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Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

Mother Jones

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On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles was engulfed in flames after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers who had been charged in the beating of Rodney King, an African-American motorist. Videos and images of King’s brutalization were widely circulated, provoking an immediate call for justice. When that call went unheeded, the ensuing unrest ignited a wave of violence, death, and financial loss in America’s second-largest city. Fifty-four people were killed in the riots, nearly 12,000 were arrested, and the city incurred more than $1 billion in damages. (The following year, two of the officers were convicted in federal court of violating King’s civil rights; the other two were acquitted once again.)

The parallels between modern-day police brutality and the 1991 King beating serve as a grim reminder of how little has changed today, despite efforts to reform law enforcement. Here are four documentaries and television specials that offer a window into the enduring legacy of the King verdict:

  1. LA Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later
    Despite being a retrospective, A&E’s special does not allow readers to retreat from the present-day, unfurling images of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin at the start of the two-hour film. LA Burning spins through first-person recollections from a week of dark, incendiary nights in Los Angeles. The grievances and discontent of rioters are visible onscreen, and notable interviewees include George Holliday, the photographer whose video of King’s beating went viral in the pre-Internet age. The special is available to stream on A&E’s website.
  2. LA 92
    At a midnight speech in Sacramento, California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) declares a state of emergency in LA: “This is a matter that needs to be settled in the courts and not in the streets,” he tells residents. Using archival footage, LA 92 is National Geographic Channel’s reconstructed glimpse into the turbulence roiling the city during the riots. We shuttle from images of the California National Guard on standby duty to moments of quiet calm at the First AME Church, where African-American city council member Rita Walters tells crowds, “Tonight we must tell our children one more time: Stay cool, be calm…that for African-American children and adults, freedom is not yet a reality in the United States.” The film premieres on Sunday, April 30, on National Geographic.
  3. The Lost Tapes: LA Riots
    As conflagrations spread across Los Angeles, first responders, dispatchers, and law enforcement agents scrambled to ensure the city did not fully descend into flames. Their voices are among those highlighted in this program from the Smithsonian Channel, which stitches together raw footage and homemade videos capturing the riots at the height of their intensity—some of it rarely-seen footage. “I can smell the fires,” one resident phones into a local radio station. “I’m really angry, and I’m really very scared. I just spent the last 10 years of my life in college. But it doesn’t really matter because even with a briefcase in my hand and suit on my back, I’m still just another nigger to the cops out there.” The episode is available online.
  4. Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!
    Showtime’s 99-minute documentary evaluates the events preceding the King beating, outlining the LAPD’s long history of systematic racism. The Sacha Jenkins film revisits the 1965 Watts riots, which were sparked by the arrest of African-American driver Marquette Frye. The six-day rebellion that followed in this largely African-American LA neighborhood killed 34 people and led to approximately 4,000 arrests. It was the costliest urban riot of its period, and it served as a precursor to the 1992 riots. The documentary also examines California’s Simi Valley, the predominantly white community to which the King trial was moved after fears of media saturation led to a venue change. No black citizens served on the Simi Valley jury that acquitted the officers. The full film is available on Showtime’s website.

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Revisiting the Rodney King Verdict 25 Years Later

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Presidenting Is Hard

Mother Jones

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Poor Donald Trump. Being president is harder than he thought:

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump told Reuters in an interview. “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”…Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

“Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.”

There are three takeaways from this. First, Trump’s old life was pretty easy because other people ran his companies and he didn’t really do much. Second, he thought presidents just consulted their guts and made decisions, sort of like Celebrity Apprentice, and then stuff magically happened. Third, he still can’t maintain discussion of a real topic (Chinese President Xi Jinping) for more than a few moments before getting sidetracked by one of his obsessions (his huge victory in November). Here are the maps he handed out. He obviously had copies made just for the occasion:

But Trump still hasn’t learned his lesson. I’ve dealt with lots of people who will regale you endlessly with tales of how complicated their own business is, but the less they know about some other business the easier they think it is to fix. For example:

Sure, Donald. You can’t even get Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon to stop squabbling, but the Middle East? Piece of cake. There’s no reason to think this is a difficult problem that requires a lot of hard work. It’s just that all the presidents before you have been really, really stupid.

Still, they were all bright enough to know that if you want to get things done, you need to get people who support your agenda running the bureaucracy. Trump still hasn’t figured that out:

It’s hard to find Republicans to work in the federal government in the first place, and harder still to find Republicans willing to work for a man-child like Trump. Even at that, though, he’s barely even trying. Not counting cabinet positions, he’s managed to nominate about three people per week. That’s pathetic.

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Presidenting Is Hard

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It’s Embarrassing To Be an American These Days

Mother Jones

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I want to repeat something from the previous post because it deserves a post all its own. This is Donald Trump’s “tax plan”:

Trump has embarrassed us in so many ways that I guess this is small beer, but FFS. This is the United States of America, the biggest, richest country on the planet. The leader of the free world. And this is what we get from our president these days. He wants to cut taxes by $4 trillion or more—$4 trillion!—and he can’t be bothered to produce more than a single page of bullet points about it. No details. No legislation. No analysis from the OMB. Nothing. Just a comic book version of a tax overhaul.

The contempt and incompetence this displays is breathtaking.

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It’s Embarrassing To Be an American These Days

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

Mother Jones

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Last night I wrote that the Trump tax plan would be little more a than a rewrite of his campaign document. I was wrong. Here it is:

It’s not worth the 60 seconds it would take to check this, but I’m pretty sure this is less detailed than Trump’s campaign document. What a fucking embarrassment. It’s like something a high school class would put together. Even with only five days to work with, you’d think the Treasury Department of the United States of America could produce a little more than this.

But let’s go through the whole thing. There’s a little more than you see in the tweet above:

Three tax brackets instead of seven. However, there’s no telling how this affects taxes until Steve Mnuchin tells us where the cutoff points are.

Doubles the personal exemption from $12,000 to $24,000. This will help middle-class families, but it’s a little hard to know how much it will help them until we get details on….

Elimination of itemized deductions. Which ones? All of them? Good luck with that. But you can be sure that one of the targets will be the deduction for state income taxes, since that mostly benefits the hated blue states of California and New York.

Elimination of the estate tax. A huge boon for the super-duper rich.

Elimination of the AMT. A huge boon for the rich.

Elimination of Obamacare’s 3.8 percent tax on investment. A huge boon for the rich.

Reduce business tax rate to 15 percent. A huge boon for corporations and the rich, especially those with income from pass-through businesses. Apparently Mnuchin doesn’t care that Senate rules make this almost literally unpassable.

Tax repatriation holiday. A huge boon for corporations and the rich.

Territorial taxation system for corporations. There’s no telling what effect this would have. There are good territorial systems and bad ones. It’s all in the details—though it’s a pretty good guess that Trump will opt for one of the bad ones.

The driving force behind this appears to be Trump’s desire to call this the biggest tax cut in American history. The previous champ was Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which cost 3.9 percent of GDP. That means Trump is gunning for 4 percent of GDP.

The Congressional Budget Office pegs GDP over the next ten years at $239 trillion. To get to 4 percent, Trump’s tax plan will need to cut taxes by $9.5 trillion. This is obviously ridiculous. Maybe Trump isn’t accounting for inflation or something. That would get him down to $4.3 trillion.

Really, who knows? I suppose Trump will call it the biggest tax cut in history regardless of how big it is. He doesn’t care. The one thing we can be sure of is that the rich will swoon. At a guess, something like 90 percent of that $9.5 (or $4.3 or whatever) trillion will go to the top 10 percent. The rest of us get a few crumbs.

Of course, this whole thing is DOA in Congress anyway, which will pretty much ignore Trump and create its own tax plan for the rich. This one-page “plan” is really just a publicity stunt so Trump can say he introduced it during his first hundred days. What a doofus.

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

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It Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal When the President Gives a Holocaust Memorial Speech

Mother Jones

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Since 1982, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC has organized an annual remembrance ceremony in which Holocaust survivors, members of Congress, and community leaders gather to memorialize the millions of people murdered and persecuted during the Holocaust. For the last 24 years, the president has delivered the keynote address without controversy. But this year was different.

Before Trump took office, his campaign came under fire for overt and coded anti-Semitism and since becoming commander in chief, his administration has continued to face criticism for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism in its statement on International Holocaust Day and for not doing enough in response to anti-Semitic acts. There were calls to rescind Trump’s invitation and some on the museum’s board of trustees felt conflicted about whether to even attend.

“I’ve struggled with whether or not I should even go, or to stay away in protest,” board member Andrew J. Weinstein told the New York Times. He said he ultimately would attend despite his “deep concerns about the president and the people he’s surrounded himself with.”

But during the remembrance ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Trump called Holocaust deniers accomplices to the “horrible evil” and vowed to “confront anti-Semitism.” He then personally addressed the Holocaust survivors in attendance and explained its trauma to them at length.

“You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond description, beyond any description,” he said. “Many of you lost your entire family—everything and everyone you love, gone. You saw mothers and children led to mass slaughter.” Here’s the video of his remarks:

“You saw the starvation and the torture,” he went on. “You saw the organized attempt at the extermination of an entire people—and great people I must add. You survived the ghettos, the concentration camps and the death camps.”

Some Holocaust survivors have spoken out forcefully against Trump’s ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, noting that the United States turned away Jews seeking refuge during the Holocaust. Others have noted similarities between Trump’s and Adolf Hitler’s nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric as they rose to power. Some victims of the Japanese internment camps in the US have also issued similar warnings, saying Trump’s campaign promises and fear mongering about immigrants and Muslims echo sentiments that led to their imprisonment.

In closing, Trump told those gathered in the Capitol, “Your stories remind us that we must never ever shrink away from telling the truth about evil in our time…Each survivor here is a beacon of light, and it only takes one light to illuminate even the darkest space, just like it takes only one truth to crush 1,000 lies.”

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It Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal When the President Gives a Holocaust Memorial Speech

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