Saturday, April 19, 2014

DHM Political Movie of the Month: "Hot Coffee"

Hot Coffee should be required viewing for all critics of so-called "Jackpot Justice" in the state of Mississippi.  In addition to the real story about the elderly woman whose crotch was burned so bad by a cup of McDonald's coffee that she nearly died from the burns, there are also numerous Mississippi issues and people discussed in the film.  It's on Netflix, folks.  Check it out.

The film is timely in light of the anti-"trial lawyer" ads being run by the US Chamber of Commerce against US Senate Candidate Chris McDaniel right now.  Haley Barbour, architect of tort reform in Mississippi, and his Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces are returning to their usual demagoguery of the civil justice system, demonizing the idea that corporations should pay compensatory or punitive damages as a deterrent when their neglect or products cause real people real harm.  Watch the Chamber's cookie cutter anti-trial lawyer/anti-McDaniel ad, embedded below.

I agree with the label that Chris McDaniel was once a trial lawyer, and if you dig in the December archives, you'll find that one of my first blog posts exposed how McDaniel betrayed a law partner and cheated that partner out of more than a million dollars in one such trial lawyer case.

However, I take issue with the political activism of the US Chamber of Commerce, their current ads against McDaniel that demonize trial lawyers, and their crusade to further dismantle the civil justice system.  The real goal of draconian versions of tort reform (like the real goal of draconian anti-union laws), of course, is to starve Democratic candidates of trial lawyers'  political contributions, which are often Democrats' only opportunity to compete in terms of fundraising in statewide elections against corporate-backed GOP candidates.

The director of Hot Coffee interviews Mississippi's most famous living author, John Grisham, and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz about the lengths to which the corporate world is willing to go in order to deprive common people of justice and to hold plenary power over government.  The film discusses how Diaz lost his Mississippi Supreme Court seat because of a false criminal witch hunt against him, orchestrated by such powerful corporate interests that John Grisham decided to partly base his book The Appeal on the shadowy wood in which Diaz found himself in his later court career.

I have been shocked by how Thad Cochran's campaign has deployed Former Governor Haley Barbour and his Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces against McDaniel on this civil justice issue.  I suppose they think that it will be as effective as it was in a guilt-by-association manner against Democrats like Ronnie Musgrove in 2003, before Barbour and Company won that election and then won the tort wars they promised to fight against the civil justice system.

But I am not letting McDaniel and his people off the hook on this issue either.  Russ Latino, a McDaniel supporter, Defense attorney and substitute Supertalk radio host, tweeted a defense of the civil justice system earlier today, but I wonder if he ever defended the lady who was nearly killed by a cup of coffee.

For McDaniel supporters who want to defend him and his trial lawyer history now, I ask this question.  Can you honestly say that McDaniel's cousin, Billy Jack McDaniel, deserves tens of millions of dollars in compensation but that the lady whose crotch was burned beyond recognition by a cup of coffee deserves the national laughter that the US Chamber of Commerce and the GOP stoked against her back in the early 2000s?

Watch Hot Coffee.  The political truth is never as simple as midnight murder pardoner Haley Barbour makes it seem.  The real truth disturbs us because of its complexity.

Jackpot justice was rare before tort reform, and except for in a few jurisdictions where juries could be easily corrupted by prevalent anti-corporate bias, most of the time people and corporations were treated fairly by a jury of their peers -- as the founders would have intended it to work.

But now Haley Barbour, his Delta Catfish Forces and his Pork Berets have the nerve to make fun of and call greedy those like the coffee lady and Billy Jack McDaniel when Barbour and Company have made more money in far more nefarious ways than submitting their evidence and pleas for relief to six or twelve honorable citizens.

If Barbour keeps up the charade against the civil justice system, perhaps it is time he is again brought before the court of public opinion.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Populist Playbook for Chris McDaniel Upset Victory?

For those who followed the United States Senate Primary during the last two weeks, the media reports read like a rough draft of Chris McDaniel's political obituary.

In April, the state and national media collectively portrayed McDaniel as the confederate version of Todd Akin.   But this time was worse than when failed GOP Senate Candidate Akin used the word legitimate to describe certain rapes in 2012.

The reports this month suggested the GOP brass believes McDaniel's audio-trail is akin to somebody recording Akin's greatest hits for hundreds of hours.  No matter McDaniel's prospects of defeating a democratic challenger in the reliably conservative state of Mississippi, the feeling that a frothing Old Yeller has once again hopped the fence into the GOP's national cattle-yard is palpable.

Both the Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed re-reported embarrassing audio clips from McDaniel's shock jock days on the Right Side Radio program.  DHM reported the same clips here back in January.

Cochran's Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces Launch April Offensive

The old radio clips resurfaced with the suspicious velocity of a primary version of an "October surprise", with two different sources falsely claiming credit for discovering the audio that was posted here months earlier.  Can we therefore conclude that some of Senator Thad Cochran's campaign friends-with-benefits or "special forces" operating outside the official campaign budget -- Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces, if you like -- may be the sources of the April Offensive against McDaniel in the media?

The Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces to which I refer are, of course, the establishment media, fundraising, and lobbying associates of Former Governor Haley Barbour and Senator Thad Cochran, ranging from the Y'all Politics blog that parrots the Cochran/Barbour establishment to the "Mississippi Conservatives" Super PAC formed this year by Barbour's own nephew.

The Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces successfully carpet-bombed McDaniel in the media in April, but can McDaniel surge his fundraising and activist network (or win over enough undecideds) to avoid his political obituary accompanying June headlines about a half-century of Thad Cochran in Congress?

Is the Cochran/McDaniel Campaign a Race or a Game?

Count on the Fourth Estate to treat Mississippi's 2014 United States Senate Campaign as a race instead of a game.  The race-theory purveyors will focus in May on the race-like quantities of money, endorsements, polls, and headlines, rather than noticing the game-like qualities impacting the last month of campaigns -- the strategies, the morale of candidates and their supporters, and the last-minute pump-fakes, Hail Marys, or other political tricks and tactics.

Most media outlets follow the horse race aspects because it is easier (and perhaps more ethical) for journalists to report statistics than to forecast or analyze the moves and countermoves of campaigns.  In addition, the dirty little secret carried by reporters is that they willingly carry the ball for politicians in exchange for their own game's currency -- information.

Because the media's participation in the game-like qualities of campaigns may be professionaly embarrassing to journalists, they often choose to focus on statistics in which their own participation is de minimis.  But when reporting does focus on a campaign's game-like qualities such as strategy and tactics, the media almost never reports self-awareness of their own manipulation by the candidates they cover.  They tell the story but not the leak, which is sometimes an interesting story behind the story.

Reporting self-awareness of their role as the wide receivers of politics would require media outlets such as BuzzFeed and the Wall Street Journal to cite the Cochran-friendly source that led them both to falsely report they obtained and released exclusive radio clips from McDaniel's radio show.  Beyond embarrassing reporters and cutting off their supply lines of information, such honest reporting would also embarrass campaigns and limit the effectiveness of their dirty tricks.  Reporting a false leaker in the Cochran campaign would suddenly mean that the negative McDaniel story would also be a story about the Cochran campaign's dirty tricks in this coordinated communications strategy that I call the "April Offensive" against McDaniel.

So if the campaign is more liquid and malleable, like the line of scrimmage instead of the race track, what does the winning strategy look like for the out-headlined, out-fundraised, out-endorsed, and out-polled Tea Party insurgent, Chris McDaniel?

The Populist Playbook of Chris McDaniel for May 2014

1. Chris McDaniel brings in the big guns.  Whether pandering to the personal defense crowd, anti-government survivalists, or just Mississippi's vibrant hunting community, Mississippi politicians love to talk up their love for guns.  And they especially like to carry guns when a camera is near.

Just watch the painfully awkward clip of Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann at an NRA banquet last year, embedded below.  In the video, Hosemann claims he owns so many guns that he lost count of them.  Losing track of your guns is probably not the safest, most responsible method of home defense in this era of school shootings and other mass tragedies involving stolen guns; never mind how the remark channels the elitism of 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain forgetting the number of houses he owned.

The point is that guns are a politician's best friend in Mississippi.  And like the other potentially winning strategies discussed below, pro-gun stances amount to populist strategies in a rural red state like Mississippi.  Hosemann botched the populist aspect of being pro-gun by saying he owned so many guns he lost track of them.  But look for McDaniel to exploit a populist strategy to maximum benefit on the issue of guns.

In some successful and not-so-successful ways, McDaniel already employed a strategy of positioning himself as more gun-friendly than Cochran.  For instance, his Twitter feed this week was partially devoted to bragging about a big endorsement from a group called "Gun Owners of America."

For an example of where McDaniel failed to win an important populist battle on the gun front, consider the public relations fiasco of choosing not to honor an intention (or perhaps confirmation, depending on whom you believe) to keynote a gun rally this upcoming May in Guntown, Mississippi.

As if in checkmate, McDaniel found himself choosing between attending an event where the press reported McDaniel would share a forum with a publicly avowed pro-segregationist confederate coin dealer on the one hand or to offend the pro-gun constituency by giving into the politically correct police among the national media on the other.  McDaniel chose to bail on the gun crowd in the name of political correctness, which makes his solicitation of the gun crowd all the more important in these final days of the campaign.

And if that wasn't bad enough, DHM must take credit for McDaniel's rocky first impression on guns.  The national press back in January picked up the story first reported on DHM about controversial radio comments by McDaniel that suggested hip hop causes gun violence.

But the next month will decide whether McDaniel can win over his most important constituency -- Gun-toting, God-fearing Baptists, Survivalists, and Hunters.  The "Constitutional Conservative" platform of McDaniel is esoteric, but a gun is a tangible thing in that homeowner's closet, that hunter's pickup, or that survivalist's bunker.  McDaniel can win if he activates this crowd.  How can McDaniel siphon this vote away from the establishment GOP's candidate Thad Cochran?  I do not think he does so through negative attacks on Cochran's gun record.  I think he does so through positive action -- rallies, speeches, and most of all direct outreach.

The New York Times this week published a story about GOP primary candidates employing "Gun Sweepstakes" where potential supporters of a candidate turn over their personal contact information to become eligible to win a variety of guns, which campaigns typically raffle off using gun store vouchers because they are not licensed gun dealers.  In at least one case, a Gun Sweepstakes grew a primary contender's database of potential supporters available for outreach by forty-five thousand people.  Of course background checks must be passed.  Tastelessness of a gun lottery aside, this could be an effective tactic for growing McDaniel's base of activist supporters.

2. Chris McDaniel runs against not Thad Cochran but former Governor Haley Barbour.  Ever since his infamous farewell pardons, which along with previous Barbour pardons included the pardoning of 8 wife/girlfriend-killers, Former Governor Haley Barbour has become a pariah in some Mississippi political circles.

Because what I dubbed Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces from the Barbour network are Cochran's main political operatives in this campaign, Barbour may become the moral weak point rather than just the fundraising and organizational strength of the Cochran campaign.  The populist appeal of running against someone so forgiving of (or politically persuaded by) murderers and their apologists is as simple as saying "red meat."  But then there are other things that Barbour stood for that are less apparent to the average Mississippi voter but that an effective strategy by McDaniel could potentially exploit.

For example, Haley Barbour's failed investments, corporate cronyism, and connection to the political blue bloods of Washington are all also weaknesses for Cochran, since the Pork Berets and Delta Catfish Forces that benefited from Barbour's cronyism are now working for Cochran.  If you doubt the political potency of Barbour's failed investments on behalf of the state, review the cases of Handy Hardware in Meridian and Twin Creeks Technologies in Senatobia, featured in DHM's debut blogcast, taking millions of Mississippi taxpayers' dollars before promptly going belly up.

And those are not the only examples of the incompetence (or corruption?) that would inflame a populist revolt against Haley Barbour and Thad Cochran's penchant for investing state or federal tax dollars into questionable economic development projects.  Of course Cochran can point to many examples of successful economic development projects he steered to Mississippi, but in politics -- as they say -- appearances matter more than realities.

3. Chris McDaniel announces support for raising the Mississippi state minimum wage. Now I admit this one is the least likely strategy that may be employed by Chris McDaniel in the last month of the primary.  However, he could argue that the federal minimum wage hike on which Democrats are likely to run this year is unconstitutional but that he favors a more federalist-friendly state decision on whether to raise the minimum wage.  Such a move would activate a wider swath of impoverished but conservative-leaning Mississippians to view McDaniel as not just a conservative firebrand but a populist champion.

I seriously doubt McDaniel will come out in favor of a Mississippi law raising the minimum wage, but if he did, that would be the kind of Hail Mary an out-fundraised, out-headlined, out-polled, and out-endorsed challenger needs to make it to November.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Stay Tuned

Pardon the hiatus. There are interesting things happening in politics, but I have many too many interesting (time-consuming) things going on in life at the moment to catch up.

I fully expect to be back at 100% sometime this month.  That means 2+ in-depth blogs per week, plus a blogcast and political book of the month mixed in for April.

Stay Tuned.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Dark Horse Mississippi Blogcast: Episode 1 -- Mississippi Jobs Graveyard on Governor Phil Bryant's Watch

In this exclusive, first ever DHM blogcast, Dark Horse Mississippi takes a detailed look at Governor Phil Bryant's economic record, using satellite images to show the "graveyard" of factories and other employers that have significantly reduced their workforce or closed down entirely under Governor Bryant. 

Two themes emerge in Governor Bryant's economy: 1) the corporate cronyism that caused Mississippi taxpayers to be cheated out of tens of millions of dollars by risky companies like Twin Creeks Technologies in Senatobia and Handy Hardware in Meridian; and 2) the withering or dying of important corporate citizens such as Viking Range in Greenwood, Huntington Ingalls in Gulfport, and Lane Furniture in Saltillo.

Governor Bryant claims job gains during his administration, but this video proves him wrong on many levels. If you pay close attention, Bryant never touts a "net job gain."  Instead, Bryant claims that economic stimulus initiated by his administration led to the attraction of a few thousand new jobs, but Bryant's figures do not account for jobs lost.  Bryant is like the gambler who only remembers the last hand.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Supertalk's Paul Gallo Calls Out the "Black Nag"…. Should DHM Visit Supertalk Next Week?

I haven't listened to Supertalk Mississippi today except for a few minutes this morning.  But it is my understanding that Paul Gallo wants me to visit his show next week in what he calls a "Cahoonas [sic] test."

I'm guessing this is all about my prior blog post about Supertalk Mississippi entitled Pigs at the Trough.  Supertalk had not reached out to me before this and had barely covered any of the same things I cover, even though national media has.  So I'm guessing Supertalk's interest must be of the blood honor sort that used to occasion challenges to duel generations ago.

In a duel, certain rules are set beforehand.  I am interested in ground rules, before I go into someone else's house for what would likely be a verbal ambush.

I am also concerned that the whole point of this blog is to point out things that are difficult to point out in Mississippi.  I am anonymous because I value personal and professional relationships and do not want to risk economic or social reprisals against me or, more importantly, those around me.  I also value my privacy.  But then again, at some point people will know who I am.  And some already do.

But were I so inclined to have a sit down or showdown or whatever you want to call it with professional talker Paul Gallo, what is in it for me?  Mr. Gallo certainly benefits.  He has his honor to protect, which I admit perhaps my blog post called into question.  But for Gallo, conflict also equals ratings, and ratings are his life blood.  

For myself, I see no benefit except a similar sort of blood honor.  For Gallo to call me "black nag," whether a double entendre racist dog whistle is intended or not, shows that he is not above games.  It is the oldest trick in the book to call your enemy the wrong name or refuse to say their actual name.  

I am deciding what to do.  Any thoughts or advice?

Pigs at the Trough: The Hypocrisy of Paul Gallo's Anti-Teacher Rhetoric

The right-tilting media mugshot of Paul Gallo, the influential host of the coveted morning drive spot on the conservative radio network, Supertalk Mississippi (Photo: Mississippi Manufacturers Association

Supertalk Mississippi's Paul Gallo looks like that high school guidance counselor or shop teacher that you caught buying socks in Wal-Mart.

Though he may have the look of a teacher, Gallo is not a teacher.  And he cares little for teachers.  Gallo made that clear on Tuesday when he made insulting, false, and hypocritical statements about educators in the state of Mississippi.

Here's what happened in a five minute segment toward the end of his six-o-clock hour on Tuesday:

1) Gallo denounced a bill that would grant teachers a $2,500 raise between now and July 2015. The bill would place Mississippi closer to par for teacher salaries among other Southern states.

2) Gallo scoffed at a part of the same bill that offered a teacher "stifend" [sic] (in Gallo's terminology) for improvements at schools.

3) Gallo cynically and predictably drove a wedge between private sector workers and public sector workers by suggesting that individual listeners should oppose any raise for teachers if their own wages had not risen. By that logic, should some of Gallo's unemployed listeners demand that teachers forfeit their entire salary?  Just think, Gallo is peddling so much economic division between the public and private sector, yet talk radio clowns like Gallo frequently complain that Democrats are all about class warfare.  The nerve!

4) Gallo mocked the idea that "right out of college," a teacher should make $34,390 under this proposed bill.  What other profession except maybe a social worker makes less than $35,000 in a career that requires a four-year college degree?  Artist?  Journalist?  Nope, those professions do not yet require a degree or a license for that matter, although degrees may be preferred in those fields.

5) Gallo cynically suggested that not passing a bill to increase and train a new class of the state's force of highway patrolmen was reason to oppose this teacher pay raise bill.  Again, make no mistake: Gallo was pushing the divide and conquer class warfare strategy of the anti-government wing of the GOP.

6) Gallo incorrectly "guesstimated" that a local school district supplement, along with this proposed teacher pay raise bill (at $34,390), would place many or most first-year teachers in the $40,000 starting salary range.  Some district supplements may be $1,000 or $2,000, but there are also schools that offer a measly couple hundred dollars for supplemental pay because of low property valuation in those districts, which leads to lower property tax revenues and therefore lower local supplements to teacher salaries.  Go figure, all Mississippi districts are not as wealthy as the suburbs around Jackson near which Paul Gallo lives and works.

7) Gallo also suggested that a teacher works 9 months per year during the segment.  As any teacher or school administrator can explain, the 9 month work calendar for teachers is a falsehood.  Teachers work during the summer (which is just over 2 months, not 3, as Gallo suggests) in professional development, curriculum planning, and sometimes summer schools or extra-curricular activities.  Aside from peddling a patent falsehood regarding the 9 month work year lie, Gallo's point seemed to be that teachers make too much money since they are not working during all of that time.  This perpetuates a convenient myth for teacher-bashers like Gallo.

For teacher-bashers like Gallo, the goal is to conjure up images that teachers sip Mai Tais on some island resort for a quarter of the year, thus again trying to sow some discord among teachers and their natural economic allies in the lower tax brackets.  The sad reality is that teacher salaries are so appallingly low that many teachers pick up extra work in the summer to avoid receiving public assistance.

The worst part about Gallo's teacher-bashing is that it was just plain hypocritical.  Suggesting that teachers work 9 months per year is like suggesting Gallo's workday as a radio host consists only of sitting on his behind in front of a microphone and speaking his mind for two or three hours.  Of course, between daily segments while he is off the air, Gallo is presumably handling lots of his own administrative business, marketing, networking, show planning, and professional development.  But why give Gallo the benefit of that doubt when he clearly wants to assume the worst of teachers' "off-air" time?

Even more troubling, Gallo and the rest of the political commentators on his network are not captains of private enterprise fighting the good fight against government waste, as they claim to be.

A few years ago, Tom Freeland of NMissCommentor published a blog exposing Supertalk Mississippi's parent company Telesouth as the recipient of millions of dollars in state taxpayer funded advertising revenue -- approximately $6 million from Mississippi taxpayers between 2004 and 2011.

Based on that seven-year-trend and where we likely are more than three years later, the amount Supertalk Mississippi receives on the government advertising dole must be approaching $10 million by now.  That can buy a lot of donuts for Gallo's studio, which translates to a lot of feasting at the government trough for Paul Gallo's Supertalk farrow.

For anecdotal evidence that Supertalk Mississippi is the government "welfare queen" of Mississippi's public airwaves, anyone who listens to Supertalk Mississippi should notice that during every commercial break, the state through various state agencies interjects for a public service announcement of some kind or another.  How interesting that Supertalk rose to prominence around the same time Republicans took over Mississippi politics in the early 2000s!  Anyone listening to Supertalk Mississippi will recognize that it is already the state propaganda organ of the Republican right wing, but the advertising records since the Republican takeover of Mississippi also comprise a monetary paper trail that may help prove a link between the GOP and Supertalk Mississippi.

While state advertising can be of tremendous public benefit in some circumstances, should the state be advertising on a network that bashes teachers who are on the front lines of the state's mission of improving its citizens' quality of life?  Apparently many state agencies think so.

Gallo and company are a hypocritical farrow, a litter of piglets suckling Mississippi's teat while claiming the government milk itself is poison.  In the same segment on Tuesday when Gallo spewed his anti-government venom at teachers, he called one of the architects of the newest teacher pay raise bill -- Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves  -- "Napoleon."

I wonder if Gallo meant to call Reeves "Napoleon" as an allusion to the tiny dictator of early modern France.  Or was Gallo comparing Reeves to the leader of the pigs in the George Orwell classic Animal Farm who was also called Napoleon?

In the spirit of Gallo's rant, I submit that the real pigs in the mold of Animal Farm's Napoleon are Gallo's farrow at Supertalk Mississippi.

About 2 minutes and 50 seconds into the video clip from an animated version of Animal Farm, which is embedded below, you'll hear the Supreme Leader of Animal Farm, Napoleon, conspiratorially tell his fellow pigs:

"My loyal followers: On farms owned and operated by pigs, there is order and discipline.  Our lower animals do more work and eat less than on other farms.  This will encourage you to make your lower animals work even harder and eat even less…. To peace and plenty and to pig law!"

Just think of talk radio host and anti-teacher windbag Rush Limbaugh as Napoleon and the lesser pigs as wannabe national conservative windbags like Paul Gallo and JT from Supertalk Mississippi, and you get the picture.  Because all of these talk radio hosts benefit from millions of dollars in state (and federal) public service announcements while simultaneously bashing public sector workers who toil like the lower animals of the Animal Farm fable, we can find no better spirit animal for any of these "political entertainers" than a pig.  Those like Paul Gallo indeed walk in the boorish hooves of their piggy idol, Rush Limbaugh.

Pigs at the Trough: Teacher-bashers like the nationally syndicated talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (center) and Supertalk Mississippi's JT (left) and Paul Gallo (right) make millions every year on behalf of their affiliated radio stations in ad revenue from the state and federal government while suggesting that teachers are greedy for wanting higher pay.

Through some Orwellian doublespeak, I expect Paul Gallo or someone on his behalf in the Supertalk Mississippi farrow to respond to this blog in boorish fashion, if they respond at all.  When you point out the pigs' hypocrisy in Animal Farm, the pigs will say: "All Animals Are Equal But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others."  (See barn-side proclomation below)

I guess that those on the government dole at Supertalk Mississippi believe they should be treated not just equal to but "more equal"than teachers in the state of Mississippi.  If teachers do not receive significant pay raises in the coming years, I will blame Paul Gallo's farrow.  And in the next session, I would hope that teachers will lead a divestment campaign of Mississippi's taxpayer dollars from this anti-government network.  After all, if we can't afford to pay teachers more, we can't afford to tell our citizens what various state agencies do to the tune of seven-figure public service announcements.  And if state divestment does not work as adequate deterrence from Supertalk trying to sabotage teacher pay raises, I would hope that teachers start a boycott of Supertalk's advertisers.  It is time that the lower animals fight back against the pigs at the trough.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"Who Killed the Mayor?" Grief, Conspiracy, History, and Opportunism: The Death of African American Politicians in Mississippi

Cartoon by Marshall Ramsey @MarshallRamsey about Hinds County Supervisor Kenny Stokes' baseless suggestions that Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba was murdered

"I believe that someone killed him [, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba].  Now I can't prove it, but I'm going to say it.  That's how I feel in my heart," Kenny Stokes, a Hinds County Supervisor, told a reporter in a video posted on television station WAPT's website.  Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba died of natural causes, according to the Hinds County coroner.

To understand Kenny Stokes' wild-eyed assertions -- and even more importantly the people who may believe Kenny Stokes -- one must understand four things: grief, conspiracy, history, and opportunism.  

1. Grief 

Two of the five stages of grief are denial and anger, according to the famous study by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross Stokes or at least those who believe as Stokes does -- that Mayor Lumumba was murdered -- may be experiencing denial and anger as a natural response to grief.

2. Conspiracy 

About a year ago, someone murdered a gay, black mayoral candidate in Clarksdale named Marco McMillian.  Many at first speculated that since McMillian was found nude, beaten, and burned, he was the victim of a hate crime.  It seems those initial assumptions were false.

Bill Luckett, the attorney, businessman, philanthropist, and former gubernatorial candidate who went on to be elected Mayor of Clarksdale in 2013, told National Journal in an interview about the death of McMillian:
"Everybody inferred that some white redneck kind of person did it… They didn’t say it in those words, but it was certainly inferred. Gay, black candidate murdered in Mississippi and, by the way, it’s a very conservative state. Go figure."
In fact, an African American named Lawrence Reed was arrested and charged for the murder, after Reed wrecked the victim McMillian's car.  Aside from the "smoking car" as their evidence, prosecutors seem to be bringing their case against Reed on the theory that McMillian died as a result of a lovers' quarrel.

Reed's trial was moved to neighboring Quitman County.  Adjudication of Reed's guilt or innocence is pending, but this case is an example of where Mississippi's stereotypical Grisham-esque conspiracy theories fell apart upon a cursory inspection of the evidence.

But something strange seems to be going on, if you are a follower of African American politicians in Mississippi and can do simple math.

A year ago today, a friend pointed something out to me.  At that time in March of 2013, within five months, five members of the Mississippi state legislature died.

1) Bennie Turner (D West Point) died at 64 in November 2012 of a brain tumor.

2) Alice Harden (D Jackson) died at 64 in December 2012 from a "lengthy illness."

3) David Gibs (D West Point) died at 76 in January 2013 after resigning his post for health reasons at the beginning of the 2013 legislative session.

4) Joe Gardner (D Batesville) died at 68 in February 2013 of an "apparent heart attack."

5) Jessica Upshaw (R Diamondhead) died at 53 in March 2013 of an apparent suicide.

In March of 2013, conspiracy theorists of the tinfoil-hat-assault-rifle-toting type (see the Tea Party) popped up focusing on the death of Jessica Upshaw and something to do with a United Nations project called "Agenda 21."

But anyone who can do simple math will see that the coincidental part about the five deaths in five months is that the first four were all African American Democratic lawmakers.  None of those four were young, but their death rate of one per month as minority members of a 174-member-body were far exceeding their expected mortality rate.

Aside from the African American Democratic lawmaker common thread, there was this: In the obituaries of these four, they are also all described as passionate advocates of public education.  Later that legislative session, more than a month or so after the last death, several education reforms became law in Mississippi that initiated the first big push of the privatization of the state education system.

My take on the natural deaths of these four is that being a black Mississippi lawmaker and watching all that you work for be dismantled by the new Republican majority is a stressful situation in which to find yourself.  And stress is hazardous to your health.  My deepest sympathies are with those families still grieving, and I mean no disrespect to their honor and memory as public servants by discussing their deaths again here.

But if you were more conspiracy-minded, you could see something else aside from coincidence in the deaths of these four lawmakers.  I'm surprised there was so much hullabaloo and conspiracy theorizing over McMillian's death last year and Lumumba's death this year but hardly any of that about the four black Dems who died at the beginning of last year's GOP steamroller of a legislative session.

All of this is to say: don't underestimate the power and allure of conspiracy theories in general as the motivation for those who now believe Lumumba was murdered.  As blind and irresponsible as those peddling the Lumumba murder conspiracy and the other conspiracies may be, the numbers for black politicians in the last year and a half have not been good.

Those coincidental numbers fuel the allure of conspiracies in the black community, but there are larger forces at work than humanity's general obsession with vast political conspiracies.  The dark history of our state is another reason why some now may believe wrongly that Lumumba was murdered.

3. History

This factor should require little explanation.  For more than a century in Mississippi and in the United States overall, it was open season as far as the killing of African Americans and especially their leaders -- whether by the lynch-mob's rope, the klan's night-rides, or the assassin's bullet.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but remember that there are people still alive today who experienced the shock and horror of racially motivated murders of blacks in Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s:

Medgar Evers
Emmett Till
James Chaney
Rev. George Lee
Lamar Smith
Mack Charles Parker
Herbert Lee
Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr.
Louis Allen
Henry Hezekiah Dee
Charles Eddie Moore
Vernon Dahmer
Ben Chester White
Wharlest Jackson
Benjamin Brown

Many of these murders happened in or around the Jackson, Mississippi area where Stokes made his baseless assertion that Lumumba was murdered.  And do not forget that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis, just a few hours away from Jackson.  All of these murders contribute to the awful legacy of terror in this state in the 1950s and 1960s.  But more importantly as an explanation for those who suspect foul play in Lumumba's death, all of these murders were the end result of real conspiracies targeting the African American community in the 1950s and 60s.  And do not underestimate the role that Lumumba's own civil rights work in the 1960s plays in those believing that he is just the latest martyr for that cause.

Wrong as the conspiracy theorists like Stokes are, they have statistics and history on their side because of the bloody, shameful past of our state.

4. Opportunism

At the end of the day, we can ignore all of the rest of the causes for Stokes' baseless assertion that Lumumba was murdered -- including 1) anger and denial based in grief, 2) the vaporous but alluring trail of conspiracy, and 3) Mississippi's dark history of civil rights murders -- and just focus on the immediate cause of Stokes' baseless assertion that Lumumba was murdered: his own opportunism.  

Stokes was a friend and supporter of the late Mayor Chockwe Lumumba.  Stokes was also a friend and supporter of the late Mayor Frank Melton, Lumumba's predecessor as Jackson Mayor and a figure who was also, like Lumumba, a controversial African American who died while holding the mayoral office.  

Stokes has made a habit of placing himself near the seat of power.  Does he have his sights on an even more prominent role as a leader in the African American political community?

Is Stokes self-aggrandizing power in a cynical way by exploiting the sincere grief of this community?  Or is he capitalizing on the human tendency to believe in conspiracies when we cannot logically explain coincidences?  Or is Stokes, in a depraved attempt to take the reigns, scratching the race record's surface so that it will be stuck perpetually in the bloody loop of the 1950s and 1960s?  Can we not sing another song in 2014 when our president is African American and most in Mississippi are closer on the issue of race to Dr. King than Governor Barnett?

The late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba (left), after being endorsed by Kenny Stokes (right) in the Jackson mayoral runoff election in 2013. (Photo: The Jackson Free Press)