Thursday, December 11, 2014

Amy Pascal & Scott Rudin: Hollywood Heavyweight's Racist E-mails Offer Glimpse of Why Color Barrier Persists in Film Industry

Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal in happier times.
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chief Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin are widely regarded as two of the most powerful figures in the film industry.

But after Buzzfeed released excerpts of a November 2013 e-mail exchange between the two in which they openly mock President Obama's race, both are now under the harsh glare of the opposite side of the media spotlight.

If the massive corporate headache created by the November 24th hack into Sony Pictures database (and the subsequent release of volumes of sensitive internal correspondence and information) was like a bad dream for execs of the film studio; now it's turned into a PR nightmare.

According to Hollywood Reporter, Pascal was set to attend what she described in one of her e-mails to Rudin as a "stupid" Democratic fund raising breakfast hosted by DreamWorks heavy Jeffrey Katzenberg, so she decided to e-mail Rudin and ask for suggestions on what to ask President Obama at the event.

After Rudin jokingly suggested she ask Obama if he would "like to finance some movies", Pascal replied, "I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked 'Django' (Unchained)?"

And it just got increasingly juvenile, trite and stupid after that, with both hypocritical limousine liberals acting like a couple of dim-witted 9th grade bigots as they joke about the kinds of movies the president would like; including '12 Years a Slave', 'The Butler' and 'Think Like a Man'.

At one point Rudin suggested, "I bet he likes Kevin Hart." 

The story has blown up on social media and both Rudin and Pascal have released their obligatory media mea culpas which were probably written by some nervous hack from Sony's PR department.

Pascal's statement said in part, "the content of my e-mails to Scott were insensitive and inappropriate but are not an accurate reflection of who I am," 

Actually they DO reflect who she is, catching the powerful Hollywood executive during a private moment when she thought no one would read what she wrote; instead of at some charity event with that phony plastic smirk on her face.

British protesters hold a "die-in" in honor of Eric Garner in a London mall.
The sad part of this exchange (besides the fact that it's not even funny) is that it comes at a critical  moment when the nation and the world are expressing outrage over the dehumanizing way in which some members of law enforcement treat men of color.

Over 76 people were arrested at a London shopping mall after holding a "die-in" (pictured left) to protest the Eric Garner decision.

Pascal and Rudin's comments about President Obama reflect the same kind of callous, simplistic, narrow-minded perception of African-Americans demonstrated by those police officers who disproportionately use excessive or deadly force against black people simply because of the color of their skin.
 
It's insulting for Pascal and Rudin to even jokingly suggest that black people's appreciation for cinema is limited to "black" films.

Attitudes like Pascal and Rubin's are one of the major reasons scripts with black characters or based on African-American stories, issues or themes have a difficult time being greenlit and funded within Hollywood.

Strides have certainly been made with films like director Steve McQueen's 'Twelve Years a Slave' or Lee Daniel's 'The Butler' - but white producers like Brad Pitt had to use their clout to get McQueen's picture made; even though McQueen is highly talented, critically praised and the film was a box office success.

Talented African-American director Gina Prince-Bythewood wrote and directed the excellent 2008 film, 'The Secret Life of Bees'. As she noted in an interview with Rebecca Ford in the November 21st issue of Hollywood Reporter, getting films made with people of color as the leads, "was maddening. The fact that it was two people of color in the leads, it was unfortunate to hear: 'We don't know how to sell this.' Being a black woman (director), you hear that all the time, and you never get used to it."

When asked about the obstacles she faces as a black woman in Hollywood, Prince-Bythewood said: 
"I could work all the time if I wanted, but I want to do my own stuff. So what's discriminated against is what I focus on: people of color, and specifically women. People (in Hollywood) aren't trying to make those films."

After reading the leaked e-mails between Pascal and Rudin, we can certainly understand why.

The online media backlash against Pascal and Rudin is already starting.

In response to news of the e-mails, showrunner/writer Shonda Rhimes ('Grey's Anatomy', 'Scandal' and 'How to Get Away With Murder') Tweeted that the e-mail exchange needs to be called "racist" and not "racially insensitive."

Actor Kevin Hart has already released a statement on Instagram responding to another e-mail between Pascal and another Sony producer calling Hart a "whore" for asking for additional compensation from Sony for asking him to promote his movie on his social media platforms - and for suggesting that President Obama would like him because he's black.

But don't think black folk are the only ones offended by the release of the hacked e-mails from Sony either.

Rudin is notorious for being one of the most difficult film producers to work for because of his abrasive, obnoxious personality and the way he treats people. It may be awhile before the 'Moneyball' producer gets to work with actor/producer Brad Pitt again after calling Pitt's wife, actress/director Angelina Jolie, a "minimally talented spoiled brat" in a leaked e-mail with director David Fincher.

(Minimally talented? Did he even see Jolie in 'Salt'?)

I wonder how would Pascal and Rudin react if a black film executive suggested they would only like films like 'Exodus', 'Yentl' of 'Schindler's List' simply because they're both Jewish?

They'd find the conclusion equally prejudiced, offensive and ignorant - which is exactly how millions of people now perceive them both.

Frankly, if Amy Pascal had anything to do with the leaked Sony suggestion that execs actually considered combining the 'Men in Black' films with the two lead characters (played by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) from '21 Jump Street', then she's even dumber than those offensive e-mails make her out to be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The 12 Texts of Christie & Other Assorted American Chicanery

Records show Chris Christie sending multiple texts about Bridge Gate
Despite his repeated denials and insistence that he was the only human being in the entire New York-New Jersey area that was unaware of the massive traffic snarl on the George Washington Bridge last year, records show that NJ Governor Chris Christie was in the know.

As was widely reported yesterday, phone records supplied to a New Jersey legislative investigation by AT&T show that Christie and his  current chief of staff Regina Egea sent a total of twelve text messages back and forth during a December 9, 2013 New Jersey legislative committee hearing.

It was at that hearing that the political bombshell revelation dropped about the order to initiate the four days of traffic jams coming from Christie's own deputy chief of staff.

Christie claims not to recall any of the texts messages (three of which he sent...), but it's clear that both he and Egea did take care to delete all twelve of them from their phones.

The part of this debacle that insults the intelligence of New Jersey citizens is the idea of a vindictive, short-tempered egomaniac control freak like Christie trying to claim a low-level aide would call up the Port Authority and order lane closures of the GW Bridge without him ordering it.

There are numerous well-documented examples of Christie using his office to enact various forms of  retribution against those he considers political enemies and Bridge Gate is the most glaring example; but only time will tell whether anyone responsible for ordering the lane closures will be held accountable, or what the political blowback will be for Christie.  

Speaking of storms, it was pretty dark outside this morning when the sounds of the winds and rains from this Nor'easter woke me from a restless sleep.

In the same way the darkness of rampant police brutality against people of color has awoken a deep outrage amongst people of all races, backgrounds and religions in cities all across the nation.

As a Twitter post from a guy I follow named @AngryDemocrat suggested yesterday, maybe it's not that incidents of unjustified use of excessive force disproportionately used by police against African-American and Latino boys and men in this country have risen; more likely the media is just starting to treat them as stories that are actually relevant to the collective culturegeist of our nation.

It's not just white cops either. The NYPD officer who shot Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn stairwell the other week was Asian-American. There are plenty of ignorant black cops mistreating black folks too.
 
Miyekko Durden-Bosely after being punched by a cop
The June 22nd beating that a young woman named Miyekko Durden-Bosely (pictured left) took at the hands of African-American police officer Adley Shepard in the state of Washington this past summer is getting a lot of media coverage.

The story blew up nationally when prosecutors recently announced that (wait for it....) no criminal charges would be filed against officer Shepard for punching Ms. Durden-Bosley in the head and breaking the orbital bone of her eye socket.

He's on paid leave even though the incident was caught on video.

Or how about a recent arrest caught on video in Minneapolis, MN? If you've got three minutes, watch this video posted a couple months ago on YouTube as a black cop arrests a woman for asking him why he pointed a gun at her after he confronted her earlier for speaking with people about voting rights in public. 

Not all police officers are uncool. But the ones who are, seem to have aggravated racial tensions by criminalizing almost any behavior by people of color; walking down the street, sitting on a park bench, waiting for a bus, driving a car, or even trying to get inside your own home in the case of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. back in 2009.

President Obama isn't responsible for four hundred years of history, but he's facing media scrutiny after a recent national poll revealed the majority of Americans (of all races) feel racial tensions have gotten worse under the nation's 1st African-American president.

Though it's not his fault, I agree with the poll. Obama's election uncorked a toxic undercurrent of prejudice and bigotry that's been largely stoked by an assortment of right-wing media pundits, factually-challenged Fox News hosts, Tea Partiers, anti-government nut-bags and angry Americans who are still seething over the drubbing Senator John McCain and his totally inept VP candidate, former part-time Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, took in the 2008 presidential elections.

Don't think Republicans aren't busy at work trying to remedy that either. As you read this the GOP is trying to illegally manipulate the electoral college process, as in the state of Michigan, to make it easier for a numerical minority to win the 2016 presidential race.

Did you hear that one of the compromises Republican lawmakers insisted on in order to pass an upcoming temporary spending bill to keep the government open, was that the White House had to agree to scale back First Lady Michelle Obama's national nutritional guidelines for school lunches designed to help combat growing obesity and diabetes?

Seriously, how biased do you have to be to make rolling back healthy nutritional guidelines for school children a condition of passing a temporary trillion dollar spending bill?

It's as if years of cultural progress in America were moved forward with the election of a black president and simultaneously turned back with a resulting unsettling resurgence of openly accepted expressions of bigotry, ignorance and hate that had begun to slowly dissolve (on the surface anyway) in this country in the 80's and 90's.

Robert Keller, sentenced for threatening a black child
The story of Robert Keller (pictured left) offers a perfect example.

The disturbed 71 year-old Utah man was recently sentenced by a court to 12 months in prison for sending a threatening letter to a bi-racial family over his outrage after seeing their 13 year-old black son walking down the street with his white SISTER.

 Believe it or not, Keller actually insisted he was doing the family a favor by sending them a letter to illuminate them on the possible consequences of their son walking down the street with his sister who is white.

As RawStory reported, a portion of Keller's expletive-laden death threat to a child read in part: “There’s no little black girls to go out with, so our daughters are in line,” Keller wrote, according to court records. “I catch that n*gger around my daughter I’ll kill the assh*le and then go find what stupid person brought him here in the first place.”

It's as if being stupid in American has become something for people to stand up and proudly proclaim.

Like Republican Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, a scientifically-ignorant climate change denier who will soon be the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, blaming the "climate change hoax" on singer/actress/director Barbara Streisand in a recent interview. Really?

These are tough times for folks who appreciate things like truth, facts, justice and political integrity.



Sunday, December 07, 2014

Did GOP's Machiavellian Manuever Cost Senator Mary Landrieu Her Seat?

Meet #54 - Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

Let's not forget that 73 years ago today on December 7, 1941, over 2,403 Americans, including 68 civilians, lost their lives during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Naval base in Hawaii.

On December 8th, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan signaling America's entrance into World War II in which over 405,399 Americans would loose their lives. 

The November 2014 US Senatorial elections are officially over with the news that incumbent Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu lost a lengthy runoff election to Republican candidate Bill Cassidy (pictured left).

It's pretty sobering news for American progressives given the overwhelming control Republicans already wield in the House of Representatives.

Case in point: as The Hill.com reported, in an interview on Fox News Sunday, Cassidy quickly announced one of his top priorities is to roll back the Affordable Care Act, even as he insisted:

“If there’s one party for the working people right now, it’s the Republican Party,” Cassidy said on “Fox News Sunday,” pointing to GOP efforts to expand drilling of natural resources and Democrats’ attempts to limit emissions."

Yup. No doubt what hard working Americans really need right now is Republicans taking away affordable health care for their families. That should really help.

So with the addition of this staunch friend of the working people, 54 is now the magic number for Republicans in the Senate, who now control every Senate seat in the south; Democrats now hold 44 seats and independent candidates control two.

I'm going to respectfully disagree with Washington Post reporter Jordyn Phelps' analysis of the runoff election results that Landrieu's support of the Affordable Care Act and alliance with President Obama led to her defeat.

Her support of the ACA and the president were a factor in her defeat, but progressives, Democrats and independents were overwhelmingly opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline project which Landrieu sponsored.

Top Republican climate change denier (R-OK) Sen. Jim Inhofe
It's costly because the potential for a major environmental disaster was significant.

As a mechanism to deliver more Canadian tar sands oil for export across the globe, the pipeline would only magnify the current global climate crisis that Republican Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe (pictured left), who will serve as the incoming chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, claims does not exist.

Besides, the number of actual full-time jobs Republicans claim it would create is wildly exaggerated.

The bulk of the "42,000 jobs" that supporters of the pipeline were so fond of trumpeting would be seasonal temporary construction jobs that would disappear once the 875-mile pipeline was completed. As Politifact.com's analysis of the jobs claims show, in the end the Keystone XL pipeline would actually create about 35 permanent full time American jobs.

As a result, progressive groups, environmentalists and many Democrats completely abandoned Landrieu during the runoff election season because her support of the doomed pipeline project positioned the three-term Senator as a climate change denier looking to give the oil industry a big fat handout in order to get herself re-elected.

Meanwhile the GOP poured in over $1.3 million in support of her opponent Bill Cassidy and saturated Louisianans with anti-Landrieu TV and radio attack ads.

Besides, as I wrote about in my blog the other week, I agree with environmental activist groups who assert that it's actually far more cost-effective and efficient to transport the heavy, viscous Canadian tar sands oil via rail cars to coastal refineries and terminals along the east coast and southern gulf coast than it is via a pipeline.

So was Landrieu ultimately duped into tying her political future to an ambitious pipeline project that Republicans actually knew would never be approved?

Did Republicans shrewdly use the Keystone XL pipeline as a kind of Trojan Horse wedge issue while quietly using their control of state legislatures and Governor's mansions (like Chris Christie's) across the nation to tweak state and local laws to make it easier to secretly transport larger amounts of Bakken crude and Canadian tar sands oil over railways?

It's pretty Machiavellian but politically clever. If true, the Keystone XL project was always a win-win for Republicans.

In terms of political strategy, Senator Landrieu felt she had to support the pipeline project to appease the Louisiana oil industry to keep her Senate seat.

Environmentalist groups and Democrats devoted huge amounts of money, time and resources into extensive multi-pronged media campaigns to defeat it, when all along, top oil industry and rail executives knew that transporting tar sands oil over rail was really the way to go as reported by Justin Mikulka in an eye-opening article on the DeSmogBlog back in August.

I'm reminded of what Corleone family consigliere Tom Hagan (brilliantly underplayed by actor Robert Duvall) said of Hyman Roth's Machiavellian attempt to secretly frame loyal Corleone capo Frank "Frankie Five Angels" Pentangeli for the botched assassination of Michael Corleone in Godfather II.

As for Senator Mary Landrieu's political defeat, the Republicans "played this one beautifully."

 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Rumain Brisbon Shot & Killed By Phoenix PD Officer

Rumain Brisbon holding one of his children
There's a deadly epidemic in America that's got nothing to do with disease.

Even as the family and friends of Akai Gurley (an innocent unarmed man shot in an apartment stairwell by a rookie NYPD cop) prepare for his funeral in Brown Memorial Church in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn tomorrow, the epidemic has claimed another victim. 

While protests continue around the country over the failure of a Staten Island grand jury to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for Eric Garner's death, another unarmed black man has been shot and killed by a member of law enforcement.

This time by a 30 year-old Phoenix Arizona police officer with seven years on the force whose name has not yet been released.

34 year-old Rumain Brisbon, a married father of four, was inside a parked black Cadillac SUV in an apartment complex in North Phoenix when the officer approached the vehicle in response to a report of someone selling drugs from the vehicle.

According to Brandon Dickerson, a man who was sitting inside the SUV with Brisbon just before the incident, Brisbon was there to drop off some fast food to his children; he claims that Brisbon never raised his voice to the officer.

Brisbon was alone in the vehicle when the officer asked him to get out and raise his hands. Brisbon fled, running into an apartment building. The officer gave chase and a struggle ensued in a hallway.

According to an official statement from the Phoenix PD, Brisbon was reaching in his pocket during the struggle and when he ignored the officer's repeated commands to take his hand out of his pockets; the officer reached for Brisbon's hands and thought he felt a gun - so he fired two shots into Brison's chest, killing him.

Turns out the only thing he had in his pocket was a bottle of oxycodone pills.

Rumain Brisbon wasn't perfect. He had convictions for burglary, marijuana possession and DUI on his record. He'd even been shot before. Clearly he should have heeded the police officer's command to raise his hands when ordered to do so and there's no question he should never have tried to flee from the officer or get into a physical struggle with him.

But given all of that, did it really warrant two gunshots to the chest?

It's impossible for me to put myself in the officer's shoes in that situation, and it wouldn't be fair for me to judge whether or not he felt his life was in danger. But the refrain is all too familiar, an officer "felt fear" and his instinct was to squeeze the trigger of a loaded handgun.

What did the officer fear? Brisbon ran into a building; why not call for backup if he was afraid?

Rancher Clive Bundy broke federal laws - alive, well and free.
In all fairness to the officer, Rumain Brisbon did resist arrest.

But then so did Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy (pictured left) - and he was most definitely well-armed when he actively resisted arrest earlier this spring.

In fact he had a whole posse of anti-government nut bags armed to the teeth who were with him.

Hell, he even held daily press conferences with the media; remember his enlightening thoughts on "the Negro"?

No law enforcement officer ran onto the ranch and tried to subdue him; and they certainly didn't shoot him in the chest or anywhere else for that matter even though Bundy had clearly broken federal law.

Rumain Brisbon had some oxycodone pills in his pocket and was simply under suspicion of having been selling them, then he resisted arrest; neither of which are capital offenses.

The sad truth? We have two separate justice systems in this country, which one you get depends on what color your skin happens to be when the cops show up, or stop you on the road or street.

You have to say this about Ebola, it's deadly but at least it has a cure and can be prevented.

The same can't be said for the epidemic that killed Rumain Brison, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, 12 year-old Tamir Rice and so many others. And will again soon if we don't find a cure.

  

Thursday, December 04, 2014

'Dismal Handgun Performance' - Cleveland Police Officer Who Shot & Killed 12 Year-Old Tamir Rice Was Forced To Resign From Previous Job For Incompetence

CPD officer Timothy Loehmann
My desire to blog about issues other than unchecked police violence in America has run up against the wall of the growing public outcry against said police consistently not being held accountable for the inappropriate use of lethal force against people of color.

One of the unfortunate results of two separate juries in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York finding no grounds to charge police officers in the deaths of two different unarmed African-American men, is that even more public focus will be directed upon the city of Cleveland with regards to the death of 12 year-old Tamir Rice.

The release of recent documents suggests the case in Cleveland is about to take a sad turn that makes the case even more tragic than it already is.

The release of yesterday's report on MSNBC.com about documents showing that Timothy A. Loehmann (pictured above, left), the 26 year-old rookie Cleveland police officer who shot Tamir Rice, had been forced to resign from his previous job as a patrolmen in the suburban Cleveland Independence police department because of his lackluster training performance is heartbreaking.

The MSNBC article by M. Alex Johnson quotes a memo dated November, 2012 from Independence PD deputy chief Jim Polak who states:

“Due to this dangerous loss of composure during live range training and his inability to manage this personal stress, I do not believe Ptl. Loehmann shows the maturity needed to work in our employment,” Polak wrote on Nov. 29. “I do not believe time, nor training, will be able to change or correct the deficiencies.” Five days later, Loehmann resigned."

Now if Loehmann was as incompetent as this memo suggests, what the Hell was he doing on the Cleveland Police Department?

The MSNBC article quotes deputy chief Polak as saying of Loehman, “his handgun performance was dismal.”

If his ability to use a firearm was so "dismal", did the members of the HR department responsible for hiring CPD officers even bother to look at that memo before hiring him?

The Tamir Rice tragedy begins (in part) with the fact that Loehmann was the guy the Cleveland Police dispatcher sent to a public park to confront a 12 year-old playing with a pellet gun.

Obviously there's still a long way to go in the investigation of the death of Tamir Rice, and whether or not Timothy Loehmann will face charges, but we appear to be at a precipice in this nation.

I'm a realistic optimist, but I have to believe that Loehmann's competency, coupled with the growing national demand for justice in cases like this, will have some kind of impact on whether this case will see the inside of a courtroom.

The curious reluctance of state and local courts to actively prosecute cases of police brutality against people of color has been commonplace for over two centuries; so it's not going to change overnight.

But perhaps the widespread use of technology like video, combined with social media platforms and the speed of the Internet will serve as a catalyst to speed that up.

Not that we really need another example of police brutality against black people, but take the Texas grand jury who didn't indict Jasper, Texas officers Ricky Grissom and Ryan Cunningham; who were caught on videotape beating the crap out of a black Jasper civilian named Keyarika Diggles.

As an article by Sam Brodey posted on MotherJones.com reported, Ms. Diggles is a black woman who had been already been jailed in May, 2013 over a $100 parking ticket (which she had been making regular payments on...) when video tape shows officers Grissom and Cunningham slamming her head against a counter and dragging her into a cell by her feet.

Remember, Ms. Diggles was already inside the jail.

For arguments sake, let's just say that no video of either the shooting of Tamir Rice, or the vicious beating of Ms. Diggles existed; would there have been any external pressure to prosecute the officers in these two very different but very tragic cases?

The answer points to a deep schism in this country that must be bridged; and soon. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

No Indictment for Daniel Pantaleo - Cleveland.com Blames Tamir Rice's Parents For Rookie Cop's Fatal Mistake

Grand Central Station 5:33pm - protesters react to no indictment for Pantaleo
'No reasonable cause to bring charges' is becoming a painfully familiar refrain in this nation.

Listening live to New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio's press conference in the aftermath of the failure of the Staten Island grand jury to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of Eric Garner, like many I was left marveling at the sheer magnitude of the dysfunction in our nation's justice system.

While a special grand jury comprised of 23 residents of Staten Island would not indict a cop for using an illegal choke hold that killed a man arrested for selling loose cigarettes, a different Staten Island grand jury did manage to indict Ramsey Ortiz on a shaky gun possession charge - Ortiz is the 22 year-old Hispanic man who filmed the now-famous video of police arresting and killing Eric Garner.

Think about that for a moment.

Since the founding of this country it's been painfully obvious to the nation and the world that not only does the US justice system target and treat people very differently depending on the race and ethnicity of the accused, but now, even in 2014, it's becoming glaringly obvious that there are no meaningful legal repercussions for members of American law enforcement who kill unarmed black men - even innocent people like Amadou Diallo, or more recently in Brooklyn, Akai Gurley.

With each failure of local prosecutors to hold police officers accountable for the taking of human life, the growing racial gap in this nation widens.

These decisions by prosecutors and the courts have the perverse effect of actually energizing conservative Americans who are highly susceptible to the hysteria, bigotry and hatred intentionally generated by right wing media in order to 'divide and conquer' their voter base.

Bizarre hyper-conservative radio host Laura Ingraham's absurd comments about protesters earlier today on her show offer a textbook example.

The Real Ugly American: Right-wing hate radio host Laura Ingraham
Ingraham was pandering to the fears of her audience over the growing protest movement springing up in cities and communities across the nation.

A listener who sounded like Archie Bunker was on the line suggesting that the average "Joe Six-Pack" (media code for angry working-class Republican white guys) like himself would begin coming out onto the streets to confront protesters.

Ingraham disagreed with her conservative caller, suggesting that "our people" won't be coming out to protest because they're "working and have families to support."

Take a moment to listen to the brief clip of the segment of her comments that were posted on MediaMatters.org; listen to the casual tone with which she says it.

Her barely concealed bigotry is laced with common ignorant assumptions. While she suggests that only unemployed black people with no work ethic who don't care about their families have taken to the streets to protest the unchecked use of lethal force by police, take a look at the photo above taken in Grand Central Station on the east side of Manhattan at 5:33pm this evening by a Twitter user - that looks like a pretty diverse group of protesters to me. 

Laura Ingraham asserting to a live radio audience that "our people" (and we know who she means by that...) don't take part in their Constitutional right to protest is as absurd as it is irresponsible.

Perhaps she was in a coma during the spring and summer of 2010 when thousands of mostly white Tea Party activists filled town halls, parks and streets to voice their opposition to the idea of all Americans having access to affordable health care.

Or maybe Ingraham was simply on a different planet in late May of 2010 when a large crowd of Tea Party protesters angered at the Affordable Care Act lined up outside the US Capitol building and hurled obscenities including the word "nigger" at Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they emerged from meetings.

The fact that the original Boston Tea Party for which the Koch brother's faux-politcal movement derives it's name was in fact, a riot likely slipped her mind too.

Now I'm really trying to stay on point here, but Ingraham's comments are important to note as they demonstrate the kind of base level ignorance that underlies today's conservative movement with its elevation of warped perception, ignorance, narrow-minded ideology and opinions over facts and truth - but it's typical of the divisive brand of offensive vile that spews out of her mouth on any given day.

When the American court system continually fails to indict law enforcement officers for taking the lives of African-American boys and men in cases where lethal force is clearly not necessary or called for, it serves to reinforce sub-conscious beliefs about the perceived inferiority or violence of people of color.

It lends legitimacy to the deeply ingrained bigotry etched in the minds of people like Ingraham. 

It also sanctions the troubling view of some Americans that the lives of people of color matter less in this nation - some of those Americans are media executives, publishers and journalists too.

12 year-old police shooting victim Tamir Rice
Personally, my vote for the 'Andrew Brietbart Journalism Award' winner this week goes to Cleveland.com (the online media partner of the Cleveland Plain Dealer) for their November 26th expose on the parents of Tamir Rice (pictured left); the 12 year-old boy who was shot and killed by a rookie police officer in a Cleveland park two seconds after he and his partner arrived at the scene in a police car.

As an article by Eric Boehlert on MediaMatters.org reported yesterday, Cleveland.com included a photo of a mug shot of the slain child's father in the November 26th article that was supposedly about the shooting of the child by rookie police officer Timothy Loehmann.

A different article on November 24th detailed a drug charge against Rice's mother from 2013 for which she was sentenced to probation.

Boehlert reported that numerous readers, media experts and even some employees of the Cleveland Plain Dealer expressed confusion as to what any criminal or court records of Tamir Rice's parents had to do with a rookie Cleveland police officer gunning down their child while he was playing in the park.  

As Boehlert's article states: "Depicting black/brown boys and men as violent criminals from poor upbringing is an established media narrative that Tamir didn't quite fit. But Cleveland.com, the website of the city's former paper of record, tried to make him fit into the narrow narrative anyway, by reporting on the criminal misdeeds of his parents instead," wrote former Plain Dealer reporter and columnist Afi Scruggs. "It's an old, but tired trick used by the news media, especially when it comes to a black or brown person being killed by law enforcement."

As Mayor DeBlasio noted during his emotional and personal comments earlier this evening, it's past time that people awaken to the fact that this is an American problem - not just a black or white one.

Prosecutors and police must begin to recognize that if reasonable cause exists to bring charges in the case of a wrongful death, then charges must be brought; regardless of the race of the victim.

I can't put myself in the room with the 23 members of the special grand jury in Staten Island who found no cause to bring charges against officer Daniel Pantaleo.

But for an average reasonable citizen, for anyone who's watched the disturbing video of Eric Garner desperately pleading, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe!" while Pantaleo holds his neck in a vice grip and four or five other cops secure him, I think most people would come to the conclusion that it was reasonable that the officer had to bear some measure of responsibility for Garner's death in a court of law.

After all, it's not like Daniel Pantaleo was breaking up an armed robbery or arresting a murderer - Eric Garner's only crime was selling some loose cigarettes.

That and being a larger than average black man on a street in America.
  

'Bakken Over' Environmental Safety? Christie Quietly Backs Big Oil in NJ

Rail cars transporting highly explosive Bakken crude oil through New Jersey

Even though I don't necessarily agree with most of his policy stances, I have to give New Jersey Governor Chris Christie credit for his political savvy.

A day after an NJTV news report reported that NJ's Division of Environmental Protection (DEP) had quietly decided to permit an additional 300 train cars of highly-combustible Bakken crude oil to pass through densely populated residential areas in Bergen County each week, Christie announced he was making his fourth trip since June to Camden, NJ to visit Camden High School.

As Jason Laday of the South Jersey Times reported on Monday, Christie visited Camden twice in June then once back in September to tout the metro division of the Camden County Police for their reduction in violent crime in the troubled New Jersey city. 

Now I'm not going to fault a New Jersey governor for bringing some positive media coverage to Camden, but the timing of his announced visit struck me as suspiciously opportune.

By using a sudden appearance at Camden High School to overshadow reports about the DEP decision to allow even more potentially dangerous train cars carrying highly combustible crude oil taken from the Bakken oil shelf in North Dakota to travel through heavily populated areas of Bergen County, Christie appears to be sticking two prize feathers in his presidential candidate hat at one time.  
On one hand, he can position himself as the governor who knows how to turn troubled urban cities like Camden around.

On the other (more importantly for Republicans) hand, he can satisfy the "drill baby drill" conservatives who equate increased domestic oil production with the loose concept of "energy independence" - which translates to Koch brothers money in his presidential coffers alongside the coin of other large petrochemical producers as well.

Christie also gets to boost his pro-fossil fuels candidate-cred by having the state's environmental agency (DEP) grant a request to boost the amount of Bakken crude that travels through New Jersey on the way to coastal ports where it can be offloaded onto tankers and shipped anywhere in the world.

Why all the fuss about Bakken crude oil?

Remember the horrific Canadian rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec on July 6, 2013?

On that day a 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed (as a result of careless human error) creating an explosion with a blast radius of almost a mile that killed forty-seven people and destroyed over 30 buildings - destroying half the town.

Back on November 9th, even as Governor Christie was appearing on television to gloat about the Republican electoral victories, local Teaneck, NJ residents were protesting the fact that CSX rail transports some 30 million gallons of Bakken crude each week along tracks that snake through heavily populated residential areas in Bergen County.

As local Teaneck resident and activist Art Vasky noted in a NorthJersey.com article (see link above), the 2013 municipal 'Resident Preparedness Guide For Emergencies' doesn't even mention the presence of freight lines in the town.

Some might argue that DEP Commissioner Bob Martin is responsible, not Christie. But as the scandal surrounding the highly politicized distribution of Hurricane Sandy aid in NJ demonstrated, it's that nothing of any significance in terms of policy or funding happens without Christie's approval.

The DEP in NJ doesn't even require the public disclosure of details about hazardous material transport over rail.

The story only came out because the state of New York released information about the volume of Bakken crude shipped from North Dakota through Albany, NY that winds its way down CSX freight tracks through Rockland County, NY through Bergen County, NJ on it's way to the Buckeye Partners terminal in Perth Amboy, NJ - a massive refining facility owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions.

Buckeye Partners terminal facility on the Arthur Kill in Perth Amboy, NJ
The Buckeye terminal located on several hundred acres (pictured left) is a major east coast gateway for oil tankers to ship Bakken crude transported via rail overseas.

The DEP granted Buckeye Partner's request to transport an additional 300 train cars of Bakken crude through NJ; remember, the disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec was 74 train cars. 

As the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains points out, the lack of public transparency regarding the volume, frequency and routes of trains carrying Bakken crude, coupled with the 78,000 rail tanker cars nationwide that the federal government has mandated must be replaced with safer and more modern designed double-lined tank cars within two years, creates an unacceptable risk for the thousands of residents in New Jersey who live along CSX freight tracks.

Protesters who've witnessed CSX trains carrying Bakken crude oil note that many of the tank cars running through Bergen County are the rusted out older 'DOT 111' version without the safety features mandated by the federal government.

The DEP's decision to allow Buckeye Partners to transport more light Bakken crude via rail through New Jersey also opens the door to transporting the much heavier Canadian Tar Sands oil over rail.

As an August, 2014 article by Justin Mikulka on the DeSmogBlog reports, many energy company and rail executives aren't crying over the Keystone XL pipeline (like reactionary Republicans are) because it's actually much cheaper and more efficient to transport the heavier Canadian Tar Sands oil by transporting it on heated rail cars that make it much easier to pump the viscous sludge out of the train cars and onto oil tankers.

So the DEP decision has huge ramifications that stretch well beyond the state of New Jersey.  

In the months leading up to last month's November elections, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gleefully basked in the glow of national media headlines. And for good reason.

As he traipsed back and forth across the country on behalf of the Republican Governor's Association raising money for the GOP and stumping for various Republican candidates, Christie was carefully raising his own profile as a 2016 presidential candidate - and doing his best to remain the invisible man in the Bridge Gate controversy. 

If you watched him smugly deflecting credit for the Republican sweep in any of his post-election television interview clips, he came off as less the governor of NJ than a preening debutante who'd emerged from the ball with a full dance-card, a pocket full of phone numbers and a few potential political suitors.

He seemed to be courting everyone but the people of the state that elected him to the governor's mansion; he won his 2nd term by a landslide so maybe he figures he doesn't need to court New Jersey folk anymore?

Aside from his occasional appearances at obviously-staged "town meetings" held before handpicked crowds of pre-screened sympathetic New Jersey supporters where he strutted around with a mic taking scripted soft-ball questions, Christie was pretty much the invisible man in the Garden State in late summer and early fall.

By appearing at Camden High School today, Christie is doing his best to remain the invisible man in the DEP's decision to transport over 30 million gallons of Bakken crude a week through areas where NJ citizens live, work and go to school. 

Perhaps the Keystone XL pipeline is just a ruse to keep people distracted by the fact that Republicans like Chris Christie are quietly paving the path to allow that same Canadian Tar Sands oil to travel right next to people's back yards on rail cars.

In the end, who's getting railroaded?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Helicopters Over Brooklyn

Teenager Michael Brown (left) and his killer, officer Darren Wilson (right).
Last night I was on the phone talking to my sister in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

During our conversation my 12 year-old niece emerged from her room.

At that hour she should have been asleep, but she was troubled by the incessant sound of helicopters hovering over the Brooklyn Bridge just a few miles from their apartment on DeGraw Street and she wanted to know why they were there.

My sister had to explain to her daughter that the helicopters were hovering over one of the many nationwide protests that are now taking place all over the country in response to the failure of the prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch to hold officer Darren Wilson accountable for taking the life of an unarmed teenager after shooting him six times with a gun.

My niece absorbed this troubling explanation and retreated back to her room to go back to sleep.

She was unaware that as early as 8:45pm last night, multiple groups of protesters in New York City began gathering in an attempt to shut down the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Tri-Borough Bridges as a result of Darren Wilson facing no charges for killing Michael Brown.

Now it's 5:50am as I write this and I'm not finding it so easy to sleep. Like my niece last night, I emerged from my room to find out what's going on.

Like many around the nation, I'm once again trying to process the reality that another court of law has made the decision that the life of a black male in this nation is worth less than that of a white person.

I don't blame the grand jury for their decision.

As numerous legal scholars and experts have made clear, by taking the highly unusual step of laying out all the evidence in exhausting detail to the nine white and three black members of this grand jury (that doesn't seem quite so grand in many people's eyes), Robert McCulloch essentially tried the case in secret, acted more like a defense lawyer for Darren Wilson and absolved himself of the responsibility of seeking justice for the death of an unarmed 18 year-old boy.

Perhaps Congressman John Lewis is right that this case will take on a larger historical context.

But right now the message it sends is that police officers are not only allowed to treat people with dark skin differently, they can feel confident that if they gun them down and kill them there will be no legal repercussions. Even if the victim was innocent and unarmed.

The message this case sends is clear. If you have white skin in this country and are holding a loaded weapon, just being afraid of a black male is grounds to use deadly force against someone.

As the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case showed us, you don't even have to actually BE a police officer to shoot and kill an innocent unarmed black male.

You simply have to use the excuse that, "he made me afraid" and the legal protections which all Americans are guaranteed by the Constitution (right to fair trial, right to a trial by a jury of peers, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law) simply dissolve into the air and magically vanish.

But the results of this travesty of justice and perversion of human rights are not yet written.

 The scope and frequency of the protest movement taking shape in cities and towns all over the country make it quite clear that the grand jury decision in Ferguson was not the will of the people.

For now, please take a moment to link over the ColorOfChange.org website and add your voice to their online petition urging the President and the Attorney General to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on federal criminal charges as a step to begin addressing the systematic bias in policing in this nation.

This is a human rights issue and a justice issue and stems from a very simple fact that some, including the prosecutor Robert McCulloch doesn't seem to understand.

If you shoot an innocent person in this country who is unarmed, there must be at least some legal repercussions.

If there are not, then we as a nation have much bigger problems than unchecked police brutality; we have a populace who does not believe that the rule of law protects them.

And that represents a dangerous marker of the decline of civilization.

People all over this country of all backgrounds, religions and races are troubled and are asking the question of whether or not this is a civilized nation bound by laws.

The decision in Ferguson on Monday night would suggest that we are not.

For if the law cannot protect the least of us, it doesn't protect any of us.

That's why there were helicopters hovering over Brooklyn last night.