June 23, 2014

Open Carry Advocates Fight for the Right to Intimidate You

Lately, there have been a variety of news stories out of Texas about open carry advocates down there traipsing into big box retail chains like Target openly carrying loaded weapons such as shotguns or semi automatic weapons. **Rant beginneth here**

Walking around a suburban Target store with a loaded shotgun or semi automatic weapon for what??!! Because you can? Mass killings aside, there is little justification on personal security grounds for this behavior. All it does is sow fear in the unarmed people around them. Nobody knows if they are crazy or not. You worry about what might happen if you have a funky interaction with one of these people. Carrying around lethal weapons in public is threatening to other people and begets more crazy, because if these people become the norm, I'm going to pack because every damn body else is packing and I feel threatened, NOT because I have some rational personal security fear based on something more than politics driven paranoia.

And while they don't want to admit it, the reality is that people who do this nonsense want other people to be intimidated. You openly pack a weapon so that people can see you are armed with a lethal weapon and they will act accordingly. Nobody openly packs like this simply to make a statement of how much they love the constitution. You pack openly to let everybody who sees you know that you are able and willing to kill anybody that crosses or threatens you. These open carry advocates don't want to cop to that motivation, but it's laughable to claim it's not part of what's going on.  Why else are housewives gonna pack shotguns slung over their backs and slep kids and a stroller into Target to do serious shopping? It's not even a practical thing to do to haul a damn shotgun in and out of every commercial establishment you visit.

Carrying a weapon openly has deterrent value, it's about the only reason to do it. The intent is to intimidate, and the rest of us normal, unarmed people don't know whether you are crazy or not. You walk in doing this unnecessary display, and now some poor slob sales clerk or cashier has to approach you about it? These days, someone walks into a place with a gun visible, there is no good reason to believe they are not about to kill everyone in the joint. This is ridiculous, juvenile behavior from a bunch of adults doing it just because they can and because they enjoy looking intimidating to all the unarmed people around them, whether they admit it or not.

What they don't seem to realize is that their tactics actually hurt their cause and even more importantly, that their cause is not supported by the majority of people.  Most people don't see any reasonable justification for openly carrying loaded guns around in the course of everyday life.  You simply won't get the vast majority of people to agree that it is reasonable to carry loaded weapons to the grocery store, dry cleaners, barbershop, amusement park, family restaurant, beach, school, church, work, average big box store,  city park, etc.   The reason for this is simple to understand.  It's NOT reasonable.  It does nothing but produce fear in the minds of all the unarmed people around them, which is what they intend.

It is completely unreasonable for them to think that unarmed men and women with their kids around them at Target should be comfortable with people they don't know, walking around openly brandishing loaded weapons which could be turned on them or their loved ones at any moment.  If these people carry a concealed weapon in the event they may need it for personal protection, that's totally reasonable, I have no objection.  But the purpose of openly carrying a weapon is to put everyone around them on notice that they are armed and dangerous, yet they somehow expect all the rest of us unarmed people who would be at their mercy to be sanguine about it.   It's a ridiculous expectation on their part and the fact that they are perfectly happy to carry these weapons into public places and make everyday people not just uncomfortable, but fearful, justifiably makes the rest of us wonder if they should be permitted weapons at all.  Their obliviousness to this leaves them completely open to being judged as people who are unreasonable and potentially dangerous, irregardless of whether that's actually true or not.

Guerrilla World Press nails it"All of this is allegedly being done to protect our freedoms. But it’s only the “freedom” of the person wearing a firearm that matters. Those parents who want their kids to feel safe in a public park aren’t free to tell a man waving a gun around to leave them alone, are they? Patrons and employees of Starbucks aren’t free to express their opinion of open carry laws when one of these demonstrations are taking place in the store. Those Jack in the Box employees aren’t free to refuse service to armed customers. Sure, they are all theoretically free to do those things. It’s their constitutional right just like it’s the constitutional right of these people to carry a gun. But in the real world, sane people do not confront armed men and women. They don’t argue with them over politics. They certainly do not put their kids in harm’s way in order to make a point. So when it comes right down to it, when you are in the presence of one of these armed citizens, you don’t really have any rights at all."  

This is how places like Iraq, Syria and Lybia work.  Armed men in the streets and your rights, safety and dignity as a human being isn't protected by our shared agreement as a society that this is how we live together, but by every bullet you have available to fire from the barrel of a gun. 

Exit thought: I promise you that if I marched 10 sketchy looking black or latino brothers into Target stores for a week, legally and openly packing shotguns and semi automatic weapons, Target would cease debating and mulling over the wisdom of allowing weapons to be carried in their stores so fast, we would all develop whiplash from the about face.

*Here endeth the rant*

May 20, 2014

On Offer From the GOP Today: Naked Rhetorical Contempt

The RNC/Ebony dustup and subsequent statements from RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer about it, can lead any rational observer to one of two conclusions, which are not mutually exclusive:

A. The Republican National Committee organization has nothing but naked rhetorical contempt for black voters and their intelligence,  or 
B.  Sean Spicer and the RNC's entire communications apparatus are utterly, irrevocably and irredeemably incompetent.  

My vote? All of the above. Let me explain myself.

 Back on March 27th, the lovely Jamilah Lemieux, a senior editor at African-American magazine Ebony, exchanged words with young Republican National Committee staffer Raffi Williams after she voiced her disdain for a new black conservative publication in the offing.  In the course of the exchange, not having examined Raffi's twitter photo very closely, she took the light skinned Raffi for a white guy and dismissed his comments on that basis. 
@Raffiwilliams @BETpolitichick @SistahScholar @orlandowatsonOh great, here comes a White dude telling me how to do this Black thing. Pass.
@JamilahLemieux You are questioning someones blackness.sorry I do not fit your stereotypes @BETpolitichick @SistahScholar@orlandowatson
@Raffiwilliams I was looking at your avi without blowing it up. I apologize for that. However, I care about NOTHING you have to say.

The RNC then made a calculated decision to escalate this rather typical of Twitter exchange into a full fledged liberal media bias attack opportunity. The next morning, party Chairman Reince Priebus let fly with a letter calling on Ebony to apologize for Jamilah's behavior and stated a hope that “we can use this unfortunate episode as a catalyst for greater engagement and understanding between the Republican Party and the black community.” Hours later, Ebony caved and the RNC trumpeted a liberal media takedown to the base and went home to dinner very pleased with itself. 

So that's the background.  After all this goes down,  RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer later tells Buzzfeed that the RNC's decision to escalate the flap with Ebony was meant to show black voters that Republicans took their votes seriously. “This was not meant to be provocative,” Spicer told BuzzFeed. “What this was really about was letting the readers of a very prominent African-American magazine know the Republican Party is fighting for their vote.” 

My one word reaction to Spicer's statement? Horseshit.  

My apologies readers, I generally avoid profanity on my blog, but somethings simply require it. 

This brings me back to conclusions A & B which I began with;

A. The Republican National Committee organization has nothing but naked rhetorical contempt for black voters and their intelligence,  

Truly, what else can it be?  Are we actually supposed to take Spicer's comment seriously? Are we actually supposed to believe that the RNC was trying to open a dialogue with African American voters by attacking a young black female editor and the highly regarded black magazine she works for, because she expressed the opinion that she didn't think black conservatives or a white male had anything to tell her about the expression of her blackness, political or otherwise? It was a nothing exchange, a million like it occur every day, but the RNC decided to make a point with it, so they could trumpet to the base about how they are taking it to liberals over their media bias.  So they leaned on Ebony about it and Ebony caved, which they promptly crowed over and in the process of all of this, simply ticked off the vast majority of black voters who were aware of it.  That's an entirely predictable communications result and not the right one if you are actually trying to tell the black voting constituency that you are fighting for their vote.  That being the case, its nothing but a demonstration of pure contempt for Sean Spicer to claim this was not about being provocative, it was about communicating with black voters.  Letting that ridiculous claim come out of his mouth is a complete insult to the intelligence of black voters and merely confirms the very low regard with which we are held by the RNC and frankly the party more broadly.  His statement is the equivalent of urinating in our faces and telling us its rain showers.  It's naked rhetorical contempt, but if you don't think that's accurate, then the explanation can only be;

B.  Sean Spicer and the RNC's entire communications apparatus are utterly, irrevocably and irredeemably incompetent.  

This is the conclusion I'm drawn to if I'm being charitable, and it's entirely fair.  I'm not being mean to suggest that the RNC's communications team that is dropping $10M large on minority outreach may just be seriously stupid.  What else can I think? Raffi picks a fight with Jamilah over her personal opinion, expressed on her personal account, then the RNC escalates this throwaway twitter exchange into a liberal media attack pressure campaign on a venerated black magazine and Jamilah herself.  And according to Sean Spicer, it did these things so that the the readers of a very prominent African-American magazine know the Republican Party is fighting for their vote.”. I'm sorry, that's just.....stupid.  It's among the stupidest tactical communications actions I've ever seen.  If Spicer truly believed that somehow this would engender a positive disposition of black voters towards the GOP, then he ISa complete incompetent.  My 12 year old son could have done a better job than that.  How black voters would respond to the episode was entirely predictable to anyone with an IQ of 1. 

Just for kicks, I'll throw in a bonus exit thought.  Jamilah, then Ebony, was attacked for expressing perfectly valid opinions.  She was attacked for expressing the opinion that she didn't think a white male had anything to tell her about the expression of her blackness, political or otherwise.  As a black female, that's a perfectly valid opinion and entirely reasonable point of view for her to have.  It's irrelevant that Raffi is actually black. Focusing on that ducks the issue. She's entitled to hold that opinion, and can do so with justification. When she realized her ethnic identification of Raffi was mistaken, she stopped dismissing him because he was white and then dismissed him as a black conservative, which she clearly also regarded as having nothing to tell her about the expression of blackness.  That's certainly a more debatable position than her first, but still a quite defensible point of view.

RNC, if you would like some help with your messaging tactics to black voters, I have a 12 year old you can borrow. 

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April 28, 2014

The Donald Sterling Scandal: What Should We Do?

Homeboy Sandman at Gawker penned a piece on the NBA Donald Sterling scandal titled Black People Are Cowards.  His basic beef was that black people are simply being too timid in our response to the Sterling comments.  We need to be getting radical, quitting our jobs and boycotting and stuff till Sterling is out as Clippers owner.


I had the following in response.

As a people we deal with a thousand levels of injustice on the daily. While I can understand Homeboy Sandman's desire to see more substantive action and response to the Sterling situation and indeed to a variety of issues impacting black people's lives , the idea that we should quit jobs until we get this or that change and we are cowards if we don't is simply flat out wrong.

Rather than trying to pull every black person's cahones card, I think what would have been a better use of his intellect was to really analyze the situation and think about what substantive, meaningful measures could be taken by us, the general black American public.

While all the brothers on the team refusing to play would be a satisfying thing to see, I'm not throwing shade on any of them or anybody that works in that organization for going to work. Nor am I throwing shade on black people because we didn't all walk out of our jobs over this mess, which in the scheme of things to walk away from your job over, this does not rank. He talked like someone who does not have children to feed, clothe and protect. I have a family and I don't quit a job without another to go to because the boss is a racist (a lot of us would be out looking for gigs if that were the case).

He made lots of sense when he got a little concrete about what we could do and he should have stayed with it. Let me help you all dear readers with that. Boycott is a reasonable strategy in this case. Sterling says he doesn't want black people at his games. I think we should grant that wish and more.

  • I think every black person in America should not watch or attend a Clippers game until Sterling is no longer the owner.
  • We should encourage every non black person we know not to attend or watch a Clippers game until Sterling is no longer the owner.
  • We should identify every other business venture Mr. Sterling is involved with and contrive to deprive it of any of OUR dollars until Sterling is no longer the Clippers owner. 
  • The NBA is still figuring out what its going to do. If their action is insufficient, the remaining NBA owners and the league itself should be the first boycott target.
  • The man is a real estate mogul. Any black people or companies that are his tenants should be encouraged, assisted and helped to move to other acceptable business or residential spaces where ever possible.
Since he is clearly a racist by his own words and past behavior such as the discrimination practiced in his real estate holdings, we know that his racist thinking permeates his business dealings. Therefore:
  • Every other business venture of his should be subjected to public scrutiny and daylight to determine where else his racism is being brought to bear. All his business ventures should be identified, made public and we should spend some time examining them until Sterling is no longer the Clippers owner.
  • We should direct letters to the editor, emails and phone calls to all the local media in the Clippers market asking for his business ventures to be profiled, examined, discussed in the media until Sterling is no longer the Clippers owner.
The above is a pretty decent list for starters. I could think of more, so could you, so could we all. Have fun with it.

These are things I think black people can and should do in response to this incident. These things are substantive, but are also based in an appropriate amount of perspective on the situation. I'm not quitting a job that feeds my family over this fool. That's crazy talk, especially when with a just a little bit of thought, we can make our displeasure known to very great affect without such unnecessarily dramatic foolishness.

We got enough people out there trying to tell us we ain't shit. We don't need to do it to ourselves. We're not cowardly. We're powerful. We just have to get back to using our power for our own good. What is that power? It's the power of our community, of our unity, of our shared history. Of our minds. And the thing is, we don't even have to get as deep as the civil rights leaders that stared down segregation and Jim Crow did. Think about it. Those brothers and sisters went out and told other brothers and sisters in the South, who were living in a straight up racist terror state where the slightest defiance or no defiance at all could get you killed, to do things that seemed crazy. They told them, go sit at the lunch counter, go register to vote and TAKE THE HIT. People did it, and what did they discover? That we could take the hit if that's what it took to get our basic rights under the law to be respected, and history got made.

We're not cowards. We're just unfocused

The Sterling scandal? It ain't that deep. We don't even have to open that civil rights era can of whoop ass to fix this mess. All we gotta do is get in agreement with each other that we are going to be in one accord to collectively turn up the heat on this racist until he is no longer the Clippers owner. We can put the fix on him sitting in front of our computers, picking up our phones, doing a little research, writing some letters and bringing the pressure and patiently applying it. We bring the pressure and we don't stop until the justice starts. So if we gotta do the list above for a month, or a year or a decade, that's what happens. We have that kind of power. We just gotta use it in a smart way. We help Democrats win the White House because 98% of us move in the same direction on election day. IMAGINE what we could accomplish if we started using that 98% power for our own community directly? 98% of our money. 98% of our time. 98% of our investment. 98% of our courage. 98% of our collective will.

Better yet, lets NOT IMAGINE. Let's practice. Starting with this fool.

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April 8, 2014

Talking SYG and Marissa Alexander on HuffPost Live

I joined the Huff Post Live crew for a discussion on Marissa Alexander, Stand Your Ground laws and a bit of gun control. 

March 31, 2014

Tickets Available for Colin Powell Speaking Engagement in Indianapolis April 10 ~ Join Us

English: Colin Powell on a visit to Google on ...
General Colin Powell (Ret.) - Former United States Secretary of State
April 10, 2014, Indianapolis Downtown Marriott, 350 W. Maryland Street

Dinner 6:45pm, Lecture 7:45pm 
A man of great intelligence, versatility and presence, Gen. Powell served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was appointed secretary of state by President George W. Bush. A four-star general, Gen. Powell's numerous awards include two Presidential Medals of Freedom. He is the author of a best-selling autobiography, My American Journey (which I own).  His second book, an instant New York Times best-seller titled It Worked For Me (May, 2012), reveals the lessons that shaped his life and career.  He will be speaking in Indianapolis on April 10, 2014 at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriot.  I'm pleased to be part of the organizing effort and have a very few tickets remaining.  Tickets are $125.  Just follow the link below to purchase. 

Your tickets will be available on a "will call" status at the event.  I'm looking forward to hearing Gen. Powell's thoughts on the issues and challenges facing the world today. I hope you will plan to join us.
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March 29, 2014

Paul Ryan Leverages White Voter Hostility to Black Americans

Paul Ryan Caricature
Paul Ryan Caricature (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Paul Ryan made an appearance on conservative Bill Bennet's show and let fly with the following:

"We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning to value the culture of work, so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

This is party leader Paul Ryan, advancing the idea of blacks (albeit in coded language) as possessing deficient culture and producing generations of men lacking in work ethic.  Predictably, he got pushback, with plenty of people on the left calling him out for this language and some plainly calling him a racist.  Conservatives came to his defense, some citing Barack Obama to make their case, as the American Thinker blog did, using selectively cut sentences stitched together to make their point. Hardly convincing. A little rooting around also reveals that its not the first time Ryan has given the impression that inner-city poverty is linked tothe supposed cultural deficiencies of black Americans.

Ryan has of course backtracked from his comments on Bennet's show, issuing the following statement:

After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make. I was not implicating the culture of one community—but of society as a whole.

Sorry Paul.  I say bollox on that.  You said what you said and you meant what you meant.  The PublicHealth blog summed up the paternity of this line of thinking nicely:

the claim that black people have “bad culture”, may be genetically defective, and do not have “normal” “middle class” values about the merits of “hard work”, is a simple channeling of legendary Republican strategist Lee Atwater’s tactics for mobilizing white voters by leveraging their hostility to black Americans.

Whether it's Paul Ryan or Barack Obama suggesting it, I reject the theory of deficient culture, work ethic or other such deficits ascribed to African Americans. From a historical perspective, I find it bitterly ironic that a population whose labor was stolen under threat of violence for two hundred years to build this country is denigrated as lazy. That scurrilous claim was made even during slavery itself. It's a vicious stereotype that continues to be used to ascribe laziness to African Americans writ large. 
There is also the matter of context. The reality is that when Paul Ryan advances the idea that blacks have a deficient work ethic or possess deficient cultural values, he's talking to a political base of white voters on the right who largely view blacks through this same contemptuous lens. He advanced these ideas while a guest on a white conservative radio show that commands a white conservative audience. He's also speaking as a party leader of the GOP, a party which often engages in coded language and political messaging that is both overtly and covertly hostile to African American voters. He speaks as a leader for a party which has championed partisan so called vote integrity initiatives like voter ID and restrictions on voter registration, which are widely (and correctly) perceived by African Americans as partisan system rigging intended to diminish their voting power at the polls (if only at the margins). So when he uses this kind of language, as a leader of a party widely perceived (with justification) by African Americans as hostile to their community, its no surprise that his language is called out as a racially stereotypical dog whistle.

Even if you accept the American Thinker's take on Obama's comments in his book "Dreams of My Father" as fundamentally the same in content to what Ryan said, context applies here as well. Like him or not, Obama simply has far more moral authority to address the issue than Paul Ryan does among African Americans. Its an issue he can address and no black person will for an instant perceive him to be stereotyping African Americans writ large as lazy, but rather talking about the choices of INDIVIDUALS. Neither Paul Ryan nor the GOP at large, benefits from any such presumption within the African American community.

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December 28, 2013

Bridging the Digital Divide: A Strategic Necessity for African American Neighborhoods

The digital divide is most commonly defined as the gap between those individuals and communities that have, and do not have, access to the information technologies that are transforming our lives.  The Pew Research Center’s Internet Project found that internet use continues to be strongly correlated with age, educational attainment, and household income. One of the strongest patterns in the data on internet use is by age group: 44% of Americans ages 65 and older do not use the internet, and these older Americans make up almost half (49%) of non-internet users overall. while 76% of adults use the internet at home, 9% of adults use the internet but lack home access. Groups that are significantly more likely to rely on internet access outside the home include blacks and Hispanics, as well as adults at lower levels of income and education. Poor neighborhoods lack deep penetration of computers and high speed internet and in many low income African American neighborhoods, this population of older adult, black/hispanic and low income  non users often times constitutes the majority of the neighborhood population.

In poor neighborhoods, only a small portion of households have any kind of high speed internet access which permits utilization of various apps, video and other communication tools.  Further, poor neighborhoods typically lack few high speed public access options either.  Without this infrastructure, these neighborhoods cannot deploy internet enabled strategies that leverage concepts like  crowdfunding, the collaborative economy,  and most importantly for rebuilding neighborhoods, web enabled community organizing.

Think about it.  Organizing a neighborhood's disparate people, factions and institutions around common strategies for the neighborhood, developed through a consensus building process, is extraordinarily difficult. The digital divide becomes even more of a consideration at that point, since the internet is among the few tools which can connect a widely varying group of people engaged in a collaborative work across a geography in real time. This absolutely requires a functional  network that can scale as needed.  Its the definition of the internet.  The true power of it is that as a communication network, its unbelievably cheap, enabling huge information transfer with pretty much zero incremental cost.

But when neighborhoods lack widespread internet access, often coupled with low levels of literacy, none of this is available.  This means that the cost of maintaining the network of people implementing a neighborhood plan is significant and goes up as the number of people  involved grows. As a practical matter, the network has to be maintained with high levels of one on one, face to face engagement (meetings).  That kind of network management is scaleable, but only up to a certain limit given the effort and people resources required. Filling the gap with volunteers is difficult beyond a certain point.

The indispensable strategic necessity of bridging the digital divide in African American neighborhoods is vividly apparent.  Without widespread internet deployment in neighborhoods, the task of network building and organizing is more difficult, more expensive and harder to maintain and sustain.  Beyond that, second order effects such as leveraging ecommerce, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are largely unavailable as well.  These are all creative strategies that piggyback on the ubiquitous presence of the web.......except when its not.  The cost of being offline is greater now than it was 10 years ago. So many important transactions take place online, not to mention information access and commerce opportunity.

What does this mean for community building? A significant effort at driving investment into African American neighborhoods ought to focus in on bridging the divide so that neighborhoods can better leverage the advantage of an incredibly cheap, real time global communications and data network.  This can and should take a variety of forms, from digital education  efforts to teachyouth how to build mobile apps, to expansion of public access computers andleveraging the deep penetration of mobile, wirelesstechnologies in distressed neighborhoods to move beyond basic access

Indeed, the rise of mobile is changing the story. Groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide in basic internet access are using wireless connections to go online. Among smartphone owners, young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to say that their phone is their main source of internet access.  Even beyond smartphones, both African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are as likely as whites to own any sort of mobile phone, and are more likely to use their phones for a wider range of activities.
If we're not working on the digital divide in some form or fashion, we're leaving on the table one of the most profound and powerful game changers for our neighborhoods.  Let's cross the digital divide.
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