This-Week-in-Racism update

Frank Bruni, in his NY Times column, discusses racism and wealth.

…[David] Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, just did the impossible. He wrested the racist-of-the-moment mantle from Cliven Bundy,

Interestingly, Mr. Sterling was just about to receive an honor from the NAACP… and not even for the first time.

…at a transcendently awkward news conference on Monday [Leon Jenkins, president of the N.A.A.C.P. Los Angeles chapter] was rationalizing the latest lifetime achievement award — which the N.A.A.C.P. has now rescinded — and its coddling of Sterling over time.

Turns out… if you give sizable donations to a routinely needy nonprofit, they in turn will speak well of you. They may even give you an award. This turns out to be true even if you are a known douchebag. This is the power of money, most particularly when a tiny few have piles of it and most others don’t. It seems almost corrupting, doesn’t it?

Ha. We kid. Of course it’s corrupting. Now the president of the L.A. NAACP has resigned (which is sort of a real penalty) and Sterling may be forced to sell the Clippers for some whopping number of millions (which isn’t a real penalty, is it).

It’s the money, Lebowski

America watched with interest as a $5-million-dollar contribution from from a single wealthy donor, Sheldon Adelson, altered the outcome of an election. Suddenly Newt Gingrich had money for attack ads, polled 35 points higher, and won the South Carolina Republican primary.

Now another $5 million is on the way for Newt’s ‘super PAC’ attack ads in Florida, this time from Mrs. Sheldon. Adelson. Imagine you and your wife giving away $10 million dollars, and then seeing the intended results at the polls. Fun!  Remember, they’re not just billionaires, they’re concerned citizens who expect nothing in return.

Coincidentally, we were making a few political contributions of our own — smaller though. Much smaller. We were giving $50 each to a tiny few of our favorite candidates. We contribute because nothing predicts the outcome of elections like money.

Of course fifty bucks isn’t much. But we like to tell ourselves, ‘every little bit helps’.

With a bit of free software we can make an instant graph of our $50 donation compared to, say, $5 million from Sheldon Adelson (ignoring Mrs. Adelson’s equally generous gift). Graphs often aid us in keeping perspective.

Oh, dear. Look at that. Do you see our little $50 campaign contribution (the red bar on the left)? No? Neither do we. It’s so tiny that it doesn’t merit a single pixel next to the big, green $5-million-dollar contribution. Our $50 is insignificant.

Can you make out the painfully skinny, little blue bar representing $5,000? We don’t know anyone who makes a single contribution of $5000; we don’t travel in those circles. That little blue bar might represent our $50 contribution + 99 other people also contributing $50. It just barely makes it onto the graph.

Is it any wonder we have massive distortions in who and what our elected representatives attend to? Calling it a “distortion” of course reveals our own personal bias. It might just as well be called “the obvious and intended result”.

Former U.S.Senators could expect to earn somewhere between $800,000 and $1.5 million in annual salary next year at lobby firms

More news of deep corruption as retiring U.S. Senators and Representatives are offered new opportunities at Washington lobbying firms — in this report from The Hill.

Corporate headhunters are sizing up the K Street prospects of the retiring members of the 112th Congress — and they like what they see.

It’s easy to despise these venal old men (mostly). But what would each of us do for a comfortable million dollars a year?

It’s there for the taking. It’s part-time work, if you call it work at all; it’s just talking to people, making some phone calls.

And respectability can be fully maintained. There’s almost nothing to give up. It can all be arranged.

Several headhunters said lawmakers are typically averse to registering as lobbyists, preferring instead to become senior advisers who consult and strategize on how to lobby. Rarely do they wish to advocate face to face with their former colleagues.

“No one wants to be Abramoff,” Latourette said, referring to the once-jailed lobbyist whose tactics became infamous. “There is a definite stigma associated with it, which is being identified as a lobbyist.”

The Year in Review (part 3): The Protester

An image of ‘The Protester’ graces the cover of Time magazine. She (we think it’s a she) is Time‘s 2011 Person of the Year Serious people tend to avoid the inside of this magazine, but as to their big annual PotY, this year it’s a reasonable choice.

From Wisconsin 




to Wall to Street 



to California campuses





to  Egypt

to London






to Greece 

even to Russia

People from all walks of life demonstrated, marched, occupied, got herded into no-exit containment areas, got arrested, and sometimes — in places outside the U.S. — got killed.

All of these people lived in countries with varying degrees of democracy. There were elections and voting and laws and courts, and yet the structures of nominal democracy which served well for elites were not perceived as working for the many.

Frustration boiled over in 2011. Active protests began across a wide continuum. Mostly it was non-violent protest, but in some places it became insurrection.  Governments toppled.

In Madison, protesters remained rigorously peaceful, determined to recall the new governor and roll back the new Republican majorities in the legislature. Peaceful protesters hoped to win mindshare in a politicized terrain of news and punditry, radio and TV advertising, and a flood of money strongly favoring the governor and the new Republican majorities… an uphill effort.






The Wisconsin State Journal wrote 7 editorials in 2011 where the subject was, by our reckoning, the Wisconsin protester. Here they are in chronological order:

The Full Editorial Representative Quote
2-18-2011 It’s time to get back to class “Area teachers are setting a bad example for our children by skipping class.”
2-22-2011 Civil debate shines on square “It’s a tribute to Wisconsin that the big crowds on both sides of the budget standoff at the state Capitol have kept their cools.”
4-14-2011Drop protest and pass the ketchup “Can we not even enjoy a brat for charity in Wisconsin without partisan politics rudely intruding? So what if a handful of Johnsonville Sausage executives, family members and employees donated $44,250 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker over the last five years. A lot of people across the state give money to politicians…”
4-28-2011 Punish sick note scammers “…both groups [doctors and teachers -ed.] deserve discipline — just as school children would be disciplined by school officials for turning in phony sick notes from their parents.”
6-9-2011 Votes mean more than volume “Protesters hollering and disrupting meetings at the state Capitol can’t escape this political reality: Votes still beat volume….”
6-26-2011 Rampant recalls wrong “Will the campaigning ever end? We sure hope so. Wisconsin needs to cure its recall fever…”
9-22-2011 Stop harassing state leaders “A 26-year-old protester from Racine is accused of pouring a Miller Lite over the head of state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester…”

The editorials took 7 swings at the topic, and in the end, had little to say.  There were two recurring themes: 1) an overriding concern for order, and 2) a distaste for recalls.

Who were the protesters? Was it all about unions? Was it all about pay and benefits? Anything else? Voter ID? Pay-to-play? Why unprecedented protests, here and elsewhere in the USA, now? Do historical trends explain any of it? Is there any truth to the idea that democracy is not, and has not been, working for most citizens? If not, who is it working for? In short, the central journalistic imperative — what is going on and why — was barely to be found in the State Journal editorials.

Instead the Journal editorial page collapsed in a fret: Where are the properly-signed sick notes, and can’t this specter go back in its bottle?

Worlds Collide reports today that the TEA Party and the OCCUPY Movements recently — and for the first time — met secretly in an undisclosed location (okay, a handful of people at an art gallery in Richmond, VA) to discuss a possible peace treaty.

Apparently it didn’t go all that badly. According to the Salon article there were…

Worlds Collide by Bonnie Teitelbaum, acrylic on panel

A few things the two movements seemed to agree on:

  •  that the common citizen is no longer represented by his elected officials; 
  • that holding political office tends to corrupt even well-intended people; 
  • and that political parties are taking advantage of voters by seeking to polarize issues that really are of minimal consequence.

The emergence of an even loosely-aligned, like-minded 99% would, of course, be SUPER-DOOPER. No other description can possibly exist.

Can the TEAs and the OCCUPIERs actually agree on WHAT “issues are really of minimal consequence”? It seems unlikely. Very, very unlikely, but STAY BY YOUR COMMUNICATION DEVICES. That is what we’re doing.

The importance of the Occupy movement

Until very recently, the idea of “class warfare” was taboo. Even just acknowledging the obvious — that America has social classes, and that these classes are influential in the course of individual lives — was difficult. We weren’t supposed to talk about it. Actually, because it was a taboo (an actual, operating taboo), we weren’t supposed to think about it.

Of course some people did think about it… academics, social scientists, economists. But these were not exciting people — not truly important people — so there was precious little public discussion.  Simply declaring that a particular line of thought was “class warfare” was often enough to shut off public discussion.

But the ‘Occupy’ movement has given us a reset.

It’s become possible to talk about class differences again. Even in polite society. Even (once in a while) on TV. Using the short memes “the 1%” and “the 99%”. Occasionally now there’s an eye-catching chart or graph.

Wow. Will ya lookit  that? The 1% has been off on its own trajectory for THIRTY F*CKING YEARS!  Since 1981!

And yet this important megatrend never gained any traction in the media until the Occupy movement started getting pepper-sprayed and arrested.

Surprising? Not at all.

We might hope to have a scrappy, intelligent, hardworking press, determined to inform us of what we need to know, and what’s probably true and what’s probably not. We might yearn for that, and, in truth, it can be found by those determined to find it. But mostly, our press has defined its job as telling us what someone said, and then what someone else said. That kind of work is much, much easier than trying to discern what’s very important and probably true.

So if important people weren’t “saying” things (and they weren’t), if important people were actually very opposed to saying some particular thing (and they were opposed, and are), if it’s understood to be bad form to mention the thing which should not be mentioned, then how could our press possibly cover it? Within their self-defined professional roles, they couldn’t.

Cover what??? The thing that nobody important is talking about? What would that even mean? It was invisible to our press, or it was for 30 years.

Police arrest a protester on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, 2011, during a march by Occupy Wall Street.

Now the 30-year graph above may have been startling, but not everyone knows how to read a graph, or cares to.  So other approaches have been taken, and we should be very thankful to those who have done so.