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MLK history is not well-remembered – posted 1/23/2022

January 23, 2022 Leave a comment

Another Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has come and gone but I don’t think America is close to celebrating the real Dr. King. We have gotten too far away from the history which isn’t even that long ago.

I wanted to recommend a documentary, MLK/FBI, that recreates the history and grapples with King’s thirteen years of activism from 1955 to 1968. The movie shows how King became the moral leader of the nation by forging a non-violent movement dedicated to overturning segregation and combating poverty.

Instead of welcoming King’s leadership, the American power structure feared him and opposed change. And it was not just the powerful. It is forgotten how many Americans reviled King. In 1966, a Gallup poll determined that 63% of Americans held a negative view of King while only 32% had a positive one.

The FBI was alarmed by King’s charisma and his success in mobilizing people. The FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, worried about the rise of a Black Messiah who could electrify the masses. The FBI worried that King was that man.

Hoover’s number two at the Bureau, William Sullivan, said that MLK was “the most dangerous negro in America” and that “the FBI had to use all means to destroy him”. Sullivan suggested the FBI handpick a new leader to replace King. The FBI waged a vicious, secret campaign to neutralize King. The Bureau had been stung by King’s criticisms about their failure to protect civil rights leaders from racist attacks.

Hoover was the FBI Director for 48 years from 1924-1972. He turned the FBI into his private secret police force. Hoover had been raised in a repressed and reactionary segregationist milieu where white supremacy dominated. Along with being racist himself, he was convinced the civil rights movement was influenced by Communists. He saw King as uppity and a major threat to national security.

As the civil rights movement got stronger, Hoover became obsessed with King. The FBI put King under surveillance 24/7, including using informants, wiretaps, and hidden microphones to spy on him. Initially, the justification was King’s close association with Stanley Levinson, a friend who had some past association with the Communist Party USA.

Hoover, who was an expert at gathering dirt on people, tried to force King to break off his relationship with Levinson. He enlisted President Kennedy and then Attorney General Robert Kennedy to get King to disassociate from Levinson. King told JFK he would break off contact but he ultimately did not. King did not believe the FBI’s allegations and there has never been any evidence that the Communist Party had any influence on King.

King’s actions infuriated Hoover who saw him as a liar and a deceiver. Things between the two men spiraled in a bad direction. Hoover expanded the surveillance on King. FBI wiretaps revealed that King had a non-monogamous private life. They gathered recordings of King having sex with a variety of women who were not his wife.

In 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize but Hoover remained totally offended by King’s sexuality. Hoover was probably jealous. He started referring to King as a “moral degenerate “ and a “tomcat”. He publicly called King “the most notorious liar in the country”.

Hoover shared the white southern fear of black sexuality. He treated private sexual conduct as an indicator of virtue. King pushed his buttons.

Hoover fit into the racist tradition of white men who lynched black men for alleged sexual improprieties but instead of killing King, he tried to push King to kill himself. The FBI compiled a taped greatest hits of King’s sexual exploits and sent it to King’s wife. Along with the tape was a letter urging King to kill himself.

The FBI continued to spread stories about King’s sexual indiscretions. It pressured universities not to award him honorary degrees. Knowing what we know now about JFK’s affairs and Hoover’s secret sexuality, hypocrisy is all over the map.

After the JFK assassination, King and LBJ had an alliance of sorts. Voting rights and civil rights bills got fast-tracked but the Vietnam war eventually blew that alliance apart. Long troubled by the American role, King spoke out against the war in a speech he gave at Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967. King said,

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The speech freaked out the liberal establishment. King was ahead of his time on Vietnam. The majority tide had not yet turned against the war. The New York Times, the Washington Post and even the NAACP rebuked King for opposing U.S. intervention in Indochina.

Later in 1967, King gave a speech in Chicago at the National Conference on New Politics. He stated:

“We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew in prosperity out of the Protestant Ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on this exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.”

King’s last political acts were the Poor People’s Campaign and his campaign to organize sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the Riverside Church speech King called for a “radical revolution in values” in which “we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society”. King was a radical and a democratic socialist who always sided with poor and working people.

James Agee, in his book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, wrote:

“Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art or as religion or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor.”

With Dr. King, official acceptance has meant a relentless effort to water down his message. Gone is King’s critique of capitalism and militarism. In its place is mush. So many tributes to King are phony, insincere and forced. What James Agee described is exactly what has happened with Dr. King.

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The untold story of anti-Chinese racism in America – posted 1/17/2022

January 17, 2022 Leave a comment

On New Year’s Eve, Yao Pan Ma, a 62 year old Chinese-American man, died. Eight months earlier, in April 2021, he had been collecting cans on the street in New York City to try and pay rent money. Ma was a kitchen worker and a cook and he had lost his job when the city went into pandemic lockdown. Out of the blue, a man approached Ma from behind, stuck him in the back and knocked him down. He then stomped Ma, kicking him repeatedly in the head.

Ma was grievously injured and went into a deep coma. Over months, his health deteriorated and he finally succumbed to the beating. Ma was the latest victim of the pandemic scapegoating and hate crimes that became epidemic in 2020-2021. Asian-American violence erupted around the United States. Between March 2020-February 2021, Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative supporting Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, reported nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S..

The pandemic hate crimes are not an isolated event in Chinese-American history. They are only the most recent episode of a much longer-term experience. Maybe of any racial group in America, the Chinese experience is least well understood. The history of racism and xenophobia directed against the Chinese is staggering and has generally been left out of the history books.

Going back to the mid-nineteenth century, hostility toward the Chinese pervaded America, not just the west coast. Newspapers across the country inveighed against allowing Chinese into America but there was a demand for labor in the west and, in particular, for railroad workers. There was tremendous excitement about the introduction of coast to coast railroad. In their book, To Serve the Devil, Paul Jacobs, Saul Landau and Eve Pell write:

“The transcontinental railroads were desperate for workers willing to endure the terrible hardship, the burning desert sun, freezing mountain snows, landslides, back-breaking hours with pick and shovel, and the isolation from cities, for months at a time. And all this for low wages. Few white workers were willing to take on these jobs, and, in desperation, the railroad builders turned to the Chinese.”

At the same time, the Chinese workers were needed for their labor, they were also the objects of a national phobia. Americans imagined a yellow horde of poor, diseased, filthy, illiterate coolies pouring off boats. There was a popular belief that Chinese people were criminal, dirty and carried disease.

In that era, white supremacy was an extremely powerful force. Many white people believed that their first duty was to maintain America’s racial purity. Chinese did not speak the same language or adopt white manners or customs. Beating Chinese was considered a form of amusement and offenses committed against Chinese were not considered important nor were they generally prosecuted.

Neither Congress nor state legislatures protected the Chinese. On the contrary, they passed much anti-Chinese legislation. In 1858, California passed a law prohibiting Chinese and Mongolian immigration to the state. Congress followed with a law in 1862 forbidding U.S. ships from transporting coolies. In 1870, Congress approved a Naturalization Act barring Chinese from obtaining U.S. citizenship.

This was followed by the Page Act in 1875 which barred Asian women who were suspected of prostitution. The Page Act was a template for the more influential 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which established the right to regulate foreigners into the country, including their exclusion and deportation.

In 1892, the Geary Act extended the Chinese Exclusion Act and required all Chinese residents in the U.S. to carry a resident permit at all times. Failure to carry the permit was punishable by deportation or a year at hard labor.

The historian, Erika Lee, in her book, America for Americans, shows the pathbreaking significance of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law categorized Chinese as the ultimate example of the dangerous, degraded alien. Lee wrote:

“No other group had been officially singled out for immigration exclusion or banned from naturalized citizenship based on their race and national origin before. Moreover, the only other immigrants to be similarly banned from the country in 1882 were convicts, lunatics, idiots and any people considered to be public charges.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act exempted professional and elite classes from exclusion. It specifically barred Chinese laborers. The Exclusion Act remained in effect for 61 years. In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt repealed the Act because China was then our ally against the Japanese.

Courts, both state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to protect the Chinese. In 1854, the California Supreme Court held that Chinese people could not testify in court. In 1878, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of allowing Chinese to become naturalized citizens and later, in 1889, it upheld the Chinese Exclusion Act itself.

In the late nineteenth century, xenophobia directed against the Chinese was out of control and resulted in many atrocities committed against Chinese people. A bad economy in the 1870’s particularly led to anti-Chinese hysteria that Chinese labor would take scarce jobs.

When the Chinese did not voluntarily leave the country, xenophobes resorted to violence and removal, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. In 1885, in Rock Springs, Wyoming, a mob murdered 28 Chinese and burned hundreds out of their homes. Only federal troops prevented mass murder of Chinese in Seattle in November 1885.

Also, in 1885, Tacoma Washington witnessed a pogrom. Tacoma’s Chinatown was burned to the ground. City leaders marched the Chinese population of Tacoma through pouring rain to a railroad station located miles outside the city. They forced the Chinese into boxcars with their goods and shipped them to Portland. A similar scenario played out in Seattle. In February 1886, the entire Chinese population in Seattle was forced out of the city.

Lynchings and incidents of organized mass brutality were not unusual. Anti-Chinese vigilantes had no fear of punishment..

Into the twentieth century, the American tradition of welcoming immigrants was not extended to the Chinese. The Yellow Peril racist ideology infected too many minds. Books like Lothrop Stoddard’s, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, published in 1920, reflected the popular racist and anti-Chinese attitude.

Chinatowns that sprouted around America were more a product of racial segregation and redlining than of any desire to self-segregate.

Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”. In the case of Chinese-American history, the victims did not get that opportunity. This past remains whitewashed and not accessible to mass audiences.

The events I cited have been written out but not entirely. When former President Trump talked about the “China virus”, he connected to the nineteenth century belief that Chinese carried germs and diseases. The legacy of xenophobia and racism remain very alive.

It should be clear by now that there is a narrative war going on about American history. I think all the efforts like opposing critical race theory and divisive concepts legislation are really about an opposition to truth-telling about our ugly racial history. They demonstrate a lack of intellectual integrity.

Whether about Chinese-American, African-American or Native American history, we need to increase the consciousness of wrongdoing. We seem addicted to fairy tale history. If we are ever going to move past racism in America, we first have to face it honestly. That has not happened with Chinese-American history.

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The Big Lie explored – posted 1/9/2022

January 9, 2022 Leave a comment

The Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is an undeniable part of Donald Trump’s legacy. I think it is appropriate that if our former president is known for anything, it is dishonesty. No president in my lifetime has ever had less regard for the truth.

To Trump, it did not matter that over 60 courts categorically rejected his Big Lie allegations. Nor did it matter that he could never produce any evidence of voter fraud or even come up with a coherent story.

On election night, Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer, said, “Just say we won”. That became the Trump strategy. Based on nothing, he just said he won. The idea was that if the lie was repeated enough, repetition would get people to believe it and to some extent, that has worked. Millions have bought in.

According to CNN, 36% of Americans do not believe Biden won, including 78% of Republicans. So it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Big Lie has been effective in snookering people. Those numbers are impressive.

Most analysis that I have seen about the Big Lie, however, misses its racial dimension. Trump and his allies spent weeks after the election saying massive voter fraud and irregularities occurred in big cities and counties with large populations of Black and Latino voters. They singled out Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Maricopa County. Trump ally, Newt Gingrich, said,

“They stole the election in Philadelphia. They stole the election in Milwaukee. They stole the election in Atlanta.”

Congressman Mo Brooks, a Trump ally from Alabama, said:

“If you only count the legal voters, then Trump is the winner.”

It does not take much of a leap to see where that is going. White Trump voters are the legal voters. Those other voters, the Black and Latino Biden voters, should not count. One side is seeing itself as the real Americans entitled to decide the election and the other side falls into some lesser, non-counting category. This voter panorama is fundamentally about white supremacy and the entirely speculative accusation that Black and Latinos were stealing the election.

To those with a sense of history, this has a familiar ring. Professor Carol Anderson of Emory University, has said:

“It’s as vile now as it was during Reconstruction, when Democrats believed that Republicans were illegitimate and that Black voters had no right to be voting, and they did all of these terrorist activities to block African Americans from voting. It’s a very narrow, slippery slope, from saying ‘illegal votes’ to ‘illegal voters’ so this attack on Black voters is real.”

It needs to be said that the Big Lie is fundamentally about racism.

At the same time, it is also about smashing the truth. Election officials around the country and Trump’s own Attorney General William Barr verified that the election was “the most secure in American history”.

The Trump campaign knew its own allegations were false. According to the New York Times, back on November 19, an internal memo from the Trump campaign had determined that claims about rigged voting machines were untrue but that did not stop the voter fraud allegations which got wilder and wilder. Pretty soon there was Italygate, and Hugo Chavez and George Soros in place of any rational argument.

So how could it be that truth became irrelevant and that so many willingly believed nonsense? The best explanation I have seen comes from Jason Stanley, an expert on fascism. Stanley says that fascist movements like Trump’s want to make truth irrelevant. The argument is that if the other side, the Democrats, are an enemy, truth doesn’t matter. Only winning matters.

Fascism is a way of seizing power that relies on propaganda and violence. It utterly rejects core liberal democratic values. The Big Lie of voter fraud becomes a justification for more restrictive voting laws, voter suppression and election subversion.

The Big Lie has billionaire funders from the American financial elite. Hiding behind the Orwellian cover of election integrity, dark money organizations, funded by undisclosed donors, have promoted the myth that voter fraud is epidemic in America. Republicans have made a cynical calculation that as a minority party unable to win voter majorities, their mission is to focus on disqualifying ostensibly illegitimate voters.

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has shown how conservative organizations like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council have refocused obsessively on voter fraud when the evidence of that occurrence is entirely lacking. They fund absurdities like the Arizona audit which contribute to the destruction of faith in the actual integrity of elections.

People seem to forget the dissolution of Trump’s voter fraud commission in 2018. Trump was upset he lost the popular vote in 2016 and he created a sham commission to make it seem like there was a problem.

The Big Lie is also a grift used to motivate the Republican base. Trump, his circle and Republicans generally sell merchandise and fundraise off it. You can buy a Sidney Powell “Release the Kraken:Defending the Republic” drink tumbler, a Lin Wood “Fight Back” unisex fleece hoodie or a Mike Flynn “Fight Like a Flynn” women’s racerback tank top.

One question that jumps out is why so many people buy the Big Lie. I think it should be clear that the Trump appeal is entirely emotional, not intellectual. People are not connecting to MAGA because they have read well-reasoned position papers on public policy. The appeal is rooted in irrationalism and the racism I mentioned is part of that.

Trump has no plans to solve future problems. MAGA is about nostalgia for a past that never happened. It is also about resentment and punishing those you see as enemies. Most mainstream commentary about the Big Lie misses the truly dangerous dimensions of the MAGA movement. In Escape From Freedom, Erich Fromm wrote:

“When fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak or such yearning for submission.”

The Big Lie offers a window into a racist and fascist world view. Too many Americans remain uncomprehending of the danger represented by the present incarnation of the Republican Party.

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Vincent Jackson, Philip Adams and CTE – posted 1/2/2022

January 2, 2022 Leave a comment

Another football season is drawing to a close and I think there has been less mention of CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – this season. CTE is the neurodegenerative condition affecting football players who have suffered from too many head hits.

In 2021, there were two stories which illustrate the continuing nature of the CTE tragedy. Vincent Jackson and Philip Adams, both former NFL players, killed themselves. Both were in their thirties, Jackson was 38 and Adams was 32. After their deaths, both received diagnoses of stage 2 CTE, a supposedly milder form of the disorder.

Jackson died alone in a hotel room. It appeared he drank himself to death. The coroner found alcoholic cardiomyopathy, a heart disease caused by alcohol abuse. As for Adams, he murdered six people before he shot himself. Their stories are a stark reminder of the dark side of football that receives insufficient scrutiny.

Jackson was a three-time Pro Bowler and he had six years where he gained over 1,000 yards as a wide receiver. He had a twelve year career, earning the nickname “Invincible”. He was a supremely talented athlete and widely considered a great guy, an NFL role model.

Along with his wife Lindsey, Jackson planned to co-write children’s book. He was the devoted father of four kids. He also went into business and had a thriving portfolio of investments. His wife said,

“His whole plan in the NFL was to set himself up to not have these struggles.”

She reported that around the time his career ended in 2016, Vincent started forgetting conversations. He started showing symptoms of depression. His attention span had diminished. By 2018, she said Vincent was becoming paranoid and he started shutting the blinds when he was at home. He described his brain as becoming “fuzzy”. He turned to alcohol as he felt it cleared his thinking.

Jackson was aware of CTE. In 2015, he saw the movie Concussion about the doctor who first diagnosed the condition among NFL players. He refused to allow any of his children to play tackle football until they reached high school. Jackson minimized any concerns of brain injury as he never received a concussion diagnosis. He tried to hide both his declining cognitive health and his alcoholism.

Dr. Ann McKee, an expert on CTE, based at Boston University School of Medicine, studied Jackson’’s brain after his death and diagnosed CTE. She said the brain had “mild frontal lobe atrophy” and a “split in the internal membrane” with multiple lesions in the frontal cortex.

The New York Times reports that according to the CTE Center at Boston University 20% of players found to have CTE never had a diagnosed concussion. The CTE Center does not see concussions as a reliable indicator of CTE. They would argue that a more direct association are the thousands of smaller subconcussive hits Jackson sustained during his football career.

Jackson’s alcohol use was a destructive coping mechanism for his cognitive decline. He drank to feel better but he could not stop.

Philip Adams did not have Vincent Jackson’s superstar career. He was a defensive back who played for six different teams during his NFL career from 2010-2015. His career was closer to the NFL norm for players who were in the journeyman category. He played in 78 games.

Before he murdered six people, Adams’ family said he had complained of excruciating pain, memory loss and difficulty sleeping. Adams’ sister told USA Today that her brother’s “mental health degraded fast and terribly bad”.

Dr. McKee also studied Adams’ brain after his death. She found severe frontal lobe damage, similar to the brain damage of Aaron Hernandez. Adams’ behavior had shifted dramatically near the end of his life. His temper had escalated and he had neglected personal hygiene. Dr. McKee did not think Adams simply snapped. She said his behavioral and cognitive issues “appeared to be a cumulative progressive impairment”.

The Adams family released a statement that said, in part,

“After going through medical records from his football career, we do know that he was desperately seeking help from the NFL but was denied all claims due to his inability to remember things and to handle seemingly simple tasks, such as traveling hours away to see doctors and going through extensive evaluations.”

Adams died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It is not clear why he murdered six people before he shot himself. The investigating sheriff found multiple guns, ammunition and writings which he deemed “incoherent” at Adams’ residence.

A few observations are in order. The deeper problem that has been increasingly identified in football is the cumulative effect of repetitive head hits – not just concussions. Both the examples of Jackson and Adams speak to that.

In the realm of risk reduction, pro football could do much more to protect the players’ health. The NFL could shorten the season and get rid of Thursday and Monday night games. It could build in more bye weeks. It is no secret that many players hate not having enough time to recover from games. All the scheduling is about maximizing profit at the players’ expense.

Playing less does not rule out brain injury but it might lessen harm.

Then there is improving football helmet technology. There is a genuine dispute about whether helmet design can be improved. Dr. David Camarillo of Stanford, a nationally respected bioengineer, believes he could design a helmet that could reduce concussions by 75%. On the other hands, opposing experts point out that more sophisticated helmets do not do much about the accumulation of subconcussive hits. They argue that safety should mean no head hits.

Science could help these issues if CTE could be diagnosed while players are living. Now CTE can only be diagnosed through an autopsy. However, in December, scientists at Boston University produced a study that shows MRIs may soon be able to detect CTE while people are alive. That would be a huge breakthrough for early detection.

Finally there are more radical reform idea like moving from tackle football to flag football. Maybe football needs to be reimagined in a less lethal design.

The profit system is a meat grinder. Even with the NFL concussion settlement, the NFL still tries to minimize responsibility. More attention must be paid to the well-being of players after football. Too often, permanently impaired ex-players are left on their own to fend. Ex-players should not be treated like cars with an expired warranty.

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