Saturday, September 20, 2014

There are No Easy Answers in the Criminal Justice System

If you have never been involved in the American Criminal Justice system, you should count your lucky stars. The Criminal Justice system is cumbersome, inefficient and expensive. I know because I have had a family member who barely survived a tangle with law enforcement. The charges almost cost him his career, and even though he was eventually found innocent, his reputation was ruined.

Recently, I learned a close friend of mine had an encounter with the criminal justice system. She told me the father of her two children was shot dead several years ago. The gunman, who was 16 at the time, was given 25 years to life and she was recently called to testify at his parole hearing. The young man in question has completed 19 years of his sentence and was up for parole. My friend had to go to the hearing to argue why the shooter should serve his full term. She wrote a letter explaining why the convict should stay in jail. She argued, she had been given a life sentence by his actions, because she had been forced to raise two black children without their father.

The Parole Board is still considering how they are going to rule, but this man is eventually going to get out of jail. He has served 19 years of a 25-year sentence, and in a few years he is going to be returned to society. This raises even more complicated questions.  The shooter was locked up when he was 16, so he has spent more than half of his life behind bars, especially the bulk of his adult years. He has managed to attain a high school diploma in jail, but has not furthered his education beyond that. He also hasn’t gained any marketable skills while he was incarcerated. So, when he gets out, he is going to be a black man with a criminal record, no jobs skills and a high school education. What are the chances of him gaining employment? And there is the additional problem of adapting to a world that has seen giant strides in technology. The Internet, talking cars and smart phones are all inventions that didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Also, what kind of counselling and employment training will he get when he gets out? If society is going to lock up millions of Americans, then it needs to do a better job of helping these people reintegrate into society.  If not most, of these ex convicts will simply revert to a life of crime and end up back inside.

This case raises several issues about American society. Firstly, the shooter was black and the victim was black. The victim was killed in an argument over a $25 debt. The shooter said he did it to fit in. What does it say about about society when Black American lives are valued so cheaply? And what values does a society have when a teenager thinks that killing a person will help them fit in? These two issues speak of deep social problems in Black America.

In addition, this issue shows there are no winners when it comes to crime. The perpetrator has spent the bulk of his life incarcerated, and the victim has the challenge of raising two fatherless children. Two families have been irrevocably affected by the actions of one man.

I don’t have the solutions to these problems. There are no easy answers. However, I wish voters and politicians would consider these issues when they pass get-tough-on crime laws. It’s easy to pass these laws, hoping they will crack down on crime, but if we don’t also allocate funding to educate and retrain released convicts, the Criminal Justice system just becomes a vicious cycle.

Monday, September 8, 2014

FOX News Is Where Smart People Go to Play Dumb

Like most liberals, I tend to think FOX News is a joke. The pseudo-news channel is essentially a propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Of course, I, and thousands of other left-wingers, realize this. The joke is really on those working class Americans who watch FOX News and actually believe it. FOX News is a twisted joke where you have educated people playing dumb and unsophisticated for the sake of the cameras. The staff of FOX are largely urbane, New Yorkers, but every day they put on their make up and pretend to play bigoted, social conservatives for the sake of of their largely white, Middle American audience.  

Their main star, Bill O’Reilly, puts on a daily show, where he pretends to be a blue-collar, social conservative, who is horrified by the moral decay in pop culture. But in reality, O’Reilly is a divorced Catholic, whore monger, who has been sued for sexual harassment and hit up porn star, Jenna Jameson for free videos. He also grew up middle class on Long Island and has a master’s degree from Harvard University. O’Reilly knows that he is running a con game, but he has to play the perpetually-outraged fuddy duddy for the sake of his geriatric audience.

This type of duplicity is common in FOX News. The network provides benefits for gay partners, but they keep that quiet from their audience, which is largely homophobic. This is the main reason why Shepherd Smith, who is widely known to be gay, has never officially come out of the closet. According to the gossip website, Gawker, Smith recently wanted to make his relationship with a man official, but was ordered by FOX News President Roger Ailes to stay in the closet. Ailes was worried how FOX’s homophobic audience would react to one of their favorite anchors revealing he was gay.

Knowing that FOX News is essentially a pantomime, it shouldn’t have surprised me, when college dropout Sean Hannity invited Phil Robertson on show. Robertson, the patriarch of the family in the cable series “Duck Dynasty,” was asked to discuss geopolitics, including how to handle the ISIS terror threat.  Now Robertson, may play a technology-hating redneck on TV, but like many FOX News commentators, this is all an act.  In reality, he has a master’s degree in education. Robertson has amassed a fortune playing an uneducated redneck. Robertson and his clan used to be clean-cut preppies and started growing scruffy beads, because it would be good for their image.
When I saw the Robertson interview, I thought, why the hell are they asking this pretend redneck’s opinion on a complex, foreign policy issue? He has never run for office, never served in the military and, to my knowledge, has never been to the Middle East or even outside the United States. What possible insight could he have on international affairs?

But this is not the first time that FOX has invited guests to talk about issues they have no idea about. FOX recently hired C-list actress Stacey Dash to be a political commentator. Dash, who is mainly famous for appearing in the movie “Clueless,” has a non-existent political resume, but that didn’t seem to matter to FOX. They only cared that she was easy on the eye and would parrot their conservative mantra. Dash fits the FOX News mold for female commentators. Like, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Sarah Palin, she is pretty, but not too bright. I guess that is how Republicans like their women.

I didn’t think FOX could lower its reputation in my eyes, but they managed to do just that. By asking pretend rednecks and washed-up actresses to discuss serious political issues, the network merely confirms that it is not a news station, it’s White Entertainment Television.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Black Republicans Are Harming GOP’s Credibility

Dr. Ben Carson

I used to have a lot of respect for noted neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, until he opened his mouth and started talking politics. First it was his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, where he started espousing crackpot flat-tax theories. Then he compared Obamacare to slavery, and it has just gone downhill from there. Now, it seems that Carson has become the GOP’s latest negro du jour, trotted out to support anti-black opinions. He recently appeared on Sean Hannity’s show to talk about the protests in Ferguson, Mo. Carson used the opportunity to point out the social problems in the black.

Carson seems to embody the problem the GOP has with the black community. The GOP has repeatedly polled about 10 percent of the black electorate and they are constantly trying to recruit more black voters. But they always seem to put forward black conservatives, who have wacky theories or are just plain crazy. They are people like Alan Keyes, who actually ran for president but has never won a political race. Keyes made some good conservative points while running, but I really started to question his credibility when he burst into song during a press conference.

Herman Cain was another example of a ridiculous black Republican. Like Keyes, he has never run a successful campaign. Cain was never a realistic candidate although, the media took him seriously. He had a grand time building his brand and charming white Republicans, who desperately wanted a black face on the podium, to prove they were not the party of old, white men.

Cain was eventually revealed to be clueless about foreign policy and got ensnared in a sex scandal. The crazy thing, is he actually believes that if the supposedly liberal media had not derailed his campaign, he could have beaten President Obama! This kind of insanity is not uncommon, you have other crackpots like self-loathing African American Pastor James David Manning, who has become famous for his YouTube sermons. (He calls himself doctor, but his degree is from an unaccredited school, which he runs.)

His tirades have slandered Barack Obama’s parents, called gays “homos,” and referred to blacks as niggers, who have never run a successful society. But this garbage is lapped up by the right-wing media, who love a black person who hates Obama. Manning has been interviewed regularly on FOX News and has even made it on Russia Today.

Just recently, black right-wing commentator Mychal Massie published a column on conspiracy website World Net Daily, where he accused Obama of being a tyrannical anti-white racist, who also wanted to commit genocide on black children through abortion.  Massie writes, “Some may still try to say he isn’t openly racist, but it is time to call this spade a spade. If he weren’t a race-mongering infidel, he wouldn’t have said Trayvon Martin looked like the son he didn’t have; at the very least, he would have acknowledged that Christopher Lane, the white baseball player who was murdered in Oklahoma by three blacks, could have looked like him if he had a son as well.”

Much of this is a calculated act. People like Massie, Carson and Cain are trying to position themselves as black conservatives in a media landscape where most black voices are liberal. They also realize there is a handsome market for anti-Obama screeds in the right-wing media. This is really about getting media appearances and selling books. I’m sure both Cain and Carson, in particular, secretly know they have a snowball's chance in hell of being president, but it is a great opportunity to raise their profile and increase their speaking fees. They also know there are plenty of white Republicans who desperately want a new black, best friend.

However, they are actually damaging the Republican party’s chances of making inroads into the black community. Most black people see through black conservatives’ hustle and hold them in low regard. The Republican Party needs more Colin Powells and Condi Rices, and fewer Herman Cains and Alan Keyes.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Far-Right Voices Threaten GOP Chances

Mike Huckabee

By Clavell Jackson

The Republicans last loss in a national election caused much soul searching. RNC chair Reince Preibus even ordered a post mortem on the GOP to learn what went wrong. The post mortem showed that the GOP needed to be more open to an increasingly diverse nation to stay competitive. As Sen. Lindsay Graham said, "We are not generating enough angry white guys." However it seems that the GOP has learned nothing from its internal review. Judging by recent comments from right-wing politicians and commentators nothing has changed. The GOP is still as anti woman, anti gay and anti minority as ever. 

Here are just a few of recent off-color comments: 

• Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee recently said Democrats are trying to convince women that they need the government to help them control their libido. He also accused single mothers of looking to Uncle Sugar (Uncle Sam) when they get pregnant. 
• Susanne Atanus, a Republican congressional candidate in Chicago, said autism and dementia are God's punishments for gay rights and abortion. She also blamed natural disasters, such as tornadoes, on gays.
 • Back in 2006 Chris McDaniel, now a Mississippi candidate for U.S. Senate, complained about the lack of Muslim villains in Hollywood movies. McDaniel has also warned against the "homosexual agenda." 
• Dave Agema, a member of the Michigan Republican National Committee, is facing calls to resigns after he praised Russia's anti-gay laws and also said, "Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?" 

As outlandish as these comments are, they are not unusual for the GOP. Right Wing Watch daily tracks whacky comments from conservatives and AlterNet publishes a weekly top 10 of outrageous conservative statements. And these days there is plenty of material. It seems as if the GOP has not learned any lessons from the excruciating 2012 primary season which featured a rogue's gallery of outspoken candidates such as the loopy Rep. Michelle Bachmann, and the sadly comical Herman Cain. While these off-color comments are great for publicity, they do not help in building consensus. 

And apparently this problem won't go away. The Republican Party is currently undergoing a civil war between the moderates and the far-right tea party wing. If the tea party wins the war, they will pull the party even further to the right. This might be good for party purity, but it won't win national elections. The debacles of Sharon Angle and Christine O'Donnell, tea party candidates who lost to Democrats, have proved that. 

However 2016 is already looking dire for the GOP. With the Democrats, lining up behind a strong Hillary Clinton campaign and Chris Christie weighed down by the Bridgegate scandal, Republicans are looking at candidates such as Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who both have their own set of questionable views. (Sen. John McCain described some of Paul's views as kooky.) 

The GOP ought to know that the women's vote, minority vote and gay vote are essential to winning national elections. I don't know where they expect to go with such far-right voices. If the GOP wants to keep winning elections they are going to have to find a way to reign in the tea party voices and produce saner candidates. If not, it looks like there will be Democratic wins in 2014 and 2016.