Thursday Reads: Civil Rights Struggle, Syria Intervention, NYPD Spying, Boston Bombing, and “League of Denial”

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Good Morning!!

I’ve got so much news for you this morning, I don’t know if I’ll have room in a reasonable-length post, so I’ll get right to it. I’ll begin with some stories on yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the March On Washington.

PBS had an amazing interview with Rep John Lewis in which he recounted his memories of that day in 1963 and the speech he gave as a youthful leader in the Civil Rights Movement: ‘I Felt That We Had to Be Tough': John Lewis Remembers the March on Washington. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s a brief excerpt:

REP. JOHN LEWIS, D-Ga.: On that day, I was blessed.

I felt like I had been tracked down by some force or some spirit. I will never forget when A. Philip Randolph said, “I now present to you young John Lewis, the national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.”

And I went to the podium. I looked to my right. I saw many, many young people, staffers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, volunteers. Then I looked to my left. I saw all these young people up in the trees, trying to get a better view of the podium.

Then I looked straight ahead. And I saw so many people with their feet in the water trying to cool off. And then I said to myself, this is it, and I went for it.

On meeting with President Kennedy before the March, and how the podium and the crowd came to be so diverse:

He [JFK] didn’t like the idea of a March on Washington.

When we met with him, A. Philip Randolph spoke up in his baritone voice we met with the president. And he said, “Mr. President, the black masses are restless. And we are going to march on Washington.”

And you could tell by the movement of President Kennedy — he started moving and twisting in his chair. And he said, in effect, that if you bring all these people to Washington, won’t it be violence and chaos and disorder?

Mr. Randolph responded and said, “Mr. President, there’s been orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests.”

And President Kennedy said, in so many words, I think we are going to have problems. So we left that meeting with President Kennedy. We came out on the lawn at the White House and spoke to the media and said, we had a meaningful and productive meeting with the president of the United States. And we told him we’re going to March on Washington.

And a few days later, July 2, 1963, the six of us met in New York City at the old Roosevelt Hotel. And in that meeting, we made a decision to invite four major white religious and labor leaders to join us in issuing the call for the March on Washington.

American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger (left) adopted and helped popularize "We Shall Overcome" by teaching the song at rallies and protests. Here he sings with activists in Greenwood, Miss., in 1963. (NPR)

American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger (left) adopted and helped popularize “We Shall Overcome” by teaching the song at rallies and protests. Here he sings with activists in Greenwood, Miss., in 1963. (NPR)

NPR had a wonderful story yesterday about the history of the Civil Rights Movement’s signature song: The Inspiring Force Of ‘We Shall Overcome’.

It is not a marching song. It is not necessarily defiant. It is a promise: “We shall overcome someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe.”

It has been a civil rights song for 50 years now, heard not just in the U.S. but in North Korea, in Beirut, in Tiananmen Square, in South Africa’s Soweto Township. But “We Shall Overcome” began as a folk song, a work song. Slaves in the fields would sing, ‘I’ll be all right someday.’ It became known in the churches. A Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a version in 1901: “I’ll Overcome Someday.”

The first political use came in 1945 in Charleston, S.C. There was a strike against the American Tobacco Co. The workers wanted a raise; they were making 45 cents an hour. They marched and sang together on the picket line, “We will overcome, and we will win our rights someday.”

There’s much more about how the song was passed from group to group and changed over time. Please give it a listen–it’s only about 8 minutes long, but really fascinating.

Not a single Republican appeared at yesterday’s commemoration of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush couldn’t come because of health issues, but John Boehner and Eric Cantor are presumably in good health, but they refused offers to make speeches at the event, according to Roll Call.

That wasn’t a wise choice, said Julian Bond, a renowned civil rights activist, in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday afternoon.

“What’s really telling, I think, is the podium behind me, just count at the end of the day how many Republicans will be there,” Bond told news anchor Alex Wagner. “They asked senior President Bush to come, he was ill. They asked junior Bush, he said he had to stay with his father.

“They asked a long list of Republicans to come,” Bond continued, “and to a man and woman they said ‘no.’ And that they would turn their backs on this event was telling of them, and the fact that they seem to want to get black votes, they’re not gonna get ‘em this way.” [….]

Cantor’s decision to turn down the invitation to speak is especially striking given his stated commitment to passing a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act in the 113th Congress, and the many opportunities he has taken over the past several weeks to publicly reflect on the experience of traveling with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to Selma, Ala.

Sadly, Dr. King’s dream of peace has not made much progress in the past 50 years. And now the U.S. and its allies are considering another military intervention–in Syria.

Fortunately, the UK is now hesitating. NYT: Britain to Wait on Weapons Report Ahead of Syria Strikes.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, who runs a coalition government, is facing political difficulties from legislators mindful of the experience in Iraq, when assurances from Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction proved inaccurate and a false pretext for war.

Mr. Cameron bowed on Wednesday to pressure from the opposition Labour Party and to some within his own coalition who want to allow United Nations weapons inspectors a chance to report their findings and for the United Nations Security Council to make one more effort to give a more solid legal backing to military action against Damascus.

At BBC News, Nick Robinson explains why Cameron “buckled.”

If you think that NSA domestic spying is invasive, you should take a look at what the NYPD has been up to since 9/11. Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of the AP have a new book out called Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America. There’s an excerpt at New York Magazine: The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities. It’s long, but a very important story. Please give it a read if you can.

Yesterday Apuzzo and Goldman published a related shocking story at AP: NYPD designates mosques as terrorism organizations.

The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.

Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.

The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.

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Boston Magazine has published more photos from “Behind the Scenes of The Hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.”  Above is a photo of Tsarnaev exiting the boat in which he hid for hours as law enforcement searched all over Watertown for him. See more photos at the link.

In more hopeful news, one long-hospitalized survivor of the bombings was given the go-ahead to return home to California yesterday: Boston Marathon bomb survivor John Odom set to return home to Torrance (Daily Breeze News).

Nearly five months after a bomb almost took his life at the Boston Marathon, John Odom of Torrance was cleared by doctors on Wednesday to finally come home.

Odom’s wife, Karen, who has never left her husband’s side, has been chronicling her husband’s long recovery on Facebook, called it a “monumental” day.

“It’s official, John is released to go home!!!” she posted on the John Odom Support Page. “Although his recovery is nowhere near complete, there is no medical or physical reason he can’t fly home and continue his recovery in California. We are hoping to be home the end of next week, a few days shy of 5 months since we left on that now famous 4 day trip.”

“Famous” is one way to put it. The couple could have never imagined the journey they’ve been on since April 15.

Read the rest of this moving story at the link.

On October 8th and 15th, NPR’s Frontline plans to show League of Denial,a two-part two-part investigation examining whether — as thousands of former players allege — the NFL has covered up the risks of football on the brain.” The documentary has so far been produced in partnership with ESPN, but last week the sports channel backed out of the collaboration presumably because of pressure from the NFL. From The New Republic: ESPN Quit Its Concussions Investigation With ‘Frontline’ Under Curious Circumstances.

“Frontline,” the prestigious, multiple-Emmy-winning investigative news show produced by Boston’s PBS member station, announced late Thursday afternoon that a 15-month-old partnership with ESPN in which they published a series of pieces exploring how the National Football League has (and has not) accounted for the relationship between playing football, head trauma, and brain damage, had come to an end. Dating back to last November, “Frontline” had run articles on its site featuring the work of Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, ESPN staffers (and brothers) even as these articles appeared at espn.com and as the brothers did segments for ESPN’s award-winning investigative series “Outside the Lines.” The end result—in addition to abook that the brothers are publishing in October—was to be a “Frontline” documentary, League of Denial (also the book’s title).

According to “Frontline,” the documentary will premiere this season on October 8 and 15, but, “from now on, at ESPN’s request, we will no longer use their logos and collaboration credit on these sites and on our upcoming film.” Executive producer David Fanning and deputy executive producer Raney Aronson expressed their “regret” and credited ESPN with “a productive partnership.” They added, “The film is still being edited and has not been seen by ESPN news executives, although we were on schedule to share it with them for their editorial input.”

Aronson told me late Thursday that ESPN contacted “Frontline” last Friday to request that it remove ESPN’s logo from its website, citing the technicality that it was a “trademark issue.” It wasn’t until Monday, after the latest collaboration was published on “Frontline”’s website and aired on “OTL,” that ESPN also requested that language describing collaboration not be used, and that it became clear the collaboration itself was coming to an end.

The circumstances are indeed mysterious. Perhaps it was over-cautiousness on ESPN’s part or perhaps indirect pressure from the League. If you’re interested in this important story, go read Marc Tracy’s piece at TNR.

A couple more useful links on this story:

PBS: Questions Over NFL Doctor Cloud League’s Concussion Case

Bill Littlefield at NPR’s Only a Game: ESPN And Frontline Part Ways Over ‘League Of Denial’

The authors of the book League of Denial will continue their involvement with the Frontline presentation.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll end there, and add a few more links in the comments. Now what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the thread below.


Saturday Morning Reads

Good Morning!!

Wonk the Vote is taking care of some personal business today, so I’m filling in for her. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of exciting political news at the moment, so I’ve got a bit of a potpourri of links for you.

The most bizarre story out there right now is that Jason Russell, one of the founders of “Invisible Children,” an organization that recently released a video on Joseph Kony that went viral on the internet, has been hospitalized after an apparent breakdown.

Jason Russell, 33, was allegedly found masturbating in public, vandalizing cars and possibly under the influence of something, according to the SDPD. He was detained at the intersection of Ingraham Street and Riviera Road.

An SDPD spokesperson said the man detained was acting very strange, some may say bizarre….

Police said they received several calls Thursday at 11:30 a.m. of a man in various stages of undress, running through traffic and screaming.

Police recognized that Russell needed medical treatment, and he wasn’t put under arrest. ABC News has more detail on the incident. It sounds pretty bad.

Russell was allegedly walking around an intersection wearing “speedo-like underwear.” He then removed the underwear and made sexual gestures, sources told TMZ, which posted video of a publicly naked man purported to be Russell.

Several bystanders held Russell down until police arrived, ABC’s San Diego affiliate reported.

San Diego police spokesperson Lt. Andra Brown told NBC San Diego that Russell was “screaming, yelling, acting irrationally.” He was running into the roadway and interfering with traffic, although there were “no reports of actual collisions.” Bystanders reported he was in “various stage of undress,” although by the time police arrived, he had his “underwear back on.”

Invisible children is saying that Russell was hospitalized for exhaustion and malnutrition.

To be honest, I haven’t watched the video, because my sister saw it and told me it was very emotionally manipulative. She told me that in the film, Russell talks frankly to his son about Kony’s violent crimes in a way that sounded like child abuse to me. Plus, like many groups who are active in African countries, Invisible Children seems to be run by right wing Xtians. So I avoided seeing the film don’t know much about it. I’d be interested in the opinions of anyone who has seen the film.

I did find some background in The Guardian UK:

Invisible Children has shot to fame in recent weeks after one of the videos that it produces in order to publicise the atrocities of Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army went viral. Viewed more than 76m times, the video gave a high profile to the group’s cause, but also put the tiny charity at the centre of global scrutiny.

Critics have condemned the group for a perceived lack of transparency in its financial records and for over-simplifying a complex issue. They accused the group of being fame-seeking and of having an overtly western focus on what is a regional African problem. Some also pointed out the group had taken large donations from rightwing Christian fundamentalists groups in the US, who have also funded anti gay-rights causes.

However, the group and its many defenders mounted a strong defence, detailing its financial history and saying that their sole aim was to highlight a dreadful and ongoing human rights cause that had garnered little attention for decades. They were also hailed for using social media to engage young people in social activism.

Yesterday a jury in New Jersey Dharun Ravi guilty a hate crime for spying on roommate at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi and posting videos on the internet of Clementi and an older male in sexual encounters. Three days later, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

A former Rutgers University student was convicted on Friday on all 15 charges he had faced for using a webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man, a verdict poised to broaden the definition of hate crimes in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.

“It’s a watershed moment, because it says youth is not immunity,” said Marcellus A. McRae, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.

The student, Dharun Ravi, had sent out Twitter and text messages encouraging others to watch…. The case set off a debate about whether hate-crime statutes are the best way to deal with bullying. While Mr. Ravi was not charged with Mr. Clementi’s death, some legal experts argued that he was being punished for it, and that this would result only in ruining another young life. They, along with Mr. Ravi’s lawyers, had argued that the case was criminalizing simple boorish behavior.

I for one am very pleased with the verdict. Ravi’s behavior went way beyond bullying, IMO. I’m sick of seeing young people driven to suicide by behaviors that are characterized as “bullying” because they’re been carried out by young people in school. If adults acted in the same ways, their behaviors would be seen as harassment, stalking, and even outright violence.

Last night George Clooney was arrested in DC along with several legislators for protesting outside the Sudanese embassy.

A group of U.S. lawmakers and film star George Clooney were arrested at Sudan’s embassy in Washington on Friday in a protest at which activists accused Khartoum of blocking humanitarian aid from reaching a volatile border region where hundreds of thousands of people may be short of food.

Protest organizers said those arrested included U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Al Green of Texas, Jim Moran of Virginia and John Olver of Massachusetts – all Democrats. Organizers said Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain U.S. civil rights hero, also were arrested.

Clooney, his father Nick and the other anti-Sudan activists ignored three police warnings to leave the embassy grounds and were led away in plastic handcuffs to a waiting van by uniformed members of the Secret Service, a Reuters journalist covering the demonstration said.

I was glad to see that some members of the Massachusetts delegation were involved.

The suspect in the Afghan mass murders has been identified.

The military on Friday identified the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers earlier this week as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a 38-year-old father of two who had been injured twice in combat over the course of four deployments and had, his lawyer said, an exemplary military record.

Bales’ name was kept secret for several days because of

concerns about his and his family’s security.

An official said on Friday that Sergeant Bales was being transferred from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., home of the Army’s maximum security prison. His wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps, Wash., east of Tacoma, onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his home base, earlier this week….

Little more than the outlines of Sergeant Bales’s life are publicly known. His family lived in Lake Tapps, a community about 20 miles northeast of his Army post. NBC reported that he was from Ohio, and he may have lived there until he joined the Army at 27.

Bales enlisted right after 9/11 and has had four combat deployments. It’s hard to understand how that could be permitted, especially after he suffered a traumatic brain injury. The story notes that the day before the shootings, Bales had seen a fellow soldier lose his leg.

CNN reports that Bales family said he did not want to go to Afghanistan after he had already served three combat deployments, lost part of his foot, and suffered the TBI.

“He was told that he was not going to be redeployed,” [Bales’ attorney John Henry] Browne said. “The family was counting on him not being redeployed. I think it would be fair to say he and the family were not happy that he was going back.”

Browne painted a picture of a decorated, career soldier who joined the military after the 2001 terrorist attacks and had spent his Army life at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington. Browne called him a devoted husband and father to his two young children who never made any derogatory remarks about Muslims or Afghans.

I’ve got a few political links for you. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is making news again. Naturally it relates to the war on women. He says the Republican presidential candidates “mishandled the recent debate over women’s health and contraception.”

In an interview with Reuters, he voiced misgivings about how the Republican presidential candidates have framed issues, especially the recent debate over women’s health and contraception.

The Obama administration’s recent decision to require religious institutions such as Catholic-run hospitals to offer insurance plans that cover birth control for women, which his administration later modified under pressure from critics, was “a radical expansion of federal power,” Daniels said….

“Where I wish my teammates had done better and where they mishandled it is … I thought they should have played it as a huge intrusion on freedom,” Daniels said.

Instead, he said they got dragged into a debate about women’s right to contraception, an issue which was settled 40 years ago.

Daniels said they should have framed the argument as one about government intrusion on personal liberty. He said the Obama rule was like saying that because Yoga is healthy, the government should require it.

Excuse me? What about the “intrusion” on women’s “freedom?” And what a stupid analogy. The government isn’t requiring anyone to use birth control. Why won’t Mitch just ride away on his Harley Sportster and leave us alone?

Of course not a day goes by without Mitt Romney saying something idiotic. Yesterday, right after his plane landed in Puerto Rico, Romney attacked Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

The justice, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009, is beloved by local Democrats and Republicans as the high court’s first member of Puerto Rican descent.

“In looking at Justice Sotomayor, my view was her philosophy is quite different than my own and that’s the reason why I would not support her as a justice for the Supreme Court,” Romney told reporters Friday afternoon, just minutes after his plane touched down in San Juan. “I would be happy to have a justice of Puerto Rican descent or a Puerto Rican individual on the Supreme Court, but they would have to share my philosophy, that comes first.”

The issue puts Romney at odds with a majority of local voters and his most prominent Puerto Rican supporter, Gov. Luis Fortuno, standing at Romney’s side as the former governor or Massachusetts made his remarks. It also underscores the challenges facing Republican candidates as they bring popular conservative rhetoric to an area packed with Hispanic voters ahead of Sunday’s GOP president primary.

And, as if that wasn’t enough of an insult, Romney then followed the poor example of his opponent Rick Santorum and lectured the locals about making English their official language.

Romney and his rival Rick Santorum have supported the conservative push to formalize English as the official language across the country. On Puerto Rico, an American territory that will vote on its political status, including statehood, on Nov. 6, most residents speak Spanish as their primary language.

Santorum made headlines earlier in the week after saying that Puerto Rico would have to adopt English as its main language to attain statehood, a dominant political issue here.

Can you believe the nerve of these guys? I’ll end on a humorous note–another story mocking Mitt Romney. You know how I love to mock my former governor. It seems that in 2006, Romney

declared September “Responsible Dog Ownership Month” in the state.

Eleven dogs and 35 humans gathered at the State House for an event celebrating the governor’s proclamation on Sept. 21 of that year, according to a contemporaneous newsletter from the Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners.

“We have a pervasive problem because of people who don’t act as responsible dog owners,” Jennifer Callahan, then a Democratic member of the state legislature, said at the time, citing the hundreds of thousands of dogs that wind up in shelters every year.

ROFLOL! The Seamus on top of the car story didn’t appear in The Boston Globe until 2007.

That’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today?