Friday, July 31, 2015

No Wilmer, No Cry

There is crying in baseball, especially when it involves the Mets.

Wilmer Flores, the Mets' promising young infielder, who has been with the organization for seven years (since he was 16 years old), received a standing ovation after grounding out.  With the twitter-sphere all abuzz about a season-changing trade involving Flores and the Brewers' Carlos Gomez, the Citi Field crowd believed this was Flores' last at bat as a Met.  When he went to field his position the next inning, upon hearing that he had been traded, Flores, understandably, became tearful.  Turns out, though, reports of this trade were greatly exaggerated.  In fact, there was no trade and Flores is still a Met.

I was initially excited when I thought the Mets acquired Gomez (who they had traded years earlier as part of the deal that brought us Johan Santana), but I'm glad we still have Wilmer Flores, who could turn out to be a very good player.  And his emotional reaction is a reminder that ballplayers are not simply widgets to be discarded -- unless, of course, it is for really great ballplayer.

This was yet another in an unending series of Classic Met Moments.  Hope, Confusion, Despair, Remorse.  But wait, there's hope again. 

At the trading deadline today, the Mets obtained that big-time hitter they badly need -- Yoenis Cespedes. Together with their recent acquisitions of two excellent role players -- Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe -- and All Star reliever Tyler Clippard -- the Mets, shockingly, have all of a sudden become a team to be reckoned with.

In August 1973, nearing the end of a yet another dreadful season, with the Mets sitting in last place, relief pitcher Tug McGraw began chanting "Ya Gotta Believe" during a clubhouse meeting.  As the legend goes, the suddenly-inspired Mets got hot and won the National League pennant before falling to the A's in a thrilling 7-game World Series. 

I wasn't thinking about this history last week, when I went on a bit of a rant -- frustrated by the number of brilliant pitching performances by an incredible core of young pitchers wasted by inexcusably paltry hitting while management seemingly fiddled.

The baseball season is long -- a 162-games -- and subject to many twists and turns.  What we've learned from 1973, is that a lousy season can end miraculously.  Of course, we've also learned from the debacles of 2006, 2007 and 2008, that a great season can end ignominiously.  Anyway, there's nothing like meaningful September baseball.

So, cheer up, Wilmer.  And, welcome, Yoenis.

Ya Gotta Believe.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trump: Rising From The GOP's Ashes

Donkey Hotey
Guest Blog Post by Tina Dupuy

There’s no shortage of publicity maestro, name-emblazer Donald Trump think pieces on the Internet these days. Most will attribute his straight talk to his more-than-likely-fleeting frontrunner status. Others point to some anger or racism the Trump Brand Name has tapped into. The rest? Apologists or denouncers. But all seem to agree that Trump is bad for the Republican Party; he’s sucking all the air out of the nominee process. That some other alleged Serious Candidates won’t get the attention they need because Trump is, well, trumping them.

But they’ve all missed it. Trump is not the cause of the GOP’s problems—he’s the symptom.

I turn to the classic work by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter in their 1956 tome “When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World.” This was the seminal work where the phrase “cognitive dissonance” was coined. The researchers followed a doomsday cult, the Seekers, after their date of The End came and went.

What we’d assume is, after there was concrete, indisputable, undeniable evidence the prophecy was wrong, there would be mass disillusionment. Followers would turn on their leader and realize how silly they’d been. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, the authors observed a doubling down effect. The true believers found disconfirmation to be a reason to believe more truly. And then, firmly committed to their beliefs, they tried to find ways to justify the outcome. In the case of the Seekers, it was that they’d prayed and that stopped the flood which was to wipe out humanity.

When George W. Bush was sworn in with a Republican majority in the House and Senate, compassionate conservatism was going to be veto-less. Tax cuts were going to save the world and supply-side economics would make us all rich! In fact the Heritage Foundation assessed the Bush Tax Cuts would “1) Effectively pay off the federal debt; 2) Reduce the federal surplus by $1.4 trillion; 3) Substantially increase family income; 4) Save the entire Social Security surplus; 5) Increase personal savings; 6) Create more job opportunities.” Being in charge, Republicans cut taxes and THEN put a preemptive war on a credit card. Actually it was two major wars in two massive countries. We were promised we’d be greeted as liberators.

The prophesy conservatives believed—propagated—hoped was true, was that de-regulating business, cutting taxes and dropping a trillion dollars for an embassy in Iraq would “restore honor and dignity to the White House.”

What happened? Well, prophesy failed. Compassionate conservatism failed. The Bush Administration failed. Where’s the GOP now? Well if we go by cognitive dissonance theory, some devotees left the party. This is evident by all those “independent” (wink-wink) voters. The rest, the true believers, doubled down and that’s the best explanation for the tea party. And then the angry conservatives who made up this uprising claimed the economy buckling was Obama’s fault. Anyone’s fault! Too much government, they said. Too many taxes, they claimed. It was anything and everything else save failed prophesy from the Bush Years. Anything other than lies with broken promises built on faulty assumptions based on cherry-picked garbage.

In the wake of this revolt—this visceral, angry, point-to-anything mobile vulgus catapulted Sarah Palin into national prominence. And if you’ve ever wondered what a doubling down on Dubya looks like—it looks like Sarah palling-around-with-secessionists Palin’.

And the male version of this shiny totally unqualified and utterly ridiculous, money-grubbing, vacuous 2008 GOP It Girl is 2015’s Donald Trump. Palin’s signature move was to start media flame wars forcing us all to read endless piles of copy about her pettiness all while making the RNC hilariously lament their long dead intelligentsia. And that pretty much sums up The Donald. So far he’s been fired by NBC, dropped by Macy’s and collectively booed by everyone who sees Mexicans as anything other than rapists. He’s become a walking—err escalator-riding—media flame war.

And so of course Trump is now polling higher than any of the other 634 Republican candidates for president in this cycle. If we’re going by cognitive dissonance theory (and for this column, we are), Trump is the true believers doubling down on their resolve and grasping at straws to justify why Republican policies, when put into practice, utterly fail in every imaginable way.

Trump will not ruin the party. Trump is rising from the party’s ruins.

Originally posted at Tina Dupuy's website.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Not So Amazing: A Promising Season Fritters Away

Now batting . . . John Mayberry, Mayberry, Mayberry.

Met fans are accustomed to frustration and despair.  We are all too familiar with badly flawed teams, uninspiring play, inexplicable trades, underachieving acquisitions, devastating injuries, late season collapses.  We've had a few wondrous moments but many dark years.

I've often told the story about going to Old Timers Day in 1979,  which commemorated the 10th Anniversary of The Miracle Mets, and after watching our beloved 1969 stalwarts play a couple of ceremonial innings, my friend and I left prior to the start of the "real" game. We simply couldn't bear the stark contrast with the then-current team, led by the likes of Willie Montanez, Richie Hebner and the detritus from the catastrophic Tom Seaver trade two years earlier. 

But this year is as frustrating as any I can remember.  You might ask why?  After six straight losing seasons, the Mets opened 2015 in exciting fashion, by going 15-5, including an 11-game winning streak.  It is the end of July, and despite the usual raft of devastating injuries and infuriating play, they are (barely) over .500 and only three games back of the first place Washington Nationals, who were expected to run away with the division. 

But the longer the Mets remain in the playoff hunt and the tighter the race becomes, the more resentful I get.  And I don't think this is just a case of the prototypical Met fan who can't enjoy the good times and is always looking for reasons to be pissed off.  It is precisely because they are so close while management fritters away the opportunity to put them over the top that is so crazy-making. 

The Mets have a young pitching staff for the ages.  John Smoltz, the great former Brave pitcher who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, joining his pitching mates, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, says that the Mets' rotation is "way better" and "more talented" than they were.

And it is these extraordinarily talented pitchers who are keeping the Mets afloat.  But a team built around pitching needs two things to win:  good defense and at least average offense -- and the Mets have neither. 

The Mets have the worst offense in the league.  They typically have two or three players in the starting lineup who are batting under .200.  Their core players are either hurt or badly underperforming.  The lack of depth is exemplified by the fact that their pitchers have a higher collective batting average than their bench. 

Before the season began, the Mets signed two players:  Michael Cuddyer, who by all accounts was too old and often injured, but happens to be David Wright's BFF, and John Mayberry, Jr. who, unfortunately, has never shown the ability to hit the ball anywhere near like his father did -- or probably still can.  They have both been unsurprisingly awful. 

It is outrageous that the Mets continue to keep putting on the field players who simply are not of major league quality. Case in point:  Kirk Nieuwenhuis was cut by the Mets earlier in the year and picked up by the Angels who after 10 games saw all they needed to and cut him too.  The Mets' big acquisition so far this year:  re-signing Nieuwenhuis. 

Want another example?  How about Ruben Tejada, who was supposed to be the replacement at shortstop for fan favorite, Jose Reyes when the Mets (in another brilliant move) let Reyes go (for nothing) four years ago?  Tejada was such an utter disappointment that the Mets demoted him and instead tried utility players like Omar Quintanilla and young Wilmer Flores, who is obviously better suited for another (any other) infield position.  The solution?  Tejada, the Prodigal Met, is back at short and batting second. 

It is painful to watch these remarkable young pitchers play their hearts out (and sometimes throw their arms out) only to lose games because of one bad pitch or a defensive miscue.  There is so little margin for error because their paltry offense rarely scores more than a run or two.  I heard a stat the other day that the Mets were something like 5 for their last 75 with runners in scoring position. Not really surprising when you look at their lineup.

The number of beautifully-pitched games the Mets have lost 1-0 or 2-1 or 3-2 that they could have won with a little timely hitting and a little better defense would be enough to put them well ahead in first place instead of scuffling for a playoff spot that seems more out reach every day. Meanwhile, management does nothing to improve the team.  Nothing, if you don't count the Nieuwenhuis acquisition.

Despite being in the nation's largest media market the Mets' payroll is among the bottom third for major league teams, lower than teams from far smaller markets such as Kansas City, Cincinnati and San Diego.  The owners won't admit it but they are obviously still mired in financial problems because of their entanglement with Bernie Madoff.  And so, they won't increase payroll to sign a big-time player.  And they won't think creatively to sign decent role players.

And so here we are.  After an absolutely devastating loss last night to the first place Nationals, the Mets badly needed to bounce back tonight against the Dodgers and their ace, Clayton Kershaw.  Batting cleanup for the Mets in this key game:  John Mayberry, Jr. and his .170 batting average.  Batting fifth, Eric Campbell and his .179 batting average (catcher Anthony Recker, also with a sub-.200 average was in the lineup as well).  Kershaw was close- to-unhittable, but half the Mets lineup couldn't hit anybody.  And, sure enough, in a 1-0 game in the 7th inning, in what would prove to be their only chance to score, the Mets put runners on first and second, and with two outs, their cleanup hitter stepped up to the plate.  But Mighty Mayberry struck out and then Campbell grounded out.

And there's your unhappy recap.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Barack Obama: Great President Or The Greatest President?

With apologies to Stephen Colbert, the title of this post is not meant as parody (for the most part).

Not that I don't have serious issues with some of Obama's policies and positions.  His refusal to investigate, much less prosecute, the Bush Administration officials who authorized torture and lied us into war remains his most egregious mistake.  (See Just Some Folks Torturing Other Folks.)  His unwillingness to hold Wall Street accountable for the financial crisis is another glaring failure.  His resort to drone warfare is a deeply troubling approach to national security.  And his first term was badly marred by an infuriating inability to recognize or confront the utterly obstructionist nature of the Republicans in Congress.

While far from perfect, I would argue that Obama's presidency -- particularly in light of the domestic and foreign shitpiles he inherited and the racially and politically motivated efforts by the GOP to oppose everything Obama -- has been a transformative one, and should be ranked as one of the greatest. 

Obama has resuscitated a key pillar of liberalism  -- discredited not only by Republicans but by the last Democrat in the White House -- that big government can be an important, positive force in the lives of Americans.  The Affordable Care Act is not ideal, but it has provided health insurance for more than sixteen million people who were previously uninsured.  Its success has instilled in a majority of Americans the notion that health care is not just a benefit, but a right.  Indeed, the panic among Republicans concerning the potential political fallout, when it appeared that the Supreme Court might invalidate the portion of the Act that provided federal subsidies in conservative-leaning states which had failed to set up exchanges, speaks volumes about how quickly expectations about government-mandated health care have changed.

The nuclear arms deal with Iran provides a stark contrast between the Obama Presidency and the dead-enders in the GOP, whose response to every international crisis seems to be a call for bombs in the air and boots on the ground.  Particularly since 9/11, but really since the Cold War, our foreign policy has been dominated by fear --  resulting in overreactions to real and perceived threats out of fear of attack from abroad and fear of being called weak at home. 

Recall Obama's response to a question during the 2008 campaign about whether he would be willing to negotiate with our adversaries without preconditions:  "I would," he said, reasoning that "the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration — is ridiculous."  As Dylan Matthews writes, what was then considered by many to be a "gaffe" now feels like a statement of purpose:  "Obama has reestablished productive diplomacy as the central task of a progressive foreign policy, and as a viable alternative approach to dealing with countries the GOP foreign policy establishment would rather bomb."  This thoughtful, measured approach to foreign policy has also led to ending the pointlessly destructive embargo with Cuba.

The president of the United States has the unique ability to use his lofty position as a bully pulpit -- to give a powerful voice to issues and ideas that might otherwise be muffled.  At least in his second term, Obama has embraced this prerogative with intelligence, passion and grace unparalleled in recent times -- and he has done it on the most fraught of subjects.  Obama's discussion of race in America is helping to upend the long-held whitewashed and uncritical narrative of our moral superiority and exceptionalism, building momentum to forge meaningful policy changes that can begin to repair the long-lasting damage caused by slavery, Jim Crow, and institutional racism.  His speech on the 50th anniversary of Selma (see President Obama's Exceptional Speech) encouraged us to confront our shameful past -- "loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths." And, as he explained in his eulogy for Rev. Pickney in Charleston, it isn't just about the past: "for too long, we've been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present."   

The Charleston speech, known mostly for Obama's poignant rendition of Amazing Grace, covered a wide swath: gun violence ("for too long, we've been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation"), the Confederate flag ("a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation" and removing it from the state capitol "would be one step in an honest accounting of America's history"), the pervasiveness of racism ("maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don't realize it, so that we're guarding against not just racial slurs, but we're also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal"), and voting rights ("so that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.")

This was followed by a series of remarkable moves aimed at highlighting the unjust nature of a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects men of color and has led to mass incarceration.  Obama commuted the sentences of 46 people, most of whom were serving long sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. He delivered a speech proposing wide-ranging reforms at the annual convention of the NAACP, where he pointed  out that "a growing body of research shows that people of color are more likely to be stopped, frisked, questioned, charged, detained. African Americans are more likely to be arrested. They are more likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime."  He talked about root causes of crime and police abuses, calling for investment in early childhood education, police reform, ending mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses, and reducing the use of solitary confinement. 

And then, Obama visited a federal prison -- the first president to do so (though, it must be said that certain of his Republican predecessors should have been more than visitors).  This simple but unprecedented act acknowledged the humanity of the incarcerated -- in this case, those serving mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenses -- and further underscored the human toll of thoughtless, overly punitive crime policy.

One need only compare this with the rhetoric and reality of Bill Clinton's "tough on crime" and "war on criminals" approach -- which even Clinton has belatedly (and rather lamely) apologized for -- to get a sense of the historic nature of this call for ending mass incarceration that, as Obama put it, “by a wide margin … disproportionately impacts communities of color.”

Although late to accept same-sex marriage until it was more politically palatable, Obama has been a strong supporter of LGBT rights, stating unequivocally that LGBT rights are “human rights.”  He ended the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and ordered his Justice Department to reverse itself and stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.  Last year he signed an executive order banning workplace discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors.  And, more recently, his Administration sided with the parties who argued against state bans on same-sex marriage in the Supreme Court.  

Coming into office during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Obama had to fight the deficit fetishists of both parties to push through a stimulus package that led us to a recovery.  While he should have pushed for larger stimulus and remained too long in the thrall of the aforementioned fetishists, as Paul Krugman notes, "there's overwhelming consensus among economists that the Obama stimulus plan helped mitigate the worst of the slump."

While the Obama administration failed to go after the architects of the financial crisis, he did sign Dodd Frank into law -- a law that provides significant oversight and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Just look at how badly the Republicans want to overturn or neuter Dodd Frank to get a sense of how effective it is or will be.

In the wake of Congress's inaction on immigration, Obama did an end run, signing an executive order that allows "four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years to apply for a program that protects them from deportation and allows those with no criminal record to work legally in the country."  Another "one million people will get protection from deportation through other parts of the president’s plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration enforcement system, including the expansion of an existing program for 'Dreamers,' young immigrants who came to the United States as children."

Obama's environmental record is mixed, but faced with a Republican Party that does not believe in climate change and is trying to gut the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama has pushed back -- issuing executive orders to curb greenhouse gas emissions and achieving an historic climate change agreement with China. 

Obama has appointed two extremely well qualified, liberal justices to the Supreme Court -- Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.  Approximately a third of the federal judiciary are Obama appointees.  Although there are far too many former prosecutors and corporate defense lawyers among them, it is also true that Obama has literally changed the face of the judiciary -- with the majority of his appointments being women and nonwhite males.

So, to recap, while rescuing the economy from a disaster of President Bush's making, President Obama risked his political capital on an admittedly unwieldy plan to reach a goal attempted and abandoned by so many presidents before him -- national health insurance.  He has achieved critical foreign policy successes by relying less on reflexive military action and more on cooperative, thoughtful diplomacy.  In response to the unspeakable outrage of police killings of so many young black men by the police, and the unspeakable tragedy of a seemingly endless series of tragic shootings, Obama has spoken -- and by doing so he is forcing us to confront not only our history of slavery and Jim Crow, but the institutional racism that persists today.  He is engaging us in a national conversation about crime, gun violence, and mass  incarceration  -- and he is committed to pushing through Congress a series of landmark criminal justice reforms that appear to have bipartisan support.  He is the first president to fully embrace the LGBT community.  And the first to recognize the devastating reality of man-made climate change.  He has appointed the most diverse federal bench in history.  And he has done all this while the opposing political party, having purged itself of moderates, has produced the most reactionary and obstructionist legislative branch in modern times.

A great president or the greatest president?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Profiting From Fetal Body Parts? The GOP Sure Is.

Guest Blog Post by Jodi Jacobson

It’s pretty much a given these days that no matter how untrustworthy or mendacious a group, politician, or individual, no matter their actual agenda, no matter actual facts or lack thereof, they can easily garner media coverage that in turn requires taking their claims seriously and as though they deserve merit, even when they are lying through their teeth.

Social media ensures that even the most salacious and obviously immediately suspect claims can “trend”; the desire for clicks over concerns about journalistic integrity drive even once-venerable media outlets such as the Washington Post to cover claims without inspection; and perversion of what it means to be balanced and unbiased have resulted in the public elevation of quacks into so-called experts whose opinions are sought even as they spread lies about everything from climate science to medical care. The public circus of media coverage and debate about lies that influence policy and affect real people’s lives and welfare has become all too familiar.

That circus is particularly well attended when it comes to anything and everything having to do with abortion, contraception, sex, gender, and reproduction, and certainly with Planned Parenthood. The effect is to provide fodder for right-wing chest-pounding about “life,” derail serious public debate about actual issues, and give self-important programs like Meet the Press something to discuss with faux experts so they can avoid tackling real subjects.

The newest example is in coverage of the so-called fetal body parts scandal, created by the “Center for Medical Progress,” named apparently by George Orwell, and an arm of leading anti-choice movement groups. The pattern they’ve followed is familiar and goes like this: Anti-choice group hires actors who, with camera in hand, pose as something they are not, in this case as representatives of a company interested in purchasing human tissue. The group surreptitiously tapes a conversation, the entirety of which is not clear, edits it into a shorter version (presumably on the assumption that in this environment no one will take the time to watch the actual unedited version, which in this instance is two hours long) and creates a sensationalized “gotcha” video combined with suggestions of implied wrongdoing under the law. They create an equally sensational press release. They release these like chum to the shark-infested waters of social media right-wingers, and the broader media laps it up.

In this case, the short video features a meeting between Dr. Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood and actors falsely presenting themselves as representatives of a firm that buys human tissue for research, though the reason for their interest is not made exceedingly clear in the video. (Indeed one of the actors is virtually incoherent and not very good at playing their part, but I digress). The video is angled so as to present an unattractive picture of someone eating their lunch while speaking. It features Dr. Nucatola clearly answering a stream of questions—though in what order and to which questions any of her comments are tied is not clear—about the donation of fetal tissue from abortion procedures.

That these donations are requested by (gasp!) the sentient, decision-making women exercising both their rights to terminate a pregnancy for whatever their own reasons and also making decisions about (gasp!) how to put to best use the tissue that results is not mentioned. Clearly, women who are choosing this option want their tissue used for scientific research or in some way to help others. And yet this, my friends, is the scandal of the century.

The video is further spliced with deep-voice-over imagery of federal laws prohibiting the sale of human tissue for profit, implying by association that somehow Planned Parenthood is both engaged in illegal activities and is selling fetal tissue for profit, neither of which is true, but … facts? Meh.

Still, since I am a bit obsessive about facts, let me give you some that are indisputable.

One, Planned Parenthood does not sell fetal tissue for profit. Rather, labs, companies, and scientists who might be interested in said tissue pay the administrative and shipping costs.  As noted by the International Business Times:
In the video, Nucatola appears to say it cost $30 to $100 for baby organs. But that might not have been what she was really talking about. In the unedited version of the video, Nucatola was discussing the cost of “space issues” and shipping, notes Snopes, a website that debunks Internet rumors and hoaxes. However, the viral video makes it seem as if she is telling the actors — who were hired by the activist group [which made the video] — about the cost of fetal tissue.
Two, people have a right to donate their tissue, organs, and body parts for scientific research and to benefit others. Organ donation, for example, is a thing. You may have heard of it. I am an organ/tissue donor, because I know that if I die precipitously and in good health, my organs—I am tempted to say “god willing” but I’ll leave aside the religious thing just for now—may save someone’s life. In fact, a real scandal? There are not enough organ donors in the United States to even come close to saving lives that could be saved. More than 123,000 people are waiting on organ transplant lists according to the federal government, and 22 people die every day due to lack of available organs. This. Is. A. Scandal.

Women who have abortions may also feel that by donating their tissue they are helping others. And indeed doing so is pro-life! Human tissue is widely used in research, and there is not enough of it available for that either. Fetal cells have in the past contributed to such breakthroughs as development of the polio and rubella vaccines. At its peak, polio paralyzed 1,000 children a day and threatened millions of people worldwide. Saving them and preventing a resurgence of polio is what the vast majority of people might consider to be a kind of a pro-life thing.

Planned Parenthood legally helps people who wish to donate tissue to do so. “Some Planned Parenthood affiliates have programs for women and families who want to donate tissue to leading research institutions that will use it to help find treatment and cures for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood, in a statement.

He continued:
In health care, patients sometimes want to donate tissue to scientific research that can help lead to medical breakthroughs, such as treatments and cures for serious diseases. Women at Planned Parenthood who have abortions are no different. At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health care provider does—with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.
“Standard across the medical field.” That means exactly how everyone else does it. That is kind of the way public health and medicine fit together for social good. And in fact, it’s all regulated. Federal and, frequently, state laws govern these activities, as well as ethical considerations. Patients provide specific consent to tissue donation. Planned Parenthood affiliates are eligible by law to receive reimbursement from tissue donation entities for the additional expenses related to tissue donation, which can vary based on individual circumstance. No individual staff member or provider receives reimbursement; any reimbursements are provided to the affiliate.

Yet while Planned Parenthood does not sell nor profit from fetal tissue, you might be interested to know more than a few snake-oil salesmen and women are indeed now profiting off the “sale” of the fake fetal tissue scandal. Many of them are the people otherwise known as GOP presidential candidates, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (whose “pro-life” policies have resulted in a state with one of the highest rates of poverty and uninsured individuals and one of the lowest median incomes in the country), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (who previously voted to defund Planned Parenthood and was among the first to get out a fundraising email to profit off the lie about fetal body parts), former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Californian Carly Fiorina, who can’t decide what she thinks or who she is. Presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is now in on the party, while he simultaneously tries to ram through every piece of anti-choice legislation not yet passed by his right-wing friends in the state house.

Pleas to “investigate Planned Parenthood” and kick a few dollars their way also came out today from Americans United for Life, Students for Life, and the Family Research Council. And in a response that appears to have been perfectly choreographed (and all of this is of course choreographed), Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), and Congressman Sean Duffy (R-WI) have all promised to launch an investigation during a press conference today. There is nothing like paying Congresspeople to bloviate for months about ways to take down the nation’s primary provider of reproductive health care.

Who is profiting off fetal body parts? The people who make false accusations and waste taxpayer money holding kangeroo court investigations into public health-care providers that have saved untold lives. Who is losing? All of us, as rather than promoting and protecting the public welfare, politicians seek to advance their own careers by creating a fearful and fact-free universe attacking public health care and medical providers.

Jodi Jacobson is the Editor in Chief of RH Reality Check, where this article was originally posted. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Serena Williams Is Today's Muhammad Ali

Guest Blog Post by Dave Zirin

There are numerous articles—terrific articles—defending Serena Williams against the racism and sexism that have long stalked her career. This will not be one of those articles. As long as gutter invective is hurled at Serena there will always be a need to defend her—and by extension stand up for everyone who feels the primary sting of these attacks. (J.K. Rowling is even standing up for Serena , adding a new dimension to her #blackgirlmagic.) But, just as I wrote last week about not merely “defending” women’s sports but actually going on “offense,” we need to be similarly aggressive in stating factually just who Serena is becoming before our very eyes. If our eyes remain narrowed in a defensive stance, we could be missing a transcendent chapter in sports and social history beginning to coalesce.

Serena Williams just won her 21st Grand Slam. That’s the same number every other active women’s player has collected combined. In her last 28 matches she is 28-0, and at the US Open this August, Ms. Williams will be favored to win the sport’s first calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf did it 27 years ago. At 33, Williams actually seems to be gaining strength, and as John McEnroe said to ESPNW’s Jane McManus, among women, “she could arguably be the greatest athlete of the last 100 years.” I think this even understates her case. She is our Jordan. She is our Jim Brown. She is our Babe Ruth, calling his shots. She is no longer content to dodge bullets, but understands how to stop them. Serena is that rare athlete who has not only mastered her sport. She’s harnessed it.

But Serena Williams is more than just our 21st-century Michael Jordan. If we take a break from defending her, which her detractors do not make easy, it becomes increasingly clear that she is also perhaps our Muhammad Ali. That’s sacrilege in some circles, and understandably so. Ali risked years in federal prison to stand up to an unjust war, becoming the most famous draft resister in history. His very presence at different points inspired the first Pan-Africanist stirrings of Malcolm X, the anti-war evocations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the very mental survival of a prisoner half-way around the world named Nelson Mandela. There is and never will be anyone like Ali, without question. But this is also not the 1960s, and there will also never be anyone like Serena.

Serena Williams is our Ali, and before defending that statement, I want to break down what, in my view, makes Ali “Ali.” To be in Muhammad Ali’s tradition of athletes, there are three basic boxes one would need to check: The first is that the sportsperson in question would need to be amongst “the greatest” in their field. As mentioned above, Serena more than checks that box. Secondly, one would have to be polarizing in a way that speaks to issues beyond the field: thrilling some people politically and enraging others with every triumph. Similarly, a loss would feel like more than “just a game” to their fans: more like a punch to the gut. Lastly, to even be in this conversation, one would have to not just “represent” or symbolize a political yearning but actually stand for something, and risk their commercial appeal by taking such stands. Serena doesn’t only check these boxes. She has, I would argue, confronted—and overcome—more obstacles than even the great Muhammad ever had to face. Her political powers of representation, every time she emerges victorious, is off the meter.

Symbolically, the very audacity of Serena Williams—a black woman from Compton who has owned a country-club sport with style, flair, and the occasional leopard suit, is without comparison. She is “peak Tiger Woods” in skill, but cut with Ali’s transgressive style: the equivalent of the Champ telling the craggy, macho world of boxing that he was “so very pretty.” But not even Ali had to achieve in an atmosphere as inhospitable as Serena’s athletic setting. This is about the very particular intersectional oppression she has faced as a black woman. This iconic body she proudly inhabits—her shape, her curves, her musculature—has been the subject of scorn, regardless of the results. Even at his most denigrated, Ali’s loudest detractors conceded that his physical body was a work of athletic sculpture. As a man—a black man—he was objectified with a mix of admiration, longing, and envy, in the ways black male athletes have always been seen since the days of plantation sports. It was his mind and mouth that truly made him threatening. People wanted Ali to “shut up and box” for years before finally stripping him of his title. But as that phrase implies, they still wanted him to box. Not Serena. Instead, she has had to face a tennis world that has made it clear in tones polite and vulgar that it would be so nice if she wasn’t there. But she has shut them all up with the same wicked power that defines her game. She, like Martina Navratilova before her, has forced sportswriters and fans to confront what a female athlete’s body can look like, and they have often responded as terribly as we would both expect and fear. While overwhelmingly male sports media and many tennis fans mocked and continue to belittle her appearance, Williams brushes them off—at least publicly—like so much shoulder dust. The greater her stature, the more pathetic they look. The higher her profile, the lower they seem. In Ali’s day, William F. Buckley saw it as his “white man’s burden” to tear him down. Serena has Buckley’s media spawn attempting the same and they look just as small, just as pathetic.

Then there are her explicit politics. This is not the 1960s and there isn’t a mass movement to deify Serena Williams the way there was one to lift Ali, when the world was insistent upon his destruction. But that only makes the stands she has chosen to take all the more remarkable. In 2000, Serena Williams pulled out of the Family Circle Cup in South Carolina in solidarity with the NAACP’s call to boycott over the flying of the Confederate flag atop the state house. After her Wimbledon victory Saturday, she spoke about the recent “Mother Emmanuel” Church murders in Charleston, calling it a “tragedy yet again,” and an “unspeakably sad” moment that takes its “toll.” However, she pledged to “continue to have faith, continue to believe, continue to be positive, continue to help people to the best of [my] ability.”

She has been a voice for women’s pay equity in the sport, backing her sister Venus’s powerful push for economic gender justice in a sport that at one time paid women with bouquets of flowers. Most compellingly, as the Black Lives Matter movement has attempted to focus the nation on both police violence and the injustices that surround our system of mass incarceration, Serena has chosen to partner with the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that fights for prisoners’ rights amid the racism that pervades our criminal-justice system. In a move as audacious as it was affecting, she even tied her return to Indian Wells, a tournament she had boycotted after being showered with racist catcalls in 2001, to the raising of money for the organization. Using boxing as a platform for these kinds of politics amidst the 1960s was certainly legendary. But doing it in 2015 in the world of tennis? It’s simply above and beyond, like clearing a hurdle while wearing cement shoes.

If anything, the greatest difference between Serena and Ali is the absence of that mass social movement to elevate her presence and push the non-believers to see what we have in front of us. Muhammad Ali went from despised to beloved because a mass black-freedom struggle and anti-war movement took him as their own. He became more than an athlete: He became a social question. Similarly, a movement fighting for #BlackLivesMatter and gender justice, a movement of struggle that includes the young women of Ferguson, Bree Newsome, and everyone fighting fiercely to reshape this country, has the potential to deliver Serena Williams to even greater heights. She is also becoming a social question, because she represents in so many ways the questions that people are facing in their daily lives. In other words, she poses this very sharp interrogation to the viewer: When you see her serve, her volley, and her physical self; when you hear her words, her concerns, her causes, which side are you on? This remarkable athletic force of nature, or those trying—and failing—to tear her down?

After her Wimbledon victory, Serena Williams was asked which athlete she admired the most. She said that it was Muhammad Ali. Not for his boxing but for “what he stood for” outside the ring. For years people have asked who would be “the next Muhammad Ali.” If we dare to lift our heads, it will be clear that she is right in front of us. In the years to come, we may need to change the question and ask who will be “the next Serena Williams.”

Dave Zirin is The Nation’s sports editor, and the author of eight books on the politics of sports, most recently, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy.  This article was originally posted at his website, Edge of Sports.

Monday, July 13, 2015

New York Pizza Journeys

Although I've lived in California for over 30 years, according to a recent New York Times test, I still talk like a New Yorker.  I have also held fast to a couple of New York obsessions.  As readers of this blog well know, I remain painfully devoted to the baseball team of my youth.  The other one -- less easily satisfied with a cable TV subscription -- is pizza.  For that, I have to wait for my occasional visits to New York, when I venture out to as many of the legendary pizzerias as my family will tolerate.

There was wonderful pizza in Great Neck, Long Island, where I grew up.  I preferred La Tosca, but a plausible argument could be made -- and often was -- that Scotto's was its equal.  We took great pizza for granted and it was hard to imagine it could taste any better.  But everything is better in the City, and back then the consensus was the best pizzeria in Manhattan was Ray's.  Yes, but which Ray's?

Ray's, Famous Ray's, Original Ray's or Famous Original Ray's?

Well, the first Ray's was on Prince Street in Little Italy, opened by Ralph Cuomo in 1959. (Ray's closed in 2011, after a legal dispute among Cuomo's heirs)  Cuomo had opened a second location on First Avenue at 59th Street, which he sold in the early 1960s to Rosolino Mangano, and which then became the first of several "Famous Original Ray's."  For me, the go-to Ray's was Famous Ray's on 6th Avenue and 11th Street, opened by Mario Di Rienzo in 1973.  Famous Ray's closed in 2011, but Mario reopened in 2012, as Famous Roio's Pizza.  In the fall of 2012, I went to Famous Roio's with that wide, thin, greasy slice still embedded in my memory.  I was deeply disappointed.  Too thick with too much cheese, and nothing at all like I recalled.  Others must have felt the same.  Famous Roio's closed its doors in 2013. 

Coal Brick Ovens

Then there are the storied coal brick oven pizzerias, beginning with Lombardi's at Spring Street and Mott, which, as the plaque says, is the "First Pizzeria in the United States."  Opened by Gennaro Lombardi in 1905, the pizza at Lombardi's is truly excellent, but the restaurant -- geared for tourists -- sorely lacks atmosphere.  

Lombardi, himself, trained the next generation of pizza makers, including Antonio (Totonno) Pero, who opened Totonno's at Coney Island, John Sasso of John's of Bleecker Street, and Patsy Lancieri of Patsy's in East Harlem.  Patsy's nephew, Patsy Grimaldi, opened Grimaldi's in Brooklyn. 

These successors to Lombardi's form the pantheon of the great coal-fired brick oven pizzerias.  These ovens give the pizza a crispness and smoky flavor that cannot be duplicated -- literally.  New coal ovens are not permitted because they fail to meet New York's  environmental laws, but the old ovens, having been grandfathered in, can still be used.

This year we were in NYC for Father's Day and my family asked where I wanted to go for dinner.  Without hesitation, I said Patsy's, which has been serving up pies in East Harlem since 1933 (although the Lancieri family sold the restaurant in the early 1990s).  With Sinatra watching us approvingly, we wolfed down pizza that was as close to perfection as you can get -- thin crust, slightly sweet sauce, just the right amount of cheese.

Totonno's might even better.  It is unassuming and more down-to-earth as befits its Coney Island location, and has the feel of a family-run operation -- as it should since Totonno's grandchildren operate the place.  John's of Bleeker Street, with its wood booths and "no slices" reminder, is fabulous too. 

The walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to Grimaldi's feels like the true pilgrimage that it is.  Once you brave the line outside, the red and white checkered tablecloths, photographs of New York glitterati on the wall, and -- of course -- Sinatra on the sound system transport you back in time.  The pizza, crisp and piping hot out of the brick oven is not marred, in my view, by the fact that Patsy Grimaldi sold his interest in the restaurant in the late 1990s.  (He operates Juliana's in Grimaldi's original location a couple of doors away.)

The Old Masters

There are not too many things more sacred than personally receiving a pizza from one of the Old Masters. Sal & Carmine's is indistinguishable on the outside (or inside for that matter) from any other hole-in-the-wall pizza joint, but this hallowed place opened in 1959 on the upper West Side -- Broadway at 102nd Street -- is no run-of-the-mill pizzeria.  Sadly, Sal passed away in 2009, but his brother Carmine is still behind the counter, and served up one of the best slices I've ever had.  A bit light on sauce but with a memorable, chewy crust that is not as floppy thin as a traditional NY slice (not that there's anything wrong with that).

I dragged my family to Avenue J in the Midwood section of Brooklyn for a pie at Di Fara, which is often rated the "Best Pizza in NY."  Di Fara has been run by Dom DeMarco since 1964, and he still makes every pie personally.  Yes, every pie.  As a result, service is slow and the line outside the door is long.  When we got there in the late afternoon, DeMarco's friendly but very protective daughter came out to say they were going to close for an hour because her father needed a break.  We didn't mind the wait, and were ultimately rewarded when DeMarco, himself, took our pie out of the oven, ceremoniously cut fresh basil leaves over the top, and handed it over. 

For the last few years, my favorite slice in the City has been from Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street in the West Village.  Joe's was opened in 1975, by Joe Pozzuoli, who still runs the business.  This is THE classic thin, wide, greasy New York slice.

Staten Island

OK, I didn't actually go to Staten Island.  If I had, I would have gone to Joe and Pat's.  Instead I went to Rubirosa in the Village, run by the son of Giuseppe Pappalardo, who is the "Joe" of Joe and Pat's.  The pizza is very thin, very crisp and the slices are very small.  The pizza is very, very good. 

More Modern

I usually like to go for the plain cheese pie or, if I'm feeling adventurous, I might add some olives or mushrooms.  At Motorino on 1st Avenue in the East Village, I had one with cherry stone clams and another with brussel sprouts.  Great choices.

On the other hand, at Paulie Gee's in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood, I should have stuck with the plain.  This place comes with a lot of hype and a pun-filled menu (e.g., Ricotta Be Kiddn' Me).  We went for the Brian De Parma (essentially a margherita) and the Greenpointer (with a salad's worth of arugula on top).  Mostly enjoyed the former, not the latter.

So Much For A Cliche'

I have been known to say that a slice on any random corner of New York is better than the best pizza elsewhere.  Unfortunately, I went to the wrong corner.  Finding myself around Times Square recently, I walked into Patzeria Perfect Pizza on W 46th Street and ordered a couple of slices. A long way from perfect.

To Be Continued

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Summer Classic: Moral Panic Over A Pier Shooting

Guest Blog Post by Professor Jonathan Simon

It is a reminder of how hard the past is to leave behind (especially when your leading politicians belong to it). By now the whole nation knows the basic facts: Francisco Sanchez, a 45- or 52-year-old Mexican national, shot and killed Kathryn Steinle, 32-year-old resident of a nearby suburb, in a chance encounter along San Francisco’s popular, and seemingly safe, waterfront Embarcadero Boulevard last week.

It had all the makings of what criminologists call a “moral panic” — an untoward event, small or large, that becomes a vehicle for vast social and political anxieties over race, class and national identity. A low-status villain — non-white, poor, non-citizen, long criminal record, multiple incarcerations — kills a high-status victim — white, middle class, citizen, mother of children, never been in trouble with the law.  It occurs where it should not, in a place associated with comfort and recreation. Events like this sometimes stay just local news, but given the right conditions, they can blow up into a policy storm of significant magnitude. Will this one?

It comes at a time when white anxiety over the growing Latino population in the United States has become a dominant obsession with the Republican party. Indeed, Republican politicians have found themselves in something of a dilemma over which to attack among two of their favorite targets: liberal cities like San Francisco or the Obama administration.

Since the dominant media narrative has focused on the decision of the San Francisco sheriff’s department to release Sanchez, after the marijuana possession warrant he was being held on was dismissed — without notifying ICE (the Immigration Control and Enforcement agency) as requested — Republicans and now Senator Diane Feinstein, have decided to focus their rage on the city’s sanctuary policy, which mandates non-cooperation with the aggressive detention and deportation policies of recent years. Feinstein wrote SF Mayor Ed Lee yesterday, excoriating the City and its sanctuary policy, and all but blaming them for the crime.

Familiar narrative

The story line is a familiar one to politicians of Feinstein’s generation, who rose to maturity and power addressing it. In Feinstein’s case, this was quite literal, as she became mayor of San Francisco in 1978 after the high-profile City Hall murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor and civil-rights leader Harvey Milk.

According to the logic that became common sense during the high crime eras of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, state and local justice systems were overwhelmed by crime and prone to ignoring criminal threats by dumping known threats on the streets. According to this thinking (which I described at length in my 2007 book Governing through Crime), only tough laws limiting judicial discretion, and federal mandates requiring that felons serve the vast majority of their sentences and protect Americans. The result: mass incarceration and mass deportation.

A closer look at the narrative surrounding the Sanchez case reveals it for the ideological construction it is. In fact, Sanchez epitomizes why the logic of exclusion and segregation that undergird our wars on crime and terror can never achieve public safety.

Start with the focus on San Francisco’s sheriff and the city’s sanctuary policy. It seem obvious and outrageous to Sen. Feinstein that Ms. Steinle would not have been killed that night but for the sheriff’s and city’s failure to incarcerate him until he could be deported.

But who was really the proximate cause of Mr. Sanchez’s presence in San Francisco? He didn’t start here, but instead in federal prison, where he was serving time for repeated unlawful entries to the United States.

Nothing in federal law required ICE to bring Sanchez to San Francisco to address a 20-year-old warrant for marijuana possession. Such charges are routinely dismissed in San Francisco and other cities, and the feds had apparently deported him five times during that period without feeling compelled to bring him to answer justice in San Francisco. Most likely the overworked ICE staff found the warrant and realized it would be easier to dump him on San Francisco then complete the paper work necessary to deport him promptly (or even generate the kind of immigration warrant rather than “hold” what would have prevented Sanchez’s release even under the sanctuary policy).

Dangerous felon?

A second phony element is the idea that Sanchez was obviously dangerous because of his seven felonies. In fact, as the media realized pretty early, all but one of these felonies were for drugs or illegal reentry, and only one was for assault (the least serious form of crime against the person, the equivalent of a fist fight).

If anything, Sanchez’s record is monument to how stretched the felony concept has become in our time. Seven felonies sure sound scary, until you actually look at them. There is nothing about his record that would have signaled to San Francisco sheriff’s deputies that Sanchez posed a serious threat. He appeared to be a not untypical inmate in the jail: poor, disorganized, a drug user without a stable family or work life, and probably some mental illness (indeed I suspect he has a chronic mental illness and decompensated for lack of proper treatment during his federal imprisonment).

The shooting of Kathryn Steinle appears to be a tragic escalation of Sanchez’s lifestyle. The weapon was apparently found on the beach (latest reports suggest it belonged to a federal agent). He admits to having been high on cannabis and sleeping pills. She was shot in the back, consistent with his “accident” defense. His most persistent deliberate pattern was apparently returning to the United States — not to prey on its citizens a la Donald Trump, but to support himself and perhaps to stay in contact with family here.

So what to conclude from the Sanchez case? Trying to protect ourselves from random violence by incarcerating and deporting people, on the basis of race and often-inflated criminal records, is deeply flawed (and far from the slam-dunk solution that Sen. Feinstein believes).

Lessons from criminology

The underlying theory here is that crime is a product of dangerous people. Lock up or deport the dangerous people and the problem is solved. But criminology now suggests that crime is situational, a product of people with chaotic lives, substance abuse, and chance encounters in environments that provide either accelerants or de-accelerants (think of the gun that Sanchez found).

There is no perfect solution, save for the ideal of fixing all our “broken toys” (and even unbroken ones break in the spur of the moment). Instead, careful mental-health screening of the jail population, and attentive post-release efforts to keep people with mental health needs and drug-abuse histories on the right medications and off the wrong ones, could do far better than incarceration for people like Sanchez (what about his previous imprisonments protected us?).

Nor, quite clearly, is deportation a solution. For two decades now, we’ve been aggressively deporting people we label “criminal aliens,” creating significant gang problems in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador (many of them, in fact, have recreated the same gang milieus they used to survive in the United States) without doing much to reduce crime here.

I suspect this moral panic will run its course without uprooting San Francisco’s sanctuary policy or placing Donald Trump in the White House. The general trend is away from harsh and exclusionary policies in both criminal justice and immigration.

Sadly, the punitive storm that has arisen around Francisco Sanchez and the killing of Kathryn Steinle is a reminder of how powerful the hold of crime-panic journalism, and hyperventilating crime-warrior politicians like Feinstein, remains on our public policy and how slow reform will probably be.

Jonathan Simon is a professor of law at UC Berkeley and Faculty Director of the Center for the Study of Law & Society.  This article was originally posted at The Berkeley Blog

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Supreme Concern: The Fight for Equality and Dignity and Why Elections Matter

The Supreme Court's historic ruling that the Constitution guarantees the right to marry for same-sex couples is cause for celebration and relief.  It shows what unrelenting activism and struggle can accomplish.  And it shows what the high court can and should do when pressed to protect groups of people from discrimination and extend to them equality, dignity and fundamental rights.

Justice Kennedy (joined by the so-called liberal wing of the Court -- Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer) rejected the dissenters' view that states may be allowed to prevent gays and lesbians from getting married if a majority of its voters deem it so.  And it resoundingly rejected an originalist view of the Constitution which holds that fundamental rights are only those explicit in that document's text:

The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning…
…in interpreting the Equal Protection Clause, the Court has recognized that new insights and societal understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged.

This decision really should not have been much of a leap.  Loving v. Virginia, which held that state laws banning interracial marriage were unconstitutional, provides a fairly unassailable precedent.  And opponents of same-sex marriage have never been able to mount a legitimate argument that there is a compelling government interest in preventing gays and lesbians from marrying -- the showing required under the Court's own jurisprudence.

The fact that the decision was a narrow 5-4 victory-- with disingenuous and particularly vitriolic opinions from each of the four dissenters -- should give us all serious pause.  According to Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kennedy's carefully reasoned opinion was result-oriented and "had nothing to do with the Constitution."  Justice Scalia's insult-laden diatribe described it as pretentious and incoherent, and alarmingly claimed that it represented a “threat to American democracy.” Justice Alito was mostly concerned with those Americans who want to be able to continue to discriminate against same-sex couples with impunity, fearing that this opinion "will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,”  And Justice Thomas, in rejecting that the right to marry is a fundamental right, went so far as to argue that the government is essentially incapable of taking away human dignity -- not by depriving people of government benefits, or holding them in internment camps or even enslaving them. 

If John McCain had won the presidency in 2008, he certainly would have replaced the two retiring justices during his first term with two in the mold of those currently comprising the right wing of the Court, instead of President Obama's two appointees -- Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan.  Among many other frightening results, this would likely have turned this landmark 5-4 victory into a 6-3 loss.

Every Republican running for president expressed their opposition to same-sex marriage and denounced the Supreme Court's decision.  And under the guise of "religious liberty," every Republican candidate believes that business owners and others should be allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Justice Ginsburg is 82; Justice Scalia is 79; Justice Kennedy is 78; Justice Breyer is 76.

There are many more battles ahead -- battles that will likely require litigation in federal court -- including those surrounding the push for federal anti-discrimination laws and anti-discrimination laws in the majority of states that don't bar discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people.

Elections matter.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Racism Deserves A Remedy

The American flag and the South Carolina state flag were lowered to half-staff at the State Capitol to honor the nine African Americans killed in what surely seems like a racially-motivated terrorist attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.  The Confederate flag -- the battle flag of an armed revolt whose aim was to maintain the enslavement of the South's black population; the flag of white supremacists who sought to violently control that population after the revolt failed; the flag of the perpetrator of these killings -- continues to fly unfettered at its peak in front of the Confederate Soldiers Monument on Capitol grounds. 

What a perfect metaphor for the dogged persistence of racism in this country. 

President Obama noted that "the fact that this took place in a black church obviously ... raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked ...."

Indeed, as Charles Pierce reminds us, "this was the church founded by Denmark Vesey, who planned a slave revolt in 1822. Vesey was convicted in a secret trial in which many of the witnesses testified after being tortured. After they hung him, a mob burned down the church he built. His sons rebuilt it."  

But this isn't just about our history.  It is very much about our present.  As Kali Holloway says, to pretend to be surprised by this latest horrific crime is to be complicit:
Who, at this point, can feign surprise at this latest massacre when it sits at the nexus of so much that is familiar and perfectly in line with the U.S. that we know? We are a country where mass shootings are weekly news, where gun violence is a fact of daily life, where there is a legacy of terror against black people and communities, where white racists have long targeted black churches, where African-American life is so devalued it can be taken with impunity
 Jesse Jackson is right: "This young white man, whoever he is, did not originate terrorism.  He is merely reflecting decades and centuries of institutional and active political terrorism."
The shooting in Charleston is the result and the product of a protracted political genocide resulting from institutionalized racism, centuries of dehumanization and the current denial of economic and political equality of opportunity.  Today everyone is outraged at the killings, but there is not the same outrage that African Americans are number one in infant mortality, in life expectancy, in unemployment, in cheap wages, in access to capital and denial of bank loans, in imprisonment, in segregated housing and home foreclosures, in segregated and underfunded public schools, in poverty, in heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, mental health issues, HIV/AIDS and the lack of access to health care and more.  We ignore this institutionalized state of terror and the resulting racial fears at our peril.
As Charles Pierce says, we must "think about what happened. Think about why it happened. Talk about what happened. Talk about why it happened. Do these things, over and over again. The country must resist the temptation present in anesthetic innocence. It must reject the false comfort of learned disbelief and the narcotic embrace of concocted surprise."

We need to take serious steps to end gun violence by electing politicians who will enact meaningful gun control laws

We need to tear down state-sanctioned Confederate flags and other symbols celebrating our racist heritage.  (Sign the petition here)

"Racism deserves a remedy," Jesse Jackson states, proposing "a White House Conference on racial justice and urban policy to make sure no one else is being hurt because of economic, political and leadership indifference or lack of vision of what needs to be done!"

Can anyone imagine any of the Republican candidates for president convening such a conference or meaningfully addressing the issues of race?  Just listen to what they have to say about this latest attack on "religious liberty."  To them, it has nothing to do with race. For them, it is never about race.  For them, it can't be about race because to acknowledge the existence of institutional racism (like acknowledging the existence of man-made climate change) would mean having to do something about it.

In any event, Isaiah J. Poole, Jr., notes, "this incident should call America to the realization that it needs something deeper than yet another White House conference can provide – a recognition of the continuing infection of racism in the nation’s bloodstream – an infection unfazed by our denials of its existence or our protestations that it’s not our problem – and the determination to do whatever it takes to root out that infection and heal its effects once and for all."

As Charles Pierce concludes: 
There is a timidity that the country can no longer afford ... This was not an unthinkable act ...  If people do not want to speak of it, or think about it, it's because they do not want to follow the story where it inevitably leads. It's because they do not want to follow this crime all the way back to the mother of all American crimes, the one that Denmark Vesey gave his life to avenge. What happened on Wednesday night was a lot of things. A massacre was only one of them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rachel Dolezal Is Acting Like A Child Abuse Victim Acts

Guest post by Tina Dupuy

In the wake of the Duggar molestation scandal and now the quirky case of Rachel Dolezal, one thing is clear: We as a public don’t know what child abuse looks like. The CDC estimates that one in four American children experience some form of abuse and yet we’re not quick to spot it or identify with it. Instead there’s a tendency to be irked that “this stuff” is even being discussed publicly. Or as we’ve seen with the Duggars and the Dolezals we default into our preexisting paradigms of partisanship: The Duggars are rightwingers and are typical of those people and Dolezal is a liberal Obama’s America “transracial” fruitcake.

But both these cases also feature fringe Christian movements protecting their ideals over their daughters.

The saga of reality show subject Josh Duggar, who admittedly sexually abused five girls (four of whom were his own sisters), was a grotesque display of what religious zeal conditions people to be able to rationalize. “They didn’t even know he had done it,” said Michelle Duggar during the soft-focus Fox News Megyn Kelly interview.

I’ve talked to sexual abuse victims who didn’t realize that was what had happened to them until decades later. They had fears and phobias and things they just avoided seemingly without reason—but they didn’t put two and two together. So the idea of child abuse being contingent on the victim’s memory, identification or understanding is just wrong. Being asleep, unconscious or blocking it out—doesn’t make one not a victim. And it surely doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Kelly, to her credit, repeatedly asked the Duggars about their daughters and they repeatedly answered by talking about their son, the abuser. To me it was Christian-based traditional gender role activists valuing the man and his sexual proclivities over anything their own daughters might undergo.

And another painfully public tale of throwing your daughter under the bus is Rachel Dolezal. While the national discourse instantly teeheed and tsk tsked at a white woman identifying herself as black, immediately branding her as a freak, a fraud and a phony—we all missed the real story. Why are her parents on TV at all? Their daughter wasn’t hurting anyone. She had adopted a new persona. She had found another father who loves her—a community who embraced her. She didn’t get a salary from her position at her local chapter of the NAACP. She was fighting for the marginalized as an unpaid volunteer. She was trying to help people and further a cause of justice. Loving and compassionate parents don’t go on media tours calling their daughter a liar and a disappointment—especially when, by every measure, she was successful and just living her life.

Then it came out that this is yet another story hinging on child abuse. “Joshua Dolezal, 39, was charged in 2013 with four felony counts of sex abuse of a victim who was a minor at the time, sources and court records confirmed,” reported the NY Daily News. Rachel is, of course, supporting the victim and that threatens these home-schooling young Earth fundamentalists. To them if Rachel is a liar, everything can go back to the way it was.

Rachel’s birth parents are abusive. Two of the other children in the family (so far) have corroborated Rachel’s claims of abuse: physical labor, forced isolation and physical violence.

Rachel is acting like an abuse victim acts. She’s estranged from her birth parents for a reason. And when she says she can’t prove that Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal are really her parents, she’s divorcing herself from them. She’s trying to move on and move past them. I haven’t called my neglectful and emotionally abusive birth parents “mom” and “dad” in over a decade. And if you ask me if they’re my parents, I’ll say no. I have parents; they didn’t give birth to me.

When Rachel says she identifies as a black woman and says she understands struggle, I think she does. Something about oppression resonates with her. Also in seeing herself as black she becomes the opposite of the people who hurt her. She’s running away from them—and she’s told us why.

Surviving is messy. It’s complicated and it compels people to do seemingly absurd things. Some recreate their trauma by acquiring different abusers; some pass on their trauma by abusing others. Some hurt themselves, or in my case blame themselves. One became Oprah. And some vow to protect others—advocate for others—and dedicate their lives to helping others sporting a spray tan and a weave to tap into a cultural noted for strength, endurance and triumph in the face of adversity.

Originally posted at

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Mainstream Media Has No Sense Of Direction: Hillary Clinton Must Go Left, Not Right

I feel like I'm flogging a dead donkey here, but it is crazy-making how the mainstream media continues to yearn for a Democratic candidate who magically will unite the left and right by appealing to ordinary Americans aka the White Working Class and Red State Democrats -- a candidate who will eschew the polarizing effect of embracing such progressive concerns as economic inequality suppression of voting rights, mass incarceration and immigration reform, not to mention reproductive and LGBT rights.  According to the conventional wisdom, Hillary's failure to hew to the right will be the singular cause of a dispirited electorate and increasing rancor and gridlock on Capital Hill.  Republicans, of course, bear no responsibility for their refusal to accept the legitimacy of any Democratic president since LBJ, their increasingly extremist (and unpopular) positions on these issues or their preternatural inability to govern responsibly.

An infuriating article on the front page of last Sunday's New York Times, heavily relied on the two most conservative Democrats in the Senate who expressed their dismay that Hillary is not wooing the voters in their bright red states -- North Dakota and West Virginia -- but has instead chosen to focus on states that she can actually win.  The article cautions that taking "liberal policy positions" might "fire up Democrats" but by foregoing "a broader strategy that could help lift the party with her" could mean "missing out on the kind of spirited conversation that can be a unifying feature of a presidential election" and leave her "if she wins, with the same difficulties Mr. Obama has faced in governing with a Republican-controlled Congress." 

This was followed by the insufferable David Brooks aka Moral Hazard's trolling about how destructive and divisive Hillary's campaign will be if she "dispens[es] with a broad persuasion campaign" that fails to attract the ever-elusive swing voter.  Ron Fournier, another favorite of the punditocracy, also weighed in that Hillary is taking the wrong path by pandering to the Democrats' "most devoted partisans" rather than appealing to the "broadest possible audience."  According to Fournier, the problem is that even if she wins, such "a polarizing, opportunistic candidate assumes the presidency with no standing to convert campaign promises into results."  Chuck Todd says basically the same thing, that campaigns that don't "engage in persuasion," but instead seek to come out ahead in in a polarized America "makes governing harder than it already was."

The underlying premise that liberal ideas are inherently divisive is simply wrong.  Recent polls show that Americans are shifting to the left on a variety of issues.  A campaign that focuses on the above-mentioned progressive themes and chastises Republican candidates for not believing in climate change, for wanting to deport the children of immigrants, for insisting that tax cuts for the wealthy are always the cure for what ails the economy and for seeking to disenfranchise voters, might alienate extremist Republicans but are hardly an anathema to swing and independent voters.

The problem isn't Democrats failing to reach for a middle ground.  It is that Republicans keep moving farther to the right.  Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute accurately describes Republicans as a "radical insurgency—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of their political opposition."  Nancy Letourneau explains that "what makes governing harder . . . is that we have one political party that is catering to an ever-decreasing group of voters that completely rejects any form of compromise to their agenda."  As Christopher Ingraham reports, "political scientists have known for years that political polarization is largely a one-sided phenomenon: in recent decades the Republican Party has moved to the right much faster than Democrats have moved to the left."  He details data that measures political polarization showing "in the most recent Congress nearly 90 percent of Republican House members are not politically moderate. By contrast, 90 percent of Democratic members are moderates."

Nevertheless, the mainstream media continues to puzzle over where the polarization and gridlock originated.  Chuck Todd poses it as a chicken/egg question:  "What came first -- this red-blue campaign strategy we've seen since 2000, or America's political/geographical/ cultural polarization."

The notion that Republicans in Congress would cooperate with another President Clinton if only she would present a more inclusive approach to governance is insane.  They impeached her husband, for God's sake, a president who attempted -- much to the dismay of many a progressive -- to embrace inclusiveness and appeal to Republican concerns (e.g., welfare reform, stricter drug laws, DOMA).

Charles Pierce describes far better than I, "the great failure of our elite political media -- a complete disinclination to look at what is plainly right there in front of them. It is simply not considered good form among our political elites to note that one of our two political parties has lost its mind and that it has committed itself to wrecking our politics if it doesn't always get its way."

I've written before about reverse barometers.  The advice from David Brooks, Chuck Todd and Ron Fournier on how Hillary Clinton should run her campaign is useful only insofar as it shows that by doing the opposite she is really on to something.