Monday, February 27, 2017

The Outrage Will Not Be Televised!

When six Muslims were killed in Canada Donald Trump gave us silence. Last week, when a legal immigrant from India was killed in Kansas we got the same. Our president and his administration seems to be more comfortable talking about the fictional terrorist attacks that occurred in Atlanta, Bowling Green, and Sweden than it is addressing the renaissance of white nationalism. I hope people of color and religious minorities are taking these slights seriously. This administration's silence about white supremacist attacks on racial and religious minorities, their houses of worship, and their burial sites says more about their concern for you than the lawyerly crafted statements about bigotry they've been guilted into reading days and sometimes weeks later. Don't get it twisted: you were not a key component of their electoral victory and your otherness isn't endearing to them or their conception of what it means to be an American. In other words: you are collateral damage in the fight to "Make America Great Again".

President #TwitterFingers never misses an opportunity to tweet about the media, or call for boycotts against companies he doesn't like, yet he struggles to get his tweets off when it comes to attacks perpetrated by the white supremacists who've aligned themselves with his brand of nationalist populism. His silence is compounded by the silence of his supporters. I’ve been impressed by the lengths some #Trumpstans are willing to go to disconnect the actions of white supremacists from the rhetoric espoused by the president.

Hate crimes committed against Muslims are up 67% in the last few years. Srinivas Kuchibhotla (a man of Indian descent) was killed because xenophobia, bigotry, and hatred have become a (re)normalized part of American life. Sikhs, Hindus and other racial minorities have been the victims of bigoted attacks by people too ignorant to understand who they were supposed to be hating. This could become the new normal. I have friends of Puerto Rican heritage who've been mocked with chants of build that wall. The Trump administration may not be directly responsible for the actions of their supporters, but they put the battery in their backs. At rallies, Trump plays to the fear and hatred of some of his supporters and when something bad happens he denies any culpability. This is a dangerous game. I would rather have a treacherous enemy than a weak-willed ally.

I've read social media posts from people who live in the Blue Ridge Mountains (isolated from racial and religious diversity) that echo the calls for a soft nationalism as advocated by the Alt-right/white supremacist wing of their party. These aren’t inherently bad people; some of them are angry and others are afraid, but all are being misled for the sake of ratings. Many of them don't know the difference between a Sunni Muslim and a Sikh, but they see them both as potential members of Isis. Fox news and conservative talk radio has disseminated so much blatant xenophobia for so long that many of their supporters have tacitly accepted the fact that all brown people want to kill them. When "real" Americans or people of European descent are the victims of terrorism the presses stop and there’s wall to wall coverage, but when black and brown people are the victims of American terrorism there's a noticeable difference in the level of outrage. Here I was thinking #AllLivesMatter. Sadly, there will be more blood spilled by those who equate “Making America Great Again” to making it less colorful. There are people who are questioning what place, if any, they have in America.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Stop Dancing: Milo Isn't Dead!

“ doesn't matter if people love you or hate you, as long as they feel strongly one way or the other. The worst place you can be is in the middle.”

― Eric Bischoff, Controversy Creates Cash

For years, I thought the worst byproduct of the conservative media and blogosphere bubble was the habitual misinformation or "fake news" that’s made political dialogue virtually impossible. I was wrong; in my newly revised opinion, the normalization and profitability of bigotry has been far more damaging than the propaganda disseminated by these outlets. Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, and a plethora of lesser known radio personalities built large audiences (and larger fortunes) by manipulating the fear and (sometimes) hatred of racial, religious, or cultural others. Milo Yiannopoulos is the natural evolution of normalized bigotry. The most successful conservative talking heads use promotional strategies that have more in common with professional wrestling promoters than the politicians trying to gain access to their audience. Milo, Tomi Lahren, and Tommy Sotomayor are picking up where Ann Coulter, Michele Malkin, and Glenn Beck left off. This is the third generation of this brand of vitriolic media conservatism.

Social media is full of people tap dancing on the proverbial grave of Milo Yiannopoulos; sadly, they don’t understand that this isn’t the end of him or his brand of bigotry. Milo is likely to be more powerful this time next year because of the attention he’s receiving. Rush Limbaugh built his EIB network and Glenn Beck built the Blaze in spite of being hated and receiving negative media coverage for their controversial statements. Milo is every bit as capable as they were of setting up his own production and distribution networks; he has the most important thing any media personality needs to be successful: a core audience willing to financially support his ideas. He’s not dead! He will still give the kind of talks he was giving before he lost his book deal. Speaking at CPAC would have helped legitimize him, but it wasn't going to make him anymore influential among his most loyal supporters.  

The right to report, dissent, or satirize without criminal prosecution is often confused with the right to do so without facing any consequences. If Milo is smart he will learn that insulting and dehumanizing black people, brown people, feminists, and Muslims is far more profitable than engaging in the sort of sexual dialogue that caused his corporate sponsors to pull their support. There’s a segment of America that will always support his kind of bigotry. If he self-publishes his book, sets up his own monetized blog or podcast, continues touring, and remembers to limit his attacks to the kind of people corporate America doesn’t mind offending he will be just fine. Pedophilia was a bridge to far for an industry built on pushing the lines of decency.  

Long before Frank Luntz and Republican think tanks were crafting the language Republican politicians use to convey their message, Rush Limbaugh was dropping conservative thought bombs on the mainstream media, intelligentsia, and college campus culture. Many on the left still foolishly believe we are one clever campaign slogan away from winning the hearts and minds of the mythic working-class white voters and young college libertarians who are the core of Milo’s base. This kind of thinking has been around since Dr. George Lakoff wrote “Moral Politics” in 1996. Here’s a news flash: people who use terms like “Cuck”, “Libturd”, or “Libtard” aren’t worried about cogent arguments. I know this feels pretty good for some on the left who were the victims of Milo's verbal assaults, but this isn't his end. I can assure you we will be dealing with his brand of hate for a long time!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Halcast Episode 2

I took part in a "videocast" with radio talk show host and activist Hal Ginsberg, and communications executive and political columnist at Cliston Brown.

I first read Hal's work three years ago on I made my debut appearance on The Hal Ginsberg Morning Show January 5, 2016. I became familiar with Cliston through his weekly "Listen to Cliston" segment on Hal's show. Hal and Cliston are more than colleagues; we've become friends. Hal is a political animal who's challenged me to look at issues from a different perspective; he's deeply committed to serving the underserved in our society. Cliston is one of the best writers in the country. I read his Observer columns regularly. It's one thing to have an idea, but it's quite another thing to articulate that idea in a coherent way. Cliston excels at making the thoughts in his head appear on paper. 

This was the second "Halcast".

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Black History Program 2/16/17

Celebrating Black Education

Joyce Brown Lewis and Renee Cardwell 
Three years ago my wife (Renee Cardwell) was one of the speakers at a historical markers ceremony for the two Rosenwald schools (Union Hurst and T.C. Walker) in Bath County, Virginia. I'll never forget how hard she and the members of their committee worked to make the historical markers a reality. Those markers remind us of the best and worst aspects of Education in America. The teachers of that era made the best of some almost impossible situations. There were too many schools underfunded and underserved by local and state governments; sadly, that's still true today.

Last weekend, I had the honor of addressing a group of alumni from Jeter Watson High School in Covington, Virginia. "Watson" was the black high school for the kids who attended Union Hurst and T.C. Walker. It took Virginia over a decade to comply with the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decison to integrate public schools. Some counties chose to close their school doors in order to avoid educating black and white students together. It seems crazy now, but our parents lived through this madness.

I was touched by the stories we heard from our parents and their classmates. These stories are a constitutive part of American history. For over 240 years black people had no rights. After slavery ended there was an 80 year period of Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, and segregation. Every advancement towards justice has been met by a stiff push back. Justice is always on the horizon, but it has yet to fully warm all of us in its glow. America owes a debt to the lives lost fighting for the promises in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Black History Month, at its best, is a gateway drug to a life committed to the pursuit of justice. I'm not ashamed of where I come from, or the people who produced me. A thousand years from now historians, social scientists, and religious scholars will still be studying this movement and the people who made it possible. This movement won't end until America's promises are a reality. If you're willing to sacrifice popularity and opportunity for the sake of justice there's a place for you in this movement. As a society, we've come far enough to see the progress past generations have made, but we still have a lot of work to do. This fight continues! Our generation owes a debt to the people who sacrificed so much to get us this far and a moral obligation to keep fighting for generations to come.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The War On Public Radio

“Republicans and the new Administration need to demonstrate that we take our fiscal responsibility seriously...That’s why I have reintroduced two pieces of legislation to permanently defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. CPB received $445 million during Fiscal Year 2016, and this money could be put to better use rebuilding our military and enhancing our national security.”
  Congressman Doug Lamborn (CO-05)

During the first presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle Mitt Romney gave Twitter mana from heaven when he said, “I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.” That was a little over four years ago, Big Bird (like many others who depend on The Cooperation for Public Broadcasting) breathed a sigh of relief when Mitt Romney was defeated that November, but that wasn’t the beginning or end of the Republican war on access to Public television and radio.

On January 31st, Congressman Doug Lamborn, from Colorado’s 5th Congressional District introduced two bills H.R. 726 and H.R. 727 to defund NPR and the CPB. H.R. 726 is a bill that, in his words, “Prohibits public radio stations from using federal funds to purchase programming from and/or pay dues to NPR.” In fiscal year 2015 NPR received $81 million dollars from programming fees and dues. The second part of this bill would prohibit direct Federal funding of NPR which would cut another $5 million dollars from their coffers. The congressman’s bill would cut over 40% of NPR’s operational budget. H.R. 727 would end all federal funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting after fiscal year 2019. With two pieces of legislation, one Congressman with a simple majority in both houses could give President Trump a bill that could permanently destroy public access television and radio in America.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has been in the ideological and fiscal crosshairs of the Republican party since its inception in 1967. In 1971 President Nixon denied National Public Radio (NPR) space in the White House press room; this was followed by a 1972 veto of funds allocated to the CPB and the firing of top PBS officials. President Nixon almost killed Public radio and television at a time when neither entity was a thorn in his side. NPR (either out of good journalism or spite) gave voice to the antiwar movement and provided extensive coverage of the Washington Post’s investigations into the Watergate break in and cover up. The national media’s reluctance to cross the Nixon administration gave NPR legitimacy with their core audience, but also to those who opposed the war. NPR barley survived the Nixon administration. NPR didn’t get White House access until Nixon resigned.

For the two years of Ford administration and the four years of the Carter administration, The CPB, NPR, and PBS lived without the threat of elimination. That changed when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. President Reagan’s free market principles fueled his push eliminate federal funding to the CPB. It’s a mathematical fact that Ronald Reagan tripled the federal debt over the course of his two terms, yet his “fiscal conservatism” led him to believe that NPR and PBS shouldn’t be subsidized by the federal government and should fend for themselves in the free market. In 1983 President Reagan asked congress to cut 20% of the funds allocated for CPB funding. These cuts hurt NPR and some of the smaller stations that were heavily dependent on federal dollars. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting survived because listeners got involved and picked up the slack financially. I don’t believe there’s enough evidence for one to be optimistic about NPR and CPB surviving the 115th Congress and the Trump administration. 

Conservative arguments for defunding the CPB are compelling if you hear them without any context. CPB funding falls under the discretionary spending portion of the budget. In 2015 the $445 million dollars appropriated for the CPB (which is the same amount allocated for FY 2017) wasn’t a big enough percent of the budget to make most of the pie charts I researched. A person would have to be disingenuous or terribly bad at math to believe the Federal Budget can be brought back into balance by eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB funding costs taxpayers $1.35 per year. This kind of ideological budget cutting is like a shopaholic trying to balance their personal budget by not buying a pack of chewing gum once a year instead of cutting back on shoes, slacks, and sport coats. The worst part of Congressman Lamborn’s argument is the notion that another $445 million dollars added to the military budget would make anyone safer.

In 2011, the 112th House of Representatives passed a version of Congressman Lamborn’s defund NPR bill on a partisan vote 228-192. There’s no doubt in my mind house Republicans will support this legislation again; this puts even more pressure on Senate Democrats to keep these bills from reaching the President’s desk. Senate Democrats have to vote in unison against H.R. 726 and H.R. 727, and peel off some of the same Republicans who helped them kill this legislation in 2011. The confirmation vote for Betsy DeVos ended with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie. The fact that so many Republicans voted to confirm someone so woefully unqualified to be the Secretary of Education doesn’t bode well for NPR and the CPB. This leaves Senate Democrats with zero room for error if NPR and the CPB are going to survive.

Information is easier to get than ever, yet we’re being dragged towards a post-truth/“alternative facts” reality where truth is a subjective concept instead of an objective one. We have an administration that makes decisions based on how they perceive the very facts they make up. A crowd of a couple hundred thousand can become a million plus, lies are capped off with strong exclamation points designed to end debate, and when in doubt: they fabricate terrorist attacks and then blame the media for not covering them.

NPR has been a solid voice for truth and reason inside to beltway. I know progressives who were dissatisfied with their coverage of the Iraq war and their concerns were warranted, but this has to be an issue the left can unite on. This administration's animus towards the media doesn’t bode well for the future of free public access to information. NPR is just one front in this fight. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds over 1,100 public radio stations; some of these stations are the sole source provider of radio content in their area. Defunding the CPB is another example of Republicans enacting policies that hurt their constituents. Many of the rural radio stations that rely on CPB funding would have to make major cuts in payroll, programing, and services to survive; those will be the lucky ones: others will be forced to close their doors. During an emergency radio has always been a reliable way to get important information out to rural communities. Coordination between emergency management teams, first responders, and the community is a priceless service provided by community radio stations, yet this relationship is in jeopardy to save less than one tenth of one percent of the Federal Budget. This doesn’t make sense.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Black History Month > American Exceptionalism

The myth of American Exceptionalism starts with the Christian belief that God chose to bless this land and “our” forefathers more than the rest of creation. This myth asks us to believe that a loving God smiled down on the massacre of indigenous peoples, the brutal enslavement and murder of Africans, and the subjugation of women. History is full of dissent against this belief and the systems that dehumanized people for the sake of our “Manifest Destiny”. The chest pounding pride many Americans feel is based on an edited version of history and a skewed set of metrics that point to us being number one. When people say they want to get back to the days of America being united under God I shake my head. This Black History Month I want those seeking to quell the unrest in our streets to show me any period in American history where we were all united under God?

America needs people out in the streets if we are ever going to be the utopia country singers write songs about. We have to come to grips with our past and the reality that we still exclude people from the dream. Unrest in the face of injustice is more valuable than any peace that allows indignities to continue. The myth of American Exceptionalism denigrates the courage exhibited by people who decided that accepting the status quo was no longer an option for them. Black history Month, at its best, forces us to acknowledge this reality, but too often the stories we hear about Black people’s move from slavery to “freedom” are drained of their rawness. I don’t fault people for wanting to embrace the myth of American Exceptionalism or its younger sibling post-racial society; the truth is much harder to process than a fairy tale: why else would we read them to kids? If you see enough slogans on hats and hear enough politically driven jargon fantasy can easily replace reality. I wish I didn't know Black babies were used as alligator bait in the Everglades, or that Thomas Jefferson was a serial rapist, or that Woodrow Wilson was a white supremacist. I wish these things weren't part of our history, but they are. 

We should dedicate this Black History Month to destroying the myths about America that allow bigoted institutions to exist. Black people can only do so much when it comes to destroying the racist ideas that are part of the American narrative. People who aren’t affected by a particular bias have a moral responsibility to make the exercise of bigotry so uncomfortable that it dies. If men don’t allow human resources departments to discriminate against women: hiring practices based on gender would die; If heterosexuals decided tomorrow that we won’t tolerate any form of discrimination against people who fall outside of the heteronormative spectrum: that form of discrimination dies; and if white people decided that institutional racism can no longer be practiced: systems that have perpetuated the myth of white supremacy will die. Individual prejudices are the life’s blood of institutional bigotry. If the lady at the hardware store doesn’t like Black people that’s her right. I won’t waste my energy trying to convince her she’s wrong about her bias. She doesn’t have enough power to use her bigotry to harm those she dislikes; however, if the same woman became a judge or a cop her biases would be wedded to power in a way that could be injurious to Black people: this is where our fight is.  

Race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation have always been factored into how receptive the American family is its individual members. We can’t have an honest discussion about America without discussing these classifications, and how they continue to situate people. Most of the beliefs we hold about each other were passed down to us by people who were taught by people who might not have known better. All of us are built on a foundation laid by our culture. Anyone claiming to have transcended preconceived notions and prejudice is either too na├»ve to understand how the subconscious works or too afraid to admit what lies in the darkest recesses of their heart. Having preconceived notions or prejudices doesn’t make you a bad person; however, choosing not to confront injustice makes you just as guilty as those who allow their bigotry and hatred to drive them to inflict harm on others. Prejudices become harmful when they cause us to ignore the injustices people face. If you see someone drowning me and don’t attempt to stop them it doesn’t matter that you didn’t harm me, or how much you wanted to help me: I’m still dead.

We can’t continue wasting our time fighting people who don't have power. We should focus solely on fighting above our weight class. Calling out ignorance for the sake of calling out ignorance doesn’t solve anything. Every minute we spend fighting with people who can’t help or harm us is a minute lost. This doesn’t mean we don’t engage the world around us, but we can’t allow people who might not be equipped to discuss complex issues hijack our time: let's quit fighting trolls on social media and fight the ideas that fuel their ignorance. Black History month doesn't have to be a ritual. We can use this month to learn from Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, Fannie Lou Hamer and Diane Nash and then put their strategies in practice.