Thursday, January 18, 2018

Gender Hypocrisy & Stormy Weather For Trump

Senator Corey Booker &DHS Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen 
New Jersey Democratic Senator Corey Booker's intense grilling of Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday laid bare the lingering global resentment over Trump's recent dismissal of Haiti, Africa and El Salvador as "shithole countries" during a White House meeting last week. 

Perhaps more interesting was the subsequent indignant Conservative outrage over the optics of a black U.S. Senator calling out a white, blond-haired Trump sycophant on live TV.

Now it's probably fair to say that Tuesday's heated exchange was a result of both Booker and Nielsen feeling some frustration after a long and pretty heated hearing on Capitol Hill.

Democrats pressed her repeatedly to clarify whether or not she'd heard Trump use the words "shithole countries", and in her defense, Nielsen isn't some bubble-headed debutante who fell off a zucchini truck like Sarah Palin.

She earned her bachelor's degree from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and her law degree from the University of Virginia.

She was a special assistant in the White House under George W. Bush, and held positions related to legislative policy, cyber security and homeland security at the Transportation Security Administration, George Washington University and the World Economic Forum - and served as former general John Kelly's chief of staff when he was DHS secretary.

Trump flanked by Republican Senator Tom Cotton (left)
and Senator David Perdue (right) August 2, 2017
So at that testy Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nielsen was smart enough to understand that Democrats were trying to trap her into confirming the deplorable language Trump used, and thereby cast Republican Senators David Perdue of Georgia and Tim Cotton of Arkansas as liars.

Both Senators were at the White House meeting last week and both claimed they didn't recall hearing Trump say those words.

I'm sure Cotton and Perdue's joint memory-lapse had nothing to do with Trump having invited both xenophobes to the Roosevelt Room of the White House (pictured above) last August to lavish praise upon them for their proposed bill to curb legal immigration to the U.S. by making selected work skills a priority for new immigrants and drastically reducing the numbers of immigrants allowed into the country each year. 

Nielsen was smart enough to do her best to avoid taking the heat for something Trump said, but she's also an experienced and loyal Washington player who wouldn't do anything to undermine her former boss at DHS John Kelly - who currently serves as Trump's White House chief of staff.

So she she did the "Washington Two Step" and became the third Republican attendee to lie about Trump using vulgar, racially-charged language to describe nations where the majority population are people of color by claiming she had a memory lapse and couldn't recall Trump using his now-famous phrase.

Booker, who was likely a little frustrated that Nielsen didn't take the bait, took the cue to lay into her, but he wasn't really laying into her per se - he was just doing the "Washington Two Step" as well by using her to publicly lay into Trump.

MAGA? Donald Trump with porn star Stormy Daniels
While he was only voicing the anger felt by people around the world over a sitting U.S. president openly allowing his own internalized bigotry to affect government policy towards foreign nations, Republicans quickly tried to turn Booker into the villain.

Conservative media outlets like Fox News criticized Booker for "mansplaining".

National Review's David French haughtily proclaimed "Corey Booker's Rant Exposed the Left's Gender Hypocrisy"

Which is actually kind of funny considering that porn star Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as "Stormy Daniels", is now on record as saying that she had an on-again, off-again affair with Trump over the course of several years - including when his current wife Melania Trump was pregnant with their son Barron and Trump was publicly fat-shaming her.

Last Friday the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump's lawyer David Cohen negotiated a $130,000 payout to Daniels just one month before the 2016 presidential election to buy her silence on her ongoing affair with the man conservative Christian evangelicals overwhelmingly supported for president last fall.

Remember Cohen was arranging the payout agreement with the increasingly-famous porn star as Trump raged incoherently about Hillary Clinton's ethical failings and emails - Clifford went public because (drum roll please...) Trump never paid her the money.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens enjoying some gun porn
Speaking of concocted conservative outrage over "gender hypocrisy", Trump isn't the only high-profile married Republican to get caught trying to silence a woman to prevent her from talking publicly about a consensual affair.

Remember current Missouri Republican Governor and ex-Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, the guy who ran on a populist anti-establishment platform?

The Rhodes Scholar, humanitarian, author and former Democrat?

He's now frantically trying to apologize to state Republican legislators and rainmakers after it was revealed that he tied up his former mistress and took compromising photographs of her naked then threatened to use them to blackmail her in the event she told anyone of their affair.

Talk about "mansplaining".

As Allison McCann reported for Vice earlier today, the air is leaking out of Greitens' once-promising career balloon fast as Missouri voters were already pissed over his rolling back the minimum wage from $10 to $7.70 an hour, making it harder for women to access abortion services and blocking people's ability to file discrimination lawsuits

I mean seriously, what kind of delusional, right-wing narcissistic ape rolls back the minimum wage, curbs women's health care choice and makes it easier for companies to discriminate against workers then ties up a woman to blackmail her?

The kind of guy other Republican members of his own state legislature are now trying to force to resign from office just as it's looking like a massive blue wave is about to wash over the land in the upcoming November mid-term elections.

No wonder Conservative media outlets like Fox News and National Review are frantically trying to gin up phony overblown outrage over a sitting U.S. Democratic Senator asking some tough questions of a Department of Homeland Security Secretary who admits she's never actually met or spoken with a DACA recipient even though she's using her office to try and deport them.

Trump's got some balls complaining about "shithole" countries when Republican politicians seem to be doing everything possible to turn American into one.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Johnny Cash - 50 Years After Folsom & Beyond

Johnny Cash playing one of two live concerts at
California's Folsom State Prison January 13, 1968 
Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the recording of legendary country singer Johnny Cash's classic live triple-platinum album "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison", which he famously recorded live at the California state prison of the same name.

The same concert which produced the brilliant live recording of his 1955 hit "Folsom Prison Blues" - which is arguably one of THE classic contemporary live American song recordings of all time.

Backed by June Carter, guitarist Carl Perkins and the Tennessee Three, Cash played two different shows that day.

As Joe Rosato reported for the local Bay Area NBC affiliate on Thursday, to mark this important American music anniversary, Folsom State Prison officials rolled out the proverbial red carpet and invited members of the press to see Dining Room Two where Cash and his band performed two different live shows to about 1,000 inmates on a stage specially-constructed for the occasion back on January 13, 1968.

Much like other influential American country singers like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, Cash famously cultivated an "outlaw" image with his often-black wardrobe, troubled personal life, moody personae and distinctive haunting singing style, but he never actually served time in a prison.

His own personal experiences of being locked up by the law were limited to seven different overnight stays in various local jails on relatively minor offenses related to alcohol - like possessing amphetamine pills (to which he was addicted for years), public intoxication and reckless driving.

But throughout his career, Cash maintained a soft spot in his heart for incarcerated prisoners and many of his songs explored the existential struggles of those who languished in jails isolated from friends, family and society - possibly Cash's way of expressing the regret, sadness and loss he experienced in his own life.

The Cash family in 1949, his older brother Roy is
on the far left, Johnny is on the far right
In 1944, when Cash was 12-years-old, his beloved older brother Jack was accidentally yanked into a table saw while cutting wood to support the family - while he somehow managed to crawl for help, his midsection was so torn apart that he died a week later from his gruesome injuries.

Cash idolized Jack, and according to his sister Joanne (pictured left, front right), the experience left him profoundly changed from the happy child that he was before the accident.

According his sister, after his brother's death, Cash became much more melancholy and introspective as he began spending more time by himself writing poems and songs.

He grew up in rural Dyess, Arkansas surrounded by music, the Cash family sang spirituals and gospel together both at home, and at the home of his grandparents.

Johnny first started singing publicly in church, but it was his oldest brother Roy Cash (pictured above) who first encouraged Johnny to pursue a career as a professional singer.

Roy Cash had started a string band called the Dixie Rhythm Ramblers in the late 1930's or early 1940's who played local venues in and around Arkansas, and even had a regular show on local radio  station KCLN for a time.

According to Rolling Stone contributing writer Mikal Gilmore's 2008 book "Stories Done", after the rest of the members of his band were killed during World War II, Roy's interest in music faded, but he continued to encourage his younger brother and actually introduced Johnny to some of the musicians that he first played and recorded with.

Cash was coming off of a relative low point in his professional career when he first approached his label Columbia records in 1965 or 1966 with the idea of performing live inside a prison.

At the time he was emerging from a struggle with addiction and it had been some time since he'd had a hit song.

Johnny Cash with his first wife Vivian Liberto
He was also facing backlash and concert cancellations from some conservative southerners over accusations that his first wife Vivian Liberto, who he met in San Antonio, Texas in 1951 when he was in the Air Force, was black.

Cash, a progressive who used some of his songs to share the plight of African-Americans and Native Americans, was forced into the awkward position of having to publicly defend his wife's race as white in order not to alienate his mostly-white fans.

You can judge for yourself, but from looking closely at a photo of Cash and Liberto, at the least, she does appear to be of mixed race heritage, and it's a pretty sad state of American society that people would criticize him because of the perception of the race and ethnicity of the woman he loved and the mother of his children.

Understandably, the hateful campaign put tremendous stress on their marriage and they eventually separated in 1967 -  so Cash had been looking for a way to both reinvigorate his career and reconnect with his audience for some time.

Personally, I'd be curious to know if the accusations against Cash over Vivian Liberto's race had anything to do with Cash's decision to enter a highly-public relationship with June Carter (pictured below), an attractive and talented musical prodigy who played four instruments who'd been performing publicly with her famous Carter Family relatives since she was 10-years old.

Aficionados of classic early 20th century American folk and bluegrass music (including your's truly) will obviously know that the Carter Family, A.P Carter, his wife Sara and sister-in-law Maybelle Carter (June Carter's mother) are widely regarded as country music royalty who shaped the sound of modern country music in the late 1920's - they are cemented as American music icons.

Cash and June Carter enter Folsom
State Prison on January 13, 1968 
June Carter was certainly talented, beautiful and successful in her own right, but given the southern (white) backlash over his marriage to Vivian Liberto in the 1960's, I think it's a fair question to ask if Johnny Cash was intrigued with the possibility that marrying someone with Carter's musical and racial heritage would have a positive impact on his own career.

I'm not suggesting he didn't love her, I'm just saying it's a fair question given the racially complex-nature of the U.S. and the divisive societal landscape of 1968.

Columbia executives were initially hesitant about the idea of Cash recording inside a prison before finally approving it in 1967 after an executive shakeup.

As Joe Rosato reported for WNBC, Cash originally wanted to play a live concert in California's San Quentin Prison in Marin County which houses the state's death row, but the warden never returned Cash's manager's phone calls.

So Cash suggested they contact Folsom State Prison officials instead, they immediately agreed - the rest is history.

The live version of "Folsom Prison Blues" became a top forty hit, the album shot to number one on the country music charts and even reached number 15 on the pop charts - over three million copies have been sold since it was first released.

The popularity of the album jump started Cash's career and because the album cost Columbia so little to produce, they eagerly backed his desire to record live in other prisons - he would record three other live albums from prisons including one at San Quentin in 1969.

"Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" became so popular, fans and tourists began flocking to Folsom State Prison just to see it and the prison eventually built a museum outside the walls of the prison with photos of Cash from the day he recorded the album and other prison memorabilia.

Having been raised in rural Dyess, Arkansas during the Great Depression, Cash understood what it was to be disenfranchised, poor and on the fringes of society.

Dyess Colony residents in the communal cannery
Dyess Colony, or "Colonization Project No. 1." as it was originally known, was formed in 1934 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's massive Works Projects Administration (WPA) projects to help the millions of Americans whose lives were decimated and uprooted by the Great Depression.

The federal government purchased 16,000 acres of swampy, snake-infested "bottomland" in Arkansas' Mississippi County to be used as a resettlement colony for rural Arkansas farmers and sharecroppers who'd been ruined by drought and the Great Depression.

It was a planned farming community with 500 newly-constructed modest two-bedroom homes with an outhouse and a barn where rural families selected from a list were given a five-room home and approximately 20 to 40 acres of land which they had to clear.

The idea was that they would use their farming skills and labor to farm the land to be able to eventually purchase and own the land according to a loan repayment schedule managed by the state and federal government.

Residents were also given a mule with which to plow and work the land, a cow, groceries and supplies to farm and would be expected to pay off the loans and also receive a share of the profits from the local community store and cannery (pictured above).

Like most WPA community housing and farming projects, Dyess Colony was whites only - as with many New Deal projects and Department of Agriculture programs intended to assists farmers, African-Americans were often excluded based solely in the color of their skin.

Growing up in such an environment during the Depression it's not hard to understand why Johnny Cash had such a life-long affinity for prisoners, and a heart-felt sympathy for the struggles they faced which became the subject of so many of his songs - and part of his personae as an artist.

Books Through Bars volunteers
It's unfortunate that so many conservative politicians today lack the kind of compassion for incarcerated Americans that Johnny Cash had.

For example, last Wednesday morning I listened to an interesting segment on the Brian Lehrer Show on disturbing efforts by some New York state prison officials to severely curtail incarcerated inmate's rights to access information and educate themselves.

In a nutshell, a NY state prison pilot program would severely curtail prisoner's access to books.

How? By limiting them from ordering books from a pre-selected group of six vendors, some which censor the kinds of books prisoners can order, or charge exorbitant rates for books - or limit how prisoner's, or their families can pay for those books.

The segment is worth a listen if you want to click the link above to listen to Seth Pollack, an organizer with Books Through Bars, an all-volunteer non-profit based in Philadelphia launched in 2010 that provides books to prisoners that request them in seven states.

As the Guardian reported last Monday, here in New Jersey, some prisons are actually trying to ban inmates from reading Michelle Alexander's ground-breaking book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness"

Tyler Haire in 2014
How about the ProPublica article detailing the sad case of Tyler Haire and more than 100 other inmates in Mississippi jails forced to wait for years just to get a bed in a psychiatric facility to have their mental condition professionally evaluated to determine whether they should be hospitalized and given treatment or incarcerated?

As the ProPublica article reports, "A copy of the state's waitlist shows that as of August 2017, 102 defendants - accused, but not yet convicted of various crimes - were waiting in various county jails for forensic evaluations. One had waited 1,249 days. Another 1,173 days, still another 879." 

Haire was 16 when he was locked up and "spent his 18th, 19th, and 20th birthdays in the jail" awaiting an evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial for charges of attacking his father's girlfriend with a knife - even though he'd been diagnosed with seven different mental disorders as a child.

Mentally-ill people who haven't even been convicted of a crime by a court of law being incarcerated for years without proper treatment waiting to be seen and evaluated by a medical professional.

It's 2017 and Tyler is still waiting.

As Johnny Cash famously sang in "Folsom Prison Blues" - "I hang my head and cry".

Friday, January 12, 2018

21 Arrests, Anti-Immigration Theater & The Universal Sense of Justice

ICE agents outside a 7-Eleven in Los Angeles early on
Wednesday morning
[Photo Chris Carlson - AP]
After ICE agents conducted raids on 98 different 7-Eleven stores across 17 states and Washington, D.C. early Wednesday morning, it's hard to fathom what career professionals within the ranks of the Department of Justice and Homeland Security are feeling about the agencies they work for.

Considering that thousands of businesses across the U.S. employ undocumented migrant workers, the 21 people arrested in the predawn sweeps is a drop in a swimming pool.

As a professional who works in the residential (apartment) leasing industry, I can tell you that a lot of the vendors hired to do different types of work on the various properties the company I work for owns wouldn't be able to function without undocumented workers.

Companies that handle everything from large tree removal, to interior painting, roofing, paving, or carpet installation all have at least some undocumented migrants on their payrolls.

If you consider businesses like restaurants, car washes, landscapers, farms, office cleaning companies, meatpacking companies or nail salons (and I could go on), all hire large numbers of undocumented migrants - and we all know it.

Citizens, police, politicians, clergy, tax professionals, medical professionals, journalists - we all know that undocumented workers are an essential component of the U.S. economy.

Is there anyone who honestly thinks that only legal U.S. citizens were out there across the midwest and northeast over the past couple weeks removing the hundreds of thousands of tons of snow that blanketed the country?

So to me, there's something disingenuous about American taxpayer money going towards hundreds of agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement planning, staffing and executing predawn raids on 98 different convenience stores across the country targeting undocumented workers and coming up with 21 arrests.

Heavily-armed neo-Nazi Taylor Michael Wilson tried
to commit a terrorist act on an Amtrak train in Oct.
Remember, the people working those early morning graveyard shifts at 7-Elevens weren't terrorists.

These were people working long hours for low pay selling snacks, coffee, gas, cigarettes and lotto tickets to customers.

Consider the very real threats posed by rampant gun violence and domestic right-wing terrorists - who are responsible for far more deaths to Americans than terrorists motivated by a warped interpretation of Islam.

Why aren't we seeing Homeland Security agents fanning out in nationwide predawn roundups of these right-wing neo-Nazi assholes like Taylor Michael Wilson?

As NPR and other outlets reported last week, this violent racist douchebag (pictured above) was subdued by Amtrak personnel in the early morning hours last October in Furnas County, Nebraska after he was found in a restricted area of the passenger train trying to apply the emergency brakes.

In what's become an all-too familiar refrain that's pretty much the only thing never mentioned in the nearly-constant stream of idiotic tweets sent out by America's Very Stable Genius, Wilson was arrested with a loaded handgun, three loaded clips, another box of ammo, a knife, a hammer, tin snips, scissors, a respirator mask and a tape measure.

He also had business cards on him for the National Socialist Movement in Detroit, Michigan - and one for the white-identity Covenant Nation Church in Oneonta, Alabama - and yes, he was at the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia too.

A huge cache of rifles, ammo and white supremacist literature (if you can call it that) were also found in his apartment in a secret compartment behind the fridge - the weapons included AK-47's and American mass-murderer's weapon of choice, AR-15's.

Anti-government Rancher Cliven Bundy
Now if a radicalized Islamic terrorist so much as farts in a country thousands of miles away, Very Stable Genius is tweeting about it.

But when right-wing white domestic terrorists commit acts of violence here in the U.S. - nothing but radio silence from 45's otherwise active Twitter feed.

So in the same week that federal agents swooped down on 7-Elevens, Federal District Judge Gloria Navarro stunned observers by dismissing the case against rancher Cliven Bundy.

Yup, same guy who bilked the federal government out of over a million dollars in taxes and grazing fees and famously led a tense a standoff with supporters who pointed loaded weapons at federal agents, had the case against him dismissed.

As Robert Gehrke observed in an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune, in justifying her dismissal of the case, Judge Navarro said:

"The court finds that the universal sense of justice has been violated." 

It's interesting to ponder the "universal sense of justice" in an an America where a federal court dismisses a case against Cliven Bundy for repeatedly breaking federal laws and inspiring anti-government zealot supporters to threaten federal agents with loaded guns, while hordes of ICE agents descend on convenience stores to attack the "threat" of employees working the graveyard shift at 7-Eleven.

From my standpoint those ICE raids Wednesday morning were little more than contrived anti-immigration theater meant to fire up the 33 - 36% of Americans who still support Trump at a time when he's being besieged on all sides because of his own incompetence and corruption.

Senator Diane Feinstein
The publication of Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury" only confirmed what many already knew about the unmitigated chaos of the Trump White House.

And sparked a desperate 45 to televise a meeting with lawmakers in which he contradicted his own position on immigration and didn't appear to understand the basic definition of a "clean DACA bill".

Meanwhile Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein releasing the 300-page transcript of the testimony of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee has only raised more questions about the ever-growing list of disturbing ties between Russian government operatives and members of the Trump campaign - including Trump himself and members of his family. 

With more than 30 Republican congressmen already having announced their retirement ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections and things looking grim for the GOP, it's not surprising that someone from the White House made a call to ICE to make some high-profile mojo happen to rally a clearly-rattled Republican base.

But make no mistake, like airline passengers being made to remove shoes and belts while going through TSA flight security in the wake of 9-11, the ICE raids were nothing more than anti-immigration theater.

Data from the Pew Research Center estimates that about 17.1% of the U.S. workforce ( 27.6 million people ) were immigrants in 2014.

Of those, about 8 million workers were here illegally, and that's probably a conservative number.

Those ICE raids on the 7-Eleven stores Wednesday morning yielded 21 arrests, so you do the math.

ICE agents take a man into custody in Massachusetts
If there was any "universal sense of justice" those raids would never have happened in the first place.

And the Republicans who've controlled Congress since 2010 would have long since gotten off their obstructionist asses and passed immigration reform legislation instead of vilifying the millions of undocumented immigrants that have been here for years.

Yup, they've controlled the legislative branch of the federal government for seven years. The result? Nada.

But alas, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and their Very Stable Genius lackey in the White House seem content with some occasional anti-immigration theater to titillate their base of support.

Meaningless red-meat for the far-right.

Bread and circuses to try and distract working class white Republican voters who got royally screwed by their own party's billionaire-friendly tax bill from realizing that the prancing orange-maned horse they so enthusiastically backed in 2016 is nothing more than an empty broken down nag.

One who's more interested in whining about immigration than actually coming up with meaningful, realistic, long-term policies to address it - and the wall doesn't count.

Even "Mr. Art of the Deal" basically admitted on Tuesday during his shaky televised meeting on immigration that his plan to wall off the entire southern border of the United States is delusional and unlikely to be passed by Congress - he sheepishly walked back his bedrock campaign promise to a much more modest "wall for a fairly good portion." 

Don't hold your breath waiting for Mexicans to pay for that either.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Donald J. Trump: Super Genius

White nationalist Trump adviser Stephen Miller gets
cut off by CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday 
Granted it's been hard enough being cooped up inside because of the frigid temperatures outside over the past few days.

But being subjected to the incessant media coverage of Donald Trump's efforts to reshape the news cycle, after publisher Henry Holt & Co. pushed up the release date of Michael Wolff's bombshell tell-all "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" on Friday, has been hard for me to stomach.

Trump was desperate enough to trot out his remarkably obtuse white nationalist senior adviser Stephen Miller on the Sunday morning news show circuit earlier this morning.

That went south when Miller went all "Kellyanne Conway" on CNN's Jake Tapper and instead of answering the questions put to him, began babbling about kooky, half-baked "Fake News" theories - it was so bad Tapper cut him off and ended the interview after admonishing the dull Trump sycophant for "[wasting] enough of my viewer's time."

On Saturday, with outside temperatures skirting the single digits and the news media repeating Trump's claim that he is a "very stable genius", I had to take a break from the news.

Watching 45 laud his own intelligence reminded me of an old Bugs Bunny - Wile E. Coyote cartoon I used to watch when I was a kid.

Instead I turned on some music, got out my new cast iron frying pan, and tried out a new recipe for Classic Braised Chicken with Celery and Potatoes I saw on the Whole Foods Website - which turned out pretty good though I will tweak the recipe next time I try it.

Cooking turned out to be much a more pleasant distraction than listening to a sitting U.S. president reduced to wheedling before television cameras, not to promote a legislative policy objective, but to try and convince the American public that he's not a complete idiot.

Top Republican Congressional leaders cringe as
Trump defends his own intelligence
The monumentally-insecure Trump was so desperate to try and at least appear competent that he hastily assembled what he claimed was a Republican "strategy session" at Camp David with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and members of 45's cabinet.

Look at the photo to the left, do McConnell, VP Mike Pence, Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise look like they want to be there on a Saturday?

Seriously, look at their faces - they look like four kids forced to watch a chicken thaw.

But it was arguably just a thrown-together photo-op staged at the last minute to allow Trump to appear in front of the television cameras looking theatrically-presidential with top Republicans lined up behind him like reluctant human props on a freezing cold Saturday when they looked like they wished they were anywhere else.

Trump was reportedly furious over the salacious details from the book leaked earlier in the week by The Guardian and New York magazine revealing that many White House insiders considered 45 a childish narcissist who's as dumb as a fence post and totally unfit to serve in the Oval Office.

But sadly (for him), Trump's own statements and tweets simply reinforced the accusations leveled in Michael Wolff's book - accusations obtained from over 200 interviews with a range of current and former White House advisers and staffers.

The three men accused of plotting to blow up a
mosque and Somali refugees in Kansas in 2016 
Part of what's unfortunate about Trump spending his Saturday using the news media to try and salvage what's left of his reputation is that it overshadowed more important news stories.

Like the dilapidated state of some of the nation's public schools epitomized by students in Baltimore having to attend classes at Patterson High School bundled up in coats, scarves and gloves last week because the heat wasn't working and it was 40 degrees inside the building.

Or, as the Associated Press reported on Thursday, the attorneys for Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen (the three men accused of planning to bomb a mosque and an apartment complex housing refugees from Somalia on the day after Trump won the 2016 election) asking U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren to allow more white jurors on the jury from rural Kansas because they'd be more likely to have voted for Trump.

(The judge denied their request and those three bigots will go on trial in March.)

There were a lot of news stories that should have gotten more mainstream media coverage this weekend, but unfortunately the focus was on a beleaguered, unpopular president desperately trying to convince the American people of how smart he is. 

That in and of itself is a sad reflection of the current state of American politics - and don't think Vladimir Putin isn't laughing about it over a glass of vodka.

As writer Stephen King observed on his Twitter feed yesterday:

"Anyone who has to call himself a genius...isn't."

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Down the Hatch!

Retiring Republican Senator Orrin Hatch
Well if nothing else, Republican Utah Senator Orrin Hatch arguably deserves credit for knowing when to pull the ripcord and bail out of his Senate seat ahead of the maelstrom that the 2018 mid-term elections are shaping up to be.

From a purely objective standpoint, the former-boxer-turned lawyer-turned published songwriter turned-career politician's timing couldn't be better.

Democrats Ralph Northam and Phil Murphy were elected governor in Virginia, and New Jersey in November.

Democrat Doug Jones was just sworn in for a six-year senate term after recently winning a tight race in the reliably-Republican state of Alabama.

And after a controversial race to decide control of the Virginia House of Delegates, Republican David Yancey was just declared the winner over Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds - leaving the chamber with a slim 51-49 Republican majority.

But remember, Republicans controlled the 100-member VA House of Delegates with 66 seats (a healthy 2/3 majority) before the recent election - and after a 11,607-vote tie was declared, Yancey only won the election after his name was literally picked out of a bowl to decide the winner.

So just looking at the results of those four widely-watched races, all of which have national political implications, my sense is that the 84-year-old Hatch read the writing on the wall on how mainstream American voters are feeling about the Republican Party and their erratic POTUS.   

After 40-plus years in the Senate, it's also fairly reasonable to speculate that Hatch has no desire to further soil his reputation by eventually being forced into the awkward position of potentially having to defend Donald Trump from impeachment charges related to the mounting evidence that he colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election if Democrats take back the House and Senate in November.

When bad haircuts are the least of our worries
Especially after Trump started the new year a couple days ago with yet another series of wildly unhinged tweets attacking everyone from Hillary Clinton's longtime aide Huma Abedin to the Palestinian Authority.

The tweet in which he childishly taunted North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un about who had the bigger nuclear button prompted two concerned Democratic lawmakers to propose legislation that would limit Trump's authority to independently order a nuclear launch without prior Congressional approval.

So given all of that, I'm guessing Orrin Hatch simply decided that enough was enough, and let's be honest - he has to be aware that Trump's impeachment is no longer just wishful thinking.

A Democratic-controlled Congress would almost surely take up impeachment hearings against Trump; a possibility that American University history professor Allan Lichtman says is very real.

Take a few minutes to listen to his thoughts about a Trump impeachment from his CBS interview.

Professor Lichtman has correctly picked almost every winning presidential candidate since 1984, and was one of the few to go on record and predict Trump's victory two months before the 2016 election - and well before former FBI Director James Comey decided to re-open an already closed investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails days before Americans headed to the polls.

Did you read Annie Karni's Politico article about Yale University professor Brandy X. Lee being invited to Capitol Hill for two days in December to brief a group of Democratic lawmakers (and one Republican Senator) on Trump's mental fitness to serve in office?

As Dr. Lee told Politico, "We feel that the rush of tweeting is an indication of his falling apart under stress. Trump is going to get worse and will become uncontainable with the pressures of the presidency."

Trump discusses the GOP tax bill via video while
he's only 50-feet away in the Oval Office - WTF?
If Trump's actions today are any indicator, the pressure is clearly getting to him.

Not only did he announce his intent to sue Henry Holt & co., the publishers of journalist Michael Wolff's new book "Fire and Fury" which chronicles Trump's election and first chaotic year in the White House (in which Steve Bannon called Don. Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer "treasonous").

He announced he's allowing offshore drilling off any coastal area in the U.S.

He's lighting up social media today after White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders coyly announced a "message from a special guest" before Trump's head appeared on two video monitors on either side of her podium to speak live about the hugely-unpopular Republican tax bill.

Which he insisted is "already delivering major economic gains" despite the nation-wide confusion over how newly-imposed limitations on federal deductions for state and local taxes will impact American homeowners and the fact that relatively few Americans have actually filed their taxes yet.

Why Trump chose to appear via video when he was 50-feet away in the Oval Office is anyone's best guest and has led to some pretty amusing speculation on social media.

One of my personal favorites: The Twitter account for Full Frontal, Samantha Bee's hysterical political satire show on TBS, asked followers to send in suggestions on why Trump elected to appear at the press conference via video instead of just walking down the hall.

Oh and he also banned White House staff and guests from using their personal cell phones - almost forgot to mention that one.

Sen. Ted Kennedy confers with Sen. Orrin Hatch in
far less politically-partisan times
But to get back to the by-now-relieved Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, the increasingly-partisan Senate is going to miss his willingness to reach across the aisle to work with Democratic colleagues on legislation.

As he often famously did with former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

Not that Hatch has actually done a whole lot of that bipartisan stuff lately - as the current chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch has been pretty preoccupied in recent weeks.

He's been busy behind the scenes helping lobbyists, lawyers for various special interests and other Republican politicians stuff as much pork as possible into the recently-passed Republican tax bill to appease the billionaire Republican donor base, corporations and the 1% of Americans who are already butt-ass rich score tax cuts they don't need.

And that seems to be the legacy the seven-term senator (the longest-serving in U.S. history) seems content to end his career on.

Which is kind of sad considering that over the course of his career, he's actually been fairly progressive on some issues despite being a respected conservative.

He supported legislation legalizing unions between same-sex couples and publicly backed the right for "gay people [to have] the same rights as married people" even though he personally believes marriage is an act between a man and woman.

Image from the CHIP landing page on 
Most famously he was one of the architects of the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program jointly-financed by Medicaid and various state-administered CHIP programs to provide health insurance for eligible children that was signed into law back in 1997 by Bill Clinton.

As Martin Pengelly wrote in an article for The Guardian, CHIP covers about 9 million American children and 370,000 pregnant women - it costs U.S. taxpayers about $15 billion a year.

But Republicans essentially defunded the program over their petty and vindictive attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip healthcare from millions of Americans.

Hatch had the temerity to stand on the floor of the Senate and insist, "Nobody believes in the CHIP program more than I...but the reason CHIP's having trouble is because we don't have money anymore. But to just add more and more spending and more and more spending...I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves -won't lift a finger - and expect the federal government to do everything."

Remember folks, he's talking about children and pregnant women.

Of course Hatch helped draft and pass the gargantuan $1.5 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans.

Orrin Hatch (right) next to smirking tax cut fetishist
Speaker Paul Ryan as Mitch McConnell gloats
So in the end, I guess he found money for what he wanted to find it for.

I know I'm not the only tax-paying American who finds it disgraceful that Republicans would eliminate a program that provides health insurance for children that costs $15 billion a year to finance tax relief for the wealthiest Americans.

Check out the widely-circulated Salt Lake Tribune op-ed in published on Christmas Day titled, "Why Orrin Hatch Is the Utahn of the Year"

Journalists from his home state criticized Hatch for among other things, "His utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power."

As the Salt Lake Tribune op-ed opines, Trump did Hatch a big favor by using his authority to revoke the national monument status of Utah's Bears Ears and Staircase-Escalante national parks in order to open up thousands of acres of pristine natural lands to private corporations to pillage it for minerals, oil, natural gas and lumber.

In turn, Hatch helped Trump by announcing that he's leaving the senate after helping to pass a massive tax bill that will ensure that both men avoid millions in federal taxes - just in time for retirement.

Only time will tell how history views Hatch's years in the senate, but there's little doubt that he's leaving on a wave of enlightened self-interest.

Saying goodbye to Capitol Hill at a divisive time when principled leadership is needed most, and abandoning his own commitment to make sure the federal government helps America's most vulnerable children get the healthcare they need.

Maybe Orrin Hatch just grew tired and cynical in the age of Trump - and perhaps in the end, his wallet was simply more important than the lofty principles he once espoused.

Utahn of the year indeed.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Rokhaya Diallo Speaks Truth to Power in France

Outraged parent Ana Marie Cox protesting the killing
of school cafeteria manager Philando Castile in 2016
For many Americans, the terms "Stop and Frisk" and "Driving While Black" have become synonymous with the systematic abuse of police power.

Terms that have become symbolic of the overreach of some law enforcement organizations who intentionally and disproportionately target, and stop, people of color - too often for no discernible reason other than the color of one's skin.

African-American Minnesota cafeteria manager Philando Castile is a sad, but prime example.

As I blogged about back on June 10th, the former St. Anthony, Minnesota PD officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled Castile over for a broken taillight back on July 6, 2016.

Before that fateful stop, remarkably, Castile had been pulled over by various local Minnesota police officers between 49 and 52 times over a 13-year period for mostly minor infractions like failure to use a turn signal.

Within 74 seconds of pulling Castile over, an unhinged Yanez fired seven shots into the car at point blank range, (with Castile's girlfriend sitting in the passenger seat and her four-year-old daughter in the backseat) killing an innocent man who'd committed no crime, and had done nothing to threaten Yanez aside from comply with a verbal order to produce his identification from his wallet.

While unjustified traffic stops based on racial bias continue to be an issue in many parts of America, the positive news is that stop-and-risks in the city most notorious for their use, New York, have plummeted since being phased out in 2104 under current 2nd-term Democratic NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

And as James Cullen reported in an article for the Brennan Center For Justice in 2016, the elimination of stop-and-frisk did NOT lead to an increase in crime as some conservative politicians (including former Mayor Mike Bloomberg), right-wing media pundits like Rudy Giuliani, and some members of the NYPD insisted that it would.

In fact, in total contrast to the dystopian crime-ravaged wasteland Trump described in his demented inauguration address back in January, as Ashely Southall reported for the New York Times last Wednesday, crime levels in New York City are as low as they've been since the 1950's.

But as recent international headlines indicate, stop-and-frisks and the use of the law to unfairly target, and disproportionately stop racial and ethnic minorities have been generating controversy, and police-related deaths, in France.

French journalist Rokhaya Diallo 
Last Thursday, the editorial board of the New York Times published an op-ed taking the French government to task for removing French journalist Rokhaya Diallo (pictured left) from the advisory board of the French Digital Council - which the Times described as "an independent board dealing with digital technologies and their impact on society".

She wasn't removed from the FDC advisory board because of some embarrassing personal scandal, or because she wasn't qualified to serve.

Ms. Diallo was apparently removed by the government of French President Emmanuel Macron because of a conservative backlash that might be seen in America as a kind of knee-jerk, reverse political-correctness run amok.

Over the past couple years, she has emerged as a leading vocal critic of some of the stunning displays of authoritarian overreach by French police that have resulted in the injuries and deaths of a number of young men of color - most of them Muslims of African or Arab descent.

According to the Times, her public accusations that such conduct is reflective of institutional racism within France have rankled conservatives, including French education minster Jean Michel Blanquer, who threatened to sue a French teachers union last month "for using the words 'institutional racism' during educational workshops in ethnically diverse Seine-St. Denis northeast of Paris. Mr. Blanquer has also threatened to sue Ms. Diallo." 

Back in May, President Macron famously beat his far-right extremist candidate opponent Marine Le Pen in a widely-watched national election (in part) with a promise to "fight the divisions which undermine France".

But the excitement of those elections seven months ago has faded.

French President Emmanuel Macron
And the 39-year-old Macron had no prior experience governing as an elected leader and ran as an independent without the support of a traditional French political party.

Now facing the political reality that he needs the support of conservatives to enact the kinds of policies that got him elected, he yielded to pressure from French conservatives and Ms. Diallo was removed from the FDC advisory board. 

The president of the board, venture capitalist Marie Ekeland, resigned in protest over the widely-condemned decision along with most of the other board members she'd tapped.

It's a pretty sad reflection of a European nation with such a proud tradition of "liberty, equality, fraternity" and free speech to remove a young progressive voice from a (supposedly) independent advisory board because some people are uncomfortable with what she thinks and says.

Particularly a young journalist of color who speaks up for the rights of a group that is increasingly marginalized from mainstream French society in the economic, political and social sense - alienation which is a huge factor in some French Muslims self-radicalizing and identifying with (or being recruited by) ISIS in the first place.

As the Times op-ed notes, in 2016 Diallo produced and directed a documentary titled From Ferguson to Paris: Guilty of Being Black - an analysis of the growing problem of French police using excessive physical, and deadly force in the wake of confrontations arising from the huge spike in stop-and-frisk identity checks that overwhelmingly target Muslims and people of color.

These kinds of identity checks grew exponentially in France in the wake of the horrifying wave of  terrorist attacks that took place in multiple venues across Paris on Friday November 13, 2015.

Far-right French supporters of the National Front
rallying in honor of Joan of Arc in 2015
[Photo - Alamy]
Attacks coordinated and committed by Islamic extremists which left 130 innocent people from multiple countries dead, and hundreds more wounded and traumatized.

Those attacks unfolded at a time when many Europeans, including some French citizens, were already expressing a simmering resentment over the thousands of illegal immigrants fleeing war-ravaged nations in the Mid-East and Africa who were desperately seeking refuge in towns and cities across Western Europe.

That anti-immigrant resentment also found an outlet of expression in a resurgent nationalist / populist political movement that has seen once-marginalized right-wing extremist political parties capture seats in parliaments across Europe - including the National Front in France.

For many French citizens, that resentment was further fueled by a string of terrorist attacks starting in 2012 that rocked the country - including the mass shooting at the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, 2015 that left 17 people dead and 22 wounded.

And the beheading of Herve Cornara in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier in southeastern France by a radicalized Islamic French Muslim of North African descent named Yassin Salhi who also attempted to blow up a factory by ramming a vehicle into a bunch of gas cylinders on June 26, 2015.

From a domestic security standpoint, given the sharp increase in the number of home-grown "self-radicalized" French Muslims who've been engaged or connected to the slew of terrorist attacks that have struck France since 2012, it's understandable that French authorities would try and target areas with high concentrations of Muslims in an effort to try and prevent such attacks from happening. 

The uncomfortable truth about stop-and-frisk
in NYC; stats from NY Civil Liberties Union 
But it's also fair to say that some overzealous French police officers were engaged in taking out their frustrations on innocent people of color in an effort to "hit back" at an elusive target.

Unfortunately, just like stop-and-frisk in New York City, the overwhelming majority of people being stopped repeatedly were innocent French people of color who had nothing to do with terrorism or any other kind of illegal activity.

As The Guardian reported back in 2015 these kinds of random stop-and-frisks have also been successfully challenged in a French appeals court, as in the case of 13 men, all of whom were either of African or Arab descent, none of whom had a criminal record, who'd all been stopped multiple times by French police for humiliating ID checks.

The French court awarded all of the men modest financial compensation.

Now I'm no security expert, but are spot ID checks and stop-and-frisks of mostly people of color really the best way to stop some person who's sitting in a room alone watching ISIS propaganda online getting motivated to commit some kind of heinous terrorist attack on an innocent person or people?

Or are such actions only further stirring up the kind of anti-government resentment that already exists in already-marginalized communities? Thus serving the recruitment efforts of terrorists trying to target those alienated populations as they do in other countries like the U.S.?

There's no easy answer to those questions, but if you want to get a better sense of the repercussions of French police using undocumented stop-and-frisk against young French men of color, take a few minutes to read an op-ed Rokhaya Diallo wrote for Essence Magazine last August titled, "Police and Racism Kill In France Too"

Just under a month after a slim majority of the 30 million-plus British citizens voted for the UK to "Brexit" the European Union on June 23, 2016, driven in part by the same kind of anti-immigrant hysteria being peddled by Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential race, a 24-year-old black Muslim Frenchman named Adama Traorie´ got into a confrontation with French police who were trying to arrest his older brother Bagui.

Adama Traorie´'s sister Assa (2nd from right) joins
thousands of protesters July, 2016
[Photo - AFP/ Getty]
As Ms. Diallo noted in her Essence op-ed, on or about July 20, 2016, Traorie´ died of asphyxiation while in police custody on the day of his 24th birthday.

For perspective, this incident took place just about fifteen days after former Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez fired seven shots into Philando Castile's car, killing him.

The death of Traorie´, subsequent protests, and disturbing allegations of an attempted police coverup, forced the issue of French police brutality into the mainstream spotlight in France.

Frankly, Americans who wish to see the implementation of meaningful reforms in policing to prevent this kind of abuse of police authority can't just get angry when it happens here in the United States.

Those who care have a responsibility to use peaceful dissent and political activism to channel outrage and concern over the same kinds of incidents that happen in other countries into substantive change that can take root globally.

Because this ongoing issue is reflective of a deeper systematic racism that's not bound by borders.

Rokhaya Diallo's passion and commitment to end unjustified police brutality in France and beyond isn't just going to get swept under the rug as a result of conservative French authorities pressuring the Macron government to boot her off of an independent advisory board.

Aided by social media, the ability of more people to see her documentary and a growing global presence thanks to attention from mainstream French, British and American media, Ms. Diallo's voice and influence is growing.

French police conducting a stop-and-frisk on a
young French citizen in 2011 
Many Americans (including myself) really weren't aware of Adama Traorie´'s death at the hands of French police in July, 2016 in part because our national news media was so consumed with the unjustified fatal shooting of Alton Sterling at the hands of two Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers in the early morning hours of July 5, 2016 - then Philando Castile's death just a day later in Minnesota.

But Rokhaya Diallo's (and other activist's) efforts are important.

They've helped people around the world learn the name, and story, of Adama Traorie´.

As well as young men of color like Hakim Ajimi, who died after French police used an illegal choke hold on him that crushed his thorax in 2004, or Lamine Dieng who was in police custody when he died of asphyxiation inside a French police van in 2007.

French authorities have every right to take proactive steps to protect their citizens from the kinds of violent terrorist attacks that have seized the world's attention.

But killing innocent people is an unacceptable way to achieve that goal - and as the editorial board of the New York Times observed, French President Emmanuel Macron is going to have to decide if the time-honored French concepts of "liberty, equality, fraternity" are just words, or an important part of his long-term vision for the country who elected him into office, in part, to reject the divisive politics of the far right and bring the country back together.

That's an important question as we head into 2018, not just in France or the United States but everywhere where injustice has become a part of government policy.

Well that's it for now, I'm off to join some friends in Princeton to ring in the new year.

2017 has certainly been one heckuva ride.

Here's to better things in 2018, thanks again for checking out the blog and I hope to see you back here next year.  -CG

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Buckwheat's Sweat & Magical Negroes

William "Billie" Thomas, Jr. as the popular Our
 (The Little Rascals) character Buckwheat
Having read through and reflected back on, "A Dangerous Distortion of Our Families", the report co-produced by Color Of Change and Family Story that was the subject of my previous blog, I wanted to pivot back to the same topic and share some personal observations about the distortion of the black family by American media.

As a child, long before I developed the ability to use writing as a vehicle to articulate my thoughts and perceptions, it was apparent to me that there was something wrong with the way that the media portrayed my family.

In the 1970's the popular series of short films known as Our Gang (later re-released as The Little Rascals when it went into syndication on television in 1955), was still being shown on kids' TV.

Created back in 1922 by producer Hal Roach, the Our Gang series revolved around a group of (racially-integrated) kids who basically got into all kinds of mischief - they were originally short films that ran in movie theaters in the 20's, 30's and 40's alongside cartoons or newsreels before or after the feature film.

Last produced in 1944, the series survived in syndication on TV for decades, which is where my younger brother and I used to watch them together in the 70's.

One day, there was this episode in which one of the African-American characters on the series, I think it was Buckwheat played by actor William "Billie" Thomas, Jr. (pictured above), but it may have been the character Farina played by actor Allen Hoskins, was standing near a stove.

Something was frying in a pan and the stove was hot, and the character used his arm to wipe the sweat off his brow, and the shot quickly cut to a white kitchen wall where drops of black ink splashed across in a pattern - as if to suggest that Buckwheat's sweat was black.

Some of the most popular of the 41 different child
actors who were characters on The Little Rascals
Now a lot of weird, goofy shit took place on The Little Rascals, and to his credit Hal Roach was one of the first Hollywood producers to include black characters alongside white characters in film - but I distinctly recall feeling very strange about that particular scene.

I'd watched dozens of the 220 short films that were made, and even though I was young and knew that scene was intended as comedy, it wasn't funny to me.

I distinctly recall feeling very uncomfortable about it.

Long before I could articulate what racism was in the intellectual or vocal sense, I instinctively understood that the black droplets of sweat played on demeaning racist stereotypes - even though that particular "cut" lasted less than five seconds.

I never felt the same way about "The Little Rascals" after that - and that was the very first memory I have of seeing the African-American image intentionally distorted on TV.

Over the course of the hundreds of essays I've written on this blog, I've often reflected upon the fact that as a child of color coming of age in the mostly-white suburban landscape of the northeastern United States in the 1970's and 1980's, I rarely saw "myself" in the print, television and film media that I consumed and watched.

Too often the images of black males I did see on TV, (television being the first real "mass media" medium I watched) were distorted in cartoonish, demeaning, or sometimes even grotesque ways.

From an early age, my parents, both well-read college-graduates, insisted that my siblings and I read in order to inform, educate, and entertain, ourselves.

Sesame Street circa 1973 - 1974 when I was watching it
For example, they always made sure that in addition to subscribing to mainstream news magazines like Newsweek and Forbes, they also subscribed to magazines like Black Enterprise and Ebony - magazines owned and published by African-Americans which focused on topical issues from the contemporary black perspective.

My mother in particular, always made sure to bring home books from the public library for us to read, and she'd take me to the local public library, and let me take my time and browse for books that interested me.

Aside from Sesame Street, which (to public television's credit) had a racially diverse cast, many of the popular cartoons and children's shows that I watched on television as a young child rarely included characters who looked, sounded, or acted like me.

Even most of the popular, long-running "family" prime-time shows that we'd watch together as a family, like Little House on the Prairie, or The Waltons, tended to feature storylines that revolved around white characters.

That's not to say there's anything wrong with that, or that I didn't enjoy those shows.

On the contrary, I watched them religiously; and I loved some of those characters.

When the older sister Mary Ingalls went blind on Little House on the Prairie I almost cried.

I'm just re-emphasizing the point that I didn't see a whole lot of myself on those network shows in the mid-to-late 70's.

Diahann Carroll and Mark Copage on
NBC's Julia (1968 - 1971)
70's network comedies like Sanford and Son, Chico and the Man and Welcome Back Kotter all featured diverse casts with characters of color, but the gritty urban settings in which they took place were unfamiliar to me as a kid from the suburbs - I was drawn to more escapist fare.

On Saturday mornings, when my younger brother and I would sit in our PJ's in the family room watching cartoons until about 11:30am, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, (which was based on creator Bill Cosby's childhood in North Philadelphia and was named for his real childhood friend Albert Robinson) a cartoon that ran on CBS from 1972 - 1984, was really the only animated series that featured African-American characters.

Ground-breaking 60's shows that featured black characters like I Spy and Julia were well before my time, but there were definitely some interesting black characters on mainstream television when I grew up.

The original Star Trek, which was still running regularly in syndication in the 1970's and 80's, had actress Nichelle Nichols playing Lieutenant Uhuru on the bridge as a main character.

And thanks to creator / producer Gene Roddenberry, the occasional recurring African-American Enterprise crewmen and crew-women as well.

Including, for example, actor Booker Bradshaw who played the amiable Dr. M'Benga on a couple episodes, or the  actress Janet MacLachlan who played Lt. Charlene Masters in one episode.

Science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer wrote an interesting blog post back in 2014 about the black actors cast in the first season of Star Trek which includes some pretty interesting script notes too.

It is of interest to note that in March of 1968, just a month before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Star Trek also featured African-American actor actor William Marshall as the lead guest star on the episode "The Ultimate Computer".

Capt. Kirk & Lt. Uhuru watch in horror as Dr. Dystrom's
M-5 computer destroys the starship USS Excalibur
distinguished actor with a long career, Marshall appeared in Broadway shows like Carmen Jones, six different stage productions of Othello, and even the title character in the 1972 blaxploitation film Blacula.

But Trek fans will remember him fondly as Dr. Richard Dystrom, the brilliant Star Fleet computer scientist who installed his revolutionary  "M-5 Multitronic System" on the Enterprise to test its ability to run a starship using artificial intelligence.

Let's just say that Dr. Dystrom's little experiment didn't end very well.

(We see you Hal-9000).

Now obviously Star Trek wasn't the only popular American television series to feature black actors in supporting and feature roles in the 1970's.

Ground-breaking series like CBS' Good Times and The Jeffersons (both spinoffs of All in the Family and all executive-produced by Norman Lear) brought "complete" black families (including fathers) to primetime television audiences for the first time.

While the aforementioned NBC series Julia is considered the first network prime-time series with a black family, it's important to note that her character played a nurse whose husband had been a U.S. (Air Force?) artillery spotter who'd been shot down over Vietnam.

Was that to "justify" her being single?

The series obviously deserves credit for portraying the first black family on network television, but it's interesting that the NBC executives who green-lit the show decided that a single black mother raising a son would be the main characters, rather than having a strong black male role model as the father.

I honestly don't know enough about the show to get into what the creators were thinking.

But while I can admire the casting of a black female lead, given the litany of painfully-average prime-time network TV shows in the 1960's that featured white married couples (Bewitched? I Dream of Jeanie?) I can't help but wonder about the reluctance of showing a "normal" black nuclear family on network TV.

1968, the year Julia premiered was a tense time for America, and not just because of race relations - it was the height of the Vietnam War, a growing counterculture was challenging traditional norms, the passing of civil rights legislation was upending the boundaries of a segregated American society.

Given all that, was the presence of an average well-adjusted black family a threat?

Was it really too controversial for Julia to have a husband in 1968 considering America landed a man on the moon in 1969?

The cast of ABC's Barney Miller in 1975
Perhaps if a black man had been written as what is jokingly called a "Magical Negro" endowed with some kind of magical powers NBC would've cast someone to play Julia's husband.

Don't laugh, see the aforementioned Bewitched or I Dream of Jeanie which featured a perky suburban witch and, yes - a mischievous genie from a bottle.

I'd mention The Flying Nun starring a young Sally Field but this blog is already way too long.

But alas, I digress. Let's move on.

In 1975 ABC introduced the comedy Barney Miller which featured a diverse slate of series regulars including African-American actor Ron Glass as NYPD Detective Sgt. Ron Harris, actor Jack Soo as Japanese-American Detective Nick Yemana, and actor Gregory Sierra as Puerto Rican Detective Sgt. "Chano" Amanguale.

Two years later, ABC brought the popular series The Love Boat to television with the African-American actor Ted Lange cast as series regular Issac the bartender - Lange would be one of only three actors to be in every episode of the series (and several made-for-TV movies) which ran from 1977 until 1986.

Yaphet Kotto being cast as one of the crewmen of the Nostromo on director Ridley Scott's visionary 1979  sci-fi classic Alien, and Billy Dee Williams being cast as Han Solo's friend Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, were both pretty big moments for me as a kid.

Maybe it sounds strange, but as a kid sitting in a darkened movie theater watching both of those films seeing that people of color existed in the fictional Hollywood sci-fi universe made me feel better about myself.

Mainstream network television, especially NBC, was finally taking strides to make more diverse casts with multi-dimensional characters of color a part of popular prime-time programming by the late 1970's and early 1980's.

With ground-breaking series like the critically-acclaimed cop-drama Hill Street Blues (1981 - 1987) and hospital drama St. Elsewhere - series regulars included Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon, Norman Lloyd, Ed Begley, Jr., Howie Mandel and David Morse.

(St. Elsewhere, which centered around the fictional Boston hospital St. Eligius, unquestionably had one of the strangest final episodes in television history.)

The cast of NBC's Different Strokes (1978 - 1986)
My brother and I both watched the half-hour NBC comedy Different Strokes, with actors Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges, pretty religiously too.

But even at that age we understood that those characters, two Harlem brothers adopted by a wealthy white man who go live in his 5th Avenue penthouse, fell more into what African-American film audiences and critics jokingly call "Magical Negroes"

Characters who exhibit almost (or literal) magic qualities, and who exist in a sort of fictional fantasy outside of the real black American experience.

Or as critic Christopher John Farley described:

"Black film characters who exist primarily to help troubled white folks, and who generally have few meaningful characteristics of their own."

While I watched all of those shows to some degree, for me, a young African-American coming of age in the suburbs, it really wasn't until The Cosby Show premiered on NBC in 1984 when I was just starting high school at Walt Whitman Senior HS in Bethesda, Maryland in the 9th grade that I first saw what I considered to be a reflection of myself and my family on primetime television.

Here was a black family headed by two college-educated professionals, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, a doctor played by Bill Cosby, and his wife Claire, a lawyer played by Phylicia Rashad, raising their children in a comfortable upper-middle class home.

In the Huxtable's only son Theo, I finally saw a character that, to some degree, mirrored my own existence - a somewhat shy, at times painfully-awkward black boy trying his best to live up to the expectations set by his professionally-successful parents.

Like millions of other Americans I watched almost every episode, The Cosby Show was the number-one series on network television for five seasons and the most successful show of the 1980's - one that helped define the decade in a cultural sense.

But at that age, as I was becoming much more conscious about the world around me, I was also beginning to wonder why the media didn't show more positive imagery of people of color on television.

UC Berkley data showing the percentage of some American
workers who receive some type of government assistance 
For example, in the early 1980's when I was in middle school, I clearly recall the efforts by the Reagan administration to stigmatize and marginalize poor and working class Americans as part of a broader strategy to cut federal spending on social programs to pay for tax cuts in order to nudge the American economy out of the recession.

Reagan actively promoted the myth of "Welfare Queens".

A racist term popularized by Republican politicians that was meant to intentionally propagate an image of a lazy urban African-American woman "getting rich" on welfare to justify gutting social spending to finance tax cuts - sound familiar?

It wasn't accurate then, and it isn't now - as Maria Godoy and Allison Aubrey reported for NPR earlier this spring, when Trump's cartoonishly-right wing budget director Mick Mulvaney piously declared, "If you're on food stamps and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work.", he was apparently unaware that statistics from the Department of Agriculture - which operates the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - showed that 55% of families with children who receive SNAP are bringing home employment income.

Despite statistics that show otherwise, conservatives continue to peddle the myth of a lazy population of poor non-whites who don't work and want to "live off the government" again, that's not reality.

That's just one example of the myriad ways in which social conservatives and Republican politicians intentionally distort the image of people of color and the poor and working class in America to alter public policy.

In 1995 I saw African-American writer and professor Ishmael Reed speak at a black writer's conference in Brooklyn, and I went out and bought his 1994 book "Airing Dirty Laundry" - a collection of his essays and articles reflecting on how the mainstream media covers the black community.

In particular, his essay "Beyond Los Angeles" examined the media's massive distortion of the 1992 LA riots that broke out after the Rodney King verdict.

I remember the footage of truck driver Reginald Denny being beaten by a group of black rioters being played over and over again in addition to the footage of rioting by blacks.

But as Reed observed in his analysis of the media coverage of the riots, the mainstream television coverage never showed images of the white Yuppies in Santa Monica rioting or looting stores - he also quotes former LA Mayor Tom Bradley as noting that there was almost no television coverage of the young whites rioting in downtown LA either.

Reed notes that the former San Francisco "Mayor Frank Jordan said that few blacks participated in the San Francisco disorders" but media coverage of the LA riots disproportionately showed images of blacks looting - much of the media riot coverage that Americans saw on television was not factually representative of who was rioting and looting.

I'm sure there are some people reading this who had no idea, or don't believe that large numbers of white people were looting stores in California during the Rodney King Riots in 1992. 

Skeptics should check out the CityLab article citing some interesting facts of the '92 LA riots - including the fact of the 12,111 people arrested during those riots, only 36% were black.

Ishmael Reed's analysis of the distorted media coverage of the LA riots is pretty eye-opening, and just one example of the many writers, activists and scholars who've been bringing the media's distortion of the African-American community to the public's attention years before the Color of Change study.

If you're interested you can pick up a copy of "Airing Dirty Laundry" on Amazon pretty cheap - it's an enlightening read, although a disturbing one in the intellectual sense.

In conclusion, I cite all of these examples to make the point that it wasn't until years later that I began to explore how the distortion of the African-American identity affected my own sense of self.

I spent a lot of years absorbing a lot of media content without critically examining how it shaped my sense of self - writing in this blog helps me do that.

Sometimes it's hard to discern that kind of distortion within popular entertainment or news media, it can be cleverly buried deep within a narrative that's familiar and comforting.

But like those drops of Buckwheat's black sweat on a white kitchen wall I saw so many years ago, there are times when it's just too obvious to ignore.