Author Archives: rhetcrit

2014 School Year Demographics

Pew Research is reporting that the US Department of Education projects this school year to be the first time public schools will be “majority minority.” That is, minorities will outnumber whites in the school system this year, with the latter comprising 49.7 percent of the student population. Pew goes on to credit the growth of Hispanic and Asian students as the main driving factor in this demographic shift. This chart shows the trend and projects to 2022.



UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, assessing the state of schools 60 years after Brown v Board of Education. The report, called Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future “shows that the nation’s two largest regions, the South and West, now have a majority of what were called ‘minority’ students. Whites are only the second largest group in the West. The South, always the home of most black students, now has more Latinos than blacks and is a profoundly tri-racial region.” (The complete CRP report Brown at 60 can be downloaded here.)

The news isn’t all good though. The Washington Post, analyzing the report, argues, “[w]e have to look at demographics through geography — and education policy through housing patterns,” and in fact, that though minorities account for more than half of the student population, more than half of America’s schools will remain majority white. How is this possible? It is the product of de facto segregation – neighborhoods that remain consistently majority one race or another, for example. They go on: “If minorities are largely concentrated in nearly all-minority schools as a result of housing segregation, the number of majority-white schools could still outnumber them (imagine what would happen, for instance, if we had 55 minority children and 45 whites ones in a district with five schools, and two of those five schools were 100 percent minority).” 

Drive through any metropolitan area in America and you will see segregation is still largely the norm, de facto or otherwise. I’ve long argued the way we fund public school education in this country is problematic, and will continue to segregate neighborhoods. If we are going to continue to rely on property taxes as the source of education funding then expensive – read: in praxis white – neighborhoods are going to have better funded schools, and by extension better schools period. An easy, but likely politically suicidal solution would be to pool all the property taxes designated for education in a state and then distribute them on a per-student basis. 

Until we reach a solution to the funding problem we will continue to see less mixed schools than global enterprise should need. In the meantime there is nothing wrong with celebrating 2014 as the first “majority minority” school year, while working for a more fair and equitable situation.


War Photos as Cultural Phenomena

Susan Sontag wrote, “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge — and, therefore, like power.” (On Photography, p. 2) To what use is that power put? That is the question Torie Rose DeGhett makes in the current issue of The Atlantic. In her article “The War Photo No One Would Publish,” DeGhett focuses on a single photo taken by Kenneth Jarecke during 1991’s Operation Desert Storm. They describe the photo:

“The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.“

It is a truly gruesome shot, and for those for whom visuals are necessary, I’ve included it at the end of this post. The photo never made it into any American publications, though it was published in a British and a French newspaper (not on the front page). DeGhett writes that Jarecke “assumed the media would be only too happy to challenge the popular narrative of a clean, uncomplicated war. ‘When you have an image that disproves that myth,’ he is quoted as saying, ‘then you think it’s going to be widely published.’”

In terms of media coverage, Operation Desert Storm was carefully orchestrated by a military that had learned a lesson from Vietnam – the support of the public is malleable, and images of brutality will shape that support. It would not be surprising were it the military authorities deciding to not publish the photo. But this was a decision of editors, specifically TIME, LIFE, and the Associated Press, which pulled the photo “from its wire services, keeping the photo off the desks of virtually all of America’s editors.” As one person said, “The media took it upon themselves to do what the military censorship did not do.”

What would have been the point of publishing the photo, given that it was taken just hours before a ceasefire brought Operation Desert Storm to a close? Certainly no opinions on the war effort were going to be changed at that late date. And it is hard to imagine any Americans who did not already know that war is a brutal undertaking. Even with the officially sanctioned live shots from the perspective of smart bombs slamming into specific targets – real war as a video game – surely there was an understanding that lives were being extinguished in those blasts. What would the image of another dead, burned victim tell us?

We still struggle with the answer. Currently American news is filling the air with live shots of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. We’ve seen battered children in bombed out schools, hospitals filling with victims young and old, and distant shots of smoking ruins framed by cheering Israelis. Would not a little sanitizing the images be a relief? It’s certainly what the public seems to prefer. Conor Friedersdorf, in The Atlantic last year wrote, “The retreat from graphic photography seems partly the result of increased timidity about offending the audience: Overall, Americans say that they disapprove of the dissemination of graphic war images. And because consumers do not want grisly images, neither do advertisers…In an R-rated world, American news remains solidly PG,” he adds.

Sontag, in Regarding the Pain of Others argues that graphic imagery may lead to a “bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen.” (p. 13) Does this bemusement, this reinforcement that “stuff happens,” ultimately lead to complacency? Sontag worries this might be the case: “An ample reservoir of stoicism is needed to get through the great newspaper of record each morning, given the likelihood of seeing photographs that could make you cry. And the pity and disgust [these] pictures…inspire should not distract you from asking what pictures, whose cruelties, whose deaths are not being shown” (Regarding, p. 13). That is to say, there exists a moral imperative to exposing oneself to war images that at the very least cause discomfort, and at worst may sicken us. War is not sanitary, and many will argue the public should be fully aware of what is transpiring in their name.

Unfortunately it does not always work out the way it should. While hoping that greater awareness will lead to demands for more accountability, even cessation of actions, this is not always the case. For every Nick Ut photograph of children fleeing napalm in Vietnam, and its power to change approval of war, a thousand corpses lay strewn across Afghanistan with little more than a collective, cultural yawn in response. What has happened? Surely war images have always had the power to sway the public and appeal to the nations emotions. One need only conjure the Arizona bursting into flames in Pearl Harbor, the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, and the explicit execution of a Viet Cong fighter on a Saigon street. Sontag suggests an answer: “In these last decades, “concerned” photography has done at least as much to deaden conscience as to arouse it…most photographs do not keep their emotional charge [for very long]” (On Photography, pp 15-16).

Have we grown complacent because of, among other factors, media sanitization? Or is it just that dreaded catchphrase “compassion fatigue” setting in? Are we exempt from getting blood on our hands as we watch war transpire, sitting ensconced in “the bravery of being out range,” as Roger Waters so aptly put it? Seeing the burnt and battered bodies of American contractors hanging from a railroad bridge in Fallujah shocks, but it seems as if it does so only for the moment. While the iconic photo by Khalid Mohammed embarrassed the White House, and brought about a large military response to “pacify” the city, the fact remains that within a month these horrible images were replaced by ones that proved even more embarrassing to the White House – those depicting the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. Public moral outrage is specious at best in the age of information overload. Indeed, in discussing the accidental napalm photograph that stands as a stark reminder of the horrors of the Vietnam War, Hariman and Lucaites write: “An image of suffering can be highly persuasive, but not because of the realism ascribed to the photo or its relationship to a single set of moral precepts. A structure of public moral response has to be constructed, it has to be one that is adapted to the deep problems in the culture at the time…” In 1972 weariness with the war was already widely realized in the general public; actions so devastating to children immortalized on film could be argued as inevitably detrimental to the war effort. In 2004, a nation still reeling from 9-11 perceived the scene on that railroad bridge as one more example of an enemy seeking our destruction; an enemy that must ultimately be defeated.

This brings us to wondering why the images of child victims in the Gaza Strip do not stir the same outrage in roughly half the American population. There is a meme floating around the internet: against a backdrop of child-filled stretchers queued in an Emergency Room it says “I don’t have to be Pro-Palestine or Pro-Israel to be want peace. I am Pro-Human.” It is not that simple. Unlike in the Vietnam photo, the current images do not trump the politics of the conflict. Accusations of Israeli brutality are met with the same fierceness by those accusing Hamas of using human shields. And in this conflict, as is the case often in Middle East conflicts, observers find it difficult to separate the people from their respective governments; criticism of the Israeli government is labeled anti-Semitic, just as the same of Hamas is labeled anti-Palestinian. With this muddled political landscape and entrenched perspectives it becomes nearly impossible for one among many images that emerge with increasing regularity to achieve the kind of iconic status that may define this particular conflict. And maybe that is exactly how it should be. Sontag, discussing Virginia Woolf’s Three Guineas believes the latter is dismissing politics. Sontag writes, “The case against war does not rely on information about who and when and where; the arbitrariness of the relentless slaughter is evidence enough. To those who are sure that right is on one side, oppression and injustice on the other, and that the fighting must go on, what matters is precisely who is killed and by whom” (Regarding, pp 10-11). A Palestinian will see the child on the stretcher not merely as a child victim, but as a Palestinian child victim. The politics cannot be separated from the emotional reaction. And so long as the politics remain divided the images will fail to capture the heart of the population as a whole.

Returning then to the original premise, what would have been the point of publishing Jarecke’s photograph once its power to influence outcomes has waned? Because in the end the rational basis of American-styled democracy is an informed public, even if after the fact. DeGhett writes, “But never showing these images in the first place guarantees that such an understanding will never develop. ‘Try to imagine, if only for a moment, what your intellectual, political, and ethical world would be like if you had never seen a photograph,’ author Susie Linfield asks in The Cruel Radiance, her book on photography and political violence. Photos like Jarecke’s not only show that bombs drop on real people; they also make the public feel accountable. As David Carr wrote in The New York Times in 2003, war photography has ‘an ability not just to offend the viewer, but to implicate him or her as well.’”

And there is always Jarecke’s own reason, stated in 1991 after his photo failed to be seen by an American audience, “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.”

Jareke The original Jarecke photograph.

nick ut 1Nick Ut’s iconic photo Accidental Napalm

fallujah-0403031-1Fallujah, 03/2004 by Khalid Mohammed

lynndie_englandLynndie England at Abu Ghraib

gaza thrus4Child at a Gaza Strip hospital

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Rainbow flag icon

While it would seem that LGBT equality is seizing one victory after another across the nation, complacency remains a danger. The state of Tennessee provides a good example.

On Wednesday, August 6, in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, a judge asked the question most of us have been asking in response to laws banning same sex marriage: What’s the point? The case being argued is Tanco v. [Governor] Haslam, and it challenges Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages as a violation of multiple provisions of the federal constitution, including equal protection and due process and the constitutionally-protected right to travel between and move to other states, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which brought the suit on behalf of several couples, including Drs. Valerie Tanco and Sophy Jesty.

In arguing for the ban, and a stay of an order to recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states while this suit works its way through the courts, the Tennessee Attorney General fell back on the argument so often heard: “including opposite-sex couples,” in marriage laws, “furthers the state’s interest, because it’s opposite-sex couples who are having the children, that we’re concerned about.” It’s for the kids,

The judge was not having any of it:

“And they’re going to go on having those children, they’re going to go on getting married, they’re going to go on having children. It’s happening in 21 states where same-sex marriages are allowed. I’m sorry, I’m struggling too. I just don’t quite get the picture. There’s nothing about this that has stopped any heterosexual couple from getting married,” the judge stormed, apparently pounding papers on the bench as she spoke. “Discouraged them from getting married. Kept them from procreating — deliberately or accidentally. What are we dealing with here?”


“If you didn’t have in Tennessee,” the judge continued, “a law or a constitutional amendment outlawing, forbidding same-sex marriages, people would still get married, they would still procreate — deliberately or accidentally. Life would go on just the way it has gone on. What is the point?”

This is exactly the question so many people struggle with – how does allow same sex partners to get married affect opposite sex couples from getting married, having children, living their lives as they always did? The answer, as I see it, is there is no effect.

What sounds like a winning moment in Nashville (pending the outcome of the case, of course), becomes less encouraging in other parts of Tennessee, however.

In November of last year, the Chattanooga City Council voted to extend equal protection and benefits to all city employee domestic partnerships regardless of LGBTQ status. This past week, that ordinance went before the people in the form of a referendum in Tennessee’a primary election. It lost by nearly a two to one margin (62-37%), on strong campaigning against the ordinance by the local chapter of the Tea Party.

Another blow to same sex equality was handed down by Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr., who refused to grant a divorce to a gay couple married legally in Iowa, but seeking a divorce after moving to Tennessee. The ruling applies only to this particular couple, and the judge did recommend that they appeal, so it would seem he believed he was following the letter of the law – a law that should be changed. 

While the man who sponsored the failed “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, State Sen. Stacey Campfield lost his primary, and Tea Party darling and virulent anti-gay former SNL comedian Victoria Jackson lost her bid for a county commission seat, the message from the state of Tennessee is clear: Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. It should come as news to no one that equality remains divisive, and as such, complacency is the enemy.

A Reasonable Analogy?


A federal judge in Alabama has struck down draconian anti-choice legislation using an interesting analogy with the Second Amendment. The National Journal quotes U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson‘s extended analogy:

In deciding this case, the court was struck by a parallel in some respects between the right of women to decide to terminate a pregnancy and the right of the individual to keep and bear firearms, including handguns, in her home for the purposes of self-defense.


At its core, each protected right is held by the individual: the right to decide to have an abortion and the right to have and use firearms for self-defense. However, neither right can be fully exercised without the assistance of someone else. The right to abortion cannot be exercised without a medical professional, and the right to keep and bear arms means little if there is no one from whom to acquire the handgun or ammunition. In the context of both rights, the Supreme Court recognizes that some regulation of the protected activity is appropriate, but that other regulation may tread too heavily on the right.


Finally, as to each right, there are many who believe, as a matter of law, that the Supreme Court’s reasoning in articulating the right was incorrect and who also believe, as a matter of strong moral or ethical convictions, that the activity deserves no constitutional protection.


With this parallelism in mind, the court poses the hypothetical that suppose, for the public weal, the federal or state government were to implement a new restriction on who may sell firearms and ammunition and on the procedure they must employ in selling such goods and that, further, only two vendors in the State of Alabama were capable of complying with the restriction: one in Huntsville and one in Tuscaloosa. The defenders of this law would be called upon to do a heck of a lot of explaining—and rightly so in the face of an effect so severe. Similarly, in this case, so long as the Supreme Court continues to recognize a constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, any regulation that would, in effect, restrict the exercise of that right to only Huntsville and Tuscaloosa should be subject to the same skepticism.

In rhetoric studies we talk about the fallacy of the false analogy, an instance in which an arguer attempts to draw a conclusion from comparing the similarities of two or more dissimilar ideas, while ignoring possibly greater dissimilarities that may ultimately render the analogy invalid. It is a common mistake, but generally one committed by inexperienced debaters, not by those sitting on the federal bench. 

In this case I would hold the analogy valid. The judge relies on the oft-debated right to an abortion, and in doing so his argument would likely be rejected by anti-choice proponents. If we accept however, that the right to an abortion is a constitutionally-guaranteed right, as Roe v Wade does still, despite the erosion of this right seen since that ruling, then equating that right with other constitutionally-enumerated rights makes for a valid analogy. The extended scenario he then creates – gun dealers in only two cities in Alabama, which would be the only locations of women’s health clinics should this law be upheld – is reasonable, and serves to support his analogy, and ultimately his conclusion.

That said, as I’ve acknowledged before, I am not an attorney; I only play one on the Internet. I’d like to hear from those more qualified than I in this regard.

On The Equality Front

 Rainbow flag icon

Yet another example of virulent anti-LGBT behavior came to light in recent days, this time in Houston, Texas.

Pastor David Welch continues his war against Mayor Annise Parker, began before Parker was even elected Mayor. Eminently qualified – she is the only person in Houston history to hold the offices of council member, controller and mayor – Mayor Parker’s primary offense in Welch’s distorted world view is that she is openly gay, and has been with her partner for over 23 years (during which they adopted three daughters and a son, and have become national advocates for LGBT adoption. We are talking role model citizens here.). 

The current battlefront is over HERO – the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, passed in May of this year, with the Mayor’s encouragement and leadership. The measure extends equal protections to gay and transgender Houstonians, according to the Houston Chronicle. Welch’s group, immediately began to collect signatures for a repeal effort, but the Mayor announced on August 4 that the required 17,000+ valid signatures necessary to get the measure on the November ballot had not been collected. The Mayor did however, acknowledge that litigation to force the measure onto the ballot would likely be filed shortly, and thus has delayed implementation of the law until judicial review determines the validity of the disputed signatures. Time is short; Charles Kuffner is reporting the deadline for getting something on the November ballot is August 18, so we shall see if the courts can move that quickly. 

Welch’s group of moronic blowhards’ biggest argument seems to be the idea that equal rights for all are “unequal” or special rights for a few. That and “Think of the children in the bathrooms,” something they do so often one wonders if the real danger to kids is Pastor Welch and his ilk. From their website:

Our basic premise is “Equal Rights for all, not Unequal Rights for a few.” The fact that the mayor and eleven city council members would place the freedom and safety of all at risk to serve a personal agenda of Annise Parker and her national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender allies is a tragic reminder of the consequences of voter apathy during elections. The short term objective was first to work to defeat the ordinance before City Council, then to file, qualify and pass a referendum overturning it by vote of the people if needed.


The long term goal is to restore a sense of duty among God-fearing citizens who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs about morality, family, marriage and personal freedom, that our government depends on every one of us voting in every election for likeminded candidates – and even becoming one of those candidates. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Governments, like clocks, go by the motion men give them.” Our clock is broken but we have the tools and the know-how to repair it.

Who am I kidding? I don’t wonder if Welch and his hater’s posse are a danger to kids; I know it. The psychological harms that can come to young LGBT people as they listen to these assholes invalidate their very existence are monumental. Of that I have no doubt.

Stay tuned to David Badash’s New Civil Rights Movement website, as they do a great job of keeping their readers informed of these kinds of assholes.

Remembering a Bill Clinton Moment

bill-clinton 1Much is being made this week of comments made my President Clinton on September 10, 2001. “I nearly got him once,” he said of Osama bin Laden to an audience of businessmen in Australia, on the day before bin Laden’s Al Qaeda killed nearly 3000 people on American soil. “I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, the former President said, adding, “Then I would have been no better than him.”

Maybe Clinton deserves some criticism, I don’t know and honestly I don’t care. I am reluctant to see events in such a linear, causation fashion, post hoc ergo propter hoc and all. I’ll leave this judgment to other pundits, some of whom are likely trying desperately to link Hillary to this decision – I’m looking at you, Fox News. I have a different moment I’d like to remember, or rather, wish I could forget. A moment for which it seems appropriate to hold Bill Clinton at least partially responsible for. 

In November of 1999, Clinton assembled a group of financial marketeers – Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan, Arthur Levitt, and Bill Rainer – to come up with a model by which regulations could be reduced on over-the-counter derivatives and commodity exchanges. This President’s Working Group (PWG) issued a report shortly thereafter, and their recommendations were taken up by the House and Senate.

H.R. 4541 and S. 2697, both labeled the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, were introduced in May of 2000, with the “strong support” of the White House. In the House the bill passed on a 377-4 vote. The road through the Senate was a little rougher, as should be the case with most bills taken up by the Senate. The problems in that chamber were created by one man, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, a caustic, Ayn Rand but-sniffing, free market capitalist shill if ever there was one. Gramm’s objection was that the bill(s) were too regulatory. He was insisting “the bill be expanded to prevent the SEC from regulating swaps, and the desire to broaden the protections against CFTC regulation for ‘bank products.'” 

After a break, during which Sen. Gramm and the Treasury Department were negotiating language for the bill, the Senate passed the bill worked out between all the parties, effectively passing the amended version of H.R. 4541. There was some minor objection, notably from Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota (perhaps the only time the climate-denying, anti-science asshole of OK, and the late humanitarian, far left prophet of MN ever agreed on something). The President signed the bill within a matter of days, and the Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000 (CFMA) became law.

Immediately, the public took notice of the so-called “Enron Loophole,” which allowed for trades of “exempt commodities” such as oil and other “energy” products.”not executed on a “trading facility” between ‘eligible contract participants’ (acting as principals) was exempted from most CEA provisions,” according to a report by Mark Jickling. With this Texas-based (hence the Gramm connection) corporate abomination unleashed, the pensions and investments of anyone connected to Enron were in danger of collapse. When Enron filed for bankruptcy protections in 2001, this dire prediction was realized.

A second, and I would argue more harmful provision of the CFMA, was Title I which broadly excludes from the Commodities Exchange Act of 1936 (the previous law of the land) “financial derivatives, including specifically any index or measure tied to a “credit risk or measure.‘” This exclusion included the notorious “credit default swaps” that led to the problems wrought by Lehman Brothers, AIG, J.P. Morgan, and Bank of America in bringing down the economy in 2007-08, and from which we are still trying to recover. For the record, a credit default swap (CDS) is a financial swap agreement that the seller of the CDS will compensate the buyer (the creditor of the reference loan) in the event of a loan default (by the debtor) or other credit event. The buyer of the CDS makes a series of payments (the CDS “fee” or “spread”) to the seller and, in exchange, receives a payoff if the loan defaults. These financial instruments encouraged irresponsible lending because none of the major players lost money if loans defaulted. The only one who would be hurt were inconsequential elements of the process. Pensions, investors, people wanting to retire, homeowners, the working classes, the poor, and assorted other members of the aptly-named 99 percent

America was brought to her knees, not be foreign armies, hordes of invaders, or even fucking aliens. She was hammered by her own leaders who, had they been paying attention, should have known better. 

Signing the CFMA is the moment of the Clinton Presidency I choose to remember, and overall, I like Bill Clinton. But the embrace of neoliberalism as economic dogma is a problem that still haunts us. And which, unfortunately, we are not doing enough to overcome. 

Truth In Reporting? Two – The Benghazi Model

Hillary Testifying

Once again Fox News and its disreputable horde of “journalists” are demonstrating their tenuous grasp of reality – tenuous at best. Media Matters for America:

On the July 31 edition of America’s Newsroom, [Fox News chief intelligence correspondent Catherine] Herridge promoted House Republicans’ accusation that Clinton’s signature on an April 2012 State Department cable proves that the then-Secretary “personally signed off on reducing security” in Benghazi (emphasis added for sarcasm).

This misleading accusation against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been dredged up by everyone, from Fox pundits like Sean (Of The Dead) Hannity, to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-Grandtheftautostan, CA). It doesn’t matter how many times you tell a lie, it will still be a lie. I’ll grant you may get some to believe it, but at this point in the conversation, is anyone going to suddenly be persuaded to adopt a different position? No. And I teach argument and debate, so signing off on persuasive failure really hurts me.

The fact is that every cable issued by the State Department bears the Secretary’s signature. It’s basic protocol, as the Washington Post said in April of last year.

[Attaching the Secretary’s signature] is done by the worker bees in the communications center. Moreover, every single cable from Washington gets the secretary’s name at the bottom, even if the secretary happens to be on the other side of the world at the time.

Because of this protocol, “Secretary Clinton ‘signed’ hundreds of thousands of cables during her tenure as secretary,” said State Department spokesman Patrick H. Ventrell. “As then-Secretary Clinton testified, the security cables related to Benghazi did not come to her attention. These cables were reviewed at the assistant secretary level.”

I get it; it’s an election year, and we’re already gearing up for the 2016 elections, so smear the oppositions front-runner as often as possible. Assuming anyone outside of your echo chamber is bothering to listen any longer.

This is a non story. Move on.