Saturday, February 17, 2018

Another Fox Noise Double-Double

Clint O’Connor’s analysis of a Fox Noise talking head’s error-filled criticism of LeBron for daring to speak out against the president (and I mention error-filled because part of the ridiculous critique is that LeBron spoke ungrammatically) is very much worth reading. But be careful if you forward or otherwise highlight this story to do all you can to avoid letting this talking head use the story to build her twitter followers or draw more attention to her show.

That is why I am not mentioning her here at all and reminding us of a clip from West Wing were the fictional President Bartlett takes on this exact talking head’s idiocy directly and with devastating effect. We might be better off to ignore the story she wants us to circulate entirely and just re-circulate this 3:42 second West Wing clip instead.

Or just read another great story from our incredible local paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, and we will know most of what we need to know about this issue. Thanks Clint, ABJ, and LeBron from speaking out with clarity and calm, care and concern for our country.

Here is the full text of Clint O’Connor’s article from today’s ABJ. I love the concluding line: “Ingraham pulled off a double-double. She managed to miss the point and prove the point.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham went after LeBron James on Thursday night.

In defending President Donald Trump, Ingraham told James to “shut up and dribble.” She questioned James’ intelligence, his grammar and his education.

The fuel for Ingraham’s fire was a new segment of Rolling with the Champion, which was posted Thursday on James’ Uninterrupted website ( The segment featured host Cari Champion driving James and fellow NBA superstar Kevin Durant around snowy Akron.

It had the feel of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. But instead of singing, the three discussed a series of wide-ranging topics. It was taped Jan. 14, the night before a Cavs-Warriors game in Cleveland.

Ingraham opened her segment on The Ingraham Angle by saying, “This is a Jumb Dock Alert.” She meant to say “Dumb Jock.”

She went on to criticize James for criticizing Trump.

“Here’s his barely intelligible not to mention ungrammatical take on President Trump,” she said, before cutting to a brief clip of James saying Trump did not care about people, which included an expletive.

After the clip, Ingraham reappeared and, her voice dripping in derisive sarcasm, said. “But wait.” Pause. “There’s more gripping insight.”

In the full segment on Uninterrupted, Champion had actually asked James what the climate was like in the Trump era to be an athlete with a platform.

“The climate is hot,” said James. “The No. 1 job in America, the appointed person is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a [expletive] about the people.”

When James was growing up, he continued, “there was like three jobs that you looked to for inspiration or you felt like these were the people who could give me light. It was the president of the United States, it was whoever was the best in sports, and then it was, like, whoever was the greatest musician at the time. You never thought you could be them, but you could grab inspiration from them …”

“At this time right now, with the president of the United States, it’s at a bad time, and while we cannot change what comes out of that man’s mouth, we can continue to alert the people that watch us, that listen to us, that this is not the way.”

Ingraham referred to James and Durant’s remarks as “ignorant comments.”

She added: “Must they run their mouths like that?”

Ingraham came across sounding like an old, angry racist sitting on a porch shooing a couple of black kids off her lawn.

The clip she showed on Fox was also out of context.

If Ingraham, or her minions, had bothered to watch the entire 16-minute and 44-second drive-around, they would have learned that very little of it was about politics or Donald Trump. Topics included when the two men were first introduced to basketball, the NBA All-Star Game, racism, the contributions of Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., growing up fatherless, being good husbands and good parents, as well as good-natured childhood memories, which for James represented the sights and sounds of Akron outside the car window.

Ingraham also jumbled some facts.

• She called the segment “a podcast on ESPN.”
It was not a podcast. It was not on ESPN.
• She said James makes $100 million a year to “bounce a ball.”
James’ Cavaliers salary for the 2017-2018 season is about $33.3 million.
• She said James should be a cautionary tale for kids, because he left high school early to play in the NBA.
James graduated from Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in 2003.
The lack of an education charge is especially galling. Are you not entitled to an opinion if you did not attend college?

And by the way: The LeBron James Family Foundation and its I Promise programs have committed millions of dollars to helping elementary and secondary school students to learn, focus and move on to college. James also teamed with the University of Akron to provide four-year scholarships for students who complete the I Promise program. The price tag is around $90 million.

The foundation just sent a group of “LJFF 330 Ambassadors” to Los Angeles for the NBA All-Star weekend.

The ambassadors are Akron teens who mentor young kids. On Friday, they were scheduled to plant trees in an area devastated by wildfires.
Ingraham’s questioning James’ right to speak out is bizarre. James has delivered thoughtful remarks in recent years about racism and social injustice issues. He does not go off half-cocked.

Apparently, Ingraham was not watching Uninterrupted when Champion asked James and Durant about some people’s discomfort with, and often toxic response to, black men with money, black men with a voice.

Ingraham pulled off a double-double. She managed to miss the point and prove the point.

Clint O’Connor covers pop culture. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.

In today's paper we get a response from LeBron and several other All Starts. 
“We know it’s bigger than us,” James said. “It’s not about us. I’m going to continue to do what I have to do to play this game that I love to play, but this is bigger than me playing the game of basketball.”
Well done.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

It is Much Worse Than it Looks
“The autocratic leader lies and then falsely charges his opponents with lying. He politicizes institutions that are supposed to be free of politics by falsely accusing his foes of politicizing them. He victimizes others by falsely claiming they are victimizing him.

The autocrat also counts on spineless politicians to cave in to his demands. And as they destroy governmental institutions at his bidding, they insist they are defending them.”

And spineless talking heads and corporate leaders shilling for this regime.

EJ Dionne and Hannah Arendt help us make sense out of nonsense saturating communication channels by design. Trump and his enablers have the great American experiment teetering on the edge of extinction. FOCUS: unity at any cost to win midterms.

The entire commentary is well worth reading, but Dionne’s use of Arendt here to frame what Nunes & Trump & Ryan are doing right now should blast anyone out of complacency because her description of totalitarianism could have been written this morning.

‘The totalitarian method of the 1920s and 30s, she noted, was to “dissolve every statement of fact into a declaration of purpose.”

She also said this: “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”’

Anyone who reads my posts or blog knows I am not one ready to constantly leap to the alarmist and I have struggled (and continue to struggle) to try to understand my fellow Americans who (still) support this regime…

…but the case for deep concern and alarm is overwhelming, is made daily by the president and his enablers themselves, and is destroying carefully built (admittedly imperfect) democratic institutions and processes and values we depend on as a nation to survive and thrive.

I am sorry to sound so alarmist, but the situation warrants it.

“The autocratic leader lies and then falsely charges his opponents with lying. And as they destroy governmental institutions at his bidding, they insist they are defending them.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Transform Fear & Despise Into Oppose, Unite, and Vote
Rugaber and Woodward, in an AP Fact Check story anticipating the State of the Union Address, provide us with some much needed clarification. While their objective (as fact-checkers) is to determine the degree to which the current president is misleading us, I want to use their analysis to make a different point.
Tweets aside, year one shows at least as much continuity from Bush through Obama to Trump as it does disruption or catastrophe.

Let’s all step back and recognize that, despite grave concerns, at the end of year one we are still afloat, the slower-than-usual recovery from the Great Recession that started under Bush II and Obama continues.

While President Trump characteristically exaggerates our economic growth, the fact remains that year one saw a growth rate of 2.3%. This is below what the president loudly promised, and it is frustrating to hear him continue to pretend it was much higher and so much better than Obama, but that does not alter the fact that this is the same level of moderately good news we would welcomed when President Obama governed over nearly identical growth rates.

While President Trump chooses to measure job creation since the election, rather than for the year as is customary (resulting in his number being slightly higher than the measure we generally use), the fact remains that we continue to create jobs, albeit at the same slower-than-usual rate that has persisted from Bush II through Obama to Trump. This past year we created slightly fewer jobs (in part because the unemployment rate is particularly low), and the president is not correct in asserting that the rate of job growth is increasing, but the fact remains that the slower-than-usual recovery from Bush to Obama to Trump appears to be continuing.

While President Trump claims his tax cuts will increase average household income $4000, and most economists see the increase to be more in the range of $1600 (and only temporary), the fact remains that we expect this tax cut to increase average household income at a time when most households can use the additional funds. This is not a data point marking continuity from Bush through Obama to Trump, because when one party wins elections to control both the executive and legislative branches they have earned the capacity to make policy.

While President Trump points to Apple as an illustration of a company creating more jobs because the tax cut made that possible, it turns out that this is a much more complicated question. At the same time, the fact remains that Apple is doing well and investing in America and bringing back funds it has previously held overseas. We cannot dismiss the possibility that the new tax law contributed to this, just as we will not know for certain the impact of the tax law for years to come. Yes, the president is being misleading here, as Rugaber and Woodward conclude, but this is the type of misleading that nearly every elected official thrives on, marking this as another illustration of continuity from Bush through Obama to Trump.

This is not to say that the party out of power, or anyone opposed to this president, has nothing to be concerned about. The trauma is real. War with North Korea still remains a midterm possibility. Consumer & environmental protections are being diminished dramatically. We are falling behind China and others in the development of the new technologies that will define global leadership in ten years (solar, wind, AI, and more). Protectionism and nationalism threaten to do us great harm even if we avoid war, as George Will powerfully argued today.

Will noted that were President Trump’s protectionism being advanced by a Democrat it would immediately be attacked as ‘government rather than the market picking winners and losers, government redistribution, and crony capitalism.’ Further, he reminds us that protectionism in the recent past (2002) disproportionately hurt Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania—states that ‘voted for today’s protectionist president.’

But if we are to reason our way out of the mess we are in, we need to step back and see year one as simply (and thankfully only this) a consequence of democracy: sometimes the other side wins. This is why elections & voting matter. My hope is that the trauma will operate on those of us ages 16 to 60 like the Depression operated on my grandparents. It will change the way we think and eat and interact and live. We will pay closer attention to politics and power. More of us will run for office. All of us will vote more regularly.

Opposing this president makes sense, but our challenge is to oppose in ways that strengthen democracy, civility & contestation, the rule of law and our shared commitment to peace & justice. When we read every data point as merely more evidence confirming the indecency of this president (and coincidentally our own righteousness in contrast), we over-reach and reinforce trends that weaken democracy and catapulted this president into the White House.

If we want decision making based on the best available data, if we believe truth matters, than we need to go the extra mile to demonstrate that, even when it is inconvenient, even when it makes it harder (and less emotionally satisfying) to pummel a president we fear and despise for very good reasons. We need to transform fear and despite into oppose and focus on winning the midterms as step one toward making democracy both possible and desirable again. 

While it is not accurate to claim 'both sides are equally to blame,' there is still a lot more of this going on (cartoon above) than governing.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Sliver of Silver Lining
A couple weeks ago, in conversation with students, I suggested that experiencing the Trump presidency might be (for them and their generation) like experiencing the Depression was for my grand parents and their generation. The Depression was my grand parents defining experience. They never stopped being uber-frugal. My students today are seeing first-hand that elections matter.

This will likely result in armies of them deciding to seek public office, many more choosing to pay more attention, vote, get involved in myriad ways. All good things. Potentially transformative things.

Well, just today, a good friend posted this on FB, from a well-respected political consultant:

“What are your thoughts on the Trump Presidency, and will we survive it?” 
“I’m one of the few people you will find that actually thinks the election of Trump is a net positive, and it’s for this reason: this next generation doesn’t have to fight for the right to choose, or to get rid of the draft, or for civil rights...they didn’t have to fight for those things because the older people in this room, we fought for those things. 
We got into politics because we believed in things and we wanted to fight for what we believed in. But we won those fights, so this generation didn’t have to. 
But with Trump, he is that one single figure, an issue all by himself, that is going to bring this entire next generation into politics to fight for what’s important to them, and in 2018, and then’re gonna see them voting. 
We needed something to get this generation off the sidelines and into the game, and this guy did it. So, in the end, this is the event these young people never knew they needed.”

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Path Will Emerge
There are many great reflections available on this MLK day and I encourage you to read widely. This is mine, but as a white guy I encourage you (if you are also white) to hear Melissa Harris or Coates or West or Eugene Robinson or Maya Angelou or John King or listen to your black neighbor today. Nevertheless, here are my reflections. 

John King wrote a thoughtful commentary for the Baltimore Sun that was reprinted in our home town Akron Beacon Journal today. Well worth reading in full.

His central argument is that we cannot fully understand racism today (that is, understand deeply enough such that we are able to find ways to productively address it), without taking a sober look at our past.

We cannot fully understand frequent police shootings of young black men, with officers exonerated and communities broken and silenced, if we allow ourselves to believe (the obviously false) story that ‘once there was slavery, then MLK pointed the way, and today all is good.’

Or the even less accurate version that concludes the only racism today is that blacks keep bringing up racism. As I read John King, I thought, as a nation we should all participate in book clubs to read New Jim Crow together, because that book (in a powerful and clear way) shows us the scars and wounds and concentrated disadvantages that are a cancer on the great American experiment today and flow from slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, urban ghettos, and the prison-industrial complex.

We know from numerous studies that job opportunities (call backs for interviews, job offers, and promotions) are dramatically reduced for our fellow citizens with darker skin. Their experience with public education is captured by John King as 'less than'… “less quality preschool, less access to effective teachers, less access to advanced coursework, less access to school counselors, and less access to resources need to thrive.”

One analysis concluded that we have an educational system best described as Punishing Schools: for decades we have punished our public schools by starving them of funding and encouraging them to adopt zero tolerance postures such that these institutions become more instruments of punishment (punishing schools) than instruments of education.

We know that unemployment hits those with darker skin more than twice as hard, that average wealth of families with darker skin is 7-12 times less than for white families, and that even though white citizens sell and consume drugs more often it is black citizens who are many times more likely to be arrested and incarcerated for this illegal behavior more often perpetrated by whites. Yes, the penitentiaries are filled with blacks, but not because they are more criminal or violent.

We also know, that while this data and legacy are not secret many or even most white Americans are unaware, not yet aware, or choose to ignore our own history and present when it comes to race and racism. This includes many very good white Americans; not because they have hate in their hearts, but (at least in part, and for many) because they do not understand our own history or present, because too many white elites discourage us all from understanding, AND because one characteristic of white privilege is we can afford to live our lives oblivious to this problem in our midst.

Side Bar: white privilege does not mean my (or any other white) grandparents did not work hard or that my family does not deserve the meager rewards we have earned. It does, however, mean that there are other grandparents, with darker skin, who worked just as hard and also earned a purple heart defeating the Nazis, but they were denied the FHA loans and GI Bill benefits that made it possible for so many white GIs to accumulate the wealth we now see as their American dream.

WP means that there are others who worked just as hard but were denied the same reward. We cannot continue to refuse to see and hear this fact by pretending it is an insult against our family’s hard work. It is not. Not even close. That is one aspect of understanding our own history and present that John King is talking about today.

This is also why it is important, today, to begin conversations about race and racism by familiarizing ourselves with this basic data and history of the present.

But that is only step one. The difficult dialogues remain to be engaged. Because even with a more shared and data-driven understanding of our history and present, the challenges we face today remain gnarly. It is not entirely clear how this deeper understanding, for instance, should impact a workplace conversation about changing vacation policy, a legislative deliberation about hiring local contractors, administrative plans to address opioid addiction, or a neighborhood meeting about how to address rowdy teenagers.

Even with a deeper understanding, these conversations remain tough…for those with lighter and darker skin. In part because policymaking is always about difficult trade-offs, weighing short and long term costs and benefits, balancing competing needs and interests. And overlaying these already complicated trade-offs are layers of familiarity: each need or concern or interest is always associated with real people and some of these look more like me and others do not.

We know from studies of policing, for instance, that this is not a trivial added layer. Donald Black’s groundbreaking ‘determinants of arrest’ study found that the most important factor driving an officer to choose between a warning and an arrest is the level of respect shown to the officer by the accused. Not evidence or facts, but respect. And when there is a familiarity gap between the cultural experiences of the officer and accused, lots of things can feel like disrespect, in both directions.

Thus, Black concluded that officers are more often enforcing their own authority than they are enforcing the law. This is not how the rule of law is designed to work; and this layering effect also impacts all the other conversations noted above: that is why we call them difficult dialogues.

So, what is the second step, after a sober engagement with our history and present, engagement with the best available data on prejudice and privilege based on skin color? (Of course, this is best not thought of as discrete steps, since step one here should be ongoing. But if we do use the step framework to help us identify our next action item, what does it let us see?)

The next step is to work together. I am not trying to be flip. It is precisely this easy and this difficult.

What I mean by this is that in addition to facing our history and present we need to face each other. We need to recognize the power of the familiar, the pull of tribalism on all sides, and the inescapable injustices attached to having darker skin in America. And we need to do this with others, in conversation with fellow citizens with skin tones unlike our own, listening to their stories and telling our own stories with an open mind and open heart.

Why? Because the challenges we face are gnarly, complicated, and always involve trade-offs. To figure these out, without reinforcing long-standing racial disparities that feel ‘normal’ because they are familiar, we need to listen and discuss, experiment, and share the objective of learning how to work together across racial (and other) divides.

Focusing on this deeper level of conflict, the process level or the communicative action level, lacks the drama associated with focusing on whatever presenting conflict promises to capture headlines and deliver the goods we seek right now. But it is this deeper level that is transformative and will result in delivering the goods in ways that are more just and stable and democratic.

Responsibility is shared here, but not equally.

The key is we share a responsibility to share the goal of finding ways to figure this out together. The path to this place, however, remains largely uncharted, but a path will emerge when enough people walk on it.  We share a responsibility to walk together.

But the well-worn path we are, therefore, choosing to depart from is one where white skin results in privilege & power denied those with dark skin. Just like any situation where there is a power imbalance, if the (currently) power-rich group does not accept more responsibility, the power-poor groups cannot do it alone.

So, we share a responsibility to learn how to walk together and, when we hit inevitable bumps in the path, it is reasonable to expect that the more powerful group will learn to listen more and speak less to ensure they are not confusing ‘the right thing to do’ with ‘what is best for my group by reinforcing existing power imbalances.’

This is a principle, more like a compass than a commandment, not an infallible answer-key that tells us the right thing to do. The added responsibility for the power-rich group is to remain committed to figuring this out and that involves (see step one and two above) understanding and working together, as well as (step three) humility that comes from recognizing that our skin tone carries privilege beyond what we earned.

This does not leave the power-poor group without responsibility. Just as the power-rich group is expected to do the work to be the change, to make ourselves the organic bridge between a deeper understanding and figuring out how to apply this to the actual challenges we face every day…

…in the same way, the power-poor group has a responsibility to similarly learn to see the actual fellow citizens across the table we are working with and work with them, rather than sitting in the familiar and simply repeating the data on disparity and privilege—join in efforts to apply these insights by weighing trade-offs and sharing the goal of finding ways to walk a new path together.

Just like focusing on the process level is less dramatic and less satisfying, rolling up our sleeves and accepting the inevitable trade-offs (while central to just democratic decision making) requires us to moderate and temper and compromise in order to create a new path by walking it together.

We all have a responsibility and more power brings more responsibility. But, even in the shadow of the great disruptor in chief, my confidence grows in our capacity to accept this responsibility to walk a new path together, because I see courageous leadership, enacting the spirit of MLK, at the local level every day, particularly among the 20-and-30-something generation.

As Cornel West argues, we all—liberal and conservative—need to learn to see and overcome our own blind spots. While some of us only see institutional structures perpetuating injustice, some of us only see irresponsible individual behaviors. West argues that we all need to learn that structure and agency are inescapably intertwined. Until we do this, we cannot fully understand the world we live in.

When Tupac describes his life growing up “poor, but even worse I’m black” in Changes, he is (in my view) enacting West’s analytical strategy. He is pointing to both macro-structures & individual behaviors. He is treating cultural institutions (like churches and schools and families) as structures similar to political and economic structures. And his lyrics make it impossible not to at least catch a glimpse of the ‘ratta-tat-tat-tat’ monumental loss of hope that may be the most devastating legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and the new Jim Crow today.

We all understand, from experience, the fragility of life. We know how difficult it can be to make ends meet. For those of us who are white, like me, it should not be tough to then see that all these challenges become even harder to overcome when one grows up with darker skin. If we can start from that shared insight, and come together around a desire to walk a new path, we stand a chance of learning the skills it takes to be real, learning to see each other as siblings instead of two distant strangers.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Quiet Heroes, Behind the Scenes
I just learned today that Zhou Youguang is the linguist who created the pin yin system I depended on as I struggled (mostly enjoyed, but sometimes less so) learning Chinese in the 1980s. Of course, I knew pin yin existed. I just never asked who created it? When? How? Why? I just used it. 

His creation was officially adopted in mainland China in 1958.

In my first two years of Chinese language study (at UMass) we used an older system called Wade-Giles that I thought at the time was all there was. In September 1980 I went to Beijing, where they used pin yin, and I remember at first thinking it was annoying to learn a new system, but then pretty soon after that feeling like pin yin was so much more intuitive and easy to use. 

Zhou Youguang would have been 112 today. He also translated the Encyclopedia Britannica into Chinese. Seriously—who translated an encyclopedia! Awesome.

Wade-Giles is the system that gave us Peking and TsingTao.  Pin yin is now the nearly universal system of romanization used in programs that allow us to type in Chinese today.

According to Wikipedia..."From 2000, he wrote ten books, of which some have been banned in China.
In 2011, during an interview with NPR, Zhou said that he hoped to see the day China changed its position on the Tiananmen Square killings in 1989, an event he said had ruined Deng Xiaoping's reputation as a reformer. 
He became an advocate of political reform, and was critical of the Communist Party of China's attacks on traditional Chinese culture when it came into power."
The picture to the right looks like several other professors I had while living in China. Dressed simply, emphasizing warmth. Surrounded by books and piles of papers. Writing. Smiling. Listening. Likely just finished, and would soon repeat finishing, a cigarette.
I did not know Zhou Youguang was the creator of pin yin back in the day. Like me, you were studied abroad as an undergraduate. Thanks 周有光 and happy birthday.