Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Night to Remember. And Then Forget

After prom, after graduation, after all the senior-year pageantry, I hope each and every one of the graduates - black and white - from Charleston High School are able to put their sad little town in the rearview mirror.

Maybe that's not the right thing to say.

But I can't help myself. This is how I feel. When HBO's fascinating but frustrating documentary, "Prom Night in Mississippi," reached its uplifting - though carefully planned - denouement, I found myself wanting a more satisfying final act for the teens trapped in this Mississippi Delta backwater.

So what brought the film crew to town?

Well, like a lot of places, Charleston, Miss. - pop. 2,100 - moved deliberately in complying with the 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate its schools. Blacks student weren't allowed inside the classrooms and hallways of Charleston High until 1970. But the integration was far from complete: white students went to one prom while the blacks went to another.

After 27 years of segregated proms, celebrated actor - and Charleston native - Morgan Freeman came to the school with an offer. He volunteered to pay for the prom, as long as it was integrated. Believe it or not, his offer was turned down.

We pick up the story 11 years later, when Freeman again comes to school officials and students with a plea to end the segregated proms. This time, they take him up on his offer.

So we follow Freeman on his journey back to his hometown, a hardscrabble north central Mississippi town of about 2,100 with a median annual income of less than $18,000. Half of the children in town live below the poverty line - some important context that we never learn from the filmmakers. In fact, Charleston is the county seat of one of the poorest areas of Mississippi, which makes it one of the poorest areas of the country.

And soon we're meeting the kids, who are as smart and funny and silly and innocent and naive and manipulated as any kid that shared a classroom with you in high school. But, of course, it's not the teens who are the problem in Charleston.

In front of Freeman and the cameras, the students seem willing to party together. Away from the cameras, the white students meet with their parents later and decide to hold their own segregated senior prom anyway.

"A lot of the older people I know, they’re pretty racist,” said Andy, one of the white students who decided to go only to the integrated prom. "They wouldn’t, like, be the kind who would go hang anybody or anything. They just talk about it a lot. They talk about black people.”

Another student identified as "Billy Joe" but who we never see on-camera said: "I don't look at someone because they're white or because they're black. I just look at people because of what's inside of them. How they make me feel when I'm around them. But the adults around here. You don't tell them that. Because they'll get mad at you. Real mad. There's people around here who will disown their kids if they try to mix things up like that ... A lot of parents are like that."

As expected, what's missing from the documentary are the voices - and faces - of those fighting hard to keep the prom from being integrated. Few white parents are willing to go on camera, and their voices and grievances are sorely missing from the film. From their children, we hear what you might expect: they don't want niggers grinding all up on their daughters. It always comes down to this, it seems. That fear has "just drowned out common sense," Freeman said.

The few white parents willing to speak publicly don't come off at all like Bull Connor or David Duke. Far from it. In fact, one of the most reasonable people in the documentary might be Glenn Sumner, a self-described "redneck" whose daughter Heather dates a black student named Jeremy.

Sumner does not approve of the interracial relationship - the only one in the school - and says so: "She hollers I'm racist. You can ask anybody that knows me ... which, several hundred people around town know me because I've been here for years and years - I'm not a racist. I'll help anybody in any way that I can. But like I say, it's just going to be so hard on her when she gets older. She got blinders on; all she can see is straight ahead. She can't see from side to side because she ain't got no experience in life."

Really, it's not important whether Sumner is racist. He probably is. But his concerns are well-intentioned and valid, as long as Heather and Jeremy spend their lives in Charleston.

Which is the problem.

The kids go to the prom. Everyone seems to have a good time, including one tiny but indomitable freshman girl who served a senior on the dance floor. The prom goes off without a hitch. Freeman should be applauded for his effort.

But when all the dancing is over, you might find yourself wondering how much really changed. And then you find out that Charleston High had another all-white prom the following year. Segregation survived after all.

For the sake of Andy, Billy Joe, Heather, Jeremy and all the other teens, I hope they set out for brighter horizons - even if it's only Jackson - after graduation and only return to Charleston for holidays. The world has passed this tiny Southern town by, and only time and certain death can cure Charleston of its true ills.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Class warfare

A war more lopsided than the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington Generals:

Income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression, according to a recently updated paper by University of California, Berkeley Professor Emmanuel Saez. The paper, which covers data through 2007, points to a staggering, unprecedented disparity in American incomes.

Though income inequality has been growing for some time, the paper paints a stark, disturbing portrait of wealth distribution in America. Saez calculates that in 2007 the top .01 percent of American earners took home 6 percent of total U.S. wages, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000.

As of 2007, the top decile of American earners, Saez writes, pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages, a level that's "higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the 'roaring" 1920s.'"

Steve Benen nails it: "Any efforts to address this, of course, will be immediately met with cries of "socialism," "class warfare," and "welfare state." Today's conservatives see a chart like this and think, "It is as it should be." Continue Reading »

A Business of Ca-Ching!

Steve and Marian Coddington are having problems with their insurance company:

Each morning, Steve has to gamble – rushing the children to school, barreling through the grocery store for the day’s supplies and bolting home, praying all the while that nothing has happened to Marian in his absence. He is trying to keep his family together and happy and to meet everyone's needs, but he's drowning.

He has hired an attorney to fight CIGNA’s refusal to pay for additional care, but it’s an agonizingly slow, arduous process of seeking medical documentation, waiting for hospitals, doctors and CIGNA to reply to requests for records.

But, amazingly, in all of this, Marian IS making progress. Her vocabulary is growing and her interaction with Steve and the children gives hope to them all. By using a lift he bought with his own money, Steve was able to get Marian on a treadmill to begin moving and exercising her legs. He is trying to enroll her in a University of South Florida speech therapy program. But he’s running out of money and time and options.

We all know, and experts who have seen Marian, evaluated her and treated her agree, that Marian can make a tremendous recovery. That she can be a participant in her family and a mother to her children. The single impediment to her recovery has been the insurance that she and Steve paid for, for years, and then had the nerve to rely upon when it was time for them to use the coverage they had purchased.

For the record: CIGNA reported a second-quarter profit of $435 million, a 60 percent increase.

Also, outgoing CIGNA Chairman and CEO H. Edward Hanway took home a compensation package worth nearly $23 million in 2007 "boosted by a big bonus awarded during a year of lackluster stock performance."

Their motto is "A Business of Caring." Emphasis on the business.

Post-script: I'm obviously biased here - Steve Coddington is a former co-worker and friend of some of my friends. I don't know him well. But I don't need to to know that something is terribly wrong with this system.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Breaking: Vick to Eagles

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is reporting that Michael Vick has signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.

I can dig that.

Frankly, there’s not much of a downside: the Eagles get another playmaker; Philly is the right city with the right fanbase to welcome Vick back into the League; and the Eagles have no immediate need to thrust Vick into the lineup.

And if McNabb gets hurt – and he usually does – then you’ve got Vick coming off the sideline to handle things.

Also, let’s be real: if there’s a franchise whose fans might run a dog-fighting ring as part of the tailgating experience, it’s probably Philly. And then Oakland.

In case folks don’t what Vick used to do before he went into the clink, here’s his resume:

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Clinton, Congo and Cooler Heads

So, earlier today I was checking out the video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton* momentarily losing her cool after being asked a question that she thought was about what "Mr. Clinton" thought about an international trade issue:

""You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" she asked incredulously when the student raised a question about a multibillion-dollar Chinese loan offer to Congo.

"If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion," she said. "I am not going to be channeling my husband.".

No, it wasn't an "outburst," a "meltdown" or a "blow-up." It was nowhere near a big deal** - unless, of course, you happened to be the extremely nervous Congolese student on the other end of Clinton's withering response.

And given her background, her husband's sometimes mettlesome ways and the relentless misogyny she's faced over the years, Clinton's initial exasperation at the question could certainly be understood.

But ...

More than anything, that response almost perfectly crystallized the reason why I preferred Barack Obama to Clinton, McCain and any of the other contenders for the White House last year. If we're being honest with ourselves, we know that very little separated Obama from Clinton in terms of agenda (if anything, I preferred Clinton's more ambitious health care goals). There was also a moment when - very early in the primaries - I found myself wanting Obama to gracefully bow out so that the stronger Democratic candidate could win the nomination.

But when it came to diplomacy, it became apparent very early on that Obama had no peer in the presidential race. He hardly ever seemed to lose his cool. He almost always seemed willing to disarm his opponents with poise rather than pique.

Remember his deft touch when Jeremiah Wright nearly threatened to consume his campaign? Remember John McCain's sneering performance in their debates, punctuated by the "That One" remark? Remember the moment we all - regrettably - came to know Joe the Plumber?

In retrospect, that impromptu confrontation had the potential to get ugly. It's almost amazing that anyone could have bum rushed Obama like that in the streets, especially given the heightened security that he was supposedly outfitted with from the start. But Obama completely diffused the situation. He politely answered the questions, and sent the perturbed - and phony - plumber back on his way.

Most importantly, when it came to matters of foreign policy, Obama was wedded to the idea that engaging your enemies was best while Clinton and McCain seemed all too eager to embrace military force as a solution. Of course, Clinton and McCain called Obama "naive" while Obama countered that diplomacy was no sign of weakness.

Yes, at some point during the campaign, I decided that I would rather have the composed Obama representing our country's interests abroad rather than someone given to "running hard right." We saw what eight years of that brand of cowboy diplomacy did to our country's rep around the globe.

Can you imagine President Obama dressing down an obviously jittery college kid? Even on his worst day? Right.

Then again, it's definitely possible that I'm making too much of this.

I don't think Clinton is an ugly American. I'm not out to do the dirty work of that The Corner can do so skillfully. I can understand why some might actually applaud her reaction. And I don't want the true purpose of her visit to Congo to get lost because of the news media's silly cycle.

But it's nice to remember that, once upon a time, my instincts might have been right.

*I'm a sucker for using formal titles. Sorry if that seems awkward.

** Unless you're referring to the presence of Dikembe Mutombo. That was really dope.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The real death panels

Via Digby, Southern Beale gives Sarah Palin a lesson on "death panels":

In your free market wonderland everyone somehow manages to get healthcare, even those who are poor or live in isolated areas, though the poor and isolated in your own state required assistance from the federal government.

And despite all of this, you appear blithely unaware that the free market healthcare system we have now does, indeed, have “death panels.” I’ve been part of a death panel conversation. I know about death panels.

You have no idea what it’s like to be called into a sterile conference room with a hospital administrator you’ve never met before and be told that your mother’s insurance policy will only pay for 30 days in ICU. You can't imagine what it's like to be advised that you need to “make some decisions,” like whether your mother should be released “HTD” which is hospital parlance for “home to die,” or if you want to pay out of pocket to keep her in the ICU another week. And when you ask how much that would cost you are given a number so impossibly large that you realize there really are no decisions to make. The decision has been made for you. "Living will" or no, it doesn't matter. The bank account and the insurance policy have trumped any legal document.

If this isn’t a “death panel” I don’t know what is.

Is it possible that Palin didn't already know this? Or is she a liar? With her, it's almost always hard to tell where the ignorance ends and the dishonesty begins. Continue Reading »

Memory Lane

I truly believe that Mystikal could only come from a place like New Orleans. And that's a compliment.

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"I'm a virgin. I always have been."

Via Instaputz, I'm not sure that Ross Douthat was watching the same movie that I did:

No movie has made saving — and saving, and saving — your virginity seem as enviable as “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” whose closing segue into connubial bliss played like an infomercial for True Love Waits.
Is it possible that Douthat really does hate sex?

Also, we have completely different views on the word "enviable."
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Free Period

So where do we go from here? President Obama has been portrayed as a monkey, witch doctor, various types of pimps and now The Joker. Certainly, there’s more variations on this general theme.

But I really want to know, what’s the endgame? Is this supposed to advance some principled political opposition? Or merely “to get their country back”?:

As always, Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup has been posted over at PostBourgie.

In this week's post, we talk about health care, California's overcrowded prisons, what's wrong with "no homo," Princess Moroccan Barbie, the rise on an unsettling trend, why Bob Herbert is boring and, once again, Michael Vick. Of course, there's also a bunch of other stuff.

Enjoy. And more later.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Free period

Today is just a lazy Sunday, which is probably not a great thing since I had to work this morning and afternoon. And I'm doing a lot more reading than writing, which is probably a great thing since I'm much better at the former than the latter.

Anyway, here's a few housecleaning notes:

1. I'm still trying to figure out how to make the "Continue Reading" tab disappear for posts that don't need it. I suck with HTML (and computers in general), so this might be an ongoing problem for awhile. If you've got any tips, please share them.

2. Speaking of my sucky computer skills, I have some ideas for how to improve this site but I obviously can't afford a professional on a journalist's salary. Which means I gotta go for dolo. You might have noticed that I recently added my Twitter feed in the right column. I think the subhead needs some work. You all have any ideas? I've heard from a few folks that they want me to re-do the blog list to include the title of the most-recent post. That all? Speak up if you'd like to see something.

3. I'm still working on that to-do list, believe it or not. The Plaxico Burress post idea has sort of morphed though ... I think it's gonna be a list of players who probably should have become Hall-of-Fame worthy but didn't. He's on the list.

4. If you have a minute, please go here and vote for PostBourgie in the Best Political/News blog category. Should we win, there's a slim chance that we might get to go to the Black People's Awards. I want that Pookie.

5. A few hip-hop related notes: I mentioned on Twitter that I think Drake might be in the conversation of top five active hip-hop artists. For real; I recently discovered that the name of the rapper who performed "Pistol Grip Pump" is Volume 10. That is all; If I could redo that list of my favorite diss tracks, I would definitely include UNLV/Bad Ass Yellow Boy's "Drag Em Thru The River" that was directed at Mystikal. A terrible oversight; Check out Ave's list of his favorite 15 ATCQ songs. It deserves a response, and I'll have one soon.

That's all for now. More later. Continue Reading »