Thursday, August 19, 2010

THE HATE THAT HATE PRODUCED

“Whatever happened to the Gods and the Earths/ They thirst for a pot of gold God worth his birth/ Knowledge is worth more than diamonds/ When the mind is shining, surprise us”
Poor Righteous Teachers, “Gods, Earths and 85-ers”, 1996

So, a group of developers plan to build a house of worship in an urban area. As it so happens, this house of worship—combined with a cultural center and recreation gym (open to anyone)—would be built mere blocks from where a terrible crime was committed. Not necessarily a big deal. Considering that houses of worship are generally considered to positively add to the color and appeal of a community, the furthest thing that building such a center should inspire would be accusations and counter-accusations of hate and intolerance? Right?

Wrong.

In New York City, plans are currently in limbo for an Islamic community center (including dedicated rooms for prayer and religious activities) to be potentially built just a few city blocks from the former location of the World Trade Center, which was laid asunder in the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. If the construction is allowed to take place, it can be a powerful statement to the world about the best of America: its social tolerance and upholding of personal and religious freedoms in particular.

A few months after the controversy first unfolded, President Obama met the controversy head on—inadvertently. At a recent White House dinner acknowledging the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the President stated that Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," according to a White House speech transcript. He went further to state that such liberties include "the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property… in accordance with local laws and ordinances." Subsequent comments from the President and White House spokespersons clarified that the President was not endorsing the facility construction, but merely pointing out the legality for it to take place.

The usual suspects among right-wing media pundits—Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and company—offered that allowing such a facility to be built anywhere near ‘Ground Zero’ as tantamount to spitting in the face of patriotic Americans, in particular the family of those people who lost someone in the disaster or in the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ditto for ex-officials like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, in particular, made the bafflingly incendiary comparison of building an Islamic-themed community center to allowing a Nazi-Germany themed facility to be built next to a Jewish synagogue.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) initially balked at commenting, to the consternation of Tea Party flag-wavers. Also, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, an erstwhile Republican who in recent months officially declared himself an Independent, called the President’s comments "clarion defense of the freedom of religion."

“Back in the days of Sherlock Holmes, a man was judged by a clue… Now he’s judged by if he’s Spanish, Black, Italian, or Jew…”
Boogie Down Productions, “Who Protects Us from You?”, 1989

Not that the political right have a lock on taking a really ignorant stance in all of this: While progressives (or "the professional left" as described by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs) might be fooled into thinking that Democrats across the board have their back in the debate, they would be dead wrong.

A spokesperson for Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada, who is up for reelection this year) said in a statement, "Senator Reid respects (freedom of religion) but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.” This sentiment was echoed by former Vermont senator Dr. Howard Dean, who opined that the mosque should simply be built elsewhere . Well, if Dean still wanted to reach out to the Americans ‘driving around with Confederate flags on their trucks’ as he did during his last presidential bid, he sure did this week.

Florida U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene—a Democrat—jumped into the fray, bashing the President’s statements- "President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero… since Islamic terrorists have… celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans”. Greene’s a billionaire, so presumably, having the President visit his state to help fundraise—or at least offer moral support—just wasn’t a priority, so all was clear for Greene to take potshots at the guy he wants to serve under.
Perhaps ironically, a more reasoned statement came from Florida’s Republican Governor Charlie Crist: "I think (Obama’s) right — I mean you know we're a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others…This is a place where you're supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can't." Incidentally, Crist for some time now has already been tagged as being dead weight to the staunch right-wingers of Republican activists for taking occasional moderate stances.

NOT IN MY BACKYARD—OR CITY—OR COUNTRY

“I’m not a Muslim, but I do support them… My Father in Heaven taught me and taught them…”
Boogie Down Productions, “Ya Know the Rules”, 1990

According to the nonprofit activist group Democracy for America (who broke ranks with co-founder Dean on his stance), there exist current several legal conflicts involving proposed mosques to be built in such locales as Southern California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Illinois, among others. New York City boosters often proudly uplift the city’s cosmopolitan, multi-cultural history, citing it as a classic example of the great American ‘melting pot’ metaphor. Yet, if a facility that connects to Islamic culture can’t be built there, what chance does a similar project have in the less-intensively ethnically diverse Heartland states?

If a drunk driver kills someone while driving a Ford Focus, I doubt if there will be legislation to ban such cars just to appease grieving family and friends. Respectfully, it’s just not realistic.

The reactionaries who hate the idea of a mosque near the Ground Zero site are basically standing by the following premise:
· People who bomb buildings are evil.
· The people who bombed buildings on 9/11 were Muslims.
· Therefore, all Muslims are evil.
This is a classic logical fallacy that anyone who graduated high school should be familiar with.

Then again, maybe being familiar with such things as ‘logical fallacies’ places one in the company of the ‘cultural elitists’ that conservative-culture mouthpieces like to rail against. Too much book-learnin’s a bad thing in some social circles. This may explain why George W. Bush was elected twice in a row to the White House. But I digress.

I wonder would the same vigorous standard be applied, to, say, the site near the Oklahoma Federal Building bombing 0f 1995. Let's say someone wanted to build a Christian Church a few blocks away. The late Timothy McVeigh and his sympathizers in the right-wing Militia movements without fail tend to align themselves with a fundamentalist strain of Protestant Christianity. So would people be up in arms about a church being built there, or instead embrace it as a potential source of healing and proof that an act terror cannot quash the ideals of those of good faith?

But because many Americans are willfully ignorant whenever they feel like being so, because many Americans like to boast of the freedoms and tolerance that our nation is said to offer until something they don't like comes along, now the NIMBY-Americans are openly calling to revive Jim Crow culture concerning houses of worship (again)..

“I bow my head to the east five times a day… I put my face in the dirt every time I pray”
House of Pain, “Pass the Jinn”, 1996

You might be led to think that this is 2001-02 all over again, and legislation like the Patriot Act and most of the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfeld doctrine gets passed without any resistance at all from Democrats. People like Dean, Reid and likely other conservative-district “Blue Dog” Democrats have shamefully kowtowed to right-wing culture vitriol, if only to potentially score points with moderate Republican loyalists and self-described Independents who tend to skew conservative in their voting habits.

Progressives are being treated by establishment Democrats like the geeky kids in middle/high school who get ditched by their own when one of them gets invited to the Cool Kids’ table by somebody who needs help with their homework (or more to the point, someone to do it for them). It’s temporary, and before long the erstwhile defector is getting beaned in the head with raisins and shoved into lockers again. But hey, they got a taste of the ‘good life’ for a minute, right? Democrats want to dominate the midterm elections so badly that several clearly are willing to sweep their allegedly core values on diversity and tolerance under the rug in order to appease a constituency that will never—and I mean never—waver in their animosity and obstructionism.

So, if New York state governor David Patterson’s 11th hour efforts work to sell state land far from Ground Zero to the mosque developers is ‘successful’ then the facility gets built far from Ground Zero: the patriotic are vindicated that Al-Qaeda USA (TM pending) have been stopped in their tracks from having an obvious training house; visiting tourists and the still-grieving won’t have to glimpse anyone nearby wearing a kufi, turban, or hijab, except maybe for the taxi driver that takes them there and the vendor who sells them a hot pretzel. All the good folk win.

Somehow, I get the feeling that there are kids of the Muslim faith who might not agree.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

NIGNORANCE 2010

“I’ma put it in hard, help these kids…”
Shyne, XXL interview.
Professional wrestling has more in common with hip-hop than most folks are willing to admit. Most popular rappers tend to have some kind of don’t-test-me attitude. They give proud speeches about how they're going to roll over the competition. Ask them whether all of this is 'fake', you might get a verbal beat-down, or worse. If the mainstream press buzzes about a real-life violent incident with a connection to rap (say, a shooting before, during or after a concert), the favorite retort is, "Hey, it's entertainment, don't blame us." Vince McMahon would be proud.
Atlanta native Young Jeezy, interviewed in XXL, maintains that he should be given the crown of authenticity compared to other rappers whose past lifestyles allegedly don’t match up to the themes in their songs.

Native Belizean Shyne was recently released from a 10-year prison bid following a trial involving himself and former mentor Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs—in the aftermath of a nightclub shootout in 1999. For his part, Shyne professes that he acted in self-defense, and stresses that his prison behavior kept pace with ‘street codes’.
Whether or not one concern themselves deeply about this depends one's tolerance level for ‘nignorance’.
Nignorance is when prison and drug-game morals and ethics spill from those subcultures into the general community, and are allowed to creatively and thematically stifle the political depth of hip-hop music. The inane debate over ‘no snitching’ in urban neighborhoods illustrates this.
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with my people.”
Shyne, XXL interview.
Incarcerated folk catch fits about who is more of a genuine 'street' artist, writing lengthy letters to magazines like XXL, The Source, Don Diva and others. Of course, 'keeping it real' is what lands any number of heads behind bars to begin with. Here’s the breakdown for blacks and Latinos in U.S. prisons: (http://www.project.org/info.php?recordID=174). ‘Captive audience’, indeed.
Nignorance is rappers concocting (and their hangers-on supporting) elaborate stories about being major drug-gamers before their record deals. It’s accepting the notion that a young black/Latino aged 15 - 25 can have a self-contained million-dollar drug empire, not become a marked man for the Mob and/or police, and not come out the other end of this in jail, dead, or broke. To do so ignores a slew of American realities. This goes for Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and everyone else who has claimed ‘street king’ status in their past.
Nignorance is a prosperous 'street merchant' choosing not to invest their gains in legitimate endeavors like real estate, waste management, credit unions, Laundromats, grocery stores, etc., but instead start chasing down label reps, hawking CDs from their car trunk, competing in open-mic-nights, to ultimately settling for a cash-advance from a record label, then arguing about the deductions from their semi-annual royalty statements.

Rap musicians should know that life is more important than a record, or even their pride. If any of them have a violent demise, can you call it ‘street credibility’ if their childhood street gets renamed for them?

President Obama recently signed legislation that cuts down the disparities in sentencing of those caught with crack-cocaine vs. powdered coke. A great development, though we still have the issue of folks from the underclass who look at dope-trafficking as just another career choice—or a stepping-stone move that will give them credibility as they seek rap fame.

“I think, at the end of the day, it’s just all entertainment. It’s like wrestling.”
Young Jeezy, XXL interview.

Hip-hop needs to get out of the squared circle. Real lives are at stake.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

'DETROIT 187'

IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Detroit City Council recently has had a public hearing about the upcoming television drama Detroit 187 (http://tinyurl.com/25okbjp). The series, due to air on the ABC network this fall, is filmed in and set in Detroit, focusing on a group of police detectives and officials and the crimes they solve. Michigan's nascent tax-incentives for the film industry played a role in the TV show coming to Detroit; the pilot for the show was filmed in Atlanta, Georgia.

Considering how the Law & Order and CSI franchises have long been TV staples, I'm somewhat surprised that it took this long for someone to come out with a Detroit answer to the typically New York-and-Los Angeles-centric police shows. Likely hundreds of people will end up getting direct or indirect jobs as a result of the show's presence. Not only the featured actors and the film production crew benefit, but also local caterers, clothiers, paid extras and various small businesses will get a boost.

As spearheaded by city councilman Kwame Kenyatta, the concern of council concerns the name of the show. '187' is a regional California police-code for murder, which, perhaps ironically, was in this writer's opinion thrust into the public pop-culture lexicon by various hardcore-themed hip-hop music and movies-- who else easily remembers Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg's hook from "Deep Cover"-- ("..and you don't stop, 'cause it's 1-8-7 on an undercover cop...")

I feel that the council have a certain point-- to me, 'Detroit 187' comes across as kind of corny, since, well, '187' really isn't used by local police here. 'Detroit Streets', in comparison, still lets the viewer know that this is likely a gritty show, without appropriating a vaguely misleading term. At the same time, Kenyatta's threatened to play hardball with the producers, floating the idea of withholding city permits to close streets for filming, if the 'demands' aren't met.

It would be reckless of city council to really follow-through on such a threat. Kenyatta and those who agree with him would be side-swiping all of the jobs that were and are being created by the show to make some temporary political points with those who feel that Detroit's rep as a crime-heavy town is completely unfounded. It would set a bad precedent, potentially scaring off other filmmakers (including home-grown ones) on the notion that Council is yet another board of suits who want to dictate art content, and who are prone to shut down anyone who doesn't glibly accede to every 'suggestion'.

Say-- I wonder if the producers of the show could be convinced to take on the costs of blowing up the old Michigan Central Station (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Central_Station) in the season finale. Seriously. Here's the scenario-- a mysterious mad bomber starts targeting abandoned buildings throughout the city, and the countdown is on for stopping him. Several rickety structures will go "ka-boom!" on a recurring basis throughout the season; we only see the culprit in shadow or behind their back.

When the remains of innocent squatters are found in the rubble, the charges are upped from property destruction to murder. Clues eventually reveal that the culprit sees his vandalism as rebellious works of art, and his "piece de resistance" will be detonating the Train Depot. The heroes race down Michigan Avenue, confronting the villain, but he has his hands on the killswitch.. and in the final seconds..3-2-1.. 'baroooooooommm'.....Who is buried alive? Who is just buried? Stay tuned next fall! (Dun-Dun! Or however that Law & Order sound-effect goes...)

Reference: http://detroit.blogs.time.com/2010/07/28/all-puffed-up-about-detroit/comment-page-1/#comment-5088#ixzz0vmVrU51b
SYSTEM OF SURVIVAL

The City of Detroit is still embroiled in a public debate on whether to dissolve the currently existing Detroit Public Schools system and reform it under mayoral control-- in this case, current mayor Dave Bing. Most members of Detroit City Council have publicly opposed mayoral control. A ballot initiative was presented to council last month, but council routinely waffled on voting on whether to allow for a ballot initiative to be given to Detroiters this fall that would give citizens the chance to vote on the proposal.
City Council meetings have turned into depressing gripe-fests, with those opposed to mayoral control being the loudest commenters. One commenter compared the idea of mayoral control reverting Detroit Public Schools to almost a slavery-era state of being. Most polarizing is the suggestion that mayoral control would, by default, rob Detroit citizens of voting rights on the composition of a school administration.
I stop short of assuming that the worst-case scenario will happen if Detroit's public school system falls under mayoral control. I have a problem with people who say they 'hate' the current board/system (and the behavior of board members) but mayoral control is automatically a non-starter for them. You either want change or you don't. People act as if DPS didn't have grave problems until emergency financial manager Robert Bobb was appointed by governor Jennifer Granholm.
And let's address the elephant in the room: I also have a problem with the way some local activists and officials have latched on to the existing structure of DPS (as well as Cobo Hall, the Water Department., etc.) as a "black owned business" by cultural default, and so any existing proposition for reform, especially radical reform, is categorized as a power-grab by quasi-anonymous Caucasian power-brokers in Lansing or the Metro suburbs. I hear "They want to" (as in, "they want to take over fill-in-the-blank) so much you would think that "T.H.E.Y., Inc." was a corporation based out of Bloomfield or somewhere. I'm dead sick of it.
Black political leadership has been at the helm of Detroit local government for nearly 40 years now. And here is where we are. Doesn't mean that local leadership is corrupt or inept by default, or that everything that has gone on here is all the fault of Detroit leadership. But Detroit leadership of the past and present must bear some culpability as well for not having the vision to address the things that Detroit faces now.
Too many folks here have come to embrace a certain myopic form of Afrocentrism that automatically assumes the worst of all other ethnic/racial groups while overly romanticizing our own, uncritical to a fault in many cases. Look at all the folks who still see former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick as a blameless victim of a (white) plot against a "powerful black man". Same goes for jailed political consultant Sam Riddle.
I'm weary of the political schizophrenia here. To me, it speaks ill of my fellow urban Detroiters when this reflexive nativism that exists just beneath the surface here comes up on every important local issue. Look at the recall campaign already against Bing. Let's say it goes through and Bing is recalled by November 2010-- then what? another go-round of special elections throughout 2011?
DETROIT ON TRACK FOR RAIL SYSTEM

In a press conference hosted by Detroit mayor Dave Bing and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the federal government has just this past week authorized a year-long study into the implementation of a light-rail line in the core of urban Detroit. This would be the first major transit development in the city since the mid-1980's unveiling of Detroit's People Mover downtown elevated rail service. http://tinyurl.com/2bzocv8

I think that it's about darned time that this project got going. No, it's not what it really needs to be, which is a fully comprehensive transit system for the entire metro area.

I feel that since the US taxpayers are majority owners in General Motors and minority stakeholders in Chrysler, both these companies should be forced to get on board with manufacturing for the transit industry- rail cars, hybrid/electric buses, train tracks, etc. Re-open those factories that were shut down. Open new factories, especially in previously abandoned locales like urban Detroit and elsewhere. I have written letters to officials, appointees and activists from the President on down, but so far this angle has only barely reached public discourse. The whole "quick-wash get-in-get-out" hands-off managing of the auto bailouts has been maddeningly wrongheaded. But at least the American public will get to drive those neat new Chevy Volts, at only $41,000 a pop. Save your pennies.

Progressive tax reform is needed to help keep a more expanded transit system alive. Unfortunately, there are folks in various suburbs who adhere to anti-tax absolutism and barely veiled racial animus, who do things like have their cities opt-out of SMART (the privately owned bus line serving most area suburbs), and thus adding more headaches for anyone who wants to travel to or from said cities for work, school, etc.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, long considered in local politics as an iconic foe of urban Detroit interests, wisely supported the SMART millage renewal, but he is still an obstinate crank when it comes to actually forming a southeast Michigan Transit Authority (which would be a coalition of several city/county local governments.) Even parties within the Bing Administration's Transportation Dept. are likely fearful for their jobs "if" a real Transit Authority gets going, and so they are stonewalling, too.

The grudges of the past may end up derailing this project (pun intended) if the ultra-cynics have their way. I suggest that folks go to the 'TRU' website, http://www.detroittransit.org/ and keep up on the developments.