A way of understanding America’s civil unrest

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People run in front of the Minneapolis Police Department, 3rd Precinct, as it burns in the background.

Cities across the country have erupted in protest following a spate of police killings of unarmed black people – most prominently George Floyd, but also Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and others. Police have attacked crowds with teargas, rubber bullets, batons, and vehicles. Rioters have burned buildings and looted stores. People have been seriously injured and several have been killed.

Amid the chaos, President Trump has quadrupled down on his most authoritarian instincts. He’s frequently screamed “LAW & ORDER!” in all-caps tweets. Trump urged the nation’s governors to “get much tougher,” “dominate,” and jail protesters for “five years or ten years” so that “you’ll never see this stuff again.” He deployed the military in Washington, D.C., and threatened to use the 101st Airborne against American citizens in American streets.

The history of black oppression in America is too long for any one article, but it’s critical to understand it in order to grasp the facts of the current unrest. Racism is thoroughly baked into the history, culture, and consciousness of America. Many police forces began as slave patrols hunting down escaped slaves and then as segregation enforcers. Civil rights legislation in the 1960s formally outlawed discrimination, but did little to address the legacy of centuries of abuse, poverty, and bigotry. To this day, fully 400 years after the first slave came to America, blacks face well-documented discrimination in housing, education, business, banking, media, and of course, the justice system.

Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in her own bed by police who broke in to the wrong address. Police shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun at a park, on sight. The whole world watched Eric Garner plead with his dying breath for police to stop choking him. Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray – the names of unarmed black people killed by police for minor crimes or nothing at all are known in every home.

Cop defenders say these tragedies represent the actions of a few bad apples. But bad apples are not exceptions to be waved away. Bad apples spoil the bunch. Police culture views America as a warzone. It demands the unwavering defense of their brothers in blue. Cops who kill or use excessive force rarely face any serious consequences. Whistleblowers on the force who tell the truth about bad cops routinely face retaliation. The problem is with the whole orchard.

Against this cultural and historical backdrop, amid an economic downturn and a global pandemic that have also disproportionately impacted black Americans, came the broad-daylight murder of George Floyd. People finally had all they could take. Protests began in Minneapolis and quickly escalated into riots, culminating in the burning down of a Minneapolis Police Department precinct building. Solidarity protests popped up in cities across America and, within days, around the globe.

While most Americans sympathize to some degree with the protests and the need for justice for Floyd, the riots and looting have been controversial. They’ve also been the most difficult aspect of the story to accurately gauge. Only a small percentage of protesters participate in the looting. Agitators unsympathetic to the Black Lives Matter cause, including members of alt-right organizations, the Ku Klux Klan, and, potentially, undercover police, have caused much of the destruction.

Violence, when it has occurred, has almost always been instigated by police. Heavily armed units loom fearsomely around the protests, flying helicopters, aiming weapons, and raising the tension all around. Cops in many cities used curfew hours as a green light to initiate force. Social media is filled with real-time, first-hand accounts of protesters being shot with rubber bullets, teargassed, beaten with batons, or shoved to the ground:

Donald Trump

In order to take this awkward photo op, President Trump had to teargas and forcibly remove peaceful protesters from the church grounds.

Police targeted journalists, including a black CNN reporter who was arrested live on air. In Asheville and elsewhere, police slashed water bottles and destroyed food and medical supplies. Cops fired at medics wearing the red cross, an internationally recognized and protected symbol, in Austin, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. The National Guard disrupted a protest in Washington, D.C., using a medical helicopter. If committed by a foreign military, these actions would be war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

One standout incident showed police in Buffalo, New York, casually shoving a nonviolent 75-year-old man to the ground. His head smacks the pavement and a pool of blood forms around it as officers march on. Two officers were charged and suspended over the incident. Then, in a show of solidarity with the bad apples, 57 Buffalo police resigned and a department in Florida offered to hire them all.

The Trump Administration and right-wing media have fully endorsed this attack on the American people and the First Amendment. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton called for police and the military to restore order with “an overwhelming show of force” in America’s streets. President Trump credited police with doing a “fantastic job.” Their response to police brutality is to shut the people up about it as brutally as possible.

It’s important not to lose sight of the big picture. These protests are about centuries of oppression and generations of terror inflicted on black communities. No amount of property damage or highway blockage justifies the violence we’ve seen from police or the fascist bullhorn of the White House. Brutality brought this moment into being. More of it is not the answer. We need serious, structural change – a whole new way of imagining what community safety looks like.

Fortunately, there are signs that the protests are having a positive effect. Movements to defund the police are growing, including in Minneapolis, where the city council recently voted to dismantle its police department. Much of the duties of law enforcement, like resolving domestic disputes, treating drug addicts, or ensuring the safety of the homeless and severely mentally ill, will be better handled by social workers and healthcare professionals.

Such a radical transformation requires more imagination than politicians are capable of on their own, and this is exactly why the protests are so important. Politicians may support modest reforms, but America’s political class has a deeply entrenched “tough on crime” mentality. In order to shake the foundation enough to make truly transformative progress, people have to make their voices heard too loudly and too clearly to be ignored. Riots, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, are “the language of the unheard.”

Establishment Dems go all-in on Biden gamble

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With help from MSNBC and establishment Dems, former Vice President Joe Biden overtook Bernie Sanders last week to become the Democratic frontrunner.

Turn on the TV or open any newspaper in the last week and you’ll hear a story: former Vice President Joe Biden has revived his flailing campaign, regained his frontrunner status, and pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in electoral history.

After poor showings in the first three primary contests – all of which were won by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders – Biden’s political obituary had been all but written. Then, following the endorsement of influential Congressman Jim Clyburn, Biden ran away with the South Carolina primary. That was Saturday. By Monday evening, both Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar had dropped out. Along with Beto O’Rourke, they joined Biden at a rally in Dallas. Their endorsements propelled Biden to victory in ten Super Tuesday contests.

But Biden himself seemingly had little to do with this remarkable turnaround. He did almost no campaigning in Super Tuesday states, didn’t spend much money or employ much staff, and hadn’t done many public appearances. His comeback was completely manufactured. A cheering media and high-profile endorsements carried to the finish line a candidate who does little campaigning, who’s plagued with personal and political scandal, and whose worsening physical and mental frailties are on display every time he appears in public. Continue reading

Don’t look now, America, but socialism is all around you

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, currently the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a self-described “democratic socialist.”

With Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on a trajectory to win the Democratic nomination for president, socialism is the talk of the nation. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has proposed big reforms, including universal healthcare, tuition-free college, and more than doubling the federal minimum wage. His ascent has the Democratic establishment and corporate pundits concerned. What the media doesn’t acknowledge is that socialism is everywhere in America already. And whether they realize it or not, Americans like it. Continue reading

Michael Bloomberg is an odious billionaire who wants to buy the presidency

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Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his presidential debate debut on Wednesday. His performance was widely panned.

After pouring some $500 million of his own fortune into his presidential campaign, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally joined his Democratic rivals on the debate stage Wednesday night. He turned in a remarkably despicable performance in which he unapologetically refused to address allegations of harassment and offered only tepid explanations for the stop-and-frisk policy that repeatedly violated the civil rights and basic humanity of hundreds of thousands of innocent black and brown New Yorkers.

For all the problems the Democratic field has, Bloomberg’s emergence on the debate stage was the first time it seemed possible the party could actually nominate someone even more odious than Donald Trump. Bloomberg’s remarks on race, women, LGBTQ issues, and more are often as loathsome as Trump’s and, in some cases, are even worse. Continue reading

Why Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to take down Donald Trump

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is now the frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Hot off the heels of winning the popular vote in the contentious Iowa caucus, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is in the best position of his campaign. He is polling well against, if not ahead of, longtime frontrunner Joe Biden in important early primary states like New Hampshire, Nevada, and California. Rising on a tide of donations averaging around $20 a piece, Sanders has forced the Democratic establishment and the news media to reckon with the real prospect of his nomination.

This is great news for anyone who wants to see Donald Trump evicted from the White House. Sanders’s strengths as an independent populist play perfectly well against Trump’s weaknesses as a corrupt, incompetent billionaire. Trump’s strongest argument, which has been to paint his opponents as Washington insiders, fall flat against Sanders, a sincere outsider whose convictions have held over his long career.

Perhaps Trump’s greatest gift as a politician is his ability to dispatch an opponent using only a single phrase or nickname: “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low-energy Jeb,” or “Crooked Hillary.” It’s childish bullying, but it’s effective. Elizabeth Warren has demonstrated that Trump can bait her into public embarrassment. Biden has no comeback to “Sleepy Joe” or “Where’s Hunter?”; his deteriorating mental state and family corruption are matters of fact. Sanders, on the other hand, owns the “socialist” label and makes it palatable to an America beset by longer hours, harder work, and runaway inequality.

Trump knows that Sanders is his toughest opponent. In leaked audio from April 2018, Trump admits Hillary Clinton would’ve been stronger with Sanders as her vice president, saying, “He was the only one I didn’t want her to pick.” Trump reportedly grapples with the appeal of socialist policies, telling advisers that the cancellation of student debt is “a tough one to run against.” He even offered faint praise for Sanders in his Super Bowl interview, saying, “At least he’s true to what he believes.”

Sanders is fighting for healthcare, a living wage, debt reduction, and tuition-free college for everyone in America. Within the current Washington dynamic, those policies are written off as unrealistic or too extreme despite their popularity across a broad swath of the American people. Even those who support Sanders and his policies often fear that his progressive agenda will never pass through a far-right, obstructionist Congress. In order to overcome gridlock and establishment opposition, Sanders has pledged to govern as an organizer-in-chief, encouraging Americans to keep the pressure up on elected politicians.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Participate In Presidential Primary Debate In Des Moines, Iowa

Much of the media have declared Sanders and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg co-winners of the messy Iowa Caucus. Sanders beat Buttigieg by some 6,000 popular votes, but they will likely receive the same number of delegates.

Even if he doesn’t pass his entire legislative agenda, Sanders has gotten the nation talking about it. Moderate Democrats like Pete Buttigieg now have to make their arguments against Medicare for All. In addition to his New Deal-like domestic policies, Sanders is the most antiwar candidate running and the most aggressive on climate change. Dozens of nations outperform America in healthcare, education, housing, labor rights, and/or environmental protection, and Sanders has shifted the national conversation toward doing better.

Sanders’s biggest obstacles may well come from his own party. Hillary Clinton questioned Sanders’s electability and recently said, “Nobody likes him… nobody wants to work with him.” Insider reporting suggests that Barack Obama, John Kerry, and other top Democratic figures desperately want to avoid a Sanders nomination. Billionaire Howard Schultz has threatened a third-party run if Sanders is the nominee and Michael Bloomberg has already spent some $200 million on his own campaign.

The problem isn’t that Sanders is unelectable; he consistently polls well against Trump, and better in many polls than any other Democrat. The problem is that the Clinton wing of the party doesn’t like him. A Sanders presidency may threaten the interests of corporate Democrats even more than a Trump presidency, fraying their close relationships with wealthy donors. So much the better for ordinary Americans, as those relationships have turned the party away from working-class interests.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign is most instructive of all. Her campaign focused more on the evils of Trump than the good she planned to do. Though she won the popular vote, she lost the election. To rally the support and enthusiasm necessary to retake the White House and move America forward requires an inspirational message of your own.

Sanders has no misunderstandings about the danger posed by Trump’s corruption, authoritarianism, and bigotry. But Sanders also knows that Trump cannot be the only focus. The Sanders campaign is centered around class solidarity, environmental innovation, and social supports to guarantee every American a fundamental standard of dignity. That message has made him the Democratic frontrunner. Not only is Bernie Sanders the best choice to stop Donald Trump, he is the best president for this moment.

The fatal flaw of George Clooney’s Catch-22

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Christopher Abbott as Yossarian prepares to fly yet another mission.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a classic American novel about World War II, bureaucracy, the illogic underpinning our social charades, and the courageous use of cowardice to do the one thing that really matters: survive. It is long, dense, and nonlinear, with a large cast of characters who represent Heller’s satires of capitalism, incompetence, American exceptionalism, and more.

Previous attempts to translate Catch-22 in motion pictures proved difficult. Mike Nichols’s 1971 film fell flat before critics and audiences, though Heller himself praised it. A 1973 TV series fizzled before it got off the ground. Now, Hulu and George Clooney have produced a six-part miniseries and most reviews contend that Heller’s epic novel has finally been given the treatment it deserves. Continue reading

The embarrassing futility of ‘principled Republicans’ who attack Trump

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President Trump has repeatedly criticized former Arizona Senator John McCain, seven months after McCain’s passing.

Every now and then, the craven indecency of Donald Trump pushes some members of the Republican Party to stand up and say that this time, the president has gone too far. These are supposedly the GOP’s respectable men of stature. They may agree with virtually all of Trump’s policies, but they can’t abide his dirty language or disrespect of sacred cows. Whenever one of these so-called “principled Republicans” chides Trump in public, though, Trump just mops the floor with them. Continue reading

Howard Schultz and the billionaire establishment’s preference for Trump over leftist Democrats

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Howard Schultz, 65, oversaw the expansion of Starbucks into a global brand and now feels qualified to run the United States.

Whether or not Howard Schultz, the billionaire former CEO of Starbucks, runs for president in 2020 hinges largely on what direction the Democratic Party goes. Schultz, who has no political experience, is concerned that the party has become too left-wing, pushed by prominent congresspeople like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In order to save the country from a choice between socialism and Donald Trump, Schultz may be compelled to run as a “centrist independent.”

In a media blitz late last month, Schultz slammed Trump, calling the president “despicable” and accusing him of doing “almost everything possible to discredit the dignity, the civility, the values, the respectfulness of the Oval Office with no degree of any sense of responsibility to the American people.” Schultz’s remarks were notably lacking in specifics. While his most sanctimonious denunciations were of Trump’s demeanor and vulgarity, his strongest policy critiques were directed at Democrats, particularly Ocasio-Cortez. Continue reading

A view of the restraint of President Trump

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President Trump has held firm to his position of unilaterally holding the federal government hostage for his border wall, much to the delight of his base.

The presidency of tabloid star, game show host, and brand entrepreneur Donald J. Trump has been a rowdy one. Currently, the federal government of the United States is, like so many of Trump’s former ventures, shut down. As Trump threatens to declare a national emergency and circumvent Congress in order to build his promised southern border wall, commentators are speculating just how far Trump will go to undermine American institutions and empower himself.

Throughout his many decades of public life, Trump has been openly petty, vulgar, racist, conspiratorial, and narcissistic. The presidency hasn’t matured him an iota. As president, he’s continued to lie, flirt with dictators, enrich himself and his family, and show no compunction about stripping away benefits and even disaster relief from vulnerable people. Given how brazenly he’s gotten away with it all, though, it’s almost a marvel that he hasn’t gone even further. Continue reading

The real reason Trump wants a border wall

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Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office for the first time as president on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office, telling Americans there is a national security crisis on our southern border that only his wall – or fence, or barrier – can protect us from. The US federal government has been shut down for three weeks as Trump refuses to reopen it without funding for his project. Democrats have largely held firm, issuing a rebuke of Trump’s arguments and refusing to give him what he wants.

In his address, the president described the southern border as a warzone under constant attack by enemies of America. Trump connected America’s heroin epidemic with border crossings and ran down a short, cherry-picked list of Americans killed by undocumented immigrants to imply that none of them can be trusted. He blamed illegal immigration for job loss and stagnating wages. Continue reading