Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Eyes of the World Are Watching Now

It's been too long since I have written...and there are unfortunate reasons for this.  But I cannot be quiet about the events of this past week.  What happened in Charlottesville, VA was horrendous!  The actions of the white supremacists, the neo nazis, and the kkk--I am refusing to capitalize these names in an effort to diminish them--were shameful in any and every respect. They are terrorists, just like members/supporters of isis, al qaeda, boko haram, al-shabaab, and other groups and they are hypocrites when they claim they stand for Christianity and freedom.  No!  They stand for death and oppression.  Unfortunately, tRump has shown his true colors this week in showing himself as an ally to the voices of American hate--even the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner has had a hard time explaining tRump's weak reaction to the events.

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA


TODAY, THOUGH, I WANT TO EXPRESS GRATITUDE AND HOPE.

Saint Paul, MN

In reading about and seeing images and video clips of what happened last weekend and in the days following, I cannot help but be grateful that there were more counter protestors than racists on Saturday, that spontaneous vigils sprang up all over the country, that protesters disrupted and shut down one of the racist organizer's follow up press conference, and that business leaders and other public figures are denouncing tRump in force for his flaccid response to these hate groups. I grieve for all the injured and for the death of Heather Heyer, but I applaud her mother's prophesy that Alex Fields's cowardly running her down with his car will indeed magnify her commitment to social justice and compassion for the marginalized in our country.

I have been preparing to facilitate a book group this coming fall semester at Saint Martin's University, where I work, where we will read Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,and today I have been pulling together some resources for the group, including materials on the South African victory over Apartheid and their continuing struggle against hate.  I can never consider that history without thinking of Peter Gabriel's amazing tribute to Steven Biko, the courageous anti-Apartheid activist who was beaten to death while in police custody.

Steven Biko

 Below is a goose-bump inspiring performance of "Biko" in South Africa.


On June 18, 2011, I had the pleasure of attending Gabirel's concert at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City with my daughter and when he played this song at the end of the first set, I doubt there was one dry eye in the place.  I was so pleased to share that moment with my daughter and I was proud (I don't use that phrase too often) that she knew all the words and sang with the rest of us.

There are moments in "Biko" when any person with a conscience should get goosebumps and/or teary eyes, not least of which are when he sings the lines:
You can blow out a candle
But you can't blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will only blow them higher
In South Africa, Biko's death along with the massacres at Sharpsville and Soweto were moments when the fire started.  In the US, incidents like the arrest of Rosa Parks, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Children's March in Alabama, the Selma Bridge, and later on the election of Shirley Chisholm, the beating of Rodney King, the election of Barak Obama, the terrible high-profile instances of police brutality, and other instances have all started fires.  Time will tell whether Charlottesville is a candle or a fire.  I hope it's an inferno.


San Diego, CA

The plight of persons of color in the US is a long dark history of brutality, violence, and exploitation.  We still have a long, long path before we see real social justice and equity in our country, but I think it's important to take a moment to acknowledge that the reaction to Charlottesville has offered hope.

Another important moment in Gabriel's song, though, comes at the end:
And they eyes of the world
Are watching now
Watching now
Gabriel has traditionally walked off the stage before this song ends, a gesture meant to remind us, the audience members, that it is our responsibility to fan the flames of equity and justice, to help burn down the houses of hate in our society and culture.

The eyes of the world really are watching.  Let's all grab a metaphorical torches and do a better job.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shadows of Doubt

[Please excuse my absence last week...a death in the family occurred and we had to address that.]

In court cases, jurors are instructed to convict the defendant if they are convinced "beyond a shadow of doubt" of their guilt.  In the film (made from a play) 12 Angry Men, Henry Fonda's character has a shadow of a doubt and faces the wrath of the other eleven jurors, but convinces them through patience and logic to pass a verdict of "not guilty" on the young defendant being tried for murder.

Still from 12 Angry Men
Well, the jury is out on tRump's latest romp with his toys the other night when he ordered a missile attack on a Syrian military base in reaction to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons.  He said it was carried out both in the interest of national security and in defense of international treaties that ban using the chemical weapons that caused the horrible deaths of "beautiful babies"--the same one he refuses to let enter the country.


The Syrian government's use of chemical weapons, of course, is unconscionable and grossly immoral, but was tRump's reaction justified?


US politicians on both sides of the proverbial aisle seemed to trip over themselves to endorse the strike, including Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who said the attack "in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the [Assad] regime’s use of chemical weapons,”  but added this caution: “If the President intends to escalate the U.S. military’s involvement in Syria, he must come to Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force, which is tailored to meet the threat and prevent another open-ended war in the Middle East.”  Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded unequivocally, “I think the president had the authority to do what he he did. And I’m glad he did it.”  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) also supported the action.  Laura Barron Lopez and Michael McAuliff, with the Huffington Post, reported that while legislators seem to approve of the action, they cannot seem to articulate the legal grounds for it.  Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said he will  "let the international lawyers look at the details of how they view it,” while Senator Jon Testor (D-MT) was a bit more hesitant, “It can be argued on both sides...I think we need an [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] that actually addresses this issue. We don’t have one right now.”

This question of whether tRump's action was actually legal is also being contested in legal circles.  Harold Koh, a former State Department legal adviser and current Yale University law professor, seems to feel it was legally grounded, arguing that one key function of international law is to protect human rights, which were clearly violated in Assad's chemical attack.  Additionally, the attack does not imply that we are at war with Syria, “If this is a one-and-done, Congress isn’t going to challenge it.”  Others have argued that tRump's claim that the attack was carried out in the interest of national security rests on such a vague notion of the concept that it may be possible to justify almost any action taken for that stated reason as legal and constitutional.  Alex Emmons, with The Intercept, reported that the legal community is divided about the legality of the attack, with Constitutional, human rights, and international lawyers saying the attack had no legal basis.  Jack Goldsmith at the Harvard Law School claimed the attack “exceeds all prior precedents under domestic and international law.”  Louis Fisher with the Constitution Project concurred, “President Trump has no constitutional authority to unilaterally commit the nation to war against Syria.”  Hina Shamsi with the ACLU tweeted that the strike had “no legit[imate] domestic or international law basis.”  And Fionnuala Ni Aolain from the University of Minnesota Law School observed that the attack was “a slide into self-justificatory unilateralism by the United States [that] should not be celebrated nor validated.”

In looking at this incident, what emerges is several shadows of doubt surrounding this attack and tRump's actions have done nothing to ameliorate concerns about the right wing's self-stylized image of Amerika as "legal enforcer," which comes off as brash vigilantism to many others in the rest of the world.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay, public domain



Sunday, March 19, 2017

tRump's Contiunuing Nazi/Fascist Problem

Nazi/Fascists are like cockroaches: they stick around and around and around.

Image by chuckharding53 from Flickr, not used with permission

Well, tRump is either finding that out...or perhaps knew it all along.  As the tRump campaign machinery geared up in 2015, Business Insider reported that in a 1990 interview, Ivana Trump reported that her ex-husband kept a book of Hitler's speeches next to his bed, ostensibly to learn oratory.

Image by frankieleon from Flickr, CC BY
 Then there was tRump's association with and hiring of Steve Bannon, his reluctance to denounce David Duke and the the KKK, and his standing with Neo-Nazis.  All this could be dismissed as posturing and politicking, of course...though that argument rings hollower and hollower with time.  And then there's the bruhaha over Sebastian L. v. Gorka.

Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Newsweek called Gorka a "second-tier White House foreign policy advisor" who has managed to make a name for himself and get more "facetime" in the media than others in his position in the past.  Gorka is a former employee of Bannon's at Breitbart, a notoriously right-wing so-called news source.  In right-wing circles, Gorka has achieved a reputation as an expert on Middle-Eastern terrorism, despite the fact that he does not speak Arabic and has not studied in the Middle-East, as reported by  Daniel Nexon in a column on the Foreign Policy website.   Nexon, an associate professor in the Department of Governement and  Foreign Service at Georgetown University, offered a critique of Gorka's academic credentials, noting that he is not very well-known in academic circles on terrorism, having only one peer-reviewed article to his credit and his PhD dissertation advisor at Corvinus University in Hungary has expertise in neither national security nor terrorism.

Recently, however, Gorka has been called into the spotlight for something a bit more sinister.  A Jewish publication out of New York, Forward, recently reported that Gorka is associated with Vitezi Rend, a group that collaborated with the Nazis during WWII.  Several pictures have been posted of Gorka wearing a medal from the group.

Gorka at an inauguration ball, with the medal pinned to his traditional Hungarian jacket; image from US Uncut

 A still from an episode of Fox News's Sean Hanity show; image from the Times of Israel
According to a short history on Vitezi Rend, the organization is a nationalist entity formed in 1920 after Hungary fought a series of post-WWI conflicts with Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Romania, as well as fending off a communist revolution--incidentally, the website claims that this revolution "introduced Hungary to the phenomenon of class warfare," a rather audacious claim for a former imperial seat.  Furthermore, the history claims that France and Great Britain backed the Czechs, Yugoslavians, and Romanians, a claim that echoes Nazi sentiments for whipping up their supporters during WWII.  Vitezi Rend can be translated as Order of Knights/Heroes/the Valiant and members were distinguished veterans who were given land claims and inheritable titles signified by appending a "v" before their last names...such as v. Gorka.  When the Soviet Union occupied Hungary after the Second World War, the organization was declared Fascist and outlawed.

The Newsweek article noted the US Memorial Holocaust Museum's claimed that during the war, Vitezi Rend members under the direction of the nationalist, Miklos Horthy, functioned much like the infamous Nazi Einsatzgruppen, paramilitary groups that murdered Jews throughout Eastern Europe and rounded up Jews for deportation to the concentration camps.
Hitler’s chief deportations expert, S.S. Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann, "was surprised at how actively and enthusiastically Hungarian authorities collaborated to achieve what was clearly a common purpose...initiating many anti-Jewish measures on their own.”
Nexon noted several strains in Gorka's dissertation that should raise concern.  Gorka claimed that the modern state is not equipped to deal with the threat posed by al Qaeda (it is not a big stretch to insert ISIS at this point) and that
...the ideal solution would involve a tightly integrated supranational security apparatus, but since "we are unable for various reasons (foremostly political) to create supranational solutions," the only viable alternative is for states to develop a "unified multi-agency approach" [that] involves getting rid of the "internal barriers between the police force, the army and various intelligence services," although Gorka implies that constitutional barriers might pose a problem.
Considering the almost seamless integration between the SS and the Gestapo in Nazi Germany, Gorka's claim is chilling.  He essentially called for a totalitarian state that makes war not only on "external enemies," but also its own population.

A 1941 Nazi propaganda poster that translates as, "Day of the German Police"; image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain
In his defense, Gorka said he wears the medal as a tribute to his father, but the group (as reported in the Forward article) claims that the son is also a life-long member.  Gorka himself told Tablet Magazine that he is not a sworn member of Vitezi Rend.  However, Larry Cohler-Esses, the writer of the Forward piece told Amy Goodwin on Democracy Now! that he was told by three sources in Vitezi Rend that Gorka had been inducted into the organization:
Well, the Vit├ęzi Rend has some pretty firm rules. You do not get to wear the medal and use the "v" initial unless you join. And joining involves taking a lifelong oath, a oath of fealty to the organization and its principles and to Hungarian nationalism, which the organization is steeped in. We spoke with a senior member of the group, who took note of the "v" that he used both on his doctoral dissertation in Hungary and when he testified before Congress. And he said, "Of course. No 'v' without the oath." So, under these terms of the organization, if he was trying to honor his father, he was dishonoring the rules of the organization that his father was honored by. And I cannot read his mind. I was not in Hungary. But we then found three separate sources in the organization who said he did take the oath, he was initiated in the formal initiation ceremony into the organization.
Goodman noted that David Duke tried to defend Gorka, tweeting "How is Sebastian Gorka a 'Nazi'? The man is not only pro-[Israel], he is also pro-Jewish. Strange time to be alive–(((they’ve))) truly lost it."  Too bad for Duke that his protestation that Gorka is not antisemitic because he is pro-Israel ignores the fact that the concept of "Semite" includes Arabs as well as Jews (see the entry for Semites in the Encyclopedia Judaica).

I wonder whether Gorka also has a copy of Hitler speeches on his night stand.  I'll bet he either has a copy in his library or a bookmark on Chrome.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Concise Definition of an "Uncle Tom": Ben Carson

Image from http://media3.s-nbcnews.com/j/newscms/2017_10/1924641/170306-ben-carson-hud-washington-750a_16620062097aa057e9d3eff634104db4.nbcnews-fp-1200-800.jpg
“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity.  There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.” (from boston.com)

Image from https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/8b/26/f7/8b26f7063dc9ef923fcee47f0683ee11.jpg

Either Ben Carson put a wire in his head and scrambled his own brains or he doesn't seem to have learned anything in history class or from his grandparents...or maybe he's just satisfied with the really strange bone tRump threw him.  Anybody out there know what's going on in Uncle Tom's cranial cavity?  Something's supposed to be in there, right?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Red Herrings and Injustice

While the Russia connection with the tRump campaign is deeply disturbing and disconcerting and his off-the-chain claims about Obama wire tapping tRump Tower are problematic, I wonder if we are falling for the showman's tricks again...petulantly thrown out red herrings.  If they are not his red herrings, then those around them are using his verbal fertilizer that way.

Image by Durova from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
With all the bluster about Putin, Russia, and tRump's possible/probable paranoia, I'm concerned about some of the behind-the-curtain shenanigans and what they could mean for our future.

Image from Pintrest
This week some of the tRump administration's plans for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to light and one of the most heinous revelations is that the administration wants to cut the budget by 24% and staffing by 20%, which includes eliminating the office for environmental justice, which means that environmental racism will be even more unchecked.  For those who may not be familiar with the term--it is not a high traffic term--environmental justice is defined by the office itself as:
...the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
Environmental racism refers to the to the fact that marginalized communities comprised of people of color are frequently exposed to much higher levels of pollution, thus exposed to much higher risk than predominantly white communities.  The Goldman Environmental Fund noted that race
...plays a determining role in environmental policies regarding land use, zoning and regulations. As a result, African American, Latino, indigenous and low-income communities are more likely to live next to a coal-fired power plant, landfill, refinery or other highly polluting facility. These communities bear a disproportionate burden of toxic contamination as a result of pollution in and around their neighborhoods. Moreover, these communities have historically had a diminished response capacity to fight back against such policies.
Image by Alfred Palmer from Wikimedia Commons, public domain
One of the most recent devastating examples of environmental racism has been the Flint, MI water crisis.  In this case, the choice to switch the city water supply to the Flint River was pitched as a cost-saving measure, but it was a case of environmental classism and racism because Flint is a very poor city with a high population of people of color.  In a 2016 story for The New York Times, John Eligon starts with an inescapable question: "If Flint were rich and mostly white, would Michigan’s state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water?"  The thousands of emails released about the water crisis show that the population of the city was less important that cost-cutting and so they were deemed to be functionally dispensable, even though race was not explicitly mentioned.  Eligon observed that
Environmental decisions are often related to political power. In some cities, garbage incinerators have been built in African-American neighborhoods that do not have the political clout to block them. In Michigan, where blacks are 14 percent of the population and the state government is dominated by Republicans, Flint has little political power.
 So, while the Flint crisis may not have been an overt gesture of environmental racism, it is an example of systemic or institutional racism, a manifestation of Whiteness.  The dangerous nature of the water was well known, indeed, "years ago ]the river[ was a repository for industrial waste from the city’s once booming, now almost extinct, factories," Eligon wrote, but the people of flint were all but invisible to the state.

Ruth Frankenberg wrote that Whiteness is a "'stand point,' a place from which White people look at ourselves, at others, and at society" and is "a set of cultural practices that are usually unmarked and unnamed" (as cited in DiAngelo, 2011, p. 56).*  DiAngelo expounds on this point when she observed that
Whiteness is thus conceptualized as a constellation of processes and practices [that are] dynamic, relational, and operating at all times on a myriad of levels.  These processes and practices include basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives and experiences purportedly to be commonly shared by all but which are actually only consistently afforded to white people. (p. 56)
Whiteness is largely invisible to those who benefit from it and thus makes very little sense to them when learning of it, but it can have very real and even drastic effects on people of color.  In the case of Flint, the environmental racism manifested itself in that decision makers completely ignored the health risk for the sake of finances.  Profits over people.

A young woman in Louisiana's Cancer Alley, image from Pintrest
Another maddeningly tragic example is Louisiana's infamous Cancer alley on the Delta, where largely African-American communities are constantly exposed to carcinogens from "over 150 petrol companies and 17 refineries," according to a 2015 article on The IND Monthly website, leading to unusually high rates of cancer in an 85 mile stretch aling the Mississippi River.  (For a fuller description of Cancer Alley and other instances of environmental racism, see Dr. Robert Ballard's Dumping in Dixie.)

If tRump's proposed cuts to the EPA hold up, there are sure to be at least dozens of more Flints and Cancer Alleys in our future.

* DiAngelo, R.  (2011).  White fragility.  International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54-70.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Today's Word: Anachronism, or History -2.0

Betsy De Vos.  It would be nice if we could laugh at her foibles without anvils falling on our toes.  But alas, we cannot.  Yesterday, she gave a wonderful example of an ANACHRONISM when, at a White House luncheon with leaders of  historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), she showed an amazing lack of historical understanding and a gaudy lack of empathy.
Betsy DeVos,  image from nbcnews.com
In that meeting, and in a statement published on the US Department of Education's website, she claimed that HBCUs are "real pioneers when it comes to school choice."  Here is a screen shot of the paragraph from the website...never know when it will be taken down:


Usually, anachronism occurs when we recognize language or ideas that are "old fashioned" in contemporary discourse or situations.  In DeVos's case, however, the poles have been switched.  She applied a contemporary idea to the past in a way that only highlights her amazing lack of qualification for her position.  Yes, HBCUs have been very effective educational institutions for African-Americans...better than other institutions who are not historically black.

The Educational Trust, a Washington D.C. non-profit organization that advocates for education issues, published a report today, entitled "A Look at Black Student Success: Identifying Top- and Bottom-Performing Institutions."  The authors note that while graduation rates at HBCUs vary and are low enough for concern (reflecting concerns of non-HBCU schools), they are better at serving the needs of black students from low-income families, graduating 37.8% of these students compared to 32% at other institutions (p. 7).  Over all African-American and Native-American students have the lowest graduation rates of each of the racial categories used by the US Department of education at 40.9% and 41% respectively (p. 1).

So, the two racial and ethnic groups in the United States who have endured the most violence and degradation, or maybe the most programmatic violence and degradation might be a bit more accurate, have the lowest graduation rates.  Coincidence?  Probably not.

If we think of this historically, it makes better sense.  For African slaves and the generations that followed them, their "place" was the lowest possible place on the proverbial ladder--in some cases, Southern plantation owners openly valued their horses over their slaves.  Native Americans were on the same level, by the way.  Once slavery was outlawed, African Americans (particularly in the South) had to figure out a new place for themselves economically and socially.  Legally, they were no longer property and were given a small degree of agency in their own lives and the lives of their families.  They knew the value of reading and writing--it is very worth the time to look at Frederick Douglass's account of how he learned to read and write--but, of course, white schools, colleges, and universities were almost universally closed to people of color (even up to the 1960s).  This lack of systemic educational opportunities kept them at the very margins of society, kept them from productively participating in the the social and economic system they had been born into.  So what did African Americans have to do?  Found their own schools, colleges, and universities...the HBCUs.  For African-Americans, creating their own schools was NOT a matter of CHOICE, but a matter of ADAPTATION and SURVIVAL.  (Native Americans had schools funded by public money, but their whole purpose was to drive the "native" out of them...another rather dismal story.)

A class at Hampton Institute (now University) in Virginia, image from Wikimedia Commons
Coming back to Betsy DeVos's statement, to equate HBCUs with school choice is ludicrous.  Few African and Native Americans had any choice at all.  For many years, a smart articulate African-American young woman in the Washington D.C. area could not ask herself, "Should I go to Georgetown or Howard?"  Georgetown was simply not an option, so, if she was to more fully participate in economic and social relationships, she had to go to Howard--which is a well-respected HBCU.  The school choice movement (problematic as it is) holds that parents should be able to choose among several educational options for their children, but for most of our nation's history the idea of choice for African and Native Americans has been an insanely cruel "useful myth" for white men and women to maintain their sense of power and privilege.  Even today, "choice" for African and Native Americans is a far more complicated issue than it is for white middle-class Americans.

DeVos's statement betrays a PROFOUND LACK of understanding, both of history and of education.  She showed, again, just how unqualified she is to lead the Department of Education.  To her credit, the day after she made this ridiculous claim, in response to severe criticism she has backpedaled a bit.  The point is, though, she should not have pedaled there in the first place.

NOTE: This is a shorter version than the original post.  Cleaned up clutter and a half-developed direction.