Serving in the military doesn’t make you special

Rosa Brooks writes: A strange thing happened when I married a soldier. Whenever I mentioned my husband’s occupation, my subsequent words, whether controversial or trite, would be greeted with the wide eyes and reverential nods Americans now reflexively offer members of the military community. Sometimes I’d even get an awkward, earnest “Thank you for your service,” or “That must be so hard.”

Our worshipful national attitude toward the military has been on full display during this presidential campaign season, and both major parties have been eager to exploit it. The Republicans trotted out retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to tell Americans they should vote for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. The Democrats countered with retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who urged Americans to do the opposite.

Then came the Gold Star family episode. Trump has spent the entire campaign season insulting one group after another – Women! Immigrants! Democrats! Muslims! African Americans! – without apparent consequence. But when he spoke slightingly about the parents of a Muslim American Army officer killed in Iraq, he instantly found himself on the receiving end of bipartisan public condemnation.

To GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump’s comments were “beyond the pale”; to former Republican contender Jeb Bush, they were “so incredibly disrespectful of a family that endured the ultimate sacrifice for our country.” A coalition of military support and advocacy groups signed an open letter calling on Trump to apologize, declaring, “Nothing is more sacred or honored than our Gold Star parents.” “We work in a sacred space,” explained one of the signatories. A Gold Star family is “a sacred family,” added another.

This is the language of theology, not civics. And while only someone with a heart of stone could belittle the grief of parents who have lost a child, our national sanctification of the military makes me deeply uneasy. [Continue reading…]


Sovereign citizen fears realized in Baton Rouge shooting

CBS News reports: Kansas City native Gavin Eugene Long, who died on his 29th birthday on Sunday after ambushing and killing three Baton Rouge police officers, said in online postings that he didn’t want to be affiliated with any group.

Long was, however, a member of a group involved in the sovereign citizen movement.

Since 2011, the FBI has considered sovereign citizens “a growing domestic threat to law enforcement.” In a bulletin, the agency wrote that they consider “sovereign-citizen extremists as comprising a domestic terrorist movement.”

Simply put, sovereign citizens believe themselves to be above the law of the land. Their reasons vary, but they don’t believe they have to do things like pay taxes or respect law enforcement officials, because in their minds all governments are operating illegally.

The movement’s most high-profile member to date has been Terry Nichols, the accomplice in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

According to the Kansas City Star, Baton Rouge shooter Long “declared himself a sovereign in records filed with the Jackson County recorder of deeds last year.”

Specifically, Long said he was a member of the Washitaw Nation of Mu’urs. J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, told the Star that the group believe themselves to be native of the North American continent and therefore about the laws of any country, state, or city. [Continue reading…]



Slain Baton Rouge officer days before shooting: ‘I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me’

The Associated Press reports: Just days before he was shot and killed, a Baton Rouge police officer posted an emotional Facebook message saying he was “physically and emotionally” tired and expressing how difficult it was to be both a police officer and a black man, a friend said Sunday.

“I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me,” Montrell Jackson wrote.

Friends and family of Jackson, 32, were mourning the 10-year veteran of the police force that relatives described as a “gentle giant” and a “protector” after he and another two law enforcement officers were shot and killed Sunday morning by a gunman.

Sgt. Don Coppola Jr. of the Baton Rouge Police Department identified the other slain Baton Rouge police officer as 41-year-old Matthew Gerald, who had been with the department less than a year. The third officer killed was 45-year-old sheriff’s deputy Brad Garafola, a 24-year veteran, spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office said. [Continue reading…]


Measuring the backlash against the Muslim backlash

Shibley Telhami writes: Something remarkable has happened in the middle of an American presidential campaign noted for its inflammatory rhetoric about Islam and Muslims, and marred by horrific mass violence perpetrated on American soil in the name of Islam: American public attitudes toward the Muslim people and the Muslim religion have not worsened — in fact they have become progressively more favorable, even after the Orlando shooting. That’s what two new polls show, one taken two weeks before Orlando, the other two weeks after, to be released at the Brookings Institution on Monday.

Comparing the results of three University of Maryland national polls — all fielded by Neilson Scarborough — taken in November 2015, in May 2016 and in June 2016 (after the June 12th Orlando shooting), the trends are surprising. Asked about their views of the Muslim people, respondents who expressed favorable views went from 53 percent in November 2015, to 58 percent in May 2016, to 62 percent in June 2016. At the same time, favorable views of Islam went from 37 percent, to 42 percent, to 44 percent over the same period — still under half, but with marked improvement over a period of seven months. [Continue reading…]


For U.S. leaders, confronting China is a dangerous game

Tonio Andrade writes: China is increasingly asserting itself as a great power, and nowhere is its rise more likely to lead to war than in the South China Sea. This vital seaway not only is filled with shipping lanes, but also contains rich fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits, and China claims vast swaths of it. Neighboring countries have reacted angrily to its assertions, and China has responded by ratcheting up air and naval patrols and building artificial islands with airstrips and barracks.

These tensions are likely only to increase in the wake of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling Tuesday undermining China’s claims and bolstering those of the Philippines, one of the closest U.S. allies in the region. China has rejected the ruling; its state-controlled media outlets call the court a “law-abusing tribunal.” The United States, for its part, is determined to enforce the ruling and has stepped up naval patrols in the region in anticipation of China’s negative reaction.

This is a dangerous game. China is more prepared for a confrontation than Western experts may expect. We are, quite literally, in perilous waters. U.S. leaders would do well to understand China’s military past, a history far more warlike and bellicose than has long been assumed. [Continue reading…]


Half of all food produce in the U.S. is thrown away, new research suggests

The Guardian reports: Food waste is often described as a “farm-to-fork” problem. Produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants and fridges.

By one government tally, about 60m tonnes of produce worth about $160bn (£119bn), is wasted by retailers and consumers every year – one third of all foodstuffs.

But that is just a “downstream” measure. In more than two dozen interviews, farmers, packers, wholesalers, truckers, food academics and campaigners described the waste that occurs “upstream”: scarred vegetables regularly abandoned in the field to save the expense and labour involved in harvest. Or left to rot in a warehouse because of minor blemishes that do not necessarily affect freshness or quality.

When added to the retail waste, it takes the amount of food lost close to half of all produce grown, experts say. [Continue reading…]


Will young reformers of Islam please stand up?

Tania Rashid writes: I recently completed a short documentary about Islamophobia in America’s heartland, Texas. I got to know members of a gun-toting anti-Muslim group called the Bureau on American-Islamic Relations, or B.A.I.R.

I recall standing in the middle of them preparing for an “Arab rising.” Each practice shot they let out had me thinking that I could be an apparent target. One of them yelled “don’t mess with white people,” and proceeded to show me how he would complete a mass killing if he saw a group of Muslims.


I thought of my father, the most secular Muslim I know, who was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and interrogated for hours before a flight to Arizona. Could these men shoot me or other innocent people in my family?

But as much as I was repulsed by the group and their violent response to Muslims, it made me wonder: Were they all that wrong to feel so scared? [Continue reading…]


America doesn’t trust black people — unless there’s video evidence

Miriti Murungi writes: In the aftermath of the [Philando] Castile incident, and many others fitting the same utterly demoralizing profile, cell phones have been regularly trotted out as the hero. That’s because, without the footage, the country would probably have never seen police officers treating black bodies with the care of disposable video game villains.

Footage of police interactions with America’s black population has undeniably been the catalyst for a new era of public discussion about policing and race relations. And we’ve learned a lot about America from these videos. We’ve learned that police body cameras may be part of the solution to protecting black lives from senseless brutality at the hands of law enforcement. We’ve learned that video might be the most powerful weapon black people have against a system that stops and imprisons us at a maddening rate.

But none of that addresses what is arguably the more important issue: why black people need to furnish video evidence for America to listen to what they have been screaming from rooftops for generations. The answer is a truth that often gets lost in discussions praising technology: cell video is necessary for the protection of the black body in America because America doesn’t trust black people. [Continue reading…]


The Baton Rouge protester: ‘A Botticelli nymph attacked by Star Wars baddies’

Jonathan Jones and Nell Frizzell write: A great photograph is a moment liberated from time. If we could see what happened before and after this beautiful stillness and hear the cacophony of yells and arguments that must have filled reality’s soundtrack at a protest in Baton Rouge against the taking of black lives, the heroic stand of Iesha L Evans would just be a fragile glimpse of passing courage. It might even be entirely lost in the rush of images and noise. Instead, Reuters photographer Jonathan Bachman was able to preserve a simple human act of quiet bravery and give it an almost religious power.

It is not just that time has frozen but that, in stopping its stream, the camera has revealed a near-supernatural radiance protecting Evans, as if her goodness were a force field. The heavily armoured police officers inevitably look slightly inhuman. They may have good reason to wear such all-covering protective suits and helmets, so soon after a sniper killed five officers who were policing a protest in Dallas but, in their hi-tech riot gear, they unfortunately resemble futuristic insectoid robots, at once prosthetically dehumanised and squatly, massively, menacingly masculine.

Evans, by contrast, shows her calm, composed face and bold, straight body, protected by nothing more than a dress fluttering in the summer breeze. She is a Botticelli nymph attacked by Star Wars baddies. And yet they seem to stop, to yield, held back by something that radiates from her inner composure, her possession of the truth. In the instant that Bachman has caught for ever, the two officers appear confused, paralysed, even defeated by her decorous protest. Their bodies arch backwards, away from her, recoiling in recognition of her power. The officer nearest to the camera looks truly nonplussed, out of his depth, his meaty white hands flailing. [Continue reading…]


Is America repeating the mistakes of 1968?

Julian E Zelizer writes: “All of us, as Americans, should be troubled by these shootings, because these are not isolated incidents,” said President Barack Obama following the horrific shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. “They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal-justice system.” In an American tragedy of the nation’s own making, Obama will end his historic presidency with racial turmoil rocking the nation. The person whose election brought so much hope about the trajectory of race relations in the United States, a country that has perpetually suffered from the original sin of slavery, is spending these days desperately trying to calm the anger over police killings of African Americans and the protests and violence that have ensued.

Today, America has a president who understands the urgent need to address the problems of institutional racism that have been broadcast to the entire world through smartphones and exposés of a racialized criminal-justice system. But this conflict is taking shape right in the middle of a heated election season—one that includes a candidate who has made draconian proposals for national security and who appeals to the “Silent Majority.” Following the events in Dallas, Donald Trump released a statement that read: “We must restore law and order. We must restore the confidence of our people to be safe and secure in their homes and on the street.”

This is not the first time this has happened. When questions over race and policing were front and center in a national debate in 1968, the federal government failed to take the steps necessary to make any changes. The government understood how institutional racism was playing out in the cities and how they exploded into violence, but the electorate instead was seduced by Richard Nixon’s calls for law and order, as well as an urban crackdown, leaving the problems of institutional racism untouched. Rather than deal with the way that racism was inscribed into American institutions, including the criminal-justice system, the government focused on building a massive carceral state, militarizing police forces, criminalizing small offenses, and living through repeated moments of racial conflict exploding into violence. [Continue reading…]


America remains an intentionally segregated society

Natalie Y Moore writes: After the shooting of Philando Castile in Minnesota last Wednesday, the state’s appalled governor, Mark Dayton, said police wouldn’t have killed Castile if he had been white. Here’s a white politician recognising racism and not swatting it away like a pesky mosquito. But we need to recognise that a rigged, racist system of police brutality is indicative of deep-seated institutionalised racism.

Many of our cities are defined by entrenched residential segregation that created black ghettos and continues to perpetuate inequity. This was not by accident. In the 20th century, the government created housing policies that discriminated against black people and favoured white people in terms of wealth building. Despite the idea of “separate but equal” being struck down by our courts, the ideology still lingers in housing and public education. This isn’t about hokey ideas of harmony, of black and white people smiling and getting along just for the sake of getting along. Instead, if we start to address segregationist policies, we may have some hope of creating fairness.

After racial uprisings in US cities in the 1960s, the Kerner Commission released a report, which asserted that our country was moving towards two societies: one black, one white, separate and unequal. The report said: “Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood – but the Negro can never forget – is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it and white society condones it.”

These words still ring true today.

Police brutality isn’t isolated from other forms of racism. Segregation is about division, disinvestment and uneven resources based on race. In policing, we often see white officers who grew up in homogenous white places placed in black urban settings. These officers enter without understanding racial and cultural differences. It’s a set-up for failure.

Segregation isn’t about choosing to live among like-minded or racially similar people. American segregation is historic and intentional and must be a part of any conversation on race as the root of many of our problems. [Continue reading…]


Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II: ‘America, now is the time to weep’