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Race In America

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

The week of June 22, 2015 was a historic one for Progress, with Confederate flags coming down in Southern capitals, Gay Marriage legalized throughout the country and Obamacare saved once again from the most recent conservative attempt to destroy it. The week was capped off by an incredible eulogy given by President Obama at the funerals of the 9 members of a historic black church in Charleston, SC.

Earlier in the week, Obama got Elizabeth Hassleback and the folks at Fox riled up with his use of the “N-word” in an interview with Marc Maron. Discussing race relations, Obama noted

Racism, we are not cured of. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.

Obama’s statement brought me back to this fragment of a post that I wrote a few months ago regarding race in America in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and it’s aftermath.


I’ve been debating this week with My Conservative Uncle and another conservative sparring partner about our favorite hot button topic: Race in America.

It started this time with the dual announcements that the Justice Department didn’t press civil rights charges against Darren Wilson in the shooting of an unarmed teenager Michael Brown and the report documenting a pattern of racial discrimination in Ferguson. Like many other people, I questioned the decision not to charge Wilson and I continue to believe that the Ferguson police department made a bad situation worse in the way they handled the situation. But the Justice Department went  much further than the grand jury and the preosecutor, not only not charging him, but exonerating him. As Ta Nehesi Coates notes

The investigation concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove a violation of federal law by Officer Wilson. The investigation concluded much more. The investigation concluded that physical evidence and witness statements corroborated Wilson’s claim that Michael Brown reached into the car and struck the officer. It concluded that claims that Wilson reached out and grabbed Brown first “were inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence.”  

The investigation concluded that there was no evidence to contradict Wilson’s claim that Brown reached for his gun. The investigation concluded that Wilson did not shoot Brown in the back. That he did not shoot Brown as he was running away. That Brown did stop and turn toward Wilson. That in those next moments “several witnesses stated that Brown appeared to pose a physical threat to Wilson.” That claims that Brown had his hands up “in an unambiguous sign of surrender” are not supported by the “physical and forensic evidence,” and are sometimes, “materially inconsistent with that witness’s own prior statements with no explanation, credible for otherwise, as to why those accounts changed over time.”

My uncle seized on this finding, but buried the lead by not mentioning the 100 page Justice Department report documenting widespread racial discrimination in the Ferguson police department. My other conservative “sparring partner” is a former police officer who objected to the superficial finding (as did many in conservative media) that 86% of traffic stops are of black residents while only 67% of Ferguson residents are black.

But to cite this statistic alone is to distort the report. In fact, it doesn’t even complete the sentence, which should read more like: black people are pulled over and searched more often, despite the fact that the white people who are pulled over and searched are more likely to be found with contraband.

The Justice Department’s Ferguson report is a detailed statistical analysis backed up by a shocking parade of horribles documenting abuse of power by police. It’s a portrait of a city that decided to use its poorest citizens as an ATM to fund their city government and a police force that took that pressure to generate revenue to the extreme.

“Officers routinely conduct stops that have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law,” the report states. “Issuing three or four charges in one stop is not uncommon. Officers sometimes write six, eight, or, in at least one instance, fourteen citations for a single encounter.” Some officers compete to see who can issue the most citations in a single stop.

Just to put a cherry on top, they also document racist jokes that have been e-mailed at multiple levels of the Ferguson PD and court system.

Defenders of the Ferguson PD say that this is not racial bias, that it’s evidence of liberal big government run amok, but a National Review article arguing that racial bias is not shown in the report includes the following:

The tendency of police to be on the lookout for crime combines with the pressures to prove productivity and the knowledge that poorer residents are the most squeezable turnips. In such a situation, who can be surprised that racial tensions have been increasing for years?

Far more alarming in Ferguson than whether vestigial racism animates a policeman here and there is the perversion of the law, and of the positions of those sworn to protect it, to buck up the treasury on the backs of the most vulnerable, whoever they may be.

Okay, so now we’re admitting that there were police abuses, but we’re being told that it wasn’t racial animus that motivated the police, it was the pressure of city officials for revenue generation and the fact that poorer people are easier targets and black people are poorer…

This is pretty weak tea if it’s supposed to be a defense of the Ferguson Police Department, and it’s probably cold comfort for the black residents of Ferguson who were victims of this targeting. Don’t be silly, black people, you weren’t targeted because you’re black, you were targeted because you’re poor!

But I didn’t really intend to write a post about Ferguson. What I wanted to talk about is how the meaning of the word “racist” does little to illuminate actual racial bias in this country.  In addition to the Ferguson report, the other hot button racial news of the day was the viral video of the members of the SAE fraternity at the University of Oklahoma chanting about how “there will never be a nigger (at) SAE” and celebrating the  lynching of black people.  Two students seen in the video have been identified and have since issued apologies (or had people issue apologies for them).  In one statement, the parents of one student state “we know his heart, and he is not a racist.”

You know what?  I get what they’re saying. Let’s give the kid the benefit of the doubt and say that he would not participate in a lynching of a black man and he probably wouldn’t argue that blacks should be denied the rights that white Americans are given. Let’s go further and take his parents statement that he was “raised to be loving and inclusive, and we all remain surrounded by a diverse, close knit group of friends.” Let’s even assume that he has a black friend. Given what we’ve assumed and what we’ve seen, can he qualify as racist?  The only way you can justify a statement like the one his parents issued is to define racism as only one narrow thing: old fashioned KKK, Nazi Skinhead type racism. And I’ll give conservatives that one thing: that type of racism is extremely rare in America these days.

But what’s less rare are pervasive racial stereotypes that still exist in our society. As Coates has argued

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.

This is obviously a softer definition and maybe it is more like racial bias than racism. This is the kind of discrimination you see in the Donald Trump’s Birtherism, or Rudy Giuliani’s statement that President Obama “doesn’t love America… not in the way you and I do.” It’s the kind of bigotry that allows us to excuse an all white police force when they basically occupy a majority black town, ticketing residents for victimless crimes and making criminals out of a majority of residents. It’s the kind of racial prejudice that is expressed in jokes and chants on playgrounds all over this country (and all over the world) and in frats and social clubs behind closed doors. It’s America’s original sin and evidence that, even with a black president, we’re far from the post-racial society that conservatives would like us to believe we’re living in.

It’s refreshing to have a President who not only understands this, but who acknowledges it in public.

One Big Drag

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Well, it’s been about 3 and  a half months since I wrote anything for this forum. That’s due to a combination of factors including post election fatigue and just being busy with life, but it also reflects a disgust with the state of politics in this country.

There’s an old radical saying; “if elections changed anything, they’d be illegal.” I’m not usually a subscriber to this idea (imagine how different the trajectory of this country would have been if Al Gore won 800 more votes in Florida in 2000), but I do think that the differences between one party and another winning any given election often make only incremental changes in the country.

Jonathan Alter in his new book, The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, makes an argument that 2008 was a very significant election in American political history, but this argument is based not on Obama’s own agenda, but on the reactionary agenda of the Republicans who sought to unseat him. As Alter argues, if the Republicans were to take the Presidency and the House, it would have represented a significant rightward shift in American politics. The mere fact of Obama’s re-election insures that the Republican agenda to use the budget crisis to force radical changes to the social safety net is not going to happen. Rachel Maddow made this point beautifully in her MSNBC promo about the aftermath of the election.

 We are not going to have a Supreme Court that overturns Roe versus Wade.

We are not going to repeal health reform.

We are not going to give a 20% tax cut to millionaires and billionaires.

We are not going to amend the United States Constitution to stop gay people from getting married.

We are not eliminating the Department of Energy.

We are not letting Detroit go bankrupt. We are not vetoing the DREAM Act.

We had the choice to do that and we said ‘no.’”

I love this ad and I’m so proud of the small part I played in Obama’s election, but at a certain point, you want all of your effort to do a little more than stop the Republicans from enacting their agenda. I don’t want to harken back to some era of good feelings that never existed, but when you have a Tea Party beholden House whose reelection depends on demonizing the president of the United States and looks at compromise as a bad word, that’s not going to make for much legislative progress, even on an issue where large majorities of Americans support a specific policy. If there was any doubt about this, the epic Congressional failures of the sequester and the push for even the most incremental steps on gun control should have extinguished it.

So, I’m feeling a little complacent these days. The mere election of Obama insures that the Republicans won’t be able to fundamentally change the country, but the election of a Republican Congress means that we need to get used to the idea that not much is going to get done in this country for the next two years and any progress is going to come slowly if it comes at all. There’s still a chance that the Republicans may begin to understand that they are in real danger of having the ridiculous failure of the sequester be their most significant legislative accomplishment and will overcome their refusal to compromise with Obama, but I’d say it’s an outside chance at this point. This is tragic given the problems this country faces, but it’s the reality in the Tea Party Era.

Expect to hear from me every once in a while when I get inspired. Until then, you can follow me on Twitter: @PMilazz.

Milazz on Vacation

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Hey All,

Took a long vacation over the New Year to get over the election hangover and haven’t quite made it back to reality yet.

I will be back in the swing soon, so check back in a bit for some more musings on the sad state of politics in the Greatest Country on Earth.


Laughable Republican Outrage About Defense Policy and Politics

Monday, May 14th, 2012

So, the Republicans win the award for chutspa this month for their implausible outrage over the politicization of the death of Osama bin Laden. To be sure, I thought that the president’s world tour to celebrate the death of bin Laden was a little overdone, but it paled in comparison to Bush and Karl Rove’s eight year politicization of the Commander in Chief position. As Jon Stewart hilariously pointed out, this is the same president who landed on an aircraft carrier wearing a giant stuffed jockstrap to early kickoff his campaign and declare victory in a war that would go on for another 8 years. 

As bad as I thought Karl Rove and Co. were for the country, I had to admire how good they were at playing the dirty game of politics. They took a decorated Vietnam war veteran, running against a draft dodger whose only previous military experience was defending the coast of Texas from the Red Menace, and made the war veteran into the guy who was afraid to defend America. They kept an entire nation in a constant state of fear so that they could maintain their power. The terror alerts were ubiquitous, and even the Secretary of Homeland Security said that he felt politically pressured to issue them at points that would increase the president’s chance at re-election. 

Their entire campaign in 2004 was based on “if you elect John Kerry, you and your family will die a horrible death from terrorism” During that campaign, the Vice President himself said “If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we’ll get hit again — that we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”

I believe the next thing he said was “HWAAAAH…

Republicans have said that it’s allright to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, but that suggesting that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have made the same decision is out of bounds. A close look at the record shows that Mitt Romney’s position on this has been nuanced (he attacked Obama for saying that he would violate Pakistan’s sovereignty to go after Osama bin Laden and other high-value targets, but under questioning clarified that he would “maintain that option”), but it’s certainly within bounds to ask whether the more cautious Mitt Romney would have gone against the counsel of his top defense aides to launch the raid.  More importantly, to hear the same people who attacked Vietnam War Veteran John Kerry as soft on defense in 2004 complain about this political line of attack is laughable.

Is it good for the country for the president to be using his record of defending the country as a way to score cheap political opponents on his opponents? Probably not.

But politics ain’t bean bag and the Republicans been doing it for years. I’m just happy to see that the Democrats stopped fighting for the most important position in the world with one hand tied behind their back.

Obamacare Supreme Court Primer

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Here’s Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff with everything you need to know about health care reform’s Supreme Court debut.

They provide some good links to analysis of the case. It looks as though most scholars seem to agree that, whether you like the individual mandate or not, there is a ton of Supreme Court precedent that supports the ability of Congress to enact a law like this. The Commerce Clause in the Constitution gives Congress the ability to regulate interstate commerce, and as Bloomberg View puts it

The question is what qualifies as interstate commerce. For most of the second half of the 20th century, the answer has been clear…pretty much anything.

Is a farmer growing wheat for his own consumption engaging in interstate commerce? Yes. A small restaurant in Alabama refusing to seat blacks? Yes. A sick Californian growing her own medicinal marijuana, as allowed by state law? Yes. And so on.

and if these cases are considered appropriate use of the Interstate Commerce Clause, then certainly a requirement that is central to controlling the cost of an industry that accounts for 18% of the economy qualifies as well.

And lest you are tempted to cite the Founding Fathers to denounce requiring purchase of a private good, you would be wise to remember that George Washington signed a bill in 1792 mandating that all free men purchase a gun (Big Government indeed).

Perhaps the most interesting take on the Supreme Court’s decision comes from Dahlia Lithwick, who predicts that the Justices will stay away from a narrow decision striking down the law and keep their powder dry for the upcoming battle to dismantle the Warren Court’s legacy:

They will hear six hours of argument next week. They will pretend it is a fair fight with equally compelling arguments on each side. They will even reach out and debate the merits of the Medicaid expansion, although not a single court saw fit to question it. And then the justices will vote 6-3 or 7-2 to uphold the mandate, with the chief justice joining the majority so he can write a careful opinion that cabins the authority of the Congress to do anything more than regulate the health-insurance market…. And then—having been hailed as the John Marshall of the 21st century—he will proceed to oversee two years during which the remainder of the Warren Court revolution will be sent through the wood chipper.

Lithwick’s analysis sounds about right to me. Say what you will about John Roberts, but you have to admire his ability to smile politely and show the world a reasonable disposition while he works behind the scenes to radically alter the rules of the political system that Americans have come to understand them in the modern era. 

I say he and his team pass on this one so they have a freer hand when the eyes of the country aren’t focused on them.

The Pink Slime in Your Burgers

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

I heard about this a few months ago from a friend, but didn’t understand it until I saw the video and read this article from Mother Jones. This is like something from a sci-fi movie about a dystopian future, but it’s very real and the chances are you’ve been eating it, since it’s in most burgers in the United States. Meanwhile, as public disgust forces coroprations to remove it from their meat products, the USDA continues to purchase it to feed to our schoolchildren.

Don’t get me wrong, just like Jamie Oliver, I love a good burger, and in fact, my family’s business was built on beef. But if you’re selling me beef, sell me beef. And if the beef you’re selling me is actually connective tissue processed with ammonia, you’d better tell me that too. Dumping a bunch of chemicals on meat makes those ingredients, not just a process.

Just a particularly sickening example of how bought off US regulatory agencies are by the industries they are supposed to be policing.

The South Carolina Gauntlet

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Fresh from his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney now heads to South Carolina, which will either have the effect of effectively wrapping up the nomination for him, or presaging a long, drawn out primary process.

South Carolina has a deserved reputation as the most brutal states in the Republican presidential nominating process and could potentially pose serious problems for Mitt Romney. As Steve Kornacki notes:

On paper, the state embodies all of the demographic realities and intraparty dynamics that have made him such a tough sell to the party base. If Romney’s Mormonism really is a deal-breaker with the religious right, we will find out. About 60 percent of the state’s GOP primary universe is composed of evangelical Christians, a group that Romney has struggled with in both of his presidential campaigns. The state is also the unofficial capital of Tea Party Republicanism, with its emphasis on ideological purity and intense suspicion of the party establishment. Romney, with his economically moderate past and reputation as the “next in line” guy, reeks of the type of Republican South Carolina conservatives turned on in 2010. His Yankee roots surely don’t help, either. No wonder Romney won just 15 percent in the state in 2008 — by far his worst showing in any early contest that year.

Still, perhaps more important for the tenor of the campaign in South Carolina is the desperation of his rivals.  Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich know that this could be their last stand, and despite growing unease about their tactics among national Republican politicians, have continued to make Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital a top topic on the campaign trail. Newt is also out with the commercial above (did I mention abortion?) appealing to social conservatives by bringing up Romney’s flip flopping on the Holy Grail of Christian conservative politics, abortion rights.

The latest polls show Mitt Romney leading a fractious GOP field in South Carolina, and if he wins decisively, it will be increasingly difficult for his rivals to continue their campaigns. Gingrich, meanwhile, is hoping he can capitalize on a potential Romney stumble in South Carolina. If Romney loses, it will allow Gingrich to argue that he has a glass jaw and can’t be trusted to take on Obama.

Fasten your seatbelts, folks.

Toto, We’re Not in Iowa Anymore

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Talking Points Memo’s writeup on how Santorum’s God and Gays message is falling flat in New Hampshire.


Saturday, November 26th, 2011


I watched this in one of my high school classes and it blew my mind.

Glad to see that it hasn’t lost its profundity.

Thanksgiving Break

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Happy Thansgiving All.