Center Court

What the Republican Crazies Don’t Get, And What We Don’t Get About Them

Maeve Reston and Stephen Collinson for CNN accurately spell out the reasons why John Boehner’s woes in the House could mean trouble for candidate “Jeb!” Bush, who sits on top of an underwhelming 9% or so in the polls (a good number if you’re George Pataki, but a bad number if you were at one point strutting through life as the presumptive nominee as was “Jeb!”).  Furthermore, influential House Republicans Paul Ryan (of failed Mitt Romney runningmate fame) and Jeb (not to be confused with “Jeb!”) Hensarling have endorsed cray-cray Tea Party wacko Tom Price of Georgia for the position of House Majority Leader.

Of course, Price may be a stalking horse to see how far to the right the party as a whole can get away with in terms of doling out influential leadership positions to the hardliners.  As Kevin McCarthy locks down the Speakership, he may be testing the waters vicariously to see if he is going to be a governing-and-compromising moderate speaker (if he is using his brain) or a never-compromise-shut-down-the-government-every-week rabid Tea Party speaker (if he is using his heart).

Whatever sane Republicans remain (and there are a few in the Republican presidential contender cohort, including “Jeb!” and Gov. John Kasich, the latter of whom vociferously praised the outgoing Tea-Party-Hated Boehner) must be astounded.  Don’t they understand that by advancing their principled-but-crazy hard-line agenda they are going to lose 2016 for everybody? they must be thinking.  Don’t they understand that government shutdowns are deeply unpopular?  Don’t they understand that Planned Parenthood is actually popular?  Don’t they understand that they are practically giving away the White House, risking a Democratic takeover of the Senate, and stand to see significant Democratic gains in the House?

The short answer to all of that, I think, is no.  They don’t understand that.  At all.

I don’t have any hard empirical evidence, but I think that a study must be commissioned in short order to test the degree to which Tea Party activists believe that their agenda is actually popular, mainstream, and representative of middle America.  Because I think they think that their viewpoints are popular.

I realize this is anecdotal evidence.  My oldest brother is a Tea Party style right-wing hardliner who hates immigrants, Obama, liberals, you name it.  But for years he described his views as “center court,” to use the exact phrase he used.  Center court.  Think about that.

We progressives often, to a fault, have no illusions about our place on the political spectrum and the degree to which our viewpoints sometimes fail to align with centrism.  Furthermore, I have absolutely no self-deluded illusions about where I stand on the political spectrum.  I’m a lefty and I know it.  I don’t have a problem admitting that because I don’t happen to think that being a lefty is a bad thing.

But the hard right is deeply invested in the idea that they are representative of America.  That their feelings about immigrants, that their racism, that their intolerance of religious minorities, their misogyny and misogynist policies, and their antipathy toward the sitting president, whom they consider illegitimate, are in fact the mainstream American orientation politically.  They are deeply invested in the idea that they are the real America.  That they are “center court.”

So when you assume for the sake of argument that this is their orientation, they are completely oblivious to the idea that they could lose elections by taking what they think are principled center-court stands for things in Congress.  Shut down Congress over Planned Parenthood?  I suspect they think that’s a winning issue for them.  They hate Planned Parenthood, so everyone must hate Planned Parenthood.  And the only people hurt by a government shutdown would be people on “entitlement” programs, and they hate “entitlement” programs, so, in their calculus, everyone must hate “entitlement” programs.

What they’re not getting is how out of step with the mainstream they really are.  How many Tea Party crazies who live in a bubble of Fox “News” and A.M. Hate Radio were convinced up to the last that Romney was going to win in 2012?  Even smart conservatives had to publish primers on how to explain Romney’s loss to the dummies.

What we’re not getting is how much they think that they are the mainstream.  That’s why they behave as they do.  It’s not that they see how crazy their actions are— like potentially shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood funding— and are going the cray-cray route anyway.  They don’t think they are crazy.  They think they have America behind them.  They think that America is going to rally to their side because the principled guys on the white horses have finally cut through the B.S. and stopped Planned Parenthood at last and kicked a bunch of people on “entitlement” programs to the curb.  They think they’re going to gain in the House and Senate and win the White House.

In other words, they think they’re “center court.”

It’s the only explanation.

-Robert Gross

UPDATE 9-29-15: For support of the central thesis of this article, look no further than this comment by Senator Ted Cruz, throwing a tantrum on the floor of the Senate yesterday as his attempts to shut down the government went up in smoke:

“The Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he was going to resign. There was lots of speculation on the media as to why [Boehner] resigned. Mr. President, I’m going to tell you why he resigned: It’s actually a direct manifestation of this disconnect between the voters back home and Republican leadership. Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell had promised there will be no shutdown, so therefore they will fund every single priority of Barack Obama.”

(Emphasis added.)

It’s exactly as I’ve maintained.  Ted Cruz and his ilk think that they represent mainstream America, i.e., “the voters back home”; it is— in their minds— only a hopelessly, deeply entrenched Washington D.C. corruption that thwarts things that mainstream America so obviously wants, like a government shutdown, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, war with Iran, and an open rebuke to President Obama (who was inexplicably elected twice).

Loathe though I am to praise John Cornyn, you know, the other Senator from my state of Texas, it should be duly noted by Texans everywhere that Cornyn (R-Sanity) was instrumental in knocking down procedural attempts by Cruz (R-Insanity) to get his shutdown.  That’s what it has come to for the Republicans: Cornyn must know that there is actually a contingent of Tea Party Texans sympathetic to Cruz, whom he risks alienating.  Cornyn took one for the team yesterday so that the grown-ups can remain in charge, so the Republicans might actually stand an electoral chance in 2016, and, most importantly, so the government, which so many widows, widowers, orphans and people with disabilities rely upon, can continue to function.

Music Theory Nerd Fight II: Why Michael Buchler is Wrong About Klumpenhouwer Networks

Note: second in a series of fairly esoteric articles on issues in the music theory discipline. 

First, let me say that I really like Michael Buchler personally and I’m quite sorry to do this. However, since his 2007 Music Theory Online article “Reconsidering Klumpenhouwer Networks” I have been more than once dinged by peer review for failing to take into account Buchler’s article when using Klumpenhouwer Networks (hereafter K-nets) myself, and I cannot tell you how annoying that is.  (Once I was so dinged by a peer-reviewer who was so passionate on the subject that I deeply suspected that the reviewer was Buchler himself.  Who else cares about this as much as he does?)

Like Straus’s article “The Problem of Prolongation in Post-Tonal Music,” Buchler’s “Reconsidering K-Nets” has achieved almost the force of a Supreme Court decision in Music Theoryland, and it has definitely put a crimp in the style of what could otherwise be some very interesting, freewheeling and progressive K-net-based analyses.  I am going to repeat a theme that I suggested in Music Theory Nerd Fight I, which is that I am perennially puzzled by the very common phenomenon of politically liberal professors who are not at all liberal in their academic bailiwicks.  Indeed, it often seems the more politically progressive the academic, the more likely that academic is to cling to orthodoxies in his or her chosen field.  So it is the case with Buchler, who, I don’t think it is any kind of great outing to say, is quite politically progressive judging from my encounters with him through social media.

Regarding K-nets, I question Buchler on two fronts: what’s the harm?  And what’s the alternative?  If Buchler can demonstrate harm, then, as far as I’m concerned, he wins the day.  However, if there’s no harm, then his complaints are entirely misplaced.  As far as an alternative model goes, Buchler proposes one, which is to his credit, but is it really a superior model?

1. What’s the harm?

Unlike Straus’s claim in 1997 that post-tonal prolongational analysis was dead, Buchler in 2007 observed that K-nets were alive and well: “Since David Lewin’s introductory article in 1990, K-nets have been among the most frequently discussed and analytically utilized tools for post-tonal transformational analysis” (“Reconsidering,” par. 1). One of the immediate harms Buchler identifies is that K-nets entail “a Pandora’s Box of relational permissiveness” (par. 2). He further elaborates, “Clearly, the more ways that it is possible to draw equivalent relations, the less significant those relations become” (par. 2). Buchler describes “problems” (par. 3) occurring because of the overabundance of relations that K-nets identify.

Buchler finds an ally in Straus, who finds harm in K-net recursion which he says “is only a problem when our desire for it leads us to emphasize musical features that might otherwise be of relatively little interest” (emphasis mine, par. 4). Straus goes on to criticize the dual-inversion aspect of K-nets as “hav[ing] no intrinsic interest [emphasis added], they correspond to no musical intuitions, they provide an answer to a question that no one has cared to ask” (par. 4). Again, as before, there is more than a hint of solipsism in Straus’s comments. Interest for whom? Just because Straus might find an observation uninteresting does not make it inherently uninteresting. Straus’s insistence upon the “correspondence to musical intuitions” is also puzzling, since he was so critical of the intuition-based analyses of Travis and Salzer in “The Problem of Prolongation in Post-Tonal Music.” (His term for intuition-based there was “ad hoc,” which is no kind epithet.  But here he insists on “correspondence” to “intuitions.”  So which is it, Prof. Straus?  Are intuitions good or bad?)  As for “providing an answer to a question that no one has cared to ask,” is he certain? Is it really a problem that observations about music may come to the fore without investigative antecedents? Is this the harm? Is this harm at all?

Buchler goes on to say that his alternative to K-nets “convey[s] clearer and more meaningful musical connections,” echoing Straus’s call for “more meaningful” relationships in “The Problem.” Again, clear and meaningful for whom? Is a lack of clarity really the problem with K-nets? If anything, I would say K-nets represent an immediately apprehendable entrée into the world of transformational theory, which only becomes more impenetrable as one goes, to which many who found Lewin’s Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations difficult can probably attest. Buchler complains that K-nets are really dual transformations in disguise [par. 20-26], the harm of which eludes me. It strikes me as comparable to the competing set-theoretic taxonomies of Forte and Perle: both equally valid, but a preference for one as more elegant and comprehensive than the other emerging in consensus. The harm is obvious if one is a Perle partisan, but one is still able to use Perle’s nomenclature rather than Forte’s if one wishes (scholars such as Elliott Antokoletz who do precisely that come to mind).

Buchler critiques K-nets as leading to counter-intuitive results in analyzing a short passage from Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4. I would remind again that one of the great values of any kind of analysis— far from being a harm— is its capacity to lead the analyst to observations that could not be had by intuition alone. Counter-intuitive observations are valuable. Buchler (and Straus), however, tend(s) to find them “uninteresting” or “indefensible” [27-31].  On the other hand, I find much music analysis that serves only to reinforce the intuitive to be uninteresting to say the least, however defensible such analysis may be.

Buchler refers to the overabundance of K-net relationships as “promiscuity,” using quite a loaded term. He says that this is a harm because the more relationships a model can show between musical artifact A and musical artifact B, the less meaningful those relationships are. Let me interrupt the argument about harm here and point out that one of the primary problems with Buchler’s article is that he has essentially misapprehended the K-net model. K-nets come out of Henry Klumpenhouwer’s 1991 Harvard dissertation A Generalized Model of Voice Leading for Atonal Music (emphasis mine). Putting their recursive capabilities aside (and it must be pointed out that the recursive possibilities of K-nets were not promoted at first by Klumpenhouwer but rather by his mentor David Lewin), K-nets were originally conceived as voice-leading apparatuses.

Given K-net A and K-net B, every corresponding node describes a voice-leading motion from Node A to Node B. Voice-leading motions are indeed quite promiscuous. Between tetrachord A and tetrachord B one has sixteen potential voice-leading motions; between pentachord A and pentachord B, twenty-five potential voice-leading motions, and so on. Buchler confuses a K-net with a pcset.[1]  He believes that two K-nets are static things that show “relationships” rather than motions, like pcsets. If K-nets were intended to show pcset-like “relationships,” then there certainly would be too many “relationships” to be meaningful, the thrust of Buchler’s argument. However, K-nets describe motions from single notes to other single notes, not pcset-like relationships. It is of no moment, then, that there are many possible transformational motions that can be described between any musical artifact A and a musical artifact B of the same cardinality, just as it is of no moment that there are many possible voice-leading relationships that can be described between any two musical artifacts of the same cardinality.

However, let us suppose that we agreed with Buchler that the possible relationships are too promiscuous. What is the harm? Relational abundance is “problematic” (par. 32). He points out: “Since the most promiscuous trichord classes include many of the most common and familiar melodic and harmonic structures found in a wide range of repertoire, trichordal isography generally comes easily to those who seek it. When the standard for pcset relatedness [emphasis added][2] is this low, analysts ought to exercise particular diligence and discretion in making a strong case for the uniqueness and musicality of their readings.” So what is the issue? Let us continue to use K-nets, and let the analyst exercise particular diligence and discretion in making a strong case for the uniqueness and musicality of their readings, just as Buchler suggests. Problem solved.

Buchler devotes an entire section to the “problem” of multiple interpretations (par. 42-52). One is either in the business of analysis to find “the” definitive interpretation of a piece, or simply “an” interpretation of the piece. I prefer the latter mission, as I am skeptical of the possibility of the former mission. Suffice to say, I think the potential for multiple interpretations of music is hardly a harm.

Buchler criticizes K-nets on phenomenological grounds: “It would be difficult to imagine a situation in which dual transformation did not provide a more straightforward phenomenological account than K-nets” (par. 58). Straightforwardness is fairly subjective, however. Some people find one model straightforward (e.g., Forte) while others find a competing model straightforward (e.g., Perle). This too is barely a harm.  Hooray for alternatives!  Vive la difference!

Buchler devotes a section to the problems of K-net recursion. He finds a more troubling harm than that of Straus’s mundane “but can we hear it”-type critque. He says: “Recursive analysis requires us to locate positive and negative surface-level isographies in the same quantity[3] as shown in any one local K-net. This often entails skewing surface readings into representations that simply provide the right type of graph to fit the situation” (64). I find this to be his best argument: that the abstract attractiveness of K-net recursion entices the analyst to fit the music into a Procrustean bed. But then, to remedy this, I think one simply has to call on analysts to “exercise particular diligence and discretion in making a strong case for the uniqueness and musicality of their readings” when creating recursive K-net analyses.  Plus, the dangers of Procrustian beds are everywhere in music theory; they are certainly a danger of Schenkerian analysis (as Eugene Narmour has forcefully and repeatedly pointed out).  These are remedied by care, due diligence and keen judgment.

Buchler never overtly calls for the abolition of K-nets in his article, and, to be sure, he proposes some improvements to the model (such as the suggestion that more explicit numerical arguments could be used to describe transformations). However, when he says “We all have different goals for analysis, but surely one central purpose is to clarify and explain. There may not be any inherently easy ways to model difficult music; I just want to be certain that my analytical tools help me elucidate more complexities[4] than they introduce. That might be the simplest and best reason to reconsider Klumpenhouwer networks,” what does he mean by “reconsider Klumpenhouwer networks”? The only conclusion that makes any sense is that he means we should reconsider using them at all. He does not title his article “Taking Greater Care with Klumpenhouwer Networks” or “Some Suggested Improvements for Klumpenhouwer Networks.”

Just as Straus is reluctant to admit to technologies of certain degrees of complexity in addressing post-tonal music (e.g., prolongational schemas like those of Olli Vaisala which he says are “too complex” to hope to achieve widespread adoption), so too is Buchler, and it is just as puzzling.  Did I miss a memo?  I thought we were all on board with the proposition that post-tonal music is really, really complex and as such, requires analytical techniques to address this really, really complex music that are themselves really, really complex, commensurate with the complexity of the music the analyst hopes to address.  I don’t think that K-nets introduce more complexities than they elucidate; I think instead they are complex to the same degree as the music that they describe, which is fine.

2. What’s the alternative?

Buchler’s alternative is to recast K-nets as dual transformations. However, precisely his point is that it is much more difficult to locate recursive possibilities in dual transformations than it is in K-nets. Recursion is obviously a great harm to Buchler, since it too heaps on more potential “relations” that are possibly meaningless, and because such recursive relationships are simply harder to hear.

Phenomenology is such a great bugaboo with both Straus and Buchler, but it is not as though their preferred models do not entail great challenges on the front of audibility as well. Buchler compares K-nets (par. 5) to a “host of other tools” such as “similarity relations, split or near transformations, and topographical distance metrics,” but does not observe that these tools have also entailed perennial phenomenological questions of audibility. Both Buchler and Straus are practitioners of Schenkerian analysis, but they do not observe that Schenkerian analysis too has been long questioned on phenomenological/audibility grounds (paging Eugene Narmour again).  I would furthermore remind that just because a recursive K-net analysis might lead to something counter-intuitive (which is what I think Buchler really means when he talks about phenomenology, that analysis should match his own intuitions of what he believes would be audible) does not mean that the analysis is not valuable.

This again gets at fundamental questions about the mission of music theory and analysis.  If the enterprise is supposed to be about finding empirical justification for what we intuit about music, then, sorry, but I’m out.  I would rather discover something delightfully counter-intuitive that challenges my predispositions.  I find that K-nets are amazing tools to this end.

-Robert Gross

—–

[1] Revealingly, at one point Buchler says “I find myself forced to think of [K-nets, K-classes and K-families] abstractly, in the same basic way as I think about set classes” (par. 32). In the same paragraph he also criticizes K-nets because of the propensity for analysts to ask “can these two pcsets [emphasis added] be diagrammed in such a way that they appear isographic?” I suspect Buchler is so steeped in the pcset model that he does not truly appreciate the salient differences between the pcset model and the K-net model.

[2] Not wanting to beat the proverbial dead horse, but this is another revealing phrase that shows Buchler thinks that K-nets are pcsets, and that K-net “relatedness” is exactly like pcset relatedness.

[3] He further complains (par. 65): “A more pragmatic problem that arises when constructing K-net superstructures is that K-nets of size q must be grouped into q-sized hyper-networks for recursion to be drawn.” However, this is not actually true, as I demonstrate with my K-Tonnetz model (Gross, “Post-Tonal Hierarchization in Wozzeck,” Journal of Schenkerian Studies, Fall 2014).

[4] I would point out that “complexity” is another troublesomely subjective term. Not all people find the same things to be complex.

____________

I would like to share two gigantic K-nets I made to show a possible link between the digraphic qualities of the K-net and the mechanisms of genetics.  The first graph shows all sixteen possible Punnett Squares realized as a mod-2 K-net (the only values being 0 and 1); the second graph shows the entire genetic code (DNA codon version) as a mod-4 K-net (the values being 0, 1, 2 and 3).

Robert Gross - Analogy Networks 10-6-13 P20

Clearer downloadable version

Robert Gross - Analogy Networks 10-6-13 P23

Clearer Downloadable Version

And click here if you are interested in a really adventurous exploration of how the K-net model could help explain, in part, the origin of the universe.

Klumpenhouwer Networks Surreal Numbers Strange Loops and Cosmology the Case for Somethingness from Nothingness 1-25-15

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Entire Speech on Racial Justice Sunday 9-27-15

Thank you. I’m grateful to be here at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. This place is a fitting tribute to our champion, Ted Kennedy. A man of courage, compassion, and commitment, who taught us what public service is all about. Not a day goes by that we don’t miss his passion, his enthusiasm, and – most of all – his dedication to all of our working families.

As the Senior Senator from Massachusetts, I have the great honor of sitting at Senator Kennedy’s desk – right over there. The original, back in Washington, is a little more dented and scratched, but it has something very special in the drawer. Ted Kennedy carved his name in it. When I sit at my desk, sometimes when I’m waiting to speak or to vote, I open the drawer and run my thumb across his name. It reminds me of the high expectations of the people of Massachusetts, and I try, every day, to live up to the legacy he left behind.

Senator Kennedy took office just over fifty years ago, in the midst of one of the great moral and political debates in American history – the debate over the Civil Rights Act. In his first speech on the floor of the Senate, just four months after his brother’s assassination, he stood up to support equal rights for all Americans. He ended that speech with a powerful personal message about what the civil rights struggle meant to the late President Kennedy:

His heart and soul are in this bill. If his life and death had a meaning, it was that we should not hate but love one another; we should use our powers not to create conditions of oppression that lead to violence, but conditions of freedom that lead to peace.

“We should use our powers not to create conditions of oppression that lead to violence, but conditions of freedom that lead to peace.” That’s what I’d like to talk about today.

A half-century ago, when Senator Kennedy spoke of the Civil Rights Act, entrenched, racist power did everything it could to sustain oppression of African-Americans, and violence was its first tool. Lynchings, terrorism, intimidation. The 16th Street Baptist Church. Medgar Evers. Emmett Till. When Alabama Governor George Wallace stood before the nation and declared during his 1963 inaugural address that he would defend “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” he made clear that the state would stand with those who used violence.

But violence was not the only tool. African Americans were effectively stripped of citizenship when they were denied the right to vote. The tools varied-literacy tests, poll taxes, moral character tests, grandfather clauses-but the results were the same. They were denied basic rights of citizenship and the chance to participate in self-government.

The third tool of oppression was to deliberately deny millions of African Americans economic opportunities solely because of the color of their skin.

I have often spoken about how America built a great middle class. Coming out of the Great Depression, from the 1930s to the late 1970s, as GDP went up, wages went up for most Americans. But there’s a dark underbelly to that story. While median family income in America was growing – for both white and African-American families – African-American incomes were only a fraction of white incomes. In the mid-1950s, the median income for African-American families was just a little more than half the income of white families.

And the problem went beyond just income. Look at housing: For most middle class families in America, buying a home is the number one way to build wealth. It’s a retirement plan-pay off the house and live on Social Security. An investment option-mortgage the house to start a business. It’s a way to help the kids get through college, a safety net if someone gets really sick, and, if all goes well and Grandma and Grandpa can hang on to the house until they die, it’s a way to give the next generation a boost-extra money to move the family up the ladder.

For much of the 20th Century, that’s how it worked for generation after generation of white Americans – but not black Americans. Entire legal structures were created to prevent African Americans from building economic security through home ownership. Legally-enforced segregation. Restrictive deeds. Redlining. Land contracts. Coming out of the Great Depression, America built a middle class, but systematic discrimination kept most African-American families from being part of it.

State-sanctioned discrimination wasn’t limited to homeownership. The government enforced discrimination in public accommodations, discrimination in schools, discrimination in credit-it was a long and spiteful list.

Economic justice is not – and has never been – sufficient to ensure racial justice. Owning a home won’t stop someone from burning a cross on the front lawn. Admission to a school won’t prevent a beating on the sidewalk outside. But when Dr. King led hundreds of thousands of people to march on Washington, he talked about an end to violence, access to voting AND economic opportunity. As Dr. King once wrote, “the inseparable twin of racial injustice was economic injustice.”

The tools of oppression were woven together, and the civil rights struggle was fought against that oppression wherever it was found – against violence, against the denial of voting rights, and against economic injustice.

The battles were bitter and sometimes deadly. Firehoses turned on peaceful protestors. Police officers setting their dogs to attack black students. Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

But the civil rights movement pushed this country in a new direction.

• The federal government cracked down on state-sponsored violence. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson all called out the National Guard, and, in doing so, declared that everyone had a right to equal protection under the law, guaranteed by the Constitution. Congress protected the rights of all citizens to vote with the Voting Rights Act.

• And economic opportunities opened up when Congress passed civil rights laws that protected equal access to employment, public accommodations, and housing.

In the same way that the tools of oppression were woven together, a package of civil rights laws came together to protect black people from violence, to ensure access to the ballot box, and to build economic opportunity. Or to say it another way, these laws made three powerful declarations: Black lives matter. Black citizens matter. Black families matter.

Fifty years later, we have made real progress toward creating the conditions of freedom-but we have not made ENOUGH progress.

Fifty years later, violence against African Americans has not disappeared. Consider law enforcement. The vast majority of police officers sign up so they can protect their communities. They are part of an honorable profession that takes risks every day to keep us safe. We know that. But we also know – and say – the names of those whose lives have been treated with callous indifference. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. We’ve seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air – their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protestors have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets. And it’s not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church. We must be honest: Fifty years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared.

And what about voting rights? Two years ago, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates ever wider for measures designed to suppress minority voting. Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed-voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disfranchisement through a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens. The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process.

Violence. Voting. And what about economic injustice? Research shows that the legal changes in the civil rights era created new employment and housing opportunities. In the 1960s and the 1970s, African-American men and women began to close the wage gap with white workers, giving millions of black families hope that they might build real wealth.

But then, Republicans’ trickle-down economic theory arrived. Just as this country was taking the first steps toward economic justice, the Republicans pushed a theory that meant helping the richest people and the most powerful corporations get richer and more powerful. I’ll just do one statistic on this: From 1980 to 2012, GDP continued to rise, but how much of the income growth went to the 90% of America – everyone outside the top 10% – black, white, Latino? None. Zero. Nothing. 100% of all the new income produced in this country over the past 30 years has gone to the top ten percent.

Today, 90% of Americans see no real wage growth. For African-Americans, who were so far behind earlier in the 20th Century, this means that since the 1980s they have been hit particularly hard. In January of this year, African-American unemployment was 10.3% – more than twice the rate of white unemployment. And, after beginning to make progress during the civil rights era to close the wealth gap between black and white families, in the 1980s the wealth gap exploded, so that from 1984 to 2009, the wealth gap between black and white families tripled.

The 2008 housing collapse destroyed trillions in family wealth across the country, but the crash hit African-Americans like a punch in the gut. Because middle class black families’ wealth was disproportionately tied up in homeownership and not other forms of savings, these families were hit harder by the housing collapse. But they also got hit harder because of discriminatory lending practices-yes, discriminatory lending practices in the 21st Century. Recently several big banks and other mortgage lenders paid hundreds of millions in fines, admitting that they illegally steered black and Latino borrowers into more expensive mortgages than white borrowers who had similar credit. Tom Perez, who at the time was the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, called it a “racial surtax.” And it’s still happening – earlier this month, the National Fair Housing alliance filed a discrimination complaint against real estate agents in Mississippi after an investigation showed those agents consistently steering white buyers away from interracial neighborhoods and black buyers away from affluent ones. Another investigation showed similar results across our nation’s cities. Housing discrimination alive and well in 2015.

Violence, voting, economic justice.

We have made important strides forward. But we are not done yet. And now, it is our time.

I speak today with the full knowledge that I have not personally experienced and can never truly understand the fear, the oppression, and the pain that confronts African Americans every day. But none of us can ignore what is happening in this country. Not when our black friends, family, neighbors literally fear dying in the streets.

Listen to the brave, powerful voices of today’s new generation of civil rights leaders. Incredible voices. Listen to them say: “If I die in police custody, know that I did not commit suicide.” Watch them march through the streets, “hands up don’t shoot” – not to incite a riot, but to fight for their lives. To fight for their lives.

This is the reality all of us must confront, as uncomfortable and ugly as that reality may be. It comes to us to once again affirm that black lives matter, that black citizens matter, that black families matter.

Once again, the task begins with safeguarding our communities from violence. We have made progress, but it is a tragedy when any American cannot trust those who have sworn to protect and serve. This pervasive and persistent distrust isn’t based on myths. It is grounded in the reality of unjustified violence.

Policing must become a truly community endeavor-not in just a few cities, but everywhere. Police forces should look like, and come from, the neighborhoods they serve. They should reach out to support and defend the community – working with people in neighborhoods before problems arise. All police forces-not just some-must be trained to de-escalate and to avoid the likelihood of violence. Body cameras can help us know what happens when someone is hurt.

We honor the bravery and sacrifice that our law enforcement officers show every day on the job – and the noble intentions of the vast majority of those who take up the difficult job of keeping us safe. But police are not occupying armies. This is America, not a war zone-and policing practices in all cities-not just some-need to reflect that.

Next, voting.

It’s time to call out the recent flurry of new state law restrictions for what they are: an all-out campaign by Republicans to take away the right to vote from poor and black and Latino American citizens who probably won’t vote for them. The push to restrict voting is nothing more than a naked grab to win elections that they can’t win if every citizen votes.

Two years ago the Supreme Court eviscerated critical parts of the Voting Rights Act. Congress could easily fix this, and Democrats in the Senate have called for restoration of voting rights. Now it is time for Republicans to step up to support a restoration of the Voting Rights Act-or to stand before the American people and explain why they have abandoned America’s most cherished liberty, the right to vote.

And while we’re at it, we need to update the rules around voting. Voting should be simple. Voter registration should be automatic. Get a driver’s license, get registered automatically. Nonviolent, law-abiding citizens should not lose the right to vote because of a prior conviction. Election Day should be a holiday, so no one has to choose between a paycheck and a vote. Early voting and vote by mail would give fast food and retail workers who don’t get holidays day off a chance to proudly cast their votes. The hidden discrimination that comes with purging voter rolls and short-staffing polling places must stop. The right to vote remains essential to protect all other rights, and no candidate for president or for any other elected office – Republican or Democrat – should be elected if they will not pledge to support full, meaningful voting rights.

Finally, economic justice. Our task will not be complete until we ensure that every family-regardless of race-has a fighting chance to build an economic future for themselves and their families. We need less talk and more action about reducing unemployment, ending wage stagnation and closing the income gap between white and nonwhite workers.

And one more issue, dear to my heart: It’s time to come down hard on predatory practices that allow financial institutions to systematically strip wealth out of communities of color. One of the ugly consequences of bank deregulation was that there was no cop on the beat when too many financial institutions figured out that they could make great money by tricking, trapping, and defrauding targeted families. Now we have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and we need to make sure it stays strong and independent so that it can do its job and make credit markets work for black families, Latino families, white families – all families.

Yes, there’s work to do.

Back in March, I met an elderly man at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. We were having coffee and donuts in the church basement before the service started. He told me that more than 50 years earlier — in May of 1961 — he had spent 11 hours in that same basement, along with hundreds of people, while a mob outside threatened to burn down the church because it was a sanctuary for civil rights workers. Dr. King called Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, desperately asking for help. The Attorney General promised to send the Army, but the closest military base was several hours away. So the members of the church and the civil rights workers waited in the sweltering basement, crowded together, listening to the mob outside and hoping the U.S. Army would arrive in time.

After the church service, I asked Congressman John Lewis about that night. He had been right there in that church back in 1961 while the mob gathered outside. He had been in the room during the calls to the Attorney General. I asked if he had been afraid that the Army wouldn’t make it in time. He said that he was “never, ever afraid. You come to that point where you lose all sense of fear.” And then he said something I’ll never forget. He said that his parents didn’t want him to get involved in civil rights. They didn’t want him to “cause trouble.” But he had done it anyway. He told me: “Sometimes it is important to cause necessary trouble.”

The first civil rights battles were hard fought. But they established that Black Lives Matter. That Black Citizens Matter. That Black Families Matter. Half a century later, we have made real progress, but we have not made ENOUGH progress. As Senator Kennedy said in his first floor speech, “This is not a political issue. It is a moral issue, to be resolved through political means.” So it comes to us to continue the fight, to make, as John Lewis said, the “necessary trouble” until we can truly say that in America, every citizen enjoys the conditions of freedom.

Thank you.

Sanders Surging; How Can This Be?

The mainstream punditocracy is accurately reporting (at last) that the Bernie Sanders surge and Hillary Clinton decline is real, is here to stay, and has gone national beyond just mere (!) leads in Iowa and New Hampshire for the good senator from Vermont.  Places like here, here and here are reporting that Clinton’s national lead over Sanders has shrunken to single digits, with her trend-lines going steadily downward while his trend-lines are steadily going upward.

What is amusing to me, though, is how stunned the punditocracy is over this.  Chuck Todd’s gobsmacked drooling jaw drooping on the NBC studio floor is not a pretty sight.  Establishment Democratic Party Operatives that were certain it was going to be Hillary and “Jeb!” are now scrambling for explanations (as both partisan outcomes are now anything but certain).  They were sure that Sanders’s rallies, which are attracting crowds in numbers that look like ZIP Codes, were just curiosities; readily dismissed as young people attracted to novelty and that this phenomenon would not translate into polling or, ultimately, into votes.  It still remains to be seen, of course, whether the phenomenon will translate into votes.  But it certainly appears to be showing up in the polling.

What is it that the pundits missed?

Three things, as far as I can see.

1. You don’t need SuperPAC money if you’re the most honest man in Washington.  Sanders has never had a scandal; the worst thing anyone has been able to dig up on the guy is that he wrote some bad erotica in the early 1970s.  Big deal.  He never pulls his punches, and he never leaves you guessing on where he stands on any particular issue.  For example, he has clearly and effectively stated his opposition to the Transpacific Partnership (TPP); Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has been anything but clear on TPP.

All the smarties in Washington said that one can’t run for president without a SuperPAC pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into one’s campaign coffers.  Yet, by eschewing SuperPAC money, Sanders has earned such a loyal following that his small-donation contributors are breaking records in contributions.  This loyalty is the result of something that is so refreshing that ordinary people are willing to back it to an unprecedented degree: and that something an honest candidate in Washington.  It defies political science and formulas and triangulations— indeed, it defies precisely the kind of triangulations for which the Clintons are so famous, but of which ordinary people are so weary.

2. The s-word doesn’t scare people as much as you thought it would.  Pundits were sure that the word “socialism” was going to scare people away from Sanders.  There are two reasons why this thinking was wrong.  First, because Sanders has been more-or-less effective in explaining that his prevailing political philosophy is democratic socialism— you know, like they have in Canada and many European countries— and that this is quite a different thing from Cold-War totalitarian-style Socialism.  Second, it’s just a label, and oddly enough, because the right has thrown that label so much at Obama, the American people have become quite tone-deaf to the right yelling “Socialist!  Socialist!” all the time.  Ironically, the more the right screams about Sanders’s socialism, the more they may be convincing the American public that their use of the word— which is in this case, for once, partially justified— is just more hyperbole.

When people listen to what Sanders has to say, they find they actually agree.  Almost all of Sanders’s viewpoints poll in the majority.  (The only stand he has taken that I can think of offhand that polls in the minority is his principled opposition to the death penalty, which does not bother me in the least since it is a position I happen to share.)  The punditocracy has sadly underestimated the ability of the American people to see beyond labels and to see instead the substance.

3. You underestimate how much people are tired of people like you, Establishment folks.  It is very easy to live in a punditocractic bubble and not be aware of the problems people are really facing.  To the pundits, “economic disparity” is a buzzword with which to lard pretty progressive-sounding speeches if you happen to be writing for Hillary Clinton.  But people are not convinced that the Wall-Street-cowtowing semi-progressive Democratic Party Establishment Operatives are actually feeling our pain when it comes to “economic disparity.”

The pundits scoff when it is pointed out that Sanders comes from a small (that means “relatively unimportant”) state.  But I bet Senator Sanders can actually name people he knows who are economically hurting back in Vermont.  When you come from a small state, and you represent that state, you rub elbows with ordinary people to a degree that people in the bubble do not.  Hillary Clinton by contrast represented New York State in the Senate, a state not only which is perceived as very large and very important, but also a state to which Hillary Clinton had no particular ties.  Progressives in the state thought it might be prestigious to be represented by a particularly smart former First Lady, and, as it happened, she faced a pretty weak opponent in one Rick Lazio. 

But people trust Sanders to feel their pain.  They don’t trust that Hillary Clinton feels their pain or knows anything about it.  It has been a long time since Hillary Clinton knew anything about economic suffering in small-state, small-town America; she has not had any use for Arkansas since 1992.  (Did it ever occur to her to run for Senate from Arkansas?  What would have been wrong with that— not prestigious enough?  Not Wall Street enough?)

So Hillary Clinton may still be just barely outdistancing Sanders by single digits, but you have to wonder, if given a choice, whose staff would you rather be on right now?  The team that is clearly running out of gas?  Or the team that looks like it has the wind at its sails and that looks like it’s still just warming up?

I cannot promise you that Senator Sanders will get the nomination.  But I will sit here and tell you this, Establishment Democratic Party Operatives.

It is going to be a horse race.

-Robert Gross

Free Stuff

Apparently, “Jeb!” Bush attempting to court the racist GOP base by coming out against multiculturalism was (as we pointed out here) too subtle and heady to connect.  So “Jeb!” doubled down by being more overtly racist, by claiming that black people vote for Democrats because Democrats give black people “free stuff,” echoing similar ill-fated comments made by Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election.  Philip Bump of the Washington Post brilliantly, if quixotically, debunks five persistent myths surrounding the “blacks want free stuff” meme: one, more whites than blacks are on food stamps; two, votes don’t follow food stamp use (so there is no quid-pro-quo between votes for Democrats and receipt of food stamps); three, President Obama has not invented any new “free stuff” giveaway programs since taking office; four, black support for the Democrats coincides with the 1964 Civil Rights Act not “free stuff” giveaways; and five, the definition of “free stuff” is not clear, and he points out that seniors, who vote Republican more often, receive plenty of “free stuff” depending on how one defines it.

Why do I say “quixotically”?  Because facts don’t matter to the Republican base.  They’re not reading the Washington Post; they’re watching Fox “News” and listening to A.M. Hate Radio.  This article, correct though it is, will change very few— perhaps not any— minds that are predisposed to be receptive to “Jeb!”‘s stereotypical message about black people.

Of course, “Jeb!” comes by this political lesson honestly, since his father was Vice President to the master of racial rhetoric.  Reagan famously told stories about welfare queens in Chicago and, if you were in the south, “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps.  So this is nothing new, but the thing is, this was 1976 and 1980 we are talking about, and it would appear that the son of Reagan’s Vice President in 2015 is recycling the same tired, racist memes.  Why?  Because he has to.  In 2015, “Jeb!” and his classic dog-whistle race-baiting playbook is not racist enough. 

In 1976, we had dog-whistles.  In 2015, we have “Mexicans are rapists and murderers” stated overtly, and “We have a problem in this country and it’s called Muslims” stated overtly (by a follower of Trump, but without any correction by Trump).  What happened?  How did we go from covert to overt in forty years?  How did things get so much worse?

Part of it, of course, is that things got a little better before they got a whole lot worse.  We actually managed to elect a black president for once.  And that has induced so much panic in the racist right-wing that they simply have no time nor patience anymore for dog-whistles.  They tried the classic dog-whistle playbook via Romney against Obama in 2012, and it didn’t work.  The “free stuff” argument didn’t play.  So the base is ready to take the gloves and the pretense off, and support a candidate that will overtly and without reservation put its ugly racism on full naked display.

That’s why “Jeb!”‘s second attempt in as many weeks to “me too” dog-whistle his way into Trump’s racist vote will not work.  If you are a racist, and you have Unvarnished Racism and Racism Lite to choose from, and Racism Lite seems not to be working any more (after all, we elected a black guy president twice— twice!), for what are you going to opt?

As for Philip Bump and his well-meaning article, it is still important to be armed with the facts.  Every presidential election we are held hostage by a 10% vote in the mushy middle that is apathetic, can’t be bothered to get acquainted with basic civics, doesn’t know a Republicrat from a Demublican, but will, for whatever reason, come hell or high water, actually vote.  Those are the people that progressives have to reach with the facts.  We can’t reach the racists.  But we can outnumber them by building a coalition with the mushy middle based on facts and reason.  So this Thanksgiving, when we’re at the dinner table, and a mushy middle voter relative asks you, but, doesn’t Bernie Sanders want to give free stuff to the blacks like “Jeb!” says?  You can counter with some facts.

1. More whites than blacks get free stuff.  2. More Republicans than Democrats get free stuff because the elderly get more free stuff.  3. More Republicans than Democrats get free stuff because the red states get more free stuff than the blue states.  4. We’re going to pay for the free stuff by taxing the uber-wealthy, and, sorry, Aunt Bernice, but that’s not you.  5. It’s not really free stuff, it’s stuff that other civilized countries provide as services to their people to enhance their standard of living.  If other civilized countries are doing this, why aren’t we?  And 6. Why do corporations get free stuff, like roads and bridges and coined currency and a literate workforce, without paying taxes for it?  While shipping jobs overseas?

A few words about the perniciousness of evil, racist stereotypes like those “Jeb!” is promulgating would not be out of order, either.

-Robert Gross

Good News and Bad News

I don’t have much time today to write about the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner.

The good news, I suppose, is that John Boehner is resigning, and we progressives can all indulge the Schadenfreude with watching that obstructionist do-nothing get his just rewards for being the architect of the Republican takeover of the House that relied so heavily on getting elected precisely the Tea Party Nuts that are hoisting him out now.

The bad news is that he is most likely going to be succeeded by someone worse than he is, perhaps even one of those Tea Party Nuts.

The really bad news is that because of gerrymandering, Democrats cannot realistically hope to take the House back until 2020, and that is if congressional districts can be gerrymandered back into something more equitable.  Big “if.”

So the really, really bad news is that we’re unlikely to see any real governance in the House for the remainder of Obama’s term.  If you thought Boehner was an obstructionist, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  Boehner at least does not feel the urge to shut down Congress over every single right-wing pet cause.  These clowns will not compromise under any circumstances.  Democrats won’t cave on Planned Parenthood?  Shut it down.  Democrats won’t cave on cutting desperately needed social programs?  Shut it down.  Democrats won’t give in to expanding tax breaks for the already fabulously wealthy?  Shut it down.

But the really, really, really bad news is what will happen in the House if a Republican gets elected president in 2016.  Then they will start to govern a little.  Reproductive rights will be history.  The rewarding of the rich and the punitive persecution of the poor will continue, with the gulf between the two ever widening, a recipe for economic disaster (again!).  Islam will be declared illegal (as Constitutional scholar and civil libertarian Mike Huckabee thinks it should be).  And they’ll have the Supreme Court to appoint in order to make that unconstitutional wish-list item stick.  And whether it’s Trump or anyone else, they’re going to build that wall, take away health care from millions, and unconstitutionally try to deport millions of people who are, despite being U.S. citizens, pejoratively referred to as “anchor babies.”  The havoc this will wreak on constitutional jurisprudence will be a nightmare.  And there will be nothing to stop them— the best we could hope for is a sane Senate.  And that’s also a big “if.”

I don’t think the Speaker’s resignation is the beginning of the end of the Tea Party Nuts.

I’m afraid it’s the end of the beginning.

-Robert Gross