Celebrate the Facts!
6/26/2022 0 Comments
There is a ‘pink tide’ in Latin America. The pink tide is a massive new wave of socialism with climate justice at its core, and it aims to transform the economies and lives. Colombia recently elected its first left-wing President, former Bogota Mayor and Senator Gustavo Petro. Petro gained power through the long-term development of grassroots connections with under-empowered demographic groups and added to the ‘pink wave’ movement in Latin America. This poses the possibility for significant changes in South and Central America
Colombia fast facts:
Colombia has long suffered some of the most dramatic income and wealth disparities. The Income share held by the lowest 10% of the country is less than 1%, while the top 10% has a 42% share. More than one-third of its population lives below the poverty line.
Despite immense resources, Colombia’s gross domestic product per capita has remained static and significantly dropped during the COVID pandemic. The combination of young people's high unemployment, the dramatic wealth disparities, and the pandemic's effects immensely helped the country's civil unrest.
Another critical piece in the movement left in Colombia came in 2019 when President Duque proposed dropping the minimum wage for workers under 25 years old. Protestors formed a national strike that stopped commerce. Strikes and protests continued through the COVID pandemic. In 2021 the federal government proposed higher taxes and ignited even more public outrage. People demanded better education, public transportation, and healthcare.
According to the United Nations, the Colombian government responded with violence, murdering at least 44 protesters and injuring hundreds more. Non-State armed groups killed 255 people in 66 massacres in Colombia in 2020 and killed 120 human rights defenders. While the federal government was not directly responsible for these attacks on indigenous and other under-empowered groups, the United Nations claimed they had not done enough to mitigate them.
Former Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro and his vice president, environmental activist Felicia Marquez recently became Colombia’s first left-wing, progressive leaders. The election had the highest turnout in Colombian history. However, their election was not an outlier. Years of grassroots organizing and coalition construction preceded. The campaign proposals by Petro were still relatively modest, featuring tax reform to provide the government with more money for its education and health systems, along with ending Colombia’s fossil fuel needs through a ‘just energy transition.’
Grassroots organizing and coalition building overcame the immense inertia of the right-wing establishment. Petro’s rivals highlighted his past involvement in the M19 rebel group, which demobilized in the 1990s, as a smear tactic. They attempted to characterize him as a buffoon unprepared for the office. Regardless, Petro and Marquez built strong ties with Indigenous communities, Afro-Colombians, peasants, women, gender-diverse people, and other repressed subgroups and won the office.
Petro and Marquez’ election win will be an immense change in Colombia and throughout Latin America for several reasons. One of Petro’s major platform items was his intention to make Colombia central in the global fight against climate change. He also focused on proposals to better the living standards of Colombians, and another environmental item, preserving the Amazon rainforest.
Petro encourages other progressive leaders in Latin America to make ending their countries’ dependence on fossil fuels a part of their agendas and interlace it with economic and social justice. Petro calls for banning unconventional oil fields, fracking, and offshore oil wells and ending all fossil fuel exploration.
All these actions are integral to the just energy concept. This just energy transition that Colombia will try to implement provides environmental movements across Latin America and the remainder of the world with a model to adapt to their efforts.
The inertia of a moribund economy and the other existing factors will undoubtedly be impossible for Petro’s government to overcome other than incrementally. Pundits might toss around overworn phrases such as facing significant headwinds. Regardless, the overall movement of Latin America is following a story arc like the development of liberal democracies in European history. Undoubtedly these movements will act to diminish the influence of the United States in the region, which is likely an excellent thing for Latin America. Conversely, it is not such a good thing for the United States.
Arguably, when the United States headed to the Middle East for its forever wars, its attention to Latin America waned. In the meantime, Latin America has diversified trade partners and invited China as its banker and natural resource development partner in many instances. Changing that, if possible at this point, would involve heightening attention and connections for a similar twenty-year period to pay off. But, with the United States currently in a revolution and turmoil at home, it’s doubtful in the twilight of its empire that it will make that effort.
6/19/2022 0 Comments
In the hangover from Father’s Day, where whisky distillers and restaurants count their cash, one wonders what corporate madman created this series of imaginary obligations. Much loathed by the reasonable and especially introverted populations, such now seem to be noticed only if not celebrated, or at least not enthusiastically enough. Perhaps a better approach is to honor all we respect in our thoughts and actions and toss such corporate rubbish in the dustbin.
Few Americans haven’t fidgeted, waiting for an hour in line, to take Mom or Dad out to dinner on their designated day, or suffered through a horrid hour with a pompous and incompetent boss for a gratuitous and often obsequious lunch on Boss’s Day. As these holidays proliferate the question often isn’t the joy they create but the misery they incur as the unremembered feel even more lonely and disheveled than before they occurred. They seem to be something to be dreaded, and an unnecessary tax on resources as well as a diminution of authentic affection.
A Hallmark holiday is a holiday created or promoted primarily to make money on things sold as part of its observance, such as greeting cards, beer, balloons, candy, and various other consumer goods. The name comes from Hallmark Cards, an old American company, that reaps the cash from such ersatz events through sales of sentimental cards and other items like balloons, fruit sculpture flowers, cakes, and sweets.
Such holidays range from the relatively innocuous such as Mother’s Day, to the irritating, like Boss’s Day, to the cloyingly sweet Sweetest Day. The term is not always a pejorative of Hallmark but often rather all the industries who promote and profit, such as the National Football League, from these phony celebrations.
Actual holidays such as Kwanzaa, Independence Day, Memorial Day, or Thanksgiving, are deeply rooted in American or religious traditions, and are federal holidays. Such range from occasions calling for strong drink to enjoyable events for at least some of those people involved.
The ‘Hallmark holidays’ list:
Aside from the well-known term Hallmark holiday, there is another time set-aside trend, and that’s the month designations. Those on the moral highroad have seized these months as they purport to aim to honor ethnic, sexual, and racial subpopulations. Yet one is prone to wonder how much good National Disability Employment Awareness Month does for disabled people, or if it’s just a poster for the Human Resources professional to tape in the lunchroom. A federal law strengthening equal access requirements for disabled people would be undoubtedly much more effective, although the human resources professional might have to scramble for replacement corporate propaganda.
As of now, these Hallmark months include:
Perhaps thoughtful people might seize the as-yet unmonikered months January, July, August, and December, and name them before more book clubs fill their required monthly reading lists with culturally relevant required reading.
Possible nominations include:
The real lesson is honoring people is a daily action not an annual event, and it seems impossible to point at much, if any, net benefit from days or months designated by others, often for their own profit, in an antidemocratic process.
6/12/2022 0 Comments
Herschel Walker, chosen by Donald Trump, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, suit up for a Senate race in Georgia that will likely determine which political party runs the United States Senate. Two African American men running for national office in the deep South is unusual enough. Add lots of unsavory details about Walker’s life, millions of dollars of dark money from both sides funding attack ads, and a close race, and one has a fascinating matchup with immense consequences. Polling data for the race indicate it’s a coin toss, with the average volatility associated with statewide races early in contests.
Raphael Warnock graduated from Morehouse College, earned a Ph.D., and became an ordained Christian minister. For more than 15 years, Warnock was Senior Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, formerly held by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Warnock narrowly won the Georgia Senate seat in a January 2021 runoff election for the remaining two years of his predecessor’s term. Warnock comes across as calm, articulate, and astute and can turn on the charisma when he needs it, giving him a good asset in debates and television appearances and speeches.
Herschel Walker was a star football player at the University of Georgia, then went on to a lackluster career in the National Football League and in the United States Football League. Walker met Donald Trump when he played for a team Donald Trump owned, the New Jersey Generals. After football, Walker parlayed his football fame into business endeavors, with far from perfect results. Trump urged Walker to run, and Walker moved to Georgia from Texas to pursue the seat.
Walker’s pitch is he’s a non-politician, an outsider, and inspired by God. Walker claims God is his general manager, coach, and quarterback. Walker is not ready to cede God’s will to his opponent, even if he’s a Christian preacher. Walker is articulate, soft-spoken, and likable, and with his football pedigree, he is a state hero and will ride that horse to the finish line.
Liberal tribal media will harp on Walker’s idiosyncrasies, many failures in business, and credible allegations of domestic violence, all problems Donald Trump shrugged aside. Walker hopes to catch that same lightning in a bottle in his race.
Quick Georgia facts:
Given the relatively high African American percentage of about 32% of the population, race will be the central issue in this campaign. The Republicans, led by Donald Trump, groomed Walker as their candidate, with the unspoken goal of peeling off enough of the African American vote to make the difference in a close race. Their reasoning, at initial investigation, appears valid, but a deeper analysis reveals some fatal flaws. The most prominent is Walker’s apparent denial racism exists, as he maintains civil rights leaders and politicians in general wish to separate people for some unexplained reason.
One is prone to speculate that reasoning won’t resonate with African American voters, who have experienced racism’s uglier side all their lives. But instead, Walker’s hazard is African American voters coming to view him as a tool of the white establishment, resulting in his rejection by the same cohort he desperately needs to penetrate to win the seat.
Walker’s other issues are manifold. A recent investigative report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution detailed Walker’s history of business failures, litigation, and misrepresentations. Walker also has numerous credible allegations of domestic violence, to which he has affirmed responsibility. Whether this acknowledgment will immunize him from damage is unknown.
Walker’s biggest weakness is his absolute lack of charisma. He’s heavy on reading from his teleprompter, and his campaign is about God and football, with a bit of anti-environmentalism and anti-immigrant xenophobia. Audiences seem to enjoy the reminiscence of Walker’s glory days in football, and God plays well in the deep South, but Walker’s delivery lacks fire. He seems more funeral director than preacher in his delivery, which will hurt him in the race, particularly in contrast to Warnock.
Warnock’s strategy is to attack Walker on his somewhat spotty business record and his habit of making rather unusual statements. Early in June, Warnock dropped an attack ad featuring footage of Walker promoting a product to prevent covid. Warnock’s error may be in tagging his opponent as a mentally deranged white-wing wingnut. Even if the characterizations contain some element of truth, the strategy could backfire as voters grow to know Walker as a more reasonable person.
In a larger framework, there is no national race to bolster turnout. While this will affect both candidates, it likely will damage Walker more, as Trump voters will be less likely to turn out without their prophet at the top of the ticket.
Add to that the governor’s race, where the incumbent, Brian Kemp, squares off against Stacey Abrams, a transformational political figure, both bold and articulate. Abrams will bring white progressives, traditional liberals, and African Americans in a gutter fight rematch that was close last time. And Abrams is all about race, racism, voting rights, and progressivism. On the other hand, Kemp, a traditional Southern conservative Republican, is no favorite of the Trump crowd, as he declined to climb onto the Trump election lie bandwagon in the 2020 election.
Money status for the candidates as of early May 2022:
Warnock has much more cash on hand, and although that can change, Warnock will likely continue to be able to outspend Walker. In addition, Warnock can rely on dark money PACs for smear ads on Walker, harping on mental health issues, his domestic violence history, and spotty business record.
Walker will undoubtedly continue with God, football, and xenophobia, blaming Warnock for high gas prices and hordes of criminals laden with drugs coming across the border. Walker will have a tough time being more religious than Warnock, who has real credibility in the area as opposed to Walker's cross-hugging old-school rhetoric.
An unspoken unknown is how much Walker’s presence at the top of the Georgia ballot will suppress the white vote, representing about 60% of the population of Georgia. Georgia, a former Confederate state, has robust elements of racist traditions. There are undoubtedly some percentages of white voters who wouldn’t vote for Jesus Christ if he was black, let alone a mortal. Walker has a more significant hill to climb in the white cohort than the African American contingent because he can’t afford a reduced turnout among the white Republican base voters.
The ground game appears to favor Warnock. Walker has a checkered past, and more unsavory information likely will come out about him as time goes by. Warnock has been in the public eye for a long time, and if there were distasteful unknowns, they would already be public. Walker also is thin on policy and substantive governance knowledge, which would be evident in a debate. Whether Walker will accede to such is unknown, but one might speculate he would only if compelled by unfavorable polling data. Warnock also has money to spend Walker into oblivion, and in a close race, that’s critical.
6/5/2022 1 Comment
American exceptionalism denies a lot, including the country’s racism, capital punishment, state-sponsored assassinations, covert surveillance in violation of domestic and international law, and the most considerable stain on its reputation, its criminal justice system. While the American press is scrupulous in satisfying its corporate masters with stories of the depravity of overseas governments, it seldom looks into the mirror at its own fatally flawed punitive penal system. Legendarily inefficient, America’s prisons are little more than holding pens, training grounds for future crime, and places for the state to park political prisoners. The case of Ruchell Cinque Magee, America’s longest-held political prisoner, illustrates the point.
Magee grew up in Louisiana. At the age of 16, in 1955, the courts convicted him in 1955 of attempted aggravated rape. His crime, it seems, was having a relationship with a white girl in Jim Crow South. For framework, Magee’s conviction occurred at about the same time as racists lynched Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi., for supposedly whistling at a white woman. Louisiana threw the book at Magee and sentenced him to eight years in Angola State Prison, a nightmare of a facility even by the standards of southern prisons. Louisiana released him from Angola in 1963, and Magee went to Los Angeles, California, hoping for a better future.
California authorities arrested Magee shortly after he arrived, following a disagreement with someone about a $10 bag of cannabis. Cannabis is now legal in that state and many others. Ruchell and his cousin Leroy sat with a man named Ben Brown in Brown’s car. Brown told police that Ruchell and his cousin had kidnapped him in a quarrel over a $10 sack of weed. Police beat Magee so severely he spent three days in the hospital. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County sentenced Magee to seven years to life in prison for the charge of attempting to kidnap someone to commit robbery for that $10 dispute.
Magee became interested in history and politics during his incarceration. He added the middle name of Cinque after the African freedom fighter Cinqué, who instigated a rebellion on the slave ship La Amistad. Magee said, ‘Slavery 400 years ago, slavery today — it’s the same but with a new name.’ Magee used his self-education behind bars to become a ‘jailhouse lawyer,’ prison lingo for inmates who write and file court challenges on other peoples’ behalf. Magee filed a wrongful death lawsuit and helped win a significant settlement for the family of Fred Billingsley, who was tear-gassed and beaten to death by San Quentin guards in his cell in February 1970.
Magee remains incarcerated because he tried to help to free three men George Jackson, John Clutchette, and Fleeta Drumgo, known as the Soledad Brothers, in 1970. In August 1970, at a hearing in a Marin County California court, Jonathan Jackson, the 17-year-old brother of George Jackson, entered, armed with guns, intent on negotiating the release of the Soledad Brothers. Instead, the state had charged them with killing a guard at Soledad State Prison, notoriously known for murders and brutality against inmates.
Three prisoners, William Christmas, James McClain, and Magee, who were coincidentally in the courtroom, joined in an escape attempt. Ruchell was there to testify on behalf of a fellow prisoner, James McClain, charged with assaulting a correctional officer in retaliation for Billingsley’s murder. Jackson and the three prisoners took several hostages, including Judge Harold Haley, Deputy District Attorney Gary Thomas, and three jurors, and attempted to escape in a van. Police shot at the van, killing everyone but Magee and Thomas.
The event received a great deal of press coverage, as did the subsequent fugitive hunt and trial of Angela Davis, a former assistant professor from UCLA who was involved with George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson, and the Black Panthers.
Magee conducted a political trial that challenged the prison system, likening it to slavery, and advocated for his right to fight for freedom like Cinque's. Magee’s co-defendant Angela Davis, charged with purchasing the weapons, had a much different legal strategy and separated the cases. Magee defended himself pro se or without legal counsel.
As Magee was a prior felon based on his ‘aggravated attempted rape conviction in Louisiana, the court sentenced him to life in prison under California’s indeterminate sentencing law. He has been eligible for parole since January 1981, and the state’s Board of Parole Hearings again denied him parole in July 2021. Magee is next due for a parole hearing in 2024. Born in 1939, he is now 83 years old, having served over 58 years in prison. Magee remains at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California. Davis has made a living as a professor and public intellectual.
Removed from a political framework, the incarceration of Magee seems fruitless for both him and society. The costs of jailing a person for a lifetime are immense, and society's benefits seem negligible. Deterrence also seems meaningless as very few people now know Magee’s name, let alone the details of his case. Instead, this story illustrates the simply punitive nature of the American prison industrial complex, where men live caged forever, with no ambition for any rehabilitation and return to a productive life. Alas, the United States repeats this story with ruined lives and destroyed families, with no aspiration for improvement.
As politicians race to become more ‘tough on crime’ in the midterm elections' run-up, it’s important to remember old lessons. All the previous efforts to get ‘tough on crime’ such as the ‘War on Drugs’ and the three-strikes rules, were unsuccessful in doing anything other than ruining lives and increasing overall misery.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.