U.S. Politics

“You think the f*cking Tea Party determines public policy?”: Dick Gregory on racism, the 1 percent and why black Americans are angry at the wrong people

"You think the f*cking Tea Party determines public policy?": Dick Gregory on racism, the 1 percent and why black Americans are angry at the wrong people
(Credit: AP/Matt Sayles)

SALON

Salon talks to activist and comedian Dick Gregory, who will be the subject of a new documentary

Dick Gregory’s had a long, rich and strange life as an entertainer and activist. I hadn’t heard of him before I started talking with Andre Gaines, a film producer and lifelong Dick Gregory fan who wanted to do a Black Lives Matter-themed documentary focusing on Gregory’s idiosyncratic philosophy and beliefs about the “secret history” of the United States.

It’s a strange world we live in today when the modern incarnation of the civil rights marches is being organized and reported on through Twitter and Mr. Gregory’s reentry into the world of political activism is through a Kickstarter–and it’s a testament to Gregory’s staying power as a media name that the Kickstarter drew enough attention that it’s already closed thanks to an outside investor coming in to back the project.

It’s especially strange for me to be connecting with Dick Gregory’s legacy as a possible writer for the documentary, a 31-year-old Chinese guy from Ohio born decades after his heyday. The more I learned about him the more fascinated I was–a groundbreaking stand-up comedian who paved the way for names like Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney, an activist who marched in Selma with Dr. King, who marched for the ERA with Gloria Steinem and who went on hunger strike for the hostages in Iran. And an eccentric conspiracy theorist who denounced the official reports both on JFK’s assassination and on 9/11, who got Hunter S. Thompson’s write-in vote for president in 1968, and who now makes a living partly by promoting a raw fruit and vegetable diet.

For him to reenter the political arena at the age of 82, through an electronic medium invented when he was past retirement age, is a big deal. For someone like me to be asked to work with him to bring his message to a new audience is a huge responsibility, and I sat down with him for an hour to try to get to know him and his beliefs. Though there’s much he said that I don’t completely agree with or even fully understand, I was captivated the whole time by his raw, unfiltered candor and I definitely look forward to hearing more about what he has to say in the documentary.

Well, first of all I have to ask–as someone who was born in the Jim Crow era and who marched in the civil rights movement, what do you think of the progress we’ve made since then?

Well, we’ve come a long ways but the important thing we haven’t even started changing is the mental thing. See, going from slavery to the early ’60s we had to worry about being physically beat up, physically lynched. I mean, if someone got lynched tonight we’d be shocked, whereas up until the ’60s, we wouldn’t have been. But now it’s a mental thing. Until you solve the mental thing… that’s the interesting thing about the history of black people in America, we’re the only people on this planet who went through what we went through and opted for education instead of liberation.

We’ve never been liberated. I mean, George Washington wasn’t beating up the British so he could open up another college. The sign don’t say, “Give me education or give me death,” it says, “Give me liberty or give me death.” And so to have a bunch of people that are educated not liberated, man… of course, they don’t know it.

When a black person teaches their child: “Be careful if this white racist cop pulls you over, don’t talk too fast, don’t move too fast, cause he might kill you.” Any time you tell a child to respect and fear, to behave, for a murderer — children don’t hear what you mean, they hear what you say. So they think there’s something wrong with them. Why else would my mother and father tell me to be afraid of a cop, unless I’m doing something wrong?

So… you’d say the fear of violence does more harm to black Americans than violence itself? Would you agree with people who say the solution needs to come from within the black community rather than outside, then?

We’re like people who’ve been taking aspirin for 20 years because they thought they had a migraine but then one day they found out they had a brain tumor. I can’t bring you aspirin no more, but I don’t know how to get it out.

Just cause I’m black, I don’t know how to get it out. You want somebody doing heart surgery, then you’re going to get a heart surgeon to write it up. Not just somebody who had a heart attack. What do they know about it?

What happens with fear? When you go into fight or flight? What kind of poison and chemicals go into your body? How do you deal with it? How much sex and drinking and drugs do you do?

A lot of black folks dealt with it by looking to God. God and fear can’t occupy the same spot, you see. We saw them, back in the day — black women, little children, black men. King and them. It worked for a time.

But then they came out with the guns.

A lot of those cops were Klansmen. When King gets the call, “N***er, we’re gonna blow up your house at 2:00 in the morning,” he can’t call the police. They’re probably the ones that made the call. So he’s gotta grab two children, and Coretta grabs two, and on their faces the children see something they’ve never seen before. Fear.

Fear works different on different people. You see a mother go down to the garage, jack up the car to change the tire, then the phone rings, then she comes back and the baby pushed the jack under the car and fell under it–and she lifts up the car! Soldiers on the front lines, taking that hill. That’s fear, that’s fear that comes and goes, it does its job and disappears.

But when you study what fear does to people who’ve been in it so long… You can go down the South, to Mississippi, to see black folks who’ve got three PhDs who still look like sharecroppers. The jaw fell, the eyes sunk…

Someday we’ll find out how all this works, all the chemicals, what makes us die so much younger, but it comes down to fear, fear, fear, fear. You see a cat that sees a dog, how its body changes, its hair swells up, its muscles clench. That’s how we live every day. We got used to it, we live with it, but that’s what’s happening.

Most white folks don’t know it but you can smell racism. You can smell fear and you can smell hate, just like I can smell whether my mom’s cooking barbecue or baking a cake. Black folks know it when they’re around it, it’s animal, it’s chemical.

Wow. So, you’d say that the power of the civil rights movement was faith staving off fear? And the end of the civil rights movement was a case of fear ultimately overpowering faith?

Look at the Haitians. Napoleon had the greatest army in the history of the planet at that time and they went over there and the black folk whooped their ass. Napoleon came in and they said no, you get back. And what did they blame it on? Voodoo. Now they teach everyone that voodoo is something mysterious and something negative. But “voudou” was just a word meaning spirit. It was spirituality.

We had something with King, with the movement around him. He had no guns, man. They had no evilness. They didn’t say nothing on those cameras or when then the cameras left. “Those no-good honkies, man” — there was none of that. It was a different thing.

And I learned so much from that. I never thought I’d see the day I’d sit here and tell you I’d rather be killed by somebody than kill somebody. That’s what I got out of that movement. We took on the greatest nation in the history of the world and brought them to their knees. With no meanness, no bitterness.

And everybody’s talking about where it went wrong, the thing they miss — When they killed Jesus, they didn’t get none of his disciples. When they killed Caesar, they didn’t mess with his friends in the Senate. When they came after us, they wiped everyone who had the power to change things. Malcolm. Martin. Medgar Evers. You go down the row, the list of names, and see what happened.

And you think that after those leaders were killed, the community gave in to fear?

When you stop and think… It’s like, what do you say when white folks bring up the Confederate flag? We think Hitler was one of the most powerful tyrants — them Nazis one of the most powerful governments that ever existed — but you can’t go to Germany and see a swastika. Not in public. So what does that say about us here?

We’re more vicious. These white American racists were more vicious than Hitler and them Nazis they hung on years after the war was over. You know how long World War II’s been over? And yet to this day they’ve got Nazi sympathizers but it’s not permitted in public. But we Americans don’t demand that of our racists. Black Americans don’t demand it.

You know we have thousands of black cops in America. And you never turn on the TV or hear the radio or pick up the paper where a white family is crying because these black cops shot their loved one in the back of the head 40 times. You think black folks don’t do that because they’re more spiritual? You think they don’t do that because they’re better? No! They know white folks won’t tolerate it! And as long as we do tolerate it it’s gonna happen.

By don’t tolerate it, I don’t mean get no gun. I mean organization, boycotts. When white folks say they’re gonna boycott Christmas shopping until they get this change–they get it.

The gays proved that. In March, when the governor of Indiana who was gonna sign a law saying businesses did not have to serve same-sex couples? And then the gays, and the people who were friends to the gays, rose up so bad, and then all at once people started canceling out conventions–and he changed that so fast like he always meant to do it.

And so let me give you an example. There’s still five states that display the Confederate flag in their state flag in some fashion. (Ed note: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas. Nine states, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, continue to display the Confederate flag on license plates.)

Now you saw what happened in Charleston, right? Now let me tell you how this white racist system feels about us. After 50 years, after nine people were massacred, they finally took that flag down in South Carolina. Let me tell you something. If black folks were to come together and said we’re holding a press conference today, and said to this state here or that state there, if that Confederate flag is not gone from official display, all the Negro athletes in your state are gonna start a boycott — no more black men coming to play sports in your state?

It’d be gone that night. That’s what they value–black athletes, compared to human beings.

It sounds like you’d clearly disagree with people who think America has somehow entered a “post-racial” era. Do you think America is still, fundamentally, a racist country?

See, a black person cannot be racist. Even some black people don’t know that. I can dislike a white person because they’re Jewish, I can dislike them because they’re Italian, or if they’re Russian. That’s prejudice.

But racism is the ability to control somebody else’s fate and destiny. And I can hate white folks all I want. I won’t have the power to take their job or see to it their kids go to a bad school.

The problem is really white supremacy. Most white folks don’t know what that means. They believe it means prejudice based on race. No, no, no. That’s the excuse. It’s supremacy. Who is supreme? Compared to you?

When Hitler decided he was trying to create a perfect race he wasn’t talking about black folks versus white folks. He was talking about Germans versus everyone else. Anyone who was a misfit got killed, white-looking or not. Consequently ‘whiteness’ is not a skin color, it’s an attitude.

There’s people in this world making millions of dollars every year just as interest on their money. That’s what I mean by “white folks.” I perform 200 days out of the year, and every time I say if I took over America, the first thing I’d make the black folks do is apologize to the white folks–because you’re mad at the wrong white folks! The white folks you’re mad at couldn’t hit at you if they’d like to. You guys get mad at the white folks at the Sears & Roebucks, the Walgreens, but I want you to be mad at the Saks Fifth Avenue ones. But they’ve got power, and you’re scared of that.

Who are you mad at? The Ku Klux Klan? Lynch mobs? How many black folks died from lynching as opposed to the effects of public policy? You think Negro-hating rednecks who can’t read or write, you think they determine public policy? You think the fucking Tea Party determines public policy? Let me tell you, if they do shut down the government that’s because the damn Rockefellers in power want it to be shut down. If that one percent didn’t want you to do something they could have tanks in your neighborhood and wipe you out before they’d let you get away with it, you understand?

The people who run this country, who run the world–I’m an old Negro. Coming up I wanted to be white because I thought white folks knew what was going on. Now I find out you white folks are as dumb as we are. Schools only a little bit better than ours. The same game they run on us they run on you.

Well, the buzzword the kids use these days for that is “intersectionality,” that all of us have the same problems in the end even if they manifest in different ways. You, for instance, were just as committed to fighting for women’s lib as for black civil rights–did you see those as connected?

Look at it this way. When I was a boy a woman who had a billion dollars couldn’t buy a house or a car unless a man signed for it. A white woman didn’t get to vote until 1921. Black men legally had the right to vote with the 13th/14th/15th Amendment. I live in a country of white men so vicious and evil, a white woman–that’s his momma, his daughter, his wife–she didn’t have the right to vote. Those white men, they gaveme the legal right to vote before her.

And every time she went to trial, before she could vote, if she was framed for killing somebody she couldn’t get before a jury of her peers because you have to vote to serve on the jury. Men decided what she owned, men voted for her, men sent her to prison.

It’s supremacy. That’s what this is all about.

Looking just how much power the people in power have, are you optimistic that anything’s going to change in your lifetime? Or mine?

Well, the only reason I’m optimistic (laughs) you’ve heard of this thing called the Indigo children? Kids born with IQs of 2000, traveling to other planets while their parents sleep–that could change things, if it’s happening.

But just on the face of it? No. We’re where the Romans was just before they fell. Their people didn’t know it. Our people don’t know it. But you can’t keep doing all this bullshit without it coming to an end.

And America? Let me tell you what I say about America. If that universal God up there don’t destroy America, then that God owes Sodom and Gomorrah a serious apology, hm? OK? Supposed to be the most Christian society in the history of the planet, they sing that hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” I tell them, “You weren’t there then and you wouldn’t be there now.”

And if Jesus came here today and started bugging the wrong people again, they’d give him the electric chair. And then we’d have Christians with electric chairs around their necks singing, “Were you there when they electrified my Lord?”

This ignorance–no, no, no.

But… you don’t know, man. You don’t know what can change overnight.

What would have to happen for you to believe that things could change?

If we had a John Brown. My heroes–if I had to rank ‘em, it’d be John Brown at No. 1, everyone else falling behind. A white man that’s willing to kill or be killed–to liberate me! Had his two sons with him at Harpers Ferry.

Look. You can’t get no blacker than me. I’ll fight for black folks, but I–I won’t take my children with me. He did. He had 26 people with him, five of them black. That movie, “Django Unchained“? John Brown was like that, but it really happened.

And had it not been for John Brown, the world wouldn’t have been the same. Because of John Brown, the Civil War started. Well, that was the soldiers singing that. That was the North singing, as they were marching off to fight, “John Brown’s Body is a-Mouldering in his Grave…”

On my birthday, Oct. 12, I don’t go nowhere but down to Harpers Ferry, and thank John Brown’s spirit. Oct. 16, that’s the day Harpers Ferry hit. And Dec. 2, it used to be in Virginia, now it’s West Virginia, I go where they hanged him, the tree is still there. And I remember the speech he said as he was walking to the gallows. He left the courtroom, walked to the street, turned left, walked 2 ½ blocks, turn left, walked 3 ½ blocks and there’s the tree. And I remember what they said.

“N***er-lover! What you got to say!”

He said, “I’m fixing to die and if I did it for rich white men I’d be the hero.”

So he walked from the scaffold, and they tied up the rope, and he said, “Oh, by the way. I talked to God last night, and God told me to tell you, that you’ve lost the last chance to free the Negro slaves with no blood. And he told me to tell you, when the Negroes gonna be free, it’s gonna be the biggest bloodbath in the history of the planet.”

It took me a long time before I realized, it wasn’t just the Civil War he meant. John Brown, may he be at peace. But not us.

H/t: DB

U.S. Politics

Kim Davis’ Attorneys Finally Admit This Picture Is A Hoax

This photo of a prayer rally in May of 2014 is most definitely not a prayer meeting for Kim Davis. | CREDIT: FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL VVS LIVE STREAM/SCREENSHOT

THINK PROGRESS

At last week’s Values Voter Summit, Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel displayed a picture that he claimed showed a 100,000-person prayer in Peru for his client, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis. That picture has since been identified as having been uploaded to Facebook on May 25, 2014 and portraying a massive one-of-a-kind five-day convention known as “Jesús Te Ama Y Te Cambia” (“Jesus Loves You And Changes You”).

After spending Monday defending the photo, Liberty Counsel has admitted that it is not of a Kim Davis rally. In fact, they no longer claim that any rally whatsoever took place for Davis in Peru, but merely that some people in Peru prayed for her.

Nevertheless, the organization is trying to avoid taking responsibility for the photo, tweeting to ThinkProgress Tuesday morning that Peruvian Congressman Julio Rosas was the source of the photo and that they were just parroting his claim:

Later Tuesday morning, Liberty Counsel issued a new statement addressing the controversy and further scapegoating Rosas for the photo.

“When some questioned whether such a large event occurred, Liberty Counsel sought verification this past Saturday and yesterday,” the statement reads. “It now appears that while prayer meetings did occur throughout Peru, the photograph presented to Mat Staver was an honest mistake and was of a different Christian assembly in a soccer field.”

This is a change of tune even from Monday, when a different press release claimed that Rosas had confirmed the validity of the picture both on Saturday and again Monday morning.

Staver has apparently attended several anti-gay and anti-choice marches that Rosas has organized in Peru, which is why he claims that the photo “did not appear unusual because such large Christian gatherings happen much more frequently in Peru.” Liberty Counsel still asserts that people in Peru did pray for Davis that Sunday, but now offers no evidence of how widespread that support actually was.

Matt Barber, who also used to work for the Liberty Counsel, similarly defended the photo on Monday on his conservative site BarbWire, but published a correction noting that “Zack Ford and Think Progress appear to have been correct about the questionable nature of this photograph.” The site has since crossposted Liberty Counsel’s new statement.

Though Staver called the photograph “an honest mistake,” he insisted that people still give Davis a thumbs-up everywhere she goes. “Make no mistake, however, that there is widespread support for Kim Davis. Last week she was recognized by many people as she walked through the Philadelphia, New York LaGuardia, and Washington, D.C. Reagan airports. People gave her a thumbs up sign or verbally expressed support for Kim Davis. While she has obvious detractors, Kim Davis also has wide support.”

Davis has not traveled internationally during the past few months that her controversy has played out, and thus has likely not received any thumbs-ups in Lima’s airport.

ZACK FORD

U.S. Politics

Rand Paul: Ted Cruz Is ‘Pretty Much Done For’ After His Tantrum On The Senate Floor

Rand Paul: Ted Cruz Is ‘Pretty Much Done For’ After His Tantrum On The Senate Floor
Featured Image via Screen capture

ADDICTING INFO

Ted Cruz’s crusade to defund Planned Parenthood ended with an embarrassing procedural vote on the Senate floor Monday, which led to a meltdown of epic proportions. Cruz spent nearly an hour lecturing his fellow senators on why they have failed him and God, making some pretty bold accusations along the way.

Cruz speculated that Republican leadership, including Mitch McConnell and outgoing Speaker John Boehner, are in league with the Democrats. He says they are eager to compromise, taking half of the Republican votes with them, virtually giving a “blank check” to Barack Obama.

If you allow that to sink in you’ll realize just how ridiculous it is. The Republicans are eager to compromise? From 19 January 2009 until today, the Republican caucuses in both chambers have done nothing but obstruct, with prejudice, every step the President has tried to take to reverse the damage George W. Bush did to our country in eight years of unfettered spending and lawless war.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) had a few choice words for Cruz, making it well-known that the Senator from Texas’ antics aren’t appreciated:

“Ted has chosen to make this really personal and chosen to call people dishonest in leadership and call them names, which really goes against the decorum and also against the rules of the Senate, and as a consequence, he can’t get anything done legislatively,” Paul told Fox News Radio. “He is pretty much done for and stifled and it’s really because of personal relationships, or lack of personal relationships, and it is a problem.”

It is a problem. It’s a problem for Ted Cruz and the ongoing implosion of the Republican Party. Here you have a senator — a contender for the party’s nomination for president — openly disrespecting the leadership of the party on C-SPAN. Cruz displayed a complete inability to lead when he couldn’t muster 11 votes for a roll call on a procedural motion to amendment to the clean CR the Senate is expected to vote on Wednesday morning to keep the government functioning.

This man wants to be President of the United States? Cruz has proven that he would disregard the counsel of his aides, his ambassadors, his czars and his chiefs of staff if he had the slightest inkling that it would displease God. He belongs in front of a camera in a church on Sunday morning, not Congress on a Monday.

Cruz, in essence, has become less than a joke. He’s become the cliché punchline everyone’s already heard a hundred times.

Here’s video of the best minute and a half of the Cruz meltdown for your viewing pleasure.

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: September 30, 2015

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

THE WEEK

1. Putin gets parliamentary authority to send troops to Syria
Russian lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to grant President Vladimir Putin authority to send troops to Syria. Putin has to get such approval to send Russian forces abroad, as he last did in 2014 before Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The Kremlin said Putin won’t send ground troops to Syria, but needed parliament’s permission so Russian warplanes could conduct airstrikes to support Syrian forces fighting the Islamic State.

Source: The Associated Press

2. Georgia executes Kelly Gissendaner
Georgia executed Kelly Gissendaner by lethal injection early Wednesday for her role in plotting the murder of her husband, Douglas, in 1997 by her then-boyfriend, Gregory Owen, who is serving a life sentence. She was the only woman on Georgia’s death row, and the first woman the state had put to death in 70 years. The state Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Supreme Court denied last-minute requests to halt the execution, despite an appeal by Pope Francis for Georgia to commute Gissendaner’s death sentence.

Source: Reuters

3. U.S. airstrikes aid Afghan trying to retake city from Taliban
On Tuesday, the U.S. launched airstrikes and sent advisers to support Afghan forces trying to push their way back into the heart of the provincial capital of Kunduz after it was seized by the Taliban. Fighters for the Islamist extremist group put up fierce resistance to block the counteroffensive. The effort to take back the strategically important city, Afghanistan’s sixth largest, is a critical test of the Afghan military’s ability to take over security duties after the withdrawal of most U.S. and other foreign soldiers.

Source: The Washington Post

4. Planned Parenthood leader tells Congress videos “offensive” and untrue
The president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, told members of Congress on Tuesday that secretly recorded videos purporting to show representatives of the organization negotiating to sell tissue from aborted fetuses were “outrageous,” “offensive and categorically untrue.” The videos fueled a conservative effort to block Planned Parenthood’s $450 million in annual federal funding. Richards told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Planned Parenthood’s policies on the use of fetal tissue for medical research “indeed go beyond the requirements of the law.”

Source: Bloomberg, The New York Times

5. Hillary Clinton to urge repeal of ObamaCare’s “Cadillac tax”
Hillary Clinton called Tuesday for repealing ObamaCare’s tax on high-end health plans in a break with the Obama administration. The so-called Cadillac tax imposes a tax on employers offering workers expensive coverage. It was designed to both help pay for the health care law and discourage wasteful spending. The tax, which would take effect in 2018, is opposed by unions. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of Clinton’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, and other progressives introduced a repeal bill last week.

Source: Politico, The Washington Post

6. Obama asks Raul Castro for more reforms in U.N. meeting
President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met Tuesday at the United Nations for a rare face-to-face talk about continuing to improve diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Castro, in his first U.N. speech since taking over from his brother Fidel, said truly normal relations are impossible until the U.S., a former Cold War rival, ends its trade embargo against the communist Caribbean island and returns the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Obama reportedly pressed Castro to respond to U.S. overtures by doing more to open Cuba’s economy and improve human rights conditions.

Source: Reuters

7. Kim Davis attorney claims she met with Pope Francis
Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk jailed for six days for denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, met privately with Pope Francis during his U.S. visit, one of Davis’ lawyers said Tuesday. The 10-minute meeting was held in the Vatican Embassy in Washington. “Pope Francis thanked me for my courage and told me to ‘stay strong,'” Davis said in a statement. The Vatican did not confirm or deny the claim. The pope said after leaving the U.S. that public officials had a right to refuse to carry out duties that conflict with their religious beliefs.

Source: CNN

8. Burkina Faso’s army takes over barracks of elite unit that staged coup
Burkina Faso’s army raided and seized control of the camp of the presidential guard that briefly took over the country in a coup last week. Soldiers fired on members of the elite unit after they refused to lay down their arms despite directions from the coup leader, Gen. Gilbert Diendere, to hand over their weapons and “avoid unnecessary bloodshed.” There were no immediate reports of casualties. Diendere was not in the camp when the soldiers stormed in.

Source: The New York Times

9. Ralph Lauren stepping down as his company’s CEO
Fashion icon Ralph Lauren is stepping down as CEO of the clothing and home decor business he founded 50 years ago, the company announced Tuesday. Lauren will be replaced with Stefan Larsson, the global president of Old Navy, in November. Lauren will continue to serve as the company’s executive chairman and chief creative officer. “My job is to think always about the future of our company and how to move it forward,” Lauren said in a statement.

Source: The Associated Press

10. Edward Snowden mobbed with followers after joining Twitter
Fugitive National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden joined Twitter and posted his first tweet Tuesday, saying, “Can you hear me now?” Snowden, praised by some as a whistle blower for exposing mass-surveillance programs, promptly collected more followers than the NSA, picking up nearly 300,000 in less than two hours. Snowden’s attorney, ACLU President Ben Wizner, confirmed that Snowden is controlling the account. Russia has given him shelter as he avoids returning to the U.S. to face espionage charges.

Source: Los Angeles Times

Harold Maass

U.S. Politics

OPINION: Vladimir Putin is now leading the fight against ISIS

ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images

H/t: Ted

THE WEEK

e strategic divide between Russia and the United States when it comes to Islamic terrorism and the Middle East has been on stark display this week. But the truth is that it has been there ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, showing the remarkable consistency of the Russian position.

Two years ago, Vladimir Putin piped up to defend Bashar al-Assad just as the wrath of the U.S. was at its peak. He did so in an editorial in The New York Times. Joining the vast majority of the American public, Putin argued against direct U.S. intervention in Syria’s civil war. As American hawks talked up the possibility of “moderate rebels” ruling from Damascus, Putin offered a prescient caution:

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. [The New York Times]

Now Russia intercedes again, this time with arms for Assad and an intelligence-sharing agreement between Russia, Iraq, Iran, and Assad to combat ISIS. But Putin is still equipped with the convincing argument. At the United Nations on Monday, President Obama and Putin offered dueling visions for the region. Obama’s vision hinged on the idea that order isn’t enough:

We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission. Information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted. We are told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder, that is the only way to step out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs on innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse. [via Vox]

Putin responded pragmatically, saying that utopian ideals of democratic revolution were responsible for the violence in the first place:

“Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster — and nobody cares a bit about human rights, including the right to life,” Putin said through a translator. “I cannot help asking those who have forced that situation: ‘Do you realize what you have done?'” [CNBC]

Putin wins this exchange by TKO. The truth is that the liberal and conservative hawks in America’s elite policymaking circles have a problem: In Syria they have three enemies (ISIS, Assad, and Al Nusra), no friends, and no plausible end-state. The most detailed plans for such an end-state practically announce themselves as Rube Goldberg machines. Fifteen extremely improbable things have to go exactly right to win this three-sided civil war, and then you still have to find a new leadership class in Syria that didn’t have its “moderate” label permanently worn off under years of combat stress.

Even the accusatory tone at the end is appropriate. There is a moral hazard when the United States holds out the possibility of air support and arms. Rebel groups try to become “too democratic to fail,” and hope for Uncle Sam’s backstop, whatever damage America wrecks on their countries.

Read more here>>>

U.S. Politics

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah debut: 5 thoughts on the new host

Trevor Noah, Daily Show host 3.0 | Comedy Central

VOX

It was a strong premiere, with some telling moments.

If you blinked, you might have missed the break between The Daily Show with Jon Stewartand The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Jon Stewart left his 16-year old job in early August, giving Trevor Noah, the correspondents, and the producers just a month and a half to get the newest iteration of the show together. Sure, they’ve had a little time to think about how to handle the baton pass, but when you consider all the writing, casting, rehearsing, interviewing, and recalibrating that The Daily Show staff had to do, it’s still an extraordinarily short break. Even Stephen Colbert took nearly a full year between signing off from The Colbert Report and walking onstage at the Ed Sullivan Theater for The Late Show.

To be fair, Noah was never expected to raze The Daily Show and rebuild from the ground up. But as he told Vox during a recent set visit, he still wanted to make something new and worthwhile that could honor the spirit of Stewart’s tenure, while still putting his own stamp on it. Even if he changed nothing at all about the format, Noah and company knew Daily Show fans and detractors alike would be scrutinizing their content, tone, and punchlines within an inch of their lives.

In other words: no pressure.

But as the show opened, Noah was sitting at a new desk, looking out at the audience with a twinkling grin. “Welcome to The Daily Show,” he said. “I’m Trevor Noah.”

If you blinked, you might have forgotten that this wasn’t always the case.

One show is hardly enough to say what The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is going to look like going forward. There will undoubtedly be adjustments as Noah gets more comfortable in the host’s chair. New correspondents will bring fresh energy. Noah’s writers’ room will reveal its strengths depending on the topic at hand.

But a first show can also reveal plenty about a new series’ priorities, and what it hopes to accomplish. For now, here are five major takeaways from the first Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

1. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah has been listening to your speculation and controversy, and would like to clear the air.

In the seven months since Stewart announced he was leaving, there have been roughly several thousand news cycles. Anticipation for the new host ran at a fever pitch, and once he was announced, a flurry of responses focused on Noah’s Twitter history, why he was or wasn’t right for the show, his outsider perspective as a South African reporting on American politics, and the various diversity issues at play in the late-night television landscape and beyond.

Noah addressed some of this in his monologue, especially the fact that most American audiences had no idea who he was before Stewart announced he’d be the successor. He acknowledged the discontent that a woman didn’t get the job — a fact that became all too clear in Vanity Fair‘s stark image of the all-male late night landscape — while also pointing out that Amy Schumer reportedly turned The Daily Show down. He was self-deprecating, framing Comedy Central’s failure to grab one of the women it actually wanted as one of the reasons he lucked out: “They had better things to do, and knew something I didn’t.”

Later, correspondent Jordan Klepper tapped in for a segment that was ostensibly aboutJohn Boehner resigning before it quickly pivoted into coded language about how “the new guy” could really surprise everyone and “nail it.” Besides, Boehner’s replacement could have a more “global perspective,” which would be kind of neat, right? When Noah asked what that actually means, Klepper sputtered. “I don’t know, I keep hearing the word ‘global.'”

Stewart leaned heavily on self-deprecation throughout his tenure, and that quality is now baked into the intrinsic DNA of The Daily Show. Noah is still playing dumb with the correspondents, even as he acted the voice of reason not three minutes before in the opening monologue.

But his self-deprecation is of a different ilk than Stewart’s, who always joked as if he couldn’t believe anyone would bother listening to him. Noah knows people are listening, and while he hopes he can rise to the challenge of saying something interesting enough to warrant the attention, he’s ultimately just psyched that he has the chance. Stewart had fun on the show, but running through the world’s inadequacies every day also brought out the angriest parts of him. Noah, by contrast, is far less furious than he is bemused — at least so far.

2. The show’s structure hasn’t changed, but its voices have.

Noah’s been teasing a refocused Daily Show that might not lean on the exhaustive 24-hour news cycle for laughs. It was unclear whether he and the staff would also try out some kind of revised format to match the shift in content, but so far, not so much.

Noah opened with a monologue at the desk, pivoted to a segment that relied on over-the-shoulder graphics and video clips of the Pope, threw to a couple correspondents, and then welcomed an interview. He even ended on a cable news Moment of Zen, in which Nancy Pelosi hemmed and hawed her way through a non-answer to, “Will you miss John Boehner?”

This is The Daily Show as its fans have come to know and love it. Still, the show’s structure isn’t so rigid that it can’t bend to accommodate new voices. Noah’s monologue was earnest, acknowledging that this felt “surreal,” and that some viewers might not be ready to welcome a new guy. “It feels like the family has a new step-dad, and he’s black,” he said, “which is not ideal.”

It was a canny way to acknowledge his position as both a new face and one that will inevitably speak from a very different perspective than Jon Stewart did, as a middle-aged white man.

This held up through a segment on NASA finding water on Mars, as new correspondentRoy Wood Jr. hilariously deadpanned his ambivalence over the discovery. “I can tell you I don’t give a shit,” Wood shrugged, and when Noah pressed further, Wood was candid. “Black people aren’t going to Mars,” he said, and further dismantled any argument Noah might have made by countering that being on TV wouldn’t help. “You’ve only had The Daily Show for one commercial break,” he said, incredulous. “These white folks ain’t decided if they like you yet!”

Even aside from Wood’s unflappable delivery, the line is a brilliant and very specific one. It not only reaffirms that Noah will be coming from a different perspective, but that it might be uncomfortable at times for Stewart’s preexisting audience. It wasn’t an apology, nor a rebuke — just a reminder that Noah’s got his work cut out for him.

3. Noah might be an inexperienced host, but he’s not a beginner.

There were certainly times when Noah stumbled. Some punchlines in the monologue fell flat, like his riff on how saying John Boehner isn’t conservative is like “crack telling meth it’s not addictive enough.” When the bit ended on crack bragging that it took down Whitney Houston, Noah visibly reacted to the chill from the previously game audience.

But in a matter of seconds, thanks to a wide smile, Noah was past it and on to the next joke. His stand-up background has trained him to recover quickly when he falters, and to have another five jokes ready for every one that fails. His delivery feels looser and more conversational than Stewart’s gobsmacked exasperation, or John Oliver’s sputtering indignation.

Noah isn’t a novice. As he mentioned on the show, he has performed stand up to a sold out stadium, filled with 53,000 people. The only American comedian who could understand that is… well, Kevin Hart.

4. Comedians aren’t guaranteed to be great interviews — or even good ones.

 Comedy Central – Kevin Hart and Trevor Noah

It makes sense on paper that The Daily Show with Trevor Noah thought Kevin Hart would make for a good first guest. After all, Hart is one of the biggest comedians and movie stars in the country, with an enormous social media following to match.

In reality, though, Hart demonstrated exactly why inviting comedians onto a talk show is such a gamble. Celebrity guests might know which charming stories about their kids they’re going to tell, but comedians will take the energy of a crowd and run with it. And if they’re Kevin Hart, they’ll barely give anyone else on stage enough room to breathe.

When Hart gave Noah a congratulatory box of ties, it almost felt like a test. Noah took the box, smiled a thin smile, and tucked it away underneath the desk. “I was expecting a bigger reaction, but okay,” Hart shrugged, and from there on out, Noah barely got a word in edgewise. He didn’t even interject when Hart decided to test out his bit on being a “mitch,” or “man bitch,” which is some frankly uninspired wordplay.

Booking for future guests will matter. Noah is testing out the waters this week with a former Tinder CEO, Governor Chris Christie, and professional Taylor Swift enthusiast Ryan Adams. Like Stewart before him, though, interviewing just isn’t Noah’s strongest suit. Then again, Stewart had 16 years to work on it, and Noah’s just made it through day one.

5. There is no comedy show on this planet that can resist the allure of d**k jokes.

 Comedy Central | Noah is VERY EXCITED about the Pope! Popemania! Etc!

In the span of an impressive few minutes, Noah managed to pivot from Syria (“now for something light”) to the Pope’s east coast tour, to the “Popemoji” keyboard created in his honor. Within seconds, the cartoony graphic of the Pope eating a Philly cheesesteak was making an appearance in a bit about the dangers of emoji sexting.

So no, Trevor Noah is not Jon Stewart, nor is he trying to be. Noah’s tenure will be different from Stewart’s by virtue of the two men being very different kinds of comics. But he is still sitting in that chair, behind that desk, honoring The Daily Show‘s pun graphics (and graphic puns).

(…)

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: September 29, 2015

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

THE WEEK

1. Obama and Putin clash over Syria
President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin clashed openlyMonday over Syria before they held what Putin called “frank talks” on the Syrian civil war during the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Obama said in a speech that Russia’s support of the government in Syria was harmful to “democratic principles and human rights.” Putin said the West’s efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a violation of international law and “an enormous mistake,” because his army can defeat the Islamic State.

Source: The Washington Post

2. NASA says it found evidence that water recently flowed on Mars
Scientists have discovered definitive evidence of liquid water on the surface of present-day Mars, NASA announced Monday. The find could help answer the question of whether there is life in the solar system beyond Earth, as water is a necessary part of that equation. Satellite images showed streaks left by what appeared to be water flowing downhill, along with salt deposits that would have kept the water from freezing. Scientists said there must have been liquid water there recently to leave the hydrated salt deposits.

Source: The New York Times

3. Airstrike kills 131 at Yemen wedding
Two missiles killed 131 people at a wedding party in Yemen, medics told Reuters Tuesday, in one of the most deadly attacks on civilians in the country’s civil war. Witnesses blamed the Saudi-led coalition that started bombing Shiite Houthi rebels six months ago. The coalition denied that it fired on the event, where people were gathered for the marriage of a man with ties to the Houthis, and suggested that local militia were responsible.

Source: Reuters

4. Taliban seizes Afghan provincial capital
The Taliban seized the provincial governor’s office in the city of Kunduz in northern Afghanistan on Monday, in one of the Islamist extremist movement’s biggest victories since it was driven out of power 14 years ago. It was the second Taliban assault on the city since NATO pulled out most of its troops last year, and “the first major breach of a provincial capital since 2001,” said Graeme Smith, senior analyst for International Crisis Group. “They are choking the Afghan forces from all sides. It looks pretty grim.”

Source: Reuters

5. Senate advances bill to avoid a government shutdown
The Senate on Monday advanced stopgap spending legislation aiming to avert a looming government shutdown, clearing the way for a vote on Tuesday. Senators voted 77 to 19 in favor of moving ahead with the bill, which would extend funds for federal agencies for 10 weeks without cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, as conservatives wanted. If the Senate approves the bill, the House will have time to consider it before aWednesday deadline.

Source: The Hill

6. Germany investigating ex-VW CEO’s role in emissions scandal
German prosecutors on Monday launched a criminal investigation into former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn’s involvement in the automaker’s emissions-cheating scandal. Winterkorn resigned last week after admitting that the automaker had equipped 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide with software to cheat on emissions tests. Winterkorn apologized but denied wrongdoing. VW is recalling the vehicles to make a fix.

Source: Bloomberg

7. Pope says officials have right to refuse duties over religious beliefs
Pope Francis said Monday that government officials have a “human right” to refuse to carry out duties that are inconsistent with their religious beliefs — such as issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The pope did not address the issue of gay marriage directly during his just-completed six-day visit to the U.S., although the Catholic church opposes it. “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right,” Francis said on the flight back to Rome.

Source: Reuters

8. More bad news from China sinks U.S. stocks
U.S. stocks plunged by roughly 2 percent Monday afternoon after disappointing data from China stoked fears that the world’s second largest economy was in trouble. Profits at Chinese industrial companies fell by 8.8 percent last month. “Whenever the market is down, the first place to look these days is China,” said John Manley of Wells Fargo Fund Management. “Right now, we need evidence that China is not slowing that much and that profits are still going to be OK.”

Source: The Associated Press

9. Former prison worker gets up to 7 years for helping inmates escape
A judge sentenced former prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell to up to seven years in prison on Monday for smuggling tools to help convicted murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt escape. A plea deal allowed Mitchell to avoid charges connected to an alleged plot to kill her husband, Lyle, and for sexual contact with Sweat and Matt. “If I could take it all back I would,” Mitchell said, sobbing, at the hearing.

Source: NBC News

10. Trevor Noah makes Daily Show debut
Trevor Noah officially took over from Jon Stewart as host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show on Monday, promising to continue Stewart’s “war on bull***t.” Noah received praise for a smooth and funny debut. The new host joked about everything from Pope Francis’ U.S. visit (“He’s like a young Bernie Sanders”) and NASA’s evidence of water on Mars (“Don’t worry, California, they’ll find water on you too, someday”).

Source: The Washington Post

U.S. Politics

Donald Trump on 60 Minutes was exactly the catastrophe you’d expect it to be

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

AMERICA BLOG

Donald Trump appeared on 60 Minutes last night to talk the campaign, the Islamic State and, perhaps most significantly, his soon-to-be unveiled tax plan. True to form for the man who somehow still leads Republican primary polling (although his lead is shrinking), he was utterly incoherent — a fact made plainer by the dry, erudite setting of a 60 Minutes interview.

Over the course of the 15 minute segment, Trump committed to the following:

Cutting taxes for pretty much everyone, but raising them for bad people

As president, Donald Trump would enact a massive tax cut for individuals and corporations, which he would pay for by closing loopholes on “Wall Street.” If that sounds like a caricature of a Democratic talking point, it’s because it almost is. Cutting taxes for everyone except top earners was a staple of both of Barack Obama’s presidential bids. What makes Trump’s cut different is that he’d cut taxes for those top earners, too, while targeting “hedge fund managers” as an industry for revenues that will, mythically, pay for everything else.

Trump also appears confused as to who is currently paying taxes. In the interview, he made a great deal out of the fact that under his plan, many Americans would see their tax rate drop to zero, before noting that “we’re talking about people in the low-income brackets that are supposed to be paying taxes. Many of them don’t anyway.” Apparently, Trump thinks that Mitt Romney’s so-called “47 percent” of Americans who don’t qualify for income tax — a group predominantly made up of children and seniors — have been dodging their taxes, and Trump will solve that problem by eliminating their tax obligations entirely. Never mind the fact that we already have a tax bracket with a zero percent rate.

Getting our jobs back with “leadership,” and a trade war with China

To interviewer Scott Pelley’s credit, throughout the interview, he made a point to interject with followup reality checks when Trump made his signature bloviations, constantly reminding him that “the President of the United States is not CEO of America,” and doesn’t get to just make the kinds of decisions Trump says he can make without any kind of check on his power.

For instance, when Trump promised to bring American jobs back, Pelley interjected with, “But how do you get them back?” All Trump had by way of answer was “By taking them away from other countries” and not allowing China to devalue their currency. As if no one else had ever thought of that.

When Pelley pointed out that “you’re not going to be able to prevent the devaluation of their currency,” Trump simply said “sure you are,” threatening tariffs on Chinese imports if they don’t “behave.” When Pelley (correctly) noted that Trump was calling for a trade war with one of our largest trading partners, Trump didn’t really object, simply saying that he preferred the term “fair war.”

Trump also promised to violate the terms of NAFTA and tax cars made by Ford in Mexico. When Pelley objected that, as president, he would have to live with existing treaties and agreements, Trump simply said “We will either renegotiate it, or we will break it.” Which sounds great, until you sit down to negotiate your next international agreement and no one believes the terms you’re offering.

“Rounding [the illegals] up,” but humanely

Call it the Law of the Deal: The longer a conversation with Donald Trump drags on, the probability of illegal immigration and Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” being discussed approaches one. This was no exception.

But again, to Pelley’s credit, he didn’t let Trump get away with his traditional lines about building a Great Wall of Texas for “peanuts” and having that be that. When Pelley asked Trump what he would do with the 12 million people already in the country who entered illegally, suggesting that Trump’s plan sounded like he was “rounding them all up,” Trump agreed, saying “We’re rounding them up in a very humane way, in a very nice way. And they’re gonna be happy because they want to be legalized. And by the way, I know it doesn’t sound ‘nice’ but not everything is nice.”

For all of the the times Donald Trump has compared non-citizens to animals, that was perhaps the most overtly animalistic language Trump has used.

Beating the Islamic State with military force, and also by doing nothing

Donald Trump entered the interview with a secret plan to fight the Islamic State. And after spilling the beans to Pelley as to how exactly he would eradicate the militant group, it makes all the more sense why he’d been keeping it a secret.

Trump first said he would address the Islamic State “forcefully.” Then, in literally the next sentence, said that he would address the Islamic State by doing nothing, and letting them first finish fighting the Syrian regime (with Russia’s help).

Trump also promised to make China fix North Korea, in lieu of bombing the North Korean regime on his own.

Repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Obamacare

We’ve heard this one before, but not with so much feeling. Donald Trump promised to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a plan that will “take care of everybody,” and “the government’s going to pay for it,” but, “for the most part, it will be a private plan.”

You know what that sounds like?

Yep, Obamacare.

Jon Green

U.S. Politics

Ted Cruz Throws Tantrum On Senate Floor After Learning He Can’t Shut Down Government Again (VIDEO)

ADDICTING INFO

Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R) may have had a pretty spotty track record during his time in office, but his last act – resigning in disgrace – may have been the very best thing he did. With Republican leadership suddenly in disarray, the government shutdown that Tea Party conservatives led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had been planning now seems to have gone completely off the rails. Cruz is VERY upset.

Cruz had originally planned to introduce an amendment to a government funding bill that would have – follow me here – placed a one-year ban on giving federal funds to Planned Parenthood and block the Iran nuclear deal all in one fell swoop. If those goals seemed quixotic at best, that’s because their very impossibility was the entire point. Cruz, who already has one government shutdown under his belt, planned on getting a second one, just in time for election season.

Instead of marching Washington into gridlock, a possibility that just a week ago was looking like a grim inevitability, Boehner resigned and Republicans were thrown into chaos. Cruz was forced to watch with helpless humiliation as his so-called amendmentgot shot down before his eyes.

The Texas Republican, who is running for president, was blocked from offering his amendment during a voice vote. He tried to get a roll call vote but couldn’t get the necessary support from his colleagues.

So did Cruz take the news of his unraveling government shutdown plan well? He did not.

In an hour long rant on the Senate floor, Cruz appeared so angry that he hardly managed to stick on one subject before jumping onto the next. He accused his own party, which had just thrown him under the bus, of giving into President Obama. In the process, he took as many potshots at his soon-to-be former colleague, John Boehner, as possible.

“The Speaker of the House John Boehner announced he was going to resign. There was lots of speculation on the media as to why [Boehner] resigned. Mr. President, I’m going to tell you why he resigned: It’s actually a direct manifestation of this disconnect between the voters back home and Republican leadership. Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell had promised there will be no shutdown, so therefore they will fund every single priority of Barack Obama.”

(First of all, that’s President Obama to you, Ted. It’s customary to afford the dignity of the office to the man who holds it when addressing him on the floor of the Senate – whether you personally respect him or not.)

The prime issue Cruz had was that his fellow Republicans showed a willingness to compromise with Democrats. Compromise is what most Americans say they want Congress to do, but Cruz would prefer to have things his way or not at all. Any sign of capitulation is treason in his mind. Cruz thinks the continued existence of the government he works for can and should be used as a hostage whenever possible.

While Cruz may enjoy watching the government shut down, it’s easy to see why members of the Republican leadership were freaking out about the possibility of a second one in just two years. The first shutdown may have made Cruz a household name, and an icon of the far-right, but it was a disaster for both the Republican Party (which was universally blamed) and the American people (which were universally screwed over). A second shutdown would likely get Ted Cruz a slight bump in the polls during the Republican primaries… and cost the GOP one of the worst electoral defeats in United States history.

In other words, Republicans were saving Ted Cruz’s ass by putting an end to his silly attempt to bully his way into a government shutdown. And like a child who was forced to eat his vegetables, he resents the grownups in the room for making him do it.