Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It’s Just A Kiss

In a perfect world the photograph of a black man kissing his white wife on television would illicit little if any reaction from those viewing the photograph. However, we do not live in that perfect world and so last night when the producers of MSNBC’s, “Countdown with Keith Oberman” repeatedly cut to shots of the photograph of Justice Clarence Thomas kissing his wife while discussing her lobbying and tea party activities seemed designed to exploit the prejudice and discomfort of a certain segment of the population. It is unfortunate but we live in a world where racial prejudice is still a part of everyday life. If we are truly honest with ourselves that photograph to many is the culmination of their worst fears and nightmares. This is true in a subtle way for many Americans not just the raging bigot.

For those who are unaware of the story last night during the MSNBC show, “Countdown with Keith Oberman”, they did a story on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife Virginia (who happens to be white) establishing a conservative lobbying firm and also her possible attendance and speaking engagement at two upcoming tea party events. During the report they were showing pictures of Justice Thomas and his wife together in a variety of pictures including one of them engaged in a full mouth kiss. During the reporting of this story the show continued to cut back to the photo of Justice Thomas and his wife kissing.

Let me be clear I think that Justice Thomas and Justice Scalia are two of the worst jurist we have had in the history of the Supreme Court. I think that the activities of Justice Thomas’s wife highlighted in the story were worthy of media scrutiny. My concern does not lie in his wife’s activities reported in the story or the implications being drawn from those activities concerning possible conflicts of interest or the hypocrisy of the wife of someone who is paid by tax dollars rallying against taxes. No, my concern is with the show using what I know the producers knew was an inflammatory photograph to help bolster their argument. The show did not merely show the photograph once as part of a montage, but continued to cut back to that particular photograph and stay locked on it.

It is one thing to decry the tactics of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove; it is another to imitate those same tactics. I think it is the willingness of both sides of the political spectrum to use inflammatory images and speech that has allowed our political discourse to devolve into its current state. Was it necessary to continue to show that photograph to the reporting of that story? Remember the uproar concerning the ad that was used against Harold Ford Jr. with the white woman at the end of it winking and saying I’ll see you later or call me. I understand the desire to fight fire with fire, but in the end all you end up with is a bunch of burned up stuff. Are we, the public better served by the use of these tactics?

In my opinion by MSNBC using that photograph in that manner they are perched on a slippery slope that leads from journalism to Fox News. Is scoring short-term political points worth rousing the fears and prejudices of some people’s baser natures? For many years on the right the answer to that question has been a resounding yes, but is this a model we want to emulate? I fail to see the long-term strategy in arousing historical fears, anxieties, and prejudices in developing partnerships and common bonds. My hope is that this was a temporary lack of judgment and not a preview of coming attractions. Come on MSNBC you are better than this, that story has legs without the use of inflammatory pictures and incendiary language. I’d be curious to know if I was the only one who felt this way after the segment. Let me know what you think.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Education – Kansas City Style

The plan will leave the district operating 33 schools, the fewest in 120 years. The district’s enrollment in 1889 was less than 18,000 — the same as its current enrollment. At its peak in the late 1960s, Kansas City was using more than 100 buildings and serving some 75,000 students. – Kansas City Star

As the school system in Kansas City, Missouri takes the national stage it is unfortunate that the reason is not because of better student achievement or more students graduating and going off to college. Instead it is because after decades of mismanagement and instability the current superintendent had to make some tough decisions. These decisions should have been made years ago as the board sit idly by while every school year more and more students left the district, but the school board chose to continue to kick the can down the road expecting some miracle to increase enrollment despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

I expect faith and looking for miracles from my religious leaders but not from elected members of the school board. There job was to evaluate the data and make planning decisions based on that data not continuing to placate a shrinking population. Each year parents in the district were voting by removing their kids from the district. I also expect stability in administration of the district’s curriculum and staff. Again we did not receive it. Instead we have had 26 superintendents in the last 39 years with a number of acting and interim folks at the helm of what can only be described as a troubled school district.

In a school district were only 30% of the students read at grade level and with a drop-out rate of 50% you would think that there would be some sense of urgency and commonality of purpose. Unfortunately in Kansas City you would be wrong. You see the school district problem is just a microcosm of the problems that have plagued Kansas City from the 60’s and 70’s. You see Kansas City is one of the most segregated cities in America. As a young man I recognized this fact and when I went away to college I promised myself that I would never return. At 17, I realized that no matter what I did at college I would be forever constricted in Kansas City. In Kansas City the racial lines are clearly defined and although few people talk about them we all know where they exist and to many they are stifling. You live in this area and you only socialize with these folks.

The Kansas City school district is 86% percent minority students and 80% of those students are receiving free or reduced lunches. What this means is that the school district is predominately minority and predominately poor. Since its peak enrollment of 75,000 the district has lost over 60,000 students. What that tells me is that those students who could have gotten out have left and what we are left with are the most difficult students to educate. But as with every issue in Kansas City it is cast in racial terms so the politics of race and division have trumped the welfare of the students. How many more students must the district lose before this becomes a priority for city leaders? Rather than developing a strategy to overcome these difficult challenges city officials and the school board are locked in this ninja death match where personal agendas and appealing to peoples worst angels are substituted for substantive discussion.

The unfortunate truth is that no matter how bad a system is if it is allow to continue it is because someone is profiting from it. Both sides of the racial divide in Kansas City are willing to sacrifice generation after generation of kids primarily minority kids for the sake of continuing this factionalism. The problem with a system like this is that both sides become very adept at framing issues in racial terms. One side states that there are no racial issues and the other that everything is a racial issue. It is very difficult to come together to solve major challenges when there is so much polarization. This was played out in the voting on the decision to close the schools which of course broke along racial lines. It took the courage of one African-American board member to enact this plan. My question to the other board members is this, “What is your plan to address a district that is operating at capacity when you have the student body at 40% capacity? Do you continue to ignore the reality like you have for years that your population is shrinking and your product is being rejected?

City Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks, speaking to the board, lamented that the school closures will hurt the city’s central core. “Continuing the blighting of the urban core,” she said, “is scandalous and shameful.” – Kansas City Star

Instead of getting real answers to serious problems we get sound bites that play great to a certain constituency but adds nothing to the public discourse or to solving the problems. How anyone who has presided over this debacle can still remain at the head of this board is beyond me. This demonstrates the lack of priority that not only the city government puts on this issue but the public at large. We should realize that these aren’t their kids, they are all of our kids and act accordingly. Of course the answer will not be to replace those whose leadership is failing instead we will fire this superintendent and blame him for a dysfunctional system that he inherited and did not have the authority to change. How many more students, families, and jobs must we lose before someone takes this matter seriously? The three largest determinants to business development and relocation are public safety, schools, and a trained workforce. How are you doing Kansas City?

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Bizarro World: The New Left is now the Tea Party

Because of this assumption, members of the Tea Party right, like the members of the New Left, spend a lot of time worrying about being co-opted. They worry that the corrupt forces of the establishment are perpetually trying to infiltrate the purity of their ranks. – David Brooks New York Times Columnist

First of all I want to apologize to all of those people from the peace movement, civil rights movement, and the other groups from the sixties who fought and died for long denied social change in America for this article from David Brooks. Obviously while so many Americans were actually trying to grapple with a social system that they felt no longer represented who they were Mr. Brooks was too young to know what was going on. I have a real hard time taking anyone seriously who writes about a period of history that they did not actually participate in. To me most post-history is either conjecture or an attempt at a mulligan for those who are promoting their own agendas.

At no time has this fact become more true as it is now during the current period in our history when we are about to be bombarded by the “memoirs” of the disgraced Bush officials and their apologists. The three poster children for this period of selective amnesia ought to be Cheney, Rove, and now Brooks. If this column weren’t so dangerous it would almost be laughable. The reason that this column is dangerous is that it attempts to give legitimacy to the tea-partiers as neo-hippies taking on “the man” and “the system”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tea-partiers began as astro-turf bankrolled by the defeat health-care lobbyist and no amount of cover from the right will legitimize them.

What Mr. Brooks fails to realize is that there are profound differences between what the tea-partiers are protesting and the protests of the “new left”. Has he forgotten that there was actually a war going on in Southeast Asia that was taking the lives, dreams, and family members of hundreds of thousands of Americans? Has also forgotten that blacks were living under the crushing oppression of Jim Crow while their civil rights were being denied in all areas of America? Has he forgotten that many blacks were still being lynched, sent to prison, and beaten for trying to express the rights that he and his friends take for granted? His attempts to equate the tea-partiers exploits to those of people who were willing to risk life, limb, and future for a true cause is not just disingenuous, it’s an insult to the memory of all of the slain civil rights workers and anti-war protesters.

To be fair many people may actually believe that President Obama is a foreign-born citizen and is not legitimately President. There also may be those who truly believe that he is leading the country towards socialism through a government take-over of healthcare. There may be those who truly believe that the federal budget was balanced prior to his taking office, that the country was at full-employment, and our economy was flying right along until President Obama’s coup took over in January of 2009. The truth is that we know that the “paranoia” of the sixties radicals was well founded by the release of so many FBI documents and internal government memos. To compare their legitimate fears to those of a bunch of folks many of whom who have some form of government healthcare today who believe that healthcare reform is a government plot to create death panels is unconscionable.

Actually, I am quite pleased that the Republicans are trying to recruit the tea-party folks it will give them a taste of what Democrats go through daily when you have a big tent. When you allow every voice to be heard you are liable to hear some things you weren’t expecting and for a party where everything is scripted right up to the candidates voting record for the next 10 years this could be a little disheartening. I agree the tea-partiers are radical and theatrical but to compare corporate mouthpiece Dick Armey to Saul Alinsky who spent his life trying to improve the lives of those less-fortunate is a stretch even for Brooks.

"Negroes were being lynched regularly in the South as the first stirrings of black opposition began to be felt, and many of the white civil rights organizers and labor agitators who had started to work with them were tarred, feathered, castrated -- or killed. Most Southern politicians were members of the Ku Klux Klan and had no compunction about boasting of it” – Saul Alinsky

For David Brooks to try and give credence to the “straw” and “boogie” men of the tea-partiers as being similar to the new left is criminal. Mr. Brooks, I don’t know where you got your research of the sixties and seventies but you might leave that history to those who were actually there. Another small difference between the two that continually gets ignored by the mainstream media is during the protests of the new left all races were represented because the issues being addressed affected all the people in the country. Where is the “melting pot” with the tea-party movement? If the issues they are protesting actually affected us all like the injustices of racism or the destruction of a senseless war where are the rest of the folks? Are minorities not concerned with losing their freedoms in a communist takeover?

One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide. – Saul Alinsky

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