Month: January 2012

Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow…

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!

Today is Saturday, Jan. 28.

And in the City of Philadelphia, we have already had 31 people murdered, and a whole bunch of folks shot.

At this rate, The City of Brotherly Love and Please Put The Damned Gun Down may just see the kind of murder rates that we used to see regularly in the late 90s and early 2000s where hundreds and hundreds of folks were shot dead in the streets.

During his first term, Mayor Michael Nutter promised that he’d bring the murder rates down…and would decline to run for a second term if he didn’t.

The first year or so, the rates did, indeed, go down. But starting last year, parts of Philly became Dodge City all over again, something that would occasionally make Mayor Nutter start cussin’ people out…sometimes in front of live television microphones…

At a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Nutter basically told Philly’s criminal element, “I’m tired of all of this murder and shit, and i’m I’m gonna get your asses!”

Mayor Nutter announced a new program to fight the city’s crime issues. Included in this plan is a reward fund that he hopes will make folks come our of their shells and tell police about the murders they’re seeing in the streets, more money for witness protection, which might keep people from getting killed when they do decide to do the right thing, at least 220 new police on the streets charged with going into the neighborhoods where the shootings are occurring the most, and, and I’m pretty sure that this is gonna piss off the folks here in Pennsylvania that believe that a free society is a strapped society, a reward fund for people who turn in folks walking ’round with illegal guns. You get $500 for every illegal gun you get off the street.

Now on its face, this seems like a series of really good ideas.

I’ve been complaining about the sorry state of witness protection in Philadelphia for years now. But while some of the failings of Philadelphia’s witness protection program are financial, some of them stem from the fact that the witnesses that this program tries to help don’t understand that you (a) have to leave your neighborhood to be protected (b) may also have to leave the state and (c) can’t contact your homies from the block because they’ll probably lead the folks who want to keep you from testifying right to you…for the sole purpose of killing your butt! Hopefully, some of the $400,000 that’s going to this particular part of the plan will focus on educating the public on what exactly “witness protection” means…

I’m also down with the whole reward thing. Mayor Nutter came up with the idea of a reward fund designed to pay people for tips after a $20,000 bounty was placed on the heads of three men who beat a man to death in Old City, one of Philly’s tourist areas. Since you just don’t beat people to death among the tourists, we all kinda knew that Da Mayor was gonna throw down the gauntlet…

“To every criminal out there, I just put a $20,000 bounty on your head,” Nutter said. “We are coming for you. We will find you. People will give up that information.”

He hopes…

Like I said, I’m down with the whole reward thing. I like that it’s $20,000. That’s a nice round number. But it’s not like it isn’t something we haven’t tried before. Thousands of dollars go unclaimed every year because people say to themselves “I’d like that $20,000, but if I testify, I won’t be alive to spend it! Snitches get stitches…” While the money is nice, it’s not very useful if you can’t get people to take it…Which is also why I’m glad that this plan includes an anonymous tip and text line. This might just loosen things up…

But while spending money on rewards, police, and witness protection is good, many of us here in Philly, a place where you can swim in the potholes in the summertime in some neighborhoods, and where unchecked urban blight runs amok in some places have one question:

Where is our supposedly broke city, a city where city workers have been working without a contract for four years, coming up with all of this money?

Mayor Nutter has set aside $500,000 for the tips program, but could that money be used elsewhere? And could we get a little help from the same philanthropic organizations that you managed to raise a gang of money from to get rid of School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman?

And did you have to use the word “bounty”? When I heard you say this while watching television coverage of your announcement Mr. Mayor, two things popped into my head: a mental picture of Duane “Dog” Chapman and his dysfunctional family scouring the streets of Philadelphia, looking for criminals on the lam and the voice of the late Sammy Davis Jr. singing the theme from the television show “Baretta”.

I know, I know. That’s a big literal. But my guess is that Da Mayor wants the city’s potential murderers to have those same mental pictures.

Let’s hope it works because while my Mom is no longer around to call me every time that someone gets shot to ask me if I knew this person, my older sister is…

And it’s still gonna annoy me…

So if you’re smart, you’ll take Sammy’s advice…

Getting the Point

Hope she made her point…

Arizona Gov, Jan Brewer has probably been interviewed more by the national media today than she has been since Arizona became the only state in the Union where I could be asked for a copy of my birth certificate if I find myself looking too Dominican while in Phoenix.

That’s because she decided to do something that you shouldn’t do to anyone: she decided to stick her finger in someone’s face. That this face was attached to the President of the United States was what made it news.

Otherwise, it’s just another white woman trying to put a black man in check.

Now I know that some of you are going to look at that last sentence and say “Why must you make everything racial? That wasn’t about race. Why is it that every perceived disrespect when it comes to this President gets looked at through the prism of race?”

Because when it comes to a lot of the things that Republicans do and say to this particular president, the prism of race is the most obvious one through which it can be viewed. Don’t shoot the messenger. It is what it is…at least it is what it is in this case…

Now why do I say that? Well, let’s look at it in another direction and you’ll see why.

Suppose the positions in this picture were reversed? Let’s just say that this wasn’t President Barack Obama, but Gov. Barack Obama. And let’s pretend that Gov. Brewer was the President instead. Now let’s further extend this scenario and have Gov. Obama confront President Brewer as she came off of Air Force One and stuck his finger in her face.

Before you could say “angry black man”, people would be calling for his head. How dare he disrespect the President like that…and a white woman to boot? You’re sticking your finger in this white woman’s face? Are you nuts boy?! Better get your nigga ass back in its place…!

(Now if you don’t think that’s how it would have gone down, I have the deed to the Ben Franklin Bridge. I’ll sell it to you if you want….)

But here’s the part of this that kinda cracks me up. When Gov. Brewer made the television talk show rounds today, she said that she felt “intimidated” by the President.

On one hand, I guess I can understand that. If I had done something stupid enough to possibly lead to my ending up face down on the tarmac or looking down the barrel of a Secret Service gun, I might feel intimidated.

But because America is possibly the only place in the world where a white woman can put her finger in a black man’s face and then claim that HE’S intimidating HER, she’s been hailed as a hero on Fox News.

If that’s not proof that we’re deep into the Silly Season of American Politics, you tell me what is.

It is dynamics like this that made me decide that I’d like to know more about political speech…and the coded messages connected to it. It is these codes that have given us such things as “food stamp president”, “welfare queen” “socialism” and other things that seem to act as dog whistles to the people to whom they’re directed.

I started noticing coded speech when I was working for the Reading Eagle-Times in Reading, Pennsylvania. Because I can be a little nuts at times, I found myself covering organized hate groups.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m black. I’m talking to Klansmen. Not the safest gig. Mom got on me about it a lot. Even told the paper that if anything happened to me, they’d have a new owner…)

But while the rank and file of these groups weren’t made up of the brightest bulbs in the lamp, their leadership, the ones that recruited them, were pretty intelligent. They knew what to say to get these folks into the fold. They knew that these folks were looking for someone to blame for the fact that they didn’t have a job, or food for their families and they also knew that they weren’t quite smart enough to say, “Hey! What about the greedy bastards that laid me off?!”

Thus, they were able to say, “It’s the blacks fault!” or “It’s the immigrant’s fault!”…and these folks bought it because it was easier than trying to understand the inner workings of multinational corporations.

It’s almost the same in politics. In 2004, President George W. Bush got a second term because he was able to distract people from the war by keeping their eyes on “gay marriage”. Because bills codifying marriage as an institution exclusive to straight couples were on the ballot, and the anti-“gay marriage” forces were largely Republican and largely religious, he rode to victory.

(Here’s where I say what I usually say when I write about gays and legal matrimony: I still don’t understand what gay folks can do to ruin the institution of marriage that straight folks haven’t already done. I mean hey, we’ve got a guy currently running for president who asked his second wife to consider an open marriage so that he could continue screwing the woman who would later go on to become his third wife. If that’s not proof of my contention, nothing is. Not even Elizabeth Taylor tried anything like that…)

Now coded speech in politics has always been with us. These dog whistles get blown no matter who is in charge.

But when you have an African American incumbent in the White House, and a segment of the population that’s still pissed off about this, the code words come flying fast and furious. In the last few months alone, we’ve heard that Spanish is “a language of the ghetto”, black kids “need to work as janitors in their schools so that they acquire a work ethic” blacks should “demand paychecks instead of food stamps” and that “I don’t want to make life better for black people by giving them your money”.

It’s annoying. It’s grotesque. It’s disrespectful. But it works.

But because it’s appearing in 2012 that people of color have no rights that anyone is required to respect all over again, it makes sense that a woman who tends to make up stories about Mexican cartels killing people in the Arizona desert (something that has been proven false time and time again) feels that she has the right to put her finger in the face of the President of the United States.

However, Gov. Brewer should be really, really glad that President Obama was alone when she wagged her finger at him because my guess is that this picture would have looked a whole lot different if First Lady Michelle Obama were present.

If she’s at all like most of the women I know, you’d have learned the definition of “intimidated”…

Back up off me, y’all!


Wanna know what the big story was for me this week?

No, it wasn’t that Newt Gingrich allegedly asked his ex-wife for an open marriage so that he could have permission to continue to cheat on her with his current wife….

It wasn’t that Vanessa Bryant became the $75 million (and three mansions) Woman thanks to marrying a man too undisciplined to keep it in his pants and too stupid to get himself a pre-nuptual agreement….

And it wasn’t even finding out that President Barack Obama can carry a tune, something that’s probably going to give Republicans and every black man who’s tired of hearing “Why can’t you be more like Barack?” just another reason to hate him…

For me the biggest news of the week was the news that Paula Deen, the Southern Fried hostess of the only Food Network program that I can get my boyfriend to watch with me without hearing him complain about it, is a Type-2 diabetic…and has been for the last three years.

Deen made the announcement as part of the unveiling of a website from Norvo Nordisk, a drug company that has employed her as its spokesperson for the diabetes medication she takes, something called Victoza. The website includes recipes for healthier meals created by Deen, who is better known for things like the video above, which features her making a deep-fried cheesecake.

(Mad (political) Scientist’s Note: Her son, Bobby, has just started a show on the Cooking Channel called Not My Mama’s Meals, designed to take the creations that his mom made famous and make them healthier. Someone’s gotta think of the brand, I guess…)


Predictably, every nutritionist, chef and Paula Deen critic came out of the woodwork to call “Shenanigans!” on her for waiting until she was given millions by a drug company to talk about her illness and also for continuing to cook the kinds of food that everyone associates with giving you Type -2 diabetes, which can be caused by obesity among other things. Most notable among those critics is fellow celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who took to his Twitter feed to proclaim that he should, and I’m paraphrasing, go into leg breaking so that he could make millions off of selling crutches.

Now do I think that Deen is just a tad disingenuous for tying the announcement of her diabetes to the announcement that she’s gonna get big bucks for telling people about her medication? Yeah. I’ve got my issues with that. When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I had a doctor that I swear was in bed with the pharmaceutical companies. I felt like a lab rat by the time that I finally switched doctors, his unwillingness to take me off of Avandia, a drug associated with heart attacks in diabetics, being the last straw.

But do I think that she’s the anti-Christ because she refuses to say “I’m never going to eat another spoonful of macaroni and cheese ever again”?

No.

You see, my hope is that Deen uses her bully pulpit on Food Network and everywhere else she goes to use a word that no one seems to want to use when it comes to the politics of food consumption in this country:

Moderation.

Now I know that to some of you who will read this blog, I’ve just said a bad word. You’re not supposed to practice moderation if you’re a diabetic. You’re supposed to want to eat nothing but salads, and fish, and sugar-free stuff for the rest of your life. You’re supposed to look at a chicken wing like it’s toxic. You’re supposed to think of your disease every time you even think about eating.

To those of you who feel this way, I have a simple and concise one-word response.

Bullshit.

Now I recognize that my response may be perceived as harsh. I recognize that to those who love the diabetics they call family and friends this may appear unfeeling. I get it. While I think that you should focus more on whether or not we have health insurance than what we’re eating, I do, indeed, get it.

But here’s what you need to get when dealing with us when it comes to food: We know what we’re dealing with even better than you do. So we’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t stare down our throats as we have that occasional serving of macaroni and cheese during the holidays. We’d love it if you wouldn’t begin fretting the minute we take a bite from a Red Velvet cupcake.

In other words, we’d appreciate it if you didn’t treat us like we can’t control our impulses. We’re not Kobe Bryant…

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. If folks actually ate the stuff that Paula Deen (and if he’s honest with himself, Anthony Bourdain) cooked all day every day, you’d be able to pick their hardened arteries out of their arms within six months. Rich, fatty, deep fried foods aren’t generally included in the everyday meals of most people.

But when things like macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, Red Velvet cake and Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream are on the menu, folks should be allowed to enjoy them without being made to feel like they’re going to die within an hour of consuming them.

As a nation, we have an obesity rate that’s kinda ridiculous. Our rates of childhood obesity are so outrageous that First Lady Michelle Obama has made reducing them her cause. Granted, Congress isn’t helping her much by saying that pizza is a vegetable (which it ain’t), but she’s trying to get more veggies into our kids.

However, I can’t help but think that some of America’s problems with obesity stem from our dysfunctional relationship with food. When you try and shame people into losing weight by making snide remarks, or chastising them whenever they so much as take a bite out of a piece of bread, you make food more important than it actually is.

That makes people self-conscious.

Which leads to their feeling ashamed of eating.

Which makes them eat in secret.

Which leads to depression.

Which leads to overeating.

Which leads to obesity.

Which can lead to diabetes.

See where I’m going with this?

So rather than condemn Paula Deen for being a diabetic who makes gooey butter cakes (I personally make chocolate chip cookies from scratch…I eat two and give the rest away), I’m hoping that her being a diabetic forces us to have a conversation about moderation….

because, as she often puts it, she’s our cook, not our nurse.

No, I’m not gonna eat all this butter! So back off of me, y’all!

We Almost Lost Detroit…


 Imagine this scenario:

You live in a pretty decent sized town. The elected officials in your town aren’t the greatest. The town’s budget is a bit of a mess. Jobs have left that probably won’t be back because the industry they were connected to no longer exists in the form it used to. There’s been a few instances of corruption and some of these local officials have found themselves taken away in handcuffs for their malfeasance. So your town has an election, and you, and your fellow townspeople, vote to throw these bums out and replace them with people who have a plan designed to fix the budget, drum up some business….and by extension some jobs. And to put a cherry on top of this new hot fudge sundae, they’re probably the most ethical folks in your town, so you know their hearts are in the right place.

Now imagine that despite the fact that you and your fellow townspeople have done what they could do on a small-“d” democratic level to get the town back on track, the governor of your state decides that your efforts aren’t enough and armed with a law that his political cronies worked hard to get implemented, nullifies the intention of the voters in your town by installing an overseer with unlimited power that can do anything he or she wants…and your taxes are forced to pay for his decisions.You have no way to protest this person’s actions and they can’t be voted out.

Now if you’re a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., this particular scenario is probably something you’re far too familiar with. Depending on who the current occupant of the White House is and which party holds the majority in Congress, you either have a say in how your taxes are used on the federal level, which means you have some actual control of your budget, or you’re basically told, “We own you bitch! Shut up and take it!”…which is something that I’m sure that Newt Gingrich probably said when he was Speaker of the House in the 90s.

But if you’re a resident of one of the 50 states that make up the rest of United States of America, you probably never thought that you’d ever have to deal with this scenario in any way, shape or form. I mean, why would any governor decide that he or she was not only going to take over a town government and give the citizens in said town no say in how their government, a government that’s supposed to represent them, conducts itself?

If you live in the state of Michigan however, that’s the reality you’re currently living under. Especially if you’re living in the towns of Flint, Pontiac, Hartranft, Ecorse, Benton Harbor, and Three Oaks. Under the Emergency Manager Law, one of those draconian measures that always seem to go hand in hand with what I like to call “bully government”, Gov. Rick Snyder can decide unilaterally that he doesn’t like your town’s government, have it removed, and replace it with one he likes…one that isn’t accountable to you, the citizens.

Now we here in Philadelphia have our own smaller scale experiences with things taken over by state-sponsored entities that have no accountability to us as citizens despite the fact that they are financed through our taxes. The School District of Philadelphia is the biggest example of this, followed closely by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

But just like in Michigan, state takeover hasn’t equalled excellence. Heck, we here in Philly could have told them that. The School District of Philadelphia has been operating at a deficit ever since the Commonwealth took it over, as are the towns that have been subject to this particularly heinous power grab.

The Detroit School District, which has been under state receivership for a while, is still a mess.

So imagine the horrified looks on the faces of the folks in the City of Detroit, a city that managed to survive Kwame “I don’t wanna be a freak, but I can’t help myself” Kilpatrick, the greed of GM, and a whole host of other things, when they found out that despite electing a new mayor, Dave Bing, a new city council, and trying to put its own house in order, it and another town, Inkster, are Gov. Snyder’s next takeover targets.

Wow.

There are a lot of things not to like about this law. We can talk about how it’s a total subjugation of democracy. We can talk about how it doesn’t give towns in Michigan an incentive to try and clean up their governments on their own because they know, no matter what, the Governor will take over the town if he doesn’t like their choices. We can talk about how political in the most grotesque sense this is.

But what really stood out to me about the consequences of this law was this: if Inkster and Detroit join the ranks of Michigan’s takeover targets, 50 percent of the state’s African American community will be living in towns governed by officials they didn’t elect, can’t un-elect, and aren’t accountable in any way to them.

Wrap your head around that for a moment. I’ll wait…

That means that 50 percent of Michigan’s African American community has no say so in their own governance.

Getting it now?

As times get harder and towns find it difficult to keep up, it would be no surprise to me at all if more laws like this found themselves being proposed in state legislatures.

But in the words of the Rev. David Bullock, one of the leaders of a march to Gov. Snyder’s Ann Arbor home in protest of the law, it would be a bad idea to use a lack of funding as an excuse to take away the right of a municipality to govern itself.

“There is no connection between dismantling democracy and fixing a deficit,” Bullock said. “Democracy allows for accountability and transparency. If you take democracy off the table, you have tyranny. There is no accountability. We must also add that emergency management does not work. The Detroit Public Schools is under emergency management: still has a deficit. Benton Harbor is under emergency management: bills paid late. The city of Highland Park was under a weaker form of emergency management for nine years: still has a deficit. You cannot manage a blood loss. If I were in a car accident and I was losing blood, you wouldn’t manage how much blood I was losing. You would stop the bleeding and you would send a blood transfusion. We need targeted reinvestment in Michigan.”

Let’s hope they get some. Beats the hell out of the alternative.

"I have a dream…." and I got it for half off!

Right now as I’m writing this, folks around the country are participating in service projects, going to ecumenical services, or doing other things to benefit their communities as part of the observance of the 83rd birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Here in Philly, the folks at Global Citizen put together a series of projects that gave just about every community in the Delaware Valley some needed assistance that it probably wouldn’t have gotten due to budgetary constraints.

 Just what Dr. King would have wanted.

When the King Holiday became reality 25 years ago, and folks were trying to figure out how to celebrate it, the one concern that everyone had about it was that it might become just like every other holiday: a day off and not much else.

To try and counteract that, former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford, a man who was a contemporary of Dr. King’s and had worked with him during the Civil Rights Movement, suggested that the holiday become “a day on, not a day off”, a day of service, not a day at the mall.

And for the first 10 or so years, that’s exactly how it worked. People took to the streets to plant gardens, build playgrounds, paint school buildings, cook and deliver food to the hungry, and perform other kinds of service to mankind. Interfaith ecumenical services (because you can’t honor a minister without having some sort of church service), luncheons honoring those who work toward King’s “beloved community” and educational activities have also been a part of the observation of the King Holiday.

(There is also a full slate of NBA basketball games to commemorate the King Holiday because after a long day of giving back to the community, catching a game with your buds is a great way to unwind..)

But over the last few years, I’ve started to see something connected to the King Holiday that I was really hoping it could avoid.

What might that be, you might ask?

Well, it’s this…

Why Sears and KMart are losing market share…

This, in case the caption isn’t clear, is an ad from KMart for an MLK Day sale. I went looking for (and asked my Facebook friends to send me) ads like this after seeing Sears MLK Day appliance sale ad on television.

It’s not the only one that I saw. Everyone from clothing retailers like Betsey Johnson to car dealerships, to even the Home Shopping Network has a slew of discounts connected to the birthday of a man who would have reacted to it in much the same way that Jesus reacted to the moneychangers in the temple during Passover.

And, and I’m saying this because I’m starting to think that we can’t help ourselves, the more heinous damage from a retail perspective being done to the King Holiday, a holiday that African Americans worked hard to make possible, is, of course, self-inflicted.

Observe:

The levels on which this is wrong defy description. This is for a party in Miami. There were others, including, and this was my personal favorite, a nightclub in Washington, DC offering the “I have a dream” cocktail.

(God, do I wish I was kidding!)

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that I live in a nation where “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” is the law of the land, something that was codified when the Supreme Court decided to give corporations personhood through the Citizens United decision.

Because of this, I also know that no holiday is safe from crass commercialization. Don’t believe me? Go to any CVS pharmacy the day after Halloween. You’ll see that in one day it’s changed from spooky ghosts and witches hats to a winter wonderland, complete with motorized Dancing Santas.

I also realize that there are folks out there, many of whom are ensconced on the boards of the very corporations responsible for most of the crass commercialization of our holidays, who are still pissed off that King has a federal holiday because they saw him as a Communist agitator. Wanting to see such things as  humane treatment for workers, people being able to support themselves by making a living wage, and true equality for everyone, and being willing to take it to the streets to make it a reality, can make you unpopular in some quarters.

But I thought that we could, as a nation, at least let the King Holiday maintain the significance its supposed to have for at least a little while longer. There’s still too much that needs to be done in our communities for the holiday to become just another opportunity to hit the mall.

So what do we do? Good question.

Maybe someone can get Sen. Harris Wofford back on camera to remind us of why the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King deserved a holiday in the first place…

Me and my bud Brian Marcus at the King Memorial