A LIBRARY

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I spent some of the happiest times of my youth in public libraries.  I loved books, and I never lost my wonder over the fact that I could go someplace and find hundreds of books to browse through and the even more amazing fact that I could take any of them I wanted home to read.

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Above is one I spent many hours in when I was a kid in Washington, D. C., in the Cleveland Park section of the city.

The public libraries were open to all but I felt totally at home in them, as much as I felt at home in my family’s living room.  I felt as though they existed just for me.  As civic institutions go, it just doesn’t get much better than public libraries.

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I went to a prep school with high academic standards but I got half my education, at least, at the excellent school library (above, with the red roofs), checking out and reading whatever I wanted to read.

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The Ferguson Public Library, which has stayed open through the troubles there, gives me hope — a center of quiet and peace and reflection and inquiry and knowledge in a town wracked with grief and rage and plain bewilderment.  The library has been on the news a lot and it has been deluged with contributions — so many that it may be able to hire a second full-time staff member.  It currently has one, plus a lot of volunteers.

I just sent a small contribution myself, and you should, too, here:

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It’s not much to do, in the big picture of things, but it’s something, and it’s real.

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I don’t know where we’re going to find the keystone to finish the arch above, but I’m sure we’ll find some clues about it down at the library.

FICTION

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O. k., I’m a fiction writer.  When presented with disassociated but intriguing facts I have an irresistible urge to turn them into stories.  This is my story about the Michael Brown shooting:

Brown (above), feeling insecure and powerless, for whatever reasons, robbed a convenience store, violently assaulting the convenience store clerk in the process.  This made him feel powerful, virtually invincible, after the fashion of 18 year-olds.

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Ten minutes later, he and his accomplice in the robbery, Dorian Johnson (above), were walking home down the middle of a street, defying convention, feeling like the lords of the earth.  A nerdy cop drove up to them and dissed them, telling them to “get the fuck onto the sidewalk”.  He used the tone that white cops with guns often use towards uppity black men.

Brown snapped, either scared that he was about to be arrested for the convenience store robbery or unable to come down from his high derived from the robbery.  He swore at the cop, punched him, then, when the cop drew his gun, Brown tried to get the gun away from the cop.

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Brown failed, was shot, and ran.  The cop, feeling humiliated by Brown’s assault, pursued.  Brown stopped eventually, severely wounded, and turned back towards the cop, maybe took a step or two towards him, hardly able to think clearly at this point.

The cop, enraged, feeling violated and afraid, wanted to kill Brown, needed to kill Brown.  The step towards him gave him, in his mind, legal authority to kill Brown.  He did it to preserve, not his life, but his dignity as a competent male.

It was a confrontation between two people howling on the margins of nonentity — two boys uncertain of their own identity as men.

GRAND JURY

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The grand jury proceedings in the Michael Brown shooting case were highly unusual, to put it mildly.  Prosecutors normally present their best evidence for an indictment to a grand jury, which normally returns the indictment the prosecutor wants.  Though nominally independent, grand juries generally act as a rubber stamp for prosecutorial decisions.

St. Louis prosecutor Robert McCulloch (above) departed radically from precedent by presenting the Michael Brown grand jury with every single bit of evidence in the case, making no prosecutorial recommendation himself and letting the grand jury make its own judgement about it.  When they failed to return an indictment against Officer Wilson, McCulloch then released to the public all the evidence the grand jury had reviewed, again a highly unusual move.

Why would McCulloch handle the case this way?

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My guess is that McCulloch took a look at the evidence and decided in his own mind that it wasn’t sufficient for a successful prosecution of Wilson (above) — didn’t warrant putting Wilson through the ordeal of a trial or justify the expense of a trial to the state.

But this was problematic.  McCulloch didn’t have the trust of the black community in Ferguson, was seen as biased in favor of the police, which is why many in the community had called for a special prosecutor to be appointed.  McCulloch had refused to step aside.  Now, if he exercised his independent judgement not to prosecute Wilson, he would be vilified by many.

So he threw it all into the lap of the grand jury, and ultimately the public, asking them on the basis of the evidence to decide if justice had been done.  It probably seemed like a reasonable course to him.  But it wasn’t.

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If he wasn’t willing to make his own independent judgement about prosecuting Wilson, and take the heat for it personally, he should have recused himself from the case.  Giving the case unusual treatment only reinforced the community’s belief that police shootings always get unusual treatment, that the standards applied to other suspected citizens don’t apply to police officers.

McCulloch tried to have it both ways.  Recusing himself would have implied that he couldn’t deal with the case impartially.  Isolating himself from the ultimate disposition of the case, via the grand jury, implied that he didn’t want to take responsibility for the disposition of the case.

One can feel a certain amount of sympathy for his predicament — but only up to a point.  The very nature of the predicament suggests that appointing a special prosecutor was from the outset the only reasonable course.  Justice must be done but justice must also be seen to be done, and the oddness of the proceedings in this case insured that this wouldn’t happen.

COMMON SENSE

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I’m someone who believes Obama should be impeached for his crimes against The Constitution — specifically in regards to the Fourth Amendment and habeas corpus.  If I could add his recent executive orders on immigration to the list of such crimes I would happily do so, but a rational case can’t be made for it.

Unless you insist that Obama deport 11 million illegals tomorrow you are conceding his right — and indeed highlighting his obligation as chief executive — to prioritize deportations.  It is not reasonable to suggest that he should create arbitrary priorities — devoting the same resources to deporting working mothers with American children that he devotes to deporting illegals with felony convictions or gang connections.

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It is not reasonable to say that, having created rational priorities, he should keep them secret, when stating them could bring real (though temporary) relief and comfort to those who are low-priority.

It is not reasonable to say that Obama should prevent low-priority illegals from working until their cases are disposed of, since this would create potential burdens for the state which are totally unnecessary.

Finally you can’t argue, based on the record, that Obama is using his recent orders to avoid executing the immigration laws currently on the books.  Deportation is no longer a term used in those laws — the terms “removal” and “return” having replaced it — but if you define deportation as most people do, to mean getting illegals out of the country, Obama has been busy at it, busier than any President in recent history.

He has presided over the “removal” of nearly 2 million illegals and the “return” of about 1.6 million more.  If not The Deporter In Chief, as some have called him, he is certainly The Remover and Returner In Chief.

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The Republican hysteria over Obama’s executive orders is simply irrational — a tempest in a teapot.  Obama’s executive orders, like the Emancipation Proclamation before them, are largely symbolic — articulating enforcement policies that are already in effect and the only enforcement policies that are rational under the circumstances.  They don’t grant citizenship, or a path to citizenship, to anybody, they don’t grant permanent amnesty to anybody, just as The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free a single slave, much less abolish slavery.

Obama and the Democrats will of course exploit the symbolism of the orders for political gain, and this is what is causing Republicans such distress, primarily because of the symbolism that will also be contained in fighting the orders — a symbolism that will drive Hispanics in particular away from The Republican Party for generations to come . . . not all of them, of course, but enough to decide elections in battleground states.

Like The Emancipation Proclamation, Obama’s orders create a moral rallying point without actually changing anything — it is a political masterstroke that is probably unanswerable but hardly a violation of The Constitution.

THE ELEVEN MILLION

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Republican arguments against Obama’s recent executive orders on immigration are silly and getting sillier.

There are about eleven million people living in America illegally.  We have three choices about how to deal with them.

1) Deport them all immediately.  This could probably be done by mobilizing the armed forces and all state National Guard units and sending them door to door with broad NSA-type search warrants and authority to arrest those who can’t produce proof of citizenship.  They could then be detained in massive camps while we arranged transportation for them out of the country.

2) Deport them on a more relaxed schedule but still indiscriminately, devoting the same resources to expelling working mothers with American children that we devote to expelling illegals with felony arrest records or gang connections.

3) Deport them according to rational and humane priorities, allowing the un-deported to work while waiting for the final disposition of their cases so they don’t place unnecessary burdens on the state.

That’s it, folks.  Any President charged under The Constitution with enforcing the immigration laws must choose one of the above.  If you don’t like choice 3, please state which of the first two you prefer, and why.

Choosing to wait for Congress to express a preference is not a viable alternative — the laws already on the books have to be enforced somehow in the meantime.

GRACIAS

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. . . señor Presidente — on behalf of myself and all my countrymen and countrywomen, documented and undocumented

My forebears arrived in this country, at the James River in the Virginia Colony, in 1690, without papers or permission.  In the intervening years we’ve done all right for ourselves.

May this uniquely American story go on, as long as rivers roll.

Look at the picture of the Rio Bravo above and tell me which side is the “American” and which side is the “Mexican”. The lord of creation didn’t really have the time or the inclination to make it clear.

Click on the image to enlarge.

THE PRESIDENT

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Has Obama suddenly grown a pair?  Republicans have been punking him for six years, opposing and viciously criticizing every policy he’s enacted or proposed while at the same time refusing to enact or propose any practical alternatives.  They’ve been like fans in the bleachers thinking they’re players because they’ve thrown beer bottles at the center fielder.

Now the do-nothing Republicans in Congress have grown hysterical at the prospect of Obama using executive orders to try and make some repairs to the broken immigration system — which they think they have a moral right to ignore.

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They’re squealing like stuck pigs at the very idea that Obama might take action on an issue that they don’t have the guts or common decency to address themselves.  They’re talking about impeaching him — talking about shutting down the government again or refusing to pay America’s debts in retaliation.

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Obama has always bent over backwards to avoid projecting an image of “angry young black man”, and with the Republican gains in the recent midterms they seem to have thought they could get him go even further and address them as “massa”.  But if there was ever a time for the young black man to get angry, it’s now, when he has nothing left to lose.

All he has to do is say “Bring it on, eunuchs” to collapse their whole house of cards, to reveal them as the drunken irresponsible bleacher bums they are.  What fun it would be to watch that happen.

I hate Obama and look forward cheerfully to the day he leaves office forever, but I’d sure love to see him kick some flabby white Republican ass on his way out.

VERA CRUZ

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Ted Cruz is clearly an intelligent man, with many sound ideas, but he has a fatal flaw — he likes to fuck chickens in public.  This draws crowds, of course, and delights many, but there seems to be a rule in American politics that a man who fucks chickens in public, while he might aspire to the Senate or a governorship, can never rise to the Presidency.

That’s the tragedy of the man, not to mention the tragedy of countless chickens.

BOB DYLAN

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. . . resides in America, creates his art out of America, helps illuminate America, but he doesn’t make his home in America.

Like David Crockett, Jim Bowie, William B. Travis, among others, he’s only at home, only himself, on the frontier, in places not yet settled, in places yet to be defined.

It’s hard to get your mind around Texas in 1835, a province of Mexico, officially, but really an experiment in political liberty and entrepreneurial skulduggery — a land of limitless corruption, limitless idealism, limitless possibility.

It was, in short, the heart of the American dream, where the only unforgivable sins were timidity and mediocrity.  Dylan still sings from the heart of that heart.

THE SENATE

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A Republican majority in the Senate, which now seems all but certain, will not change anything substantive in terms of national policy.  It will simply give Senate Republicans a more prominent platform on which to engage in the sort of meaningless political posturing which is now almost the whole business of the House.

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Extremist legislation with no chance of ever passing will make its way to the Senate floor, where it will be killed by Democratic filibusters.  Ted Cruz, who is actually a fairly intelligent man, will probably squander the opportunity to critique Obama’s policies through investigative committees in favor of his fatal addiction to cynical and irresponsible demagoguery.

Rand Paul will probably not be allowed to mount a meaningful offensive against Obama’s Constitutional crimes, because most Republicans endorse them.

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Progressives might take heart at the idea of the Republican clowns having a brighter spotlight in which to disgrace themselves — but they’d be wrong to do so.  Two years of a Senate led by the clownish McConnell and the cynical Cruz will make Obama look good by comparison, and pave the way for the easy Presidential victory of another Democratic spokes-model for the plutocracy like Hillary Clinton.

The prospect of a clownish, impotent Congress and another corporate lapdog in the White House is what keeps the champagne flowing on Wall Street and lets the 1% sleep peacefully at night.

QUARANTINE

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I know one needs to be cautious in the use of quarantines but sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry — which is why I’m calling on President Obama to use an executive order to quarantine the governors of Maine, New York and New Jersey at the U. S. Naval Base on Guantanamo Bay until the Ebola panic subsides.

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Their hysteria is probably more contagious than the Ebola virus itself.  The governors could be kept in comfortable quarters, given psychiatric counseling and then returned to normal life when they were no longer presenting symptoms of irrational paranoia.

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We have to balance their civil rights against the need for public order — and we have an obligation to the men themselves.

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You just have to look at them to know they need help.

NEWS

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In a fascinating and thoughtful essay for the Brookings Institute, former Washington Post editor Robert G. Kaiser takes a look at the dire future that lies ahead for the traditional news media:

The Bad News About the News

A few thoughts about it occur to me.

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First of all, at the time of the founding of the republic, when the founders determined that a free press was essential to a free state, there were no major news organizations like the ones we’re used to.  There was plenty of press, vast numbers of competing newspapers in the major cities and in the provinces, and occasional broadsheets on every sort of subject published by the thousands.

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These media were typically partisan, highly partisan, and not always scrupulous about the facts — there were no news sources “of record” people could consult for anything like an objective arbitration of the competing voices of the press.  And yet for generations the people, from New York City to the bayous of Louisiana, were able to conduct a more or less rational conversation about national policy, to raise up politicians of skill and even at times genius to conduct that policy.

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Civic engagement at the local level, decentralized as it may have been, translated into national movements and initiatives.  A national postal service, like the Internet of its day, enabled distant people to communicate with each other about politics all over the country, and itinerant political speakers, seeking office or influence, mounted the stump in the most remote frontier settlements.

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It was chaotic, as the Internet is today, but it worked remarkably well.

When the great metropolitan newspapers arose in the second half of the 19th Century, the ones that somewhat resemble the great metropolitan newspapers of the second half of the 20th Century, the ones that are dying today, the modern form of media was created — but there was a crucial difference.

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The great 19th-Century newspapers, and magazines, earned their money directly from readers, by sales and subscriptions.  In the 20th Century, revenues came more and more from advertisers, and the loss of advertising revenue now, in the digital age, is what is killing 21st-Century newspapers.

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Is this a bad thing?  Depending on advertisers makes newspapers beholden to them, unwilling to publish news unfavorable to them.  Depending less on readers makes newspapers less responsive to their wants and needs.  The great newspapers of the late 19th Century were filled with entertaining nonsense alongside the hard news, but also with entertaining and brilliant popular art, in the form of color comics and graphic illustrations.

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The dynamic of traditional advertising-based media worked well when they were the only game in town, but now they’re not.  People are finding their news and their entertainment and their visual stimulation elsewhere, advertisers are following them, and traditional media are being left behind.

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Something tells me that American democracy is capable of surviving with a chaotic, decentralized electronic press, in many ways so much like the press in Thomas Jefferson’s day.  Something tells me that if the modern corporate media have to rely once again on their consumers for revenue, rather than on their advertisers, they will put out a livelier if perhaps less respectable product, but one still capable of delivering hard and relatively objective news.

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Meanwhile, a word about Texas, which in so many areas bucks the trends in the rest of America.  Texas has some of the most energetic, shrewd and entertaining local political reporting in America right now.  It’s aided by the fact that Texas politics and Texas politicians are so eccentric — they must be fun to write about and they are certainly fun to read about.

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[Photo above by Roxanne Rathge]

I got interested in Texas politics through reading Big, Hot, Cheap and Right, Erica Grieder’s fascinating survey of the state today.  Grieder (above), one of the sharpest political reporters in the nation, writes provocative articles for Texas Monthly — a magazine that also has a barbecue editor, a guy who reports only on barbecue.  In other words, it takes a comprehensive populist look at affairs in the Lone Star State.

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The Texas Tribune is a non-profit online newspaper based in Austin dedicated to in-depth coverage of the Texas political scene. It also hosts public events with speakers and panels discussing current political issues of interest to Texans.

I don’t know how local Texas newspapers and magazines are faring financially, but they are fielding teams of journalists who keep a close eye on local Texas politics and report on it entertainingly.  They converse and debate with each other goodnaturedly, from both ends of the political spectrum, on forums like Twitter.  They like to talk about barbecue.

Texas seems to have a healthy free press operating at the moment, in both conventional and unconventional media — a press as healthy as its economy.  Perhaps it’s just an illusion — perhaps the prominent news media in Texas are facing the same bleak prospects as the prominent news media elsewhere — but it sure doesn’t feel that way.

As with jobs creation, is Texas doing something right with respect to its press that the rest of America ought to take a look at?

HORROR

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Every time there’s a new school shooting we get a look at the places American kids are educated these days and they’re always grim — like industrial warehouses, or abattoirs.  They seem more fit for holding animals than people, inhuman pens, purely utilitarian and forbidding.

Soulless buildings built by soulless architects for soulless citizens.  What a message to the young people of America, one they get almost every day of their lives.

SHOCKING NEW REVELATION

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In a press release issued with little fanfare, The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has confirmed that it’s possible to contract Ebola through reading about it online or watching CNN’s coverage of the epidemic.

Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers, insists there is no cause for undue concern as long as people moderate their online reading and CNN viewing and keep a careful watch for symptoms.