On the Jena 6

31 08 2007

“A silly prank.” That’s what school officials at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana, called a racist stunt by a group of white students who hung three nooses from a tree in an effort to stir up racial tension and fear.

Apparently, what provoked the incident was a desire among several black students to sit in the shade of a tree nearby the school usually reserved for whites only, after the vice principal permitted black students to sit wherever they pleased.

Determined not to be intimidated many of the school’s black students, protested the racist incident only to be threatened by the LaSalle Parish District Attorney, Reed Walters, who told students that additional “unrest’ would be treated as a “criminal matter.” He also reportedly told back students that if they did not comply, he “can end their lives with a pen.” The white students who committed the prank, on the other hand, got of with in-school suspension – a mere slap on the wrist.

Such an uneven and inadequate response predictably led to a sharp spike in racially charged incidents that bled into neighborhoods nearby. Mary Mitchell at the Chicago Sun-Times describes them in her column yesterday:

In one incident, a young black student was assaulted by a group wielding beer bottles at a predominantly white party. But only one person was charged — with a misdemeanor — in the attack. In another incident, a white Jena graduate allegedly pulled a pump-action shotgun on three black high school students when they left a local convenience store. The teens managed to wrestle the gun away from the man.

The final incident involved the young black men now known as the “Jena 6.”

On Dec. 4, more than a month after the black students sat under the “white” tree, a fight broke out in the lunchroom between a white student and a black student. The white student was knocked to the floor and was allegedly attacked by other black students.

One of the black students said to be involved in the incident was the one assaulted earlier by the bottle-wielding white students. The white victim sustained bruises and a black eye. He was treated at a hospital and released. According to court testimony, the beating victim attended a social event later that same evening.

Five of the black teens were charged, as adults, with attempted second-degree murder and were given bonds ranging from $70,000 to $138,000. A sixth teen was charged as a juvenile.

Apparently under pressure by watchdog groups, the district attorney abruptly reduced the charges against 16-year-old Mychal Bell — the first youth to go to trial — from second-degree murder to second-degree aggravated battery and conspiracy. The aggravated battery stems from the prosecutor’s contention that the teens’ gym shoes were used as weapons.

This means these teens can be locked up for decades for an out of control school brawl that they did not instigate. Now I have been wondering why this story has not garnered more national media attention or why many civil rights leaders have not been made this more of an issue in the media. Of course, I should note that there is a great deal of local activism surrounding the issue in Jena and that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has gotten involved in defending the charged teens.

But making a stronger case for the Jena 6 could not only help illustrate many of the essential frustrations black people have with the Justice system, but most importantly highlight a serious miscarriage of justice. Perhaps, the national media simply is not interested in certain types of stories of racial division.

For some reason, the national media is interested in other types of racially charged stories. Take for instance the story of the August 4th assault in Newark, NJ, on four college bound teens in which three were killed execution-style and only one survived. Police later apprehended three of the suspects, one of which Jose Carranza, 28, is a particularly vile human being. He was granted bail earlier this year after being charged with raping a child and assault.

Naturally, this story made national headlines because the media could easily sensationalize the idea of the black and brown divide, and the culprits were hardened criminals committing a heinous act. But more to the point, it spoke to the fears and anger many white people feel about illegal immigration and presumed reign of criminal terror that would follow with them flooding our streets – a prospect that’s as unlikely as the fear is pervasive. And while I agree anti-immigrant sentiment among African-Americans is far from uncommon, such concerns are hardly at the center of any debate covered by the press, especially something as significant as immigration.

By contrast, the Jena 6 situation is about fighting racism in a town that is 85 percent white and 12 black. This is not a situation where white politicians and media figures can exploit for the sake of demagoguery. The injustice here is something that happened to another group of people who are victims of a “silly prank,” not from the perceived threat of immigrants whose mere presence alone could somehow stain our national character.

Free the Jena 6


Critique of fiscal conservativism

19 08 2007

This post by Dan Acona at the DMIblog.com was so spot on I had to cross-post it on IntheKut!

Dan Ancona

Why I am not a fiscal conservative

“I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative.”

Hear this much? As Schwarzenegger’s victory in supposedly-blue California and Mike Huckabee’s recent populist-driven, expectations-beating 2nd place in the Iowa straw poll both indicate, progressives are still incredibly vulnerable on economic issues. Simplistic as it is, and seemingly regardless of how many bridges and levees collapse, anti-tax messages still have amazing traction with the American public.

To start to turn back this kind of thinking, we need a good, positive story about the economy to tell. We’ll get there. But before we get to people saying “I’m socially liberal and fiscally progressive,” we need to first budge folks off the dime. When we start to hear “I’m socially liberal and fiscally, I don’t know what I am, but I’m definitely not a conservative,” we’ll be making progress.

To that end, for your debating with the conservative relatives pleasure, here is a grab-bag of a few points on why fiscal conservatism just doesn’t work:

Inequality sucks – unless you’re into shorter lifespans, more homicide and violent crime, more people in jail, paying more for police, more unemployment, more folks on food stamps, less high shcool graduation, less spending on education, more disability, higher cancer rates, worse health overall and less health insurance.

Capitalism has a tendency to concentrate wealth and power, and this is the concentration that drives inequality. It’s up to everything else in society – the government, labor, civil organizations – to break up that power. That doesn’t mean fiscal progressives want to smash capitalism. Not by any means! We just want balance.

Economic inequality and political polarization feed on each other. If you, like most Americans, want a functioning and less polarized government again, we need an economic system to support that.

Having homeless people, people without health care and kids without health care, etc. in the richest country in the world is flat-out immoral.

Flat wages suck. The economy is a lot more than just the market.

Even given that the economy is much more than the market, the market does better under Democrats by 5-10 points.

When you hear tax cuts, think collapsing bridges, eye fungus, Katrina, E. Coli, prisons instead of schools and melamine.

“Nanny state,” “job killer” and “but you’re a socialist!” are all meaningless name-calling. Really. You would get more rhetorical mileage out of “neener neener neener.” Drop the talking points, quite whining and make a real argument. It is an appalling indication of the decay of media in this country that that Republican candidates can spew this kind of meaningless red-baiting and can still be taken seriously.

Update: Here is the permalink.

Parsing and the Long Campaign

17 08 2007

In the current issue of The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg has an interesting piece on the trading of barbs between Sen. H. Clinton and Sen. Obama on foreign policy since the CNN/YouTube debates a few weeks ago. Several stiff-necked pudits criticized Obama for either not being clear-headed or tough-minded or politically savy enough to give the most polished response. But here is what Hertzberg had to say:

Obama didn’t commit to meeting with the quintet of villains; he expressed a willingness to do so, which is not the same thing. What he advocated was “send[ing] a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria,” a signal Clinton has been sending, too. “Without precondition” does not mean without preparation. Nor is it inconsistent with waiting until one has a better idea of the probable outcome. It simply means being ready to sit down and negotiate even if no concessions have been made in advance. On the other hand, although Clinton voted to authorize force against Iraq, it’s crystal clear that she would not have gone to war there had she been President. And “Bush-Cheney lite”? Them’s fightin’ words, and most unfair ones.

I agree wholeheartedly. Plus, being willing does not mean you will ever actually do it. It just means you are willing. And of course, Obama is deliberately provoking a policy dispute here, because it would benefit his campaign, if Hillary, as the frontrunner, was forced to engage him on the merits on his position instead of summarily dismissing them just another competitor.

But it’s hard to tease out a substantive policy difference between Obama Clinton on this issue because it speaks more to communication style rather than experience. Obama is more direct in expressing his positions whereas Clinton wants to disguise or downplay them. For example, a few weeks after the CNN/YouTube debate Obama said he would attack al-Qaeda in northern Pakistan, if he had actionable intelligence and President Musharraf was unable able to eradicate them, he was simply affirming official U.S. policy. Yes you read right. It’s the official policy of the United States of America. Clinton said uttering such words were irresponsible and unpresidential. But to my knowledge she never said she disagreed the policy or even offered tamed criticism of it.

Lets also look at what Obama told the Associated Press about using nuclear weapons.

“I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Obama said, with a pause, “involving civilians.” Then he quickly added, “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

Involving civilians — that’s an important qualifier, but how different is that from Hillary’s position. Lets see what she has said about nukes.

Well, I have said publicly no option should be off the table, but I would certainly take nuclear weapons off the table. And this administration has been very willing to talk about using nuclear weapons in a way we haven’t seen since the dawn of a nuclear age. I think that’s a terrible mistake.

Now how different is that really than what Obama has said. Perhaps, I am a little slow on the draw, but I don’t see much daylight here.

Just think about how much more parsing we will continue until the primary season starts.

Hillary seemed kinda stiff to me….

16 08 2007

Kudos to TPM for the vids!

Obama’s Breakout Session at YearlyKos

16 08 2007

Definitely in his element.

Gingrich has a War to Sell

16 08 2007

In a speech before a lilly white audience in Ames, Iowa, Former Speaker of the House Newt Gringrich proclaimed the war “here at home…is more violent and more dangerous to Americans than Iraq or Iran.” Most people would think old Newty was referring to some  group of active terrorist cells that were once dormant. Or perhaps, health insurance companies eager to gauge their customer base by denying them affordable care.

But actually Newty was really talking about undocumented immigrants. The impetus for the remarks were the August 4th assault in Newark, NJ, on four college bound teens in which three were killed execution-style and only one has survived. Three suspects now held in police custody. One of the suspects, Jose Carranza, 28, is a particularly vile human being. He was granted bail earlier this year after being charged with raping a child and assault.

Four young people, working hard, studying, doing the right things – three of them were killed, all four were shot in an execution style by somebody who should not have been in America in the first place.” Obviously, Gingrich has no compunction about conflating rampant and vile criminality with the presence of undocumented immigrants.

But curiously enough, Gingrich began his 10 minute speech by arguing that if UPS and FedEx can track millions of packages that are in transit everyday, then it is reasonable to expect a similar standard where the government verifies the legal status of anyone arrested for felony charge in its own database. Such an endeavor would be under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, but the undertaking would be outsourced Secondly, any locality or municipality that does not comply with using the database will lose all federal aid immediately. To accomplish this Gingrich recommends the President call Congress in for a 3-day special session to pass a “simple law.”

Now, I am all for securing the border. I also suspect that there are better ways to use technology to reduce crime. But the Gingrich is obviously implying that the presence of undocumented immigrants alone pose a criminal threat to the security of all Americans, and that simply is not true. The heinous killings in Newark, NJ are not representative of the undocumented immigrants in living in this country.

For starters, immigrants generally are significantly less likely to commit violent crimes than the native-born Americans. Studies have also found this remains true even for second generation immigrants. Secondly, because we so often here the word “illegal” coupled with the word “immigration” many Americans not only presumed undocumented immigrants commit more crimes, but that there sheer presence in United States is a crime. Of course, thats not true either. Crossing the border illegally or overstaying your visa is not a crime. Its a violation of federal civil laws, not the criminal code. Hence, immigration should be discussed as a civil and administrative issue not a criminal one. Sadly, the restrictivist crowd apparently is not above muddying this distinction so that they may equate our immigration policy crisis with a terrorist and persistent criminal threat.

Gingrich also fails to acknowledge the contributions undocumented immigrants make to the U.S. economy. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed Pia Orrenius, a senior economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank noted

At least eight million illegal immigrants work in the U.S. today and, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of them work on the books. According to data from the Mexican Migration Project (jointly run by Princeton University and the University of Guadalajara) on illegal immigrants from Mexico, 65% report having had payroll taxes withheld while working in the U.S. According to the SSA’s Earnings Suspense File, taxed wages of persons whose names and Social Security numbers do not match reached $586 billion at the start of fiscal year 2007, up from $463 billion in 2002. This revenue could substantially decrease with the implementation of new laws.

This means undocumented immigrants are actually putting into the system more than they are taking out. It just strikes me as common sense that the United States should find a way to offer them a path to citizenship, which should be the real focus of discussion, rather than casting them as the newest imagined national security threat.

Our last hope?

14 08 2007

Condi Rice

Condi Rice has topped GQ’s list of 50 of the most powerful people in D.C. Their rationale goes as follows:

Rice, the ultimate yes-woman as national-security adviser, has become a much needed check on the Office of the Vice President. Like Colin Powell, her predecessor at State, she now recognizes the pomposity of “with us or against us” and the value in talking to one’s enemies. But the difference between her and Powell is: The president trusts her.

In other words, Powell was too threatening to the other members of the administration because he often challenged their policies and did so straightforwardly. Obviously, he helped beat the drums of war, i.e. his testimony before the U.N., but for what its worth he did so reluctantly. Condi, on the other hand, easily shelfed her reservations about the neo-con world order to become a more influential player and not offend the Great Decider. Now that the President and the Vice President have remained unpopular for so long, her power is measured by how effective she is at preventing future blunders, such as invading Iran, or simply persuading the President to think differently. In other words, Condi is the world’s only hope in preventing this administration making a bad situation even worse.

How is that for a sobering thought?

Interestingly enough, Ronald Regan — a deceased president — was lucky number 13 on the list.