Friday, April 25, 2008

Awe Without the Shock: The Sean Bell Ruling

A Funeral Rather Than a Wedding: Photo of Sean Bell's coffin by Robert Mecea of Newsday

We couldn't allow today to pass without issuing some comment on the acquittal of NYPD Officers Gescard Isnora, Michael Oliver, and Marc Cooper on all charges related to the fatal shooting of Sean Bell and the wounding of his two friends. There are several details that have made this case particularly gripping and indicative of the piss poor relationship between New York's "finest" (that was hard to type) and those they "serve" (read: surveil) of a darker, poorer, and unconnected hue.

The not guilty verdicts, issued by a judge (who should know better) rather than a 12 person jury (who in the past has proven just as unreliable) have provoked two standard emotionally interconnected and somewhat incompatible reactions from those who identify with the defendants, which is most of the black people we've talked to. There is the seething, raw anger at the law reinforcing the police, in this case those of New York, with the idea that they are immune to any appropriate consequences for poor action and murderous judgement on their part. That anger runs right alongside the hard earned cynicism that knows verdicts of not guilty would be reached regardless of the evidence. Why? Because the law and the government behind it have a special relationship with black men (and other disfranchised people) that has altered in scope but not in its fundamental rules. To be blunt about it, if you have power equivalent to ownership over something, you can kill it.

Details such as shaky prosecution witness testimony, an unsurprisingly corroborated NYPD defense, liquor-fueled circumstances, shifty motives of the acquitted officers, and machismo-driven hubris make this case stand out from others among which it will forever be categorized. Added to that is the larger story of a young man who was hours away from becoming a husband and who died not for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but for being somewhere he had every legal and social right to be. So if it wasn't the wrong place and the wrong time, then it must have been the wrong people present. Enter the NYPD. We won't gloss over an officer being rammed with a car. Of course we can't gloss over 50 shots being fired by detectives who should know how to handle themselves under immense pressure - especially the kind that they purposely court. Whatever the circumstances, justice has not been served in this case. And most black people did not expect it to be. Thus, there is awe at what the police get away with in front of God and everybody (remember they were acquitted on ALL counts) and yet the shock of injustice at a situation of this type wore off decades, if not centuries ago.

Because two of the charged detectives were black, many want to argue that it's not about race. We'll get into that on March 5th. However, the mixing of black men and excessive force is an old one and just as in the case those who killed Sean Bell, served cold.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All Emissions Ain't Made Equal

If you don't give a damn about greenhouse gases in the nation and specifically California, this little tidbit won't do much for you. For the rest of us, The Los Angeles Times is reporting a conflict of interest that should raise some eyebrows for those in the Golden State who remember rolling blackouts under ousted Governor Gray Davis. Here's the quick-n-dirty version: During Earth Day, a proposal was delivered by the Transportation Secretary Mary Peters that specified how the federal government would reach fuel-economy standards passed by Congressional legislation last year. The proposal seeks an average of around 36 mpg for cars in 2015, with light trucks (read: SUVs) reaching nearly 29 mpg. No problem, right?

Wrong. Buried within the hundreds of pages that comprise this proposal is clear language declaring that states CAN NOT set their own emissions standards. What does this mean? For around 60% of the country, it means very little -if anything. For the "shining" state of California, it means that the higher fuel efficiency standards many want to mandate at around 42 mpg is considered unenforceable. California is indeed a special case due to its sheer size and its car-dependent (read: public transportation deficient) landscape and economy.

Here's the "official" logic: No state can set emissions standards, as that is the domain of the federal government. This would seem logical were CA opting to set lower standards, but the federal proposal bars setting higher standards as well. This would create havoc (meaning less profit) for auto makers who would need to reach the higher standards in order to be on the good side of the law (and thus penalty free) in all states.

Here's Onyx Cranium's logic: What exactly is going on here? Clearly California needs higher standards to lessen green house gases, but we agree that isn't the nation's fault. Or is it? We're feelin' the first effects of global warming and pollution due to our worship of the car and the SUV. Still, Cali's higher standards wouldn't presumptively hurt anyone, but states comprising 40% of the rest of the country have attempted to follow the Golden State's example - and that's where it gets costly for car manufacturers and the government officials that they buy (oops - we mean "lobby").

But something just isn't right about any of this. We bring up rolling blackouts because that's what happened the last time the federal government insisted that California shouldn't get any help or special consideration due to its energy needs and subsequent crisis. The situation was markedly different in several ways, but it all boiled down to whether or not the federal government was going to err on the side of business or the state's long-term best interest. While claiming to be "neutral" and "fair for all states" through not enforcing regulations, the Bush administration erred on the side of business. How so? Well, the energy crisis was caused by a little company in Texas that was profiting from California's unenforced legislation and resultant scramble to deal with a man-made energy crisis. The company's not around anymore, but you may have heard of them. They traded on the New York Stock Exchange under ENE, but employees, President Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who met with top level company management before officially running against Gray Davis) just called it Enron.

Friday, April 18, 2008

When the Bread is Breakin' You

We're sure you've noticed the price of milk, meat, bread, and other staples shooting up over the last several months. For those who think that it begins and ends there, we urge you to think again. Don't take our word for it. Check out one New York Times article on the effects of skyrocketing food prices across the globe (complete with the traditional images of poor, darker skinned people). For a more in-depth assessment, check out Democracy Now! coverage. The bottom line is that while working and middle class people are strugglin' at the grocery store (and the gas pump), as usual, the issue has much dire consequences for the poorer people and countries of the world. Why bring this up? Riots are breaking out over rice, corn, and water. Hunger is driving new levels of violence and crime stemming from desperation and NGO's lessening ability to help those who they could normally feed (which already wasn't enough). Onyx Cranium believes that despite being front page news, the issue is receiving a somewhat muted reaction because the U.S. is so acclimated to seeing images of destitute and starving people, particularly those of color. We are so used to changing the channel when a Feed the Children ad or one of a similar nature flashes close-ups of big eyed babies with swollen bellies. Here's the difference. This ain't no commercial folks and it's bigger than making a single donation. Those who control the price of food (like those who control fuel prices and international trade regulations) are all in this. Global warming and related natural disasters, such as drought in one area and hurricanes in others, is also playing its part. Which means that ultimately, for those of us driving to work, shopping at Wal-Mart, Albertson's or even Trader Joe's, and watching as the price of gasoline shoot past $4.00 a gallon, have put in on this crisis as well. Our names, anonymous though they be, are all over this one.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Issues/Smishues: ABC's "Democratic Debate"

Last night's monitored exchange (we like that term better than debate) between Junior Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was billed as a debate.  Interestingly enough Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous were also billed as "moderators" with the whole televised argument being chronicled as a "tense debate."  For those of us who were waiting to actually have the two candidates thoroughly address vital policy issues, we had to wait until after Obama's much publicized comments and associations were brought up so that the so called moderators could look "tough" and Clinton could take advantage of him getting the kind of rough treatment she complained of receiving a couple of months ago.  That was nearly an hour of our lives that we'll never get back.

Long sigh.  Prayer for commercial break.  Long sigh again.

Eventually, the conversation (if you want to call it that) sauntered over to the topics of taxes, the economy, Iraq, Iran and Israel.  But this was really just a series of cursory comments that treated these issues as highlights rather than fundamental to America's future.  Clearly the candidates took the questions seriously, but the "debate" was ultimately about politics - not the policy issues that drive them.  We wanted someone to talk about why raising taxes on ANYONE is absolutely necessary to America's financial future - unless we want the entire budget going to Social Security, Medicare and interest on the National Debt by 2050.  We woke ourselves up to hear about what a troop withdrawal would mean in terms of initial damage and the candidates' initial thoughts on how an admitted defeat in Iraq would really affect the U.S.  Yeah, no luck on that either.  We also roused ourselves to see if there would be insertion about the federal government's renewed corporate welfare within and beyond the housing market and what role this will play in the recessed economy.  But apparently that wasn't as important as flagged lapel pins, truthful comments about bitter Americans, and the most blatantly naked appeals to superdelegates we've seen in a while.

The campaigns of both candidates, along with other sources that get away with labeling themselves "journalistic news outlets", admit that the focus has turned to white, blue-collar voters and who they are most likely to cast their ballots for once it's time to go the polls.  Onyx Cranium finds it interesting that after all this hoopla over racial diversity, gender empowerment and low key revolution, we're back to worrying about the same group of people. It may sound cynical, but we've become exhausted from NOT being surprised.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Really Though: A Case of Smoke Without Fire

Photo: Charles Dharapak
Unlike many other black operated blogs and websites, Onyx Cranium has no confusion about why Hillary Clinton has remained in the race for the Democratic primary election. No person would spend her entire career building toward being the first female leader of the world's (current) preeminent superpower, only to drop out when given a somewhat unexpected challenge from a brother most people didn't know existed until 2004. So despite her missteps and believing Obama "has her" on certain key issues, we haven't been advocating that Hillary narrow the choices for president by leaving until she has to.

Then we read about her sudden insistence that the United States boycott the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. And finally, we have to say, "What the hell?" Here's a short list of why her stance (if you want to call it that) is suspect, wasteful and distracting.

1) China's human rights abuses, the reported reasoning behind the suggested boycott, is well-known. Just because mainstream news has decided to focus on Tibet, labor issues and other instances of China's heavy handed rule doesn't mean it's anything "new." Sure the stakes have been raised by China through increased arrests, intimidation and violence against protesters and...uh-oh, this is starting to remind us of someone else. All that to say, if this protest was genuine, it shoulda come earlier.

2) Boycotting the opening ceremonies would be a more powerful statement if we were to say, also boycott the games. Though honorable, this is never a popular option no matter what the political climate. Why? Well, duh - the athletes. It's one thing not to walk into the Olympic Stadium, it's something altogether different to forgo competing in a sport you've trained in for life and not getting another shot to do so for another four years (assuming you make it through the next set of Olympic trials). We won't even get into endorsements. So, Senator Clinton opts to "split the difference." We don't doubt that she feels the pain of athletes anxious to compete, however this is a political tactic. It's a surefire way to alienate voters especially those who are like the majority of the American public, meaning rather ignorant (by choice or chance) of the United States' complex relationship with and dependence on China. We won't fault a politician for being political - that would be stupid. But supporting participation in the games and not the opening ceremony feels...shallow.

3) She knows it won't happen, so she won't have to deal with any fallout should the U.S. opt out of the opening ceremonies. Bush simply ain't havin' it. He likes to wrangle with China behind closed doors and so does President Cheney. Such a public and in-your-face demonstration would make China lose face. Though it's often touted, such a display could have economic consequences that our current economy (what with the "recession" and all) couldn't handle. Senator Clinton, no matter what others may say, is undeniably smart. And she knows this.

Bloggers and columnists suspect she's taking the spotlight off another high level campaign staff change and comparatively lower fund raising against her opponent. Sure she is, but so what. That's how the game of politics works. Our stance is that there are several more worthy ways for her to do so. Staff changes and raising several million dollars instead of several million more dollars are snoozers to us anyway. We'd rather Senator Clinton use the scrutinizing focus on her to steer us toward more important issues and problems that affect the entire U.S. population rather than just her campaign. We'll even take this time as an opportunity to focus on whatever her plan is to reduce our dependence on China and other countries for servicing our $9 trillion debt. Why? Because it directly impacts Medicare, Social Security, Defense and other "budget busters" our generation must grapple with. But opting out of the opening ceremonies as a gesture or symbolic statement? Nuh-uh.

News That Isn't News at All

And coming in with today's top honors for the category of No Shit/Not Really News, England showed off its ability to waste the money and man hours of its own judicial system on another investigation into the circumstances of Princess Diana's death, which occurred over a decade ago. Various "reputable" (read: corporate owned) news outlets are reporting that a jury ruled her death as [unfortunate] but accidental and NOT the result of a conspiracy for murder. We won't trivialize the trifling manner of her death which was the result of overzealous (and we suspect overpaid) paparazzi and an inebriated (and we suspect panicked) driver. Chalk this one up to needless obsession about a tragedy that's only been made more tragic by the spectacle driven spotlight shined on it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Supreme Court FINALLY Rules Against Dubbya - Good News Right?

Ahhhh. American politics. Proving that once again, nothing can just be as it seems, the Supreme Court issued a major ruling against G.W. Bush yesterday while also managing to piss off those who can't stand him. According to the Los Angeles Times in a 6-3 decision, the court said President Bush's urging to re-open the case of Mexican foreign nationals serving time on death row was oversteppin' his bounds. The judicial arm of U.S. government noted that the President, including our current one, doesn't have "unilateral authority" when it comes to forcing states (in this case Texas) to comply with international treaties. But before you throw up your hands in celebration of these people FINALLY not giving Bush what he wants, note that it's ticking off those who say that the court is allowing the U.S. to be excused from honoring international treaties and laws (sort of like how approved torture ignores and belittles the Geneva Convention). But wait...there's more. If the court did give the "liberals" what they wanted in this ruling, then the cases of several Mexican citizens would be reopened. Here's the catcher, these nationals were charged and convicted of murder - hence their current location on death row. So who do you route for in this one? The neo conservative court, George W. Bush (gasp), Mexican murderers or....Man, these are the crappiest options we've seen in one story in a long time.