Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pushed Out Of The Tent?

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.
-- Frederick Douglass
This is my favorite quote from Frederick Douglass. It’s a divine truth; its wisdom is applicable to any epoch. Every person will have to deal with questions of justice, poverty, ignorance, and class. Douglass knew firsthand that Justice, in the form of basic freedom, ranked higher than issues connected to poverty, ignorance, or class. I struggle trying to find new ways to explain this to some of our allies on the left. The election of Donald Trump has caused some to question whether the Democratic party should continue to advocate for people who have “identities” that are problematic to electoral success. If the Democratic party is willing to eschew Justice for the sake of victory in 2018 and 2020 it will end up more fractured than it is now, and I promise, there will be no victories to show for the effort.

When I read Hal Ginsberg’s blog and the articles he cited to ground his political and theoretical musings I was amazed at how negotiable the lived experiences of some of the Democratic party’s most loyal supporters are to some in intelligentsia. After I read all three articles I was left with some questions. Why do so many progressives believe they have to choose between racial/social justice and economic justice? How would the Democratic party convince committed activists to move away from addressing issues of civil rights and social justice? Does this new party positioning mean the economic left and environmental left have to work harder to ignore issues involving race and gender? Why do progressives ignore the economic interests of people of color when they write about the economic hardships facing working class whites? When did progressives subscribe to the Ronald Reagan economic theory that a rising tide of working class white relief lifts all boats? For years, the left has mocked the Republican party as being the stupid party, but now we have academicians publicly admitting we probably can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

In one of the pieces Mr. Ginsberg cited Mark Lilla wrote, “In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing.” As I think back to what’s been happening over the course of the last 3 or 4 years I wonder which issues the professor would have had us stand down on. Should we have ignored the Draconian laws states like Indiana and North Carolina implemented against members of the LGBTQ community? Should we have pulled back our support for women fighting for equal pay and against state legislation designed to rollback their reproductive rights? Should we remain perfectly still the next time we’re confronted with cell phone or dash cam footage of an unarmed Black man being murdered by the police? I wish I knew the difference between moral panic and righteous indignation. I’m unable to rank sovereign identity specific issues in a way that places them below the fight against trade deals. On a side note: who had a higher net worth Eric Garner or Walter Scott? It doesn’t matter: both were murdered for the world to see and none of the officers involved were held responsible.

Most of the articles I’ve read calling for the Democratic party to rebrand itself for 2018 have been written by people who don’t have to worry about voting precincts being closed in their communities. The authors of these strategies for the future don’t have to worry about the consequences of Planned Parenthood facilities being shuttered. I haven’t read any work produced by members of the LGBTQ community calling for the Democratic party to pull back from issues they support. Why are so many, with nothing to lose, arguing so hard for the Democratic party to abandon some of its most vulnerable constituents?

In the second piece cited by Hal, Alex Seitz-Wald writes:
To win back the white working class voters who populate both states, Democrats would likely need to de-prioritize policies that are either unimportant or alienating to these voters, like immigration reform, and so-called identity issues to refocus on a bread-and-butter economic message.
There’s a tone deafness at work in his writing that I assume he isn’t even aware of: de-prioritize policies that are either unimportant or alienating… so-called identity issues. If I didn’t read this article myself I would have thought those words came from a conservative think tank. He does go on a paragraph or so later to concede there’s no guarantee that this strategy would work, but the dismissive nature of his words have already caused damage. It’s hard to form unity with people who view issues related to the life and liberty of half of their allies as something that may need to be “de-prioriorized. If this is what the smart people are saying about us in public what are the not so smart people saying in private?

To be fair, Hal attempts to thread a complicated needle that the other writers chose to ignore, but he didn’t put much meat on the bone as to how we could successfully tie the existential needs of the identity specific crowd to the economic needs of working class whites. I feel very strongly we must avoid the false solutions provided by either or propositions. Near the end of his blog Hal writes:
To become the dominant national party again, Democrats must unite behind policies that serve the economic interests of poor, working-class, and middle-class Americans. This means fighting against every trade deal that pits fairly paid domestic workers against overseas laborers making 90% less. It also means fighting for, among other things, 1) higher taxes on the wealthy, 2) unions, 3) universal healthcare, 4) a tight safety net from birth to death, and 5) truly affordable higher education for all who are qualified. Indeed, this is so crucial for the party’s success, that it must adopt as a litmus test for its candidates a demonstrated commitment to redistribution of wealth and income down.

Hal makes a great populist argument. If the only goal of the Democratic party moving forward is to put a chicken in every pot- then this paragraph is worthy of being part of the platform in 2020, but if we do all of those things and it doesn’t stop the extrajudicial murder of Black people at the hands of police, if women have lost their reproductive rights and access to healthcare, if the LGBTQ community is still facing bigoted legislation, and brown, yellow, and red people are subjected to new indignities how does dominant national party status help society’s most vulnerable?

I see the telltale signs of the economic hardships working class whites have been enduring. Southwest Virginia has some real horror stories. Their suffering is real. We should fight against global polices that breed the poverty that causes resentment, but not at the expense of people who don't have a voice. We don't have to choose between these issues. If we are as smart as we profess to be we can figure out how to protect the voting rights of Black people in the south at the same time we help their white coworkers get raises or better jobs. I want to finish with a quote that may clean up what my inartful writing style might have messed up:
Finally, let us understand that when we stand together, we will always win. When men and women stand together for justice, we win. When black, white and Hispanic people stand together for justice, we win.
-- Bernie Sanders

 This is in no way an attempt to demean or belittle Hal Ginsberg. He has been a friend.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

No Negotiations Without Preconditions

Image result for steve harvey trump

No Black person with a prominent platform should meet with Donald Trump or representatives from the Trump administration without preconditions. The United States government has a long-standing policy of setting preconditions for negotiating with hostile state actors. This is a policy Black America should employ as we move into the age of Trumpism. The duplicitous nature of Donald Trump’s rhetoric has damaged any credibility his words have. If he’s serious about his outreach efforts (something I doubt) his next move needs to be his best move. The CDC and Pfizer couldn’t make a panacea capable of eradicating his past racial transgressions, or the racially insensitive attacks on Barack Obama, but taking some bold steps in the right direction would be a good start to open the space for future negotiations.

First, he should withdraw the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. It was painfully obvious watching his confirmation hearing testimony that Sessions sees more law enforcement as a viable solution to problems facing the inner-city. More police on the streets does not address the socioeconomic factors that push kids into a life of crime. Redoubling the presence of law enforcement in struggling communities and giving them carte blanche to violate the civil rights of Americans based on race and ethnicity might offer short-term relief to those looking at these problems from the safety of their television screens, but it would further exacerbate the mistrust between police departments and the communities they work in. Stop-and-Frisk was a net failure that emboldened bad officers and put good officers in harm’s way. Jeff Sessions' inability to give clear and succinct answers about investigations into municipalities and police departments with problematic racial histories was, to me, more disqualifying than his alleged racism. If he can’t or won’t acknowledge the abuses of police power Federal probes have uncovered inside cities like Ferguson and Chicago how can those communities trust him to do what’s in their best interests?

Next, Donald Trump should ask for Steve Bannon’s resignation and publicly disavow, in unambiguous terms, the white supremacist elements inside the Alt-Right and other fringe groups he helped elevate. He can’t have it both ways. His most loyal supporters have the rare ability to parse every Trump tweet, and defend his almost weekly indefensible statements, but the majority of Americans, irrespective of race, don’t have this ability. Donald Trump is too comfortable with people who use terms like “feral” and “subhuman” to describe ethnic and racial minorities. Whatever talents or skill set Steve Bannon has to offer is offset by the platform he built for racists. Saying Trump is not a racist doesn’t negate the racism he and Steve Bannon benefited from. Steve Bannon not only provided a platform for racists to espouse their beliefs, but he profited from it. Once someone knowingly benefits from racism it doesn’t matter if they are racist or not.

Image result for trump black pastors

Donald Trump has proven that he’s incapable of going more than a few days without saying or tweeting something offensive. He needs to build some trust. Anyone surprised that he would tweet out such a ridiculous statement about Representative John Lewis on MLK weekend must have forgotten about a guy named John McCain. Donald Trump’s inability to process critique of any kind will be a hindrance to his ability to govern; this deficiency will affect all Americans, but If Trump wants to show Black America he’s serious about his outreach, he will quit trying to win us over with celebrities. Maybe he could seek the counsel of the best and brightest Black people in America instead of the richest and most entertaining. If he were to come up with policy proposals capable of improving the lives of people affected by decades of bad trade agreements and centuries of systemic racism, he could use his concrete actions to build the bridge he destroyed with his mouth and Twitter account. Donald Trump’s symbolic Black celebrity photo op outreach campaign is failing miserably. When he asked Black people, “what the hell do you have to lose?” It was obvious he didn’t listen to what we were saying about Trayvon, Tamir, Sandra, Freddie, Walter, or Philando. His rhetoric and cabinet appointments are symptoms of his tone deafness.   

If you look hard enough you can see the shame!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Diane Nash: Still Fighting

Image result for diane nash


Diane Nash

Almost 60 years after embarking on a mission to end segregation at lunch counters in Tennessee, Diane Nash is still fighting to end systems of discrimination and oppression. I had the distinct honor of hearing her speak at the Lenfest Center for the Arts on the campus of Washington and Lee University. She talked about her personal philosophy and commitment to justice. I recorded several portions of her talk for a news story about the event. She's a remarkable woman and an American treasure. The women of the Civil Rights Movement have been largely overshadowed by their male contemporaries, but they made sacrifices most of us can't imagine. Diane Nash spent 30 days in jail while she was pregnant with her first child. Her crime: contributing to the delinquency of minors; she encouraged black and white kids to sit beside each other on school buses.

This story is just a brief snippet of a life well lived. I encourage anyone taking time out of their day to engage this post to do more research on this phenomenal woman!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Commerce Clause and Rising Oil Prices

Article I - The Legislative Branch
Section 8
Clause 3:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;
“The authority to regulate commerce includes the right to control nearly all areas of the national economy.”
Chief Justice John Marshall 1824

The Commerce Clause was never clearly defined until 1824 when the Supreme Court heard the case of Gibbons v. Ogden. The case was the result of exclusive rights to the steamboat industry in the state of New York. The court ruled that the federal government, not the states had the power to regulate commerce across state lines. This case and the majority opinion was the birth of bureaucratic government regulatory agencies.

The 115th Congress was sworn in on January 3rd with the goal of repealing Obamacare, rolling back regulations on businesses and capital markets, and restoring law and order. The Commerce Clause, at its best, is a reactionary tool used to protect citizens from the criminal intent of those in the business of increasing the profits of large corporations and financial institutions. In theory, once a particular form of graft has been detected, congress would investigate the inner workings of said criminal activity and produce laws preventing others from being injured by such behavior in the future. None of this is likely to happen under the Republican leadership.

A decade after signs of the impending crash of the real-estate backed securities bubble started emerging, the GOP leadership has promised to eliminate many of the regulations put in place by the Obama administration. Based on the last 6 weeks of activity in capital markets, Wall Street is feeling pretty good about their prospects for 2017. We’re likely to continue seeing value added to capital markets throughout the calendar year, but what kind of long-term pain are the American people in for once the band stops playing?

I’m certain oil prices are going back to 2008-2009 levels in the next 18 months to two years. I offer two points to support this claim: 1. Donald Trump’s pro-Russian sensitivities combined with the fact his cabinet is filled with plethora of pro oil climate change deniers make it likely he will use executive orders to lighten regulations on the oil industry. 2. We have a Republican congress that can roll back regulations on financial market speculations. I think we are going to see synthetic CDO’s based on oil futures drive oil prices up. The price of a barrel of oil closed at $53.99 on 1/6/17 that’s almost twice as high as the low mark in 2016. In fact, 2016 was the cheapest year at the pumps since 2004.

Cheap oil prices are hurting Russia and Iran, (as well as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria) but Russia is better situated to benefit from a Trump administration. Russia is likely to get sanction relief while Iran is likely to face more sanctions. Both nations would benefit from higher oil prices, but for the Russian economy to get relief oil only has to reach $100.00 dollars a barrel; Iran needs oil to get to $130.00 a barrel to put their annual budgets back in line. I believe the Trump administration will use more sanctions and tough talk against Iran to distract the media from their efforts to help the Russian economy. I also believe the media will continue doing a poor job of covering the stories that have an impact on the lives of most Americans. While the right hand is working with the Russian government the media will be busy covering the left hand tweeting.

We will have a Presidential cabinet in place that has largely avoided the kind of congressional scrutiny we’ve seen in the past. According to Joy Reid’s reporting, “many of the key appointees haven’t filled out ethics and financial disclosure forms for proper vetting to take place.” Jeff Sessions is a great example of a useful distraction; while his confirmation hearing is likely to be the one most covered by the media, his agenda for the Justice department could be easily fulfilled by a number of less known and controversial white supremacists. In other words, what we know about him and his racism will ultimately be less damaging to the long-term financial health of our nation than what we don’t know about the economic interest of Donald Trump and many of those around him.

Anyone with oil holdings in their portfolio will see a real boom before the next bust. We’ve been down this road before. Over the next few years we could very well see a continuation of the Obama recovery. The Federal Reserve will incrementally raise interest rates, but the cheap money policies that fueled the recovery will be replaced with pro-business deregulatory policies that offer favorable returns to those at the top of the economic ladder while providing little, if any, relief to those of us who will be paying for the impending tax cuts and the border wall with Mexico. The 115th Congress will use their ability to create or destroy regulations to shape the next decade. Based on the Republicans historical record that should give all of us pause, but then shake us into action. Instead of ruminating on 2016, maybe it’s time to come up with plausible strategies for our fight in 2017? 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Netanyahu: America's Favorite Thug

There’s been so much written about any potential influence Vladimir Putin could exert over Donald Trump that the influence Benjamin Netanyahu already has over him was largely ignored. The United Nations Security Council’s decision to call the Israeli settlements illegal, coupled with the incoming Trump administration's reaction to it, has pushed those of us still engaged in the political process back to our partisan cubbyholes on all things Israel. On Fox news, this story is being sold as President Obama’s final act of hostility against Israel: there might be some screw you aimed at Israel on the president’s part, but that doesn’t negate the principles that undergird the U.S. decision to abstain from vetoing Resolution 2334. The 4th Geneva Convention is the basis for the settlements being illegal. Our past UN vetoes have only emboldened Israel to keep building on contested lands. At the end of 2014 Israel begrudgingly slowed down the construction of settlements, but overall Israel has built more settlements during the Obama administration than during the Bush years. I’ve read articles and tweets from some very smart people who saw the UN’s decision as something to celebrate, but the reality is: the daily life of the average Palestinian and Jewish person affected by this decision is likely to get worse. 

Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to this resolution confirms what I’ve always thought about him: he’s a thug. I respect his gangster mentality even though I don’t respect his governance. I know thuggish behavior when I see it; Just like Kevin Hart’s "Uncle Richard Junior", Netanyahu is a thug. He could survive in any hood or prison on the planet. This is why he and Vladimir Putin have had a distinct advantage over President Obama, and why they will likely have more influence over President-Elect Trump. Real recognizes real. Violence, and even a propensity to engage in violence isn’t enough to make someone a thug. There are men who engage in domestic violence as a way of experiencing power over another person; that is faux strength. Bibi isn’t boxing the Palestinian people in because they are weak and he has more military might: he’s doing it because they are in his way. His real fight is with the international community. He sees the UN and any state actor who doesn’t acquiesce to his geopolitical plans for Israel as the real enemy. Netanyahu used President Obama’s diplomatic sensitivities and desire to be respected against him. President Obama would beat around the bush to criticize Israeli policies while Bibi would deflect the criticism and get in front of a microphone and clearly issue disrespectful statements against him. Netanyahu will be able to push Donald Trump in any direction he needs him to go. Most Americans, have an uncritical support of Israel. We will blindly support them no matter the circumstances and a Trump administration will only embolden him. Donald needs to be seen as strong and supporting Israel is one way to accomplish this.

Trump looks up to strong leaders because of the respect they command; he goes around bragging about himself while guys like Benjamin Netanyahu  and Vladimir Putin just exude the strength and confidence he wishes he had. I don’t believe Trump could’ve handled some of the potential conflicts of interests the way his two favorite state actors did. The Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict should’ve been an area where Netanyahu and Putin butted heads, but they didn’t. They were able to sit down and talk about their intentions inside of Syria. President Obama was hammered by conservatives for not supporting Israel, but when the United States and NATO were condemning Russia’s support of the Assad regime Netanyahu was as quiet as a church mouse. Think about it, Assad is down with Iran and Hezbollah, but Bibi wasn’t concerned with Putin propping up a regime that supports state actors who openly oppose the Jewish state? That’s O.G. behavior. When Bloods are making money with Gangster Disciples they don’t let the relationship between the (G.D.’s) and Crips get in the way of that. Americans are so reluctant to call out power brokers when they engage in thug behavior. I don’t believe Trump could’ve navigated that situation as calmly as either leader. He needs to be validated at every turn, and I don’t think his ego could handle someone willfully engaging with a known enemy.

Since Resolution 2334 was passed, critiques of the Jewish state and a possible two-state solution have ranged from technocratic policy papers worthy of a PhD to Twitter garbage worth less than 140 characters. Both approaches will yield the same outcome: nothing! There’s no such thing as a two-state solution if the land you’re trying to divide looks like it was carved up by gerrymandering Republicans from the south. The settlements must stop! The starting point for most discussions over who has the right to this land usually devolves into a game of Trivia Pursuit covering the last five thousand years and prophecies stretched across three religious books. Too many people are trapped in the Sisyphean game of determining the chicken or egg of middle-east aggressions. I understand the need to historicize, but there are too many people who (in my opinion) place more importance on events of the 13th and 14th century than decisions made in 1947 and 1967. The dispute over access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque typifies this: my big brother was alive when Israel occupied it.

Israel can’t bear the full responsibility for trying usher in peace, but they have to be willing to extend an olive branch instead of burning them down. I won’t deny the existence of bad actors in the region. There are religious zealots who want to spread a global caliphate; likewise, there are those in the Israeli government and the west who would gladly reduce parts of the middle-east to ruble. Both groups are foolish. Every security gate leads to a pat down; which creates tension; which leads to knife and brick attacks; which leads to mortar fire. This cycle works in any order. War is sometimes necessary, but Israel and the west can't kill their way out of this problem. As Americans, we have to accept the reality that our governments financial support of the Israeli military comes with a price greater than the cost of bombs and rockets. America has to be open to the idea that everything Israel does isn't right.

America will always love Benjamin Netanyahu; he is the ultimate law and order politician. In his zeal to maintain what he understands as peace he ignores any role his government plays in adding to the hostilities. If he had his way no one would question him about the settlements or any of the daily indignities visited on Palestinian people by settlers. Bibi, like any gangster, wasn’t upset that the settlements were deemed illegal, he’s always known they were; he was upset that Obama and Kerry allowed him to be snitched on. His comments are very telling, “Friends Don't Take Friends to UN Security Council.” He doesn’t even consider the legitimacy of the Resolution. Peace for most reactionaries is at odds with justice. Most often peace is equated to people suffering in silence. In 1967 Dr. King used the term No Justice No Peace as a unifying cry between protests for Civil rights and against the Vietnam war. 49 years after the Israeli invasion that led to the capture of the Al-Aqsa Mosque it looks like it could be another 49 years before Justice has a chance to usher in peace. Again, chicken or egg logic won't solve this problem. I wouldn’t tell anyone in that region they shouldn't be afraid, but I would hope they cope with their fear better than the individuals who allow it to dominate their decision making. Benjamin Netanyahu is thug, but at least he’s not a coward. A coward might have taken the nuclear option by now.

“the Zionist argument to justify Israel’s present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history.”           Malcolm X