Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Chicago's Summer of '66 & The 'Secret' of Summer Camp

King addresses 30,000 in Chicago, July 1966
Earlier today I listened to an interesting NPR segment on All Things Considered on the 50th anniversary of the start of the Chicago Freedom Movement, a series of non-violent marches and protest actions led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel, Al Raby and other civil rights leaders to bring national attention to housing discrimination, lack of social services and deplorable living conditions

The segment, by Cheryl Corley, runs about seven minutes if you didn't get a chance to hear it.

As Corley observed, the Chicago Freedom Movement and the nationwide unrest that followed King's assassination were instrumental in Congress passing the Fair Housing Act in 1968

From a political standpoint, particularly the 2016 presidential race, the timing of the anniversary of the start of the push to dismantle systematic segregation of housing based on race in Chicago is made even more relevant to issues impacting the American landscape in the 21st century.

Something illustrated by the troubling details revealed in Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder's Saturday New York Times, article, 'No Vacancies' For Blacks: How Donald Trump Got His Start And Was First Accused of Bias, an exhaustive analysis of the policy of intentional racial discrimination practiced by Fred C. Trump and his son Donald during the early 1970's when the Republican front-runner was serving as president of his father's New York real estate management company.

The structural inequities in American institutions and industries based on race, ethnicity and nationality are so much a part of the national dialog and mainstream media coverage these days.

Oprah & Ava DuVernay on the current THR cover
Over the past couple years few industries have been brought into the spotlight for massive disparities in hiring and employment opportunities based on race and gender in the way the film and television have.

The topic of race all but dominated the 2016 Oscars as the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite became a pervasive global meme and an embarrassing bruise on the face of the American film industry.

To be fair, in the wake of this year's Academy Awards, a number of executives from the studio, production, casting, union and agency side of the industry have undertaken or committed to efforts to bring more racial and gender diversity to Hollywood.

I think The Hollywood Reporter deserves a measure of credit for making that discussion a regular part of it's reporting on, and analysis of, the professional side of the industry it serves.

For example, the cover of the August 26th issue of THR features Oprah Winfrey and Selma director Ava Duvernay, an alternative cover photo by Miller Mobley featured on the cover story's title page is pictured above.

Principal cast members of Queen Sugar 
In the same issue in which Winfrey and DuVernay discuss inclusion in Hollywood and Queen Sugar, Winfrey's latest television project for her OWN cable channel, there's also an interesting piece by Carson Griffith.

An article that offers insight into why it's such a challenge for people of color and people of modest means of all ethnicities to break into the notoriously closed country-clubby ranks of Hollywood.

A place where too often, one's choice of college, drama program, agency representation and (very often) pedigree and parental lineage, often function as the gateway towards the critical and exclusive kinds of social networking opportunities that unlock the door to working in the industry.

As the opening of Griffith's article titled "The East Coast Camps That Shaped Hollywood" observes:

"Here's a little secret Ivy League schools don't want you to know, lest the influence of their alumni networks be diminished: In Hollywood, it's not just who you know, it's where you went to summer camp."

Click the link directly above and check it out, the article is a quick read at only two pages but it reveals a list of some of the exclusive summer camps, many but not all of them Jewish camps that stress a religious curriculum for the attendees, located in rural parts of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Wisconsin, Ontario, Massachusetts and New York state.

Girls start the day at Camp Kenwood
The alumni who attended these camps as kids reads like a Who's Who of Hollywood and the entertainment industry: SNL producer Lorne Michaels, CNN head Jeff Zucker, Bob Dylan, writer-directors Joel and Ethan Cohen, Ben Affleck, 60 Minutes icon Mike Wallace, CNN host Wolf Blitzer, Bradley Cooper, Neil Simon, Lena Dunham and Robert Downey, Jr. to name just a few.

These camps can cost anywhere from $5,000 for a three-week session at French Woods in the Catskills where David Blaine and Zoey Deschanel attended.

Or up to between $8,000 to $13,000 for a seven-week session at a place like Camp Modin in Maine, or Camp Kenwood in New Hampshire.

Obviously no one is going to fault any parent for having the means to send their kids to places like these during the summer months, and not every kid who attends is destined for stardom, success or a c-level corner office.

But the fact that some well-known Los Angeles and New York-based casting agents attend some of these camps to scout young acting or directing talent, or that many parents utilize these kinds of camps as important networking opportunities, or that some camp directors actually visit potential attendee's homes the fall before summer camp as part of the evaluation / application process reflects the inherent exclusivity of Hollywood.

235-acre Camp Towanda in the Poconos, PA
Let's be honest, there are a lot of kids of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds whose parents don't have $5,000 to $13,000 to send their kid to one of these camps to take advantage of first class facilities and top-of-the-line professional instructors and teachers - kids who might have the raw talent and willingness to put in the work to be successful in the arts, music, science or business.

As Oprah observed of inclusion during the THR interview, and which I believe applies to all people regardless of age, gender, race or ethnicity:

"When Sidney Poitier came to my school [in South Africa], he gave a gift of 550 movies to the girls. He thought if you watch these 550 movies, they'll be your education for life. He wrote to the girls that his dream for them was to be able to sit at the table of the future where the world's decisions would be made. I realize now that what he was saying is to be included, to be valued as a person who has something to contribute."

My sense is that when Hollywood finds ways to help provide real opportunities of worth, value and challenge to young kids who dream of tapping into and developing their own creative or professional potential but who don't come from households of means or privilege, that's where the real work of making inclusion a part of the foundation of the industry will begin.

Maybe not every kid in America will get to sit at the table Sidney Poitier spoke of, but at the least they deserve the opportunity to be shown the way to get to the room where the table is.

In this country we spend a lot of time shaking our heads at skyrocketing rates of opioid abuse, gun violence, obesity and plummeting test scores in some public school systems.

When you look at the comparisons of what states spend on education versus incarceration, doesn't it make sense to find ways to make sure that all elementary thru middle school students in America have at least some kind of meaningful summer time camp experience?

Considering that some states like New York spend up to $60,000 a year in taxpayer funds to house an inmate in a correctional facility; spending $10,000 per summer to put a kid in camp where he or she could learn an array of positive skills and enjoy human interaction experiences that could shape them for life in so many ways seems like a pretty good bargain when you think about it.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Trump: Alt-Right Uber Alles

Jaw-dropping confusion has been just one of the more unsavory hallmarks of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and on that aspect, he's been nothing if not consistent.

After Hillary Clinton stepped in front of a crowd in Reno, Nevada on Thursday, took off the gloves and called Trump out for what he is and has been, a shameless xenophobic bigot willing to pander to racists and white nationalists for votes, Trump has the temerity to respond by calling Clinton a bigot.

Frankly, Trump has no business calling anyone a bigot after more than a year of his toxic hate speech, but that's another blog.

Personally I'm in the camp of those who feel that it was the best speech Hillary has given during the 2016 race because she used eloquence, facts and Trump's own words to enunciate what millions of people around the nation and the world feel about the Republican candidate for president.

She didn't use half-baked innuendo or flat out lies like Trump does habitually, she didn't need to.

A concise list of the numerous examples of Trump's own statements, actions and public reaction to those were all that was necessary.

But given all that, even as Trump flailed about this week hurling baseless off-the-cuff accusations against his opponent, even after his insulting "African-American Outreach" speeches last week, even after making the editor of an openly racist-misogynist media portal like Brietbart.com his campaign manager, who does Trump pick as his new national field director?

Christie's Bridgegate brain trust Bill Stepien & Bridget Kelly 
Bill Stepien, the former chief political strategist for Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Not only was Stepien one of the architects of the Bridgegate scandal, after Christie initially stopped ducking the press and held a lengthy press conference / mea culpa about the Bridgegate scandal back on January 9, 2014, the NJ governor said that he: 

"was disturbed by the tone, behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the emails by my former campaign manager, Bill Stepien."   

Which I guess makes him the perfect political hack for a campaign like Trump's.

The fact that Stepien is willing to put "Trump campaign national field director" on his resume says a lot about him professionally; it also says a lot about how desperate the Trump campaign is to put a guy whose name is about to be splashed across the media when the Bridgeate trial gets underway in September into an important high-profile campaign position with early voting about to start.

Personally, as a resident of New Jersey it's genuinely insulting that the governor of our politically moderate state is actually serving on Trump's campaign as an adviser and transition chair.

Not surprising given that this week he used his power as governor to veto yet another gun control bill passed by the state legislature with bipartisan support that would have helped to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals and those who have no business using a handgun.

When your presidential transition chief uses his power as governor to thwart common sense legislation supported by citizens, Republican and Democratic state politicians and members of law enforcement and make it easier for people to carry concealed handguns, it's a reflection of just how out of touch the campaign itself is with mainstream American people.

But clearly Trump as adopted an Alt-Right Uber Alles philosophy, so he's in touch with exactly who he wants to be.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Threatened" Cops & Closing Private Prisons

Daniel K. Harris shot & killed by police; why?
There are many people around the world including me who are waiting to hear some kind of official statement to explain what could have possibly motivated a North Carolina state trooper named Jermaine Saunders to pull out his sidearm and fatally shoot an unarmed 29-year-old deaf man named Daniel Kevin Harris after a brief pursuit last Thursday.

Personally I have a huge amount of respect for members of law enforcement and the risks they take to keep us safe.

But there are a lot of people who are getting tired of some members of law enforcement making the ambiguous and unprovable claim that they "felt threatened" as some kind of blanket excuse that's thrown out after the unjustified use of deadly force against someone who isn't actually physically threatening anyone.

Granted, Harris did fail to pull over for suspicion of speeding on I-485 near Charlotte, NC early last Thursday evening before taking an exit and driving for seven miles until arriving at his house.

But how could he have heard the state trooper's siren if he's deaf?

One witness from the neighborhood where Harris, a father, lived says Harris exited the car and gunshots were heard about ten seconds later.

NC Trooper Jermaine Saunders
Was the state trooper, who is African-American, pissed off or in some kind of heightened emotional state because Harris didn't pull over?

Did the trooper mistake Harris using sign language as some kind of insult or gesture of disrespect and just fire his weapon?

When police forces and courts allow officers who use unjustified deadly force to simply absolve themselves of any responsibility for taking a human life based on a claim that they felt threatened, it undermines public trust in law enforcement.

It has the effect of adding to the perception of a cover up of the truth, or a "Blue Curtain" descending to shield officers who were in the wrong from responsibility for their actions.

That same deep sense of public mistrust was evident in Milwaukee, Wisconsin earlier this week when Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced that he would not authorize the release of police body camera footage that might shed light on the shooting death of 22-year-old Sylville Smith two weeks ago on Saturday August 13th.

An incident that sparked two days of public unrest and rioting.

Wisconsin AG Brad Schimel 
Schimel's claims that releasing the body camera footage would "undermine the integrity" of the investigation are familiar to those who've heard those same words used before video is released showing unjustified shootings in graphic detail.

In more cases than not, the whole "undermine the integrity"-thing is practically code for "you will flip out when you see this video".

So that's not generating any public trust in the police investigation in Wisconsin either.

Nor does the fact that AG Schimel admitted that the investigation is being led by (wait for it...) ex-Wisconsin police officers who now work for the State Department of Justice.

As those two cases clearly demonstrate, progress in curbing the unjustified police use of deadly force by some members of American police departments is going to be measured in incremental steps.

That said there's no question that a lot of progress has been made in terms of more in-depth media coverage of questionable officer-involved killings in the U.S.

Exposure that's been helped by the internet, social media and the explosion in the use and availability of cell phone and CCTV video - so here's to technology.

The chance of convicting a law enforcement professional for the unjustified killing of a civilian may be slim, but at least we're now seeing more cops face actual charges.

Speaking of progress in the reform of America's justice system, there was some good news as well in the past couple weeks.

Deputy AG Sally Yates
Last Thursday Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the Department of Justice will end the troubled and controversial practice of housing federal prisoners in prisons run by private corporations is positive news for advocates of efforts to end mass incarceration

An analysis of private prisons versus federal correctional facilities shows that prisons run by private corporations don't actually save the government money or operate more efficiently.

The report by the U.S Department of Justice - Office of Inspector General, a scathing 78-page report titled, 'Review of Federal Bureau of Prisons' Monitoring of Contract Prisons' shows that there's much higher traffic of contraband amongst inmates and violence against inmates taking place in private prisons than in federal facilities.

Eight times the number of contraband cell phones were found in private prisons versus facilities run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and higher rates of violence between inmates, and against both inmates and guards in privately run facilities.

Medical care, educational, and job training programs were all inadequate or nonexistent, and of poor quality, sanitation issues (including sewage) were found to be lacking in a number of privately run prisons.

As a result of the Obama administration and Justice Department (coupled with Congressional, state and local politicians, judges, lawyers and activists) efforts to reform fundamentally flawed and racially biased drug sentencing laws, some 25,000 inmates have left the federal prison system.

Where are Americans incarcerated? (Prison Policy Initiative) 
A trend that is expected to continue in coming years.

This trend represents an important step in ending mass incarceration in America.

But it must be taken with a grain of salt.

The vast majority of the more than 2.3 million people incarcerated in the U.S, are housed in state and local prisons and jails.

Mass incarceration is taking place on the local and state level.

Take a few minutes to go to the Prison Policy Institute Website and take a closer look at the details of the pie chart (pictured above) showing where prisoners and detainees are housed in U.S. prisons.

As the chart shows, federal prisons only hold about 211,000 of the approximately 2.3 million people incarcerated in America.

The dismantling of mass incarceration and the use of privately run prisons will only come when state and local jails follow suit; and that's a steeper hill to climb considering the number of state legislatures dominated by majority Republican politicians enamored with the idea that private industry can do anything better than government can.

Obviously complaints about medical care, food service and housing or overcrowding are issues in some federal prisons as well.

But there's an inherent and dangerous contradiction in having financial profit as the motivation for running a correctional facility; because rehabilitation and inmate care is not the primary goal.

Cutting costs to make money is.

That doesn't add up for the Americans incarcerated in prisons, or for the communities where they will eventually live when they get out if there's no meaningful rehabilitation taking place during the time that they are locked up in the institutions that house them.

In announcing the ending of federal contracts with for-profit prison companies, in this case, the Department of Justice has lived up to its name.

Rev. Barber Gets Deep On Conservative Dogma

Rev William Barber leads a Moral Monday protest in NC
It was just about four weeks ago that a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court unanimously ruled that the restrictive voter ID laws passed by the hyper-conservative Republican-dominated North Carolina state legislature back in 2013 were intentionally discriminatory against African-Americans and purposefully designed not to protect voter integrity but to repress voter turnout among black citizens.

A hard fought victory fueled in no small part by public pressure and outrage.

A win not only for the citizens of North Carolina and the basic principle of American Democracy, but also for the thousands of people who took part in the peaceful Moral Monday demonstrations led by the Reverend Doctor William Barber, II, President of the NC chapter of the NAACP and ardent social activist (pictured above, center, in black).

A man who has emerged as one of the most important grass roots leaders of the progressive movement since the 2010 elections swept a wave of extremist conservative Republicans into Congress, governor's mansions and state legislatures across the country.

In the wake of Republicans (including a number of Tea Party zealots) seizing a majority in the NC state legislature in 2013, they cut taxes on the wealthiest residents, slashed unemployment benefits for people still struggling to gain a foothold in a still-recovering economy, blocked a Medicaid expansion that would have helped over 500,000 North Carolinians gain access to health care through the Affordable Care Act, cut state funding for education, and passed some of the most archaic voter restriction laws seen since the Jim Crow era.

Barber address thousands at a Moral Monday protest
Fueled by public outrage, Rev. Barber helped form a broad coalition of activists that crossed religious, ethnic, socio-economic and racial boundaries.

Between April of 2013 and November of 2014 the Moral Mondays movement held over 200 different events in 54 different counties across NC.

It's no surprise he lead this non-violent protest movement which also spread to other American cities.

With a deep grasp of policy issues and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the history of slavery, the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement in America, he brings a calm, quiet authority when he speaks on matters related to the spiritual responsibility to respond to progressive social issues that strikes me as reminiscent of Dr. King.

Earlier this morning Barber, who was an imposing and inspirational presence at the Moral Mondays protests outside the state house in Raleigh, NC, was the focus of a segment on The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss the evolution of the Republican party into a platform that uses code words to embrace discrimination and extremist dogma that divide the nation, and justifies the suppression of some citizen's Constitutional right to vote as an acceptable national political tactic.

If you heard Rev. Barber speak during the recent Democratic National Convention, then you know that his intelligence, knowledge and deep commitment to a link between spiritual beliefs and practices and social justice makes him a formidable and charismatic speaker.

Click the link above to hear his interview with Brian Lehrer this morning if you've never heard him.

Trump before his "black outreach" speech on Friday
He offered some piercing insight into how today's Republican party manipulates fact to intentionally present a distorted view of America to appeal to the lowest common denominator in American politics.

Rev. Barber noted that Donald Trump, in his recent "outreach" to black voters last Friday (in front of a largely white audience in Dimondale, Michigan), implored African-Americans to vote for him because:

"You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, 58% of your youth is unemployed - what the Hell do you have to loose?"

Trump's words reflect the kind of distorted, simplistic one-dimensional perspective of black America constantly peddled by Fox News and right wing media that's rooted in ingrained bias and inaccurate assumptions based on race - when he talks about blacks it's couched in the typically divisive "Us vs. Them" language used by conservatives; "your schools", "your youth" not "our".

His facts were, as usual for Trump, way off. For example, according to an examination of Trump's claims about black youth unemployment by Politifact.com, the actual unemployment rate for African-Americans ages 16 to 24 is actually just under 19% - that's still twice the rate for whites in the same age group, but it's nowhere near 58%.

As Rev. Barber noted, and as data from the Economic Policy Institute shows, approximately 27% of black Americans and 26% of Hispanics live in poverty (which is still unacceptably high) as opposed to 10% of whites.

What does poverty in America look like?
But that 10% of whites living in poverty actually dwarfs the number of blacks and Hispanics combined who live in poverty.

Yet Trump, like other Republicans, constantly paints poverty as an exclusively urban "black or Hispanic" issue.

Though the bulk of the 46 million people who lived in poverty in the U.S in 2010 were white, conservatives continually portray poor Americans as people of color or undocumented immigrants.

And remember, according to the EPI data cited above, in 2011 28% of U.S. workers earned poverty wages (under $11.06 an hour), so while conservatives relish wagging their fingers at the "idea" of lazy poor Americans hanging around waiting for government assistance, most Americans living in poverty are working poor - part of the 99% of Americans whose wages have remained stagnant for three decades.

So the empty kind of rhetoric Republicans use to try and appeal to minorities and the poor is simply lip service served up with smug hypocrisy that's actually targeted to more affluent white voters.

Economic inequality, wage stagnation and poor education are the biggest factors in people remaining stuck in poverty in America.

During his interview with Brian Lehrer, Rev. Barber wisely made the observation that Republicans, particularly Trump, make bold claims about wanting to help impoverished blacks, yet Republicans overwhelmingly oppose minimum wage guarantees, affordable health care, infrastructure spending and investment in public schools - the very  kinds of things most affected by government spending that could actually help lift people out of poverty and the kinds of programs that helped lift impoverished whites out of poverty in the 30's and 40's.

Perhaps the Republican need to wistfully look backwards to the 1950's as some kind of mythical golden age (Make America Great Again!) reflects their negatively distorted views of the poor, immigrants and people of color who exist here in the 21st century America of the present.

It's reassuring that people like Rev. William Barber have the moral clarity to see the truth; and the courage to demand that politicians elected to represent the people do the same.

Friday, August 19, 2016

'Dark Passage' - Satisfying Summer Film Noir

After a busy work week punctuated by the nearly non-stop media coverage of Donald Trump's incremental steps toward uncharted political implosion, last night I really needed an escape from the dark side of American politics.

As some of you who stop by here may recall, Film Noir is one of my favorite movie genres, and for me there's nothing like turning down the lights and retreating into the black and white celluloid world of the 1940's - 1950's to explore the darker side of human nature as Hollywood did so effectively.

The 1947 classic Dark Passage was waiting in my mailbox in the familiar red envelope provided by Netflix's DVD service when I got home - I do the unlimited streaming package with Netflix, but I also recently re-enrolled for the "one disk at a time - unlimited" option again as Netflix offers a pretty impressive selection of classic and foreign films on DVD that aren't available on its streaming service.

As the link above will explain in far more detail than I'm capable of expressing, Film Noir has many definitions, but it's most recognizable characteristics are story lines that revolve around some of the darker, more complex aspects of human psychology and behavior; crime, deceit, mystery, betrayal, violence, fear, greed, cynicism, hopelessness and obsession are all typical themes.

From the technical standpoint, Film Noir often features unconventional framing shots, innovative uses of light, camera and screen perspective that (for the most part) were shot in black in white; personally I think director Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 masterpiece Rear Window is a good example of the refined Film Noir genre shot in in color - though some might characterize it as "neo-noir".

From the American Hollywood perspective, Film Noir (which many critics agree began in the late 1940's) is a reflection of a much more somber post-WWII worldview resulting from the collective psychological impact of the experience of living through The Great Depression and the mass destruction of world war.

In the same way that graphic television crime procedurals like Criminal Minds or NCIS became hugely popular after the events of September 11, 2001 as a way for people to try and make sense of the psychological motivation behind heinous acts of violence and terror, in some ways Film Noir became a vehicle for audiences to use cinema not just as entertainment, but as a means to examine and process the massive human suffering the world experienced between 1932 and 1945 by probing the darker aspects of fictional screen characters.

Aspects not seen in splashy musicals or screwball comedies.

Writer-director Delmer Daves 
Writer-director Delmer Daves had proved himself an able screenwriter on films like Petrified Forest (1936) and Love Affair (1939), and later as a director on successful films like Destination Tokyo (1943), and he was tapped by Warner Brothers to adapt the novel by prolific writer David Goodis after actor Humphrey Bogart read the book and brought it to Jerry Wald; one of the top producers at Warner Brothers (he produced the 1945 hit Mildred Pierce which won Joan Crawford an Oscar which she famously accepted from her bed.)

Bogart obviously recognized good material, and he knew the role of Irene Jansen in Dark Passage would be perfect for his new wife, former model Lauren Bacall.

Bogart and Bacall had lit up the screen with their smoldering on-camera chemistry in To Have And Have Not in 1944, and according to film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, Warner Brothers was eager to pair the two actors in another film to capitalize on their popularity with audiences.

After her star-making turn in To Have And Have Not, the studio was itching to put Bacall back up on the screen.

But she was not happy about being cast in her next project Confidential Agent in 1945, where she played an English woman opposite Charles Boyer; she was still a young actress and was clearly miscast for the role, and the film was something of a misfire.

Her next film with Bogart, the Film Noir classic The Big Sleep (1946) was a huge hit, and Bogart, who was fiercely protective of his young wife and her career, felt that Dark Passage would be an ideal project for him and Bacall to do together as the part suited her looks and temperament - and so it became the third on-screen pairing for the real-life couple.

Delmer Daves pushed the boundaries with Dark Passage in a number of ways.

For example he persuaded Warner Brothers to allow him to film on location in San Francisco to take advantage of the amazing outdoor shots that are so critical to the film's story line at a time when Hollywood directors (influenced by Italian neorealism in films like The Bicycle Thief), were looking to begin stepping outside of Hollywood studio sets and lots to add an element of realism to their films with real exterior shots.

Bacall nurses Bogart after plastic surgery in Dark Passage
More famously, Daves also used an unusual first-person camera technique for the first third of the film; showing much of it from the perspective of the main character Vincent Parry played by Bogart.

The plot is classic Film Noir.

In the opening sequence Vincent Parry escapes from San Quentin Prison and by (Hollywood) chance is soon picked up on the side of the road by the beautiful Irene Jansen, who smuggles the escapee into San Francisco to hide him in her swanky apartment.

Parry was jailed for the murder of his wife, but he was framed for it. The lovely (and helpful) Jansen turns out to be the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco man who had also been wrongly convicted for the murder of his 2nd wife - and he died in San Quentin.

Jansen had attended Parry's trial and believed in his innocence, so she's not only happy to help Parry hide from the law, she's also in love with him.

Parry decides to get plastic surgery to alter his face with the help of a cabbie he befriends, so for most of the first 3rd of the film, the camera perspective is from Bogart's character - we hear his voice, but we never see his face until it heals after the surgery and Bacall's character dramatically removes the bandages to reveal the Bogey we all know and love.

Agnes Moorehead as Madge in Dark Passage
Studio chief Jack Warner was reportedly not happy that Bogart, one of Hollywood's biggest stars, isn't actually seen until much later in the film.

The rest of the film revolves around Parry trying to track down his wife's killer and clear his name.

While some of the plot elements do defy belief, the performances by an excellent cast, including Agnes Moorehead as a loopy femme fatale, make you forget that.

By no means is Dark Passage a "great film", but it's brilliant must-see Film Noir with a really well-written story, beautiful cinematography and fine performances by Bogart and Bacall and the supporting cast.

So if you get the chance to rent it, or see it's going to be on Turner Classic Movies, by all means give it a watch - it's well worth the time and a great "San Francisco" film if you know the city and enjoy seeing brilliant shots of the City By the Bay in the 40's.

Well I'm off to a party at my friend Geoff the Economist's house in Princeton; and I'm taking Uber so it will be a fun evening not having to worry about drinking and driving.

If you happen to be home on this streamy summer Friday, turn down the lights and check out some classic Film Noir to keep cool.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cultural Scapegoating: American Style

Ryan Lochte (L) and Jimmy Feigen (R)
Let's be honest.

From the start, there was something fishy about the strange story of four high-profile members of the American men's swimming team claiming that they'd all been robbed at gunpoint after leaving a party by a group of Brazilian men wearing police uniforms.

As has been widely reported today, their story was a lie used as an attempted cover-up.

As Simon Romero reported for the New York Times earlier today, gold medalist Ryan Lochte's claims that a gun had been held to his forehead during an early morning robbery were pure fiction intended to either cover up the fact that he and the other three swimmers had been out until after 5am.

Or because one or more of them caused serious damage to a bathroom in a Shell station on the way back from an exclusive party thrown by the French in an exclusive riding club in the equally exclusive Lagoa district.

According to Brazilian investigators, witnesses saw the men in some kind of argument or confrontation with store employees over the damaged door at the Shell station - the gun pointed at them was held by a security guard confronting them over the bathroom damage and least one of the swimmers tried to give the employees money; their story fell apart when video contradicted their claims.

After the years of hard work, training and sacrifice these guys put in it's doubtful anyone would fault them for going out and letting loose with some drinks after the pressure of Olympic competition; after all the swimming competition was over.

Aside from Lochte the other three guys were twenty-somethings, all were noticeably drunk and there was something  palpably "frat-like" about the whole affair.

Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, Ryan Lochte & Jack Conger
Aside from the legal implications, what's troubling is that these four privileged American's first thought was to cover up their actions rather than to man up and admit it.

Instead they concocted a bogus story to exploit widely-held fears about Brazilian criminal activity.

And tried to blame their own behavior on non-existent people of color; a devious practice with a long history in America - often with far more deadly consequences.

You may recall the horrific case of Charles Stuart back in 1989.

On the night of October 23, 1989, Stuart left a childbirth class with his pregnant wife Carol and at some point he pulled over and shot her, then in an effort to cover it up he then shot himself in the stomach before managing to drive to the hospital.

Charles and Carol Stuart
He famously told Boston police that a black man wielding a gun had jumped into the car, robbed them then shot them both.

Predictably, the city was in an uproar and members of the Boston PD and Massachusetts State Police tore through predominantly African-American neighborhoods looking for suspects.

During the frenzied search a number of innocent black boys and men were beaten by police; and one man was even reportedly killed while in police custody.

But it was a hoax cooked up by Stuart to collect the life insurance on his wife; Stuart's brother went to the police and admitted that he'd help to dispose of the murder weapon.

Carol Stuart died on the operating table hours after being shot - the unborn child delivered two months premature by Cesarean section died seventeen days later.

The incident sparked outrage, particularly in Boston's African-American community and caused incalculable damage to race relations in the city; and sadly served to reinforce the image of Boston as one of the most racist cities in the nation.

Susan Smith
Almost five years to the day on October 25, 1994, Susan Smith reported to South Carolina police that a black man had carjacked her 1990 Mazda Protege at gunpoint at a rural intersection and kidnapped her two children.

Smith's story went global and she spent days appearing in front of television cameras making tearful pleas for the return of her two sons.

But local South Carolina police were almost immediately suspicious of her story as well and secretly suspected her from the start of the investigation.

Days later her story was exposed as a lie and she finally admitted that she had driven her vehicle to a boat ramp at the edge of John D. Long Lake, and allowed it to roll into the water with her two sons.

The bodies of three-year-old Michael Daniel Smith and his younger brother 14 month-old Alexander Tyler Smith were later found inside the vehicle submerged in 60 feet of water.

She confessed to drowning her sons in order to have a relationship with a wealthy man who lived in the area who apparently did not want a family. She's currently incarcerated in Greenwood, South Carolina and will be eligible for parole in 2024.

From a cultural perspective what's both fascinating and sad about the practice of some white Americans committing crimes or illegal acts and intentionally blaming people of color, is that the awareness of the depth of the racial bias that's embedded within the fabric of American culture is so common, that the perpetrators know that authorities will be all too quick to believe any claim that a person of color committed a crime or offense against a white person.

Nelson lynching, Okemah, OK - 1911
Even though studies show that the vast majority of violent crimes in the U.S are intra-racial - that is whites tend to victimize other whites, and blacks tend to victimize other blacks (which is certainly true in Chicago).

Racial scapegoating was often used during the dark days of lynching in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century in the US.

Most often by mobs who used non-existent crimes, or even the accusation, or association of crimes not proven in trial to justify lynching innocent African-Americans (and Native Americans and whites) - as in the case of Laura Nelson, a black woman who was lynched alongside her son L.D. Nelson on May 25, 1911 from a railroad bridge in Okemah, Oklahoma (pictured above) after the two were seized from a local jail by a mob of about 40 whites seeking revenge for the death of a sheriff's deputy sent to the Nelson farm to search for a stolen cow.

Yet ingrained prejudices in the U.S. are such that racial perception and bias skewers fact and statistics; and as evidenced by the reactions in the Charles Stuart and Susan Smith cases, makes many white Americans malleable to the mere suggestion of black criminality - to the degree that some whites intentionally employ it as a scapegoat.

Those four American Olympic swimmers were certainly cognizant of the racial bias in Brazil; as if they thought the combination of their stature as athletes, their white privilege and the anxiety of violent crime in Rio would make their lie palatable.

Cultural scapegoating is so ingrained in America that it's even been portrayed in popular fiction.

One of the most famous examples I can think of, is the scene in the classic 1990 film Goodfellas, 
and credit goes to the brilliant director Martin Scorcese for demonstrating how racial scapegoating was used by some members of organized crime.

"Tommy D" and Henry Hill prepare to steal the
complicit driver's truck in Goodfellas
It happens during a scene in which real-life mobster Henry Hill (played by actor Ray Liotta) is describing the various ways that their crew regularly ripped off cargo from trucks going in and out of Idewild Airport (now LaGuarida) in Queens, New York during the 50's and 60's.

The scene opens with a white truck driver stopping in front of a diner and climbing down from his cab.

He casually walks past Henry Hill and Tommy DeVito (played by actor Joe Pesci) and gives them both a nod as he walks in the diner (pictured above).

The two mobsters casually walk to the cab of the truck, get in and simply drive away.

Meanwhile inside the diner, after the truck driver has ordered something to go and walks out, he suddenly runs back inside, feigning surprise and anger as he shouts to the man behind the counter:

"Hey! You gotta phone? C'mon, c'mon you gotta phone?"

The man behind the counter says, "Yeah, over there," pointing to a pay phone on the wall as the truck driver hurries over, intentionally raising his voice for the other diner patrons to hear:

"Two niggers just stole my truck! You believe that shit?"

Watch the scene for yourself, it only runs about 48 seconds.

I think it speaks to the underlying reasoning that motivated four Olympic athletes to import something dark from America to deflect attention on their own actions.

Most definitely not a highlight in American Olympic history, but inexorably linked to American history.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Ideology Over Principled Leadership

Well my favorite Republican governor was back in the news today, and as has been the case in recent months, that wasn't really a good thing.

For him or the people of New Jersey.

Chris Christie's reputation is now inextricably linked with three different toxic issues that aren't going away anytime soon.

1) The Bridgegate scandal he engineered back in 2013 is about to come back and roost in his life like a vicious vindictive chicken.

2) The critical Transportation Trust Fund that keeps vital infrastructure projects (things like roads and bridges...) in New Jersey financed is now out of money due in large part to Christie's stubborn refusal to budge on his disturbing obsession with cutting taxes - even when it's not in the state's fiscal interest.

3) He's hitched his wagon and political legacy to Donald Trump.

Let's take a quick look at Bridgegate first.

It was just last week when the transcript of a text message between former Christie aide Christina Renna and Pete Sheridan (a former Christie re-election adviser who's currently one of the top officials in New Jersey's Republican party) offered damning proof that not only did Christie and his top officials know about Bridgegate, but that Christie himself lied in a 2013 press conference in which he claimed neither he or his staff were aware of the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

Former Port Authority official Bill Baroni
Those transcripts were submitted by lawyers for Bill Baroni, the disgraced former deputy executive director of the Port Authority for New York and New Jersey.

Remember him? Back in 2013 he was the guy who told an investigative committee of the NJ legislature while under subpoena that the lane closures were part of "a traffic study."

He'll be in federal court next month to face charges that he used his position at the Port Authority to engineer the lane closures.

It's a pretty good bet that nothing good for Christie is going to come out of that trial as Baroni and his lawyers try to salvage what's left of his shredded reputation by selling Christie up the river.

Oh and Baroni won't be alone in court starting September 12th, Bridget Anne Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff to Christie and author of the now famous "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" text message to ex-Christie adviser David Wildstein, will be there as well facing seven counts including conspiracy to commit wire fraud and deprivation of civil rights.

The trial starts about ten days from when early voting for the 2016 presidential election begins in some states, so the fallout and details from that highly-anticipated trial are going to put a real crimp in Christie's style as Donald Trump struggles to try and right his sinking presidential campaign.

Stephen Bannon
Christie is heading up Trump's White House transition team, but I'm not sure whether he had anything to do with Trump's decision to name the combative hyper-conservative Breitbart News executive  Stephen Bannon to replace Paul Manafort as the new head of Trump's presidential campaign.

Bannon is known less as a "journalist" than as a peddler of quasi-delusional paranoid theories that feed Tea Party insanity who helped bring an even more racist and misogynist tone to Brietbart.

Thought Trump's campaign was a trainwreck before?

Just wait a few days and see what a crass bigot like Bannon who fawns over Sarah Palin and has no experience running a political campaign brings to Trump's rapidly fading presidential hopes; and in turn, Christie's political ambitions.

But probably the saddest aspect of Christie's political and professional devolution is something all too familiar to folks in New Jersey - his consistent unwillingness to put the needs of the people of the state ahead of his own political self interest and his increasingly narrow-minded ideology.

Today's troubling New York Times story about how Christie helped Trump weasel out of paying about $25 million in back taxes owed from the bankruptcies of Trump's failed Atlantic City casinos is just the latest of many examples.

Remember back in March when Christie pushed aside the will of the NJ Attorney General and undercut years of costly litigation efforts to force Exxon to cover cleanup costs related to the pollution of the Arthur Kill and Newark Bay in Bayonne, NJ by revising an $8.9 billion settlement with Exxon and agreeing to accept a paltry $250 million or about 3 cents on the dollar?

The people of New Jersey are once again loosing out with the toxic stalemate over funding of the state's Transportation Trust Fund. Despite years of warnings that the critical source of funding for essential road and bridge repairs would run out of money, last July Christie shut down $3.5 billion slated for hundreds of different projects across the state in order to save what's left in the TTF for emergencies.

Eighth street bridge reconstruction in Passaic - Stalled
Both Republicans and Democratic state Assembly members reached a bipartisan measure to fund the TFF by increasing the state's gas tax by 23 cents a gallon - a measure supported by most people in NJ especially since the gas tax hasn't been raised since 1988 when it was raised by 2.5 cents a gallon.

Can you name a single product that you consume regularly that hasn't gone up in price since 1988?

True to Christie's bizarre allegiance to anti-government conservative tax-cut zealot Grover Norquist's "No new taxes. Ever" pledge signed by hundreds of fiscally-delusional Republican politicians, the Governor would only agree to pass the gas tax increase if the NJ Senate also passed tax cuts.

When revised figures showed that Christie's proposed sales tax cut, plus a retirement income tax exclusion he threw in would actually cost the state $1.9 billion in revenue by 2022, the Senate refused to pass the bill - if Christie would just take out his demand for a retirement income tax exclusion (a tax cut that would overwhelmingly benefit wealthier New Jerseyeans) the bill would pass.

But of course he won't, so hundreds of critical road and bridge repairs across the state sit idle and construction workers and contractors are stuck with no paycheck during the busiest construction period of the year - driving up unemployment rates and pumping less money into the economy.

Work like asphalt paving, which can't be done in cold weather, and costs to restart the projects grow by the day, but Christie is content to blame the Democratic-majority state Senate and use his authority not to get these critical projects funded, but to pander to the fringe ideology of conservative anti-tax zealots in the Republican party - most of whom don't even live in New Jersey.

Again, as I've said many times, I've got nothing personal against Christ Christie; but it's always about him, not the best interests of the people.

I'm just really tired of naked self-interest and rigid, narrow-minded political ideology that's not reflective of the vast majority of New Jersey's citizens masquerading as principled leadership.

Monday, August 15, 2016

GOP 'Suicide Squad'? Good Luck With That

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in the real 'Suicide Squad'
Did you hear about the Republican's new 'Suicide Squad'?

(No relation to Warner Bros'. release that opened strong and has made $302 million at the US box office despite some brutal reviews)

Is it a sign of a genuine need for outreach to the African-American community?

Or just desperation with 90 days to go before the 2016 presidential elections?

Regardless, as Jason Johnson reported in an article on the Root.com on Friday, the Republican party recently hired three additional prominent black political consultants and media strategists to assist their current director of urban affairs and African-American engagement, Telly Lovelace, to try and sell Donald Trump to black voters in critical swing states.

A Herculean effort that at this point might as well be called 'Mission Impossible 2016.'

As Root.com reported, heading up that Sisyphean task is Lovelace, a former Congressional staffer who used to work on the staff of Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan.

He was a well-respected conservative media strategist before being hired by the GOP back in April.

Conservative media strategist Telly Lovelace
Notably, his hiring came amidst a slew of high-profile resignations by most of the Republican party's top black and Hispanic strategists and media professionals alienated by Trump's bigotry, the party's willingness to embrace his message of intolerance and willingness to name him as the front runner.

The ability to listen to all points of view underscores the basic freedoms we enjoy in this country.

So no disrespect to Mr. Lovelace, but given his grasp of political strategy and communications, does he really believe blacks are going to vote for Trump in relevant numbers this fall?

If at all?

It's hard for me to grasp why a political party that has used sketchy gerrymandering tactics to achieve numerical majorities in local state legislatures across the nation to actively suppress voter turnout for African-Americans, legal immigrants, students, poor people and the elderly would even have a 'director of urban affairs and African-American engagement.'

During a segment on The Brian Lehrer Show this morning there was a pretty lively discussion on how Trump is being treated by the media with Jamil Smith, senior national correspondent for MTV News.

Despite Trump's almost endless list of offensive Tweets, statements and verbal gaffes (which the media has nothing to do with) I found it interesting that two different white male listeners, and at least one white female listener, called in to not necessarily defend Trump, but to insist that he's not in fact racist - the two guys got pretty heated if you want to click the link above and give the segment a listen.

To me, I detected a sense of defensiveness not for Trump per se, but for the kind of rampant intolerance and overt cultural insensitivity he stands for; to me those listeners seemed to be in a bit of a denial about Trump's well documented racism which started years ago.

Donald and Fred C. Trump in 1990
As the New York Times reported, as the then-president of the Trump Management Corporation back in 1973, a 27-year-old Donald Trump and his father Fred C. Trump were both the targets of a Department of Justice suit brought in federal court.

The suit accused the Trumps of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 with regards to discriminatory rental practices in 39 apartment buildings in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

As The Times article reported:

"The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals 'because of race and color'. It also charged that the company had charged different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available."

As Gideon Resnick reported last December in a Dailybeast.com article about the 1973 DOJ investigation, a former Trump Management super named Thomas Miranda testified that his superiors instructed him to attach a separate piece of paper with the letter "C" written on it to any applications received from prospective African-American renters - the "C" stood for 'colored' and was intended to notify leasing agents of all black applicants.

Miranda, a Puerto Rican, also testified that he lied and told his employers that he was from South America as he felt the Trumps "did not want Puerto Ricans living or working in the building."

Last year the UK's DailyMail.com reported that Fred C. Trump was listed in a newspaper as having been one of 1,000 members of the KKK arrested in a New York street brawl in 1927 targeted against 'Roman Catholics', 100 NYPD cops slugged it out with the Klansmen and Fred C. Trump's name and correct address were listed in the article as having been arrested.

3 of the exonerated Central Park defendants in 2014
Donald Trump's repugnant views on blacks, Hispanics, immigrants and Muslims were clearly inherited from his father from an early age, and eventually seeped into his own business practices and personal politics.

As evidenced by his shameless pandering to views once regarded as the purview of dangerous fringe white supremacists, neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

In the wake of the notorious Central Park jogger case in 1989, Trump took out a full-page article against the five minority defendants.

A letter which enflamed public opinion; they were all later exonerated of the horrific beating and rape after DNA evidence showed Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist and murderer, had committed the crime for which he also confessed - Trump refused to apologize even though his letter helped to stoke the media hysteria surrounding the case.

Trump was one of the early high-profile cheerleaders of the Birther movement that accused President Obama of not being an American - again, he refused to apologize even after Obama produced the long-form copy of his Hawaii birth certificate.

So the Republican candidate for president has a long and well-documented track record of bigotry and racism; and a Republican 'Suicide Squad' of black media experts and political strategists isn't going to change that fact.

Frankly if the Republican party were even halfway serious about 'African-American engagement', they never would have allowed Trump to be nominated as their presidential candidate in the first place.