A Black and White Killing: The Case that Shook America, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, directed by Guy King

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0007zb6/a-black-and-white-killing-the-case-that-shook-america-series-1-episode-1

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0007zbb/a-black-and-white-killing-the-case-that-shook-america-series-1-episode-2

This is a two-part investigation into a killing. The viewer is left in no doubt that a white man in his mid-forties, Russell Courtier, in his Jeep, ran over and killed a black man, nineteen-year old Larnell Bruce. We are shown CCTV footage from outside the supermarket of what happened and its aftermath. Then shown how far Bruce’s body was pushed by the vehicle mapped out by A to B by forensics with the blood still on the road. Bruce is dead. Courtier killed him. Open and shut case.

But this is Portland, Oregon. Throw into the mix Oregon’s racist past, a white’s only state, with more Ku Klux Klan member’s demographically that anywhere else, depicted in Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad. Whisper it America’s racist past, where blacks in the Lyndon Johnston era were told not to bother registering to vote and presented with a bullet as a gift if they did. Black (and poor white) votes were also disregarded and stolen. Think about how rich Republicans got together to fund legal action to recount chads to get  President George W Bush elected and to thwart a Democrat candidate. How money moves to the white and the right.  How the birthing movement was used by the moron’s moron on the campaign trail, by the now President Trump, to challenge the validity of President Obama holding public office.

Throw into the mix the decision by the prosecution to add to the charge sheet that this was a racially motivated crime. Russell Courtier had spent most of his working life in prison and was a member of the white-supremacy European Kindred gang. He had the marking of the gang’s tattoo on his leg. He was wearing a European Kindred cap when he killed Larnell Bruce.

Throw into the mix the BBC’s representative, journalist Mobeen Azhar, a British Muslim with Pakistani origins and give him access to family members of the victim, the killer, and former members of his prison gang and wait for it to fizzle.

Add to the drama at the trail, when the police expert was shown by the defence to get his sums all wrong. The defence lawyer pointed out that he’d confused kilometres-per-hour with miles-per-hour. Back to police school for him.

But the big reveal for the defence was that Larnell Bruce was holding a machete when he approached the Jeep.  A female witness said that Larnell was at the convenience store trying to sell the machete. This is about believable as Russell Courtier’s mum and brother’s view that their son and brother wasn’t really racist and just happened to get into a fight with a black man.

The cartoonish some-of- my-best-friends-are-black argument is tested by their interrogator a British Pakistani.  But I didn’t really take to Mobeen Azhar as a presenter. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in the company of Louis Theroux where every expression from mock disbelief to indignation is expressed by a cocked eyebrow. And the Case That Shook America, after early dramatics, doesn’t shake very much, not my belief in the American legal or economic system. It doesn’t prove very much at all. Intent is a balloon that floats or is pricked. But, for the record, the defence, despite their early blooper, walked away wrapped in American Glory.

Colson Whitehead (2016) The Underground Railway.

 

OJ: Made in America, directed by Ezra Edleman. Storyville, BBC 4, iPlayer.

OJ.jpg

Winner of the 2017 Academy Award for best documentary this five-part series is an investment of time. The premium dividend is it shows how America is polarised around issues of class and race. Karl Marx’s dictum that history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce is apt. OJ is the poster boy. A black all American boy that went to a white college, became the All American hero used by Hertz to sell their cars. ‘Go OJ,’ the tag, but used white actors to screen wash skin colour away. He became an actor, starring in films, such as Naked Gun, the biggest role he played being himself. He was involved in the trial of the century. Accused of killing his estranged, second wife, white beauty queen, Nicole and a male visitor to her house 13th June 1994.   Evidence, including forensic evidence, placed OJ at the scene. Black jurors remained unconvinced. One of them agreed that it was ‘payback’ time for a Los Angeles Police Department that acted like an invading army in the black community and regularly got away with murder and the maiming of those of African American ethnicity. Polls taken after the trial showed that over 75% of white thought OJ was guilty. Over 80% of blacks thought him innocent. OJ proved himself more stupid than guilty, ghosting a book, ‘IF’ in which he admitted his hypothetical guilt. He was later jailed for thirty-three years for a botched robbery in which he tried to take back sporting mementos he had once owned from a collector and seller of memorabilia. Black and white commentators suggested this was payback time for OJ.

There is a postscript of course with a black president Obama, in the White House, followed by the moron’s moron, convicted in the supreme court of discriminating against blacks in term of housing, but still elected president on a platform of racial hatred – and appointing a member of the Ku Klux Klan to a senior position in his White House.

If you think black lives matter this is worth watching.   One of the stories OJ liked recalling was after retiring from American football, and becoming a full-time, paid, celebrity, he overhead a little old white women saying ‘she’d seen OJ, but he was sitting with a lot of niggers’. Race didn’t matter. OJ’s celebrity made others colour blind. Until it did. In the same way that class doesn’t matter, until it does. This is the best documentary you’ll see this decade.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08qldj6

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb30l

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb4wh

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb6f2

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08rb6zx

 

John Pilger, The Coming War with China.

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http://www.itv.com/hub/the-coming-war-on-china/2a4249a0001

The title is deliberately provocative. Does John Pilger mean trade war between the number one and two trading blocks in the world? Because we know that is already happening. President-elect Donald J Trump in his campaign –among other accusations – accused China of raping America and stealing job and the American economy was ‘hurt very badly by China with devaluation.’ The United States and Canada are vital to the Chinese economy. The former dependent on the cheap money China provides to service its debts. Equally, America and the rest of the world are depended on the cheap imports that Chinese labours provide. Think Apple here. Australia’s economy is premised on exporting the raw materials necessary to keep the Chinese economy growing. Britain and America’s  metaphoric economy report cards, for example, are marked as successful if GDP growth has been reaching one-percent, or if it hits the dizzy heights of two-percent GDP growth. China, in contrast, recently hit growth rates exceeding ten-percent of GDP, but this has slowed in recent years to around five-percent and falling to levels associated with more mature economies.

It’s worth quoting Lijia Zhang, a Beijing journalist. Her best-selling book (although obviously not in America) is called Socialism Is Great! She was a child of the Cultural Revolution, when millions of Chinese died of hunger and has lived in the US and Europe. ‘Many Americans imagine that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. The [idea of] the yellow peril has never left them… They have no idea there are some 500 million people being lifted out of poverty, and some would say it’s 600 million.’

China stands now where America stood before the start of the First World War. The world’s axis is shifting East, not only to China, but to countries like India, which between them account for over half the population of the planet. It’s the end of empire for America. And like the British before them if it comes to deploying gunboats as the British did during the opium wars and the Boxer Rebellion, then Pilger notes the American’s are doing the same with over 400 naval bases world-wide, including one a few miles from me in Faslane, but most of them pointing East and costing trillions of dollars. The irony here James Bradley notes:  ‘Warren Delano, the grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was the American opium king of China; he was the biggest American opium dealer, second only to the British. Much of the east coast [establishment] of the United States – Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton – was born of drug money.’

America wants to be allowed to be more protectionists that China and China to be more free market than America. The irony here is the Hurun Reports conclusions there are more dollar billionaires in China than anywhere else in the world, including America. But as Eric Li concludes you can be a billionaire in China, but still not be able to buy the Chinese politburo. Pilger’s programme was made before the election of billionaire president Donald J Trump and whose senior positions have been filled so far with a number of billionaires, three Goldman Sachs bankers, and the chief executive of the largest oil company in the world, who has close ties with Russia. It makes George W Bush’s first cabinet of millionaires pauperish.    ‘I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,’ said President Barack Obama.  President-elect Trump has already made that exceptionalism clear with his appointment of retired marine general James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis as defense secretary. Accused China of interfering with a missing US drone and angering China’s leaders by taking a call from Taiwan’s president – an island that China regards as its sovereign territory.

The difference now is it’s nuclear. Pilger takes us through the stages of and testing of America’s nuclear capability. The Bikini Atoll was repeatedly blown up with the cost estimated in millions of dollars a day. But the real cost was to the islanders used as human guniea pigs in experiments into radioactivity that would have shamed Dr Mengele because the latter only tortured subjects in front of him and not the children’s children of their children as US scientists repeatedly did and continue to do. Poor nations dependence on the US dollar was highlighted by a tale of rich and poor. The Ronald Reagan Ballistic  Missle Defense Site (of course it’s defense) on the Marshall Islands spends billions of tax dollars and year, and millions of dollars a day. The island nearest this paradise ( a swimming pool away) cannot afford to fix the town’s only bus. But perhaps the most chilling moment in Pilger’s documentary was when a former soldier admitted that during the Cuban Missile Crisis a rogue officer ordered those under his command to fire the missiles, and opening the silo doors, which would have wiped out China and the world. For twenty seconds in 1961 the world stood on Armageddon, before the order to stand down was made and the officer quietly escorted away to La-La land.

Pilger does not touch on American’s forgotten war, the Korean war, when Chinese forces near Yalu in early 1950s caught General Douglas MacArthur and his soldiers by surprise (see David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter. America and the Korean War).  America was sick of war, as was the world. The answer was to go nuclear. But even then scientist recognised that would mean the end of the world. The Coldest Winter is, of course, nuclear winter.  Now with ‘smaller’ nuclear weapons and hawks in the cabinet, every war looks winnable, but only by striking first. We’ve given Dr Strangelove Trump the codes to our planet’s future.

Here it’s worth quoting an exchange with Pilger and Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of US naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons. Remember this is pre-Trump and pre the term ‘posttruth’ gaining entry to the Oxford English dictionary: “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough… I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.”

 

I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”

 

“That is an understatement,” he replied.

Robert D.Putnam (2015) Our Kids The American Dream in Crisis

our kids

It takes a certain sort of courage to say that you are wrong. Robert D Putnam thought all the hoo-ha of kids not being able to grow up and get on – the essence of the American dream, work hard, play hard and you’ll get your just rewards – was belly aching from those that had failed to thrive. In any society there are winners and losers. He was a winner. He didn’t come from a rich family, and through hard work became Malkin Professor of Public Policy, at one of the grand old dames of American education, Harvard University. The same University attended by the current United States President and his wife. Winners and losers. The hard working commoner can make it to the top of the political tree. All he or she needed was true grit.

Putnam looks backwards to the 1950s, his generation and his town Ohio, which was a bellwether of the United States. He extrapolated the narrative of winners and losers and looked at the data and he found a scissor like movement between rich and poor, not only in wealth, but in education, social and economic opportunity. A gap that did not exist in the cohort that he belonged to, a gap that he did not believe existed. The American Dream he found to be a nightmare for the majority of Americans.

Putnam tells the reader ‘class differences were not absent in Port Clinton in the 1950s’. But kids from the different social backgrounds attended the same school. Frank’s parents, for example, owned much of Port Clinton, but he went to the same school as the farmer and fishermen sons and daughters. He charts the success of the two black students, Jesse and Cheryl, who gained doctorate degrees at a time when the colour bar was at its highest. Frank was smart enough to play down the social and economic difference between him and his classmates. Indeed his father warned him when he went to a café he was to order only what his classmates ordered and could afford. The rules were different outside Ohio.

The rules are different but the pattern is the same for modern (or postmodern) industrial nations. Thomas Piketty in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century charts how as economic growth slows money flows at an increasing rate from the poor to the rich. In Britain, for example, the top 20% own an estimated 100 times more than the other 80%, even before the planned £12 billion of austerity cuts scythes its way through the economic system, increasing the gap even further. Data released a few weeks ago by OECD shows inequality in the UK growing even faster and further. But there is also a gap opening between the top 1% and those other 19% which is also increasing. The tail doesn’t wag the social and economic dog, the tip of the tail does.

Putnam’s graduation class of 1959 did well for themselves.

Humble class origins did not prevent them from using their talents and work ethic to achieve greater upward mobility.

Half of his class went off to college. Race was an issue, but in a climate of greater job instability and declining relative earnings that have fallen in real terms since the 1970s for those outside the top tier, being rich or poor is all about class. A class, an untermensch, in which divorce rates have steadily increased, non-marital births have increased and the number of ‘fragile families’ with absent fathers in prison have grown, as have the number living in child poverty, increasing from just under 10%  of American children in 1999 to 40% in 2013. The mark of a ‘fragile family’ is the rigid boundary of the neighbourhood where they live and where they are educated. The mixing of different social classes that Putnam fondly remembers from the 1950s is, like the Waltons, and John Boy, from a different black-and-white era in which having the right colour of skin was a passport to more.

In a more-it-ocracy those that have the best homes, the best education, the best health prospect and the most political power, demand increasingly more. And they get it. One mother for example demanded her daughter get a school prize, misguidedly awarded by teachers to another pupil, or she’d go to her friends the school governors. Her daughter deserved it. She got it.  The scissor gap between those in the high-income bracket gaining a college degree cuts the tie between rich and poor in terms of opportunity and social mobility and shows a steady upward progression from under 40% in 1970 to 80% in 2011. Those in the low-income bracket also shows a progression for those in the third-quartile (poorish) income group from just under 15% to 23%. For those in the bottom quartile its stasis. 10% to 12 or 13%. Putnam defines education as social and economic success. Those with a college education are more likely to have better jobs, better housing and be more likely to be in a stable marriage. It’s a two-income virtuous circle in which their children reap the benefits of prosperity.

Poverty is marked in other ways. Verbal interactions for example. Children of professionals with an upper-class dual income are richer in verbal encouragements and the words they are exposed to 166 000 by the time they start school, in comparison  – I’ll beat the hell out of you if you don’t stop that now – non-professional children’s exposure to 26 000 words. The patterning and division of class begins before children begin kindergarten. Children are marked out to fail even before they begin school. But those that are poor and show a greater aptitude in tests to succeed than their rich counterparts are far less likely to go onto to get a college degree. Wealth is a physical marker and guarantor of social and economic success.

Richer kids are less likely to drink or take drugs. Less likely to have been in a serious fight. Less likely to have had premarital sex (I guess that goes down as a negative, but not at my school). Less likely to be suspended from school. Stop the world. Poor kids need to get off. In a decade of zero growth and declining wages poor kids are screwed in every way.

Putnam suggests,

If it takes a village to raise a child, the prognosis for American children is not good.

The prognosis for British children follows the American pattern. Those with the least social and economic capital do the least well. The only growth is in unequal opportunity.   Nobel Laureate economist James Hackman estimates that the opportunity cost of writing off our youth costs the economy around 6% to 10% GDP. Nobel economist Joe Stiglitz calls The Great Divide ‘immoral’ and counterproductive. But investment is a dirty word. More and greater austerity is called for in a failed economic experiment. Class disparities accumulate. In a tick-box society the answer is quite simple. Don’t have children unless your income is at least three times the median income. Both in absolute and in relative terms – we’re fucked.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole