Sunday, August 26, 2012

So, You Went to See Dinesh D’Souza’s Anti-Obama Documentary?


That’s nice.
Did you know that he blamed Americans for 9/11 and expressed sympathy for the terrorists who carried out the attacks?
THE ENEMY AT HOME:
THE CULTURAL LEFT AND ITS RESPONSIBILITY FOR 9/11
by Dinesh D’Souza
In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset.   The cultural left in this country (such people as Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, George Soros, Michael Moore, Bill Moyers, and Noam Chomsky) is responsible for causing 9/11.   The term “cultural left” does not refer to the Democratic Party.  Nor does it refer to all liberals.  It refers to the left wing of the Democratic Party—admittedly the most energetic group among Democrats, and the main source of the party’s ideas.   The cultural left also includes a few Republicans, notably those who adopt a left-wing stance on foreign policy and social issues.  Moreover, the cultural left includes organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Watch, and moveon.org. 
In faulting the cultural left, I am not making the absurd accusation that this group blew up the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.   The Muslims who carried out the 9/11 attacks were the product of this visceral rage—some of it based on legitimate concerns, some of it based on wrongful prejudice—but all of it fueled and encouraged by the cultural left.  Thus without the cultural left, 9/11 would not have happened.
Yes, the guy behind 2016: Obama’s America said some of the 9/11 terrorists’ rage was “based on legitimate concerns.”
The internet is forever, Mr. D’Souza. But have fun with the money you’ll make spreading lies about our President.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Eagle Has Landed: R.I.P. Neil Armstrong





Reporting the death of the first man on the moon, NBC inadvertently referred to him as “Astronaut Neil Young.” Hence, “After the Gold Rush”:
Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun …
But the real story, of course, is the passing of a genuine American hero:
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday.
He was 82 and lived in Cincinnati. His death was announced by his family in a statement, but it did not say where Mr. Armstrong died.
As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Mr. Armstrong, with one short sentence on July 20, 1969, became a hero to the millions of people watching back on earth.
The words he spoke upon stepping onto the lunar surface — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — were beamed live into homes around the world, captivating viewers and immediately and indelibly becoming a symbol of America’s resolve and ingenuity in its race against the Soviet Union for supremacy in space.
It was a singular achievement for humanity and the culmination of a goal that President John F. Kennedy had set eight years earlier with his bold statement: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
If you weren’t around in July 1969, or you’re not old enough to remember it, it’s hard to explain what that event meant to people at the time. I was very young – only seven – but it stands out as one of the clearest memories of my otherwise misspent youth. My whole family spent endless hours in front of our black-and-white TV set, tracking the progress of Apollo 11 from lift off on the morning of July 16 to Neil Armstrong’s first step on the lunar surface around 10:00 p.m. Chicago time on July 20, all the way through the capsule’s splash down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
For a seven year old, the process was both agonizingly slow and yet magical in a way I can’t really explain. Forty-three years later, I can still put myself in my parent’s backyard on the night of July 20, 1969, sitting in the dark staring up at the moon, knowing they were up there, waiting desperately for the lunar module’s door to open so they could finally step out onto the moon’s surface … and realizing that we were actually living not just history but science fiction.
It was the greatest achievement in human history, and it was unfolding right up there.
Interestingly enough, when the Apollo 11 crew returned to earth, none of them took sole credit that achievement, and no one in America imagined that the moon landing was something that could have been accomplished without an enormous collective effort on the part of individuals, the government, and private enterprise, working together, funded by tax dollars, and supported by the public as a whole.
We all knew it, and we all celebrated it: We built that.
Godspeed, Mr. Armstrong. Maybe someday Americans find away to do something great together, just like we did in 1969. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Your Friday Clash Song: Do You Wanna Make Tea at the BBC …




Yes, I have featured this song once before: A live version of “Career Opportunities,” the original studio version of which is on both the UK and the US versions of the band’s debut album, The Clash, released in 1977 and 1979, respectively. There’s an outstanding, albeit rough, demo version on the 1991 boxed set, Clash On Broadway, as well.
So, why play it again? You mean, why, other than the fact that it’s an incredible freaking song, play it again. Well, that’s because my Twitter pal Esma, better known as @ThundarKitteh, was on the BBC’s World Have Your Say radio program – er, programme  not once, but twice this past week, and was nearly on one of the Beeb’s telly (heh) stations but for an ill-timed flight that kept her from her adoring public.
But ThundarKitteh was not asked to make tea at the BBC, as the song goes. Instead, she was on the radio waves for some very serious business: To discuss rape and abortion in light of the bizarre comments of Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) about “legitimate rape” and rape victims’ magical ability to “shut the whole thing down” to avoid getting pregnant. Serious business, indeed; all the more so because Esma herself is a rape survivor.
I do not want to paraphrase Esma’s comments because they are too important for a quick summary, particularly a summary filtered through me, who, although hugely empathetic, cannot possibly speak for her. So I urge you to listen to what she had to say for yourself while the downloads are still available from the World Have Your Say website (see the 22 Aug. 2012 program entitled “Survivors of rape have their say,” and the 20 Aug. 2012 program entitled “Is Assange a hypocrite?/Todd Akin’s comments” – her segment starts about 23 minutes into the latter broadcast). But I will state the obvious: First, that it takes a level of courage I can’t quite wrap my brain around for a woman to speak so openly and honestly about what had to have been the worst experience of her life; and, second, that Esma’s calm demeanor, particularly in the presence of hard-line, no- or very-limited-exception right-to-lifers, was nothing short of remarkable.
This is important stuff, people. Give it a listen.
And then, after you’ve listened and you’ve been properly awed, come back here for the studio version of “Career Opportunities”:



And another great live version that, unfortunately, gets cut off at the very end:


[As an aside, I have nothing against Green Day, but it’s worth noting that they’ve spent their entire musical career trying to recreate this exact sound. It’s been an admirable effort, but nothing will ever capture the feeling of dropping the needle on a scratchy copy of the Clash’s debut album and hearing this song for the first time at the age of 18 in a college dorm room in 1980. That was a life changing experience.]
So, yeah, ThundarKitteh and “Career Opportunities” – two reasons to mention the Beeb on a Friday afternoon.
Anyway, you know what to do: Turn. It. Up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hey, Here’s a Bad Idea …


Police in Plainfield[, Illinois] are asking officials for permission to store rifles in the town’s high schools so they’ll be ready if violence breaks out.
The Plainfield School Board is scheduled to consider the request at the board’s meeting next week.
Plainfield Police Chief John Konopek wants the district to install gun safes at its four high schools so the school resource officer can store a rifle. Konopek said having the extra weapon on hand would be useful “if a situation involving a shooter arises.”
As the kids say: lolwut?
Okay, we’re all aware of the recent mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and Oak Creek, Wisconsin – not to mention past incidents at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University – but, stockpiling weapons in schools just in case? This is madness.
Even Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia, author of the majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller, ___ U.S. ___, 128 S. Ct. 2783 (2008), which first found that the Second Amendment created an individual right to keep and bear certain types of firearms, might question the wisdom of storing guns in schools. As Justice Scalia explained in Heller:
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., Sheldon, in 5 Blume 346; Rawle 123; Pomeroy 152–153; Abbott333. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. See, e.g., State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann., at 489–490; Nunn v. State, 1 Ga., at 251; see generally 2 Kent *340, n. 2; The American Students’ Blackstone 84, n. 11 (G. Chase ed. 1884). Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
128 S. Ct. at 2816-17 (emphasis supplied).
Justice Scalia was, of course, talking about laws prohibiting private citizens from carrying guns into “sensitive places such as schools,” not prohibitions against law enforcement doing so; but my point is this: Even the Justice most hawkish on gun rights recognized that we have a long standing tradition of keeping guns out of certain “sensitive places,” and schools are a prime example of the kind of places we typically keep gun-free.
I’m sure there are experts far more knowledgeable than I on the subject, but to me it’s manifestly obvious why Chief Konopek’s idea is a bad one. If nothing else, he’s clearly underestimating the capacity of troublemakers to get around any measures the police put into place to secure the weapons; and so, at a minimum, there’s a real risk that a troubled but enterprising youth – or, perhaps even more so, a troubled but enterprising adult – will figure out a way to get his or her hands on the Chief’s weapons cache and wreak all kinds of havoc on innocent students, faculty and staff before the police can respond.
But more to the point, Chief Konopek’s approach assumes that the solution to a potential mass-shooting situation is just to out-gun the bad guys. Obviously there are times when the police have to use deadly force, but that doesn’t mean we should turn public high schools into shooting galleries.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Future’s Unwritten And The End Is Always Near …




I know I’ve mentioned this before; you’ll forgive me, I’m sure, both for repeating myself and for not searching the archives to locate the post or posts where I related this story in the past. But, anyway, one of my clearest memories of my late brother John was riding around in his piece-of-crap sky-blue Gran Torino listening to the Clash’s Sandinista! LP in the Summer of 1981, just after my freshman year at the University of Illinois. Specifically, I remember blasting “Hitsville U.K.,” that most un-Clash-like song that somehow was perfectly Clash-like:



It blows a hole in the radio
When it hasn’t sounded good all week …
Thus began my love of (bordering on obsession with) the Clash, a band I’d listened to for years but never really plumbed the depths of before that summer. It was the Summer of the Clash, when John and I spent a lot of time together, talking, listening to music, grousing, and getting to know each other a lot better than we did when I was younger (he was 7 years older than I), and much of that centered on our mutual love of punk’s best band.
There was always this thing about the Clash, and especially about the band’s primary lyricist, Joe Strummer. They were at once piercingly cynical and strangely idealistic, angry and hopeful, but always constructive. They never were a typical punk band and Strummer never was a typical punk. He loved Woody Guthrie and the Beach Boys (I forgive him for that), and he was one of the better reggae artists to come out of the UK in the 1970s, which is saying something:


Above all, neither he nor the Clash were static. From the outset their music roved the musical landscape from pure punk to reggae to rockabilly and R & B. It was Strummer and his songwriting partner, Mick Jones, who saw the evolution of punk to hip hop long before most white music fans had ever heard of it:
[Joe] Strummer’s unique partnership with Mick Jones, his main collaborator and lead guitarist in the Clash, brought a revolutionary sense of excitement to modern music. Strummer and Jones quickly recognized the power of rap music that was just emerging from New York City’s underground in the late seventies. “When we came to the U.S., Mick stumbled upon a music shop in Brooklyn that carried the music of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, the Sugar Hill Gang…these groups were radically changing music and they changed everything for us.”
With typical Clash inventiveness, they became one of the first white groups to incorporate rap into their music. As a tribute to the path-breaking Sugar Hill Gang, the Clash recorded The Magnificent Seven, one of their best-known and most important singles. In another example that marked the Clash’s commitment to challenging social conventions, they enlisted several New York City rap groups to join their huge Clash on Broadway tour. At the time, this was extremely controversial since it was widely believed that combining the two disparate audiences and musical genres would result in racial mayhem.
Reflecting on the group’s influence, I suggested to Strummer that hip-hop has replaced punk rock as the dominant political pop cultural force in spirit, vitality, and creativity. He responded, “No doubt about it, particularly in respect to addressing the ills of capitalism and providing a smart class analysis, underground hip-hop, not the pop-culture stuff, picked up where punk left off and ran full steam ahead.”
As with everything else they did, when Joe and Mick and the Clash turned to hip hop, they nailed it:



John Graham Mellor, better known as Joe Strummer, was born 60 years ago today in Ankara, Turkey, and died at the unreasonably young age of 50 in December 2002. It’s hard to imagine it’s been 10 years since Joe passed, but his music, and the music of the Clash, might be more relevant today than ever.
In any event, maybe my and brother John’s love of Joe Strummer and the Clash was kind of prophetic. I didn’t learn until recently that Joe Strummer and I shared something in common, something horrible and sad, and it makes my and John’s mutual love of the Clash more poignant to me:
In July 1970 [Joe’s] brother, David Mellor, had become increasingly withdrawn and ill adjusted and committed suicide in London’s Regent’s Park.
Because if you’ve read this blog, you might know that I lost my brother John to suicide in April 1991, roughly ten years after the Summer of the Clash. I say this not to be maudlin, although it is just that I suppose, but because it never ceases to amaze me how common that experience is. And in this case, it happens to be an odd, sad, awful thing that connects me to one of the greatest artists of my generation, which is comforting in a way I can’t quite describe.
Joe Strummer once said the Clash were “antifascist, antiviolence, antiracist...we’re pro-creative, against ignorance,” and that’s exactly what made them The Only Band That Mattered. Then and now.
So, anyway, Joe, Stay Free. This one’s for you and Brother John:


[NSFW]

Friday, August 17, 2012

Your Friday Clash Song: Don’t Wanna Be The Prisoner …




“The Prisoner,” originally the b-side of the “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” single released in June 1978, later included on the Black Market Clash EP (1980) and the expanded version, Super Black Market Clash (1994).
This song is, of course, sadly appropriate today:
(Reuters) - Three women from Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail on Friday for their protest against President Vladimir Putin in a church, an outcome supporters described as the Kremlin leader’s “personal revenge”.
The band’s supporters burst into chants of “Shame” outside the Moscow courthouse and said the case showed Putin’s refusal to tolerate dissent. The U.S. embassy in Moscow said the sentence appeared disproportionate to what the defendants did.
“The girls’ actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church’s rules,” Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage.
She declared all three guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow’s main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin.
Two years in jail for hurting a politician’s feelings. I wonder if George W. Bush saw that when he looked into Putin’s eyes.
Look, I know it’s fashionable to call America a police state, and there are times when I empathize with that sentiment. But take a hard look at this case and tell me whether you really think we’re as bad as Russia – let alone Syria, or Iran, or any one of the dozens of countries where you can be jailed for offending their leader.
In the United States, the current administration urged local police departments not to arrest Occupy protesters last year – a story many Occupy supporters got completely wrong, by the way – while in Russia punk rockers get two years in jail for criticizing the President.
Not exactly the same.
In any event, here’s a live version of “The Prisoner” recorded in France in 1977:


So, there it is. Your Friday Clash Song.
Turn. It. Up. And stay out of trouble.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Entitlement-Mania


So I made this kind of pithy observation on Twitter the other day:

I think we need to take back the term “entitlement.” If you pay for a benefit, you are, in fact, entitled to it.
And then I followed it up with this:
A “sense of entitlement” is Mitt Romney saying, “It’s my turn to be president.” An *actual* entitlement is a benefit I paid for.
Yes, I did quote myself just now, but I did so for a reason. Initially, I suppose I was pleased that those comments seemed to resonate with people. A handful of followers (and others) re-tweeted me, and, after posting the same comments on Facebook, I got a few “likes” as well. That, for me, represents as much validation as I’m likely to get on social media.
At the same time, it’s kind of pathetic that the point needs to be made in the first place. After all, I simply used the dictionary definition of the word. An entitlement is something you’ve earned; the flipside of “entitlement” is “obligation”: If I’ve earned it, you’re obligated to give it to me.
What could be more American – more capitalist – than that?
But lately so many of my friends on the left are running away from the word “entitlement” at the very same time they struggle to make the same point I was attempting to make on Twitter and Facebook, saying, in effect: Social Security [or Medicare] isn’t an “entitlement”; I’ve earned it!
Yes. Yes, you have. That’s exactly why you’re entitled to it. That’s why it’s called an entitlement.
Of course, it’s no surprise that liberals run away from that word, because the right has used the term entitlement as a cudgel for the past thirty-odd years. “Entitlements,” they say, aren’t something people have earned; “entitlements” are something freeloaders demand – feel entitled to – the bill for which the rest of us foot. It’s one thing to think of general assistance payments and Section 8 housing that way (though, to be frank, I do not); but it’s altogether different to view things working people actually pay for – Social Security and Medicare, which come directly out of your paycheck – with the same sneering disdain.
Yet the right has succeeded in painting the entire social safety net with the same broad brush. Every payment the government makes to or on behalf of any individual, whether in cash or in kind, is a hand-out, a bona fide European-style socialist welfare state giveaway paid for by them, the taxpayers (because only conservatives are tax payers, apparently), and not by the person on the receiving end.
So even when you’re on Social Security or Medicare, you’re feeding at the public trough. Even though you paid into those programs your entire working life, which, if conservatives get their way, will be a longer working life than your parents’.
This is what happens when we cede the debate to our political foes. For entirely too long, we on the left have let conservatives define the terms we use in political debates, and the media and we on the left have been entirely too willing to accept their definitions. If conservatives decide a certain term – “liberal,” or “entitlement” – has a negative connotation, the media adopts that connotation and left runs from it like scared rabbits.
If you don’t believe me, just recall what happened when Michael Dukakis first ran away from, then belatedly tried to embrace the term “liberal.” How’d that work out for him? The fact is, we’re still reeling from it.
Oh, no. I’m not a “liberal.” I’m a progressive. Yeah, that’s it. Progressive.
But what would have happened if instead of being afraid of the term, Dukakis had embraced it from the get-go, proudly wore the label and defined it on his own terms? Sure, he would’ve lost anyway. That one was a hopeless cause. But he, and by extension, we, would have been the ones to say what it means to be a liberal. Not George H.W. Bush and Roger Ailes.
In the end, you can’t win elections, and, more importantly, you can’t win over the public, if you’re afraid of your own beliefs.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Your Friday Clash Song: Quit Holding Out, And Draw Another Breath …




A live version of “London Calling” recorded in New Jersey in 1980, originally the title track from the double London Calling LP, released in the UK in 1979 and in the US in 1980. Rolling Stone put London Calling at No. 8 on its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” right behind another double album, the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street.
Sounds about right.
A couple of observations. Admittedly, I picked this song for a hokey reason – we’re going into the last weekend of the London Olympics, of course – but I’ve already written my obligatory love/hate piece on the quadrennial track meet over there, so cut me some slack. Moreover, “London Calling” is hardly a love song to the UK’s capital city:
London calling to the zombies of death
Quit holding out, and draw another breath
London calling, and I don’t want to shout
By when we were talking, I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain’t got no high
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes …
And another thing. Despite the line about how “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust,” I don’t think you have to dislike the Beatles in order to like the Clash. I can imagine how tiresome it must have been for a rock band in the UK in the late 197os to try to have an impact on the music world when most pop fans just wanted to relive the 1960s, like nothing ever happened after the British Invasion. So I can empathize with their frustration, but that shouldn’t take away from what the Beatles did in their own time.
Besides, the line is “phony Beatlemania” – which implies an honest appreciation for the Beatles’ music is just fine, right? Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, here’s the “official” video for “London Calling,” released in 1979:



And – because, hell yeah! – here’s Bruce Springsteen covering “London Calling” at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK a few years back:



So there you go. Your Friday Clash Song.
Turn. It. Up.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why I Love/Hate the Olympics (And You Should, Too)



Because – duh – the Olympic Games always bring out the best and the worst sports have to offer. Not just in the athletes, but perhaps even more so in the public’s reaction to them.
Some recent examples. Two African American women won gold medals in events that used to be dominated by white athletes – gymnastics and tennis – but at home their victories were overshadowed by criticisms of the gymnast’s hair (!) and the tennis player’s brief celebratory dance. Yes, that’s right. All-around gold medal winner Gabby Douglas’ hair was a story, as was Serena Williams’ few seconds of unguarded happiness at the baseline of Wimbledon’s Centre Court after she defeated Maria Sharapova in the women’s tennis final.
As for Gabby Douglas, she is, unsurprisingly, far more mature than her critics. The AP reported last week (via The Grio):
The 16-year-old said Sunday she was a little confused when she logged onto her computer after winning her second gold medal in three days and discovered people were debating her pulled-back look.
“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” said Douglas, the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in team and all-around competition. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair?’ It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.”
Yeah you did just make history, Gabby Douglas. Too bad your critics are living in the past.
And as for Serena Williams, the nonsensical controversy demonstrates how uncomfortable a good part of America is with Black success. From Huffington Post:
Serena Williams was so overjoyed after defeating Maria Sharapova in the Olympic singles and winning the gold that she broke into a Crip Walk dance.
“It was just me. I love to dance,” Williams told reporters who inquired about her Crip Walk. “I didn’t know what else to do. I was so happy, and next thing I know I started dancing and moving. I didn’t plan it. It just happened.”
“For the uninitiated, the Crip Walk is a funky little hip-hop dance move made famous by Crip gang members in Compton in the 1970s,” wrote Fox Sports’ Reid Forgrave, who went on to criticize Williams ….
Oh, please. So, forty odd years ago some gang members did a particular dance move, and now any African American who does it is … what? Promoting street gangs? Lauding gang culture? Being … too Black?
It’s a dance move, fer Chrissakes. I hear Al Capone was an opera fan. So, naturally, any Italian American who likes opera is … Jesus, these racial and ethnic stereotypes are really confounding.
Actually, if you want to criticize an Olympic athlete for questionable sportsmanship, how about British triathlete Alistair Brownlee, who won the men’s race Tuesday with 11 seconds to spare:
It could have been a larger distance from first to second, but Brownlee grabbed a British flag and draped it on his back down the stretch. He walked the last few steps with a huge grin and finished with a time of 1:46:25.
Wait, what? Who stops (or slows down) to grab a flag and then walks across the finish line in an Olympic race? Seriously. Who does that?
Apart from the fact that Brownlee was celebrating victory before he actually achieved it – which is pretty crass, really – he walked across the finish line. In the Olympic triathlon.
Good lord, man. Why would you not want to finish the race in the fastest possible time? That’s the first lesson of marathons and triathlons: You’re not just running against the other athletes; you’re running against yourself.
Of course, there was no media controversy after Brownlee’s premature flag-draping and walking across the finish line (in an Olympic race! – I still can’t get over that), but it’s not like he did anything, you know, Black.
On the other hand, the Olympics also give us moments like this:

That’s Grenadian runner Kirani James exchanging bibs with South African runner – and double-amputee – Oscar Pistorius after Pistorius failed to qualify for the 400 meter final last Sunday:
Most athletes would not have a smile on their face after finishing last in an Olympic semi-final, but then Oscar Pistorius is no ordinary athlete. The South African made history on Saturday by becoming the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics and on Sunday night was attempting to break another record by reaching the final of the men’s 400m.
It was not to be, however. In an intimidatingly strong field, Pistorius, nicknamed the Blade Runner, was never really in with a shout. The 25-year-old, who fought a long battle for the right to enter the Games, finished in 46.54sec, the only disappointment being that he had run 45.44 in his heat on Saturday.
Pistorius’ success (not only making the Olympics but winning his initial heat) is one of the great stories to come out of this year’s Olympics, but so was that simple gesture by Kirani James. The 19-year old James went on to win the gold medal in the 400 in 43.94 seconds, which is astounding in its own right; but that moment when he walked up to Pistorius after the semis and asked to exchange bibs – that said more about Olympic values than any physical triumph ever could.
And did I mention Kirani James is only 19 years old? Nineteen. What were you doing at that age? As for me, I shudder to think.
But, so, anyway, there you go. While the media and the public obsess over a gymnast’s hairstyle and hyperventilate over a tennis player’s dance moves – while ignoring an odder and more questionable finish to the men’s triathlon – a 19 year old from Grenada and a double-amputee from South Africa kind of made the whole thing worth watching.
[Cross-posted at my running blog, Running … From Chicago.]

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Back on the Air …


Thanks to a rather hellish move (and that’s an understatement) I missed last Sunday’s podcast, but I was back this week on The Tim Corrimal Show with Tim (@timcorrimal on Twitter), Joe (@Marnus3) and Minna (@asiangrrlMN) to discuss the latest political hijinks (which, apparently, is sometimes spelt “high jinks,” which is entirely too posh for us) and all-around nuttery (which isn’t a word at all).
On this week’s show, after naming our Twitter Friends of the Week – @Penowski, @southerntalker, @AngryBlackLady and @JCTRambler (mine) – we moved on to our weekly 2012 election update. Tim played a rather remarkable clip of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak singing the praises of Pres. Obama, leading into a discussion of Mitt Romney’s disastrous overseas trip in which he managed to offend the British and raise serious questions about his own fitness to be commander-in-chief.
We also played the audio portion of the Obama campaign’s television ad asking when Romney will release his tax returns (if ever), and a clip from Pres. Obama’s recent campaign stop in Ohio in which he blasted Romney’s plan for another $5 trillion tax cut (on top of the now 11 year old Bush tax cuts). That’s the plan that the non-partisan Tax Policy Center believes ultimately would require tax increases on middle class Americans. As the Washington Post reported July 31, 2012:
Mitt Romney’s plan to overhaul the tax code would produce cuts for the richest 5 percent of Americans — and bigger bills for everybody else, according to an independent analysis set for release Wednesday.
The study was conducted by researchers at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, who seem to bend over backward to be fair to the Republican presidential candidate. To cover the cost of his plan — which would reduce tax rates by 20 percent, repeal the estate tax and eliminate taxes on investment income for middle-class taxpayers — the researchers assume that Romney would go after breaks for the richest taxpayers first.
They even look at what would happen if Republicans’ dreams for tax reform came true and the proposal generated significant revenue through economic growth.
None of it helped Romney. His rate-cutting plan for individuals would reduce tax collections by about $360 billion in 2015, the study says. To avoid increasing deficits — as Romney has pledged — the plan would have to generate an equivalent amount of revenue by slashing tax breaks for mortgage interest, employer-provided health care, education, medical expenses, state and local taxes, and child care — all breaks that benefit the middle class.
We then discussed Rush Limbaugh’s bizarre speculation that a “foreign dictator” might start a military conflict somewhere in the world in order to help Barack Obama –the preferred candidate of dictators everywhere, naturally – in the upcoming presidential election … an assertion made even more bizarre by the first “example” Limbaugh cited: The possibility that Israel might attack Iran. Ponder that weirdness for a moment.
Finally, we turned, for better or worse, to Sarah Palin and her two recent moments of crazy: First, when she attacked the DNC for offering that well known Marxist (?!) Elizabeth Warren an opportunity to speak at this year’s convention (no jealousy there, I’m sure); and, second, her legally frivolous assertion that the Chick-fil-A boycott somehow violates the First Amendment rights of Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s CEO and proud supporter of anti-gay organizations.
That latter moment of crazy then led into my “Legal Corner” segment, wherein I reiterated a point made here late last week: That freedom of speech is a two-way street, and that criticism of a person’s speech does not, of course, amount to censorship of that person’s speech. Elaborating on that point – which should, of course, be obvious – I discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), in which the Court considered a civil lawsuit filed against various individuals and civil rights organizations arising out of a boycott of white-owned business in Claiborne County, Mississippi, which boycott began in 1966 and ran for at least seven years.
In Claiborne Hardware, the subject boycott began after local civil rights leaders issued a series of demands to elected officials in Claiborne County “for racial equality and integration”:
The complaints did not receive a satisfactory response and, at a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) meeting at the First Baptist Church, several hundred black persons voted to place a boycott on white merchants in the area. On October 31, 1969, several of the merchants filed suit in state court to recover losses caused by the boycott and to enjoin future boycott activity.
458 U.S. at 889.
The trial court in Mississippi awarded the white merchants substantial damages and entered an injunction barring the defendants from continuing the boycott. On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out several of the plaintiffs’ claims but upheld the judgment against the defendants on the common law tort theory of malicious interference with the plaintiffs’ business. 458 U.S. at 894-95.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, reversed the judgment in its entirety, concluding that the defendants could not be held liable for damages that flowed from the boycott under any theory of liability because the boycott itself constituted protected speech under the First Amendment:
The boycott of white merchants at issue in this case took many forms. The boycott was launched at a meeting of a local branch of the NAACP attended by several hundred persons. Its acknowledged purpose was to secure compliance by both civic and business leaders with a lengthy list of demands for equality and racial justice. The boycott was supported by speeches and nonviolent picketing. Participants repeatedly encouraged others to join in its cause.
Each of these elements of the boycott is a form of speech or conduct that is ordinarily entitled to protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The black citizens named as defendants in this action banded together and collectively expressed their dissatisfaction with a social structure that had denied them rights to equal treatment and respect. As we so recently acknowledged in Citizens Against Rent Control/Coalition for Fair Housing v. Berkeley, 454 U.S. 290, 294 , “the practice of persons sharing common views banding together to achieve a common end is deeply embedded in the American political process.” We recognized that “by collective effort individuals can make their views known, when, individually, their voices would be faint or lost.” Ibid. In emphasizing “the importance of freedom of association in guaranteeing the right of people to make their voices heard on public issues,” id., at 295, we noted the words of Justice Harlan, writing for the Court in NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 460 :
“Effective advocacy of both public and private points of view, particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association, as this Court has more than once recognized by remarking upon the close nexus between the freedoms of speech and assembly.”
458 U.S. at 907-08.
So, getting back to the Chick-fil-A controversy, it’s beyond ironic that opponents of the boycott argue that it somehow violates the First Amendment rights of a wealthy corporate CEO when the Supreme Court has long recognized that civil rights boycotts are, in and of themselves, a time-honored form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
I guess some speakers are more equal than others, eh, Gov. Palin?
In any event, tune in and enjoy the show. We’ll be back next week with more hijinks. And nuttery.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chick-fil-A, Lies, and Cowardice


I’ve never made a secret of my support for marriage equality. I don’t believe the government should be in the business of denying what our Supreme Court described in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967), as “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” on such an irrational basis as sexual orientation.
It goes without saying that I also believe in freedom of speech, and I believe that right belongs to the sane and rational among us, and to the bigoted idiots alike. In fact, I prefer that bigoted idiots speak their minds. They’re much easier to spot that way.
But nothing infuriates me more than the fundamental constitutional illiteracy that plagues America today, and few issues illustrate that constitutional illiteracy more dramatically than our almost willful ignorance on the subject of the First Amendment. So I’m going to say this as bluntly as I possibly can without unleashing the torrent of obscenity that forms between my ears whenever people suggest that the First Amendment somehow operates to insulate anyone – including bigots – from criticism.
It does not.
In fact, nothing could be more contrary to the First Amendment than to suggest that when one person speaks, everyone else has to shut up and listen.
It’s never worked that way; it shouldn’t work that way; and if you think it should work that way, you haven’t got even the most rudimentary understanding of liberty in the first place.
Case in point: In a masterstroke of corporate manipulation, supporters and fans of Chick-fil-A, Inc., the company that franchises and operates various fast-food chicken restaurants throughout the country, declared yesterday to be “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” in response to a loosely organized boycott of Chick-fil-A restaurants – a boycott spurred by anti-gay views espoused the company’s CEO, Dan Cathy. Actually, it’s not just Cathy’s bigoted statements that caused Chick-fil-A’s PR problem, as Joe My God reported last month:
“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.” - Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A, who this week replied “guilty as charged” when asked about the millions his company donates annually to hate groups.
In fact, it’s that latter point – the company’s donations to anti-gay civil rights groups – that really spurred the boycott, much more so than Dan Cathy’s holier-than-thou piety. According to Equality Matters:
Though Chick-fil-A continues to deny supporting an anti-gay agenda, the company has donated over $3 million to organizations like the Family Research Council and Exodus International between 2003 and 2009. And in 2010 alone, Chick-fil-A donated over $1.9 million to anti-gay causes, more than any other year for which public records are available.
So, when you patronize a Chick-fil-A restaurant, you’re not simply giving old Dan Cathy a pat on the back; you’re helping him and his company fund groups that are actively working to deny civil rights to gay and lesbian Americans.
But the Chick-fil-A people and their supporters, like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, aren’t stupid. They know most Americans won’t bother to research the real reasons for the boycott – i.e., the company’s financial support for anti-civil rights organizations – and they know all too many Americans believe that the First Amendment somehow protects people like Dan Cathy from criticism. And this was the whole idea behind the Huckabee-inspired “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” which got millions of Americans to buy fatty, deep fried chicken sandwiches on the false premise that they were supporting Cathy’s and Chick-fil-A’s right to freedom of speech.
Because, as that great constitutional scholar and half-term governor Sarah Palin tried to explain, “calling for the boycott is a real—has a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights.”
So, I’m supposed to give my hard earned cash to Dan Cathy’s company so he can give my money to organizations that advocate positions I vehemently disagree with, and if I don’t I’m violating his right to freedom of speech?
Yes, this is what some Americans think the First Amendment means. Or, at least they pretend to.
Of course, the very idea is absurd on its face. Indeed, the Supreme Court recognized in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), that boycotting itself is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.
I suspect that Chick-fil-A’s supporters already know that. They know nobody’s obligated to give money to a company if they don’t like the way the company’s going to spend that money. But it’s easier to pretend that they oppose the boycott on free speech grounds – even though that’s an inherently deceptive argument – than it is to say that they agree with a bigot like Dan Cathy. Because if you say you support Chick-fil-A because you agree with Cathy, that makes you a bigot, too.
So Chick-fil-A’s supporters, including the millions of people who stood in line to buy greasy chicken sandwiches yesterday, would rather engage in that patently absurd legal fiction than to simply admit they also support anti-gay discrimination.
That doesn’t mean they’re not bigots; it just means they’re liars and cowards too.