Thursday, May 26, 2011

The New Jim Crow

Hey y'all.  If you caught my recent post entitled: Your Dream Supreme Court Nominee, than you read about Goodwin Liu, the brilliant, progressive, Asian American Lawyer nominated by President Obama to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals.  Unsurprisingly Liu was filibustered and has since requested that his nomination be withdrawn making it unlikely that he will ever make it to the Supreme Court. It seems apropos that Liu, a progressive attorney with impeccable credentials, would be denied the opportunity to serve on the federal bench if you believe the assertions that Michelle Alexander makes in her book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness".

Last weekend I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Alexander speak at Riverside Church in Harlem the same church that Dr. King once spoke at. It might have been the greatest speech I've ever witnessed in person.  Michelle makes the claim that the analogy between the Jim Crow system of the South and the U.S. Criminal Justice System is not only appropriate but factually accurate.

If you have not read her book, please do.  Put it on the: "I'd be disappointed if I didn't read this in the near future" list and move it to the front of the line.  Than do me a favor and ask at least five other people to read it.  We need as many people as possible to see the criminal justice system for what it is, a system of segregation.

If you accept, Michelle's premise that the criminal justice system is the New Jim Crow, than you have to ask yourself some pointed questions.  What are you doing about it?  Are you sitting by while a Jim Crow System is occurring right under your nose? Does your lack of action amount to tacit approval? The question that I asked Michelle is: where is the back of the bus?  Or in other words where is the location for civil disobedience to protest this unjust system?  My answer is that the courtroom is today's lunch counter and ultimately the arena where this battle will be fought.

Let's shut this system down.

And on top of all of that you can watch the video of her speech right here:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Your Dream Supreme Court Justice: Goodwin Liu

Goodwin Liu

So, for those of you that believe we can work within the system to make the change we hope to see and also consider yourself a progressive, I have a task for you. Call your senator (if he or she is Republican) and kindly ask he/she to not vote to filibuster the nomination of Goodwin Liu. Who you say? Your dream Supreme Court Justice, that's who. "But wait, I haven't heard of a Supreme Court opening." That's because Goodwin Liu has been nominated to the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals. He is forty years old, Asian American, and considered by some to be the most liberal judge nominated to the federal bench in some time. Now, let's be clear, Liu is not William Kunstler. He is however, undoubtedly progressive. He's also a graduate of Yale Law School and a Rhodes Scholar. Did I mention that he is forty years old? In other words, if nominated to the 9th circuit, Liu stands an excellent chance of being the first Asian American to be nominated to The Supreme Court. This is why Republicans are scared of him. He was nominated last year and spent an entire year waiting for a vote, and although he was approved (along party lines) by the Judiciary Committee, he never made it to the Senate Floor. His nomination lapsed. At the beginning of the year, Obama nominated him again and he was approved by the Judiciary Committee again, along party lines again. But now, just this evening, HarryReid brought Liu's name to the Senate Floor for the first time. This means in the next day or two, Liu should get an up or down vote in the senate unless...

He is filibustered. Assuming all Democrats vote against the filibuster, they still need seven republicans to join them. Now this is tricky because Republicans prefer to block senators behind closed doors. Many of them are on record as saying they are opposed to filibusters of court nominees. This was evidenced recently when the senate approved Edward Chen and Jack McConnell, two other controversial Federal Court Nominees. Several Republicans joined the Dems in voting against a filibuster. Liu is a little more controversial for a few reasons. He is eminently qualified. That's right; he has impeccable credentials and received the highest rating possible from the American Bar Association. He also has the support of many Republicans not in the Senate, most notably Kenneth Starr (yes that Kenneth Starr). So why does this make him controversial? He would be so hard to defeat down the road as a potential Supreme Court Nominee. Republicans know this and are scared to death. Some see him as a liberal equivalent of Antonin Scalia.

People have said that Liu supports reparations, same sex marriage and recognizes a constitutional right to welfare. Some of these things are true; he is almost certainly in favor of important issues like gay marriage and a woman's right to choose. But some of the assertions about him are inaccurate, like his support for reparations. These exaggerations have been created to paint him as a radical extremist.

One of the other reasons that Republicans don't like Liu is because he had this to say about current Supreme Court Justice and G.W. Bush nominee Samuel Alito:

“Judge Alito’s record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse … where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man,” Liu wrote. “I humbly submit that this is not the America we know. Nor is it the America we aspire to be.”

If you're a progressive that still believes our system can be repaired you're probably not a fan of Samuel Alito and you probably are a fan of Goodwin Liu. If I'm right, today might be the day that you want to call your republican senator or your cousin that has a Republican senator. Just sayin'.

John Stewart vs. Bill O'Reilly

Watch this. Jon Stewart makes the case that you're not insane if you believe that Leonard Peltier, Mumia, and Assata are innocent. Don't get me wrong he could have said a lot more but at least he said something.

Monday, May 16, 2011


So I have some breaking news:

Osama Bin Laden is dead. 

I figured some of you may not have heard.  But it's true he's dead.  Killed in Pakistan and buried at sea, with a proper Muslim funeral.

I logged onto saw a little banner saying:"Breaking News: President Obama will address the country on a matter of National Security."  I wasn't sure what happened but I knew it was big.  After a while it became clear that Osama had been killed in a mission authorized by the president.

Yes, Obama killed Osama.

As the news was coming out, reporters were saying things like: "There is a feeling of jubilation in the White House."  I remember thinking, Really? Jubilation? The jubilation spilled over into the streets of DC and NYC, as well as the Daily Show, and my email inbox.  In fact, America decided to throw itself a party to celebrate the killing of Osama.  My first reaction was surprise.  My second one was disgust.  I was not sure why, even if you hated Osama, why his death would be a cause for celebration.  For some reason I figured the whole thing would be more somber.  Sort of like a dress in black affair, where we remember the people who died in the towers on 9/11.

Now that I've had a few days to digest everything I've concluded that the common reaction of jubilation was appropriate.  Not because I think it is a rational or even sane response, rather I think the reaction fits within context of a "blood thirsty" country.  Politicians make a living insisting that they will kill people, by supporting the death penalty or by displaying overwhelming support of military force.  The United States is one of the few "developed" countries that still uses the death penalty. We've spent the better part of the decade fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our favorite sport, football, is a sport where men sacrifice their bodies in a gladiator style ritual that can result in a unique brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  (See Dave Duerson) And within this context of acceptable violence, it makes perfect sense that we chose to accept the notion that it is appropriate to celebrate the death of another human being.

I imagine if we changed our reactions we would be forced to examine other realities within our societal consciousness.  The justification for killing Osama was that he was a mass murderer that needed to be brought to justice.  And by celebrating his death we can stop there.  Instead of asking about the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have to see those deaths as acceptable losses.  If not, we have to ask what makes killing thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqi's morally justified?  The fact that Osama masterminded the 9/11 attacks?  We've essentially created a narrative that says a justified killing is one that is carried out by our nation and an unjustified one is one carried against us.

There is a problem with that logic.  (Actually there are several but I'm choosing to focus one one.)  We have an assumption that the power structure that orders the bombings that blow up babies in Iraq is only violent over there.  I would argue that the "blood thirsty" nature of our power structure allows the devastation of our own people right here in the USA.  It’s the reason that companies like Exxon Mobil paid absolutely no income taxes in 2009, while our political leaders debate whether or not to cut funding from Grandma's health or your sisters birth control.  In fact it's the same arrogance that led to the financial meltdown, allowing millions of Americans to lose their job while privileged suits collected millions of dollars in bonuses. I'm not in anyway implying that it would be OK to support violence abroad if it weren't directed to us at home as well.  I'm making the point that a nation that is violent abroad, will inevitably be violent at home.

The truth is that we are expendable and invisible just like Iraqi civilians.  And who wants to be expendable or invisible? So it's easier to believe a lie.  It's less complicated to believe that our country is on a quest for justice to defend our honor and democracy from the "evildoers" that want to take it away.  Because if we don't accept the lie and analyze the truth we might have to do something about our predicament.  We might see that our silence has been bought by HD TV, Nintendo Wii and Mickey Dees.  We might see that we have these toys and treats because we are really glorified pawns.  And that would be a total bummer.

Actually...'s fun to be a glorified pawn.  So party on!