Is it really 1968 all over again? That's the question that's posed in a remarkable and fairly provocative cover image on this week's Time magazine (and to answer everyone's question, yes, Time magazine is apparently still in business). Of course, history buffs (and who else would come to Attytood at this point?) know that a) 1968 was peak 1960s, the year that MLK and RFK were killed and that the police rioted in Chicago against anti-war protesters and that blacks and others rioted over other stuff, from Paris to Mexico City and b) it was particularly bad then in Baltimore. That April, six people perished in the Charm City in the city's uprising after the King assassination.
That's something to ponder when you compare the 1960s to today -- that thankfully today is much, much less lethal. Urban rioting across America in that era killed scores of people -- the most deadly, Detroit in 1967, claimed 43 lives, with the majority of the deaths caused in the police/military response. No one died in Ferguson or Baltimore...after Mike Brown and Freddie Gray did, of course.
But I do think in many ways, the issues and the national mood are similar to what was going on 50 years ago. Again, people are talking about life down in the boondocks, and how can a nation like America can claim to be exceptional when such deep poverty exists. Suddenly, topics that seemed off the table -- like mass incarceration and extreme criminal sentencing -- are in play. Suddenly, too, people are doing things that surprise us -- like Baltimore state's attorney Marilyn Mosby's surprisingly swift push for justice and her eloquent words on Friday morning. When I try to think of another public statement by an elected official that was so raw and so powerful, I must go way back to Robert Kennedy's famous speech to a mostly black crowd in Indianapolis on the night Dr. King died...
It's been an honor to spotlight the work of my Daily News colleague Signe Wilkinson here at Attytood from time to time. During her long and distinguished career here, she's served as a kind of a moral barometer for Philadelphia and the world. To paraphrase the current ad campaign about another amazing DN'er, she draws what you'd like to say.
You may also know that Signe's already won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, so what other worlds are there to conquer, right? How about...the world. When the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack occurred earlier this year, she picked up her pen and she also picked up her keyboard, compiling and sharing some of the remarkable defenses of cartooning and of press freedom that emerged in response to a tragedy.
Today, that work won the 15th World Press Freedom International Editorial Cartoon Competition. It is not only more than well deserved, but a crowning achievement...at least until they honor the best cartoonist in the universe.
Violent racial strife in the streets of a major American city. A nation spending billions on military hardware while poverty ravages its inner cities. U.S. troops on a vague and shifting mission on the other end of the world, in an undeclared war that was launched with dishonesty from the highest levels of government, with no real "light at the end of the tunnel."
OK, that pretty much describes America this week, right? But it certainly was also the case fifty years ago, in the summer of 1965, when the Watts section of Los Angeles erupted in a riot while then-President Lyndon Johnson was dramatically escalating U.S. troop levels in Vietnam. That was the start of a tumultuous ten years that ended on April 30, 1975 -- the fall of Saigon that marks its 40th anniversary.
And thus the Vietnam War is having a moment right now, with new documentaries and anniversary events all week. But just as World War I was supposed to be "the war to end all wars," and wasn't, the Vietnam War has become the "mistake" -- the one that our now-secretary of state John Kerry said no one wanted to be the last man to die for -- which seems to happen again and again.
If we really wanted to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could ... it's just it would require everybody saying 'this is important, this is significant.' And that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns. And we don't just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. That we're paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids and we think they're important and they shouldn't be living in poverty and violence ... That kind of political mobilization, I think we haven't seen in quite some time. And what I've tried to do is promote those ideas that would make a difference, but we all understand that the politics of that are tough because it's easier to ignore those problems, or to treat them just as a law and order issue as opposed to a broader social issue.
That was a really long answer. But I felt pretty strongly about it.
The Philadelphia cops called it a "nickel ride." The name came from the prevailing price for a ride down a rickety roller coaster in an amusement park -- which should give some of idea of the ancient roots of this particularly cruel form of police torture. For decades, cops abused criminal suspects by throwing them, handcuffed and unsecured, into the open back of a police van, then careening around sharp curves or slamming the brakes on a rough ride to central booking.
To keep with modern times, you'd think they's change the name -- call it a "$79.95 All Day Pass," or an "E-Ticket Ride." Or, here's an even better, crazy idea to bring policing practices into the 21st Century: How about stopping "nickel rides" altogether?
Philadelphia has found that hard to do -- last year paying a recent victim of a rough police van ride $490,000 in a civil suit, despite moves to halt "nickel rides" in 2001. And now, incredibly, we learn that authorities in Baltimore are probing whether Freddie Gray -- the 25-year-old man whose death after a police encounter has sparked massive protests and scattered unrest -- was given a rough ride after his arrest, possibly after officers had already snapped Gray's spine.
"We don't control a lot of this stuff. We sort of make our best choices, and we'll—we'll catch up."
The end came shortly before 9 p.m. on a nippy spring Saturday night. We'd all seen it coming for years, especially after the heart-attack-like shock of the Iraq War years in the early 2000s, when elite journalists pinned an American flag to their lapels and left their skepticism back home in the closet. But the awkward, babbling explanations by Louis and his fellow CNN panelists about why they -- and, in fairness, their competitors on MSNBC, Fox and even Al-Jazeera America -- were pathologically unable to ditch their black-tie-dyed puffball coverage of the D.C. media's so-called "nerd prom" truly felt like the respirator plug had finally been yanked, violently, from the wall.
Never in American history have four words so well summed up a president's ambivalent and convoluted stance on a major policy issue then last August, when President Obama, about to head off to Hawaii for summer vacation, told reporters: "We tortured some folks." In just those four words, Obama did somehow manage to convey more candor and more forgiveness than Dick Cheney or his nominal boss George W. Bush mustered in 14 wretched years after creating this nation's great moral failure of the 21st Century. But Obama's statement was also vague, informal -- perhaps inappropriately so -- and weary. The so-called leader of the free world seemed helpless to find a just detergent for the national stain of torture.
Today, Obama was back with a new announcement, and he might as well have said this:
We killed some folks.
Never have I heard so many opinions on a book that absolutely none of the people clucking about it have read. I'm talking about "Clinton Cash," the forthcoming book (as seen in the New York Times) about the big money that rolls into the Clinton Foundation and whether that influenced Hillary Clinton's official actions while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. The book was written by a well-established conservative journalist, Peter Schweizer -- opening up a whole another can of worms.
Like Obamacare, we'll have to publish the book to find out what's in it. Here's an inkling from the Times, which has paid for access to "Clinton Cash" (the book, not the actual cash):
His examples include a free-trade agreement in Colombia that benefited a major foundation donor’s natural resource investments in the South American nation, development projects in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and more than $1 million in payments to Mr. Clinton by a Canadian bank and major shareholder in the Keystone XL oil pipeline around the time the project was being debated in the State Department.