Sunday, November 17, 2019

Why is Nancy Pelosi talking about bribery?


The House Speaker does not always use the most precise language. But I think she's on to something here, although the lawyers will definitely quibble. (That's what lawyers are for.)

In case you missed it, here's how Pelosi explained the President's offense in a press conference about the impeachment inquiry this week:

The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That's bribery.

I am saying that what is — the president has admitted to and says it's perfect, I say it's perfectly wrong. It's bribery.

Pelosi is up against the fact that we tend to look at this through the wrong end of the telescope. We instinctively think what a corrupt politician wants is for someone to pay him off for using his power on behalf of the one paying.

But Trump's interaction with President Zelensky works the other way round. He's the one offering a bribe. He's offering to pay the literally embattled Ukrainian president for phony smears of Joe Biden and Democrats' 2016 campaign with our money. So what we've got here is both attempted bribery and theft from the taxpayers. It would still be bribery if Trump had offered Zelensky money from his own pocket. (Fat chance of that; he'd weasel on paying up as his foundation did with the vets.) But it's no less bribery because the money that Congress duly appropriated isn't Trump's to play with.

None of this is in the interest of United States foreign policy in support of democratic Ukraine or of the United States at all. It's in the personal interest of Donald Trump. No surprise, since the guy never discernibly has ever done anything in anyone's interest but his own.

Pelosi gets this guy. Can the rest of us?
...
For a less colloquial take on the "bribery" accusation, here's Charlie Savage. In particular, he explores what the men who designed the Constitution might have meant by "bribery." But for impeachment, I don't think we need to be that historically grounded and fair minded. The Orange Cheeto hopes he can use our money for his own re-election. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday scenery: a blast from the past

Now for something a little different, encountered while Walking San Francisco. People who've been around the city for awhile may recognize this, a venerable tourist attraction in the Fisherman's Wharf/Ghirardelli Square area. Those of us who live in the city seldom venture into this overcrowded, hyper-commercialized corner of the city so I had no idea of whatever happened to the Automatic Human Jukebox.

In its prime, you really could drop in your coins, select your tune from the list, and out would pop the trumpeter to blast out your selection.

A sign tells some of the story of Grimes Poznikov, a classic 1960s character who very naturally ended up in the wild and wonderful San Francisco in the 1970s. As for so many characters of that time, life didn't end well for Poznikov.

These days his box performs a utilitarian function for local construction workers.

Yes, I have a couple more San Francisco precincts to process and share while I'm 3000 miles away.

Thirty years ago ...

Six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her daughter Celina were murdered inside Central American University in San Salvador. Their killers were Salvadoran soldiers, part of the U.S.-supported army which was fighting to keep right wing oligarchs in power. NPR reporters share their vintage reporting:

ABALOS: [The Jesuits] were speaking for people who were too afraid to speak. You know, they had the mic at that time. They could deliver this message, which was - this is wrong.

HAJEK: This violence against the poor. And the country heard the priests' calls for social justice, including those who wanted them dead.

ABALOS: Whoever was viewed as the enemy was the enemy, and it didn't matter whether they wore a clerical collar or not.

HAJEK: Priests and nuns who stood with the poor were targets accused of communism. Right-wing death squads had a mantra back then - be a patriot, kill a priest.

The University of San Francisco where E.P. teaches, maintains a Ramos Room in honor of Elba.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Friday cat blogging

I've been hesitant to report about the Morty's condition. He's very up and down. Last week he had a day of vomiting and inappropriate elimination and we thought he was a goner.

Since then, he's taken to (very) moderate self-feeding and drinking, which we continue to support with subcutaneous hydration and vitamin enriched cat food pushed into him. Left to himself, he seems to prefer dry crunchies to any of the good stuff. There's no accounting for cats.

Meanwhile, sometimes he wanders about exploring his still unfamiliar environment. Here he contemplates the scene of his escape back in September. We remind him firmly, "cats don't go out."

But mostly, Morty does what many an animal would prefer as the autumn dark and cold close in: he takes to the bed (ours, naturally).

Thursday, November 14, 2019

And then there were two more ...

Just when we were beginning to get down to a more reasonable number of Democratic presidential hopefuls, we get two more.

I'm offended. If they wanted to run, they should have joined the circus back in the spring and made themselves available to Democratic Party voters to assess in action.

I watched a version of Deval Patrick's announcement video. He might have made a strong candidate; he conveys a calm confidence that he can restore decency to the White House. I was reminded that when Doug Jones unexpectedly won his Alabama Senate seat in 2017, his campaign manager reported his greatest asset was giving voters a sense that he would reduce the crazy emanated by Trump. Patrick has some of that. But when he completed his terms as Governor of Massachusetts, Patrick disqualified himself by getting a job with the private equity vulture financial firm, BainCapital. Mitt Romney's old venue is not a recommendation to Democrats, even desperate "moderate" ones.

As for Michael Bloomberg -- sure, he's funded a lot of good gun control and some climate sustainability work. But hey -- we don't need a billionaire whose idea of good police work is "stop and frisk" treatment for thousands of Black and Latin men.

Go away guys. You missed your chance and you are not what we are looking for anyway. Oh -- and use your money to elect whoever is the legitimate Dem nominee.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Martha's Vineyard confronts climate chaos

Last night I attended a packed meeting at the West Tisbury public library at which Elizabeth Durkee, the town of Oak Bluffs conservation agent, laid out what's foreseen for this island as the climate warms. The Island Climate Action Network (ICAN) is sponsoring a series of such meetings in this quiet season.

I expected to hear a lot about the dangers of rising seas, and I did. Many of the island's roads skirt the shoreline and may be inundated by more powerful storms and the ocean itself over the next few decades. Significant island infrastructure -- the ferry landings through which people and commerce flow and the only hospital -- are located in areas that will flood.

But as a Californian, I was struck by this which I much less expected:
The wooded areas where I delight to run are very much at risk in years of drought according to town maps, as is this house. Accumulated dead wood in these wild forests creates acute fire danger. According to the Martha's Vineyard Commission website:

Climate change is bringing more periods of drought, i.e. extended periods of deficient water supply, punctuated by heavy rainstorms. This will increase the risk of wildfires, especially in the spring, before trees have leafed out. Wildfire could strike quickly with potential for great loss of life and property.

On Martha’s Vineyard, between 1867 and 1929, there were 16 fires greater than 1,000 acres, the largest burning 12,000 acres from West Tisbury to Farm Neck, Ocean Heights, and Edgartown in 1916. Since then, fires have generally been smaller. The last big fire was in 1965, burning 1,200 acres from Great Plains to Katama. In 1957, a fire burned 18,000 acres from Carver to Plymouth, burning all the way to the sea; 12,500 acres, more than twice the area of Martha’s Vineyard’s State Forest, burned in 6 hours.

The Vineyard probably has more people and buildings at risk from wildfire than at any time in our history because of several factors:

  • The regeneration of the forest in land that was largely open pasture in the 18th and 19th centuries;
  • The large population growth and amount of construction of almost exclusively wooden buildings since the 1950s;
  • Fire suppression efforts over the past century, leading to the buildup of fuel;
  • The presence of hundreds of acres of dead trees from a caterpillar infestation in 2004 to 2007 as well as trees that died throughout the Island from other causes;
  • and the increased risk of drought due to climate change.

It's not just California (and Australia) that can burn.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

GOPers seem to believe their own bullshit

Do a significant number of Republican Congresscritters actually believe the Trump-serving nonsense served up by Paul Manafort, that addled hack Rudi Giuliani, and various right wing trolls about Ukraine? Their tale is that this enfeebled country meddled in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Any Trump transgressions were merely self-defense. Congressman Devin Nunes's list of preferred witnesses for the impeachment inquiry certainly seems derived from this fable.

If anyone knew anything about Ukraine -- which by and large we don't -- this would simply be nuts. In 2014 Ukrainian citizens gathered in Kiev, sick of the corrupt rule of President Viktor Yanukovych, and overthrew this Russian-sympathizing leader. Their struggle was dramatic, multi-faceted, and turned bloody. When Yanukovych fled to Russia, triumphant citizens flooded to visit his magnificent mansion and private zoo. They wanted the place preserved as a symbol of their overthrow of the old regime, but perhaps inevitably never agreed on a national narrative.

Russia under Putin did have a narrative about Ukraine: the country was merely an amputated appendage of the historic great Russian empire, ripe for destabilization and seizure if possible. Most Ukrainians hoped their future was being part of Europe; Russia did everything it could to reclaim its "lost" territory, seizing the Crimean peninsula from Kiev and supporting armed separatists on Ukraine's Russian border.

Trump campaign hack Paul Manafort emerged from this stew. He had profited by flacking for disgraced President Yanukovich; he threw in with Russia's aims for Urkaine, presumably because that's where the money is. Rudi -- same deal. They sold Trump on the idea that Ukraine was doing dirty work for Hillary and the DNC, much to Russia's delight. Trump believed them -- he's got a thing for shady post-Soviets. Also for anti-Semitic tropes, so he has warmed to the Russian lie that somehow Ukrainian independence from Russia is a George Soros plot.

Every creditable investigation of 2016 campaign interference from abroad found Putin's secret police, not the barely functional, semi-democratic regime in Ukraine. That includes our national security spooks, Robert Mueller, and even the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee. There is no real argument about this. Trump's smarter appointees have tried to get him off the Ukraine fable, but he isn't budging. And so his sycophants in Congress and the administration must also believe.

This will shape the on-going impeachment inquiry. I hope -- and I think trust -- that Trump can't envelope the entire system in his delusion -- but we'll see.

Monday, November 11, 2019

For Veterans Day

For as long as I can remember, my recently deceased friend and mother-in-law kept this snippet of an antiwar poem posted on her refrigerator.

The next and final stanza of the Graves poem reads:

But the boys who were killed in the trenches,
Who fought with no rage and no rant,
We left them stretched out on their pallets of mud
Low down with the worm and the ant.

Like so many of the survivors of what we call the First World War, Robert Graves was not a chest beater. Do read all this short, searing poem. Graves went on to write one of the most devastating accounts anywhere of how what we now label PTSD broke down men dumped into trench warfare.

According to a Pew Center survey, majorities of U.S. veterans who have served in the post 9/11 Forever Wars think those conflicts have not been worth fighting. As the young officer John Kerry asked near the end of his war, the war in Vietnam:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

There's got to be a better way than harnessing the best impulses of young people, their fearlessness and desire to excel, to fruitless causes.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Twenty-five years ago: when nativist fears engulfed California


Twenty-five years ago this November, the electorate of the state of California passed Prop. 187 with 59 percent of the vote. Prop. 187 aimed to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving any public benefits such as health care, education, and social services.

For much of the white majority, the measure was a blow against an unfounded terror unleashed by a perceived Latinx invasion -- of people with and without legal papers -- people who spoke Spanish and, coincidentally, did much of the state's dirtiest and least respected work.

For much of the state's huge Latin-rooted population (19 percent in those days), Prop. 187 was quite simply a politician's self-serving assault on them and their families. Los Angeles Times reporter Gustavo Arellano has offered a perspective from his high school experience.

Gov. Pete Wilson, facing an uphill reelection campaign, led the charge, releasing campaign ads that showed grainy footage of people swarming across the San Ysidro border crossing as an ominous voice intoned: “They keep coming.”

Many Latinos, legal or not, saw the proposition as an existential threat. Wilson’s “they” looked an awful lot like them.

... Back in the fall of 1994, my first brush with immigration politics came when I was walking home from Anaheim High School and a truckful of white teenage boys yelled at me “187! 187!”

I had no idea what they meant, until I got home and turned on the news. Those white boys who yelled at me were all the explanation I needed about the proposition.

Arellano describes the excitement of student-led marches against this moral outrage and how he and his Latinx friends settled back into their lives.

For nearly all of my classmates who participated, it would be their first and last demonstration. They went on to normal, working-class lives — teachers, construction workers, city jobs, the military. ... Living fruitful lives was a direct repudiation against what Proposition 187 represented.

Many Latinx leaders did take up the political struggle to engage immigrant communities as voting citizens as well as workers. Another Southern California native, now a political scientist, thinks Prop. 187 changed the trajectory of Latinx power in the Golden State.

“Pete Wilson transformed us all,” said Lisa Garcia Bedolla, vice provost for graduate studies at UC Berkeley. The Downey native has written multiple scholarly articles, studies and books about the proposition’s impact on Latinos who grew up in the era. “I don’t know if he knows that, and I don’t know if that’s what he wants to be his legacy, but that’s how it is.”

Present day California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was one of those young people activated by Prop. 187. His office has created an online archival look at the struggle over the measure. Being a politician, his telling focuses on politicians:

According to Census Current Population Survey data, in 1994 there were 1.4 million Latinos registered to vote in California; today there are more than 4 million. There has been a more than 100 percent increase in Latinos serving in the state legislature. In 1996, there were 14 Latino state legislators; today, there are 29. In 1996, there were no Latino statewide officeholders; today, there are four. The U.S. House of Representatives had four Latinos from California in 1996, there are now 14. Prop 187 served as the catalyst for a new generation of activists who have led the way in creating the nation’s most inclusive set of policies and rights for immigrants.

It sure didn't feel so hopeful in the immediate aftermath, but determined Californians have made the state a better place; can we now meet the new challenges of our present time?

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Saturday scenery: Vineyard vistas

That's a flat expanse -- and magnificent, though threatened by rising seas. I was scoping out a long run route along the bike path between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs when I encountered the rainbow.

Out at the end of a finger of land that reaches toward the ocean at Long Point, this view is in the direction of Tisbury Great Pond.

This view is from bluffs on the Sound (mainland facing) side of this island.

Friday, November 08, 2019

What has been lost in Rojava

It's been a depressing reality of the Forever Wars subsequent to the 9/11 attacks that well-intentioned U.S.-based peace activists and anti-imperialists have been corralled in a poster of pure opposition. Unlike past U.S. imperial forays into Central America and mid-20th century Vietnam, nobody in the countries we have been blasting apart seemed to be building anything we could much affirm. The Arab Spring offered a momentary hope, but as that democratic eruption was crushed by the usual monarchs, oil barons, generals, and patriarchs, we retreated to thinking as little as possible about places like Syria and Yemen where our country's armed forces continued to wage war.

And so, when Donald Trump did a solid for his brother strongmen Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia by abruptly pulling back U.S. forces in Syria last month, we were largely unequipped to understand that an innovative, even exciting, social experiment was being wiped out. In their embattled enclave on the Syrian-Turkish border, Kurds had built Rojava -- a society based on the communal, libertarian, feminist theories of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan. Turkey says he's a terrorist -- though there have been no terrorist attacks on Turkey from this area in 20 years.

Here are some thoughts from Peter Galbraith, no leftist, just a competent U.S. citizen-observer who has been engaging with Kurds, Kurdish nationalism, and Kurdish politics beginning with a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan in 1987 as a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's disgusted that most everyone in his own country has responded to the destruction of Rojava merely as a possible set back to the fight against ISIS.

If policymakers looked beyond the Kurds’ military utility, they would see a remarkable social revolution with potential implications well beyond Kurdish territory. As Assad’s opponents captured more land in 2012, the Syrian army withdrew from the strategically less important northeast. The PYD was the strongest of the Kurdish political parties that filled the void there, and it looked to Öcalan for guidance.

When he founded the PKK in 1978, Öcalan was a Marxist who modeled himself on Josef Stalin, to whom he bore an uncanny physical resemblance. In 1999 Turkish commandos captured Öcalan in Kenya. Until 2009, he was the only prisoner on İmralı island in the Sea of Marmara. He has had a lot of time to read. With both Marx and Stalin long out of fashion, his lawyers gave Öcalan Turkish translations of two books by my fellow Vermonter Murray Bookchin, who argued for a society based on strict gender equality, direct democracy based on representing communities, and radical environmentalism. Öcalan was impressed and wrote Bookchin in Burlington to say he was one of his best students. Through his lawyers—and occasional visitors—Öcalan also communicated Bookchin’s views to his cadres.

Following Bookchin’s philosophy, northeast Syria’s many communities are represented in multilayered governmental structures. Legislative bodies—city councils or cantonal parliaments—include Kurds, Arabs, Christians, and Yazidis and are equally divided between male and female legislators. Each canton has a male and female co–prime minister, each municipality a female and male co-mayor, and male and female coleaders of each political party. No more than 60 percent of civil servants can be from the same gender. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) sits atop these governmental structures. It has a Kurdish woman and an Arab man as its copresidents.

... The NES has shortcomings, of course, and the biggest is an unwillingness to accept real dissent. In the course of my visits, I have met the leaders of at least twenty different political parties, all of whom expressed nearly identical positions on the major issues. Meanwhile, the NES authorities closed the offices of the Kurdish National Council, the PYD’s rival, and periodically arrested or expelled its leaders. During my trips to northeast Syria since 2014, no topic consumed more of my time than the release of political prisoners.

Nevertheless, it is hard not to appreciate the revolutionary nature of what the Kurds have accomplished. In 2016 I traveled to the front line on the outskirts of Raqqa. Members of the Kurdish militia known as the Women’s Defense Units had just captured a police station. They bivouacked with their male counterparts and demonstrated the same mastery of weaponry as the men. An ISIS fighter lay dead among the debris nearby, with an uncertain fate in paradise: ISIS fighters believe a jihadi killed by a woman will not get his seventy-two doe-eyed virgins, a significant disincentive to martyrdom when taking on the Women’s Defense Units.

On my last visit, I was out for a stroll in Amuda, a small Kurdish city in sight of the Turkish border wall, and I passed a TV station. My interpreter suggested we go in. Every employee—from top management to cleaning staff and including anchors, reporters, camera operators, and technicians—was a woman. Jin TV broadcasts four hours a day from Amuda, and its reporters explained the station’s mission as promoting women’s rights by ending child marriages and polygamy. There is nothing like it anyplace in the Middle East, or, so far as I know, in the world. It is certainly not a culture normally associated with terrorism. ...

If this sounds like a story you'd like to know more about, you can listen to this from WNYC's On the Media, direct from Rojava.
I've thought a good deal about why we in the peace movement have not been making ourselves more aware of Rojava's accomplishments. Syria has been a no-go place for good long time. Sadly. There have been some appreciative stories in progressive outlets. The feminist author Meredith Tax tried to alert us. But such efforts were a little obscure. Were Öcalan's sophisticated anarchists just not our kind of revolutionaries? An article in Jacobin fixated on Kurdish nationalism as a "Gramscian game," apparently loathe to take Rojava on its own terms.

We missed something, I suspect. We miss a lot.

Photo credit: A sewing cooperative by Janet Biehl
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