Friday, September 23, 2016

"He Doesn't Have A Gun."

Keith L. Scott & his mom Vernita Walker
Last night as I was watching some of the live CNN coverage of the massive protests taking place across the city of Charlotte, it almost seemed to surreal.

It was just about two months ago that  I was blogging about having had such a positive experience in the city during the first week of August during our family reunion.

The same pleasant streets of downtown Charlotte where I was strolling with family members, visiting museums and enjoying restaurants and the hospitality of local residents, are now crowded with protesters of different ages and ethnicities coming out to protest the killing of Keith Lamont Scott.

The protesters demanding the release of the police body-camera and dash-cam video taken at the scene of the shooting reflect an intense need to understand how a man who was sitting in his parked truck waiting to pick up his child from the school bus ends up being shot and killed by members of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

They were't even looking for him, they were there to serve a warrant on someone else, so what was it that he did or said to make the cops who were surrounding his truck react as they did?

Moments after shooting: was there a gun or not?
The troubling cell phone video taken by the victim's wife Rakeyia Scott that was released earlier today doesn't make clear what prompted the police reaction.

Nor does it actually show her husband being shot, or whether he had a gun, or a book as some witnesses claim.

Even the still images taken from the video don't make it clear if there was a gun at the scene or not.


Both the attorneys for the Scott family and Police Chief Kerr Putney agree that there is no definitive evidence that Scott had or was pointing a gun when he was shot after watching the dash-cam and body-cam video.

Regardless the sound of Rakeyia Scott's pleading for the officers not to shoot her husband are heartbreaking and difficult to listen to.

Aside from an apparently innocent man being shot and killed for reasons that are unknown, perhaps the biggest tragedy of this incident is the degree to which it further erodes an already fragile trust between some American communities and the police sworn to serve and protect them.

A trust made more elusive over behavior by some police officers during high-profile shootings of unarmed citizens in the past.

Michael Slager stand over a dying Walter Scott
For  example after North Charleston PD officer Michael Slager shot and killed African-American motorist Walter Scott on April 4, 2015 after a traffic stop for a faulty brake light, Slager lied to investigators about Scott taking Slager's taser and trying to use it against him.

Until cell phone video taken by a bystander not only showed Scott trying to run away; it showed Slager picking up the taser and bringing it over to where Scott lay bleeding to death on the ground and dropped it next to him.

Clear evidence that he was already concocting a false story to justify his having shot Scott.

And revealing the horrifying reality that instead of calling for an ambulance or trying to administer CPR, Slager was busy working on a coverup.

Chicago police spent more than a year dismissing eyewitness, illegally confiscating CCTV footage from nearby businesses and trying to block release of the dash-cam video of officer Jason Van Dyke shooting teenager Laquan McDonald sixteen times as the victim was walking away from Van Dyke and other officers with a small knife in his hand.

Again, police created a false narrative about having had their lives threatened and being forced to shoot and kill McDonald to protect themselves - Van Dyke and at least four other Chicago PD officers on the scene all lied to investigators about McDonald lunging at them with the knife.

Protesters in Charlotte Thursday night
Those are just two of many examples of the kind of behavior on the part of some American police officers that erodes trust between citizens and police; incidents that overshadow the thousands of law enforcement professionals across the country who work hard and risk their lives to protect the communities they serve.

And do it the right way.

So this is more than just yet another African-American man being shot by trigger happy cops.

And it's certainly way more complex than asinine Republican North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger's absurd comments to the BBC that the protesters in Charlotte "hate white people because white people are successful and they are not." - do those protesters in the photo above look like they hate white people?

Obviously this remarkably out of touch delusional gas-bag Trump supporter hasn't been watching the live coverage of the protests in the city he represents, because he would have seen large numbers of white people out there protesting Keith Scott's shooting as well.

I guess he missed the fact that the cop who shot Scott was black?

The point that's going waaay over the head of Congressman Pittenger and the orange-haired presidential candidate he supports is that these protests are about justice, Constitutional rights, civil rights and the unchecked and unjustified use of deadly force against unarmed Americans taking place in this country.

So tonight while Trump and Pittenger and their ilk pontificate and shamelessly politicize the deaths of Keith Scott and Terrence Crutcher, members of the North Carolina National Guard now occupy the downtown streets where just a few weeks ago I was sitting with a couple of my cousins outside the downtown Hilton enjoying a drink with my cousins watching people wandering by on their way home from bars and clubs.

Now those streets teem with people seeking justice, who, like millions of people around the world are finding it hard to forget the sound of Rakeyia Scott voice on that cell phone video desperately pleading with police, "Don't shoot him. Don't shoot him. He didn't do anything."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Help Trump Prep For the 1st Debate!

Feeling left out of the upcoming first presidential debate?

Feeling like your voice isn't being heard, or that the topics important to you won't be raised when Hillary and Donald square-off this Monday night?

Then follow the advice of talk show host Steven Colbert and take advantage of the Trump campaign's offer to take the Trump-Pence Debate Prep Survey!

That's right folks, just click this link and go to the GOP Website to add your voice to the list of topics that you want Trump to speak about when he faces off against Hillary Clinton this Monday!

This is NOT a joke folks, I just spent about ten minutes telling the Donald exactly which topics he should talk about!

It's easy and fun!

Just select "Other" in the list of answers to each question and fill in your own answer where it says "please specify".

And boy did I - I made sure to tell the good folks over at Trump central that I wanted to hear the Donald talk about his tax returns, his sham university and the fact that his own charitable foundation channels money (given by people who want to do business with Trump) to charities associated with, wait for it...his own businesses!

Now be sure and act fast, the first debate of 2016 kicks on at 9pm EST this Monday September 26th live on NBC and MSNBC moderated by Lester Holt.

By now this GOP Website is being inundated with advice and feedback from people who absolutely despise Trump and everything he stands for, so click the link above and weigh in!

Seriously, how often do you get a chance to speak directly to the Alt-Right brain trust running the Trump campaign?

Tell 'em what you think!

If they're desperate enough to actually solicit ideas from the internet on how Trump can win the first debate, you owe to yourself to sit down share your feedback before they take the thing down!

Act now!  https://gop.com/DEBATE-PREP-SURVEY/ 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Bomber Gets Wounded, An Innocent Guy Is Shot & Killed

Rahami being taken into custody
Like millions of other people, I applaud officers Angel Padilla and Peter Hammer, the brave members of the Linden (NJ) Police Department who found Chelsea bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami sleeping in the entranceway of a Linden bar, and managed to take him into custody yesterday after a shootout.

Given the circumstances it's remarkable that they captured him alive to be questioned.

By all accounts, both officers had every right to use deadly force on the 28-year-old Rahami, but they kept their composure and maintained their professionalism. 

As WABC reported Rahmi almost immediately opened fire on officer Padilla after he was awakened by the officer who recognized him as the bombing suspect.

Despite the fact that Rahami ran into the street firing shots, the officers managed to shoot and wound the suspect; ensuring the opportunity for members of law enforcement to interrogate the suspect for critical information on the bombings in Chelsea and Seaside Park.

That's a pretty significant contrast to the way that members of the Tulsa Police Department treated 40-year-old African-American motorist Terrence Crutcher last Friday night when they came upon his vehicle stalled in the middle of a road and shot him dead. 

Terrence Crutcher walks away with his hands raised
Credit should obviously go to the leadership of the Tulsa PD for releasing the video to the public as quickly as they did to demonstrate a willingness to conduct an open investigation into the shooting.

Unlike the Chicago PD who waited over a year to release the video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot multiple times as he was walking away from officers.


From what we know, the case of Terrence Crutcher is very different, it's still light out as you can clearly see from the video still above.

Now if you haven't already seen the video you should take a look at it for yourself, I've watched the dash cam footage from one of the Tulsa PD vehicles that approaches the scene after the first officer is already in contact with Crutcher. 

But I think people need to watch the overhead police helicopter footage and listen to one of the officers as he casually remarks that Crutcher "looks like a bad dude, he's probably on something".

It's clear that three different officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder are within about twenty feet of Crutcher as he's walking away from them slowly with his arms clearly in the air.

Officer Betty Shelby
He doesn't rush them, he makes no attempt to flee or any sudden movements that suggest he's reaching for a weapon; but one of the officers tasers Crutcher, and then another officers fires a shot from a hand gun.

According to an NBC News article, the lawyer representing officer Betty Shelby, the white Tulsa police officer who fired the shot that struck and killed Crutcher, Shelby claims Crutcher wasn't responding to police commands and then walked to the side of his vehicle - again, slowly with his hands up.

But as Crutcher family attorney Benjamin Crump observed,  images taken from the helicopter video footage clearly show the driver's side window was rolled up, so clearly Crutcher wasn't reaching inside the vehicle as was initially reported.

From what I read about officer Shelby, she doesn't seem like a bad cop.

I do think find it interesting that her Tulsa PD officer husband was inside the helicopter that took the clearest video of the scene; though the Tulsa PD claim he wasn't the officer heard on the radio saying that Crutcher "looks like a bad dude."

There's still so little known about what prompted that deadly shot, and obviously an investigation will reveal more information, but I do think it says a lot about how race, ethnicity and unconscious (or conscious) bias affects how some members of law enforcement in this country view African-Americans as "threats".

Like that officer in the helicopter, he's hundreds of feet in the air over the scene, yet he makes the determination that Crutcher (a church-going father who'd supposedly just come from a night class at Tulsa Community College) is a "bad dude".

What was he basing that on?

In the same year (2015) that Dylan Roof, the white gunman who walked into a South Carolina church and shot and killed nine African-Americans at a Bible study in cold blood (and who was beaten up in jail back in August), was taken into custody by police without incident - Walter Scott, the unarmed black motorist who was shot in the back by former officer Michael Slager after being stopped for a faulty brake light and trying to flee, was killed on the spot for a minor civil infraction.

The list of unarmed black Americans killed by police is disturbingly long, and Terrence Crutcher's death in Tulsa makes it longer.

Seems to me that if officers in Linden, NJ can take a suspected terrorist responsible for detonating explosive devices designed to kill large numbers of people into custody without killing him, four officers in Tulsa should be able to detain an unarmed man with his hands raised walking slowly around a stalled vehicle parked in the middle of a road.
  
But this is America, and for some police officers, perhaps perception is more important than logic.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Bombs & Bullets By The Light Of The Full Moon

Gov. Cuomo & Mayor de Blasio inspect the explosion site
Back when I used to work as a bartender in an Irish Pub on West 81st street in New York, there were a few regulars who worked as cops and firefighters.

One of my favorite regulars was a guy named George who worked as the on-call social worker at the emergency room of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Based on the kinds of people we dealt with at our respective jobs we all knew that the arrival of the full moon each month always coincided with an uptick in unusual behavior.

Violence, people having meltdowns, random encounters with really weird people; that kind of thing.

It was to the point that one of them could walk into the bar with a haggard or exhausted look on their face and I could look at them and say, "Full moon?" and they'd just nod and sit down for a drink and explain some kind of incident they'd experienced on the job.

The full moon for September that took place on Friday was a Harvest Moon, meaning it's the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox, but as astrologers note, the effects of a full moon can be felt anywhere between one to four days before or after the actual full moon.

Donald Trump's decision to publicly announce on Friday that he was officially accepting the long-established fact that the President of the United States was born in Hawaii after spending five years fanning the flames of discredited Birther theories was about as bizarre as him having the gall to lie and and say Hillary Clinton started the Birther-thing.

I know I'm not the only person still shaking their head over some of the senseless violence and unusual events that have taken place over the past three days.

Particularly the explosive device that was detonated on Saturday night in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan and a smaller device that exploded Saturday morning near the location of the scheduled Seaside Semper Five 5K charity run benefitting U.S. Marines that was scheduled to take place in Seaside Park, New Jersey.

While it's way still too early to be able to definitively tell who was responsible for the two explosions, CNN is reporting that the man dressed in a security guard uniform who said something about Allah and asked at least one person if they were a Muslim before going on stabbing rampage in a Minnesota mall on Saturday before being shot and killed by an off-duty police officer was acting on behalf of some kind of ISIS splinter group.

Tulsa cop shot unarmed Terrence Crutcher on Friday
Things turned deadly in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Friday for reasons that had to do with a very different kind of terror.

According to a statement from his family, 40-year-old Terrence Crutcher (pictured left, center) was driving home from a class at Tulsa Community College when the SUV he was driving stalled in the middle of a two lane road.

Tulsa police responding to a different emergency saw the SUV and stopped.


According to a rather confusing statement from the Tulsa Police Department, officers saw Crutcher approaching their police vehicle and they asked him to put his hands up (whatever happened to "Good evening sir, is everything okay here?").

Now what happened next isn't really clear, but police claim that Crutcher "refused to comply with police commands", allegedly reached into his vehicle and one officer shot him with a taser before another officer fired a single shot that killed him.

Crutcher's family insist he was unarmed and that he was driving home from class; if the police pulled up and asked him to put his hands up, maybe he got mad and was reaching in his car to get his ID to show to the police.

(Remember Levar Jones? He was the African-American pulled over at a gas station by former South Carolina State Trooper Sean Groubert back in 2012, Groubert was caught on video ordering Jones to show his ID, when Jones reaches into his car to get his wallet Groubert shot him.)

Now I think if most people found themselves on a road with a stalled vehicle, your natural inclination would be to approach a police car for help right?

If you've ever blown a tire or been stuck on the side of the road at night, it's a little scary and when a tow truck or a cop shows up you're relieved to see them, and the natural inclination is to go towards them assuming they're there to help you, not kill you.

Jonathan Ferrell killed by police in 2013
In fact you may recall that three years ago almost to the day that's exactly what happened back in September of 2013 when 24-year-old African-American Jonathan Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player who got into a bad accident near Charlotte, NC, crawled out of the back window of his vehicle and knocked on the nearby home of a woman to seek help.

She called the cops and told them someone was trying to break in, officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department showed up, saw the injured Ferrell running toward them for help and promptly shot him with a taser before shooting him multiple times and killing him.

By the way that incident took place on September 16, 2013 three days before the full moon.

Now I'm not ascribing all these events to the full moon, plenty of bad stuff happens when the moon isn't full, but I wanted to share the strange frequency with which unusual events tend to happen around the full moon - ask a cop or an EMT about it.

Like the bizarre shooting rampage that took place Friday night in Philadelphia that left an innocent woman dead and two police officers and three civilians injured.

Just this afternoon a man was shot and killed at the intersection of Stuyvesant Avenue and Marion Street the West Ward of Trenton, NJ; less than a mile from the spot where city Councilman Duncan Harrison called for action against gun violence last week.

And so 40-year-old Terrence Crutcher of Tulsa, Oklahoma joins the list of The Counted, one of 41 people killed by police in the United States this month - one of 772 to be killed by law enforcement this year.

Anyway, let's all hope that the two explosions that took place in New Jersey and New York on Saturday don't have anything to do with random acts of terror connected with ISIS; the full moon is nice to look at, but some of the things that happen under the light of that full moon aren't always so pretty.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Time Stops & 'Umberto D' Endures

9/11 Memorial in Manhattan
The fifteenth anniversary of the horrible events of September 11, 2001 this past Sunday have left me feeling somewhat introspective and a little bit melancholy this week.

To paraphrase a quote I heard during an interview with one of the attendees at the annual 9/11 memorial in downtown Manhattan reflecting on it having been fifteen years since the Twin Towers came down and the attacks in Pennsylvania and the Pentagon:

The calendar moves, but time stops.

And that's kind of what I felt like last Sunday upon turning on the radio when I got up to feed my cat Buster.

One of the first things I heard was an NPR report about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump attending the 9/11 memorial service and I just reached over and turned the radio off at that point.

There's something trite about examining the political implications of the two presidential front runners attending an event on that hallowed ground on a day that should be about something sacred to the families and friends of the thousands who lost their lives in that senseless, unfathomable horror.

After that I just couldn't listen to any news on Sunday.

As one of the millions of people living in Manhattan on that fateful fall day, the sights I saw, the eerie silence after the attack and the smells that filled the air will stick with me forever; things I'm still not fully ready to write about; though I imagine that would be therapeutic in some way.

When I'm ready I guess.

To seek some measure of solace from the memories of 9/11 last Sunday, I worked on my blog and then as I often do, I sat down to watch a movie.

Carlo Battisti as Umberto D
As I blogged about last month, after watching writer-director Delmer Daves 1947 Film Noir classic Dark Passage and doing some reading on the making of the film, it was illuminating to learn that he, like other American Film Noir directors in Hollywood, were heavily influenced by the Italian neorealism movement.

Neorealism emerged in the 1940's as Italian directors, cinematographers, producers, screenwriters, costume designers and lighting and sound technicians all used their talents to explore the impact of WWII on Italian society.

Their efforts changed modern cinema as we know it today by bringing elements of realism to the screen.

Director Vittorio de Sica is a former actor whose classic 1948 film Bicycle Thieves (titled The Bicycle Thief for American audiences) is regarded by many critics as one of the best films of all time; and one of the definitive neorealism films.

Four years later he decided to explore the same subject matter and re-teamed with frequent-collaborater screenwriter Cesare Zavattini for the 1952 film Umberto D.

A couple weeks ago I re-watched Bicycle Thieves for the first time in a few years and was reminded of the poignant, haunting beauty of the cinematography and the raw power of the emotional impact of the story as a desperate father frantically searches Rome for the man who stole his bicycle; which he must have for a new job in order to provide for his wife and son in post-WWII Italy.

While watching the commentary after the film, I was struck by De Sica's deep personal disappointment over the fact that his film Umberto D, released just two years after he won an honorary Oscar in 1950 for Bicycle Thieves, was poorly received by audiences.

So I immediately wanted to see the former for myself.

The title Umberto D is the name of the main character, shortened as it might appear on some kind of cold bureaucratic list. He's a kind, graceful old man struggling to survive his twilight years on a meager state pension with only his beloved dog Flike as anything resembling a family.

Umberto D protests in the opening scene
What struck me from the opening scene of the film is just how relevant it is to the realities of today.

Not just the complexities and challenges of facing old age, but also the idea of depending on a cold, unsympathetic government bureaucracy, and the economic injustices faced by retirees forced to live on inadequate pensions.

In a scene that's startlingly familiar to the social unrest of today's world, the film opens on a protest.

One that imbeds itself in your mind immediately as a large crowd of angry old men marching purposefully towards a local government building to demand more adequate pensions.

They're met by a disinterested bureaucrat who tells them there's nothing that can be done, and then quickly dispersed by disdainful police officers riding in jeeps who show nothing but contempt for the old men as they hustle them away from the square and break up the protest.

It's there that we meet Umberto D, played with understated brilliance by Carlo Basttisti, a real-life linguistics professor with no acting experience who was spotted walking down the street one day and persuaded to audition for the lead role by De Sica's assistants.

Just like Lamberto Maggiorani, the unforgettable lead of Bicycle Thieves who was not a professional actor, De Sica cast performers who fit the gritty reality he portrayed in his early films; and by casting Battisti as Umberto D he hit the mark.

Lina Gennari as Umberto D's scheming landlady
Though there's nothing overly complex about the plot, an old man trying to figure out how to survive, Battisti's look, expressions and mannerisms quickly elicit sympathy and pity as his struggles unfold on the screen.

He owes back rent to a greedy uncaring landlady (played by actress Lina Gennari) who rents out his modest room to couples who want to have sex when he's not there, and refuses to take what little cash he can come up with as a partial payment on what he owes her until his pension check comes.

Instead she constantly berates and humiliates Umberto D in front of others for his debt, and then schemes to use it as leverage to evict him from his home of 20 years. Why?

So she can remodel the the room and turn it into a spacious living room to entertain her frequent guests and suitors - De Sica uses her character to brilliantly depict the class divisions and income disparity between the haves and have-nots that began to appear after WWII as Italy slowly began to recover economically.

In much the same way that the main character in Bicycle Thieves spends much of the movie desperately searching for his stolen bicycle, Umberto D desperately wanders the streets trying to borrow the money he owes from the few associates he has; and even from two former co-workers he runs into - to no avail.

Flike tries to beg for money 
Through it all, the old man struggles to find the strength to maintain his dignity even while putting his love and concern for his beloved dog ahead of his own needs.

His devotion to his four-legged companion serves as a brilliant contrast to the parade of uncaring people who populate the film.

His little dog Flike is equally devoted to him.

In one memorable scene, after having repeatedly passed men begging on the streets during the film, as Umberto finally nears the end of his rope, he tries, but can't bear to reduce himself to hold out his hand on the street for money and instead, gives his hat to Flike and hides behind a nearby column hoping passing strangers will instead take pity on the dog and drop some money in the hat - as if Flike protects the old man's dignity.

There's no gore, or gratuitous violence in this film, but it's tough to watch at times as De Sica forces the audience to bear witness to the harsh realities of human suffering, the truth of the human condition in the 20th century, and the apathy of one's fellow man.

The gut-wrenching final act and ending is truly heart-breaking in ways that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest sort, and while I don't like to give spoilers, as his growing desperation spirals into thoughts of suicide, it's the love of Flike that gives Umberto a measure of hope.

The film seems so relevant to the world we live in today when the growing gap between the 1% and the 99% is as wide as it's ever been; and quality of life for the elderly is a problem that's only about to multiply as the Baby Boomers begin to retire - particularly when Republican politicians scheme to eliminate Social Security and gut Medicare.

Vittorio De Sica
But Umbero D is an enduring masterpiece of filmmaking, one that seems just as relevant and meaningful today as it was in back in 1952 in post-WWII Italy.

But even recognizing that, the fact that audiences and distributors turned a cold shoulder to the film when it was originally released genuinely puzzled me until I read an analysis of the film by Italian writer Umberto Eco - who joked that when he heard, as a younger man, that there was a film titled Umberto D , he, "Umberto E", had to see it.

Eco re-watched the film years after first seeing it and he noted that by the time Vittorio De Sica released Umberto D in 1952, many Italians were eager to move past the economic hardships that Europeans and others around the world endured during and after WWII.

There's no question that De Sica successfully explored familiar territory in Umberto D, and arguably made one of the finest films of his career.

In fact, according to an article on De Sica's ten best films as compiled by Indiewire.com last fall, it's been said it was Sweedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergmen's favorite film of all time; and that's saying something.

But many cinema fans in Italy felt that by 1952, the struggle, hardship and injustice that the great director so effectively portrayed on the screen in his early successful neorealism films like The Children Are Watching Us (1944), Shoeshine (1946) and Bicycle Thieves (1948), were (by the 50's) seen by some as negative portrayals of Italian culture.

Images many Italians were eager to put behind them by the 1950's as the economy and people's lives began to improve as peace settled over Europe.

Umberto D comforts Flike
But for De Sica himself, a true artist who was born into poverty in Sora, Lazio in 1901, my sense is that it was impossible for him to simply "stop" exploring the depravation and struggle of WWII and post-WWII.

Even though he so effectively used the backdrop of 1940's Italy as a canvass for some of his finest work, the unforgettable characters who populate his best neorealism films were likely based on the men, women and children he himself knew growing up in poverty in the early 1900's - and the experiences he knew first-hand.

So while perhaps Italian film audiences had "moved on" to a degree by the time Umberto D was released in 1952, De Sica had not, and his vision endures to this day; waiting for new generations to discover it.

As De Sica himself famously observed:

"I've lost all my money on these films. They are not commercial. But I'm glad to lose it this way. To have for a souvenir of my life pictures like Umberto D and The Bicycle Thief."

Those films are in truth, souvenirs for us all and timeless snapshots of the human condition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Trump's Basket Of Hate

Trump's basket of hate; cartoon by Clay Jones
Over the past couple days it's been rather remarkable to listen to Donald Trump express theatrically-righteous indignation over someone making unfair generalizations about his supporters.

After all this is the same guy who literally kicked off his 2016 presidential campaign last year by claiming that Mexican immigrants in this country were drug dealers and rapists.

But that person happened to be Hillary Clinton, and Trump quickly seized on a single line from the now infamous "basket of deplorables" speech she made at a campaign event last Friday in New York to attack.

As has been widely reported, Clinton speculated that fully half of Tump's supporters could be labeled as deplorables because of their tacit acceptance of the rampant bigotry, divisiveness and intolerance consistently served up in large doses by the orange-skinned ringmaster himself.

Largely left out of what has essentially become massive over-coverage of Trump's reaction to Clinton's speech (rather than the content of the actual speech itself) was the fact that she was introduced by transgender actress Laverne Cox from the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black.

If you read the actual text of her remarks, which were posted on the LA Times Website, Clinton began by building on Cox's enthusiastic declaration of support by citing a laundry list of issues with the Trump campaign that she said she found deplorable.

Including his pledge to nominate Supreme Court justices who oppose marriage equality if elected and the fact that as governor of Indiana, Trump's running mate Mike Pence supported legislation that would have made it legal for business to discriminate against LGBT customers.

It's not like Hillary just walked onstage and declared that 50% of Trump supporters were deplorable.

Of course with the mainstream news media replaying Trump's whining for two days straight, it didn't take long for Trump supporters to rally behind the idea of their having been called out for rallying behind a presidential candidate who has made bigotry the central plank of his campaign.

Trumpies were quick to try and harvest some political crops while the sun was shining.

Some were photographed holding up hand-made signs reading "Deplorable Lives Matter."

It certainly didn't take very long for t-shirts like the one pictured above to pop on the Internet for sale; just Google the images of "Basket of Deplorables" t-shirt and see what comes up.

This morning on the opening segment of The Brian Lehrer Show, the former Rolling Stone executive editor Eric Bates, the recently-crowned editor of The New Republic, observed that despite Trump's display of outrage, Clinton's comment is actually accurate.

He noted that polling data reveals that significant numbers of suburban white voters find Trump and his supporters to be divisive racists - no need to waste money polling Hispanics, African-American, Asian-American and American Muslims on how they feel about that.

Is there really any question that a large chunk of Trump's supporters are in fact fueled and motivated by bigotry, xenophobia and what can only be described as a slightly polished form of white nationalism?

As Brian Lehrer noted, New York Times columnist Charles Blow's op-ed piece on Monday presented a selection of poll data that backs up Hillary's claim. Some highlights:

A Public Policy poll of Trump supporters taken in February showed that 38% of them wish the south had won the Civil War and 80% supported Trump's proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken in June showed that nearly 50% of Trump supporters described blacks as more violent than whites and 40% believed blacks were more lazy than whites.


So I'm not the only one who finds Trump's outrage to be phony and self-serving.

He's been intentionally cultivating people eager to blame the nation's problems on people who don't look like them, or worship like them or who immigrated here from other nations.

Trump has been criss-crossing the country for more than a year filling up his basket of hate; Hillary just called him (and his supporters) out for it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lena Dunham's Awkward Millennial Moment

 Actress / writer Lena Dunham
As you may have heard, last week Lena Dunham, the creator, writer and star of the HBO series Girls, made a pretty big social media splash - and not for a good reason.

As the New York Times reported last Wednesday, she found herself on the defensive after comments she made during an interview with actress / comedienne Amy Schumer about Odell Beckham Jr., a talented African-American wide receiver for the New York Giants in which she ascribed thoughts and words to him that he didn't actually say.

Let me first say that I don't think that Dunham is a racist at all, in fact her politics are clearly pretty progressive.

When she made the comments in question, she was interviewing one of the most talented comediennes in the business via Skype, so clearly she was having a one-on-one conversation and trying to be funny, but it didn't come off that way.

The interview was published the Friday before last in the online newsletter Lenny Letter, which was founded last fall by Dunham and Girls co-creator Jennifer Konner as an online forum for young feminist voices to be heard through stories, essays and interviews.

It gained notoriety when actress Jennifer Lawrence published her online op-ed piece, "Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?" on the Website last fall, generating a slew of media attention to the gender pay gap in Hollywood.

During the interview with Amy Schumer two weeks ago, Dunham was trying to steer the conversation towards an issue that's very personal to her; the distorted perception of female body image that exists within media, art, entertainment and popular culture.

Dunham in a photo she posted on Instagram
Part of Dunham's appeal is that she's the opposite of the standard thin blue-eyed blonde stereotype that saturates film and television; she looks like an "average" woman, someone you might know or work with.

Her body isn't artificially "perfect" in the sense of the hyper-toned meticulously sculpted female figures most commonly seen in American films and television that radically distort perceptions of the normal body types of women and girls.

Dunham accepts herself for who she is; a talented writer with a voice who isn't afraid to express her opinion, or show her body off as evidenced by the nude scenes she's done on Girls or the pictures she posts on social media.

So as she began her interview with Schumer, who's made herself famous for her own jokes about her embracing her own body type, Dunham referred back to the fact that both she and Schumer sat at the same table at the ultra-exclusive Met Gala back in May.

The Met Gala is an invitation-only annual charity fashion event that benefits the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute that is chaired and hosted by Anna Wintour, the American Vogue editor and artistic director of publishing giant Condé Nast; individual tickets run about $30,000.

Although companies, or loaded individuals, who slap down $275,000 for a table often invite well-known people who might not otherwise be able to afford a ticket for the opportunity to mingle with them, simply because it's interesting and worthwhile to have them there.

So unless you're an A-list actor, really hot model, wealthy financier/lawyer/media executive, or a talented and well-known designer, athlete, musician, writer, politician or performer (or are dating or married to one of the above...) don't expect an invitation in the mail from the notoriously discerning Ms. Wintour anytime soon.

So it's more than a little ironic that Dunham and Schumer were at the same table at an exclusive event that is essentially a money-festooned ode to the "perfect" female body.

Dunham, dressed in a black tuxedo pants suit and wearing oversize thick-rimmed glasses, was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr. at the event and in an effort to sort of sarcastically play on her own personal insecurities about her body and looks in a room full of some of the hottest models in the world, during the interview Dunham told Schumer that she felt like Beckham dismissively looked at her because she wasn't as attractive as the other women at the Met Gala.

Giant's receiver Odell Beckham
She told Schumer:

"I was sitting next to Odell Beckham Jr. and it was so amazing because it was like he looked at me and he determined I was not the shape of a woman by his standards. He was like, 'That's a marshmallow. That's a child. That's a dog.' It wasn't mean, he just seemed confused." 

Then it got even stranger.


"The vibe was very much like, 'Do I want to f*ck it? Is it wearing a...yep, it's wearing a tuxedo, I'm going back to my cell phone.' It's like we were forced to be together, and he literally was scrolling Instagram rather than having to look at woman in a bow tie. I was like this should be called the Metropolitan Museum of Getting Rejected By Athletes."

Check out the comments on LennyLetter.com for yourself, they came pretty early in the written online interview.

As I said, I don't think Dunham was being racist per se, but her comments about Beckham, even if meant in jest, clearly tap into damaging, demeaning and enduring stereotypes about black American males being simplistic, over-sexualized predators consumed with bedding white women.

Last week black female culture writer Zeba Blay took Dunham to task in a well-written op-ed titled
"The Way Lena Dunham Talks About Black Men Is Peak White Entitlement" posted on Huffington Post that noted that Dunham has had several other instances or comments with decidedly racial overtones that have made media headlines since 2011; including comments she made during a 2013 interview suggesting black Canadian rapper Drake didn't find her physically attractive.

Does Dunham have some kind of "thing" about black men not finding her attractive?

I don't know. Her style of humor tends to be so layered with cynicism and sarcasm that at times it's hard to pin down what Dunham herself actually thinks or believes, versus what she wants people to think that she believes.

It's hard to gauge what's in someone's mind, but my sense is that Dunham's comments reveal an awful lot about her own personal insecurities about her body and her looks, I mean if you read her quote above, if you didn't know she was a 30-year old writer and actress, you might have thought it was written by a sixteen year old high school girl who secretly pines after the varsity quarterback.

Again, from the perspective of a guy who played college and professional football, I've been around and known a lot of very talented athletes, white and black - many of them come from very modest means that are lightyears from the privilege that surrounds professional football.

Claire Danes at the 2016 Met Gala
It's important to remember that although Odell Beckham signed a four-year contract worth a guaranteed $10.4 million when he was signed as a first-round agent out of LSU in 2014, including a $5.8 million signing bonus, and was listed on GQ's best-dressed list in July, he's still a 23-year old kid who grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The football players you see on the field may exude confidence, but they're still human.


Lena Dunham is not only seven years older than him, she's made a movie, pitched and sold a TV series to HBO, started a Website and been published as a writer; she's a "player" and as such has had infinitely more experience at formal events packed with influential and wealthy people - she's also been attending the Met Gala since at least 2014.

So maybe she didn't stop to consider that Beckham might simply have felt a little bit insecure himself at that table at the Met Gala surrounded by some of the wealthiest and most famous people in the world.

If she was so curious about what he thought, why didn't she just turn to him, introduce herself and try and get to know him? Isn't that what most of us make an effort to do when seated at a formal event or affair with people we don't know?

Maybe Beckham sort of retreated into looking at his cell phone because no one thought to include him in the conversation taking place at the table.

Have you noticed that looking down at one's cell phone and pretending to be occupied has become something of a social crutch of sorts in today's hi-tech society?



A lot of people do it, but I think it's especially true of Millennials, who at times can seem tethered to their phones through some sort of WiFi umbilical cord.

Maybe there were other social dynamics at that table that Dunham simply didn't pick up on that caused Beckham to tune into his phone.

I mean, say for example Chase Manhattan or Time Warner had paid $275,000 for the table at the Met Gala where Schumer, Dunham and Beckham were all sitting that night, and the rest of the people at the table were wealthy C-level executives of the company with their spouses who all knew each other - Beckham might have felt left out or no one thought to include him the conversation.

Believe me (not to "Trump" out), I'm a fairly intelligent guy who can converse on an any number of topics, and I've been to social occasions where people make some pretty base assumptions about me because they find out I play or played football - there are people who think football players are lunk-headed idiot simpletons.

But to get back to the topic, as Dunham said, she had Amy Schumer at the same table and they've known each other for years and are friends - I'd be interested to know if there were any other people of color seated at that table or what the dynamics of the conversation were.

Schumer, Dunham & Beckham at the Met Gala
There were certainly some A-list black people at the Met Gala event including Rihanna, Beyonce Knowles, Jay-Z, Drake, Kanye West and Idris Elba among others - but of the 600 guests who attended, how many of them were people of color?

Personally I think Dunham's actions were something of a "Millennial-thing"; Millennials being those born in the 1980's to early 90's.



Obviously it's not fair to ascribe behavioral characteristics to an entire generation of people.

But in both the professional and social sense, American Millennials have certainly been tagged with attributes that can sometimes cause Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers like myself to scratch their heads; in particular a tendency to be remarkably self-focused and to use social media to broadcast anything they think onto the internet.

So I think Dunham's identity as a feminist whose also sort of unofficially been dubbed by the media as the "voice" of the Millennial generation (Hearst Media backs her Website LennyLetter.com and Time-Warner behemoth HBO bought her series Girls...)

If you stop to think about it, what really qualifies Lena Dunham to be crowned as the unofficial spokesperson of the Millennial generation?

Sure she wrote and directed the critically well-received 2010 film Tiny Furniture and found a way to successfully tap into some of the anxieties of Millennials and fictionalize them for an HBO series; but does she genuinely represent the Millennial mindset and values?

Maybe it was just convenient for mainstream media to appoint Dunham because the executives who spend their days trying to figure out how to market to them and sell them stuff had a hard time understanding them and their elusive (and oft all-consuming) social media habits.

Does the Millennial voice have to be someone who had been on television or in the movies?

Remember last fall when a white University of Southern California fraternity brother leaned out of a window of his frat house and hurled a nasty ethnic slur at Indian-American student Rini Sampath and chucked a drink at her as she was walking by?

USC Undergrad Student Body Pres. Rini Sampath 
Sampath just happened to be the president of the USC undergrad student body, but the frat brother didn't know that, in the bliss of his ignorance he just saw a female with dark skin walking by with her friends and took it upon himself to say what said and do what he did.

In true Millennial fashion Sampath, whose undergrad student body vice-president Jordan Fowler is an African-American woman, quickly took to Facebook and posted about her experience as a means to try and make sense of what happened.

By doing so she brought national attention to the climate of intolerance on the USC campus, (like the University of Texas chapter of Phi Gamma Delta that banned Mexicans, gays and interracial dating) and brought focus to the prevalence of bigotry and prejudice at American institutions of higher learning.

That's when the Washington Post and other large national media outlets picked up the story.

Incidents like that were the topic of a lot of mainstream media discussion last fall, winter and into the spring, illustrating how the divisive racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump campaign had seeped into mainstream culture; as if intolerance and bigotry had been given a collective nod of approval and some students took it upon themselves to openly express that on the campuses of their respective colleges.

So why doesn't mainstream media crown Rini Sampath as the voice of the Millennial generation?

She's certainly a feminist in the truest sense of the word and has devoted herself to causes like mental health, religious and ethnic tolerance and the promotion of diversity on college campuses.

Clearly her own message is as relevant as Lena Dunham's is, and arguably just as meaningful - it's certainly less snarky and more inclusive in the racial, ethnic and cultural sense.

I may be just a Gen X fringe media guy, but in my book Rini Sampath makes a pretty good case for being regarded as the "voice" of the Millennial generation.

Again, I don't think Dunham is a bad person, maybe she just needs to develop a social media filter, or just stop and consider that just because a particular train of though pops into her head, it doesn't mean everyone is going to find it as witty and urbane as she seems convinced she is.

Or maybe Millennials simply find the old adage "some things are better left unsaid" a bit elusive.