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Archive for January, 2015

Honoring Rev. King, Recommending “Selma”

Monday, January 19th, 2015

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“Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland.

“The threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike resulted in the establishing of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; they segregated southern churches from Christianity; they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; and they segregated the Negro from everything.” 

—“Our God Is Marching On!”, The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965

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Selma: A Hard-Won Turning Point in the Civil Rights Movement

We inserted the advance-screening disc of the new film Selma into the DVD player last night with some trepidation, hoping to like the film, but fearing it would be heavy-handed, simplistic, or possibly loose with the facts, but to our great relief we found it to be none of these. Selma is really good, and we highly recommend it.

The film is focused on a significant turning point in the long Civil Rights movement, when, in February and March 1965, activists decided to make Selma, Alabama, the place to dramatize black disenfranchisement. Of 15,000 potential black voters in Selma, 325 were registered, compared to 9,300 of 14,000 eligible whites. The county sheriff, James G. “Jim” Clark Jr., was a known hothead who wore a lapel pin reading “Never.” Activists knew they could rely on him to overreact and escalate the situation.

The activists’ goal was to march from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery (once the capital of the Confederacy). The 54-mile march would take them along route 80, the Jefferson Davis Highway. On March 7, some 600 marchers were driven back by police and troopers with tear gas, nightsticks, and bullwhips from crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge over the Alabama River. Seventeen people were hospitalized. A second attempt, joined by King, was aborted. The third march was successful. Some 3,200 left Selma on March 21; four days later, 25,000 arrived in Montgomery. (The excerpts above are from King’s speech to the marchers after they had reached their destination.)

Selma_posterThe persistence of the civil rights activists in Selma—aided by televised images of horrifying police brutality against peaceful demonstrators—led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 1965 Voting Rights Act may sound familiar: it was recently eviscerated by five conservatives on the United States Supreme Court on the dubious grounds that federal, legal protections of voting rights for minorities are no longer needed. (See “Supreme Conservatives Drag U.S. Ceaselessly into the (Jim Crow) Past” LNW 6/26/13.)

About the Film

David Oyelowo’s performance is strong and steady—he portrays the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a fallible human being—and the supporting cast of actors playing Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo), the Rev. Ralph Abernathy (Colman Domingo), John Lewis (Stephan James), the Rev. Hosea Williams (Wendell Pierce), and Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) are convincing and well cast. One strength of the film is that it shows a hard-working and committed network of activists, sometimes in conflict, of which King was the leader, but, naturally, not everyone always agreed with his priorities or methods.

Some good dramatic tension is shown in repeated disputes between members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (founded following the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955–56), of which King and Abernathy and others of their generation were leaders, and the younger Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, commonly pronounced “snick”), which played a leading role in the 1963 March on Washington and Freedom Summer (1964). Some of the younger activists had lost patience with King’s insistence on nonviolence—particularly after the murders and beatings by white supremacists during Freedom Summer—and some accused him of Uncle Tomism and derided him behind his back as “de Lawd.” A less impatient member of SNCC was its chairman, John Lewis (now Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.). At Selma on Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965, his skull was fractured by an officer’s nightstick; the scars are still visible.

One weakness in the film was needlessly inflicted by the difficult Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. estate (his children, Martin, Dexter, and Bernice). The producers of this film—including Oprah Winfrey, who appears in the film—were not allowed to use direct quotations of King’s speeches. “The intellectual property wasn’t available to us,” said the film’s director, Ava Duvernay. Thus, David Oyelowo must paraphrase what King said. And many of his speeches are hotter, more radical sounding—more like Malcolm X (who also makes an appearance in Selma)—than the more polished and scripture-infused oratory of the historical Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

We cannot imagine what harm could be done by allowing the producers of a film that honestly, admiringly portrays the courageous work of Rev. King to use his words. (Perhaps the heirs were displeased by the film’s not hiding—but not depicting, either—the fact of their father’s extramarital affairs.) Even with the formidable influence of Oprah Winfrey, who must have tried to persuade the heirs to allow use of his words, perhaps the price demanded was too high, but in any case permission to quote the civil rights leader was not granted.

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Historians, too, have questioned the film’s depiction of President Lyndon Johnson as obstinate, delaying, more of an obstacle than an ally, who insists on doing things on his own schedule of political convenience. Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of Johnson is good, however, and even if the film’s depiction is contrary to some historical facts, the president’s obstinacy is not extreme, and in the end he bows to the forces of history on the march. (The photo above shows MLK, LBJ, and activists Whitney Young and James Farmer in the Oval Office in 1964 before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.)

Historian William Manchester records the kind of federal assistance the real LBJ sent after Alabama governor George Wallace asked for help in protecting all the outside agitators (including many clergy) who were pouring in in response to MLK’s invitation to join in the march from Selma to Montgomery:

[LBJ] complied by sending 1,863 federalized national guardsmen, 250 U.S. marshals and FBI agents, two regular Army MP battalions, demolition experts to search the roads and bridges ahead of those making the hike, and helicopters to hover overhead. In addition, the hikers were provided with huge tents for overnight stops, a 600-gallon water truck, latrine trucks, ambulances, trucks for rubbish, and scout cars to set up campsites in advance. 

—William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932–1972 (p. 1060)

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Selma to Montgomery in Photographs

Two excellent photo portfolios are A Long March into History: Stephen Somerstein Photos in ‘Freedom Journey 1965’ in The New York Times and “The Long Road,” photographs by Steve Schapiro in The New Yorker online.

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More about Civil Rights at Levees Not War:

Supreme Conservatives Drag U.S. Ceaselessly into the (Jim Crow) Past (6/26/13)

The (GOP-Driven) Decline of Black Power in the South (7/11/13)

Mississippi’s Runoff and Memories of Freedom Summer (6/26/14)

Marching on Washington for Economic and Social Justice (8/29/13)

Read All About the 1963 March on Washington (8/27/13)

In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica (6/12/13)

“There Is a Creative Force in This Universe”: The Poor People’s Campaign, 40 Years before Occupy Wall Street (1/16/12)

How the World Has—and Has Not—Changed in 50 Years: Portraits of Courage, Struggle, and Defiance (1/6/12)

. . . or just click MLK

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Color photograph above, showing David Oyelowo as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., from Selma (2014). Black-and-white photographs below by Stephen Somerstein, Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, 1965. The first photo shows John Lewis of SNCC, center, and, behind him to his right, Andrew Young of the SCLC (later U.N. ambassador and mayor of Atlanta). Click on any picture to see a ten-photo slideshow. “Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein” is on view at the New-York Historical Society through April 19, 2015.

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front line

walking by

white onlookers

walking in Montgomery

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Après Charlie Hebdo, Thoughts on Free Expression and Islamic Violence

Friday, January 9th, 2015

CoverStory-Solidarite-690-938-08192139Will we give the enemy the satisfaction of changing ourselves into something like their hate-filled, illiberal mirror image, or will we, as the guardians of the modern world, as the custodians of freedom and the occupants of the privileged lands of plenty, go on trying to increase freedom and decrease injustice? Will we become the suits of armour our fear makes us put on, or will we continue to be ourselves? The frontier both shapes our character and tests our mettle. I hope we pass the test. —Salman Rushdie, “Step Across This Line” (2002)

“Mr. [Didier] Cantat spoke for many when he said the attacks could fuel greater anti-immigrant sentiment. ‘We are told Islam is for God, for peace,’ he said. ‘But when you see this other Islam, with the jihadists, I don’t see peace, I see hatred. So people can’t tell which is the real Islam.’ ”New York Times

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In our first post after wishing for a new year with less “horribilis,” we would like to offer some thoughts about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris of Wednesday, January 7.

First, along with people around the world, we are shocked and disgusted by the slaughter in Paris, and we send condolences and commiserations to the people of France—especially to the families and friends of those who were killed (eleven staff members and one police officer). Vive la France. Long live the free press and freedom of expression. Some members of LNW work in journalism and publishing, and we remember how some of our colleagues at Viking (especially in the London offices) were at risk during the Satanic Verses fatwa (1989–) against British novelist Salman Rushdie (born into a Muslim family), we feel for the victims and those still at risk.

We will not, however, echo thousands or millions of others who are saying “Je suis Charlie.” For one thing, we had never heard of the publication before Wednesday. Also, we don’t claim to be that brave—nor are we that reckless. Although we defend and depend upon freedom of speech and the principles of a free press—particularly for investigative journalism into corporate or governmental wrongdoing—it is our opinion that Charlie Hebdo was being unnecessarily, irresponsibly provocative, poking a hornet’s nest over and over, for fun and profit. Of course they did not deserve to be harmed, much less massacred. But, in a country that has about a 7 percent Muslim population, and after a fire-bombing of their offices in 2011 (in response to a satirical front-cover depiction of the Prophet Muhammad), and with police protection for the editor, they had to know that they were running a very serious risk of bloody retribution by incensed, offended believers. (We also thought Sony was extremely irresponsible in making and hoping to profit from a film about the fictional assassination of an actual, living head of state, but that’s another matter.)

Now, there is a long and life-sustaining tradition of satire in France (and it lives on, for example, in New Orleans’s satirical Carnival krewes), as there is in Britain, and any publication should be able to print anything it wants—particularly if the satire is directed at errant politicians and the rich and powerful when they obnoxiously throw their weight around. It is also true that devout Muslims are not noted for their sense of humor. But we do not know what it’s like to grow up Islamic, so we don’t understand how irreverent (or any) depictions of the Prophet Muhammad can be blasphemous; we’ll have to take their word for it.

By personal heritage and by Louisiana’s historic ties to France, we may be more sympathetic to France and French culture than the average American, but for many years we have also been friends with more than a few Muslims (from Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Turkey, etc.), so this atrocity pulls us in more than one direction.

And yet, but now . . . Even liberal, tolerant Americans and other westerners are saying enough of the familiar excuse that “[this latest atrocity] is not Islam; Islam is peace.” We want to hear the grand ayatollah and other prominent mullahs and imams denounce this kind of violence, but it seems we never do. Could it be that they have denounced the killings, but for some reason their denunciations are filtered out by a biased western media? We don’t think so.

(Former president George W. Bush did a good thing when shortly after September 11 he emphasized that “Islam is peace,” and gave signals that Americans should refrain from acts of retribution against innocent Muslims. Maybe he was asked to say this by his close family friend Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. In any case, it was the right thing to do, and we commend Bush for having made the statement.)

JeSuisCharlieThis blog has tried to be tolerant of Muslims and understanding of their grievances. As stated in a previous post, since high school and college days we’ve had quite a few friends from the Middle East, and we admire and respect and sometimes love them. But we have no tolerance for extremists of any kind, foreign or domestic. (See “Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America,” LNW 8/23/10)

There is some hope, however, that this view is shared by moderate Muslims. Last week Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said in a speech to Egypt’s clerics, “It is unbelievable that the thought we hold holy pushes the Muslim community to be a source of worry, fear, danger, murder and destruction to all the world. . . . You need to stand sternly.”

Meanwhile, Think Progress says the Associated Press reports that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the head of a Lebanese Hezbollah group, “said extremists who murder and behead people have done more harm to Islam than ‘anyone else in history.’ ” Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah also denounced the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (though not on the Pentagon).

We are not alone in wanting to hear the ayatollah and prominent mullahs firmly and clearly denounce jihadist killings—not only September 11 but also the bombings and attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005), and Mumbai (2008), etc.—as well as ISIS’s calls for slayings of non-Muslims by “homegrown” killers in western countries. (On the Jan. 7 show, Rachel Maddow lists recent random, low-tech killings by jihadist extremists in London, Australia, and elsewhere.)

In late September 2005, while many Americans were still reeling from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published some editorial cartoons of Muhammad under the headline “The face of Muhammad.” A hot controversy about self-censorship and criticism of Islam ensued. Read more about it here.)

A few months later, after stormy protests (and about 200 deaths) around the world, Christopher Hitchens published a piece in Slate, “Stand Up for Denmark!

You wish to say that it was . . . a small newspaper in Copenhagen that lit the trail? What abject masochism and nonsense. It was the arrogant Danish mullahs who patiently hawked those cartoons around the world (yes, don’t worry, they are allowed to exhibit them as much as they like), until they finally provoked a vicious response against the economy and society of their host country. . . . The hypocrisy here is shameful, nauseating, unpardonable. The original proscription against any portrayal of the prophet, not that this appears to be absolute, was superficially praiseworthy because it was intended as a safeguard against idolatry and the worship of images. But now see how this principle is negated. A rumor of a cartoon in a faraway country is enough to turn the very name Mohammed into a fetish-object and an excuse for barbaric conduct. As I write this, the death toll is well over thirty and—guess what?—a mullah in Pakistan has offered $1 million and a car as a bribe for the murder of ‘the cartoonist.’ This incitement will go unpunished and most probably unrebuked.

—“Stand Up for Denmark!” Slate, February 21, 2006, and in Christopher Hitchens, Arguably: Essays (2011)

Why are these satirical cartoons being printed in the first place? One reason could be that there is among Europeans a profound impatience and intolerance of immigrants who refuse to assimilate, who stay in their own close-knit neighborhoods, insist on wearing attire (including the hijab) from a world that is alien to Europe, and seem to hate or keep at a distance the culture into which they have settled. The widely admired historian Walter Laqueur explained the situation in his 2007 book The Last Days of Europe (the title refers in part to the continent’s overly permissive immigration policies).

Many of the immigrants of 2006 live in societies separate form those of the host countries. This is true for big cities and small. They have no German or British or French friends, they do not meet them, and frequently they do not speak their language. Their preachers tell these immigrants that their values and traditions are greatly superior to those of the infidels and that any contact with them, even with neighbors, is undesirable. Their young people complain about being victims and being excluded , but their social and cultural separateness is quite often voluntary. Western European governments and societies are often criticized for not having done more to integrate these new citizens. But even if they had done much more, is it certain that integration would have succeeded? For integration is not a one-way street.

Do these immigrants identify with their new homeland? If you ask them, they will frequently tell you that they are Muslims (or Turks or Nigerians) living in Britain, France, or Germany. They get their politics, religion, and culture from Arab and Turkish television channels. . . . However, they have no wish to go back to Turkey or Algeria—this is their country and they show it; no one should have any doubt about it.

—Laqueur, The Last Days of Europe, pp. 7–8

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We’ve probably said more than enough . . . for now. Many of us will continue to reflect on what it is we’re doing, what we have gotten ourselves into—never forget the West’s thirst for oil that has brought our corporations and armies into the Muslim lands in the first place,  and the complicated legacy of European colonialism—and how we can live together in this globalized, intermixed world. It’s an International World, after all, and we have to find ways to live together. We hope that the Muslim clerics will heed the call of Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Let’s close with the final two paragraphs of Salman Rushdie’s “Step Across this Line” (the source of the epigraph above), an address given at Yale University not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001 (The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, February 25 and 26, 2002):

Even before the attacks on America, I was concerned that, in Britain and Europe as well as America, the pressures on artistic and even intellectual freedoms were growing—that cautious, conservative political and institutional forces were gaining the upper hand, and that many social groups were deliberately fostering a new, short-fuse culture of easy offendedness, so that less and less was becoming sayable all the time, and more and more kinds of speech were being categorized as transgressive. If it was important to resist this cultural closing-in before 9/11, it’s twice as important now. The freedoms of art and the intellect are closely related to the general freedoms of society as a whole. The struggle for artistic freedom serves to crystallize the larger question that we were all asked when the planes hit the buildings: how should we live now? How uncivilized are we going to allow our own world to become in response to so barbaric an assault? 

We are living, I believe, in a frontier time, one of the great hinge periods in human history, in which great changes are coming about at great speed. On the plus side, the end of the cold war, the revolution in communications technology, great scientific achievements such as the completion of the human genome project; in the minus column, a new kind of war against new kinds of enemies fighting with terrible new weapons. We will all be judged by how we handle ourselves in this time. What will be the spirit of this frontier? Will we give the enemy the satisfaction of changing ourselves into something like their hate-filled, illiberal mirror image, or will we, as the guardians of the modern world, as the custodians of freedom and the occupants of the privileged lands of plenty, go on trying to increase freedom and decrease injustice? Will we become the suits of armour our fear makes us put on, or will we continue to be ourselves? The frontier both shapes our character and tests our mettle. I hope we pass the test.

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“Vive la France.” Click here for President Obama’s remarks written in a condolence book at the French Embassy in Washington on Thursday, Jan. 8. Video here.

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New Yorker cover illustration by Ana Juan; broken pencils illustration by Lucille Clerc.

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Annus Horribilis : 2014 in Review

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

New Year
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Good Riddance to a Bad Year

In a speech in late 1992, Queen Elizabeth II used the phrase “annus horribilis” to describe Great Britain’s no-good, very bad year (tabloid-quality marital troubles of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, a fire at Windsor Castle, etc.). The term is derived from the Latin annus mirabilis (wonderful year). As the queen said about 1992, we feel about 2014: “not a year on which [we] shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”

First, though, let’s open with some good things that happened in 2014 that give us cause to hope that 2015 may bring more mirabilis and less horribilis.

Public health. Overall, the American medical establishment, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, managed pretty well in handling the cases of Ebola that arose in the U.S. (Try not to be freaked out by TV “news” coverage of this topic; as with weather events, the more alarmist their coverage, the better for their ratings.)

ACAIn other healthy developments, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, brought more good news for the general public (though not for Fox News). In “Tidings of Comfort” (12/26/14), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says that in its first full year of full implementation (its provisions were phased in gradually after its passage in 2010), “the number of Americans without insurance fell by around 10 million. . . . premiums were far less than predicted, overall health spending is moderating, and specific cost-control measures are doing very well. And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.”

Economy. Krugman points out that although economic recovery from the 2008 crisis has been slow, recent performance has been comparatively healthy, with steady increases in job creation and 5 percent growth in the U.S. economy overall. Some 6.7 million jobs have been created since Obama took office, compared with 3.1 million at the six-year mark under George W. Bush. If it were not for congressionally mandated austerity, the recovery would have been much better.

(Krugman does not mention this, but the recovery was strong enough in 2014 that, if we were living in normal, level-playing-field political conditions, without the artificial factors of gerrymandered congressional districts and unlimited dark money mentioned below, this year’s midterm elections should have gone more than usual in the favor of the president’s party.) For more on the president’s performance, see Krugman’s excellent and persuasive “In Defense of Obama” (Rolling Stone, 10/8/14).

Executive actions. President Obama took several positive actions on several important issues that do not depend on the constipated Congress to take effect. In November he used an executive action to grant a reprieve to nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants and to strengthen border security.

People’s Climate MarchAlso in November, Obama made a landmark agreement with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025 and to rely more on renewable sources of energy and on nuclear energy. Following on the massive People’s Climate March of Sept. 21, 2014, in which more than 400,000 marched in New York City as delegates were gathering at the United Nations, this agreement provided substantial good news for the environment and reason to hope for more progressive green achievements. (They can’t come too soon: the “climate change” the earth is undergoing may already be irreparable. But enough: we’re trying to focus on the positive here.)

And, in the kind of bold surprise we welcome and hope to see more of, in mid-December, President Obama announced that after nearly 55 years of diplomatic estrangement, the United States will normalize relations with Cuba and unfreeze the trade embargo, an agreement worked out with behind-the-scenes assistance from Pope Francis and the Vatican and the government of Canada.

About That Annus Horribilis . . .

We each have our own reasons, but it seems to be a widely shared view that even by the standards of this grim new century 2014 was a bad year—and it was already looking bad by the summer. “In this summer of global tumult” began a piece in The New York Times (“As World Boils, Fingers Point Obama’s Way,” 8/16/14). A general sense of gloom and dread was helped along by the fact that 2014 was, as many news outlets were commemorating, the centenary of the outbreak of The Great War.

In international affairs, there was Russia’s annexing of Crimea and troublemaking in Ukraine; the continuation of the dreadful Syrian civil war (two years and counting: some 76,000 died in Syria this year, including 3,500 children) and the related rise of ISIS (aka ISIL, or Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq; the very destructive Israel-Gaza war that erupted in July; and of course the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But wait: there’s more.

In a nation whose middle class was still struggling if not drowning in a protracted recession and widespread unemployment since the economic collapse of 2008, while corporate profits reached record highs (“In 2013, after-tax corporate profits as a share of the economy tied with their highest level on record [in 1965], while labor compensation as a share of the economy hit its lowest point since 1948.” [NYT 8/31/14])—the already poor and jobless were further stressed by interactions with heavily armed police. In the first eight months of 2014 in the United States there were more than 400 deaths from police shootings.

Disturbances of the Peace

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Here in the homeland, American society was disturbed by the still mysterious shooting on August 9 of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The death sparked outrage and dramatic protests against brutality and excessive militarization of police departments around the United States. The choking death on July 17 of a black man named Eric Garner while in police custody (“I can’t breathe,” he gasped eleven times)—he was suspected of illegally selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island ferry—was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. In December a grand jury decided to not indict the police officer in the death; this decision, just a week after a similar decision in Missouri to not prosecute the officer who shot Michael Brown, prompted widespread protests in New York and around the nation with the themes “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.” Tension persists in (among other places) New York City, where the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio are not seeing eye to eye. Large numbers of officers physically turned their backs on the mayor when he spoke at the funeral service several days ago of one of two officers killed in Brooklyn by a lunatic from Baltimore seeking revenge for African Americans killed by police.

“Hell No You Can’t!”

MoneybagsOne more category that should be mentioned, like it or not, is the depressing outcome of the 2014 midterm congressional elections. (So depressing, in fact, that this blog was at a loss for words for several months.) Although victorious, empowered Republicans crowed that the American people had spoken (for them and against Obama, naturally), we attribute their success to (1) gerrymandered congressional districts tailor-made for conservative dominance; (2) unlimited “dark money” from corporations and political action committees following the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision (2010); and (3) voting rights restrictions that limited voting by minorities, college students, and other likely Democratic constituencies after the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). (See “Dark Money Helped Win the Senate,” The New  York Times Editorial Board, 11/8/14.)

Perhaps equally disheartening, though, and certainly more infuriating, is the chronic cowardice of establishment Democrats. Dem candidates distanced themselves from President Obama and shrank from speaking up about the party’s accomplishments and defending its historic programs. (See “A Failure to Communicate—Not a Failure to Govern” [LNW 11/3/10].) As our friend Cousin Pat from Georgia at Hurricane Radio has said many times, the Democratic Party cannot ally itself with Wall Street and still expect support from the middle class and working class at election time. (See his “Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November” [9/28/10])

We pray that progressive activists will multiply and press the Democrats and independents to push for progressive policies. One of the developments to which we’re not looking forward is the looming 2016 presidential election. We do not salivate at the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats’ candidate, but if she is the candidate the Republicans most fear, then perhaps she should be the Democrats’ leader in 2016. But HRC is a Wall Street, big-money Democrat, like Chuck Schumer, and her credentials do not bode well for peace or progressive causes. On our wish list is more of populist, independent thinkers like senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. We hope that, at the very least, Warren and other liberals and defenders of the middle class will be able to push Clinton toward more progressive talk and action.

Falling Stars in the Obituary Pages

Another way of looking at the year’s toll is by considering the obituaries of entertainers and authors in 2014—some of which were not death from natural causes. Philip Seymour Hoffman (46) and Robin Williams (63), among the greatest talents of any age, both took their own lives after giving immeasurably to world culture, both in humor and in pathos. Other great lives that ended this year include Lauren Bacall, Joan Rivers, Shirley Temple Black, poets Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Maxine Kumin, Galway Kinnell, Mark Strand, and the global-stature novelists Gabriel García Márquez and Nadine Gordimer, as well as the popular mystery writer P. D. James.

Power to the People

LNW_USA.sleeveWe hope for a better year this next time around, but we know that 2015 is not going to be better just because the previous one was a grind. But we will do our part, “every day, in every way,” and will try to contribute to a better city, a better nation, a better world. We hope you’ll join us in trying to give to civic affairs, for example, not only through occasional contributions to progressive groups (see our blogroll, lower right column, for Anti-War and Environment groups), but also by making our views known to newspapers and elected officials: phoning mayors, members of Congress, writing letters to the editor, and so on. Let’s encourage, congratulate, thank, and support those who do good, and when elected officials are off-track, let them know. (See our Political Action page for contact information.)

Wishing you and yours a better time in 2015, and strength through peace.

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Top illustration from New York Public Library Digital Gallery; Ferguson, Missouri, photograph by BBC News.

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