Saturday, October 31, 2015

President Obama: No Boots On the Ground In Syria!

One of the things that drives me crazy in any sort of relationship whether it be professional or personal is when someone changes their mind and/or does the exact opposite of what they said they were going to do. That's bad enough. But hey people change. Facts on the ground change. That's life. I can deal with that. We all have to deal. But, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken what can make me spit on my hands, hoist the black flag and start running berserk is when the person who has just changed their mind or reversed themselves has the sheer audacity to lie to your face and tell you that no they're not changing their mind. You just misunderstood them. Apparently you are just that stupid. It's not their problem that you apparently have a leaky brain. Actually they should get a medal for having to deal with your dumb behind. When dealing with people like this, black is white, up is down and good is evil. It literally does not matter what sort of proof you have of the person making declarative statements that they weren't going to do something. You can provide signed and notarized triplicate forms of the person telling you to do or not do something. Rest assured that none of that matters. The person will simply ignore reality until you agree that yes they were right all along. These folks are odious pious devotees of the Church of Cover Thy A$$. No matter what they are always right. If they predicted rain yesterday but it doesn't rain then as far as they were concerned they didn't predict rain. They are always right. Bottom line. It's easier to avoid these sorts of people in my personal life but unfortunately they are tremendously over represented among upper management and Presidents.

Remember that President Barack Obama made definitive statements that he would not put boots on the ground in Syria. Period. End of story. Also remember that after a rather public Hamlet like internal debate President Obama tried and failed to get Congress to authorize ground troops in Syria. Now in a functioning republic that's the end. Unfortunately we lack a functioning republic. We have one in which Presidents (Obama wasn't the first and won't be the last) have seized for themselves the right to attack, bomb and invade countries without any sort of Congressional permission. So yesterday we saw White House spokesman mouthpiece Josh Earnest announce that US Special Forces troops would be on the ground in Syria (they're probably already there). According to Mr. Earnest this didn't contradict the President's prior assertions. Also according to Mr. Earnest this didn't fall under the War Powers Act. Mr. Earnest claimed this was legal despite the fact that the government of Syria didn't invite US Special Forces. Mr. Earnest claimed that the 2001 AUMF gave the President all the authority he needed. That the President believes that a law created for one country and one organization gives him authority to interfere in another country without Congressional or for that matter United Nations approval is telling.

Book Reviews: Detroit: An American Autopsy, Finn Family Moomintroll

Detroit: An American Autopsy
by Charlie LeDuff
Charlie LeDuff is a local "Caucasian" (more on that in a minute because it is relevant) Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, gadfly, pain in the a$$ and media showman who, after journalistic stints in New York, Los Angeles and a few other places circled back to Detroit to become a reporter for the Detroit News, one of two major local daily newspapers. LeDuff grew up close to Detroit, in the local suburb of Westland or as he puts it, the only city that he knows of that was named after its shopping mall. LeDuff is an inveterate chronicler of the absurd. And there is, was and probably always will be a lot that is absurd in Detroit and the surrounding areas. This book, is both a love letter to Detroit (and the tri-county area) and also a rambling screed about all the crazy stuff that goes on in the metropolitan area. As I've mentioned before and LeDuff points out constantly, this area has always had a tremendous amount of racial hostility and segregation. That colors (pun intended) every bit of news and information about well, everything. So you could read this book and come away convinced that black political leadership is hopelessly incompetent and completely incapable of running a major city. Or you could read this book and be just as convinced that white racism and greed are fatal flaws in the American political arena that will wind up destroying the nation. LeDuff doesn't explicitly let you know where he stands. He's a reporter. He calls it like he sees it. LeDuff is currently raising a little hell by reporting on the fact that Detroit's new white mayor Mike Duggan, has overseen an extremely suspicious rise in the cost of home demolitions by companies that may or may not be connected to the mayor's friends. So LeDuff would likely state that he doesn't care what color you are, if you're not flying right he's going to call you out. Some people might disagree with that. LeDuff has tons of phone and email messages calling him a "n*****-lover" and just as many others making unpleasant references to his whiteness. You'd have to read the book for yourself and make up your own mind. Detroit: An American Autopsy, examines some of the more infamous events that took place around here from about 2004 to about 2012. These would include such things as the Kwame Kilpatrick text message and municipal corruption scandals, Councilwoman Monica Conyers' various public eruptions of anger and foolishness, the near meltdown of the Big Three auto companies, frozen corpses found in abandoned factories owned by scofflaw billionaires, the perpetual and near hopeless battles of teachers, police officers and especially firefighters to get the equipment they need to do their job safely, and many other failures of public and private leadership and probity that kept Detroit and some other localities in the news. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

South Carolina Cop Assaults Spring Valley High School Student

I used to work with high school students when I was an undergraduate in my 20's.  As teenagers, they can be frustrating to work with and, on occasion, I'd have to have a few tough conversations about discipline and respect.  But at the end of the day, it never occurred to me to put my hands on any of the students under my watch, in part because that's their parents' job, and also in part because of the legal liability that would result, but largely because it would have been flat out wrong.  This video of the police officer assaulting a high school student -- and let's be clear, this is an assault -- takes wrong to a whole new level.  I think the saddest part about the video is the palpable sense of helplessness in the eyes of the other students in that classroom.  That's the sense that you get when you are forced to watch the living embodiment of how Black lives actually do not matter.  I've been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' book "Between the World and Me" lately and it talks a lot about the impact and control that racism has over the body of Black people.  This is a prime example of that.  If this can be done to our bodies without repercussion, then how do we go about feeling secure in our bodies?

As a parent, we all hope that our children behave as angels 24/7.  But if my daughter should contradict her teachers or refuse to leave a classroom after being told to do so, I would also hope that somebody in this cop's position would think twice before putting their hands on my child in this way. Because as ugly as this video is, I can only imagine how ugly it would get for this officer and his family after I'm done.

Apparently this student had been told to leave the classroom for being disruptive and refused to go.  With that in mind, what are your thoughts about this video:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ben Carson and Donald Trump Watch the Democratic Debate

It is possible, albeit not likely that either Trump or Carson will be the next President of the United States. For the first time in the race, Carson is moving ahead of Trump in the Iowa polls. Generally the two men have ignored each other. That has started to change. For different reasons I think each man is unqualified to become President of the United States. Trump seems to think that he can run roughshod over the concept of separation of powers (and other countries' interests) by force of his personality and intelligence. Carson believes that the problem is that the previous Presidents have lacked morality and common sense.  From Carson's point of view being President isn't exactly brain surgery. Of course it's hard to always suss out what Carson believes due to his tendency to mumble. Either way the Republican race will continue to be more entertaining than the downright soporific Democratic race. You may have heard that candidate Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the race. His ten supporters were devastated. Everyone else spent about five seconds trying to remember who Chafee was and why he was running in the first place. Anyway, as you might expect Donald Trump did not take the news of Carson's Iowa surge well, first retweeting a snarky comment about Iowans' intelligence and then saying he didn't believe the polls, while taking a shot at Carson's super laid back demeanor.  MIAMI (AP) — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump dismissed polls that show him trailing Dr. Ben Carson in Iowa, calling the retired neurosurgeon "super low-energy" before a boisterous crowd in Miami on Friday night. The Iowa polls are a rare setback for the billionaire businessman's campaign. He's leading polls nationally and in other early primary states. Mimicking a television journalist reporting the breaking news of Trump slipping behind Carson, Trump ridiculed his GOP rival. "We informed Ben, but he was sleeping," Trump joked. The crowd roared. He also said the polls in Iowa "are wrong" and said most pollsters "don't like me at all."
I wonder what Carson and Trump thought of the recent Democratic debate? Fortunately there is footage of their discussion concerning that.

Television Reviews: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom
This new BBC America series is based on Bernard Cornwell's series of historical novels set in 9th century England around the time of King Alfred the Great. In some aspects it shares DNA with James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking/Last of the Mohicans tales in that the series' primary character is a man who has mixed allegiances, based on the clash between his birth and his upbringing. It's also similar to Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles, which were reviewed earlier here. And like George R.R. Martin, without whose successful Game of Thrones adaptation this television series probably wouldn't have been made, Cornwell has not yet completed the books. Although I suppose being based on history there won't be too many surprises to be found in the remaining novels. I mentioned Game of Thrones. Like that series this series, at least based on the premiere doesn't intend to stint on the violence and general gray-blue tint which has seemingly become required for hack-n-slash dramas set back in the days when men were men and before anyone had discovered electricity or anti-perspirant. But the series also has or to be fair may have enough emotional involvement to hook viewers who otherwise might be bored silly watching some bearded men (or women for that matter) swing a bloody sword and declaim at length about how at long last their time for revenge/justice/payback has arrived. I'm not sure this history is well known outside of a relatively small group of English history buffs but 9th century England was (before the rise of Alfred) a place that was under constant attack by and slowly falling under the domination of the Vikings. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

RushCard Ripoff and The Vampire State

Driving home the other day and being atypically uninterested in whatever show the Sirius old time radio station was playing I turned over to a station which was playing Karen Hunter and caught the second half of her interview with Ryan C. Mack, a financial adviser, stock broker and author among other things. The topic of the moment was the financial problems currently going on with the RushCard, a prepaid debit care that has musical entrepreneur and well known celebrity Russell Simmons as an endorser/owner.  His celebrity doesn't matter. What is important is that the RushCard technical infrastructure was having some problems which temporarily (for ten days no less) prevented users of said card from having access to their money. But as Ryan Mack pointed out, considering the not so hidden costs of the RushCard, temporarily losing access to this debit card could be a blessing in disguise to millions if this made them reconsider using the card. Let's explain. As we've pointed out before there is a lot of money to be made from poor people. There's especially a lot of money to be made from poor black people. Although usury is technically outlawed in most states while consumer banks have been under greater legal and regulatory pressure since 2008 to reduce junk fees or at least make them more obvious to the user, there are many other such businesses who skirt or even outright flout usury laws by calling their prices "fees" or "charges" as opposed to interest. These include such institutions as rent-to-own stores, check cashing stores, payday loan stores, and pre-paid debit cards such as the RushCard. Very few people who have true wealth or for that matter even a decent salary which allows them to routinely put money aside are ever caught dead in such places. Very few people with an average to good understanding of personal finances patronize such firms. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#RIP Corey Jones

A Black man is killed by a police officer off of I-95 in Florida. Scratch that. Corey Jones, a drummer at his church, is killed by a non-white police officer who was in plain clothes in an unmarked car. We here at The Urban Politico were alerted to this story Tuesday morning. We read about it, discussed it in an email exchange, and took no action until today when you began reading this post late in the afternoon while wasting time at your day job.

So why the delay?

Honestly, I thought it would go away. I naively wished the story would go away. I stuck my fingers in my ear, sang La La La La La La La loudly and off key and willed Corey Jones's name to not enter my subconscious, to become a here today gone tomorrow news story I could forget in a week. But I know better. Corey Jones was in deep in my brain with all the others like him who had gone before him. So here we are today with another name, another blog post, another hashtag, another Black man slain at the hands of people who are supposed to serve and protect everyone, and the only thing the Black community has to show for it is the injustice of paid administrative leave.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Jim Webb Quits Presidential Race

Well that didn't take too long and really wasn't that surprising. Jim Webb announced today that he is dropping his race for President -- as a Democrat. He is not willing just yet to say no to the idea of running as an independent. As we discussed earlier, Jim Webb no longer fits with the soul of the national Democratic party and hasn't for quite some time. His relative lack of charisma and complete lack of funds didn't help matters either. It remains to be seen if there are a number of independent voters who are yearning to breathe freely and vote for Jim Webb for President. I would doubt it. I don't think that Webb did himself any favors in the Democratic debate by constantly complaining about his perceived lack of speaking time or attention. But some of that rancor no doubt arose from Webb's rounding error level of polling support. Watching the debate it seemed that Webb was just as frustrated by the fact that no one seemed to know who he was as by the moderator's alleged dismissals. Webb is famously proud of his supposed touchiness. And it was on display again today.
Webb isn't completely out of the 2016 mix just yet. He said he is still considering an independent bid for president."How I remain as a voice will depend on the kind of support I'm shown," said Webb. "Though I'm not going away, I'm thinking about all my options." That would be an uphill climb for the underfunded former one-term senator. Raising money to fuel a run is only half of the problem; getting on the ballot in all 50 states would be an expensive proposition. He should not be completely discounted, however — Webb's home state is Virginia. The swing state has been especially crucial in recent presidential elections, and if he peels off even a small percentage of the vote, that could be a problem for Democrats. As for whether Webb still considers himself a Democrat, Webb paused and told a reporter, "We'll think about that."

The more interesting question to me is not whether Webb runs or not. He is irrelevant. He was never going to be President. The more interesting question is can the Democratic party continue to win nationally while continuing to lose the votes of white men or more specifically of a certain class of white men. These are the people for whom Webb tried to position himself as speaking for, albeit with decidedly mixed results. As the two major parties ready themselves for a post-Obama election it will be fascinating to see if the winning Obama coalition will hold together without him on the ballot or if the class and racial polarization in this society makes each major political party almost completely identified with and subsumed by parochial interests. So Webb's departure may be seen as utterly meaningless or as the canary in the coal mine incident. Right now I'm leaning towards utterly meaningless.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Television Reviews: Power (Season One), The Strain (Season Two)

Power (Season One)
This was a gift from my brother. I liked it more than I thought I would although it was crammed full of plotholes, unrealistic writing and leaps in logic. Nevertheless it sort of grew on me like a mosquito bite. You could say that this series was a reworking of Superfly and many other blaxploitation films but I suppose you could say that about a great many movies or tv shows. In this story, as in many other stories, the hero -or to be accurate-the protagonist is faced with moral conflicts, challenges and betrayals. The action of the story comes from how he deals with these issues or in some cases if he even knows about them. The setup is simple enough. James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) is the owner of a very popular and extremely profitable NYC nightclub named Truth. Truth has become the "it" place to be among the NYC beautiful people class. Models, actors, musicians, wannabes, heirs and heiresses and anyone who wants to be seen as coming up all try to get into Truth. James is a dedicated and hands on owner. He leaves nothing to chance. If there's a problem he's on it immediately to fix it. Nothing is beneath his notice. However his zeal for work is starting to cause a problem with both his wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) and his best friend/business partner Tommy (Joseph Sikora), albeit for slightly different reasons. Tasha is concerned that James is neglecting her and the children for his club work. Her mother (Debbie Morgan) warns Tasha of the temptations that a sharp dressed wealthy man like James faces. Tommy is concerned that James is abandoning him for a higher class of people and forgetting why they (Tommy is a secondary and silent partner in the club) opened the club in the first place. You see James, known as Ghost to his wife and Tommy, and Tommy aren't just club owners. Tommy in particular only cares about the club to the extent it allows him to run game on women. No James and Tommy are partners (James is the leader) in one of the city's largest drug distribution rings. James originally opened the club as an avenue to launder money. His wife is fully aware of her husband's activities. She provided both detailed and some unspecified assistance to James when he was coming up. Tommy is constantly irritated that James is skipping out on business meetings/sitdowns to handle club issues.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Recap: The First Democratic Debate

Five democratic candidates for President of the United States took the debate stage in Las Vegas last night to face off over the issues for the very first time. Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O'Malley introduced themselves to the American people and then got down and dirty in the political mud.

No topic was off limits. Gun control. Hillary Clinton's Emails. Benghazi. Syria. Russia. The Economy. Black Lives Matter. The candidates covered it all. Well, at least some of them did, and that is where we have a problem, if you don't like your candidates chosen for you.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Deadly Police Shooting of 12-Year-Old Tamir Rice Deemed Justified

12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed last November seconds after Cleveland police arrived to the park where he was playing with a toy gun. It is that toy gun, that no longer had its orange tipped cap, that got the child clipped with no questions asked and no commands given by police officers who felt they were in imminent danger for their lives. Those officers felt they were in imminent danger because of 911 calls about someone waving a gun around a park. A 911 call where the caller said, it's probably a toy, an element of the call that was conveniently not relayed to the responding officers. What ensued on that fateful November day was utter negligence on behalf of the 911 dispatcher, and recklessness on behalf of the Cleveland police. 

Here we are now almost a year later, a grieving family waits for justice, and that justice is now all but denied. The results of independent reports ordered by the Cleveland prosecutor found that Officer Timothy Loehmann, the officer who fired the fatal shot killing Tamir, acted objectionably reasonable and within the realm of reasonableness. 

Pardon me while I lose my lunch. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book Reviews: Dead Men's Boots

Dead Men's Boots
by Mike Carey
I like authors who work magic and the supernatural into the everyday mundane affairs of modern humans. Jim Butcher, Nicholas Kaufman and Neil Gaiman are some of the better writers who can do this. Mike Carey also deserves notice as part of that crew. Carey has created a timeline in our world where a great many of the things that scare people are real. Ghosts, zombies, were-creatures, demons, devils, the whole nine yards. 

Carey's trick is that most people aren't all that disturbed by this, at least after a few years of hysteria. So this series (written in first person) is really more of a detective/mystery series than something which requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief. Carey's sardonic smart mouth world weary hero is straight out of classic noir. He's not particularly wealthy, good looking or fast with his fists. But Felix Castor is one of the UK's best exorcists. He's one of those rare people who are able to see ghosts and what's more bind them or dispel them. 

Every exorcist does the binding and dispelling in different ways. Some wordy people like to use long incantations. Some more physical people may use interpretive dance. Felix's particular interface with the supernatural revolves around music. He's able to get a fix on a supernatural being through music: rhythm, harmony and melody. Felix likes to use a whistle to play the song to dispel a ghost but in a pinch almost any instrument or surface will do. He can even sing the melody himself. Like most detectives Felix has a strained relationship with the police. 

One senior detective uses Felix on some important cases but another detective has made it widely known that she would be very happy to use fair means or foul to put Felix in jail. Her dislike stems from a misunderstanding about a murder case which wasn't what it seemed. Even though Felix was innocent Detective Basquiat is not a woman who likes smart-alecks or lets go of grudges easily. And she's surprisingly handy with her fists. Felix can also count on, well at least as long as his interests don't conflict with theirs, occasional assistance from his friends associates Nicky and Juliet. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

A House Divided

Facing yet another federal government shutdown due to the Republican Party's opposition to Planned Parenthood, House Speaker, John Boehner, shocked the political world when he announced his resignation from that position.  The Republican party was dealt yet another blow yesterday when the man slated to replace Boehner, majority leader Kevin McCarthy, also announced that he, too, has decided to decline the Speakership.

As the New York Times put it:

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California abruptly withdrew on Thursday from the race to succeed Speaker John A. Boehner, blindsiding his House Republican colleagues and throwing their already tumultuous chamber into deeper chaos with no clear leader in sight just weeks before a series of high-stakes fiscal battles.
As lawmakers ate barbecue and sipped sodas during what was expected to be a pro forma vote to select Mr. McCarthy as their nominee, he did an about-face, saying that he had concluded he could not unite the increasingly fractious Republican majority.
“I am not that guy,” said Mr. McCarthy, with his wife and family by his side, according to members who were in the room. Moments later, Mr. Boehner, who learned of Mr. McCarthy’s decision only minutes before he announced it, declared the vote postponed and the meeting adjourned even though there were two other candidates in the running, underscoring the weakness of the field.
Some Republicans, including Mr. Boehner and Mr. McCarthy, are pressing Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s nominee for vice president in 2012, to step up. Mr. Ryan, however, has repeatedly said he does not want the job, a point he reiterated Thursday even before his colleagues left the meeting.

We could go on but let's just stop right there for a moment and take note that this Republican-led Congress has been a veritable "hot mess" since taking majority in 2010.  Since assuming majority, the approval rating for Congress has plummeted to record lows and the federal government has either shut down or been faced with the threat of shut down numerous times.  This has largely been due to the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party who, although not the majority of the party, insist that the Party, and the rest of the Congress, adopt their position 100% of the time on every issue.  And their position is simple: as long as Barack Obama occupies the White House, the federal government must cease to function (of course they'll say it's not about Obama but the facts tend to suggest otherwise).

But turning back to the speakership, one has to wonder whether this Republican House, which has struggled over the past 5 years to do just about anything, is capable of getting their act together and rallying behind anyone, let alone the Vice Presidential candidate of the infamously unsuccessful Mitt Romney ticket. Ryan certainly has the respect of many Republican members of Congress, but the Tea Party (these days operating under the banner of the "Freedom Caucus") is a different bread of Republican.  They're not really interested in being led by anyone because that would mean working with others to actually make the government work, and that conflicts with their prime directive (see above).

So what's a Republican Party to do these days?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Movie Reviews: Playing It Cool, The Impostors

Playing It Cool
directed by Justin Reardon
Romantic comedies are usually pretty cliched. You (with the occasional exception of films like Annie Hall, 500 Days of Summer or Don Jon) pretty much know how these things are going to go down before you even start to watch them. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy has to do some serious self-examination and internal rework. Boy has to do something desperate or humiliating to win girl's love again. This last part normally includes a sprint through the train station, bus station, airport or for films set in earlier days, the port so that he can tell his baby just how he feels before something horrible happens and the star crossed lovers are forever separated. So for the most part when you watch movies like this you probably aren't looking for too many surprises, violent conflict or really out of left field writing. Most romantic comedies are formulaic. The skill on display with romantic comedies, as with similar seemingly simple styles such as haiku or blues music, comes with being able to say something new and entertaining while using a relatively limited palette of emotions, story lines and characters. Playing it Cool did this well enough. It will definitely remind you of similar entries in this field. I don't know that it stands head and shoulders above its counterparts. If you can't stand this genre then obviously don't even bother watching this film. I can't stress strongly enough how much this film relies on a number of well worn cliches and tropes. To the extent that it works it does so because of the relentless cheerfulness and completely unconscious narcissism of the lead character, only ever identified as Me (Chris Evans).