Blogs

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 20, 2014

Wed Aug. 20, 2014 1:40 PM EDT

After a training mission, F-15 Eagles of the US Air Force fly over wildland fires in Southern Oregon. (High-G Productions photo by Jim "Hazy" Hazeltine.)

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Let Us Now Psychoanalyze Famous Men (And Their Photographs)

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 12:12 PM EDT

Bob Somerby calls my attention to the following bit of psychobabble from Peter Baker and Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times. The subject is a photo released by the White House:

Mr. Holder, 63, is the one leaning forward, both in the photograph released by the White House and on the issues underlying the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. A child of the civil rights era, he grew up shaped by the images of violence in Selma, Ala., and joined sit-ins at Columbia University where protesters renamed an office after Malcolm X. Now in high office, he pushes for policy changes and is to fly on Wednesday to Ferguson to personally promise justice in the case of a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.

Mr. Obama, 53, is the one seemingly holding back in the White House photograph, contemplative, even brooding, as if seeking to understand how events could get so out of hand. He was too young and removed to experience the turmoil of the 1960s, growing up in a multiracial household in Hawaii and Indonesia. As he now seeks balance in an unbalanced time, he wrestles with the ghosts of history that his landmark election, however heady, failed to exorcise.

Seriously? Take a look at other photographs of Obama when he's conferring with someone. Take a look at other photographs of any powerful person when they're conferring with an underling. The boss is the one who's free to lounge back and relax. The underling is the one who has to lean forward and make his case. This is standard body language. Obama uses it so often that in just the August "Photo of the Day" gallery alone, I count it in three out of four photos where Obama is conferring with other people.

Look, I've been there. You want to say something interesting. You need a hook. But come on. If you want to make the case that racial issues are more immediate for Holder than for Obama, go ahead. But don't pretend that a bog ordinary White House photograph tells you anything. That's just embarrassing. Before long you'll be hiring body language "experts" and handwriting "analysts" to help you with your leads. Here be dragons.

Barack Obama Loathes Congress as Much as You Do

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 10:56 AM EDT

Ezra Klein responds to a New York Times article about President Obama's chilly relationship with his fellow Democrats:

Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking congressional Democrats is he sees it as a useless chore.

The Times article...never names a bill that didn't pass or a nominee who wasn't confirmed because Obama's doesn't spend more time on the golf course with members of Congress. The closest it comes is...not very close. "In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama's approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office."

This is ridiculous. There are no issues erupting at home or abroad where the problem is that House or Senate Democrats won't vote with the president. There's no legislation of importance to President Obama's legacy that would pass if only House Democrats had spent more time at the White House. I've listened to a lot of Democratic members of Congress complain about Obama's poor relationships on the Hill. Each time, my follow-up question is the same: "what would have passed if Obama had better relationships on the Hill?" Each time, the answer is the same: a shake of the head, and then, "nothing."

I'd probably give a little more credit to schmoozing than this. But only a very little. At the margins, there are probably times when having a good relationship with a committee chair will speed up action or provide a valuable extra vote or two on a bill or a nominee. And Obama has the perfect vehicle for doing this regularly since he loves to play golf. But for the most part Klein is right. There's very little evidence that congressional schmoozing has more than a tiny effect on things. Members of Congress vote the way they want or need to vote, and if they respond to anyone, it's to party leaders, interest groups, and fellow ideologues. In days gone by, presidents could coerce votes by working to withhold money from a district, or by agreeing to name a crony as the local postmaster, but those days are long gone. There's really very little leverage that presidents have over members of Congress these days, regardless of party.

Obama is an odd duck. It's not just that he doesn't schmooze. As near as I can tell, he has a barely concealed contempt for Congress. He doesn't really enjoy playing the political game, and not just because it's gotten so rancid in recent years. Even if Republicans were acting like a normal political party these days, I still don't think he'd enjoy it much. And yet, he spent years campaigning for the top political job in the United States. It's a little bit of a mystery, frankly.

What's in a Word: Trophy vs. Ribbon Edition

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 10:20 AM EDT

A recent poll from Reason magazine investigates the burning question of whether kids on sports teams should all get participation trophies, or whether it should only be the winners. Overall, 57 percent think only the winners should get trophies, but the detailed breakdown is kind of interesting. It turns out that society's winners generally think that only winners should get trophies. Society's also-rans tend to think everyone should be recognized.

I wonder how much of this has to do with the word trophy? For many decades, after all, the US military has awarded ribbons to anyone who participates in surface combat. This is a very egalitarian award. You don't need to have done anything special. You don't need to have won. You just need to have participated. Nobody complains about this, but then again, it's just a ribbon that shows you've been part of an actual combat action. It's not a trophy or even a medal.

So would people react the same way to giving every kid a participation ribbon? I'll bet not. No one would object. But many of them do object to trophies. It's funny how a cheap bit of gold-colored plastic stirs the passions so much, isn't it?

UPDATE: I have no personal experience with either surface combat or kids' sports. Those who do should feel free to school me in comments if I'm wrong about any of this.

UPDATE 2: Several commenters have pointed out that, in fact, participation trophies are mostly limited to very young age groups, like five-year-olds. This makes a kind of sense, since at that age winning and losing is mostly just a matter of chance anyway. Among older kids, though, the whole "participation trophy" thing is just a myth.

Is that true?

"I Pay Taxes Out My Ass But They Still Harrass Me": 11 Amazing Songs About Police Brutality

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Last Friday, just days after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, 29-year-old North Carolina rapper J. Cole uploaded the stirring tribute "Be Free" to his SoundCloud, dedicating it to "every young black man murdered in America." The song promptly went viral.

Protests against the shooting, and police brutality more broadly, already had been gaining steam as the police launched a highly militarized crackdown, and Cole's timely reaction—in visceral, heartfelt form—struck a chord among people who know what it's like to be profiled or harassed by law enforcement. As Cole writes in a blog post introducing the track, "That coulda been me, easily. That could have been my best friend."

Cole is hardly the only one speaking out: Artists as far and wide as Frank Ocean, Big Boi, Moby, John Legend, and Young Jeezy have taken to Twitter and the airwaves in recent days to express their dissent, and Cole is part of a long tradition of musicians who have done so in song. Here are eleven other amazing tracks on the topic of police brutality in America:

1. "Oxford Town," by Bob Dylan: Dylan wrote this tune in 1962 in response to a magazine solicitation for songs about the admission of James Meredith into the University of Mississippi, its first black student. Covered here by Richie Havens, it makes terse observations about a racist police force that don't seem too far off today: "Guns and clubs followed him down / All because his face was brown / Better get away from Oxford Town."


2. "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)," by The Rolling Stones: "You're a heartbreaker / With your .44," Mick Jagger sings of the New York police in this symphonic 1973 double-ballad from the album Goats Head Soup.


3. "Who Got the Camera?" by Ice Cube: Released on the heels of the Los Angeles riots provoked by the beating of Rodney King, Ice Cube narrates the experience of being a black motorist harassed by law enforcement. "Police gettin badder," he raps. But "if I had a camera, the shit wouldn't matter."


4. "Sound of Da Police," by KRS-ONE: "Whoop, whoop! That's the sound of the police!" goes the memorable hook off KRS-One's 1993 debut solo album, Return of the Boom Bap. "After 400 years, I've got no choices," he raps, noting the continuity between slavery and racist policing. "The overseer rode around the plantation," he raps, while "the officer is off patrolling all the nation."


5. "The Beast," by The Fugees: "Warn the town, the beast is loose," the Fugees sing over police sirens in this 1996 classic. Lauryn Hill, Pras Michel, and Wyclef Jean spit old-school rhymes from gritty "ghetto Gotham," where "I pay taxes out my ass but they still harrass me."


6. "American Skin (41 Shots)," by Bruce Springsteen: "41 shots," goes the chorus to Springsteen's 2000 tribute to 23-year-old Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo, shot at that many times by four NYPD officers who killed him outside his Bronx apartment in February 1999. "Well, is it a gun? Is it a knife? / Is it a wallet? This is your life," he sings, referencing the cops' purported rationale for the barrage, which began when Diallo reached for his wallet. Backed by the E Street Band, Springsteen mournfully reminds us that "You can get killed just for living in your American skin."


7. "Made You Die," by Dead Prez, Yasiin Bey, and mikeflo: Dead Prez's stic.man, consistently one of hip-hop's sharpest social commentators, opens this Trayvon Martin tribute with his characteristic community-mindedness: "Now let's put it all in perspective / Before the outrage burns out misdirected / What can we do so our community's protected?" The three other MCs join in to flow on what Bey calls a "young black world in a struggle for a survival."


8. "Don't Die," by Killer Mike: Killer Mike has long protested the corrosive effects of racist policing on black communities in his native Atlanta, where his own father was a cop. In this song off his 2012 release R.A.P. Music, Mike works through the nuances of that personal history, acknowledging that while police are often honest, working-class individuals, their institutional role can be insidious. "'Fuck tha police' is still all I gotta say," he concludes, paying homage to the NWA hit from the dawn of gangsta rap.


9. "Stand Your Ground," by Pharoahe Monch: Here Monch repurposes the name of the Florida law used to justify George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin into a slogan for community organizers rallying in the killing's aftermath. "Get involved, get involved, get involved," the Queens rapper urges over roaring guitar riffs, soliciting support for the Martin family foundation in its effort to repeal the statutes.


10. "Amerika," by Lil Wayne: Lil Wayne is a rapper far better known for punch lines than political analysis, but he leaves the puns behind (mostly) in this somber single from last summer. In the video, riot police stand glaring in front of a flag whose stars "are never shining." Wayne's "Amerika" is a blighted landscape of foreclosed homes and teargas for which he modifies the patriotic anthem: "My country 'tis of thee / Sweet land of kill 'em all and let 'em die."


11. "Remove Ya," by Ratking: In this dance-y, grime-influenced track, the young rap experimentalists reflect on their daily experiences with cops in today's New York. The song is a upbeat call for community against adversity, featuring rapper Wiki playing off the well-circulated Nation recording of an NYPD officer's stopping and frisking a guy ("for being a fucking mutt"): "I'm a mutt, you a mutt, yeah, we some mutts." His companion Hak chimes in with memories of being arbitrarily stopped by an officer: "Hear the 'whoop whoop whoop whoop, stop don't move' / 'Hands on the hood, you gave me that look, wearing your hood.'"

Watch: Livestream from Ferguson: August 19

| Wed Aug. 20, 2014 1:21 AM EDT

The live stream feed via Vice News and Tim Pool was largely mellow for most of the night, Aug. 19, until about 11: 50 p.m. CDT, when a thrown bottle led to police moving in. You can see the whole thing, as it happened, embedded below.

12:04 p.m. CDT: Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept tweeted a picture of peacemakers trying to calm down a potentially violent moment:

12:15 p.m. CDT:Wesley Lowery tweets a picture of police forming a line against the press:

12:30 p.m. CDT:Adam Serwer with some protesters being pushed back by police:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Don't Like the War in Iraq? Blame Congress.

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 9:21 PM EDT

President Obama has no plans to ask Congress for authority under the War Powers Act to take military action in Iraq. But he's hardly the only one to blame here. An even bigger problem is that Congress doesn't really want him to ask in the first place:

“This is not about an imperial presidency, it’s about a Congress that’s reluctant to cast tough votes on U.S. military action,” said [Senator Tim] Kaine....“We should not be putting American men and women’s lives at risk if we are not willing to do the political work to reach a consensus that it’s necessary,” Mr. Kaine said in an interview.

....Senior administration officials note that congressional leaders, who met with Mr. Obama about Iraq in June, have explicitly told them Mr. Obama need not come to Congress to authorize military action.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader whose weekly conference calls with Democrats during the congressional break have been dominated by discussions of Iraq, said that Mr. Obama had wide latitude to act without Congress and suggested that Republicans eager to criticize the president would not be as eager to vote.

“We’ll see where the Republicans will be who have been calling for this, that and the other thing, if they had to vote on Iraq,” Ms. Pelosi said in San Francisco last week....Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, who helped draft the resolution to authorize strikes against Syria, has not called for a similar measure for the current operation in Iraq. He said he wanted administration officials to testify at a hearing when Congress returned about their strategy for the airstrikes and what authorities they intended to use in executing them.

It's an election year, after all, and this would be politically difficult for everyone. Democrats probably aren't excited about re-engaging in Iraq, but they'd be reluctant to oppose a president of their own party. Republicans would love to oppose Obama, but if they did they wouldn't be able to complain any more about what a wuss he is. Better for everyone to let sleeping dogs lie. That way they can kibitz from the sidelines and then, when it's all over, pretend that they supported a better policy all along.

It's cowardly, but that's politics. In any case, it's certainly hard to blame Obama for overreach when the branch of Congress that passed the War Powers Act in the first place has all but begged him to ignore it.

This Is Rick Perry's Mugshot

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 7:02 PM EDT

Rick Perry was booked today on abuse of power charges that look pretty flimsy.

Say what you will about his awful retrograde conservative politics, but Rick Perry is a handsome devil.

Mo'ne Davis Is the First Little Leaguer to Make the Cover of Sports Illustrated

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 6:20 PM EDT

Thirteen-year-old pitching sensation Mo'ne Davis just became the first Little Leaguer ever on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Davis, who pitches for South Philadelphia's Taney Dragons, received national attention last week when she threw a two-hit shutout and struck out eight in the Dragons' Little League World Series opening victory over Nashville, Tennessee. On Sunday she became the sixth girl to get a hit in the LLWS, a first-inning RBI single that helped Philadelphia to a 7-6 win over Pearland, Texas.

And the 5-foot-4 right-hander's fastball, clocked at 71 mph, is roughly equivalent to a 93 mph pitch thrown on a big-league-size field.

But Davis' Sports Illustrated appearance isn't just unusual for her age: It's also damn-near impossible for a female to make the magazine's cover. Discounting the women dressed only in leis and inner tubes for the annual swimsuit edition, about 95 percent of SI covers feature men. An analysis of 716 covers from 2000 to 2011 found:

  • 35 (4.9 percent) featured a woman;
  • 18 (2.5 percent) featured a woman as the primary image;
  • 11 (1.5 percent) featured a woman of color.

And this trend doesn't appear to have reversed since 2011: A quick glance at SI's 2014 cover gallery shows that just five female athletes have graced the cover prior to Davis this year.

Davis told ESPN she plans to play basketball at UConn and eventually in the WNBA. When a Fox News anchor asked why she doesn't play a "more female friendly sport," like soccer, last week, she seemed surprised. "Well, I play soccer actually, but I don't consider it as my favorite sport…But soccer is fun."

As Albert Chen writes in the Sports Illustrated story, "She's a lot of things to a lot of different people, all of them good things: a totem for inner-city baseball, a role model for your 10-year-old niece, a role model for your 10-year-old nephew. Most of all, she's a laid-back kid just having a really good time." NBA superstar Kevin Durant was just one of a number of pro athletes to tweet their support: "This youngster is striking everyone out and she is a girl. I love it."

Davis told the Philadelphia Inquirer that "the attention should not just be on one girl; more girls should join boys' teams so it is a tradition and it won't be so special." She is expected to take the mound again Wednesday, when Philadelphia faces off against Las Vegas.

baseball fan
A young fan shows her support of Mo'ne Davis after the team's 4-0 win over Nashville in the LLWS. Sean Simmers/AP

Amnesty International's Latest Hot Spot? Ferguson.

| Tue Aug. 19, 2014 5:06 PM EDT

Amnesty International is best known for monitoring human rights conditions in places like Afghanistan and China—while active in the United States, it rarely makes headlines here. That's why the sight of yellow-clad Amnesty activists walking the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, is attracting so much attention: It marks the first time an Amnesty delegation has been dispatched to monitor a human rights crisis unfolding on American soil.

Margaret Huang, deputy executive director of campaigns and programs for Amnesty USA, was in Ferguson earlier this week for what she called a "support mission" and says that Amnesty came at the request of the community. Huang and her colleagues did field trainings to educate protesters on their rights and how to respond to police. "The goal was not necessarily to produce a report, which is what Amnesty has typically done, but just to make sure things have been examined from a human rights angle and for people to understand international legal obligations," Huang says. She says the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive; the police, however, haven't been as welcoming. On Monday night, police forced Amnesty observers out of the protest area at gunpoint.

Amnesty began reporting on human rights in the United States in 1998, and it has since become just as vocal about conditions here as it is elsewhere. The organization's 2013 report on the US is a laundry list of alleged human rights transgressions, including solitary confinement, detention of prisoners in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, drone strikes, and police brutality. This tweet about the situation in Ferguson sums up the organization's angle:

While the nature of Amnesty's mission in Ferguson is unprecedented in the United States, it's not the first time delegations have been on the ground in times of crisis. After Hurricane Katrina hit, teams went to New Orleans to interview residents, with the purpose of producing a report detailing how government was failing in its recovery efforts. Amnesty also helped organize protests and raise awareness leading up to Troy Davis' execution in 2011.

To find the closest parallel to what Amnesty is doing in Missouri, though, you have to look abroad. Huang says that Amnesty's work during Turkey's massive anti-government protests in 2013 most resembles the Ferguson mission. In Istanbul, activists gave medical assistance to injured protesters and observed the violent clashes involving protesters, police, and sometimes members of the press. They ultimately produced a huge report detailing the numerous human rights abuses carried out by Turkish police. Their concerns then—police brutality, harassment and detainment of the press—were also articulated in a statement about Ferguson.

What's happening in Ferguson and what happened across Turkey last year aren't the same, of course. But the similarities between the two situations—and the fact that Amnesty is in Ferguson in the first place—are, for many, making what's unfolding now even more troubling. Huang didn't say how long the delegation plans to stay in Ferguson, calling the situation "very fluid," but Amnesty USA's executive director, Steven Hawkins, is there now.