Thursday, December 01, 2016

Mourn, then organize

I don’t have much doubt that the primary internal factors that will drive the incoming Trump administration are the need for adulation and the desire for money. I’m going to try and ignore the President-elect's unhealthy and chronic search for approval and hope that those in better position than I will be diligent in following the money.

Based on his early appointments, the early signs are not good about the money flows. As Ohio's senior Senator Sherrod Brown tweeted with respect to Steven Mnuchin, the President-elect’s pick for Treasury secretary, Trump “isn’t draining the swamp [but] stocking it with alligators.” Voters who wanted fair play in government are instead getting rough riders in Treasury and Education [Betsy De Vos], with other, equally ruthless picks undoubtedly to follow.

If we can be sure of anything with Trump, it is that he will overreach at some point.  If he is slow to do so, the kinds of people he is selecting will do the overreaching for him. Either way, the question is whether his opponents will be able to mount an effective counter, which brings us to the question of the Democratic Party.

Yesterday, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi turned back a challenge from Youngstown-area Congressman Tim Ryan. Pelosi has proven herself to be a tough leader, but some observers think her ability to steer Congressional Democrats to be effective grassroots champions is hindered by her second-in-command, Steny Hoyer, a Maryland representative who entered Congress with a liberal reputation but appears to have gotten much too cozy with corporate lobbyists. 
The Democratic Party needs a serious makeover. Lip service to progressive values while chasing corporate cash can no longer be the game plan. Bernie Sanders may not have been the perfect messenger — such may not exist — but his message was certainly closer to the bold direction much of the electorate wanted to see.

The battle for the Party's new direction may now be shifting to the struggle over the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison would be a disruptive force to the old order, which alone is reason enough to consider him. He is also young, articulate, knowledgeable, and quick on his feet. And as both a black man and a Muslim, his very presence at the table would speak volumes.

Shaun King made a forceful argument in today's New York Daily News about just how white the post-Obama Democratic Party remains in all the ways that matter. For me it evoked comparison to my autumn reading about the history of black Republicans in the middle half of the twentieth century. If I had to pick a single takeaway from my study, it would be how loyal black Republicans remained in the face of GOP hierarchies that at campaign time woefully underfunded any outreach efforts to black communities.

You'd think the Democrats might do better by their black folk, and they do with respect to picking candidates. But that's not the case when it comes to money, the sacred milk of politics. How people spend their money speaks volumes about their values. This was clearly on King's mind when he wrote "we must come to grips with the overwhelming whiteness of the Democratic Party." Before you say he's being hyperbolic, consider his evidence:

"Of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the Democratic Party between 2010 and 2012, less than 2% of that was spent on vendors of color of ALL other ethnic groups."

Is there a third path? Many disillusioned local Democrats are exploring that possibility. At this point they are mostly Bernicrats, and there is no reason to assume they will be any more egalitarian in their approach than the major parties. But at least they are addressing the issues that the major parties square dance around.

The Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus meets tonight starting at 6:30 in the Newburgh Heights Village Hall, 3801 Harvard Ave. on the agenda will be a series of short presentations on issues that should be of concern to all voters, including Black Lives Matter, reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, the assault on public education, and global climate change.

I dropped in on Monday's NAACP town hall meeting (more on that soon) and was dismayed to hear a Bedford Hts. councilperson talk about getting ready for the 2018 election. 2018? Doesn't she understand that at least in Ohio it's always political season? There are no off-days, let alone off years. Municipal elections and judicial contests will take place all over Cuyahoga County next year. Tea Party success in "off" year elections and down-ballot races are what poised them for victories in state legislatures, redistricting, and Congressional races.

If you aren't at the table, you are on the menu.

Now more than ever, it is critical to think globally and ACT locally.

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Mourn, and then organize.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trump: Prepare for Trauma

Three weeks after the election and it’s still hard to know where to begin in discussing the nation’s new political landscape.
We have seen some pretty spectacular failures by a number of the country’s institutions. The Electoral College, designed to prevent an incompetent rabble-rousing populist from winning the Presidency, has instead enabled victory by a man of such unprincipled essence that neither his supporters or his opponents can speak with assurance about what he will do in office.
The Democratic Party that eight years ago championed a candidate of audacious hope and change, this time rejected its best hope for audacious hope and change and chose a pale imitation of the last two Democratic incumbents, a candidate seemingly unable to articulate a core message that even acknowledged, let alone addressed, the electorate’s overwhelming desire for the end to a rigged system.
The Republican Party establishment proved itself spectacularly incompetent to halt the hostile takeover of its party banner by a man no more loyal to its precepts than Nixon’s dog, Checkers.
And the Fourth Estate, armed with every sophisticated tool and device imaginable, totally missed the underlying guts of this election cycle; cable television in particular allowed its greed and hubris to dismiss Trump’s antics and treat him as free program entertainment to the tune of almost a billion dollars in free publicity. They simply knew he could not win the nomination, could not secure more than 40% of the electorate, and could not surmount the levees of the Electoral College. And while they were spectacularly wrong, there they were the day after the election, bloviating about how he did it and what will happen next.
The truth is, Donald Trump won for a bevy of reasons, and Hillary Clinton lost for even more reasons. But fundamentally, Trump connected with the passions, fears, and resentments of enough voters in the strategically important places to turn them out. And it’s the passions, fears and resentments of all voters to which attention must now be paid.
For all his undeniable media mastery, the President-elect probably does not have a clue how to manage the expectations of the not even a plurality of voters who elected him. To be sure, a lot of those who voted for him don’t really expect him to keep all of his campaign promises. They just liked the fact that he made them; they especially delighted in the way he seemed to do it, sticking his fingers repeatedly in the eye of political correctness, with apparent indifference to the hall guards and monitors of the narrow political corridors. Will that be his style of governance? Could that approach possibly be an effective substitute for well-thought out, carefully executed policies? Does anybody think Trump has thought that far ahead?
Let’s set aside policy for a moment and consider what we do know about the man who will be sworn in as our President on January 20, 2017. We know he loves to make deals and he loves to win them. It’s what turns him on and he will break all the rules to win. We know he loves attention, craves it, can’t do without it. And we know he’s thin-skinned, rash and impulsive on a personal level, with a toddler’s attention span.
How does that compute to the daily running of a Trump administration that we also know is contemptuous of the political establishment, uses the media, and plays the public? No wonder his sensible allies are as frightened as his foes.
Among those who do need to be frightened but not paralyzed are people of color, Muslims, those whose sexual preferences or other characteristics make them less than the newly-defined mainstream of American people, which turns out to be the same as what was Constitutionally-baked in as the mainstream: white men who profess the Christian faith.
Those whose genes, pigmentation, accent, faith, or preferences do not accord with that mainstream are having a difficult time these days. A dear friend of mine — I have to say he’s white for clarity and pertinence — told me that after the election his 15 year old granddaughter went to school at Shaker Heights High, and that when the election was brought up, the whole class dissolved into tears, including the teacher. This story was not unique. We all have to acknowledge and deal with the fact that nearly half of our fellow citizens pretty much said “f*** you” to half the country because of their anger, pain, and resentment. Does it matter if they were manipulated into voting the way they did?
Perhaps that 15-year-old girl, along with her parents and classmates, should attend tonight’s town hall meeting sponsored by the Cleveland Branch NAACP. The meeting will feature a post-election conversation on the emotional impact of the election. A licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Natalie M. Whitlow, will be on hand to speak to the immediate trauma of the reported results and the potential for long-term damage. Dr. Whitlow told me yesterday that the consequences of anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other symptoms are real and should be dealt with appropriately.

The meeting starts at 6:30pm tonight at St. James A.M.E. Church, 8401 Cedar Ave. These meetings usually have secured, free parking.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

From Selma to President-elect Trump

Last night I watched Part 1 of a two-part special that takes a timely look at what has happened in America's black communities in the five decades since the major constitutional victories of the Civil Rights movement. "Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise" is at once a sobering yet powerful reminder of how far the country's most crucial ethnic minority has come since the legal eradication of Jim Crow, a hundred years after slavery, and how far we still have to travel before the promise of true equality is more reality than dream.

The most riveting image of this pithy but briskly paced retrospective came from deep in the heart of black-belt Alabama, where the sharecroppers of Lowndes County displayed unfathomable resolve and courage and dignity in registering to vote. Their first step towards exercising a long-denied constitutional right carried with it the risk of loss of life, not to mention home and sustenance, for these would-be voters were treated as aliens in the land of their birth.


Racial terror in Lowndes County was undisguised, perhaps especially because black people comprised 80% of county residents. The white men who considered it their duty to keep those black people under heel had no need for ginned up rituals and pointy-headed masks to cover their barbarism. They saw inhumane treatment of their fellow citizens as sacred honor.

Fortified by young idealists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] like Stokely Carmichael who immersed themselves in the community, these poor black farmers risked everything for a vision of a better way of life for their children.

In showing how overt barriers of racial discrimination were dismantled, this must-see program reinforces important parts of American history too often buried, glossed over, or shaded. Facts do matter. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said after his unsuccessful attempt to combat housing discrimination in Chicago, racism in the North was more virulent than anything he had ever observed in the South. His experiences there helped crystallize his understanding that segregation was imbedded not just in political and social structures, but was deeply rooted in the American economy. The program points out, albeit in passing, the role of government at all levels in creating and maintaining America's ghettos. The concentrated poverty these public policies engendered has made racial and national progress more difficult.

African Americans have shown themselves to be extraordinarily resilient, so this story is far from unremitting gloom. There is a glorious sound track, ranging from Spirituals to Stevie, from Aretha and James Brown to the Sugar Hill Gang and Public Enemy. There are iconic references everywhere: Flip Wilson, Soul Train, and countless other markers of the coal deep influence of black people on every aspect of American culture. And throughout, in what could easily be overlooked, is the subtle but powerful effect of black people telling our own story through the voices of activists, witnesses and scholars.

It may dawn at some point upon senior viewers that this quick and measured history — so vivid and contemporary to our circumstances — is news to Millennials, Gen Xers and those yet to be named. I found disturbing echoes of present day attitudes and polices and politics of current trends throughout the program, especially in crowd scenes of backlash. And who remembers that while Ronald Reagan campaigned on a slogan to "Make America Great Again", his administration proceeded to accelerate the construction of gilt-lined streets for the favored and busted pavement for the rest of us? If this history was more widely known and shared, perhaps we would not be so in danger of repeating less savory aspects of our past.

Part 2 airs on Ideastream next Tuesday at 8pm. You can catch Part 1 online here.



Saturday, November 05, 2016

​​Cleveland Champions


I'm a hopeless homer at heart. I root for the bumbling Browns. I celebrate the Champion Cavs. And even as I indict the Indians for their loathsome logo, I nonetheless cheered them on this past season, as they fought fiercely against the odds, overcoming virtually every obstacle, becoming a team that combined organizational front office smarts, brilliant leadership in the clubhouse and on the field, and undeniable spunk and resilience on the diamond, to become much greater than the sum of its parts. Collectively the organization gave the community a season to remember and treasure, a glorious playoff run culminating in a World Series that was truly a Fall Classic for the ages, full of epic moments, the last hurrah for some, the grand debut for others; it had masterful managerial moves, spectacular plays, human errors, and abundant reminders that the game is never over until the last man is out.

The Indians didn't blow a 3-1 Series lead anymore than Golden State blew a similar momentary advantage in the NBA finals. Comebacks are more than theoretical possibilities, especially where world-class performers are committed to making them happen.

Unlike some of my more somber friends, I don't see sports as simply a diversion, an entertainment set apart from real life. They are an indelible part of our culture. I'll leave it to scholars to evaluate the social and cultural aspects of professional and major college sports in contemporary America. However, I did once ask former Cleveland mayor Michael R. White, in a sizable but semi-formal ingathering of black folk, if he wanted his political legacy to be the lavishing of nearly one billion dollars on professional sports palaces. The look he gave me in reply was more memorable than his verbal response, and I did not find myself invited to any such assemblies as he may have continued to host.

Professional sports is of course, a massive industry, albeit one that is heavily subsidized by the public, generally via some sort of Faustian bargain. In Cuyahoga County, the early 1990s Gateway project — the clearing of public lands for the building of new professional homes for major league baseball and professional basketball teams run by wealthy owners — was financed by a regressive sales tax on tobacco and alcohol, a so-called “sin tax” that continues today.

There was a time when, in recognition of the economic realities, I referred to Cleveland teams as the Modells, the Jacobs, and the Gunds. The Jacobs were wealthy developers. The Gunds were old money, part of the fabric of Cleveland society and philanthropy. Art Modell was a New York huckster who used borrowed money to buy his way into that society on the cheap, lucking into a championship on the back of a premier organization whose culture of excellence he neither respected or knew how to preserve. When his luck ran out here after decades of mismanagement, he summarily pulled up stakes and took his marbles to Baltimore, precipitating an emotional civic crisis at the loss of “our” beloved Browns.

In some communities, ownership of pro teams is held to be a sacred trust of sorts. In Cleveland, it’s often been more of a one-way deal. But for the huge public subsidies that underwrote the Cleveland sports temples originally christened as Jacobs Field [aka “the Jake”] and Gund Arena but which are now known as Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena [“the Q”], it is likely there would be no major league baseball in northeast Ohio and the Cavs, if around, would still be playing in a cornfield.

My question for the mayor was posed in the aftermath of the Browns’ bolt for Baltimore, and the mayor's attitude evoked comparison to President Johnson's declaration that he would not be the one to "lose" Vietnam. I was really asking three questions: whether Cleveland should pursue a new team, whether a new Stadium, used optimistically no more than 15 days a year, should be built on invaluable downtown lakefront property, and was an expensive, seldom-used playground a wise expenditure of public funds.

I recall that now as we celebrate what has been by any measure a magnificent year for Cleveland sports teams. On court and on field successes remind us of the entertainment and psychic value we get from hometown sports teams. Recurring school levies and low standardized scores for both systems and students remind us of the price we pay for those good vibes and entertainments, and the disproportionate way in which that price is extracted and paid.
 
Kyrie Irving
Cleveland Cavaliers

Francisco Lindor
Cleveland Indians



Chris Andersen, Cleveland Cavaliers

J. R. Smith
Cleveland Cavaliers
Terrelle Pryor
Cleveland Browns
It can perhaps be said, looking down the road that Kyrie Irving, Francisco Lindor, and Terrell Pryor epitomize the promise and the personality of success in Cleveland's sports future. Each of these young men is supremely gifted, charismatic, hardworking and possessed of sublime athletic confidence. Physically, each of them resembles, along with such hard-working colleagues as the super-tatted and shirtless J. R. Smith, the multi-hued Chris "Birdman" Anderson, and the extremely social Joe Haden, larger than life versions of what many of our urban public school students will look like in early adulthood.

In the case of the professional ballplayers, what we know is that they were supported and encouraged along their journeys to professional success. In many instances, they received favored treatment, were perhaps even indulged or pampered, when they made a misstep; rules may even have been bent to ensure continued progress.

Can we begin to envision how many champions we would have in our community if we invested in our young scholars the way we invest in our athletes?




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