April 8, 2014

Talking SYG and Marissa Alexander on HuffPost Live

I joined the Huff Post Live crew for a discussion on Marissa Alexander, Stand Your Ground laws and a bit of gun control. 

March 31, 2014

Tickets Available for Colin Powell Speaking Engagement in Indianapolis April 10 ~ Join Us

English: Colin Powell on a visit to Google on ...
General Colin Powell (Ret.) - Former United States Secretary of State
April 10, 2014, Indianapolis Downtown Marriott, 350 W. Maryland Street

Dinner 6:45pm, Lecture 7:45pm 
A man of great intelligence, versatility and presence, Gen. Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was appointed secretary of state by President George W. Bush. A four-star general, Gen. Powell's numerous awards include two Presidential Medals of Freedom. He is the author of a best-selling autobiography, My American Journey (which I own).  His second book, an instant New York Times best-seller titled It Worked For Me (May, 2012), reveals the lessons that shaped his life and career.  He will be speaking in Indianapolis on April 10, 2014 at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriot.  I'm pleased to be part of the organizing effort and have a very few tickets remaining.  Tickets are $125.  Just follow the link below to purchase. 

Your tickets will be available on a "will call" status at the event.  I'm looking forward to hearing Gen. Powell's thoughts on the issues and challenges facing the world today. I hope you will plan to join us.
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March 29, 2014

Paul Ryan Leverages White Voter Hostility to Black Americans

Paul Ryan Caricature
Paul Ryan Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Paul Ryan made an appearance on conservative Bill Bennet's show and let fly with the following:

"We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

This is party leader Paul Ryan, advancing the idea of blacks (albeit in coded language) as possessing deficient culture and producing generations of men lacking in work ethic.  Predictably, he got pushback, with plenty of people on the left calling him out for this language and some plainly calling him a racist.  Conservatives came to his defense, some citing Barack Obama to make their case, as the American Thinker blog did, using selectively cut sentences stitched together to make their point. Hardly convincing. A little rooting around also reveals that its not the first time Ryan has given the impression that inner-city poverty is linked tothe supposed cultural deficiencies of black Americans.

Ryan has of course backtracked from his comments on Bennet's show, issuing the following statement:

After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community—but of society as a whole.

Sorry Paul.  I say bollox on that.  You said what you said and you meant what you meant.  The PublicHealth blog summed up the paternity of this line of thinking nicely:

the claim that black people have “bad culture”, may be genetically defective, and do not have “normal” “middle class” values about the merits of “hard work”, is a simple channeling of legendary Republican strategist Lee Atwater’s tactics for mobilizing white voters by leveraging their hostility to black Americans.

Whether it's Paul Ryan or Barack Obama suggesting it, I reject the theory of deficient culture, work ethic or other such deficits ascribed to African Americans. From a historical perspective, I find it bitterly ironic that a population whose labor was stolen under threat of violence for two hundred years to build this country is denigrated as lazy. That scurrilous claim was made even during slavery itself. It's a vicious stereotype that continues to be used to ascribe laziness to African Americans writ large. 
There is also the matter of context. The reality is that when Paul Ryan advances the idea that blacks have a deficient work ethic or possess deficient cultural values, he's talking to a political base of white voters on the right who largely view blacks through this same contemptuous lens. He advanced these ideas while a guest on a white conservative radio show that commands a white conservative audience. He's also speaking as a party leader of the GOP, a party which often engages in coded language and political messaging that is both overtly and covertly hostile to African American voters. He speaks as a leader for a party which has championed partisan so called vote integrity initiatives like voter ID and restrictions on voter registration, which are widely (and correctly) perceived by African Americans as partisan system rigging intended to diminish their voting power at the polls (if only at the margins). So when he uses this kind of language, as a leader of a party widely perceived (with justification) by African Americans as hostile to their community, its no surprise that his language is called out as a racially stereotypical dog whistle.

Even if you accept the American Thinker's take on Obama's comments in his book "Dreams of My Father" as fundamentally the same in content to what Ryan said, context applies here as well. Like him or not, Obama simply has far more moral authority to address the issue than Paul Ryan does among African Americans. Its an issue he can address and no black person will for an instant perceive him to be stereotyping African Americans writ large as lazy, but rather talking about the choices of INDIVIDUALS. Neither Paul Ryan nor the GOP at large, benefits from any such presumption within the African American community.

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December 28, 2013

Bridging the Digital Divide: A Strategic Necessity for African American Neighborhoods

The digital divide is most commonly defined as the gap between those individuals and communities that have, and do not have, access to the information technologies that are transforming our lives.  The Pew Research Center’s Internet Project found that internet use continues to be strongly correlated with age, educational attainment, and household income. One of the strongest patterns in the data on internet use is by age group: 44% of Americans ages 65 and older do not use the internet, and these older Americans make up almost half (49%) of non-internet users overall. while 76% of adults use the internet at home, 9% of adults use the internet but lack home access. Groups that are significantly more likely to rely on internet access outside the home include blacks and Hispanics, as well as adults at lower levels of income and education. Poor neighborhoods lack deep penetration of computers and high speed internet and in many low income African American neighborhoods, this population of older adult, black/hispanic and low income  non users often times constitutes the majority of the neighborhood population.

In poor neighborhoods, only a small portion of households have any kind of high speed internet access which permits utilization of various apps, video and other communication tools.  Further, poor neighborhoods typically lack few high speed public access options either.  Without this infrastructure, these neighborhoods cannot deploy internet enabled strategies that leverage concepts like  crowdfunding, the collaborative economy,  and most importantly for rebuilding neighborhoods, web enabled community organizing.

Think about it.  Organizing a neighborhood's disparate people, factions and institutions around common strategies for the neighborhood, developed through a consensus building process, is extraordinarily difficult. The digital divide becomes even more of a consideration at that point, since the internet is among the few tools which can connect a widely varying group of people engaged in a collaborative work across a geography in real time. This absolutely requires a functional  network that can scale as needed.  Its the definition of the internet.  The true power of it is that as a communication network, its unbelievably cheap, enabling huge information transfer with pretty much zero incremental cost.

But when neighborhoods lack widespread internet access, often coupled with low levels of literacy, none of this is available.  This means that the cost of maintaining the network of people implementing a neighborhood plan is significant and goes up as the number of people  involved grows. As a practical matter, the network has to be maintained with high levels of one on one, face to face engagement (meetings).  That kind of network management is scaleable, but only up to a certain limit given the effort and people resources required. Filling the gap with volunteers is difficult beyond a certain point.

The indispensable strategic necessity of bridging the digital divide in African American neighborhoods is vividly apparent.  Without widespread internet deployment in neighborhoods, the task of network building and organizing is more difficult, more expensive and harder to maintain and sustain.  Beyond that, second order effects such as leveraging ecommerce, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are largely unavailable as well.  These are all creative strategies that piggyback on the ubiquitous presence of the web.......except when its not.  The cost of being offline is greater now than it was 10 years ago. So many important transactions take place online, not to mention information access and commerce opportunity.

What does this mean for community building? A significant effort at driving investment into African American neighborhoods ought to focus in on bridging the divide so that neighborhoods can better leverage the advantage of an incredibly cheap, real time global communications and data network.  This can and should take a variety of forms, from digital education  efforts to teachyouth how to build mobile apps, to expansion of public access computers andleveraging the deep penetration of mobile, wirelesstechnologies in distressed neighborhoods to move beyond basic access

Indeed, the rise of mobile is changing the story. Groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide in basic internet access are using wireless connections to go online. Among smartphone owners, young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to say that their phone is their main source of internet access.  Even beyond smartphones, both African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are as likely as whites to own any sort of mobile phone, and are more likely to use their phones for a wider range of activities.
If we're not working on the digital divide in some form or fashion, we're leaving on the table one of the most profound and powerful game changers for our neighborhoods.  Let's cross the digital divide.
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October 18, 2013

The Tea Party: Fighting a White, Black, Brown and Beige Future

The Gadsden flag
The Gadsden flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 Britt Hume delivers a succinct explanation of the Tea Party's motivations:

"Veteran political observers on both the left and right are still trying to figure out what the House Tea Party caucus and its Senate pied piper Ted Cruz were thinking when they insisted on using the threat of a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare. "It was a hopeless strategy that has not only failed in its stated goal, but helped send the Republican Party to its lowest favorability ratings ever. "In conventional terms, it seems inexplicable, but Senator Cruz and his adherents do not view things in conventional terms. They look back over the past half-century, including the supposedly golden era of Ronald Reagan, and see the uninterrupted forward march of the American left. Entitlement spending never stopped growing. The regulatory state continued to expand. The national debt grew and grew and finally in the Obama years, exploded. They see an American population becoming unrecognizable from the free and self-reliant people they thought they knew. And they see the Republican Party as having utterly failed to stop the drift toward an unfree nation supervised by an overweening and bloated bureaucracy. They are not interested in Republican policies that merely slow the growth of this leviathan. They want to stop it and reverse it. And they want to show their supporters they'll try anything to bring that about. [emphasis mine]

Hume's analysis is good, as far as it goes, but he ignores the elephant at the Tea Party.  As much as no one wants to deal with it or address it or give it credence, the demographics of the tea party are pretty clear. It's adherents are overwhelmingly white and tend to be older and a bit more affluent than average.   Because we lack the courage for tough conversations, we try desperately not to frame tea party faction as more or less a grouping of white reactionaries, hell bent on reducing the size and scope of a government they feel is increasingly out of their control as the changing demographic reality of America takes hold, reducing their power to unilaterally dictate the policy direction of government from majority status.

Hume dances around it.  "They see an American population becoming unrecognizable from the free and self-reliant people they thought they knew."  Wonderfully coded language for the way the Tea Party views the browning of America. 

Their angst over the changing complexion of the electorate has been growing, but the election of a black president crystallized it and gave it a focus. Hume highlights the fact that the Tea Party is fiercely determined  in their intentions to reduce the government's power and the intensity of that determination has near hysterical elements to it. Hysteria is a fair word and its evident. Buying guns by the droves, embracing forced backdoor austerity by breaching the debt ceiling, the belief that most of the electorate is stupid because it disagrees with them. 

a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another.
synonyms:       racial bigot, racialist, xenophobe, chauvinist, supremacist More
(racially) discriminatory, racialist, prejudiced, bigoted
noun: racist; plural noun: racists; adjective: racist
2.having or showing the belief that a particular race is superior to another.

The dictionary definition of racism above says racism is a belief in the superiority of one race over another. 

To be sure, the Tea Party is motivated by concerns about the growth of government, the size of the debt, the erosion of freedom and liberty.  Those issues are real to them because they are real issues and it would be unfair to say that those concerns don't motivate the Tea Party. But its no coincidence that these concerns racheted up to near hysterical levels of anger, venom and activism when there was a black president to personify the government and all the concerns, spoken  and unspoken, the Tea Party has. 

 I don't charge that racism is what typifies the Tea Party faction of the GOP.  That's not accurate.  But it seems to me that there is little denying that part of what is operating in their mental background is a concern that their control of America and its government as part of a white voting majority in this country is coming to a close. The transition to a country politically guided by a multiracial electorate is one that they fear. 

Here is where the smallness of the Tea Party vision is exposed. Rather than pursue a path of inclusion or of shared opportunity, the Tea Party champions positions which will help to preserve the political strength they have enjoyed and maintain their competitive advantage as against other demographics (voter integrity drives for example).  It is true that government is too big and spends too much money.  But the makers vs. takers meme widely bought into by Tea Party supporters betrays the other impulse at work here.  Within 40 years, a multi racial electorate will determine our elected leaders, not a white majority.  Tea Party fervor is about shrinking and diminishing government power to tax them, or to restrain their behavior before that moment arrives to preserve their advantage.  If that means breaking government or pushing the economy into a train wreck, even one that threatens US global power, on the assumption that a country boy/girl can survive the apocalypse, but these others will fade....then so be it. 

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October 8, 2013

UPDATE: My #GOP Shutdown Prediction: Obama Will Blink First, But If Not, Greek Style Forced Austerity Is Next

Here is where this is going.  If my working assumption that Obama is not prepared to deal with a post hit the debt ceiling world and that the GOP would be happy with such a universe is correct, the #GOP is going to mostly get its way. I think Obama is going to blink.  I think they are going to get right up to the debt ceiling deadline  and the House GOP are not going to back down, and he's going to blink.  He's blinked before and that argues for him blinking again. So far, he's played it like I would were I him, played it like somebody who has finally woke up to who he is dealing with, like he actually understands that his political foes absolutely want to crush his presidency. He's told the #GOP to pound sand.

But the WH has already hinted about being open on the timeframe of a CR.  He hinted first and that tiny questing shows his orientation to deal rather than take it to the edge. I think he'll offer a deal first and when he does, he's toast.  The only way he wins this political contest is to be every bit as willing to go over this cliff as the GOP is.  He's not facing re-election, maybe he's up for it, but his track record in these matters doesn't convince me he has the requisite ice water in his veins.

And those moderate republicans the MSM keeps saying would vote for a clean CR if they could get one? Not so much. They fear the base backlash they will surely get if they buck their leadership, a leadership itself looking fearfully over its shoulder at the base and asking "is this okay?" Take into account the House GOP's Dirty Thirty or so, who were all for a shutdown and say they are not backing down. They have whole communities of constituents, along with Rush, Hannity and the entire FOX Network telling them to stand fast or be put out of office at the very next primary. They say, hey, we won't default.  They say, "There is more time, the government can manage a prioritization of payments scenario if we don't raise the debt ceiling. It's all scare tactics coming from the administration of dire consequences if we don't raise the debt ceiling'.

Maybe it is scare tactics, but even assuming they can prioritize payments (this is the same government the GOP points out can't get health care websites to work, right?) that will only stave off the worst consequences of not raising the debt limit for a very short period.  After that, guess what? It's forced austerity, Grecian style baby. Because if Obama goes over the cliff, he will stave off default by making sure that those interest payments are made. But of course, then you start figuring out who you are not paying.

That's where this is going boys and girls.  And we already know what forced austerity looks like and who takes that hit, the middle classes and the working poor. Black folk are represented heavily in those two groups, with our grip on the former far more fragile than our presence in the latter.  The rich will ride austerity out just fine.  And the white working class base of the GOP, the ones cheering on the House Dirty Thirty, who will also take austerity in the teeth?  They are okay with that idea, I guess because they feel like "hey, a country boy (girl) can survive".

UPDATE: Well look at that. The Dems maintain unit discipline and the GOP caves like a house of cards.

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September 28, 2013

Another Opportunity to Show Up for Conservatives: Marissa Alexander Wins New Trial

From Battered Wife to Battered Citizen 

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander has gone from being battered by her abusive husband to being battered by an inflexible criminal justice system. But she got some good news this past week. 

The Florida Court of Appeals has overturned her conviction and granted Marissa Alexander a new trial.  The appeals court cited the jury instructions provided at trial as being fundamentally flawed. The appeals did court upheld the outcome of her Stand Your Ground hearing, so there will not be a new SYG hearing.  However, she will get a new trial.  Hopefully, this time around, evidence of her husbands abuse and prior behavior with other women will not be kept from the jury, as it was in her first trial.  The press release by her attorneys can be read here

At her trial, volumes of mitigating and exculpatory evidence were withheld from the jury. Her husband Rico had tried to frame two different partners previously.  Not admissible.  Rico had beaten Marissa into the hospital previously.  Not admissible.  Rico had a long history of violence against women.  Not admissible.  Rico had a restraining order against him and if he had obeyed it none of this would have happened.  Not admissible.  Rico's testimony was purchased by the prosecution by not trying him for violating the restraining order Marissa had against him.  Not admissible.  All of the women in his prior relationships had lived in terror of this man.  Not admissible.  Marissa was an excellent shot and could have riddled him with bullets.  Not introduced.  Marissa most likely was suffering from post partum depression, traumatic brain injury, and or post traumatic stress disorder.  Not introduced. Under Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing laws, Marissa received a sentence of 20 years in prison. Ironically, she might have received a lesser sentence under Florida law if she had actually killed Gray and been convicted of manslaughter.

Call to Action for Conservatives and the GOP

This is not a Black-White issue, as the Martin case has become. Although she is Black, domestic abuse is not a social condition that only impacts minorities or the poor. Domestic abuse cuts across socioeconomic lines to remain the “dirty little secret” costing Americans thousands of broken lives and $700 million in lost business productivity annually.
For conservatives that regularly talk about the impact of the family on America’s future and the waste of resources as we struggle to revive our economy, the Alexander case highlights much of what we stand for.

What conservatives should do:

  • Respectfully call on the Florida Asst. Attorney General's office to reconsider and withdraw the states resistance to Marissa's appeal 
  • Raise/contribute money to support court costs. Her lawyers are working pro bono. 
  • Collaborate with African American community organizations and citizens to analyze, investigate and craft criminal justice system reforms
  • Support sensible reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing laws

Whether conservatives want to address this case on the issue of SYG application in domestic violence cases, ameliorating unintended mandatory sentencing impacts or exploring concerns of racial disparity in the application of SYG statutes, conservatives should engage and courageously dialogue with black voters around these and other issues of criminal justice reform when legitimate issues are raised.

African Americans have frequent contact with the criminal justice system as both victims and defendants. Criminal justice reforms are an issue of significance to this voter segment.  African American voters are as interested in appropriate sanction for crime as much and perhaps more than other communities. However, the African American historical and current experience of the criminal justice system is replete with examples of justice denied or injustice imposed by a legal system whose judgments they are bound to respect. 

That ongoing experience makes this voter segment very sensitive to criminal justice reform issues. As conservatives who are traditionally concerned with the rule of law, this is a sound foundation and opportunity for engagement with black voters on the fair and equitable administration of justice.  If we are serious as conservatives and as the republican party about winning support from African American voters, then we must get into the thick of gateway issues such as criminal justice reform, in the very same manner that we have determined we must engage on immigration reform in order to get a hearing on our ideas from the Hispanic community.

Its been said that in life, eighty percent of success is just showing up.  So too with politics. Democrats understand this well.  Where are the conservative faces and voices on Marissa's behalf?  African American voters pay attention to who stands with them in response to real or perceived injustice. Conservatives need to show up.