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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging — Protesting and Looting Edition — May 31, 2020

Last Monday night in Minneapolis, 46-year old George Floyd was arrested. Police officer Derek Chauvin handcuffed him and pinned him to the ground, crushing his throat. Floyd died an hour later.

What happened next has played out time and time again in American cities after high-profile cases of police brutality. Vigils and protests were organized in Minneapolis and around the US to demand police accountability. Google the name of any large city in the US along with “police brutality” and your search will return many pages of results.

But while Minneapolis investigators waited to charge Chauvin, unrest boiled over. News reports soon carried images of property destruction and police in riot gear. This has now morphed into the Minnesota governor calling out the National Guard.

Wrongo can’t claim to understand race issues in America, but he thinks that we should take a minute to re-read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In his letter, MLK identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the KKK, or the South’s White Citizens Councils. He said it was white moderates, people who:

  • Are more devoted to order than justice
  • Prefer the absence of tension to the presence of justice
  • Say they agree with your goals, but not your methods for achieving them
  • Constantly urge patience in the struggle, saying you should wait for a more convenient time

If you have watched the news for the past 40 years, you know that the Moderate is one stumbling block to universal justice. The Moderate’s tools are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to the team, and to the power of the hierarchy. Moderates may not be at the top of the power pyramid, but as long as Moderates can kiss up and kick down, they’ll hang in there, waiting for a better time to think about bringing justice to all Americans.

When it comes to violence in our cities, as Elie Mystal says in The Nation, it’s hard to name a city in America where the police aren’t working for white people. The police know it. And deep down, white people know exactly whom the police are supposed to protect and serve, and they know it’s not black and brown people.

Disagree? Go to any white suburb in America. Cops aren’t wandering the streets, people aren’t being arrested and neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. It’s easy for most of us to think that the George Floyd’s of America are simply a tragic cost of doing business, that a looted Target is evidence of the need for more policing.

We can hold more than one thought in our heads. People should be free to demonstrate, and that sometimes leads to rioting. Both are forms of protest. Wrongo doesn’t condone looting. But it’s also a form of protest. If you argue it’s not, then refresh your memory about the Boston Tea Party, when white protesters dressed up as minorities and looted to make a point about taxes.

If you are upset about protests, and were also pissed off at Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, you are probably a Moderate. People first need to be able to identify racism when they see it before they can understand the racial issues underpinning what happened in Minneapolis this weekend.

If you woke up today angry, confused, or frustrated about the direction our country is heading: VOTE!

Wrongo has looked hard for fun cartoons, without success. Here’s the best of the week. Sadly, her hope can only be aspirational:

How times have changed:

From 2016. All you need to know about demonstrating in America:

For Sunday, we include a rarely heard protest song written in 1966 by Malvina Reynolds (1900-1977). She wrote “Little Boxes” and many other songs. She wrote “It Isn’t Nice” as an answer to those who value order above justice. Here, “It Isn’t Nice” is sung by Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers:

Sample lyric:

It isn’t nice to block the doorway,
It isn’t nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

It isn’t nice to carry banners
Or to sit in on the floor,
Or to shout our cry of Freedom
At the hotel and the store.
It isn’t nice, it isn’t nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom’s price,
We don’t mind.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 6, 2019

The Daily Escape:

Torres del Paine NP, Chile – 2016 photo by Andrea Pozzi

After our granddaughter’s graduation in PA (summa cum laude), we had a few wines and beers, and talk turned to politics and the mess America is in now. Son-in-law Miles, (dad of next week’s grad) asked a very good question. “Is now really the worst of times? What about when Martin Luther King was assassinated?

Wrongo immediately flashed back to JFK’s assassination. He was a DC college student when JFK died. But his focus wasn’t on the loss of a president, or what that meant to the country. His focus was on what the loss of JFK meant personally.

That changed in 1968 with the assassinations of MLK and RFK. Wrongo was in the Army, stationed in Germany when Dr. King was killed. There was great tension in the enlisted men’s barracks. For a few days, it took a lot of effort in our small, isolated unit to keep anger from boiling over into outright fighting between the races.

By the time we lost RFK, it was clear that the Vietnam War would drag on, killing many of Wrongo’s friends. But, Wrongo’s job was to defend America from the Russians, with nuclear weapons if necessary.

It was difficult to see how or when Vietnam would end. It was hard to imagine Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, or Robert McNamara doing much to stop young Americans from dying in Asia.

The year 1968 also included the Tet Offensive. Mark Bowen in his book, Hue 1968, says:

“For decades….the mainstream press and, for that matter, most of the American public, believed their leaders, political and military. Tet was the first of many blows to that faith in coming years, Americans would never again be so trusting.” (p. 507)

When Americans finally saw the Pentagon Papers in 1971, they learned that America’s leaders had been systematically lying about the scope and progress of the war for years, in spite of their doubts that the effort could succeed. The assassinations, Vietnam, and Watergate changed us forever.

Our leaders failed us, it was clearly the worst of times. We were in worse shape in 1968 than we are in 2019. Back then, it felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, society’s fabric was pulling apart. Then, May 4th 1970 brought the killings of college kids at Kent State, which was probably the lowest point in our history, at least during Wrongo’s life time.

Last week, we acknowledged the 49th anniversary of America’s military killing American students on US soil. We vaguely remember the Neil Young song “Ohio” with its opening lyrics:

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own…”

That’s why the decade from 1960-1970 was the worst of times. We got through it, but we have never been the same.

In 1968, we saw that change can arrive suddenly, fundamentally, and violently, even in America. Bob Woodward spoke at Kent State last week, on Saturday, May 4th. He offered some brand-new information about Nixon’s reaction to the student shootings: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“In a conversation with his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman in September 1971, Nixon suggested shooting prisoners at New York’s Attica Prison riot in a reference to the Kent State tragedy. “You know what stops them? Kill a few,” Nixon says on a tape of the conversation.”

Woodward continued:

“We now know what really was on Nixon’s mind as he reflected…on Kent State after 17 months….Kent State and the protest movement was an incubator for Richard Nixon and his illegal wars.”

Woodward meant that what was coming was a war on the news media, creation of the “Plumbers” unit to track down leaks, and attempts to obstruct justice with the Watergate cover-up.

Many of us see 2020 shaping up as another 1968. Some see Nixon reincarnated in Trump.

We haven’t faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just how it will go. Will it be worse than the 1960s, or just another terrible American decade? Is it the best of times, or the worst of times?

Are we willing to fight to preserve what we have anymore?

Wake up America, you have to fight for what America means to us. Constitutional liberties are under attack. The right to vote is being undermined. Extreme Nationalism has been emboldened.

To help you wake up, listen once again to “Ohio” by Neil Young in a new solo performance from October, 2018. He’s added some documentary footage and a strong anti-gun message:

You may not know that Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer of The Pretenders was a Kent State student, and was on the scene at the time.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – MLK Jr. Edition, January 21, 2019

The Daily Escape:

El Capitan in winter, Yosemite NP, CA – photo by Jonkooo

From Tom Sullivan:

Those of us of a certain age, but not quite old enough, were too young to attend the 1963 March on Washington. The march and Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech influenced our era, our views, and changed the country. There are times one wishes, if only I could have been there for that moment in history. Then again, such thinking fixes the civil rights movement in time. The truth is, that struggle never ended.

Wrongo was in Washington in 1963. Dr. King is one of his heroes. And, as Tom Sullivan says, the struggle has never ended. Wrongo spent the 1960s and 1970s convinced that America would turn a corner, see the wrong in slavery, and know that racism was holding us back.

He thought that we would achieve a point of equilibrium where Americans of all stripes would accept each other as part of a larger tribe, one that shared common beliefs about democracy and equality for all.

Wrongo was wrong. We’re not there. We’ve made some progress, but then we fell back on old beliefs.

Today we are 51 years removed from Dr. King’s assassination, and while America is better and fairer than it was then, we will enter the 2020’s needing to do much to improve society.

This brings me to MLK’s last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” published the year before he died. In it, King lays out a vision for America’s future, including the need for both better jobs and housing, higher pay and quality education. King called for an end to global suffering, saying that for the first time, humankind had the resources and technology to eradicate poverty.

He wrote about how Civil Rights reforms had fallen short, but he couldn’t have envisioned what the Supreme Court did in gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with its 2013 decision in Shelby County vs. Holder.

So here we are in 2019 with white kids mocking Native Americans at the Lincoln Memorial, chanting “Build that wall, build that wall.” This happened days after Trump made light of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee to mock Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

And for context, we live in a time when chanting the president’s name has become a tool of racial intimidation.

Here we are: Income inequality is the highest it’s been since the 1940s.Our federal government is shut down because we can’t agree about the threat posed by illegal immigrants asking for asylum at the US southern border. And racism is marching back into the light from under rocks all across the country.

Time to wake up America! Racism is the wound that won’t heal. We have much to do, and the work won’t be easy.

To help you wake up here is a 2019 song by The Killers, “Land of the Free”. It is broadly about America and the intolerance holding us back. Listen to it, and reflect on what it makes you feel. Depending on what about it makes you angry, it is a reflection of who you are. The video is very powerful. Please take the time to watch it.

Think about what’s at the heart of this song. People who want the same things we do:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Finally, a quote from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time:

“White men have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know.”

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1968 – America Has Never Been The Same

The Daily Escape:

National Guard, March 29, 1968 during a strike supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. MLK would be assassinated in Memphis on April 4th.  

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. It was a signal event that for practical purposes, ended the era of 1960’s activism in the US.

Dr. King was an exemplar who reached all Americans with a peaceful, moral message that still resounds today. Wrongo is aware that many blog readers were not alive in 1968, and thus have no personal connection to a time when doing the right thing was still paramount in our society.

All of us, those who lived through the 1960s and those who did not, should stop today and look back on the events of 1968, and their meaning for today. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that he would not run for another term. Despite all of his legislative achievements, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts, his undoing was the Vietnam War.

Four days later, Dr. King was killed in Memphis. Subsequently more than 100 riots took place in our cities.

Two months later, Robert Kennedy too would be dead, assassinated like both his brother and Dr. King. Their murders dashed the hope that figures like King and the Kennedys had stirred in the American people earlier in the decade. In August, anti-war riots also had a large impact at the Democrat’s national convention in Chicago.

The riots showed the frustration and fury felt by many African-Americans who lived in poor housing with minimal opportunities, thanks to institutional racism and discriminatory government policies. For others, however, the riots reinforced the sense that the country was spinning out of control and that only a heavy hand with rioters and criminals would restore peace and keep our prosperity.

This dichotomy continues to shape our politics today.

In November ‘68, Richard Nixon was elected by 512,000 votes over Hubert Humphrey. He would continue the war, and later resign over Watergate.

The assassinations and the riots, combined with the lack of trust caused by the Vietnam War and Watergate eroded Americans’ faith in government. Without trust in government, America moved in many different directions. And voters eventually soured on liberal activist policies for more than a generation.

According to Lenny Steinhorn, a historian at American University who has studied the 1960s:

1968 was the perfect storm that crystallized the differences in society. The Tet offensive drove home the un-winnability of the war, and the assassinations drove home the despair…. All these clouds that were gathering became an electrical storm…. What was clear was how we were divided and this played out for the next 50 years.

Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, says:

It was a terrible year. I think it was the worst year for American society since the Civil War. It was a combination of race, gender and Vietnam that was a lethal cocktail…. We were in even worse shape than we are now. We were divided about things that are more fundamental than we are now. It felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, the fabric pulling apart. But we got through it.

1968 illustrated how change can arrive suddenly and fundamentally, even in America. And many Americans see 2018 shaping up as another 1968.

We are as polarized as we were then, and this time it’s also along ideological and partisan lines. Deadly violence is again regularly erupting, this time in the form of mass shootings such as the massacres in Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino and Parkland. And we saw ideological violence in Charlottesville.

Our political system is under attack again, led by President Trump and his followers who believe in disrupting the status quo, without a coherent thought about what should replace it.

If the decade of the 1960’s marked an American apogee of sorts, will the 2020’s mark its perigee? We have not faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just now, but it is likely we may know soon.

One bright spot is the return of teenagers to activism. We have had many marches over the 50 years since 1968, but few have felt as if they would deliver political change. The Parkland activists, joined by teens all across America are media-savvy. They use different tools, and seem to be more than a flash in the pan. So maybe, the mass movement-type of activism will make a comeback.

Parkland’s student leaders have accomplished something, but we’ll have to see if it delivers results in the voting booth.

MLK remains the hero of a generation of Americans for whom activism was a building block of their personal journey to adulthood. In most ways, our nation has never recovered that sense of can-do, or that achieving your Big Idea remains possible.

Can we get it back?

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Monday Wake Up – Martin Luther King, Jr

The Daily Escape:

Two mules draw a farm wagon bearing the casket of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. April 9, 1968.

From Katie Mitchell at Bustle:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. But as a country, in the half-century since King’s death, we haven’t come as far as many involved in the Civil Rights Movement would have hoped. Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2018…comes in the midst of a turbulent social climate, where white nationalists can openly march on college campuses and the president of the United States calls Haiti, which has a majority Black population, a “sh*thole country”…

So true. But Wrongo wants us to focus today on the role of music in the 1960’s. Dr. King described how significant and liberating that music had been to activists in the Freedom Movement:

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from the music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

Wrongo was reminded of this by a NYT article describing a collaboration between Carnegie Hall and Robert Caro, the historian who has spent much of his lifetime chronicling president Lyndon Johnson. Together, they are hosting a 10-week festival about the 1960’s. Caro says this about the music of the time: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I’ve written about what to me, is the supreme moment showing the power of music to create social change, which was when Johnson took the title of the most important anthem in his 1965 televised address to Congress a week after the Selma march, when he called for passage of a voting rights act. “It’s not just Negroes,” he said, “but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.” The president of the United States takes the key line of the anthem, and uses it to help push the bill through. That’s the power of music.

Today’s wake up is for all of us who remember the political role that music had in the 1960s. It was a call to action, it was a healing salve on wounds, and it united many behind an idea.

And where is today’s protest music? It exists, and has tried to land a few blows, like music did in the ‘60s. But where politically charged music comes from, what it sounds like, who performs it, and how someone identities with it is radically different.

Unlike earlier eras of American popular resistance, there is no single centralized scene for protest songs. Today, protest music travels in a wide range of styles. And today, “protest music” seems like a redundant term; when all identities are politicized, all music feels political.  From Pitchfork:

Joey Bada$$ lamented the “Three K’s, two A’s in AmeriKKKa,” and Kendrick Lamar parsed the prejudice pulling at society’s ever-tenuous seams. The punk band Downtown Boys, led by Latinx frontwoman Victoria Ruiz, flung their stones against “A Wall.” The electrosoul twins Ibeyi remixed Michelle Obama’s wisdom into an elegy, and Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, a queer Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, refracted Trump’s hostility towards minorities into a bilingual cry for courage. Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas, who is gay, reveled in the euphoria of self-acceptance and teased the zealotry that would blithely stomp his civil rights.

Check out some, or none. Things are different in a different time.

Back to the 1960’s. Here are two selections from the first few days after Dr. King’s assassination. First, Otis Spann and his “Blues for Martin Luther King”. Spann, arguably the greatest blues pianist, and a feature in Muddy Waters’ band, performed this in a storefront church in Chicago, even as buildings were burning all around the church from the riots that erupted after the fatal shooting:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Second, listen to Nina Simone playing “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)”. The song was written by Simone’s bass player, Gene Taylor. Here it is performed live on April 7, 1968, three days after the death of MLK at Long Island NY’s Westbury Music Fair. At 12 minutes long, it is outstanding, and well worth your time:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Voting rights, Medicare and Medicaid are all under assault right now. They were passed in the 1960s. Every day, the GOP is trying to dismantle them.

Reflect on that on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death.

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Monday Wake Up Call – August 28, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Rats Restaurant, NJ Grounds for Sculpture – 2017 photo by Wrongo

The politics of disruption brought us Donald Trump. With hindsight, the evidence was everywhere. Americans were unhappy with our political system. Voters had lost faith in the government and political parties. About 10% of voters believed Congress was doing a good job. Both political parties had favorability ratings of less than 40%.

In 2008, people were frustrated and angry. By November 2016, with continued economic discontent, worsening conflicts in the Middle East, and serious public policy issues left unattended, people voted for the guy who promised to break our politics.

Trump won 53% of the over-65 vote, but was supported by only 37% of 18-29-year-olds. He won the white vote by 58% to 37%. And 51% of American women voted for him.

Mark Leonard  says that the election was decided by pessimistic voters. They were attracted by Trump’s anti-free trade arguments, his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, his (false) statistics about increased crime, and the loss of American jobs to Asian countries.

Trump said all of this was caused by Washington and could be fixed by a disruptive billionaire. The pessimists won, and felt very hopeful that Trump would change America.

Are they having buyer’s remorse today? No, most say that they still support their guy.

Yesterday, we highlighted some findings of the Public Policy Polling (PPP) national poll taken after Charlottesville. PPP found that Donald Trump’s approval rating was steady despite all of his backtracking around the Charlottesville attack:

40% of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 53% who disapprove, little change from the 41/55 spread we found for him in July.

This despite that just 26% of Trump voters think he has delivered on his promise to “drain the swamp”, to 53% who say he hasn’t. When asked if Trump has come through on “Making America Great Again,” just 33% of his voters say he has, to 59% who say he hasn’t.

PPP found that 57% of Republicans want Trump to be the party’s nominee in 2020, compared to 29% who say they would prefer someone else. That 28 point margin for Trump against “someone else” is the same as his 28 point lead over Mike Pence. Both Ted Cruz, with a 40 point deficit to Trump at 62/22, and John Kasich, a 47 point deficit to Trump, are weaker potential opponents than ‘someone else’.

All in, Trump is keeping his base together, while losing a few moderate Republicans. So the question is, what will it take to make Trump a one-term president?

If you want to defeat Trump, focus on how his political disruption has only caused destruction. It isn’t enough to tear shit down. Any president has to be a builder, and not just for a phony wall.

Have there been any gains from the disruption? Is there any evidence that Trump has the leadership skills to bring policies into law that will improve the lives of those who voted for him?

The winning message is about building: Build unity. Build the economy. Build a vision for a growing middle class.

Be a builder, not a disruptor.

Wake up America! Find a builder, or be a builder. To help you wake up, here is John Mayer with his 2006 Grammy-winning hit “Waiting On The World To Change”:

Takeaway Lyric:

It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change

Now if we had the power
To bring our neighbors home from war
They would have never missed a Christmas
No more ribbons on their door
And when you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.

Don’t wait to be a builder. Dr. King didn’t wait, neither did Mandela. They changed the world. WE have the power to change America.

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Where Boys Are Boys, and You, Ms. Warren, Are Not

(Scroll to the bottom of the page for the Daily Escape)

When we allow the silencing of our Senators, we allow the silencing of our democracy. HuffPo reports:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) rose on Tuesday and objected to a speech Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was giving in opposition to the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as attorney general.

McConnell took particular issue with Warren as she quoted a letter written by Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, when Sessions was under consideration for a federal judgeship in 1986.

McConnell invoked the little-used Rule XIX, which says that “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” King’s letter argues that, during Sessions’ time as a prosecutor in Alabama, “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.” It was that portion of the letter that McConnell read back to the presiding officer, arguing that it was over the line.

The Republican presiding in the chair, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, agreed with McConnell, ruling her in violation of the order and forcing her to sit down.

“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren replied.

It seems the voices of both Sen. Warren and the late Coretta Scott King are now unwelcome in the Senate’s old boys’ club, even though Ms. King’s words were placed in the Senate’s records 30 years ago. This from Booman: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Rule 19 is a good rule that helps prevent canings on the Senate floor. But it really should never apply to a senator who is under consideration for confirmation to another office. If Warren and Merkley were reading these historical documents just to make Sessions look bad while they were arguing over the budget that would be a legitimate violation of the rules. But these documents [King’s letter] were germane to Sessions’ fitness for the office of Attorney General in the same way that his tax returns and voting record are germane.

Republicans regularly call their opponents corrupt traitors. The NYT reports that both Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) appear to have violated the rule according to its true intent, without having it invoked against them. In 2015, Cruz called McConnell a liar. But he’s a Republican man, while Sen. Warren is out of line for quoting the widow of a titan of American history. Got it.

Apparently McConnell thinks that a Senator nominated for a Cabinet position isn’t a nominee. They remain a Senator, and the ability of other Senators to criticize their nomination is subject to Rule 19. That is a misuse of the rule, and McConnell abused his power. And he did more to raise awareness about Sessions’ racist past than he did to safeguard Sessions’ “character.” Republicans know that Warren’s Senate performances have a long afterlife on YouTube, so they tried to prevent another one, but failed.

Had they let her read it, it would have been seen by only a few thousand late night C-SPAN watchers. Instead, her Facebook video reading the Coretta Scott King letter had 7.8 million views by Wednesday afternoon.

The GOP’s self-inflicted wound is shutting down a white woman reading a letter written by a black woman who lost her toweringly famous husband in the struggle for equality, a letter which criticized the racism of a Southern white man, during Black History Month. The Oregonian reported:

Hours after GOP leaders blocked Sen. Elizabeth Warren from reading a letter critical of Sen. Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Merkley picked it up and read the document uninterrupted.

So, after they shut down one Democratic Senator, McConnell allowed a different Democrat to read the letter? What’s the difference?

Your Daily Escape: Stuttgart City Library, built in 2011

 

 

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Monday Wake Up Call -MLK Holiday Edition

“Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience….Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”Howard Zinn

Today we remember the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was America’s icon of civil disobedience, and a hero to most. And while injustice and inequality continue in the US, the thought that civil disobedience will deliver the astonishing results it did in the 1950s and 1960s seems nearly impossible. In the next four years, we will have trouble enough holding on to the reforms of the New Deal and the Lyndon Johnson years.

Here is a small proof: This week, the city of Biloxi Mississippi tweeted that some municipal offices would be closed on Monday “in observance of Great Americans Day, a state-named holiday”. That was news to citizens of Biloxi. How had the city changed the name of a federal holiday in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr to celebrate unnamed “Great Americans”?

It hadn’t. This from the Guardian:

The incident, however, highlighted an awkward truth about Mississippi’s Martin Luther King Jr Day: that it is also Robert E Lee Day…Arkansas and Alabama also jointly celebrate Martin Luther King Day and Robert E Lee Day, despite annual protests.

States and municipalities were slow to recognize the MLK holiday, with New Hampshire being the last state to officially observe the day, in 2000. You may remember Arizona’s resistance to a holiday honoring MLK. It became a big issue in the late 1980s. In 1986, the year the federal holiday honoring King was first observed, Arizona’s House of Representatives voted down a measure observing it. But, Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who was about to leave office, proclaimed the holiday on his own.

Babbitt’s designation of the holiday became an issue in the next election. Republican Evan Mecham promised to overturn Babbitt’s order if he won. And after his election, Mecham reversed the proclamation. Mecham’s move led to dozens of groups cancelling conventions in Phoenix. After Mecham left office, (he was indicted and impeached), the debate continued, eventually leading to a statewide vote in 1990, but Arizona voters rejected the holiday.

That cost Arizona a chance to host its first Super Bowl in 1993 (the NFL’s decisions are made about 5 years in advance). Losing the 1993 game cost the state at least $200 million. The ongoing refusal to create an MLK Holiday also cost Arizona scores of additional conventions and tourist business. Not long after the vote, the NCAA turned down Arizona State’s request to host a portion of the 1994 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It took until November 1992 for the state to finally designate the MLK Holiday.

Does any of this sound familiar? A Republican governor stands against an idea that the majority of America thinks is important, and the right thing to do. The state loses tourism and other business. It becomes a pariah, standing on ground that makes its governor look more like George Wallace than a modern political executive. We’re talking about you, North Carolina! Why is it always a Republican?

In 1991 the rap group Public Enemy released a song called “By the Time I Get to Arizona” on their album, “Apocalypse 91”. They wrote the song in response to Arizona’s’ refusal to create the MLK Holiday. The song is controversial, since the music video showed Public Enemy’s willingness to kill Gov. Mecham. Rolling Stone praised the album, stating that Apocalypse 91attempted nothing short of setting a sociopolitical agenda for the black community.”

Best wishes on MLK day. The struggle is gonna get way more real this year. Here is “By The Time I Get to Arizona”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Sample Lyrics:

I’m countin’ down to the day deservin’
Fittin’ for a king
I’m waitin’ for the time when I can
Get to Arizona
‘Cause my money’s spent on
The goddamn rent
Neither party is mine not the
Jackass or the elephant
Why want a holiday Fuck it ’cause I wanna
So what if I celebrate it standin’ on a corner
I ain’t drinkin’ no 40
I B thinkin’ time wit’ a nine
Until we get some land
Call me the trigger man
Looki lookin’ for the governor

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