Sunday, February 3, 2019

Last Call For Prisoners Of Our Own Past

America's infrastructure is collapsing on a daily basis, and it will never be repaired as long as the GOP is in charge of the country in any meaningful way, but let's not forget that the state that Wall Street built isn't exactly covering itself with laurels these days when it comes to anything more than promises.  NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo like to talk about how New York can finally become a more liberal society, but the Empire State still has a long way to go.

The inmates were held in cramped cells that had no electricity and were frigid cold. Vents in the ceiling were stuffed with clothing or cardboard to keep out icy air. At 2 p.m., the jail population had not yet been fed.

Those were the conditions described on Saturday by elected officials in New York City who had visited a federal jail on the Brooklyn waterfront, Metropolitan Detention Center, where more than 1,600 inmates have been largely confined to their freezing, dark cells for nearly a week, since an electrical fire partially cut off power to the jail, prompting management to cancel visits and place inmates on lockdown.
“The situation is really, really a nightmare,” said Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a Democrat whose district includes the jail. “It is like living in a closet without lights.”

Officials, including Ms. Velázquez, who was initially denied a full tour of the facility on Friday night, stood on the stairs of the jail after their visit and spoke to a crowd of a few hundred that had gathered for a rally to demand that the inmates get heat, hot meals and be allowed to contact their families and lawyers.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, denounced what he called a “total lack of urgency and concern” by the warden, Herman Quay, and jail management. Inmates who needed electrical power for sleep apnea machines were at risk of a stroke, Mr. Nadler noted.

When Mr. Nadler announced that contracted electricians had already left, and that power was unlikely to be restored over the weekend, the crowd grew angry.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons released a statement on Saturday night on behalf of the jail’s management, saying that a new electrical panel had been installed by an outside contractor that day and that the “facility is working to restore power as expeditiously as possible.” It expected work to be completed by Monday.

The statement continued: “Inmates have hot water for showers and hot water in the sinks in the cell. Essential personal hygiene items and medical services continue to be provided.”

Here's the best part though:

Many family members said they had not heard from relatives since last weekend and were not given any information when they called the jail. They learned about what was happening through Twitter and news reports.

That included both de Blasio and Cuomo, who had no idea what was going on until this story gained traction over the weekend, several days after the electrical fire.  Without criminal justice reform activists spreading the word, the Metro Detention Center's inmates would still be kept in the dark, and America along with it.

White Jerseys, Red Hats

The Big Game is today, and Daily Beast's Corbin Smith argues that there's no other team in the NFL that represents white MAGA resentment quite like the New England Patriots, representing a city full of white resentment whose fans want to go back to when America was "great".

This past weekend, the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots held a rally for their sweatiest fans at Gillette Stadium. Brady gave a speech. It ended… unnervingly.

WE’RE STILL HERE! WE’RE STILL HERE! Obviously, Brady is referring to his aging, decrepit, cheating-ass squad’s progressionto the big game. But, imagine you didn’t know anything about football, or who Tom Brady was, or anything like that. You would think that you were watching some square-jawed grifter throwing red meat to the hogs at an alt-right rally, screaming at the libs who thought Nancy Pelosi and her gender warriors were gonna keep DECENT AMERICAN FOLKS from BEING HERE.

Of course, even if you do know stuff about Brady you may still think he’s on his way to pursuing this line of grifting. He flashed a red MAGA hat, an accoutrement that is gaining more and more traction as a symbol of white nationalism in America, in his locker back in the primary days. He wasn’t the only one! Patriots’ Coach Bill Belichick wrote a goddamn letter to Trump right before the end of the campaign that basically amounted to an endorsement, that Trump then read on stage. And Pats’ owner Robert Kraft is also his pal, and was even shouted out at Trump’s pre-Inauguration dinner in D.C. for his most deep-pocketed donors.

The whole institution of Boston sports, from root to stem, is tinged with the sort of racism that brought Trump into office. The Boston Red Sox were the last MLB team to desegregate, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson entered the league. The Sox’s first owner, Tom Yawkey, was an infamous racist whose speech was peppered with racial slurs. Larry Bird became a symbol of white resentment during his time in the NBA, his jersey appearing as a symbol of white entitlement to black spaces in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. His large teammate, Kevin McHale, was spotted at a Trump rally during the election.

And hey, it’s not like their fans are cool guys, either! Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, a toxic masculinity-humping outpost for the world’s worst people, is a Boston sports fan. A Red Sox fan yelled a racial slur and threw a bag of peanuts at Adam Jones a mere two seasons ago. Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia told ESPN, “I’ve never been called the N-word” anywhere but in Boston.

Bill Russell, the legendary Celtics center and 11-Time NBA champion, the greatest Boston athlete of all time by a considerable margin, called Boston a “Flea Market of racism” in his wonderful memoir Second Wind. “It had all varieties, old and new, and in their most virulent form. The city had corrupt, city hall-crony racists, brick-throwing, send-‘em-back-to-Africa racists, and in the university areas phony radical-chic racists… Other than that, I liked the city.”

I've never forgiven Brady and the Pats for beating my Carolina Panthers 15 years ago, and yeah, whether you like the Pats or not, Tom Brady is the best QB in the NFL and arguably the best player to ever have taken an NFL snap.

Having said that, the Pats are definitely Team MAGA, and a lot of their fans are perfectly okay with that.

Go Rams.

Sunday Long Read: No Girls Allowed

Five decades ago, Alice de Rivera changed public schools forever when she applied to New York state's famous Stuyvesant High, the state's premier magnet residential high school for science and mathematics.  Having attended a similar school 25 years ago in North Carolina, this story definitely hit home.

Fifty years ago this month, at a time when America was divided on questions of war, race, and gender, Alice de Rivera decided that she was fed up with her lousy high school in New York. She was thirteen, with arching eyebrows that made her look as if she was questioning everything about the world. Her father, Joseph, was a psychology professor, and her mother, Margaret, was an educational therapist; the family had moved around between college towns before settling in Brooklyn, where de Rivera enrolled in John Jay High School, the local public school. “I was good at studying and skipped third grade, which is why I was so young when I was at John Jay,” she told me, recently. She was always a bit of a tomboy, and, though shy, she was unafraid to stand up for herself. She sometimes ran her brother’s morning paper route, a job that few girls she knew undertook. As a freshman, she was named the editor of John Jay’s underground newspaper, the Streetfighter. Later, to a reporter, she described herself as “cerebral,” and argued that being smart shouldn’t hurt a girl socially. “It’s good if a boy asks you to help him with his homework,” she said.

De Rivera was especially strong in math and science, and she scored in the ninety-ninth percentile on a city-wide math examination. But John Jay was poor in those subjects, and teachers showed no interest in mentorship. She lived a twenty-minute subway ride away from Stuyvesant High School, a specialized public school in downtown Manhattan that was widely regarded as the best secondary school in the country, and one that focussed on math and science. But, since its founding, sixty-five years earlier, Stuyvesant had been all-male, so de Rivera was barred from applying. In the fall of 1968, at the student union, de Rivera met Mia Rublowsky, a tenth-grade math whiz who was also feeling stifled, and considering applying to Stuyvesant despite the sex restriction. In the lunchroom, the two of them talked about the unfairness of the system, and how to fight back. “My parents were not unmoved, but both of them, especially my mother, did not see it as an atrocity on the level of Vietnam,” de Rivera said.

The pair met with Ramona Ripston, an activist at the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, which had fought cases on behalf of the Black Panthers and conscientious objectors to the draft. Ripston informed the girls that Rublowsky couldn’t apply to Stuyvesant, because she was too old to transfer in, even if she were a boy. (The school accepted only freshmen and sophomores, and Rublowsky would soon be a junior.) But de Rivera was a perfect plaintiff. “As a freshman asking to transfer into a specialized high school, I was a clean case,” she said. Ripston convinced Eleanor Jackson Piel, an activist lawyer, to take on the case pro bono, and de Rivera was soon meeting regularly with the two women about her case and taking notes in a three-ring binder. Fighting educational sexual segregation was a radical idea at the time: most Ivy League universities, prep schools, and specialized public schools were still all-male. But Piel felt that barring academically talented girls from attending an élite public school violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause, and intended to take the school to court.

At the women’s encouragement, de Rivera requested an application from Stuyvesant. The principal at the time was Dr. Leonard J. Fliedner, a stuffy, sixty-nine-year-old chemist who had authored the textbook “Chemistry: Man’s Servant.” Students called him the Flea. (This was also, cheekily, the name of the school’s underground newspaper.) At the school’s commencement ceremony, in 1960, after he gave an American Legion award during a period of growing counter-cultural sentiment, they booed him so loudly that it made the Times; one journalist pointed to the incident as a sign of unrest among the youth. Fliedner whacked down de Rivera’s request with a nasty letter that read, in essence, “no girls.” He later told a reporter, “It wouldn’t be just her. There would be a couple of hundred others. And we simply haven’t got the facilities. We’d need a girls’ gym and medical facilities, and a dean of women.” On January 20, 1969, de Rivera filed a lawsuit in New York against the state’s Board of Education.

The story has a bittersweet ending, and Stuyvesant High remains the Empire State's top secondary school today, but the latest battle now involves the fact that three-quarters of Stuyvesant High's students are Asian-American, and how both Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo say its time to change how students are selected, something that will almost certainly end up before the Supreme Court.

The Drums Of War, Con't

Meanwhile in Venezuela, kinda maybe President Nicolas Maduro and kinda maybe President Juan Guiado are facing off in the arena of public opinion as Maduro is calling for new parliamentary elections while protests against his regime grow daily in the streets.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro proposed early parliamentary elections on Saturday, seeking to shore up his crumbling rule after a senior general defected to the opposition and tens of thousands thronged the streets in protest at his government

As domestic and international pressure on Maduro to step down mounts, a senior air force general disavowed him in a video that circulated earlier on Saturday, expressing his allegiance to parliament head and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido.

The military’s support is crucial for Maduro, who is deeply unpopular, largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions. Maduro claims he is victim of a coup directed by the United States.

In a speech to supporters, Maduro said the powerful government-controlled Constituent Assembly would debate calling elections this year for the National Assembly parliament, which is opposition-controlled.

Guaido has called for a new, fair presidential election after the disputed vote won by Maduro last year.

“You want elections? You want early elections? We are going to have parliamentary elections,” Maduro told a pro-government rally in Caracas, held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s first inauguration as president.

Opposition lawmaker Armando Armas said in a statement that proposing bringing forward the parliamentary elections, which were scheduled for 2020, was just another act of provocation.

Maduro is not president and the Constituent Assembly has no legitimacy, no value,” he said

Unfortunately, plenty of Democrats are also behind the idea of regime change in Venezuela, none more invested than the number two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin.

It is impossible to overstate the gravity of the situation now facing the people of Venezuela: children fainting at school from malnutrition; even basic medicines unavailable; the return of deadly disease; rampant corruption; and the mass exodus of anyone able-bodied. But the collapse of Venezuela goes way beyond a political challenge.

Last April, I attended a secret dinner held in a private room above a Caracas neighborhood restaurant. The five members of the Venezuelan National Assembly gathered there had been elected as part of a new majority in opposition to the Maduro regime. Nicolas Maduro responded by trying to disband the National Assembly, change the constitution, and create a sham parallel body filled with his loyal supporters.

These five, all in their 30s and despite, in several cases, having been elected in areas that favor the former socialist President Hugo Chávez, were marked as opponents of the regime. They were very open about their fate.

They collectively and ominously warned that if Maduro proceeded with the rigged election and I returned the next year, I would not find them there. They said it was likely that two would be jailed, two exiled and one would just disappear. They had seen firsthand how the Maduro regime treated its opponents. Their stark comments were a grim reminder that political contests in many countries can turn deadly

There's an extremely good chance that the US military will be involved in ousting Maduro from power, and that the closer Trump gets to his own reckoning, the sooner the bullets start flying in Caracas.

When it does, Trump will undoubtedly have the blessing of both parties.
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