Tag Archives: John McCain

A Great American Hope: Time to Pardon Jack Johnson

O my Lord
What a morning,
O my Lord,
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries’
Snow-white face
to the ceiling.

Adaptation of the spiritual “My Lord, What a Morning” by William Waring Cuney, 1910.

While I’m skeptical about their motives, I applaud the efforts of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Peter King (R-NY) to obtain a presidential pardon for the great heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.

Jack Johnson fighting James Jeffries, July 4, 1910

Jack Johnson fighting James Jeffries, July 4, 1910

Arthur John “Jack” Johnson, who died in 1946 at the age of 68, was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World.

The crime that the pardon would cover is Johnson’s supposed violation of the Mann Act — “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.”  Johnson eventually served 10 months in federal prison on the charges, which also destroyed his boxing career.

No one now doubts that Johnson’s Mann Act conviction was thoroughly racist: the women Johnson was convicted of “transporting” were white.

When Johnson started his boxing career at the turn of the last century, boxing was as segregated as the rest of America – there were separate (and far from equal) boxing matches for black and white fighters.

Johnson became World Colored Heavyweight Champion in 1903 and was widely believed to be the best boxer in the world, but he could not get a match with white Heavyweight Champion James J. Jeffries, who refused to face him.

According to Wikipedia, Johnson won the world heavyweight title five years later, on December 26, 1908, “when he fought the Canadian world champion Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, after following him all over the world, taunting him in the press for a match. The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police in front of over 20,000 spectators. The title was awarded to Johnson on a referee’s decision as a T.K.O, but he had severely beaten the champion. During the fight, Johnson had mocked both Burns and his ringside crew. Every time Burns was about to go down, Johnson would hold him up again, punishing him more.” The film of the match was stopped just before the fight ended, so that it would not show Johnson defeating a white man.

As the most famous black man in America and far ahead of his time in his outspoken defiance of white racism, Johnson was caricatured by the press as subhuman and an ape, and constantly harassed by local police and federal authorities.  The press called for a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson and return the heavyweight title to the white race.  Each of these “White Hopes” failed to unseat Johnson.

Heeding the call to defend his race, Jeffries eventually agreed to come out of retirement in 1910 and fight Johnson, explaining “”I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.”  The fight took place on July 4th in Reno, Nevada, before an all-white crowd of more than 20,000, which chanted “kill the nigger” throughout the match.  After being knocked down twice, Jeffries called it quits in the 15th round.  Johnson’s victory over Jeffries led to white race riots across America, leaving at least 23 black men, and two white men, dead.

Johnson was not a “role model” in the Jackie Robinson mode.  Loud, proud, defiant, and eventually very rich, Johnson reveled as much in ostentatiously breaking racial taboos as in his victories in the ring.

White America could not allow him to survive, and so Johnson was destroyed, with the Mann Act as the weapon.  Following his conviction in 1913, Johnson fled the United States and fought in Cuba and Mexico. After his return to America and serving his prison sentence in 1920, Johnson was never able to regain his prowess in the ring.  He lost seven of his last nine fights, retiring in 1938.

He died in a car accident in 1946, after angrily leaving a restaurant in North Carolina that refused to serve him because of his race.

McCain and King are to be praised for joining with filmmaker Ken Burns (who has made a documentary about Johnson called “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” and first sought a pardon for Johnson in 2004) in calling on President Obama to issue a pardon for Johnson.

Still, the politics of their appeal for Johnson should be noted.

In September 2008, both McCain and King sponsored resolutions in their respective congressional bodies urging then-President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson.  Bush did not do so, despite McCain and King’s backing and wide bipartisan support.  According to Ken Burns, President Bush gave him a telephone number to call about the pardon, which turned out to be the telephone number of Karl Rove.

Burns says that Rove told him that a Bush pardon for Johnson “ain’t gonna fly.”

Rove now denies that he ever spoke with Burns about the Johnson pardon.

It is time to put the Bush-Rove years behind us.

It is time to put racism behind us.

It is time for a Great American Hope.

It is time to pardon Jack Johnson.

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Old Jews Telling Jokes

Jews have long been associated with comedy, and specifically with the form of comic storytelling called jokes.

marxbrosThere are a lot of theories about why people, and Jews in particular, tell jokes.

Henri Bergson believed that joke telling is a form of social control, in which the victim is made the target of humiliating laughter.

Mikhail Bakhtin thought that jokes and laughter are ways of overcoming the fear of death, transgressing social barriers and hierarchies, and celebrating the “lower body stratum” of human existence including both sexuality and defecation.

Freud thought that the popularity of joke telling among Jews is a form of self-criticism, as well as a way to criticize authority and the excessive requirements of the Jewish religion, and to purge aggressive feelings resulting from the suppression of sexuality.

Jokes seem to be the province of  people with a history of oppression. In the United States, the great comedians tend to be African-Americans, Irish, or Jews.

(It is apparently extremely difficult to be a funny WASP — although here I must acknowledge that John McCain excelled in the presidential campaign’s stand-up comedy competition.)

Theories aside, for whatever reason, Jews like to tell jokes.

Everyone knows of famous Jewish comedians – a quick list of classics would include Milton Berle, Woody Allen, Alan King, Lenny Bruce, Fannie Brice, Mel Brooks, Phil Silvers, George Burns, Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason, Carl Reiner, Jack Benny, Joey Bishop, and Groucho Marx – and a list of contemporaries would include Jerry Seinfeld, Sasha Baron Cohen, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Richard Lewis, Sarah Silverman, and Sandra Bernhard.

But because joke telling has been so highly valued in Jewish culture, lots of ordinary Jews are good at it as well.

A new website called Old Jews Telling Jokes is a homage to non-professional Jewish joke tellers.

picture-1The old Jews telling the jokes aren’t professional comedians.  Instead, they’re doctors, lawyers, a lumberyard owner, a garment district worker, a wine salesman, a judge – and  also the website creator’s mother and father.

It’s very funny.

Sam Hoffman, a film director and writer, and the man who created Old Jews Telling Jokes, explains:

“My dad can tell a story. But he’d prefer to tell a joke.”

“Storytelling is a Jewish tradition.  You’ve probably seen Fiddler on the Roof.  Whenever they ask the Rabbi a question, he tugs thoughtfully on his beard and says  “let me tell you a story.” Then they sing.”

“Jokes are like stories, but shorter and funnier. Old jokes tend to have a stigma, but they only last if they’re good. Some of the best ones provide a window to the culture of a bygone era.  They can reveal the concerns of a generation or even the generation before.  Anxieties of coming to a new country, of prospering, of assimilating, of having families, of fearing and worrying about, well, everything. Humor was and is the ultimate anti-depressant.”

“My father gathered twenty of his friends to share their favorite jokes. We set three rules for the production: the joke-tellers were to be Jewish, at least sixty years of age and they were to tell their favorite joke – the one that always kills.”

The website promises “A new (old) joke every Tuesday and Thursday!”

Go laugh.

Palin As President (interactive) — with Post-Election Update!

Looking for some election eve tension release?

Check out the brilliant interactive website palinaspresident.us.

palinaspresident

Although there is no creative attribution on the website, I discovered that it is the work of photographer and art director Sean Ohlenkamp of the M&C Saatchi advertising agency.

Be sure to click on things more than once – they change.

UPDATE:

The website is now reconfigured as BarackasPresident.com— with a bucket of champagne and a “Yes We Can” flyer on the desk.  Click on it with the sound turned up.

You can still see the old Palin as President website here at palinaspresident/never.

I expect the site to keep changing, so we ought to keep visiting.

Don’t Blame Bush

The blame is already being dished as John McCain’s presidential campaign sputters toward a crushing election defeat and the Democrats are poised to take control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

mccain-and-bush

Most of the pointing fingers are aimed at the universally loathed George W. Bush, who has become the public face of both economic catastrophe and battlefield disaster.

Other leading candidates for the role of principal victim in the Republican blame game are John McCain – he didn’t run a tough enough campaign or didn’t appeal enough to the party’s evangelical or populist base – and Sarah Palin – she wasn’t ready to be president or didn’t broaden her appeal beyond the party’s evangelical or populist base.

But George W. Bush is not the cause of the Republican Party’s looming election debacle, and neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin is the reason for their party’s 2008 collapse. 

Americans like to personalize politics, preferring to embrace or repudiate personalities rather than policies.  When we evaluate our politicians, we talk about their personal qualities – such as leadership, competence, integrity, consistency, and authenticity.  We like to say that we vote for the candidate not the party.

For this reason, our public debate on the causes of the Republican has focused on questions of Bush’s incompetence, McCain’s temperament, and Palin’s ignorance.

But blaming any or all of them for the coming massive Republican defeat misses the real culprit and lets too many others off the hook.

The cause of the Republican’s imminent electoral disaster is not the personal qualities of their elected officials and candidates, but the fundamental beliefs and policy assumptions of the Republican Party. 

It is these fundamental beliefs and policy assumptions that have caused the nation’s economic meltdown, which has in turned caused the meltdown of the Republican Party.

And every single Republican office holder, from the president to the lowest down-ticket county official, regardless of their personal qualities, shares in the blame.

The modern Republican Party, and every Republican, has embraced these two basic beliefs:

  • No to government regulation of markets and the economy.  A fundamental belief of every Republican is that the economy works best – that is, it is more productive and creates more wealth – when unconstrained by regulation.
  •  No to taxes.  Every Republican believes that taxes, especially on the wealthiest Americans, should be always lower and eliminated whenever possible.  Under no circumstances should there be a tax increase, even in order to fund necessary government program. 

These two fundamental tenets of Republican policy have created the economic crisis the nation is now suffering, and nearly every other crisis that the nation is now facing can be traced to Republican adherence to these principles – including our soaring national debt, our crumbling infrastructure, our failing schools, our ecological vandalism, our oil dependency, our exploding prison population, our shameful veterans hospitals, and our inequitable and dysfunctional heath care system.

Every other Republican talking point – from abortion to immigration to support for continuing the war in Iraq – is contingent and conditional.  There are Republicans who disagree with the party leadership on these issues.

But there are no Republicans who have not sworn eternal hostility to taxes and economic regulation.  One simply cannot be a Republican without embracing these two fundamental policies that have brought near catastrophe to the world economy, to the operations of federal, state and local government, and, finally, and deservedly, to the Republican Party itself.

What has brought America to the brink of disaster and the Republican Party to the brink of an election defeat of historic proportions?

It’s not just Bush.

It’s not just McCain and Palin.

It’s Republicans.

Each and every one of them.

Don’t let Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Chris Shays, or your local Republican senator or schoolboard member put the blame on someone else.

As another famous Republican once said, they’re all bad.

Obama and the Jews

In a previous post — The Great Schlep: Why Do Jews Demean Jews? — I argued that Sarah Silverman’s video The Great Schlep both demeaned Jews and falsely assumed that older Jews are more conservative than their grandchildren or less likely to support Barack Obama.

abolishchildlaborNow a recent Gallup poll proves that I was right about older Jews’ support for Obama.

From Gallup.com:

“Obama Winning Over Jewish Vote”

“PRINCETON, NJ — Jewish voters nationwide have grown increasingly comfortable with voting for Barack Obama for president since the Illinois senator secured the Democratic nomination in June. They now favor Obama over John McCain by more than 3 to 1, 74% to 22%.”

“Support for Obama among all registered voters was fairly stable from June through September, but then rose sharply in October — in apparent reaction to the U.S. economic crisis. By contrast, support for Obama among Jewish voters has expanded more gradually, from the low 60% range in June and July to 66% in August, 69% in September, and 74% today.”

obamajews1

“The current proportion of U.S. Jews backing Obama is identical to the level of support the Democratic ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards received in the 2004 presidential election (74%). It is only slightly lower than what Al Gore and Joe Lieberman received in 2000 (80%) — when the first Jewish American appeared on the presidential ticket of a major party.”

“Recent support for Obama is a bit higher among older Jews than among Jews younger than 55. According to combined Gallup Poll Daily tracking data from Sept. 1 through Oct. 21, an average of 74% of Jews aged 55 and older supported Obama for president across this period, compared with about two-thirds of younger Jews.”

“The Obama/Biden ticket is poised to perform about on par with other recent Democratic presidential tickets when it comes to support from American Jewish voters.”

So much for the false idea behind The Great Schlep — that older Jews are conservative and that Sarah Silverman and her army of youngsters are needed to teach their grandparents progessive politics.

How You Could (Literally) Cost McCain the Election

I few weeks ago I read somewhere that the McCain campaign was spending far more on pay-per-click online advertising (where you pay only when someone clicks on your ad) than on banner ads (where you pay a set amount for a certain number of impressions).

pay-per-clickI thought at the time that if Obama supporters clicked on every McCain ad they saw online, it would cost the McCain campaign a lot of money.

But I didn’t post anything about this idea because:

  • It seemed to me to be too nefarious, and
  • I thought it might be illegal.

Recently, I noticed that someone at the Daily Kos posted the following:

“I was going to make McCain pay for every Google Ad he made me look at.  I simply clicked on the ad and waited for the page to load reviewed it to gain information. Once I reviewed the page that loaded I closed the page. I’m up to 8 clicks today alone just from looking at CNN and YouTube.”

“Now from what I’ve been able to research it cost McCain about $2.00 for my 8 clicks today.  And while that doesn’t seem like much if you multiply that by say 20,000 and by say 24 days until November 4th the costs could be substantial.  I mean 2 x 20,000 = $40,000 p/day, $40,000 x 24 = $960,000.  This is money that can’t be spent in other areas like TV, Radio or malers.”

“Now this is all theoretical and McCain could simply take down these ads.  Even if he does though we win. These ads are on popular pages all over the web that all of us go to.  They attack Obama’s character by placement in prime real estate on webpages with no fact checks.  I say if McCain wants to put up these ads we make him pay.  No free rides for low road politics.”

“So everyone tell your friends as crazy as it sounds to click on McCain/Palin sponsored Google Ads.  Each click takes $.25 cents away from McCain campaign fund that can’t be used on other things.”

I think the Daily Kos has seriously underestimated the amount of money that each click costs the McCain campaign. My guess is that each click costs the McCain campaign a few dollars, not a few cents.

I also think that the Daily Kos poster underestimated the impact that Obama supporters could have on the McCain campaign by failing to note that every pay-per-click Google ad campaign has a daily budget.  Once that limit is reached, the ads stop showing.  In other words, Obama supporters clicking on McCain ads could not only cost the McCain campaign money, it could also stop the McCain ads from running.

But I still think it’s nefarious, and I sill think it might be illegal (if anyone knows, please comment).

That’s why I am NOT recommending that if you’re an Obama supporter, you should click on every online McCain ad you see.

It might (literally) cost McCain the election.

No Laughing Matter: The Palin Doctrine of Presidential Power

burning-constitution2Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s recent statement that she looks forward to being elected vice president so she can be “in charge of the senate” has mostly generated laughter rather than outrage.

 Palin was asked by Colorado third-grader Brandon Garcia “What does the vice president do?”

She responded: “A vice president has a really great job because not only are they there to support the president’s agenda, they’re there like the team member, the teammate to the president. But also, they’re in charge of the United States Senate, so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom. And it’s a great job and I look forward to having that job.”

I first saw a clip of Palin’s answer on Keith Olbermann’s show on MSNBC, where his take on Palin’s view of the vice presidential power was to assume that she is ignorant of the far more limited legislative role of the vice president, as defined in Article I of the U.S. Constitution: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.” 

constitution_quill_pen

Olbermann said “So the vice president is not in charge of jack, Governor, let alone in charge of the senate, and you are not as smart as a third-grader.”

I don’t think that ignorance explains Palin’s answer.

Instead, I think that there is quite a bit of method to Palin’s madness.

This is the second time that Palin has referenced the Dick Cheney-John Yoo conception of expansive executive power.

As I noted in a blog post on Palin’s stunning articulation of expansive executive power in the vice presidential debate with Joe Biden – where she said that the Constitution provides “flexibility” in vice president’s role, including the power “not only to preside over the Senate” but also to exercise “more authority . . . if [the] vice president so chose to exert it” — Palin’s interpretation of the powers of the vice president is not the laughable  product of ignorance of the Constitution. 

Rather, Palin demonstrated that she has consciously and very specifically adopted the Dick Cheney-John Yoo theory of an Imperial Executive with absolute power outside the Constitutional system of checks and balances. 

As I said in my earlier post, Gwen Ifill’s question regarding the power of the vice president was “one of the very few questions that Palin has answered where one could come to the conclusion that she has thought about this before.”

Much as we love to laugh at Sarah Palin, this is no laughing matter.

constitution

Clearly, Palin is not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to the intellectual rationales behind public policy and political theory.

How is it, then, that the often painfully ignorant Sarah Palin is so conversant with a very particular, and relatively obscure, interpretation of the Constitution’s framework regarding the nature of executive power?

I do not know the answer to that question, but I am coming to believe that it might well explain why John McCain ended up picking Palin to be his running mate.

Is it possible that, far from being a completely off-the-wall choice, Palin was picked precisely because she is an adherent to the Cheney-Yoo view of expansive and unchecked executive power, and is willing to implement this view when in office?

Given McCain’s age and health, one could spin a conspiracy theory that it is Sarah Palin, rather than John McCain, who the McCain campaign believes will actually be the president if their ticket wins, and that their plan is to exercise unlimited and illimitable executive power.

Not funny.

Not funny at all.