Monday, December 05, 2016

Austrian's Right-Wing Rejection: The "Trump-Effect" in Europe?

Right-Wing Austrian candidate Norbert Hofer
There was a palpable collective sigh of relief on Sunday after Austrian voters rejected the far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer in a closely-watched presidential election with political and social implications that echo around the globe.

As the winner, former Austrian Green Party leader Alexander Van der Bellen, was quoted in an article posted on BBC.com, the rejection of Hofer's extremist views and anti-immigrant nationalism was a reflection of voter's desire for an Austria based on the principles of "freedom, equality and solidarity".

While I'm no expert on European or Austrian politics, my sense is that many Austrian people's decision to rebuke a candidate from a party created by ex-Nazis (really) was at least partly influenced by the divisive and troubling aftermath of Donald Trump's election here in the U.S. - and the fear and apprehension his vision represents for a divided nation that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton based on the popular vote.

Even though the role of president in Austrian government is largely symbolic, Austrian voter's rejection of an anti-immigrant right-wing nationalist like Hofer can also be viewed as a larger political snapshot of the European mindset in the wake of the shocking "Brexit" vote by British voters to leave the European Union back in June.

The results of that election were based in large part on a wave of right-wing anti-immigrant hysteria and irrational immigrant-bashing by some British politicians that was similar in tone to Donald Trump's divisive campaign rhetoric in 2015 and 2016.

Newly-elected Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney
While Austria and Britain are very different European countries, the selection of the more moderate Van der Bellen as president could be seen as something of a push-back against Britain's nationalist Brexit vote.

Interestingly, that same voter push-back was seen in the recent upset victory of Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney in Richmond; a well-to-do suburban community just outside London that had previously been a conservative stronghold.

The "by-election" for the British Parliament seat she won was scheduled after the previous Conservative Party MP Zac Goldsmith, an avid Brexit supporter, resigned his seat in protest over the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

Liberal Democrats only make up nine out of the 650 seats in the British House of Commons, well short of the unprecedented 57 seats they won back in the 2010 elections when they formed a coalition with the Conservative Party under former Prime Minister David Cameron.

But they wield political influence and impact policy decisions, and the fact that the more left-leaning and progressive Olney won the seat in Richmond is seen by many as a signal that many British voters remain wary of the decision to pull England out of the EU - and the decidedly nasty anti-immigrant stench left in the air.

Did wariness of Trump's election victory in the U.S. play a part in Olney's upset win in Britain?

Again, it's hard to delve into the minds of Austrian and British voters, but the dark shadow of the Third Reich and Adolph Hitler's rise to power still looms like a specter.

A British protester near the port of Dover
So clearly there are large segments of both nations that are made uncomfortable by the growing intolerance that has accompanied widespread vilification of immigrants in Europe.

Just as there is alarm over the resurgence of right-wing extremist groups angling for legitimacy and political representation in various European nations including Italy, Germany and France.


There's no question Trump's election, his lack of diplomatic savvy, choices of top advisers and boneheaded foreign policy overtures have raised concerns in Europe, Asia and beyond.

So as an American it's a relief to see these recent election wins by more moderate, progressive politicians in Austria and Britain.

Remember, the 2018 Congressional elections in this country aren't that far off, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs, 33 of the 100 Senate seats and 39 governor's seats are in play too - based on what we've seen of the president-elect so far, we may be seeing a "Trump-Effect" of our own on a much bigger scale here in the U.S.

With some hard work, organizing and a little luck the recent election results in Austria and Britain could be a glimpse of the November mid-term elections here in the U.S. less than 24 months from now.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Kellogg's Dumps Breitbart; Shiny Things & Cake

Tony the Tiger says no to toxic bigotry,
anti-Semitism and rampant misogyny
 
Now I was never really a "cereal guy" as a kid.

My younger brother was almost fanatical about sugary cereals like Frosted Flakes or Boo Berry, but I was just one of those kids who never liked the idea of crunchy fibrous bits soaking in a bowl of milk.

But as an American child who grew up spending hours on Saturday mornings in my pajamas watching cartoons, I certainly recognized Tony the Tiger as one of the first corporate icons geared towards youth.

So it seems appropriate to kick off the month of December by giving a shout-out to Kellogg's for their timely decision to pull it's advertising from the "alt right" Website Breitbart News.

As Aimee Picchi reported in an article for CBS News' Moneywatch on Friday morning, large corporations and organizations including the AARP, Vanguard and 3M also announced that they will be pulling their ads from the Breitbart Website in an effort to disassociate their brands from the overt racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and white supremacist ideology which has become a hallmark of the site since the passing of it's founder Andrew Breitbart.

Picchi's article quoted statements from both Kellog's and Vanguard regarding their ad decisions, though neither went into too much detail, their recognition that Breitbart has become an offensive online hub for toxic hate was clear.

Kellog's said that Breirbart didn't align with the company's values and Vanguard said that it does not advertise "on any overtly political Websites."

So kudos to these organizations for recognizing that the overwhelming majority of the people who use their products and services, both here and around the globe, find the kinds of hate and divisiveness that Breitbart peddles in to be reprehensible and offensive to decent folks.

Anti-KKK marchers in Albany, NY on Saturday
Trump seems too busy publicly patting himself on the back for Carrier's decision to keep 800 jobs from moving to Mexico on his self-created "victory tour" to take much notice of the Breitbart kerfuffle.

Or the KKK's plan to march in celebration of Trump's election victory.

Fortunately the Klan's decision to honor Trump with a parade in a small town near Pelham, North Carolina was overshadowed by much larger anti-KKK rallies in Raleigh, NC, Albany, New York and elsewhere.

As Jeff Taylor reported on LGBTQ.com earlier yesterday, anti-Klan marchers gathered in Pelham, NC in an effort to try and find the Klan march to counter-demonstrate, but even after marching to nearby Danville, Virginia they were unsuccessful - perhaps the Klan opted to keep their Trump celebration under the hood.

It's been interesting to watch Trump and his advisors try and pretend he has nothing to do with the hundreds of overt acts of hostility against Muslims, African-Americans, LGTBQ-folk and others that have taken place around the country since the November 8th election.

Like the young Muslim woman who was verbally and physically attacked on a crowded New York City subway by three intoxicated white men yelling Trump's name, snatching at her bag and demanding she remove her Hijab last Thursday night - no onlookers helped her by the way.

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway got into a pretty heated spat with Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri at a post-election discussion forum held at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government the other day when Palmieri called out the Trump campaign for deliberately stoking bigotry and racism.

Kellyanne Conway & Clinton campaign manager
Robby Mook at the Harvard forum discussion
As Wonkette.com reported, an indignant Conway asked Palmieri, "Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?"

Palmieri responded, "You did, Kellyanne You did." 

Meanwhile Trump's boasting about the Carrier jobs deal has been undermined by the fact that it's basically just a $7 million tax giveaway to United Technologies, the parent company that owns Carrier.

A corporate tax giveaway that will benefit Trump financially.

United Technologies is a defense contractor that also owns aircraft engine maker Pratt &Whitney and UTC Aerospace Systems, so not only does it have billions in defense contracts with the United States government, financial documents show that Trump also owns stock in the company - so his "deal" represents a staggering conflict of interest.

But does he Tweet about potential conflicts regarding his ownership stake in UT or other companies around the world?

No, his bizarre Twitter message about people burning the American flag being jailed or denied citizenship dominated much of the media coverage of the president elect this week.

It's pretty clear that he understands that using his Twitter account to repeat pretty much anything that comes into his head, no matter how disjointed or unsupportable by fact, has become his de facto MO.

Trump understands that his followers are easily distracted by bright shiny things that make a lot of noise - doesn't matter if they're true or based on actual evidence.


Remember just a few weeks ago when he was telling his followers that the election was "rigged"?

Now that he's won the election and evidence has surfaced of pro-Trump voter fraud, his lawyers (and individuals who support him)  are filing suits to stop recount efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Consider how much mainstream media coverage has been devoted to his Tweet about the leader of Taiwan calling him to congratulate him about his election victory - it's dominated the headlines this weekend and for Trump has served as an effective way to distract the American people from the rampant and unprecedented conflict of interests his global business relationships represent.

No wonder he won't release his tax returns; it makes Hillary's emails seem like a third grader's fudged report card.

Like the flag-burning Tweet, it just came out of nowhere - can you recall a time during the recent presidential race where burning the American flag, or Taiwan was an issue?

Would you personally rank either of those topics as in the top ten most critical issues facing the nation?

How many people could locate Taiwan on a map?

Trump has figured out that mainstream media is willing, and even eager to help him get his message out there, even though he's just using it as a smokescreen for his con game - reports have surfaced that his pro-Taiwan statement came after his overtures to build a hotel there.

His supporters aren't necessarily interested in facts, they prefer bright shiny things that twinkle in the light that are easy to digest and repeat.

Trump's unfiltered nonsensical Tweets have become almost like a 21st century version of "Let them eat cake", the quote incorrectly attributed to Louis XVI's wife Marie Antoinette that has come to symbolize the ruling classes' disdain, contempt and misunderstanding of the living conditions faced by the poor.

The president-elect has the same disdain for the poor and working class (as evidenced by his stacking his cabinet with billionaires and entrenched political elites), he's just become adept at using Twitter to distract people from seeing what's dark, and for Trump, quite profitable.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Justice for Sam Dubose & Ray Tensing's T-Shirt

Ray Tensing (left) and victim Samuel Dubose
Donald Trump's latest stream-of- consciousness Tweet this morning suggesting that people should be jailed or loose their citizenship for burning the American flag offers a troubling glimpse of the president-elect's views on Constitutional protections.

Particularly given that the Supreme Court has firmly established that burning the American flag is protected by the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

So what's going to become of the growing nationwide calls for more police accountability for officers who use excessive and deadly force in situations where it's unjustified?

Considering that Trump's pick to head the EPA denies the existence of climate change, his pick to head the Dept. of Education supported a law to allow child labor, and his pick to head the Department of Justice opposes both voting rights and civil rights, it's fair to ask how the incoming administration and F.B.I. are going approach the slew of unjustified killings of unarmed innocent people of color by police in this country.

How will a Trump administration impact egregious police brutality cases on the local and state level?

For example, will justice ever be served for the senseless and violent death of Samuel Dubose in Cincinnati at the hands of an overzealous campus cop back in 2015?

After the first trial ended with a deadlocked jury earlier this month, earlier today a new judge, Hamilton County (Ohio) Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz, was assigned to the case.

Her first decision will be to rule on the prosecutor's request for a retrial in a new location.

Judge Leslie Ghiz replaces Judge
Megan Shanahan
According to an article posted on Cincinnati.com this afternoon, Ghiz is a non-nonsense Republican former Cincinnati City Councilwoman and assistant prosecutor who is respected by attorneys and has a reputation for handing down tough sentences.

As an assistant prosecutor she was known as being a friend of  law enforcement, but that's generally true for any prosecutor.

Will she grant the motion for Tensing's retrial?

Millions of people watched the video of former University of Cincinnati campus police officer Ray Tensing shooting Samuel Dubose in the head at point blank range while the unarmed motorist was in the driver's seat of his vehicle with his hands raised over his head.


Last year I posted a blog on July 30th to try and make sense of the outrage I felt at seeing yet another unarmed man of color shot and killed by a law enforcement officer for no reason.

The facts of this flagrant case of excessive use of force remain as troubling as they were confusing when the incident happened last July 19th when Tensing stopped Dubose for not displaying a front license plate properly.

Based on the audio and images taken from Tensing's body-cam the two appeared to be having a relatively civil discussion over Dubose wearing his seatbelt when Tensing suddenly pulls out his gun, points it at Dubose's head and fires - killing him instantly.

Watch this three-minute edited version of the body-cam video of the moments leading up to the shooting for yourself - does it appear that Dubose is in any way even remotely acting aggressive towards Tensing?

And don't worry, the actual shooting portion is so shaky that it's too difficult to actually see the gunshot to the head - but you can hear it.

Ray Tensing shoots unarmed Sam Dubose in
the head while his hands are raised.
Video still frames (pictured left) definitively showed that Dubose was seated behind the wheel with his hands in the air when Tensing fired the shot.

Totally contradicting Tensing's initial bogus claim that Dubose was attempting to drive away and that Tensing was being dragged and was forced to shoot Dubose to save his life.

It's hard to see it in the video, but look at the image, both of Dubose's hands are in the air at the moment Tensing fires his gun.

Tensing's attempt to use the same ambiguous rationale so often used by members of law enforcement who shoot and kill unarmed people for no discernible reason, that he feared for his life, was not only contradicted by the video evidence, his motivation for shooting Dubose was also called into question based on a strange piece of evidence that wasn't revealed until the case went to court.

During the course of the trial, prosecutor Joe Deters revealed to the stunned courtroom that when Tensing followed, stopped and then shot and killed Dubose, he was wearing a t-shirt under his police uniform with an image of the Confederate battle flag on it and the words "Great Smoky Mountains".

Does the fact that Tensing was wearing a t-shirt with the image of a Confederate battle flag on it under his uniform during the unjustified shooting death of an unarmed African-American man pulled over for minor civil infraction serve as some kind of "smoking gun"?

T-shirt Tensing wore when he shot Samuel Dubose
Not in a court of law, no.

But it does call into question the issue of motive for the shooting; particularly given the fact that Tensing was a campus police officer.

Take a look at the t-shirt (pictured left), we live in a free country and campus police officers can certainly wear what they want to; regardless of what any of us think.

But members of law enforcement, be they campus police officers or real cops, must be held to a higher standard given that they are licensed to carry and use firearms.

Given that members of law enforcement are expected to perform their jobs with a degree of objectivity and fairness, does it seem right for an on-duty officer to wear a t-shirt with a Confederate battle flag on it?

What if the t-shirt had a swastika on it?

Or how do you think that same jury would have voted if Tensing was an African-American campus police officer and Dubose was an unarmed white motorist and it was shown that the officer was wearing a t-shirt with a Black Panther logo or an image of Malcom X on it?

Family & friends of Sam Dubose comfort one
another after his funeral last July. 
From my perspective Tensing certainly has a right to wear that t-shirt on his own time, but by wearing it on duty (even under the uniform), it clearly raises questions about his impartiality as a law enforcement officer.

Unfortunately for Dubose's family, friends and advocates of justice and human rights, a mistrial was recently declared after a jury in Ohio remained deadlocked on whether or not to find Tensing guilty of murder or manslaughter charges.




But prosecutor Joe Deters has been adamant about holding Tensing accountable, and I don't think anyone who watched the video of an unarmed Dubose being shot in the head at point blank rage while his hands were up after being pulled over for an improperly displayed license plate would agree that it's fair that Tensing's first trial ended in a hung jury.

Obviously many people are anxious to hear how Judge Leslie Ghiz rules on the motion for Tensing's retrial, perhaps Samuel Dubose has a better chance of receiving some measure of justice from a judge who runs a tighter courtroom.

According to the Cincinatti.com article, not long after she won her seat on the bench, Judge Ghiz said in a radio interview that she wanted to be known as the "Velvet Hammer"; - we'll see if she lives up her reputation for tough sentences.

For the sake of both justice and human rights, let's hope she does.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent, Castro & The Season of Change

Cuban leader Fidel Castro
For some Christians, depending on one's country, today marks the beginning of Advent; which means 'Coming' in Latin.

In the context of the modern Christian church it is meant to represent the Sundays and weeks that lead up to Christmas Day.

So for some Christians, today marks the start of the period recognizing the arrival of Jesus, both a celebration of his birth and a period of reflection on the Biblical preparations for his arrival here on Earth as the son of God.
 
In some ways the recent passing of Cuban leader and noted political revolutionary Fidel Castro reflects the season of approaching change that Advent represents.

Regardless of one's personal religious beliefs, or whether one chooses to believe at all, the birth, life and death of Jesus of Nazareth changed the world in profound ways that still reverberate and impact to this day - people may debate whether he was the son of God, but writings from the early part of the first century AD by Roman historians including Jocephus and Tacitus make multiple references to Jesus, including his crucifixion by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate.

Now to be clear, in no way am I comparing Fidel Castro to Jesus, but there's little question that Castro's life has also had a profound impact on the world as we know it today - I found myself reflecting on both Advent and Castro's passing this morning.

Jesus and Castro? Just hear me out on this.

Music has had a deep impact on my life, I play the guitar and sing. Back in 3rd grade at The Landon School For Boys in Bethesda, Maryland, I learned to read and play music and I also sang in chorus as well; so as I often do as I write on Sundays, I listened to the program 'With Heart and Voice', a weekly program of sacred choral and organ music broadcast via The Classical Network on WQXR at 1pm.

Cuban-Americans celebrate Castor's death in the
streets of Little Havana in Miami, FL
That program is immediately followed by 'Sounds Choral' at 2pm on the same station, which also explores a wide variety of classic and modern choral music and hymns.

(FYI a number of my blogs are written as I listen to Baroque and Renaissance classical music as well, I find it peaceful and it inspires thinking and creativity depending on my mood.)

Now there is little doubt that Castro's death at the age of 90 has, and will, spark a wide range of reactions and discussion amongst regular people, academics and politicians.

If you saw some of the images of ecstatic Cuban-Americans and Cubans-in-exile dancing and celebrating in the streets of Little Havana in Miami, Florida after hearing news of Castro dying, it's clear that people view this complex icon of the 20th century from a variety of different perspectives.

On Saturday conservative politicians from both Canada and America lit into the popular Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after he issued a public statement of condolence for Castro in which he called the controversial Cuban leader a "remarkable leader" and noted that his father, former Canadian PM Gary Trudeau, had known and respected Castro.

The latter also caught flack from political leaders when he made a state visit to Cuba in 1976 where 250,000 Cubans came out to welcome him.

Early today, the younger Trudeau amended his previous statement (and placated his conservative critics) by acknowledging to reporters that Castro was in fact a dictator who caused suffering for those he considered his enemies.

Fulgencio Batista on the cover of Time, April 21, 1952
Castro's role as the revolutionary who led efforts to topple the Western-backed Cuban military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and later fought off the American effort to overthrow him during the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961, gave him global stature among leftists and anti-American leaders and nations around the world.

An emboldened Castro's use of military and financial backing from the Soviet Union to thumb his nose at the United States, criticize capitalism and American foreign policy, and spread Communist influence to other parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia, often made him a political thorn in the side of eleven different U.S. presidents.

But even though he was elevated to an almost mythical status amongst leftist political leaders, he was reviled and feared by many in his own country.


On Castro's orders at least 582 Batista loyalists were executed by firing squads in the wake of the coup that put him into power in a one-party, one-rule system for 49 years.

He made drastic and significant improvements to Cuba's health care system and expanded access to doctors for all people, he also improved the educational system to expand literacy amongst the poor and rural populations who'd been so disenfranchised, alienated and powerless under Batista's rule.

But according to Human Rights Watch, Castro implemented a repressive system that quashed civil liberties, crushed independent journalism, eliminated political dissent and jailed thousands of people in deplorable conditions where many were subjected to torture.

While Castro often lambasted the United States for it's treatment of Native Americans and systematic discrimination of African-Americans, as Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. noted in an excerpt of a chapter from his companion book to the 2011 PBS series 'Black in Latin America', (posted on the Website TheRoot.com) Castro ruled over a Cuban nation as deeply divided over race as the U.S.

As Professor Gates observed based on interviews he conducted in Cuba and research, Castro presided over a system that systematically discriminated against Cubans of color and African descent in ways that have left poor blacks in Cuba even more marginalized and segregated in ways that are worse today than during the Cuban revolution.

Castro's vision of socialist revolution and equitable opportunity materialized for some, but not all, based (in no small part) on race and political ideology.


So as we in America prepare to come to grips with the seismic shifts from the November 8th election which elevated Donald Trump into office, perhaps there is a larger significance to the death of Castro at the start of the season of Advent - when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Regardless of how Castro is viewed, he will remain one of the more iconic figures of the 20th century and his place in history looms large even though it will be debated by scholars and historians for years to come.

After five decades in power, if nothing else, Castro's death is a genuine reflection that significant and lasting change is coming, for the Cuban people, the Western Hemisphere and the larger global landscape.

With the United States finally reestablishing normal diplomatic relations with Cuba under the leadership of President Obama, perhaps Castro's death will herald at least the hope of lasting and meaningful changes to the lives of those in Cuba who've been excluded from Castro's vision for a new Cuba.

Not because of their ideology, but because of the color of their skin.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Getting Their Trump On: More Toxic Trickle-Down

James Means killed by William Pulliam
With facts still emerging about 62-year-old William Ronald Pulliam's arrest for shooting 15-year-old James Harvey Means twice in the stomach last Monday with a .380 caliber handgun, it's hard to say whether this latest example of physical violence against a young man of color is directly tied to the divisive rhetoric of the president-elect.

But given that Pulliam told cops "Another piece of trash off the street." after the arrest, I'm guessing he didn't  vote for Hillary.


Now no offense to any white males who may be reading this (some of you are good friends of mine) but it's Saturday November 26th as I write this, so it's only been fifteen days since a white male Trump supporter aired his personal grievances and political views against a black man minding his own business in a public place.

Remember U.S. Army veteran Ernest Walker being unfairly interrogated about his military service record in a Chili's Grill and Bar in Cedar Hill, Texas on Veterans Day by an old guy in a Trump t-shirt and the manager of the establishment two weeks ago?

Well as Republican icon Ronald Reagan once famously noted, "Here we go again."

Yet another Trump supporter is making headlines for "getting his Trump on" in a place of business, only this time it was targeted against women in the confines of a Delta Airlines flight en route from Atlanta, Georgia to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Trump supporter rants on Delta flight
Seriously, the election took place over three weeks ago; what is it with Trump supporters in public places?

Now interestingly, like the Chili's incident in Texas, this story first started blowing up on social media after a passenger on the flight named Emma Baum used her cell phone or iPad/Kindle to take a brief video of a Trump supporter in a black t-shirt and a white baseball hat wandering the aisle of a the packed flight ranting about Trump.

Have you seen this video that's been viewed almost 2 million times already?

The as-yet unnamed man is just ranting about Trump to the entire plane and in an incredible display of misogyny, he actually has the gall to call the female passengers, "Hillary bitches".

According to an article posted on Buzzfeed.com yesterday afternoon that quoted Emma Baum's Facebook page, the stewardesses on the Delta flight eventually took the Trump supporter aside for fifteen minutes where my guess is he was finally warned about his behavior.

But how does someone just get up mid-flight and start ranting openly like that without a quicker response from the Delta flight crew?

As a number of people observed on Twitter last night, had that guy been a man with dark skin and a turban on they would have made an emergency landing.

Or worse.

Faisal & Nazia Ali kicked off Delta
flight for "sweating" and texting
In fact, just last August Faisal and Nazia Ali, a Muslim couple who'd just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in Paris, were seated on a Delta flight back to Cincinnati, Ohio when one of the Delta employees asked them to exit the plane.

One of the Delta employees claimed that Faisal had been seen "sweating" and allegedly tried to hide his cell phone when the Delta employee walked by; the plane had been sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes in August, I would have been sweating too.


Faisal had actually been texting his mother to tell her when to pick them up at the airport, but even after being questioned by a French police officer who found no reason to detain them, the captain of the Delta flight wouldn't let them back on based on the employee's unjustified suspicions.

But I guess some guy standing in the middle of a Delta flight "getting his Trump on" by ranting at random passengers and insulting women is okay with Delta?

Seems like Delta's cautionary screening procedures depend on what you look like.

Funny how the remarkably thin-skinned Trump blows a gasket on his Twitter account if someone says something he doesn't like, but when his supporters act like assholes to innocent strangers minding their own business in public in Trump's name?

Radio silence.

Guess this is the kind of Trickle-Down Theory we can expect from now on, only it's not imaginary money trickling down from the "top"; it's toxic divisiveness and bigotry.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Jordan Jackson, Bias in U.S. Schools & The Big Con

Jordan Jackson and his 4-year-old sister J'Niahia
Watching different cross sections of the American populace beginning to organize to confront the divisiveness, anger and ethnic and racial hatred channeled by the president-elect and some of his advisers and followers has been one of the more encouraging signs of hope in the wake of the November 8th elections.

A recent incident involving 8-year-old Jordan Jackson, an honor student and athlete at Spanish Lake Primary School in Geismar, Louisiana, reflects the urgent need for that change.

As Brianna Cox reported in an article in The Atlanta Blackstar on Tuesday, Jordan and his 4-year-old sister were waiting to be picked up from school recently when a group of boys, including a 13-year-old, began throwing mulch at the two siblings and taunting them.

When Jordan asked them to stop harassing his younger sister, he was physically pushed to the ground multiple times before one or more of the boys body slammed him to the ground; breaking his arm.

According to Jordan's mother, who teaches in the community, and a fifth-grader from the school who witnessed the incident, Jordan told one of the students, "That's racist!" and the student responded: "You do need to go back to the cotton farm."  

Make no mistake, Donald Trump bears responsibility for this.

The toxic racism, xenophobia and bigotry he actively cultivated inspired a 13-year-old boy to target an innocent 8-year-old honor student minding his own business and standing up for his 4-year-old sister, and then suggest that child needs to "go back" to a state of indentured servitude is as absurd as it is offensive.

How could Trump's bigotry infect a primary
school with such a diverse student body?
Don't get me started on that as-yet-unnamed 13-year-old's parents.

Since the incident, Jordan has been to the hospital at least three times to be treated for a fractured right arm and concussion symptoms and his uncle Cris Colbert set up a GoFundMe page to help with the costs related to his treatment.





According to Colbert, Britton Colon, the principal at the Spanish Lake Primary School, told Jordan's mother Alana Jackson that the school is not liable for the medical bills related to the assault because the student primarily responsible for the attack was not a student at the school and the incident happened after school hours.

This incident has rapidly garnered global media attention so my guess is that we'll probably see what a lawyer has to say about the school not being liable for an assault on an 8-year-old on school grounds.

Similar incidents of verbal and physical assault and harassment in schools across the nation are not unique to Louisiana, Caitlin Dickerson catalogued some of those incidents, including those responsible for them, in an article in the New York Times yesterday.

As I blogged about last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently announced a new online survey of American teachers to update the findings of the Teaching Tolerance project to better analyze the effects of Trump's election on the nation's school children.

Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan
Schools and playgrounds around the country have been defaced by racist graffiti, including swastikas,

In the wake of the election during the week of November 8th, a group of white students at the Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan disrupted a lunch period with loud chants of "Build the wall!"

As a Washington Post article reported, on Monday, the already troubling atmosphere in that school took a more sinister turn last Friday when a student placed a noose in the bathroom.


But despite these kinds of reprehensible incidents occurring in some places of learning around America, organizations and people are stepping up to the plate to address it.

As Eric Lichtblau reported in the New York Times on Tuesday, billionaire investor and Holocaust survivor George Soros pledged $10 million from his foundation to distribute to community groups around the nation to fight incidents of hate.

As the progressive political activist noted in the article, "We must do something to push back against what's happening here."

Amen to that brother.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in 'The Sting'
As millions of bewildered Americans are only beginning to discover, one of the downsides of having an erratic, quasi-delusional con-man who casually encourages xenophobia and racism as the president-elect is, well, he's an erratic, quasi-delusional con-man who casually encourages xenophobia and racism.

Now if you're in need of a great family film for Thanksgiving Day that people of all ages can (and should) watch, one of my favorite movies is 'The Sting', the 1973 film directed by Walter Hill starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw.

A masterpiece of 1970's filmmaking, it won seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

The story centers on a small-time grifter named Johnny Hooker who seeks out an elusive and mysterious experienced con man named Henry Gondorff in order to learn how to set up a ruthless gangster who murdered one of his friends.

Gondorff teaches Hooker the art of using patience, careful planning and manipulation to play the "Big Con"; a meticulously-planned and highly complex scam meant to take a wealthy "mark" for huge amounts of money without the person even knowing that they've been taken.

To me it's not only entertaining, it serves as a cautionary tale that anyone can be "taken".

As millions of Americans who voted for Donald Trump are starting to learn as he steadily begins to walk away from the bold campaign promises that pushed their buttons and got him elected, they got played by one of the biggest con men of them all.

And some of them, particularly embittered working class folks from rust belt factory towns or rural coal mining communities that have seen the globalization of the economy and unchecked corporate greed take away their jobs and livelihoods, don't even know they've been taken by a con man.

They're still too busy venting their anger and frustration on immigrants, people of color and people who don't worship like them.

It's just sad that someone like 8-year-old honor student Jordan Jackson must pay the price for their ignorance and willingness to be duped by a con man whose self interest is all consuming, and whose ethics are almost nonexistent.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In Defiance of the Black Snake

Police using pepper spray on Standing Rock
protesters in North Dakota on Nov 2nd
[Reuters]
Throughout modern history images like Nick Ut's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a young Kim Phuc fleeing a South Vietnamese village in 1972, after having her clothes burned off her body by Napalm dropped by South Vietnamese planes, have demonstrated the power of visual media to alter public perception and government policy and law on major social issues like the Vietnam War and civil rights.




But it remains to be seen whether images like the one seen above of heavily-armed members of local law enforcement using pepper spray against unarmed protesters trying to cross a stream near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation back in early November will move the Dakota Access Pipeline's principal owner, Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, to seek an alternate route for the stretch of the pipeline that could potentially threaten the Missouri River - and the fresh water source for the Standing Rock Sioux.

Throughout Sunday night some truly disturbing images of local and state police using high-powered water cannons on unarmed demonstrators trying to cross a bridge were distributed across social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram until mainstream media finally began devoting coverage of the incident.

I watched a short video posted on Twitter of a medic who was treating injured protesters at a make-shift first-aid station at the Standing Rock camp; he said the use of water cannons had caused a number of minor injuries created when people fell trying to get away.

Standing Rock protesters being hosed by
water cannons Sunday night
He also said people were being treated after being shot by rubber bullets.

Drone footage showed some limited ariel shots of the incident, including efforts by police to used the water cannons to take out the drone to prevent footage of the confrontation from being leaked to the media.





Accounts from other medics on the scene reported that up to 200 people were injured from shrapnel from concussion grenades, bean bags fired at point blank range and symptoms of hypothermia from some protesters who were intentionally doused with water while temperatures were in the 20's - causing their clothes to freeze.

Proponents of the DAPL claim that the 1,127 mile pipeline is a safer option than rail cars to transport highly volatile crude oil from the Bakken Shelf in North Dakota down through South Dakota and Iowa to a terminal storage facility in Illinois.

But Energy Transfer Partners have offered little in the way of guarantees that the company would be financially equipped or prepared to deal with the major environmental consequences of a serious pipeline break - as a Wikipedia article reports the state of Iowa only requires pipeline owners to keep a $250,000 surety bond on hold in the event of a major spill.

Think about that.

Ruptured section of the Kalamazoo pipeline 
How far is $250,000 going to go to cover a major underground pipeline break that spills hundreds of thousands of gallons of thick, viscous Bakken crude that could threaten wildlife, farm land and fresh water supplies?

Environmental organizations estimate that at least $1 billion needs to be held in reserve to deal with a major accident.

Remember the pipeline rupture in Kalamazoo, Michigan back in 2010?

The Canadian oil company Enbridge ignored three separate reports about the six-foot section of ruptured section of pipeline that eventually spilled over a million gallons of heavy Tar Sands oil into a section of the Kalamazoo River that spilled 40 miles downstream, drenching animals and 4,435 acres of land along the river bank.

That man-made disaster cost Enbridge $1.2 billion to clean up, a $177 million settlement, it displaced over 150 families and closed sections of the Kalamazoo River for two years.

Oh and Enbridge is one of the partners in the Dakota Access Pipeline.

It's pretty clear that Energy Transport Partners is basically expecting the American taxpayers to pick up the bill while they reap the profits of this $3.7 billion project; and they'll basically lawyer their way around responsibility if and when there's an accident on the 1,172 miles of the DAPL.

A consortium of 17 different global banks including Citibank, TD Securities, and BNP Paribas provided $2.5 billion in loans to finance the project; the remaining $1.2 billion was raised by ETP selling stakes in the pipeline to Phillips 66, Enbridge and Marathon Oil.

Energy Transfer Partners CEO
Kelcy Warren
The prospects of a Trump presidency aren't good for opponents of the pipeline either.

In addition to the untold number of personal business conflicts of interest presented by the president-elect's global business interests (many of which the public doesn't even know about because of his refusal to release his tax returns), the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners Kelcy Warren personally donated $103,000 to organizations that supported Trump's campaign.

According to an article posted on Democracy Now, Warren has also given thousands of dollars in political contributions to House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Energy Chair Fred Upton and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski.

Oh and ETP also has it's own PAC. Really.





So in addition to the over 71,000 miles of oil pipelines around that nation that ETP owns, thanks to the Supreme Court it also has a direct and anonymous unlimited pipeline of cash it can inject directly into a web of other conservative petroleum-friendly PACs that support Republicans who deny the existence of climate change and can't say no to Big Oil.

Trump also has investment ties with Phillips 66, and may have additional financial interests to some of the 17 banks that financed the DAPL.

It's an ethical mess of epic proportions that's going to roll right through four states.

With billions at stake for the pipeline, hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to Congressional Republicans in Washington who control the environmental laws and regulations that allowed it to be built with superficial environmental impact studies, the hundreds of indigenous peoples camped out near the Standing Rock reservation have a steep hill to climb.

As Native American activist Iysukin American Horse eloquently wrote in The Guardian back in August, many of the hundreds of members of different tribes who've gathered near the Standing Rock reservation see this not as a political fight.

But as a spiritual battle to protect their source of water, their land and their way of life.


Increasingly many see this pipeline designed to transport over 400,000 barrels of Bakken crude oil per day as the manifestation of the apocalyptic Native American prophecy of The Black Snake - which their elders foretold would destroy their way of life if not defeated.

Considering the forces behind the pipeline and the growing power of the corporatocracy it represents, The Black Snake is a truly dangerous creature.

And as the brutal attacks by local and state police against hundreds of protesters demonstrated last night, that Snake is already trying to destroy the way of life of the Original Americans.  

Let's hope those horrific images of violent police overreach on behalf of this consortium of pipeline producers, oil companies, banks and politicians continues to turn the powerful tide of public opinion in favor of environmental and human rights, and the basic principle of Democracy on which this nation was founded.