FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE BY BOB FRANKEN “America is not a racist country.” That was Sen. Tim Scott giving the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, calling on the nation to “root out ...
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Franken Sense

RACIST COUNTRY?

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

 

“America is not a racist country.”
That was Sen. Tim Scott giving the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, calling on the nation to “root out systemic racism that plagues America.”
Scott is the only Black GOP member of the Senate at this time. Joe Biden is not the only white Democrat, but the two of them pretty much said the same thing. However, it was Scott who suffered far more abuse as a token of a party that is now home to almost all bigots. He was quickly hashtagged “Uncle Tim” (if you don’t understand why that’s a particularly toxic play on words, then you aren’t very woke).
First of all, let’s remember the context of his rebuttal: “I have experienced the pain of discrimination. I know what it feels like to be pulled over for no reason. To be followed around a store while I’m shopping.”
It was only then that he said, in spite of his experiences, that “America is not a racist country.”
In the uproar that followed, the media got the reaction from every politician of color they could convince to get up early enough to appear on their morning news and cooking shows. Vice President Kamala Harris got roped into “Good Morning America,” where she was asked if she thinks America is a racist country (not exactly an unobvious question). Her reply:
“No. I don’t think America is a racist country, but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today.”
Now, how is that so different from Sen. Scott’s point? Besides, what is a “racist country” anyway? For that matter, what is a rebuttal? The answer to that last one is somewhere along the line of bureaucrats deciding that the president’s opposition should have an opportunity to say that “he is full of malarkey.” Except that the one chosen to do so has three minutes; the president has as much time as he wants.
Besides, we are so racist that we cannot possibly have a comfortable conversation about race.
Actually, Scott could have been more precise. And, in the process, he would have been less controversial. After slavery and Jim Crow, we have evolved to the point where we suffer from what Uncle Joe called “systemic racism.” Not that those bland words aren’t tragic enough, certainly if you include the disproportionate number of minorities who are murdered by police and the infinitesimal number of law enforcement representatives who serve any time for their slaughter.
But it also extends to housing discrimination and African Americans being routinely assigned to substandard schools even after the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 in a unanimous decision that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
As a result, they must choose from lower level jobs or suffer the indignity of higher unemployment, which explains why the death rate and incidence of Covid is unbalanced against minorities, who are deprived of adequate health care and nutrition. They had work, those who did, that required face-to-face contact, as opposed to hiding behind technology like Zoom, for those who could even afford a computer.
That’s part of what is called “systemic racism,” and that stacking of the deck is what’s left of minuscule generational progress.
With the advent of smartphones, where police are forced to deal with video of their most egregious abuses, law enforcement reform is a good place to start. But there are plenty of good places to start for white Americans who have been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. There are enough of them of good will these days to tackle the remnants of bigotry so deeply embedded in our social fabric. It’s time to rip them out.
Is America not a racist country, as Sen. Scott claims? Well then the country can solve our problems. A good idea, Senator, is starting with your fellow Republicans.

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


THE BARD OF BIDEN

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

 

THE BARD OF BIDEN

“What’s in a name?” as William Shakespeare wrote. But it doesn’t take a Shakespearean presidential speechwriter to know that the name means a lot. That’s why we have Joe Biden’s “American Rescue Plan,” which is what the administration calls his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, already signed into law. The “American Jobs Plan” is his preferred title for the $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, which ranges far beyond concrete. And now we have his “American Families Plan,” which rings in at $1.8 trillion and covers much of the rest of the domestic kitchen sink.
That’s it! In the grand tradition of FDR’s “New Deal” and LBJ’s “Great Society,” this one will be known to history as JRB’s “Kitchen Sink.” (Biden’s middle name is Robinette). And he came up with it in his first 100 days after succeeding Donald Trump, who didn’t succeed at much beyond dividing the nation even more.
On the night of President Biden’s 99th day, he finally made his first joint address to Congress. It was notable because of its diminished presentation (think of it as an Oscars show), notable because of his subdued rhetoric, and most notable because, for the first time in U.S. history — actually, it was herstory — the ones sitting at the rostrum overhead were both women: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Biden began his speech by saying:
“Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President” (applause).
“No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”
It begs the question, of course, of when a joint session of Congress will be addressed by our first female president.
But some things were just the same: The Republican opposition characterized the Biden plans as socialism, just like they did back in New Deal days, as well as those of the Great Society, when the GOP was so against these equal-opportunity proposals that its sometimes hard to remember that the Republicans once opposed slavery. Now they have been taken over by the white supremacists who wanted to start a new civil war with their insurrection at the Capitol building in January. No thanks to the man in charge at the time, Donald Trump, their mutiny failed.
And now it’s up to Joe Biden to clean up his mess. Actually, his whole overall agenda could be better called “America’s Cleanup.”
We are still a nation where unnecessary police killings of minorities have become routine. Some members of law enforcement fancy themselves vigilante members of a lynch mob. So President Biden called for police reform and gun control measures, as massacres have also become routine.

He inherits a country whose very name is exaggerated. The United States of America are anything but. We are divided by race and violent racism; culturally; by religion; and by sexual approaches to love. We are certainly divided on the question of guns, perhaps hopelessly divided.
From the start, when the founders wrote a Constitution whose preamble promised to “promote the general welfare,” those celebrated authors only promoted the general welfare of some of us — namely, white men. All of the rest of us were oppressed and even treated as animals.
The president spoke to a Congress where some of the members had circulated a petition to create a caucus that celebrated “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” — meaning white people. So we certainly have far to go to achieve a society where everyone can share in the fruits of equal opportunity. Right now we are a dangerously split community.
In his speech, President Biden remarked on the importance of “turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setbacks into strength.” Oh, wait. Perhaps his plans will all become known as Joe Biden’s “American Possibility.”
But it’s also possible that the opposition prevails and Biden fails. In that case, Shakespeare could be his speechwriter — writing that it’s an obvious case of “To be or not to be. That is the question.”

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


MONEY BUSINESS

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

 

MONEY BUSINESS

I usually have my brainstorms after it’s too late because
A) the ideas are obsolete or
B) someone else thought of them first.
For instance, it would have been a huge moneymaker to be a clearinghouse for personalized face masks. Or autographed ones, like baseball cards or those from your favorite movie character. For example, I have several depicting Hannibal Lecter’s face covering, in spite of the fact that he was a cannibal and I’m a vegetarian. But then, there’s no accounting for taste.
We could have a special camouflage version for white supremacist militias, although they never indicated any tendency to wear masks, just hoods. Or perhaps masks with a picture of Joe Biden on them featuring a thumbs-down hand gesture, or thumbs-up. Or some other digit. The same for Biden’s predecessor.
In the case of whozit, the design could incorporate a faded spot by his mouth where he tried to swallow some bleach. And with Biden’s picture, it could show him with his foot in his mouth. (Actually, he’s done fairly well thus far, but let’s face it, it’s just a matter of time.)
Brilliant? Regrettably, this particular business scheme occurs to me just after Covid vaccines have spread to millions of arms and the interest in masks has tanked, no matter what Anthony Fauci says. This is one of those rare occasions where people won’t be taking your advice, Tony. Perhaps the next time you throw out the first pitch at a ballgame, they can give away Tony Fauci bobbleheads wearing teeny tiny face masks.
By now, everyone’s breath has been taken away with my entrepreneurial shrewdness, notwithstanding its tardiness.
Here’s another idea that might be a tad late. An enterprising chain of portrait photographers could have worked out a deal with the federal government to set up at every vaccine site in America. They could take a shot of people getting their shot, just like the portrait backdrops at JCPenney or Kmart, where you’d take the kiddies. And just like the youngsters, it could show the vaccine recipient as the needle goes in, bursting into tears.
Come to think of it, there is still a market for pictures … of kids returning to school. They’re going to need yearbook portraits, so they can write those inane comments around them. And they will certainly want to remember the visuals of prom and homecoming, otherwise known as super-spreader events.
In any case, the setup could be a bonus offered by Pfizer or Moderna where you’d get two chances to get the perfect shot-snap in a snapshot. Of course, in Johnson & Johnson’s case, it would be limited to “one and done.” But it at least would pay the severance of the entire J & J corporate public-relations staff after they’ve been fired.
Still, the biggest long-existing endeavor of all in Washington is the influence peddling game. The usual career path is a resume-building gig in government and then through the revolving door to the private sector. In D.C., “private sector” means “feeding frenzy,” as the gluttonous lobbyists scarf up whatever action they can consume.
Joe Biden has set out a full table to binge on called an infrastructure bill, which includes every bit of construction ever invented and touches every social program. Not only that, but it will be financed by taxing rich people. So a mob of lobbyists will be coming out of the woodwork. The more persuasive they can be and, more importantly, the better their connections, they will determine not whether they prevail, but how many billable hours they can accumulate.
What these ideas all have in common is they are accompanied by cries of “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” Except for lobbying, of course. Prostitution is called the “world’s oldest profession,” except in Washington, where it’s lobbying. And trying to determine the difference.

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


RACISM, THE DARK REALITY

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

RACISM, THE DARK REALITY

Before we get too immersed in the news that caused national self-congratulations, let’s remember why it was news at all. A Minneapolis jury convicted policeman Derek Chauvin of three murder charges nearly a year after he killed George Floyd. The jury simply could not ignore the fact that Chauvin kept his knee on George’s neck for almost nine and a half minutes, squeezing the life out of a struggling-against-arrest man who had repeatedly screamed, “I can’t breathe!”
Not only that, but Chauvin, a veteran of the force, was almost casual about it. At one point he had his hands in his pockets as he and three other officers subdued Floyd. We know all this because their fatal acts were captured on video. The policemen were emboldened, perhaps, by the fact that law enforcement officials in the United States are rarely convicted of using unnecessary deadly force, particularly if the alleged perpetrator is a person of color. “Alleged” is an important word here, because it turns out all the perp is really guilty of in a disproportionate number of cases is being black.
But this time, in the aftermath of the cop’s egregious cruelty, the jury found Chauvin guilty of all three charges. George Floyd had become a symbol of police violence against minorities over the generations. His desperate “I can’t breathe” gasps became the roar of the millions of protestors worldwide who were finally fed up with America’s signature racism.
“This is a day of justice in America,” said Vice President Kamala Harris to the families after the jury verdict was announced. President Joe Biden called it “a step forward” at the same White House event. It should have been a routine verdict, considering the overwhelming evidence. But it was remarkable considering this country’s history of brutal suppression.
Biden and Harris’ remarks carried with them unmistakable sighs of relief, considering that crowds of thousands were assembled in cities across the nation, waiting to protest anything but a satisfactory outcome of the trial. Otherwise they were fully prepared to re-create the street confrontations that the event sparked nearly a year ago.
So it was a “step forward,” as President Biden said. But it only happened after so many steps backward. It took a murderous civil war to extricate the nation from evil slavery. However, that was soon replaced by the quasi-slavery of Jim Crow. White bigots controlled the lawmaking process; white-hooded vigilantes marauded as law enforcement. The reaction to courageous civil-rights acts was that white bigots immediately tried to forestall them. It continues to this day, our nation still split on the complexities of racism.
The fact is glaring: Inequity affects just about every facet of American life. True, we have advanced beyond the plantation, having taken teeny steps, but we still accept unequal schools, housing and, most tragically, law enforcement.
As we saw on Jan. 6, so many white supremacists are willing to fight another civil war for apartheid. But it’s not only them. The white people not on the fringes are all too willing to live comfortably with what has been labeled “white privilege,” conveniently oblivious to advantages that are only feasible with someone else’s disadvantages … someone of color.
In the pandemic, a disproportionate number of poor and minorities were ravaged by Covid, explained by a shortage of medical care, transportation and good schools that are not accessible in their neighborhoods.
So yes, the Chauvin verdict was good news, but it does not overcome a history of deadly police violence that continues to this day, and a history of blatant inequities that will take a lot of changes and sacrifice that many white Americans have not indicated we’re willing to surrender.

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

CANNY CANINE DIPLOMACY

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

CANNY CANINE DIPLOMACY

“Diplomacy is the art of saying, ‘nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”
Will Rogers was correct: The world kennel is filled with junkyard dogs yapping and threatening to mount each other as a power play, but stopping short of an all-out fight. Canines raise a leg and let fly. Humans use diplomacy. It’s the same thing.
The rules for people go back to when one cave full decided that before they fought an all-out war with another cave full for the land in between, it was better to sit down and talk about it.
The precepts haven’t changed very much over the eons. In fact, it wasn’t long before each tribe had warriors and talkers. The idea was that before the attack (or even after), you’d use tact.
It could be complex. To avoid violence, you might have to emphasize face-saving. And out of that grew the concept of “proportionality” — don’t go bananas when the other side delivers a sleight.
There are thousands of professional diplomats these days and entire college majors devoted to educating them on every teensy detail of speaking softly while carrying a big stick. But the guidelines are pretty much the same as they were back in the cave days. And, frankly, as silly as some of them are, lip service beats servicemen and -women dying in war, particularly when their nations are nuclear superpowers. Then we’d all die.
So it’s preferable when Moscow and Washington play their juvenile games that they have learned—-over the poisoning of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, and others; involvement in U.S. elections (which is a definite no-no); and hacking of our entire government by Russian intelligence services. Or pretend to.
So what did Joe Biden do to register disapproval and show that he was tougher than Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin’s puppy? He used three arrows from the diplomat’s quiver: First, economic sanctions. Second, declaring some attached to the Russian embassy persona non grata — that is to say, they have to leave the United States. In this case, 10 of the 450 or so diplomats are being expelled for being spies, which is just a drop in the Russian spook bucket. And third, oh yes, a demand that the two sides’ ambassadors be pulled by their home country and return for “consultations.” It’s not clear what they talk about during these “consultations,” but there it is.
Of the three of them, sanctions are potentially the most onerous. Individuals and government agencies can’t do business there, can’t even travel there.
The other side always matches spy for spy and persona for non grata. This time around, from our side Russia banned Attorney General Merrick Garland and former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, for some inexplicable reason. An aide to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the situation between the two countries “extremely tense” — tensions that couldn’t be all that extreme, considering Biden and Putin also talked about a summit in their last telephone call. World leaders have their own language.
So do dogs. Baring teeth is a dead giveaway, but then so is tail-wagging. And they can both be done at the same time. There is one huge difference between species: The diplomats try to do some of their stuff in secret. Puppies are very public — every sniff, every time they go to the bathroom, at least after they’ve been house-trained.
Most diplomats are house-trained too … to be deceptive. Even in the age of television and social media, they mislead. But the opposing side’s government knows what they’re communicating and what they’re not. To quote John Kenneth Galbraith, “When an official reports that talks were useful, it can safely be concluded that nothing was accomplished.” To quote someone else, I have no earthly idea who, in diplomacy as well as the puppy park, “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

© 2021 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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