From the July/August issue of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's magazine EXTRA!, quoting a statement by Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute on PBS's NewsHour:
"You see a full vocabulary for talking about white Americans in this debate, from 'blue-collar,' a euphemism for white blue-collar workers... We talk about 'lunch-bucket Democrats.' We talk about the 'soccer mom' and the 'NASCAR dad,' all of which are euphemisms in the national discourse for white Americans. And then we talk about black people as though they are all the same, with pretty much all the same views. And Latinos and Asians haven't fared much better. And we don't talk at all about Native Americans."
Let's say somebody steals your car and replaces it with a lemon.
And then, later, someone else offers you a good car. And you tell your friends, "This looks like a good car, a better car than the one I've been stuck with. I'm inclined to take it."
But then you're reminded that the thug who stole your car and replaced it with a lemon is a big wheel. He's got clout. He could hurt you. In fact, he sends goons around to your house to quiz you about what you reportedly said. So you publicly backpedal from having said you'd prefer the better car.
But the truth is, you hate the lemon that was foisted on you, and you really do want the better car, and you were being honest when you said so.
This is roughly the position in which Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki now finds himself.
This, of course, isn't the story line that Maliki's sponsors in the Bush Administration want to hear, and so Administration enforcers immediately got to work on Maliki. According to the New York Times:
"Diplomats from the United States Embassy in Baghdad spoke to Mr. Maliki’s advisers on Saturday, said an American official, speaking on condition of anonymity... After that, the [Iraqi] government’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, issued a statement casting doubt on the magazine’s rendering of the interview."
But, the Times goes on to say, Dabbagh's denial pointed to no specific mistranslation, and, further, the allegedly erring interpreter works for Maliki, not for the German magazine. Moreover, the Times obtained a recording of the interview on its own and found, through an independent translation, that Maliki's statements seemed to clearly praise Obama's withdrawal plan. This from the Times:
"The following is a direct translation from the Arabic of Mr. Maliki’s
comments by The Times: 'Obama’s remarks that — if he takes office — in
16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could
increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the
presence of the forces in Iraq.' He continued: 'Who wants to exit in a
quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq.'"
Not a convincing case for Maliki's denials.
Der Spiegel, too, stands adamantly by its story.
So the whole thing looks a lot like a man caught between his desire to tell the truth and his fear of having to face a couple of the Big Boss's gorillas wielding lead pipes.
It's tragic for Iraq as well as for the United States, this scared-stiff prime minister tremblingly disowning his own truthful assessment of his country. It's also a brutal portrait of the contrast between the bully-and-lie politics of the current White House, with its latest "general time horizon" babble about troop withdrawals, and the approach of Obama, who brings an actually presidential perspective to the real problem of ending this awful war. Maliki, understandably, succumbed for a moment to the relative good sense of Obama's basic grasp on reality. Now he is paying for it.
If you've kept tabs on me, you know I'm no Obama cheerleader. But, cripes, come January, won't it be nice for us to have an actual president?
Look to the left and you'll see a new link: to the Race MannersDiscussion Guide, now available as a free download. It gives you ways to think and talk about the issues raised in my book Race Manners, which we all suffer from avoiding. It's great for book groups and teachers, who have been asking for it for some time now. I owe immediate thanks to a member of the audience at a recent book signing in Connecticut who raised his hand and asked me, in effect, "When are you going to release a discussion guide already?" It's here. And it's free.
You've heard it. You've seen it. Rev. Jesse Jackson appeared on Fox and, without knowing his mike was hot and the camera was on, leaned over and whispered to fellow guest Julian Bond that Barack Obama "is talking down to black people" and "I want to cut his fucking nuts off."
He was talking about the Father's Day speech at a church in which Obama took black fathers to task for "acting like boys" and being "missing in action." Later, amid the shock and awe at Jackson's sudden loss of brain cells, Jackson issued an apology that was contrite but also coherent about his underlying problem with Obama's remarks: Obama, like many mainstream politicians afraid of being tarred as tolerant of ghetto dysfunction, expresses more fire-and-brimstone on-camera rage about the dysfunction than about the pervasive forces that nurture the dysfunction. Bill Cosby does this, too, but let's not confuse him with Obama on this issue. Where Cosby's scolding of the black poor is contemptuous and mean, Obama's is vehement in a preacherly, tough-love kind of way. And where Cosby is largely silent on the socially criminal policies that underfund schools, perpetuate joblessness, and militarize policing, Obama speaks eloquently (as in his Father's Day speech) about the need to demand fairer public policy as well as better individual behavior. Problem is, Obama, with an eye on the glorified political center, scolds bad behavior by poor black folk at about twice the decibel level of his criticisms of unfair policy. This is what Jackson dislikes about Obama's approach (as do I).
But no matter. No amount of after-the-fact coherence will rescue Jackson here. In being caught on TV using a lynch metaphor in an act of intra-black political infighting, he has blown a good chunk of what remained of his street cred as a leader. I admire the man, and I have met him and will always revere his legacy as a warrior who carried the black struggle for civil rights into a multi-hued coalition for jobs and justice. But it's now going to be hard for me to take Jackson as seriously when he issues commanding and principled-sounding pronouncements on people or politics. I'm guessing, actually, that part of Jackson's resentment of Obama stems from the very way in which Obama has instantly captivated the mainstream with his non-threatening, non-ex-slave persona, while battle-scarred civil rights veterans like Jackson and Bond are implicitly tagged as being too traditionally black for the comfort of an allegedly postracial era. The sad thing is that Jackson, through his stunning lack of sophistication in this latest gaffe, has aided those who want to see him become permanently obsolete. I mean, appearing on Fox, the Pravda of the American far right, and trusting that he could mutter in front of microphones and cameras about cutting off Obama's nuts and not pay for it? Where was his mind? People have been eased into assisted living for less.
Just as Jackson loses big on this one, Obama wins politically. Not only does Obama look presidential in his campaign's restrained and dignified response to Jackson's slur, but, by virtue of Jackson's crude attack on him, Obama gains distance between himself and the old black guard resented by the white centrists Obama covets.
Jackson insists that he zealously supports the Obama campaign, and I believe him. But somehow I don't think this escapade was Jesse's planned method for giving Obama a boost.
Cat sends this photo of the spectacularly rare Crocheted Rainbow Trout, unknown in virtually all trout waters worldwide. In fact, it's the first specimen I've ever seen. Note the complete lack of gills (which itself challenges all known fish physiology) and the odd tint and placement of the pink lateral stripe, due, no doubt, to the vagaries of yarn and mutation. Its apparent preferred habitat also seems very strange.
I've been to every trout database I know, and they've got nothing, zilch, on this strain of Rainbows.
NEW YORK – This one goes as far back as the banning of the drum: the time when fledgling New World importers of African slaves deduced that banning their captives' use of drums would effectively cut out their hearts and their tongues.
A few centuries later, a mostly-white gentry in search of grand and affordable Manhattan real estate finds itself in a head-on collision with a proud, defiant and loud black drumming tradition in Harlem.
According to a story in Sunday's New York Times, this new drum war started a few years back when prosperous Gotham professionals, driven uptown by astronomical real estate prices, began buying $1 million co-ops in a new luxury building across the street from Marcus Garvey Park, home to a regular circle of African and Caribbean drummers since 1969. For decades every Sunday, weather permitting, a few dozen drummers and dancers (pictured above) have congregated to make a joyful noise. This failed to make headlines during the years when the neighborhood was drug- and crime-ridden and when the drummers' presence provided, in fact, a one-day window during which the littered and dangerous park could be used by kids and families. But now that the park is a groomed gem and the neighborhood is desirable, some of the new luxury co-op residents are making distinctly un-joyful sounds – some of them flagrantly racist – about the Sunday drum soundtrack that permeates their apartments.
Most of the complaints, the Times story suggests, are queasily resentful, as in I understand that we're new here and these folks need their drumming thing, but do I have to listen to it my entire Sunday til 10 pm? But at least one email that circulated among co-op residents asked, "Why don't we just get nooses for every one of those low-lifes and hang them from a tree? They're used to that kind of treatment anyway!"
Like I said, this goes back to the bloody beginning: the guilty rage of white privilege, the defensive rage of black suppression. We black American men – ex-slaves, whether we like it or not – want our damn drums back. Wealthy American whites – beneficiaries of slavery, whether they like it or not – want to have what they want without paying dues for what has been done unto black communities over the years. "The market" is no more a solution to this in 2008 than it was in 1808. In a society of truly balanced economic and cultural power, this entire defiant-ex-slave-versus-sheltered-ex-slaver dynamic would go away, replaced by simple consideration among societal equals, neither of whom would have anything to prove or to deny.
I have to say, as a passionate participant in an outdoor Washington, D.C. drum circle myself, the Garvey Park 10 p.m. stopping time sounds problematic to me. The circle I play in ends at 9, and if I lived across the street I'd consider that plenty late. If you have infants or young kids, you want them asleep by 7 or 8. If you want quiet in your own living space, you're unquestionably going to often feel crowded, annoyed, or pounded – depending on your mood – by eight hours of nonstop ensemble drumming every Sunday.
At the same time, it is the drummers who guarded the park and who helped to usher the neighborhood into its now-improved fortunes in the first place. Further, the well-heeled newbies who recently bought into the block knew what they were getting into, or could have if they'd checked.
What we have here in the drum battle on Manhattan Island is a new furor over old and unsettled matters of racial and social justice.
NEW YORK – The July 4 fireworks here last night were a blast, even in the rain. The photos I took, looking from Brooklyn toward the East River, all ended up being so out of focus that I can't post them. Dang. But the scene was pretty much what you see in the 2007 AP photo above. (That's the Empire State Building with the blue-lit spire.) It will be a far better day when we're staging pyrotechnic celebrations for something much more like democracy, but right now even what a friend of mine calls our current "jingoistic, imperialist crapola holiday" can't take the fun out of a blazing canopy of fireworks over the Manhattan skyline.
Meanwhile, a firestorm is brewing in New York and elsewhere among some progressive Obama supporters over his latest and most alarming slide toward the "center" (read: right), that being Obama's recent reversal to support legal immunity for phone companies who compromise customer privacy at the behest of government so-called "anti-terror" requests for personal data.
You'll recall that Verizon and others took heavy public heat two years ago for caving to behind-the-scenes Bush Administration demands for large amounts of customer information, as clear a case of unconstitutional corporate cowardice as you'll ever see. Supporting legal immunity for such practices -- in effect saying "even when government crosses the line and violates the constitutional rights of innocents it's excusable for the sake of the War On Terror" -- was something Obama opposed until, suddenly, now facing a campaign against a Republican, he flipped and supported it. A roar of protest rose up on the left, and Democrats.com has launched a campaign for Obama supporters to place their contributions in escrow until the candidate "lives up to his promise to deliver 'change we can believe in.'"
I don't like it, this ever-squishier, ever-less-principled Obama we're getting. It's the part of his persona I mistrust the most: the part of him (and his campaign) that does not seem to understand the difference between principled compromise and expedient pandering. It is also a recipe for disaffection in the Democratic base that, if it continues, could affect voter turnout and aid McCain. This kind of weather-vane political twirling helped to beat Kerry, it beat Hillary Clinton, and it could beat Obama. One friend of mine suggests that Obama's plan is to make all the concessions he needs to get elected, and to then rear up and implement his intended progressive agenda once he's in office. I don't buy it. I have yet to see a presidential contender sell his or her principles on the campaign trail and then buy them back in the White House.
I'd say it's time for progressives to start emailing, speaking up, picketing, and otherwise making noise that might help to save Obama from himself. One way is to keep your money in your pocket and to pass his campaign a note saying he'll get your cash when he keeps his promises.
Scott Ritter, former Iraq arms investigator turned whistle-blower, has written a fierce critique of the complicity of journalists in delivering official Administration messages on the Iraq war. He also takes a hard look at the evidence for a colossal conflict of interest between NBC, which largely rolled over for the Bush Administration on the war, and General Electric, which owns NBC and has stood to profit hugely from Bush's Iraq War policy.
Of course, angry charges of corporate media flaccidity on Iraq are by now, quite correctly, ubiquitous. What's different about Ritter's analysis is its sheer detail. He has been a vocal critic of Bush war policy for years, but he is no mere indignant opinion-meister, this former arms auditor. Ritter's newest accounting of the problems with media coverage of the war, posted on Truthdig.com, is both clinical and devastating.
It leaves one wondering, too, at what point the throng of insiders-turned-informers (Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson & Valerie Plame, General Antonio Taguba, Colonel Janis Karpinski, General Ricardo Sanchez, Scott McClellan, et. al.) will actually outnumber the liars and dissemblers still at work within the clanking Bush war machine.
Thanks to Andrew Petonak for referring me to Ritter's piece.