also because it fits into a long pattern of insensitivity by Allen on racial and ethnic matters."

Sabato knows the guy - he was student council president at the University of Virginia when Allen was class president there thirty years ago. And the Times notes that Allen opposed a state Martin Luther King holiday back in the eighties, and when he was governor he issued that 1993 proclamation honoring Confederate History Month, and he kept a Confederate flag in his home and all the rest.

Of course George Allen has been discussed in these pages before - April 30 here - and he seems like a dumbed-down version of George Bush (imagine that), just another Texan good ol' boy, except he grew up out here in Palos Verdes Estates while his father was with the Los Angeles Rams, and his mother is French. It's kind of funny that when his father coached the Washington Redskins Nixon used to call up the elder Allen and tell him what plays he ought to run - although there's no evidence the senator's father ever did that. Small world.

He's one piece of work, and the buzz last spring was the Ryan Lizza profile of the younger Allen - George Allen's Race Problem -

But, while Allen may have genuflected in the direction of Gingrich, he also showed a touch of Strom Thurmond. Campaigning for governor in 1993, he admitted to prominently displaying a Confederate flag in his living room. He said it was part of a flag collection - and had been removed at the start of his gubernatorial bid. When it was learned that he kept a noose hanging on a ficus tree in his law office, he said it was part of a Western memorabilia collection. These explanations may be sincere. But, as a chief executive, he also compiled a controversial record on race. In 1994, he said he would accept an honorary membership at a Richmond social club with a well-known history of discrimination - an invitation that the three previous governors had refused. After an outcry, Allen rejected the offer. He replaced the only black member of the University of Virginia (UVA) Board of Visitors with a white one. He issued a proclamation drafted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans declaring April Confederate History and Heritage Month. The text celebrated Dixie's "four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights." There was no mention of slavery. After some of the early flaps, a headline in The Washington Post read, "Governor Seen Leading Virginia Back in Time."
At the time of the profile Ezra Klein said this -
Potentially worse, Allen comes off as a garden variety of sadist, a high school bully and vandal who hurled his brother through a glass door when he wanted to stay up past his bedtime, cracked another brother's collarbone for the same offense, and so tormented his youngest sister that she wrote a memoir packed with instances of his cruelty and thuggishness. It's grotesque stuff, and considering the perpetrator is being seriously considered as the chief executive and primary symbol of our country, Lizza's article is a definite must-read.
But Kevin Drum suggested Allen would get a pass -
The press corps is a sucker for "authenticity," and it's something that both George Bush and John McCain have cleverly exploited - because for most reporters, speaking in complete sentences or having smart ideas about policy are way less important than being a "straight talker" or "comfortable in your own skin." But just as McCain's embrace of Jerry Falwell has shown him to be a wee bit less of a straight talker than his handlers claim, Allen's "authenticity" also turns out to be barely skin-deep.

... Allen may reasonably claim that what he did as a teenager four decades ago shouldn't be held against him now. But the consistent evidence in Lizza's piece that his red state good 'ol boy shtick is little more than a personal invention, carefully cultivated and maintained through the years, should at least give the press corps pause as they cover his campaign. They've gotten suckered by this act before, and both McCain and Allen are currently gearing up to sucker them again with the same song in a different key. Caveat emptor should be their watch phrase this time around.

But the senate race in Virginia turns out to be a classic of the sort Drum feared.

As noted in these pages here, running in Virginia against the incumbent George Allen, is one James Webb - the former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, the best-selling author (Fields of Fire from 1978), and a former United States Marine Corps officer decorated for valor in the Vietnam War. He's left the Republicans. He's running as a Democrat. And the dynamic is clear - Allen is the tobacco-chewing good ol' boy wannabe, son of the famous football coach, with the confederate flags all over, be challenged by the done-everything, intellectual and writer and lawyer and man of action. The "I don't read nothin' much" never-in-the-military Man of the Old South, who went to high school out here in chic Palos Verdes and cut classes a lot, is ahead. Webb likes to point out that when he was fighting in Vietnam, Allen - emphasizing his middle name, Felix - was spending his summers at an exclusive dude ranch, pretending to be a cowboy. But it's not going that well.

Will this little incident change things? Probably not.

But the Washington Post is certainly annoyed -

"My friends, we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas," Sen. George F. Allen told a rally of Republican supporters in Southwest Virginia last week. "And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something." Whereupon Mr. Allen turned his attention to a young campaign aide working for his Democratic opponent - a University of Virginia student from Fairfax County who was apparently the only person of color present - and proceeded to ridicule him.

Let's consider which positive, constructive or inspirational ideas Mr. Allen had in mind when he chose to mock S.R. Sidarth of Dunn Loring, who was recording the event with a video camera on behalf of James Webb, the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat Mr. Allen holds. The idea that holding up minorities to public scorn in front of an all-white crowd will elicit chortles and guffaws? (It did.) The idea that a candidate for public office can say "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!" to an American of Indian descent and really mean nothing offensive by it? (So insisted Mr. Allen's aides.) Or perhaps the idea that bullying your opponents and calling them strange names - Mr. Allen twice referred to Mr. Sidarth as "Macaca" -- is within the bounds of decency on the campaign trail?

We have no inkling as to what Mr. Allen meant by "Macaca," though we rather doubt his campaign's imaginative explanation that it was somehow an allusion to Mr. Sidarth's hairstyle, a mullet. Mr. Allen said last night that no slur was intended, though he failed to explain what, exactly, he did have in mind. Macaca is the genus for macaques, a type of monkey found mainly in Asia. Mr. Allen, who as a young man had a fondness for Confederate flags and later staunchly opposed a state holiday in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., has surely learned too much about racial sensitivities in public life to misspeak so offensively.
The Post has no idea what the word means, but Jeffrey Feldman does -
I did some Google searches to find out what it meant. As it turns out, the question is not if 'macaca' is a racist term, but which of the three definitions of the word 'macaca' did George Allen intend when he used it?

Here are the three choices:

1. 'Macaca' - French : racist slang; similar to English 'nigger,' used to describe Arabs.
2. 'Macaca' - English : racist slang; similar to 'nigger' used to describe Arabs.
3. 'Macaca' - English : racist slang; used by American white supremacists in 'insider' talk about African-Americans.

Which one is it?
That's a good question.

And there are some other points, like whether the word was used intentionally -
So far, George Allen's campaign is saying that the word was Allen's mispronunciation of 'Mohawk,' but reasonable people can discount that answer. The word 'macaca' (three syllables) is no closer to 'mohawk' (two syllables) than are the words 'Madison' or 'Mac n' Cheese.' And since Allen pronounced the word twice in a short period of time - each instance with emphasis, as if he was setting up 'macaca' to be the keyword that everyone would hear - we can conclude without hesitation that his use was conscious. He used the word because he chose to use it in advance at that moment and to make sure that everyone in the audience heard him use it. 'Macaca,' in other words, was the keyword in his communication strategy to handle the situation of a campaign staffer from his opposition following him around with a video camera.
And was 'macaca' a word he learned from his mother, but did not understand? Hardly -
This is another potential misinterpretation of the events. Since George Allen's mother was raised in France and French-speaking Tunisia, some have surmised that 'macaca' might just be a nonsense word he had heard from his mother, but did not understand. This cannot be true, however, because it has been shown that George Allen studied French and did quite well. The idea that he would not understand a word used by his mother, but use it twice in a campaign stump speech - this makes no logical sense and can be discounted.
The conclusion - George Allen used a white power word in a stump speech -
George Allen's used 'macaca' at his campaign stop (1) consciously, (2) specifically in order to signal to people who knew what it meant, and (3) with the goal of showing that he was not intimidated by the staffer from his opponent's campaign attending his campaign events.

The entire statement was designed to humiliate the person in question by drawing attention to them and insulting them with a coded racial slur - all with the intention of showing confidence in response to intimidation from his opponent.

It is likely that George Allen did not believe many people would understand what was being said, except for 'insiders' already familiar with the word 'macaca.'

George Allen used a white power word in his stump speech. And he did it on purpose.
It's a white power thing. It will serve him well in Virginia. It's a no-no nationally, perhaps.

And he apologized and still claims he knows nothing -
Reached Monday evening, Allen said that the word had no derogatory meaning for him and that he was sorry. "I would never want to demean him as an individual. I do apologize if he's offended by that. That was no way the point."

Asked what macaca means, Allen said: "I don't know what it means." He said the word sounds similar to "mohawk," a term that his campaign staff had nicknamed Sidarth because of his haircut.

Yep, it's one of those apologies where it not his mistake for what he said. But he's sorry, really, that the other guy was too dumb to understand him, and of course he graciously regrets there was a misunderstanding (you know how these folks are, of course). Oh, and by the way, someone on his staff came up with the nickname. It wasn't even him, but, then, he's a big man and will say these regrets himself, even if some low-life staffer who screwed up.

Heck, maybe he really is presidential material.

Hell, his audience got it, and that's what mattered.

Ah, this is one guy and an isolated incident.

Would that it were, but it isn't an isolated incident. All you need is reminders, which James Wolcott of Vanity Fair lines up here.

He notes that Conservative New York radio talk show host Bob Grant once said on the air that then-New York mayor David Dinkins reminded him of a "men's room attendant". (See this.) Don Imus of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning one said of the black journalist Gwen Ifill, now moderating PBS's Washington Week in Review -"Speaking of reporter Gwen Ifill, he's said, 'Isn't the [New York] Times wonderful? It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.'" (See here.) Mickey Kaus's at SLATE.COM recently said this - "Congresswoman Maxine Waters had parachuted into Connecticut earlier in the week to campaign against Lieberman because he once expressed reservations about affirmative action, without which she would not have a job that didn't involve wearing a paper hat." And there's the cover of the latest Weekly Standard here - Al Sharpton as a Driving Miss Daisy faithful retainer "who dares not look his master in the eye."

Wolcott -

Washroom attendant. Cleaning lady. Cafeteria worker. Chauffeur.

Notice a pattern?

No matter what height of prominence a black person reaches, conservatives will always find a way to reduce him or her to low-paid, low-status, low-skilled caricatured servitude. That's their idea of cutting black personalities down to size and putting them in their place. Whatever uniform they wear, it's still a monkey suit in the eyes and mouths of the white-makes-right contingent, which should make it no surprise that Senator George Allen, adopted son of the Confederacy, would reach back for a race-baiting jibe as his beanball pitch.
It's just the latest in a series.

And see Digby at Hullabaloo here -
There is some debate as to whether George Felix Allen was making a deliberate slur or whether he was just repeating his French mother's phrase for "dirty Arab" without fully realizing what he was saying (or thinking nobody would know what he was saying.)

I don't think so. I think this is racist code of the worst sort. Allen isn't just another southern good old boy who can't tell the difference between his family heritage and racism. He chose to become a neoconfederate long after it was out of fashion, in defiance of accepted norms of his time and he has built his good old boy reputation partially because of it. He didn't inherit his brand of racism - he chose it.

The evidence suggests that "macaca" is a slur that American white supremacists have adopted from European white supremacists to apply to dark skinned people. And what this means is that George Allen is conversant in the language of white supremacists and he uses that language in his conversation. And while it's impossible to prove, I believe he used that word deliberately because it is a word that a racist like him would know that "certain" people would correctly identify.

It's right out of the Lee Atwater playbook, at whose knee Mary Matalin, Allen's biggest supporter, studied.
What's he talking about? Lee Atwater, the last generation's Karl Rove. And the New York Times's Bob Herbert, who is their black editorialist, on October 6, 2005 discussing a 1981 interview with Lee Atwater in which he explains the GOP's Southern Strategy -
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me - because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
There's more here but basically -
That was Atwater, even as he was trying to say that racism was dying, helpfully explaining that the GOP mantra of "tax cuts" was another way for a candidate to say that you didn't believe in government hand outs to black people. (Too bad nobody listened to him at the time and figured out a way to fight that, but it's too late now.) But what he really revealed was that racism had just gone underground. "Macaca" is as abstract as it gets - to anybody but a white supremacist who knows exactly what it means. It's just one of the newer code words for "nigger, nigger, nigger" and Allen, who kept a noose in his office for years, is the type of guy who would know it.

George Felix Allen is the most disgusting serious candidate for president this country has produced in many decades. The fact that he's backed by a large number of powerful mainstream Republicans for the nomination shows what that party really is, even now, after all this time.
People do put two and two together. And George Felix Allen may have inadvertently set up the real issue here, that the Civil War of the 1860s never really settled anything. The South fights on, and they're stronger now than any time since that business at Fort Sumter.

On April 10, 1861, Brigadier General Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina, demanded the surrender of the Union garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Garrison commander Major Anderson refused. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, which was unable to reply effectively. At two-thirty in the afternoon on April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter, evacuating the garrison on the following day.

For some, those were the days. And it's not over yet.

Phillip Raines, whose words and photographs have often appeared in these pages, explains it best -
Was it racist slang - used by American white supremacists in 'insider' talk about African-Americans?

That's it, that's why he said it, and back-peddling and saying he didn't know what it means is just another way of him saying "Aw shucks, I was just funning." As a native born southerner immersed in a culture of racist and class supremacy I can assure the readers of Just Above Sunset his true sentiments were drawn out by the videographer as provocateur. He thought he was speaking in code, and racist will create a feeling of inclusiveness by sharing their racism with other people, usually quietly, by saying something like "between you and me… nigger, you know."

It's better explained by example -

I was in Mississippi visiting my wife's relatives. Atlanta is in the south, but Mississippi is Deep South, making Atlanta look socially transitional between Boston and Jackson. A cousin-in-law was skinning a deer under the carport after a Thanksgiving morning of hunting. He was mid-twenties, a lawyer, a nice looking guy even in a camouflage jacket and red hat. The family, in general, likes me, though I'm somewhat of an oddity. A city boy, a sax player, a leftist - a lot of things they aren't - but with a fundamental basis of behavior that I'm there to get along and have a good sense of humor as long as right wing politics aren't brought up. Then I'll fight, won't take it, and will definitely call a spade a spade (it's a shovel reference, not cards or color, though it's a metaphor morphed into that).

Knowing that as a city boy I didn't hunt I couldn't share in the happiness of bagging a deer in the first few hours of hunting season, there was a still desire from him for an inclusiveness. He shifted the conversation to the general inferiority and faults of blacks - the laziness, the stink, the inferiority, and most threatening, the dangerous potential of violence to take from those that have - to take the white women, take the money through armed theft, take the TV right out of the living room if you don't lock up. The thematic subtext of his chatter was "now that it's just us I will show you my unspoken hatred like a secret, bare myself in intimacy, and you can admit the same to me."

He was disappointed that I didn't take my cue and admit that I hated them too, collectively though I might, as a musician, mention there are some good ones. I've seen this scenario again and again my whole life in the South. I changed the subject to different knives for different tasks of dressing out the deer. He offered a thin slice of leg muscle for me to taste raw, but I declined, saying I was a hippie vegetarian for too long and raw meat didn't settle with me, hurt my teeth somehow. But a point that's important was this guy was educated, had summoned up enough concentration to pass the bar and would most likely run for judge one day (he was just the type), but at his core and despite his path to wealth, success and power, he would always be a white supremacist, even if he became adept at hiding it. A hundred years ago he might have sent his mother a postcard of a lynching and written on the back, "Ma, there is one less of these here to hurt you," as was on the majority of post cards in the lynching exhibit I saw at Emory.

It is a fact that all southern born men struggle with racism. Most dismiss the struggle and only a few pursue racial enlightenment and sort out the incidents that reinforce racism for a higher path. Like blowing up frogs with firecrackers (like our sitting president did as a kid), it is an outlet for meanness - and that somehow feels good and empowering. And trust me, again as a native-born southerner, that even as southern men are taking over the highest offices in the land, repeatedly, deep inside, there is a voice that is claiming a small victory in the ongoing civil war between the north and the south, and its conservatism. It offers one more opportunity to have a dose of that meanness - like it's a satisfying drug whose effects last for days. Kindness is a weakness, unless it's towards your momma.
And that is what we're dealing with.


Minor Footnote:

To understand where this is coming from you have to understand that Bill Montgomery - who blogs as "Bilmon" - is a journalist who specializes in finance - economics and corporations and interest rates and trade and all that sort of thing. He goes on assignment to all the international economic forums and all, and clearly explains the implications of what's happing, which is no small feat. He knows his stuff, and he knows all sorts of things about statistics. He thinks this business with what George Allen said is an example of reversion to the mean -
As a 16th generation Virginian, I'm proud that the Old Dominion has blessed the nation with such political and intellectual giants as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It doesn't mean I'd ever actually want to live in that reactionary armpit of a state again, but still, I'm proud.

It almost - almost - makes up for George Allen…

… Macaca? What the fuck kind of kindergarten insult is that? Is that the best the idiot could come up with? What's next? Boogerbrain? Doodoohead? Harry Flood Byrd could think up better racial slurs in his sleep.

I think this is a political example of the statistical phenomenon known as mean revision - in which a string of unusually high data points is often followed by a string of low ones, bringing the trend back towards the long-term average.

If you look at it that way, it's no surprise Virginia politics has been churning out dimwitted racist assclowns for the the better part of the past 200 years. It takes a heap of mean reversion to compensate for Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason and Monroe.

But now that the state has given us Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and George Allen in such quick succession, it's pretty clear the pendulum has swung too far. Virginia is almost down to the Texas level now, which is about six standard deviations below the mean. It's time for something better - or at least a little better, like Jim Webb.

Of course, Allen's latest crack makes it clear that even a Macaca (whatever the hell it is) would be a big improvement.
That's the most idiosyncratic explanation of this incident out there.

Posted by Alan at 22:09 PDT | Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006 18:38 PDT home

Monday, 16 January 2006
King Day: 'His voice was like a furnace of optimism, trying to triumph over despair.'
Topic: Race

King Day: 'His voice was like a furnace of optimism, trying to triumph over despair.'

Some thoughts, as this odd holiday draws to a close... Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 16, 2006, was, as usual, low-key. Government offices, schools and the markets were closed, but most everyone was at work, and as with all holidays, there were the sales at the malls. There aren't many American holidays where folks attend to just what is being noted. Actually there are none, save, perhaps, Christmas Day. Easter is a Sunday so that is a different thing. The Fourth of July brings fireworks, so that's special. Thanksgiving is overeating and watching the Detroit Lions lose another game. All the others are just a day off, for some.

Here in Los Angeles we did have the King Day Parade in the Crenshaw District, kicking off the month-long celebration, in February, of African-American heritage, Black History Month. And our conspicuously Hispanic new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, said this, "I have said that if it were not for Tom Bradley, Martin Luther King and the civil-rights movement, I would not be standing here today. A good number of us sitting here - women and people of color - every one of us were blessed by the sacrifices and courage and the indomitable spirit of Rosa Parks and the courage of Martin Luther King."

Something did change in the sixties, and change again on April 4, 1968, when King was assassinated, and the riots followed. Something was getting fixed and then something was broken.

With this Martin Luther King Day we got, from Taylor Branch, his third and final volume of the King years, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68. This was the lead review in the Los Angeles Times Sunday book review. Anne-Marie O'Connor not only comments on the book, but got Taylor Branch on the phone.

Taylor Branch writes in this new book that at the time the war in Vietnam "was foundering" and antiwar sentiment was spreading, and the civil-rights struggle "was taking aim at the last vestiges of American feudalism, challenging segregation and the kind of institutionalized racism that fueled an FBI smear campaign against King." Yep, the FBI was all over him. And Taylor Branch says by phone -
Race was, and is, still scary to a lot of people. King's enemies knew that he spoke to a lot of people, and a lot of people agreed with him. He was mesmerizing, because of the timbre of his voice and his words. His voice was like a furnace of optimism, trying to triumph over despair. He defined something that was strong enough to offer hope in the face of suffering.

He was living in a time when people got lynched for almost nothing, and there was no expectation there was going to be justice. Black people were largely invisible. To be a symbol of that hope over despair is an amazing thing.
Yes. Some of us remember that, even those of us who were white kids in junior high at the time. And O'Connor quotes Clarence Jones, King's onetime attorney - "Taylor wasn't there. He was an outsider, a white Southerner. He never spoke to Mr. King. Here's this white Southern man gathering this meticulous scholarship, and you know what? He got it right."

Well, you look at things long and hard enough, and think about them, and sometimes you see what's really going on.

Branch began of course with Parting the Waters (1988) - a bestseller that won him a Pulitzer Prize. Ten years later was Pillar of Fire, and this new book warps it up. (In his spare time Branch ghost-wrote John Dean's autobiography, and co-wrote that basketball memoir with Bill Russell, the legendary and outspoken basketball star.)

Branch sees what's going on, as O'Connor notes -
The America that emerges from Branch's pages is on the razor's edge of history, and it could be cutting and ugly. King's demands for racial equality were met in Southern newspapers with grotesque cartoons whose smiling minstrels were the face of virulent hatred.

FBI agents slink around "At Canaan's Edge" like goons in a noir novel, spreading lies in a relentlessly hostile campaign to discredit him on every conceivable level, a far cry from the frequent Hollywood portrayals of civil-rights-era agents as white knights doing battle against an anonymous black backdrop.

One of the more dubious FBI smears was an attempt to portray him as an associate of Muhammad Ali. An FBI agent timidly pointed out the obvious: The plan might backfire because many people regarded the boxer as a folk hero. But his supervisors went ahead with the plan.

FBI agents wiretapped King's hotel room and phone conversations for years to record information about his infidelities, which they unsuccessfully tried to disseminate in the press. Branch says the FBI even tried to dissuade King from traveling to Oslo, Norway, to accept the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize by blackmailing him for his personal life. In Branch's eyes, the FBI was "blackmailing him toward suicide."
Well. James Earl Ray took care of things so it didn't come to that.

But the damage was done. King had started something.

Branch credits the King-led civil rights movement with "deepening democratization, providing momentum for the budding antiwar and women's movements," and "making gay rights imaginable."
King was writ large. He's echoing Jefferson and Lincoln as well as Isaiah and Jeremiah. He speaks on the shoulders of the prophets and the patriots alike. We don't hear that kind of language now, and if we did I think it would make us all better citizens.
Maybe so. But as for the civil rights movement with "deepening democratization, providing momentum for the budding antiwar and women's movements," and "making gay rights imaginable," is that a stretch?

Well, Taylor Branch says no, and argues that in his long assessment of King and his legacy, Globalizing King's Legacy, published in the New York Times on the holiday, and the following day in the Times' Paris newspaper, the International Herald Tribune.

Everyone has honed in on what comes near the end of the piece -
We could also restore Dr. King's role in the continuing story of freedom to its rightful prominence, emphasizing that the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it. And we must recognize that the accepted tradeoff between freedom and security is misguided, because our values are the essence of our strength. If dungeons, brute force and arbitrary rule were the keys to real power, Saudi Arabia would be a model for the future instead of the past.
But there's more, and he uses the twentieth of these "official celebrations" to explain.

He quotes King after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, claiming the movement had revived nothing less than the visionary heritage of the American Revolution. -"The stirring lesson of this age is that mass nonviolent direct action is not a peculiar device for Negro agitation. "Rather it is a historically validated method for defending freedom and democracy, and for enlarging these values for the benefit of the whole society."

King makes that extraordinary claim, but Branch notes what followed -
Parallel tides opened doors for the first female students at some universities and most private colleges, then the military academies. In 1972, civil rights agitation over doctrines of equal souls produced the first public ordination of a female rabbi in the United States, and the Episcopal Church soon introduced female clergy members in spite of schismatic revolts to preserve religious authority for men. Pauli Murray, a lawyer who was one of the pioneer priests, had pursued a legal appeal that in 1966 overturned several state laws flatly prohibiting jury service by women. "The principle announced seems so obvious today," Dr. Murray would write in a memoir, "that it is difficult to remember the dramatic break the court was making."

Overseas, as an amalgam of forces suddenly dissolved the Soviet empire atop its mountain of nuclear weapons, Dr. King's message echoed in the strains of "We Shall Overcome" heard along the Berlin Wall and the streets of Prague. Likewise, South African apartheid melted without the long-dreaded racial Armageddon, on miraculous healing words from a former prisoner, Nelson Mandela. Students shocked the world from Tiananmen Square with nonviolent demonstrations modeled on American sit-ins, planting seeds of democracy within the authoritarian shell of Chinese Communism.

These and other sweeping trends from the civil rights era have transformed daily life in many countries, and now their benefit is scarcely contested.
Yes, all that followed, and what King did started something, or at least made something possible.

And now? Branch says "the political discourse behind them is atrophied."
Public service has fallen into sad disrepute. Spitballs pass for debate. Comedians write the best-selling books on civics. Dr. King's ideas are not so much rebutted as cordoned off or begrudged, and for two generations his voice of anguished hope has given way to a dominant slogan that government itself is bad.

Above all, no one speaks for nonviolence. Indeed, the most powerful discipline from the freedom movement was the first to be ridiculed across the political spectrum. "A hundred political commentators have interred nonviolence into a premature grave," Dr. King complained after Selma. The concept seemed alien and unmanly.
Yep, we live in an age where violence is not only praised, but all else is considered foolishness. Branch is, with King, saying that "every ballot - the most basic element of free government - is by definition a piece of nonviolence, symbolizing hard-won or hopeful consent to raise politics above anarchy and war."

Of course we have to have a war to set up those elections in Iraq. Very odd. What would King think of that? Branch says that a few hours before King stepped out on the Memphis balcony and was gunned down he said, "In our next campaign we have to institutionalize nonviolence and take it international." A preemptive war may not have been what he had in mind. Still, the president on the holiday visited the Library of Congress and did a photo-op where he peered that the Emancipation Proclamation under glass, and later said King was "one of the greatest Americans who ever lived." But he did not urge that we institutionalize nonviolence. That's not his style.

On the King holiday the president had to deal with the fallout from his style of making the world better - As Pakistanis Protest, Questions Remain - Four Days After The Deadly Airstrikes, Answers Prove Elusive.

That item, from Jim Maceda of NBC, is one of many summaries of the situation - we tried to take out Osama bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with a precision airstrike in the wilds of Pakistan, but didn't seem to get him. We got eighteen civilians, including women and children, and over the weekend, "tens of thousands of angry Pakistanis took to the streets." This is not good.

The president's father, now a UN special envoy, met with Pakistan President Pervez Musharra, and got an earful. The elder Bush wanted to talk about earthquake relief, but Pervez Musharra is catching crap from his own people over this. We're supposed to be allies. One supposes folks are asking Musharra just why being with the Americans in all this is such a good thing. Maceda says this mistake "squandered all goodwill toward America and damaged Musharraf's credibility." No kidding.

But is it their fault? What did Pakistanis really know about the attack? -
Very little. It seemed to take the country by surprise. Government officials claim they had no warning. Even former intelligence chief Gen. Hameed Gul, who worked closely with the CIA for years, said he was shocked.

"The CIA, they are responsible for the action and then Pakistan is not taken into confidence," he says.

But other counterterrorism sources tell NBC News that, with 50,000 security forces along the Afghan border, Pakistani agents must have been in the know.

Could the intelligence have been phony?

Pakistan's five intelligence agencies - with different agendas - compete with each other. Intelligence is often sold to the highest bidder and corruption runs deep.
This, lying and death from the sky, is not with King would have envisioned as bringing democracy to the world.

Jim Miklaszewski provides more detail here - we're talking not one Predator drone, but three, simultaneously firing hellfire missiles at three separate targets. The CIA drones monitored the movements of al Qaeda suspects at the village for two weeks before the attack - and this was CIA and not the military, who are saying nothing. "Live Predator video is fed real-time from Pakistan to the Global Response Center on the sixth floor of the CIA outside Washington. From there, CIA Director Porter Goss himself would give the order. But if he's not available, the deputy or assistant CIA directors five levels down can also order the strike." Fine. That's what we do.

But it may turn out all fine. It seems we're testing bits and pieces, and the DNA from some small chunk of flesh from the scene may match the DNA of Ayman al-Zawahiri, and everyone will calm down and we'll look real good after all, because now, unlike the days of Martin Luther King, the ends really do justify the means.

That may be what has really changed. King, in inspired by Gandhi, held that the means by which you achieve your goal were, well, part of the goal - don't sink to violence, keep your dignity, and your honor, and as Taylor Branch says, understand "the best way to safeguard democracy is to practice it." Now? We'll bomb and kill to force you accept democracy.

King saw the same problem with Vietnam -
And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond to compassion my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.
The president may say nice things about him on the holiday, but King would not be amused.

These days are like those days. The New York Times here quotes unnamed "American counterterrorism" officials about this business in Pakistan -
They offered a defense of the attack, saying they did not believe that innocent bystanders in Pakistan had been killed. One counterterrorism official said that even if Mr. Zawahiri was not killed in the attacks, "Some very senior Al Qaeda types might have been." The official declined to identify other Qaeda members thought to have been at the scene.
Well, you never know.

And then have your politicians -
"Now, it's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do?" Sen. Evan Bayh, asked rhetorically. "It's like the wild, wild west out there. The Pakistani border's a real problem."

Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, said the "real problem" lay with the Pakistani government's inability to control that part of the country, where sympathetic residents were believed to be harboring al Qaeda leaders.

"So, regrettably, this kind of thing is what we're left with," Bayh told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

... And Sen. Trent Lott added, "I would have a problem if we didn't do it."

"There's no question that they're still causing the death of millions of - or thousands of - innocent people and directing operations in Iraq," said Lott, a Mississippi Republican. "Absolutely, we should do it."

Bayh expressed similar sentiments, and cited the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington of September 11, 2001, as justification. "These people killed 3,000 Americans. They have to be brought to justice."

Senator John McCain, also concurred. "It's terrible when innocent people are killed; we regret that," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."

"But we have to do what we think is necessary to take out al Qaeda, particularly the top operatives. This guy has been more visible than Osama bin Laden lately.

"We regret it. We understand the anger that people feel, but the United States' priorities are to get rid of al Qaeda, and this was an effort to do so."

He added, "We apologize, but I can't tell you that we wouldn't do the same thing again."
The end justifies the means, and sorry about the dead kids.

All that is discussed by "Jeanne" here at Body and Soul -
We don't believe we killed innocent people. And even if we did, it doesn't matter because we might have killed some bad people at the same time and that would be good. And even if we didn't get any bad people, some of the "innocent" people may be sympathetic to the bad people. After all, these people killed three thousand Americans. Well, maybe not "these people" precisely, but some people who kind of looked like them, and came from roughly the same part of the world, give or take a thousand miles.

At least 18 people dead, and the senators are most anxious to assure us that it will happen again - just in case anyone was worried that we might display some signs of humanity.

So what else are we supposed to do? I know that's a rhetorical question, but let's treat it as an honest one nonetheless.

What else are we supposed to do?

... Awhile back, I said that I thought the Christian Peacemaker Teams were doing the most essential work in the world today - serving as models of what can be done with love, without violence. This is what I was talking about. Violence has not only produced nothing but more violence - blowback, if you will - but it's lead far too many of us to a soul-numbing state where we learn that we have murdered children and can convince ourselves there's no other way.

... Imagine what might happen if, today, in Pakistan, in Dr. King's honor, we took those words to heart, and heard the cries, and vowed to do everything we could to repair the damage, acknowledging that we could never entirely do so?
That'll be the day. We don't have leaders like that these days.

We don't, even on domestic issues.

Back in November, on the occasion of what would have been Bobby Kennedy's eightieth birthday, in these pages, here, you find what he had to say -
... there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions, indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor; this poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies - to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look on our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear - only a common desire to retreat from each other - only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers. Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what program to enact. The question is whether we can find in our midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.
Well, he got shot too, just down the hill at the old Ambassador Hotel (now almost gone as they're tearing it down to build a new high school complex there).

Can the Democrats find another like him?

Consider this -
Let's review. Bush steals one, probably both elections through vote fraud, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because that would undermine faith in the democratic process. Bush fails to react to copious pre-9/11 warnings, before the attack, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because that would undermine national unity at a time when we need to pull together. Bush makes a decision to go to war, then lies repeatedly to fool the country into supporting it, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because that would undermine our troops and war effort. Secret Bush policies condone and cover-up prisoner torture, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they suspect that people basically don't mind torture (really) as long as the victims "deserve it" and it is in the service of "protecting" us. The Bush gang hands them the biggest gift imaginable in the Plame scandal, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they don't want the investigation to appear "partisan." Bush breaks the law, illegally eavesdrops on innocent Americans, then says openly that he thinks its just fine and plans to keep doing it, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they are afraid of appearing "soft" on national security. Bush appoints a Supreme Court nominee who is openly supportive of the worst of these Executive policies, and who is explicitly committed to overturning abortion rights, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because they are afraid of a fight over the filibuster. Congressional Republicans have created the biggest corruption scandal in decades, but the Democrats won't make an issue of it because a couple of them might be caught up in the net. Do these people WANT to win?
Maybe not.

Posted in these pages here on 28 May 2003, in the first year on line -
Do you remember the clear-headed, no-bullshit, let's-be-fair liberals of yesterday? Bobby Kennedy in that last run just laying it all out - hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better? Well, Bobby got shot. Martin Luther King doing the same thing. Well, he got shot a few months earlier than Bobby. Of course, to be fair, George Wallace got shot too. Lots of people got shot.

But the point is that those optimistic "why don't we fix it and make things better" kinds of guys are nowhere to be found these days.

... No Democrat will win anything by whining about the smirking frat boy or by fretting about some British essayist hating cheeseburgers and everything American. To win the Democrats would have to field an opponent with a sense of humor, some brains, and a lot of optimism, someone who listens to what is being said, and is willing to say - "Hey, some stuff is wrong here and why don't we think it through, fix it and make things better?"

It does not seem like that is going to happen. And if it did, he or she would get shot.
So on and on we go.

The best we can do now is Al Gore?

In Martin Luther King Day Address, Gore Compares Wiretapping Of Americans To Surveillance Of King and this: "Al Gore has become the conscience of the Democratic Party."

It sort of makes you miss Martin and Bobby.

Posted by Alan at 20:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006 21:07 PST home

Friday, 30 September 2005

Topic: Race

Race: Moralists Say the Oddest Things

Written Thursday evening here in Hollywood as night descended and the air was filled with smoke from the twenty-thousand acre fire to the west, the Burbank fire to the north and another far out east - in Apocalypse (Local Version) - there was some mention, in all the other madness, of what William Bennett said this week on Morning in America, his radio show. Perhaps that deserves its own item.

The suggestion was that there was something in the air, beside the smoke.

As brief recap - we're talking about William J. "Bill" Bennett, born in Brooklyn, BA in philosophy from Williams, PhD from the University of Texas, Harvard law degree - co-director of "Empower America," the "Washington Fellow" out here at the Claremont Institute - and chairman of "Americans for Victory over Terrorism." He was Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and our "drug czar" (1989-1990). He's written sixteen books, but is most famous for The Book of Virtues and The Children's Book of Virtues. His latest is called Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. He's a moral man. Yes, there was that scandal with his compulsive gambling, but the right forgave him.

A minor note, William J. "Bill" Bennett's brother is Robert Bennett, Judy Miller's lawyer - you know, Miller is the New York Times reporter who just spent eighty-five days in jail for something or other. Friday, September 30, on CNN's "Situation Room," he, Robert, was being interviewed about why Miller got out of jail now, and about her testimony to the grand jury that morning, and where it was all leading. Then the host, Wolf Blitzer, blindsided him by asking what he thought of his brother's statements about aborting black babies. He was ticked-off at the change of topic and laid into Blitzer. (Partial transcript here.) He didn't answer.

As for what Brother Bill said this week, that's given in full at Media Matters here (September 28) -
But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.
Thursday evening you could see him on Fox News telling Sean Hannity this was no big deal. It was sociology or something. Friday this was all over the news, except he didn't appear on CNN's "Situation Room" - Wolf explained that was a contractual matter. Bennett is a Fox News commentator. CNN doesn't get him. But everyone else has comments Friday. Michigan Democrat John Conyers wrote a letter to the Salem Radio Network that syndicates "Morning in America" and requested Bennett be suspended. A glance at television during the day would net Nancy Pelosi being outraged, the Congressional Black Caucus being outraged, and the NAACP likewise. Everyone was piling on. CNN on the "Situation Room" had Jack Cafferty reading viewers' letters.

Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent along this:
Oh yeah? Just change one word, from black to white: "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every WHITE baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."

It would fall off the chart.
Let me see - no babies, white or black or brown or yellow or green - no crime. Makes sense.

Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta:
Excellent idea! Had Bill only thought of this himself, he might have gotten himself off the hook.

(And if someone could find the statistics that back up this contention either way, black or white, I'd be curious to hear the results. The whole thing is weird.)
Yes, it is.

Curiously, on the left, Brad DeLong, the economics professor up at Berkeley who was a key player in the Clinton administration, defends Bennett -
Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place - when he's not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America's poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber than he does.

But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong.

... Addressing a caller's suggestion that the "lost revenue from the people who have been aborted in the last 30 years" would be enough to preserve Social Security's solvency, radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett dismissed such "far-reaching, extensive extrapolations" by declaring that if "you wanted to reduce crime... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down." Bennett conceded that aborting all African-American babies "would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do," then added again, "but the crime rate would go down."

Bennett did not "concede" that "aborting all African-American babies 'would be... morally reprehensible.'" That was his point. His caller said: "Abortion is bad because it has worsened the financing of Social Security." Bennett says: "Stay focused. We're anti-abortion not because we think that abortion is a means that leads to bad ends like a higher Social Security deficit; we're anti-abortion because abortion is bad; make arguments like 'abortion is bad because it increases the Social Security deficit' and other people will make arguments like 'abortion is good because it lowers the crime rate' and we'll lose sight of the main point."

Bennett is attempting a reductio ad absurdum argument.

Never attempt a reductio ad absurdum argument on talk radio. You can't keep exact control over your phrasing in real time, and so somebody is bound to think you are endorsing the horrible absurdity that you are rejecting.

(And, while we're at it: never get involved in a land war in Asia; do not read My Pet Goat when death is on the line; never play poker with a man named 'Doc'; never accept a battle of wits where iocane powder is a factor; never blithely download and install a file from Microsoft without carefully, carefully researching what it will do beforehand; never get involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky; and never post about human genetics on your web log.)
Seeing this, our Wall Street attorney friend reminded me of something concerning this advice about never getting involved in an argument over Noam Chomsky - "Didn't we try this once in one of your classes?" Yes, our Wall Street attorney friend was in my Language and Linguistics class back in the seventies, but the issue there was not political but rather about Chomsky's theories of language acquisition. Noam Chomsky also does psycholinguistics, right? That's what MIT hired him to do for all these years. The other stuff is... other stuff.

Anyway, nothing is going to happen here. This Salem Radio Network is not going to do anything to Bennett, as Sarah Posner explains in this item. She does her research. Salem Radio Network's parent company is Salem Communications, a publicly traded media company which openly claims its programming is from a conservative Christian perspective. The company owns over one hundred radio stations in major metropolitan markets and syndicates its programming to almost two thousand stations around the country.

Posner profiles CEO Ed Atsinger and his brother-in-law and Board Chairman Stuart Epperson, two key players in an effort that started fifteen years ago out here to "turn" the California Republican Party, and make it "radical Christian right" - funded by Howard Ahmanson, the fellow who owns Dirt Bike and Motorcross magazines and a few others. Note to self: no more plays at the Ahmanson Theater, no off-road biking, and no Dominos Pizza. Who would want a pizza from an organization that uses its profits to end abortion rights, outlaw homosexuality and get rid of Darwin in the schools? Anyway, pizza is bad for you.

Salem Communications is headquartered, by the way, just up the coast in Camarillo, at the edge of this week's big fires. Is God trying to tell them something?

Note this, courtesy of BartCop:

That'll do.

Posted by Alan at 17:43 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005 19:34 PDT home

Monday, 19 September 2005

Topic: Race

Race: The Fire Next Time, Again

Okay, there are a few. Fox News has them on all the time to show that the president is a fine fellow. That's the Murdoch-Ailes mission. Everyone else rags on the president, and, to make things fair and balanced, their news operation will do the opposite. So they trot out these guys, the black, pro-Bush Republicans. Yes, there are a few. They're one of the Fox News weapons in their war to take back the national narrative from the liberal, Jewish, pro-Democrat, probably socialist, clearly anti-Christian and irresponsible New York media, those guys who want Saddam back in power and would kill hundreds of millions of our embryo citizens and force teenage girls to have abortions even of they're not pregnant, and all the rest. But is the administration screwing over our black citizens? Have they been systematically doing that? Bring out the black Bush supporter. Prove it isn't so. These guys love George.

But what happens when one of them reaches his limit? Consider Robert A. George of the National Review, William F. Buckley's flagship magazine of the conservative movement. It seems he has, as he writes this -
First came House Speaker Dennis Hastert openly considering "bulldozing" parts of New Orleans - at a point when the city was still 80 percent under water, bodies were still being fished out and people were still stranded in the convention center...

Then, former First Lady Barbara Bush uttered words in a radio interview which will unfortunately haunt her remaining years: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Those that heard the contents state that she notably "chuckled" during the last phrase.

Now, for some, Katrina may present new opportunity. But if poor children lost their parents and were adopted by a wealthy couple, would one chuckle that things were "working well for them"?
And then, to complete the hat trick, an actual Louisiana congressman pops up telling lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Baker claimed that he was misquoted or misheard or something...

Honestly, I might be inclined to give Baker the benefit of the doubt, if it didn't seem like this disaster has given Republicans the opportunity to "share" how they really feel. Similarly, under normal circumstances, I wouldn't include Barbara Bush's comments. But, not this time. It just happens too often to ignore them anymore.

Ironically, the concern uttered here is not that the statements are necessarily racist or suggest some animus toward minorities. That's not the point. It is that the speakers seem unable to see those suffering as actual people.
Of course, this is on his web log, not in the National Review, nor on Fox. The title is "Why Am I Still a Republican?"

Good question, and don't expect Hannity or O'Reilly to interview you on the topic. But welcome aboard the reality express.

It is fascinating to watch the thoughtful conservatives deal with their party in its current turmoil, like Andrews Sullivan here:
One of the more irritating aspects of the post-Katrina debate has been the assertion by some liberals that the failure to provide emergency assistance for citizens hit by a natural disaster is a function of conservatism. The notion is that conservatives hate government so much that they do not even think the government has an obligation to act in a natural disaster. In fact, the opposite is true. Real conservatives (I'm not referring to the crew now in the White House) favor energetic executive action where only it can do the job: police, war, disaster relief, a basic social welfare net. What we're against is social engineering, redistributive taxation, over-regulation of private activity, etc. What conservatives want is a smaller yet stronger government. And getting smaller helps government focus on what it really should do, not on all the illusory goals that some liberals believe in, like, er, ending human inequality.
Yep, ending human inequality, like working for world peace, is best left to the Miss America Pageant. The sweet young things, when asked for their deep thoughts, always wish for that. Whatever. But note the argument here - "the crew now in the White House" aren't "real" conservatives. There's been some kind of bait-and-switch? These guys are sleepers - liberal radicals from the sixties planted in the Republican Party long ago to destroy it from within?

Possibly. One of the odder conspiracy theories, of course.

Friedrich Hayek is one of the heroes of the conservative movement and Sullivan notes he is quoted here:
There can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody...

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance...the case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong....

To the same category belongs also the increase of security through the state's rendering assistance to the victims of such "acts of God" as earthquakes and floods. Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.
Sullivan's conclusion ? "What has happened under Bush is not a function of conservatism. It's a function of abandoning conservatism."

And here he issues a challenge to other "real" conservatives regarding this blog effort to get some Republicans to cut "pork" out of the federal budget.
I'm as eager as the next guy to prevent pork-barrel spending, and I'd definitely support this effort. But the blogosphere campaign to battle pork in the face of Katrina, however admirable, still strikes me as too easy. The truth is: even if we got rid of all the pork, we'd still be in deep fiscal doo-doo. People like me who want to find the money to pay for Iraq and Katrina should be asked what we'd cut. Here's my basic list: postpone or repeal or radically scale back the Medicare drug benefit so it only affects the truly needy; restore the estate tax in full; phase in the means-testing of social security; end agricultural subsidies; kill off all corporate tax relief and the mortgage deduction and move toward a flat tax. That's a start. How many fiscal conservatives will bite these bullets?
Not many.

But is Fox News right? Is everyone picking on Bush, and now the "real" conservatives?

Consider the Monday polling data from Survey USA:
Three polling days after George W. Bush's prime-time speech to the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans, a "can't win" dynamic is unfolding for the President, according to exclusive SurveyUSA data gathered Friday 9/16, Saturday 9/17 and Sunday 9/18. The number of Americans who now approve of the President's response to Hurricane Katrina is down: 40% today compared to 42% before he announced the Gulf Opportunity Zone. The number of Americans who disapprove of the President's response to Katrina is up: 56% today compared to 52% before the speech. Bush went from "Minus 10" on his Response to Katrina before the speech to "Minus 16" today.
Guess the speech didn't work. His opponents didn't see much to cheer, only a little, and he ticked off his conservative base:
One way to make sense of these numbers is to look at the number of Americans who today say the Federal Government is doing "too much" for Katrina victims. That's up to 16% today, more than triple what the number has been on 7 of the 19 days that SurveyUSA has conducted daily tracking since the storm. The more cash President Bush throws on the fire, as compensation for what some see as an inadequate initial response, the more it antagonizes his core supporters.
Heck, all he was trying to do was buy better polling numbers using two hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money, or money borrowed from the Chinese and Japanese in long-term treasuries. Sometimes you can't win for losing.

But at least he avoided a racial uprising by offering something. See Katrina stirs memories of Watts by Diane McWhorter in USA Today, Monday, September 19 ? she won a Pulitzer for Carry Me Home and wrote A Dream of Freedom, one of those "young-adult" books, a history of the civil rights movement.

She asks you to remember this:
In the late-summer doldrums, a peerless American city at the continent's edge suffered complete social breakdown. Black citizens rose up in arms against the institutions of civilization and commerce. Marauders commandeered the streets, looting guns from abandoned stores. By the time the National Guard restored peace, a major part of the city lay in ruin, and America had been shaken to the very core of its national identity.

The scene was Los Angeles, 40 years before Hurricane Katrina spun New Orleans into anarchy.
And she ends with this:
On the Tuesday the levees broke in New Orleans, the U.S. Census reported that, despite economic growth in 2004, the poverty rate had increased and income had stagnated. In Watts, the poverty rate today - 46% - is higher than it was in 1965. In the reallocation of national priorities since the country waged war on poverty, it is the rich who are now receiving "handouts," while nearly 30% of residents of a city dedicated to les bon temps live below the poverty line and beneath dignity, as the recent events so gruesomely demonstrated.

"God gave Noah the rainbow sign," goes the old Negro spiritual. "No more water, the fire next time." The omen from this flood, as the president acknowledged in his speech from New Orleans last week, is that the ark is off course.

And the forsaking of those in direst need of its shelter has fired the moral imagination of the rest of us.
So go read the middle. We're at the edge.

Okay, you remember your Langston Hughes - the "Dream Deferred" thing (here). Read the last line again.

And too, read some of the current folks on the right who are angry with Bush for mentioning "racial inequality" may have been a problem and we should do something about it. Read this guy:
His statement is the standard apology for disproportionate black poverty, disproportionate black crime, and disproportionate black underachievement in America. It is the bread and butter of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and the standard "Get out the vote" cry of the Democratic Party in the inner cities of America.

And it is simply hogwash. If you were poor and black in 1955, you could offer this explanation for failure truthfully. It no longer is very relevant. No one has been cut off from the opportunity of America by external impediments for forty years.
We fixed all that stuff:
The doors have been thrown open, the way lighted and the government has spent several trillion dollars attempting to guide poor blacks through the door. Yet many remain inside the prison of poverty. Racial discrimination, even if prevalent, cannot injure a people without other assistance. Neither can simply being born into poverty.
Yep, it's their own damned fault.

Jesse Taylor here - "I somehow find myself wanting to fall asleep and wake up to discover that all of my favorite 'racism doesn't exist' conservatives find themselves poor, black, and trying to find someplace to live in Georgia."

Oh heck, it's not racism. These guys are thinking of other things, as this Reuters item explains:
Hurricane Katrina will hurt the U.S. economy in the short run but bright long-term prospects mean the Bush administration can push ahead with its reform agenda, a top White House economic adviser said on Thursday.

"In the shorter term, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina will have a palpable effect on the national economy," White House economic adviser Ben Bernanke said in prepared remarks for delivery at the National Press Club. But he said private-sector forecasts were for healthy long-run growth.

Bernanke said the White House intends to continue pursuing policies that have make the economy able to withstand shocks and that will keep growth on track.

"These policies include making tax relief permanent, reducing the budget deficit by limiting spending, strengthening retirement and health security through efforts like Social Security reform ...and enhancing energy security," Bernanke said.
They're busy. Things are looking up. They're not thinking about race at all. It's not an issue.

Of course little things keep getting in the way. Note this from Josh Marshall, Monday, September 19 -
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy handles procurement policy for the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Until Friday the Administrator of the office was David Hossein Safavian.

Today he was arrested on a three-count indictment.

This, from the DOJ press release ...

"David Hossein Safavian was arrested today based on a three- count criminal complaint filed at federal court in Washington, D.C. The complaint charges Safavian with making false statements to a GSA ethics officer and the GSA-OIG, along with obstruction of a GSA-OIG investigation.

"The affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint alleges that from May 16, 2002 until January 10, 2004, Safavian served as Chief of Staff at the GSA. During that time he allegedly aided a Washington D.C. lobbyist in the lobbyist's attempts to acquire GSA-controlled property in and around Washington, D.C. In August 2002, this lobbyist allegedly took Safavian and others on a golf trip to Scotland.

"The false statement and obstruction of the investigation charges relate to Safavian's statements to a GSA ethics officer and the GSA-OIG that the lobbyist had no business with GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip. According to the affidavit, Safavian concealed the fact that the lobbyist had business before GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip, and that Safavian was aiding the lobbyist in his attempts to do business with GSA."

Did I mention that before he signed on with the Bush administration Safavian worked for Jack Abramoff at Preston Gates?

Well, he did. Now reread those three grafs and see if they read any different. Golf trip to Scotland? Right. Small world.

He's also a former business partner of Grover Norquist.
The original item has links to all the appropriate news stories. This one will need to be cleaned up before anyone even thinks about black folks.

From the Washington Post, Friday, January 21, 2005, page A15, this -
The law that created Safavian's position - administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget - does not allow Safavian to intervene in ongoing procurement actions, but he can use the OMB's budget clout to call agencies on the carpet.

"We do have a responsibility to make sure that we have our policies correct," he said in a recent interview. "I view my job as helping to identify policies that are either good for the system or bad for the system, and act accordingly."

Safavian was nominated by President Bush for the OMB post on Jan. 22, 2004, and was confirmed just before Thanksgiving.

... During part of his wait for confirmation, Safavian served as counselor to Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the OMB. Safavian had previously served as chief of staff at the GSA, where he picked up experience in federal contracting issues.

He started his career as a lawyer and worked on Capitol Hill for three House members. He also has worked as a consultant and lobbyist on telecommunications, Indian gambling, tax policy and other matters. In his free time on weekends, he serves as a volunteer police officer in the District and in Dumfries, Va.
Whatever. The man who headed FEMA, Michael Brown, had to resign because he was incompetent, and had no qualifications. The man who was to watch over all the billions in contracts to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? Led away in handcuffs.

What a world, what a world?

This calls for some major spin. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes have their work cut out for them. Our friend, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, worked for Ailes a number of times. Maybe he can tell us all how Ailes will spin this. Our Just Above Sunset columnist Bob Patterson (the World's Laziest Journalist and the Book Wrangler if you head over there) listens to Rush and Hugh Hewitt and all the right side talk radio shows. I'm sure he will report on the spin there.

But what are you going to do with stuff like this in the major media?

Leaders Who Won't Choose
In Washington, it's business as usual in the face of a national catastrophe.
Fareed Zakaria - Newsweek - Sept. 26, 2005 issue

Zakaria is their suave international editor, with his own interview show now, and often a guest on other television panels. He knows his stuff. And he's a bit shrill now.

He opens with this:
Adversity builds character," goes the old adage. Except that in America today we seem to be following the opposite principle. The worse things get, the more frivolous our response. President Bush explains that he will spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the Gulf Coast without raising any new revenues. Republican leader Tom DeLay declines any spending cuts because "there is no fat left to cut in the federal budget."

This would be funny if it weren't so depressing. What is happening in Washington today is business as usual in the face of a national catastrophe. The scariest part is that we've been here before. After 9/11 we have created a new government agency, massively increased domestic spending and fought two wars. And the president did all this without rolling back any of his tax cuts - in fact, he expanded them - and refused to veto a single congressional spending bill. This was possible because Bush inherited a huge budget surplus in 2000. But that's all gone. The cupboard is now bare.

Whatever his other accomplishments, Bush will go down in history as the most fiscally irresponsible chief executive in American history.

And this:
Today's Republicans believe in pork, but they don't believe in government. So we have the largest government in history but one that is weak and dysfunctional. Public spending is a cynical game of buying votes or campaign contributions, an utterly corrupt process run by lobbyists and special interests with no concern for the national interest. So we shovel out billions on "Homeland Security" to stave off nonexistent threats to Wisconsin, Wyoming and Montana while New York and Los Angeles remain unprotected. We mismanage crises with a crazy-quilt patchwork of federal, local and state authorities - and sing paeans to federalism to explain our incompetence. We denounce sensible leadership and pragmatism because they mean compromise and loss of ideological purity. Better to be right than to get Iraq right.
The idea here is Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call and it's time to get serious. Maybe work on the basics: "secure the homeland, fight terrorism and have an effective foreign policy to advance our interests and our ideals. We also need a world-class education system, a great infrastructure and advancement in science and technology."

So what else is new? The current crew has other ideas, ideas about how the world ought to be. Privatized, free market, and run by loyal friends (the "right sort of people"), even if they have no concept of how to do the job they've been handed. Maybe they'll learn on the job. (Brown didn't) Maybe they'll be arrested. But they are true believers.

The issue here is some folks see racism. It's not. It's just incompetence.



Monday, September 19, the New York Times and its European sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, put all of the columnists who write for them behind a "wall." If you want to read them or quote them it will cost you around fifty dollars a year. You can see this is an attempt to recoup the cost of publishing a major newspaper, or an attempt to severely limit the influence of those who write for them. Your choice. The Independent (UK) did this a year or two ago, and they are seldom cited now. Why bother? There's lots of good stuff all over the web available for free.

In any event, this site offers some geeky tricks for getting around the Times' wall - security holes not yet plugged. And there you will find Paul Krugman's Monday New York Times column in the relationship of race and incompetence in full. In relation to matters above, this is just one of his observations:
... in a larger sense, the administration's lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina had a lot to do with race. For race is the biggest reason the United States, uniquely among advanced countries, is ruled by a political movement that is hostile to the idea of helping citizens in need.

Race, after all, was central to the emergence of a Republican majority: essentially, the South switched sides after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Today, states that had slavery in 1860 are much more likely to vote Republican than states that didn't.

And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself, "There but for the grace of God go I." A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself, "Why should I be taxed to support those people?"

Above all, race-based hostility to the idea of helping the poor created an environment in which a political movement hostile to government aid in general could flourish.

By all accounts Ronald Reagan, who declared in his Inaugural Address that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," wasn't personally racist. But he repeatedly used a bogus tale about a Cadillac-driving Chicago "welfare queen" to bash big government. And he launched his 1980 campaign with a pro-states'-rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., a small town whose only claim to fame was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers.

Under George W. Bush - who, like Mr. Reagan, isn't personally racist but relies on the support of racists - the anti-government right has reached a new pinnacle of power. And the incompetent response to Katrina was the direct result of his political philosophy. ...
That seems about right - Bush is not personally racist but relies on the support of racists. The effect is the same.

Posted by Alan at 21:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005 11:43 PDT home

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