Sunday, April 22, 2018

Letter to some editors


Dear Washington Post,

Why so mealy-mouthed? The nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency has once again raised awareness of the torture practices the George W. Bush regime instigated, allowed, and covered for in the wars of the '00s. Nobody disputes that Haspel ran one of the "black sites" where the CIA literally taught itself how to torture, using the body of Abu Zubaydah. Nobody disputes that she dispatched the order to destroy video tapes of waterboarding, though the CIA contends she was just following orders (no shit, that's how this action is discussed.)

But over and over, the Washington Post writes around what all the world calls by its name: torture. Some samples:

  • "techniques often referred to as torture"
  • "[Senator Rand] Paul also intends to vote no because of her role in harsh interrogations during the Bush administration."

The debate is over. The torture apologists lost. The US tortured and has been rightly condemned around the world. Even that careful Senator Diane Feinstein calls what we were doing "torture."

Call it what is was. Get real with your "Democracy Dies in Darkness" stuff. Democracy dies when truth is obscured by phony polite obfuscations.

Yours sincerely,

A concerned citizen

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday scenes and scenery: E.P. is learning to ride

We spent a lovely afternoon in Pacifica yesterday; she worked at her new avocation. I watched and enjoyed the sun. Juniper seemed to enjoy being curried and brushed.

Both rider and horse warmed up in the dirt ring.

E.P.'s oh-so-encouraging teacher Claire watches her trot. I get joy from seeing E.P. get joy from her new relationship with the horse.

Friday, April 20, 2018

From the perspective of 1968, they asked "now what?"

My dear friend Max Elbaum's thoughtful and exhaustive chronicle of how some of the 1960's best and brightest US leftist radicals charged off down a Leninist party-building rabbit hole for a couple of decades -- Revolution in the Air with a new foreword by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter -- has come out in paperback. This history of well-intended struggle and idealism losing touch with the realities of its own society is well worth preserving; Max's comprehensive account of the New Communist Movement ensures that experience won't be entirely inaccessible to new generations of activists.

The social and student movements of the 1960s in this country and throughout the world, the civil rights and Black freedom struggles, mushrooming resistance to the imperial US war in Vietnam, and more, all reached a zenith in 1968 -- and that explosion of energy left a lot of young people wondering where to go from here. Max's subject (of which he was a leader) is the direction a devoted subset of those young people came up with.

... a portion of those who participated developed a long term commitment to political activism. Many of them -- seeing how intransigent "the establishment" was in resisting racial equality and defending imperial prerogatives -- decided that "the system" could not be reformed. ... Within the Third World Marxist ranks, a determined contingent set out to build tight-knit cadre organizations. ... Deciding that the real problem was that the Communist Party USA wasn't Leninist enough, they set out to build a new vanguard of their own. From 1968 through the mid-1970s, the resulting New Communist Movement grew faster than any other current on the US left. ....

... the New Communist Movement can be understood as one more in a century-long series of (so far) unsuccessful efforts to make socialism a significant force in US politics. This movement's consensus was that a breakthrough could finally be made if top priority was given to tackling three longstanding dilemmas of US radicalism: How can the US working class movement be put on a firm internationalist, anti-imperialist basis? What strategy can mobilize a successful fight against racism? And how can revolutionary cadre be developed and united into an organization capable of mobilizing workers and the oppressed to seize power?

Although at this remove the third element of that triad (seizing power) seems batshit crazy, in that super-heated moment, "revolution" was in the air. And the other two priorities -- figuring out how leftists in the belly of capitalist empire should relate to the rest of the world, while struggling to overcome the multi-faceted, ingrained racism(s) of their society -- remain central tasks for all in the US who care for human beings and the planet.

Max recounts the New Communists' intricate twists, turns and permutations and is unflinching about their failures.

History's trick on the generation of 1968 was that -- despite appearances --the odds were stacked against building a revolutionary movement in the 1970s. ... [T]he realities of US politics did offer prospects for the consolidation of an energetic radical trend, numbering in the thousands, anchored in anti-racism and anti-imperialism, with institutional stability at the capacity to galvanize stronger popular resistance to the rising right wing. The essential failure of the New Communist Movement is that it ultimately dissipated rather than coalesced the forces that could have accomplished that task.

... the backward US two-party system, the winner-take-all electoral system erects tremendous barriers to revolutionary forces translating gains made in periods of exceptional upheaval into a lasting base among the country's exploited and dispossessed. Navigating this difficult terrain requires tremendous flexibility; the pulls toward surrendering revolutionary politics in order to gain temporary influence on the one hand, or remaining pure but marginalized on the other, are immense. ... the New Communist Movement did not even put this essential problem at the center of its deliberations. ...

... for all the movement's audacious plans for social revolution, in a sense its failure was not due to thinking too expansively. Rather, it was because the movement shunned the true broad mindedness and flexibility displayed by successful revolutionaries in favor of a narrow and mechanical perspective that this book dubs "miniaturized Leninism."

... this book has been written partly to identify the markers on [the] slippery slope to sectarian irrelevance ...

The book includes a chapter on what this slice of US radicals did with the their lives after their little lefty formations imploded. Some dropped out of collective activism, but many -- gradually -- found new opportunities to plug into the justice struggles of new times. After all, they got into this to struggle for human liberation, even if they lost their way for a season.
***
Max Elbaum will be doing a bit of a book launch tour for this new edition, beginning on Saturday, April 21 from 4-6pm at the First Congregational Church of Oakland. A full national schedule of events is available. Max is not only an historian -- he's a wise observer of contemporary events, always worth listening to when the opportunity offers.
***
The decade of the 1970s has also become the proper subject of history, yet unlike the explosive '60s and the reactionary Reaganite '80s, it lacks a distinctive image, even among those of us who lived through it. Anyone seeking background about the 1970s could do worse than look at a couple of histories I've discussed here: Judith Stein's Pivotal Decade and Jefferson Cowie's Stayin' Alive.

Friday cat blogging

There's nothing quite like waking up with this in your face and his weight on your chest. Here he is merely helping me write.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

National media misunderstanding California -- as usual

The national media has noticed San Francisco and California again. A couple of major New York Times articles in the last few days have laid out how our shortage of affordable housing is promoting gentrification, segregation, ill-considered building practices, and increasing the political conflict between those who prosper in the tech economy and those who labor for far too little reward.

All true, though sometimes lacking in local nuance.

But then these articles point to the collapse of State Senator Scott Wiener's Senate Bill 827 through which the state would have blown away local zoning impediments to development. California must be hopelessly dysfunctional. Isn't that always the story?

Wrong. State intervention to help bridge the housing gap cannot be fronted by a guy whose entire political record is as a stooge for irresponsible urban development. Wiener is my state senator. He's seldom met a highrise development he didn't love, while his occasional support for tenants in existing affordable housing has been merely cosmetic when he showed up at all.

California needs to negotiate a path to developing far more affordable urban housing. Density is the urban future and that's good for the environment and for people who live in cities. But big developers and rich winners in tech can't be the only winners. We need a more inclusive vision engaging more sectors of the state's population -- all promoted by more credible leaders.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Battered, but still resisting ...

Sometimes we all feel like piñatas.

I spent an evening last week with friends -- older white lesbians, relatively prosperous, good and kind and liberal but not activist in the way we are in my household -- and was overwhelmed by the depths of discouragement they are feeling at this moment in the Trump/GOPer ascendancy. For myself, I know things are truly dire and this regime is daily working to impoverish, poison, or blow us all up, yet I am also delighted by the tenacity and creativity of resistance I see all around.

So here's a bit of a Washington Post oped that highlights one resistance accomplishment we too easily ignore:

Here’s a reality check: The resistance is not “failing” — it is gathering steam for a long, uncertain battle ahead.

Let’s start with the fact that seems most vexing to the resistance critics: the failure of Trump’s approval rating to fall below 40 percent, even as bad news mounts. To be clear, at 40 percent, Trump remains as unpopular as he was when he was the most unpopular first-year president ever — 20 points below Gerald Ford after he pardoned Richard Nixon.

True, Trump has not sunk further in this sub-sub-basement level of public support, but that misses the point: The success of the anti-Trump movement is in keeping him there, notwithstanding the low unemployment rate, stock market gains and billions in tax-cut stimulus surging through the economy. Only two other modern-era presidents enjoyed an unemployment rate below 4.3 percent in their terms and suffered an approval rating below 50 percent: Lyndon B. Johnson (during the Vietnam War) and Harry S. Truman (during Korea). 

Trump’s 40 percent approval rating doesn’t reflect a failure of his opposition: It reflects success in preventing Trump’s ratings from soaring the way any other peace-time president’s would under such conditions.

Moreover, the anti-Trump movement has shown political progress where it matters most: the ballot box. In the past 150 days, Trump opponents have won a blow-out in Virginia, the first newly elected Democratic senator from Alabama since 1986 and a victory in a Pennsylvania House district Trump carried by nearly 20 points. If the anti-Trump movement is “failing,” that’s news to the GOP leaders sounding “blue wave” tsunami alerts.

My emphasis. We have a massive lot of work ahead, but we've been doing very good work, in all our various ways, all along. No quitting now!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How about a Muslim woman for the House?

There are two sitting Muslim Congressmen: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.). Among the 309 Democratic women currently vying for nominations or actual Congressional seats, three are Muslims.
  • In Maryland's Sixth District, Dr. Nadia Hashimi is one of eight candidates trying to attract notice in a race for a safe Democratic open seat. Her parents immigrated from Afghanistan in the early 1970s; their sacrifices set her on the way to college, medical school, and service as a pediatrician; she is also a published novelist. Health care policy is her passion: "A total outsider to politics, I joined a growing movement to elect the right doctors in office." She's very much an underdog in the June 26 primary.

  • Fayrouz Saad, seeking nomination in Michigan's 11th Congressional District, is a far more seasoned candidate. She's worked for a Michigan state representative, in the Obama Department of Homeland Security, and for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in his office of Immigrant Affairs. Her district is the focus of much Democratic Party effort as the Republican incumbent has retired and Donald Trump won the area by only 4 percentage points. There are four Democrats in the race with significant financial support; the primary is August 7.
  • When Representative John Conyers resigned amid sexual harassment charges, his Michigan 13th District attracted a huge, squabbling field of candidates. Whichever Democrat survives both a primary in August and the general election in November will most likely occupy this Democratic seat for close to perpetuity. The Conyers family put up TWO challengers; the retiring Conyers has endorsed his son over his nephew. There are half a dozen other contenders, including many well known Detroit political veterans. Into this scrum, former state representative Rashida Tlaib is trying to bring out her fellow citizens of Arab heritage, a growing constituency just learning to make itself felt through active citizenship. She's experienced in leading racial justice coalitions, as she explains in this inspiring Re-Dream video:
None of these women are favorites to make it to office this round, but you can't win if you don't try. Their entry into the fray is a good omen for our country's future.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The end stage of the Trump presidency?

Since November 2016, responsible journalists have been hesitant to predict Donald Trump's downfall. After all, his election surprised most of us, though in retrospect we've become convinced the signs were there if we'd looked more dispassionately at the evidence. The New Yorker's Adam Davidson has crossed that line. He makes a bold prediction:

This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency.

He contends that when prosecutors raided the president's fixer, advocate Michael Cohen, they began a process that will crash the pillars of Trump's edifice.

The narrative that will become widely understood is that Donald Trump did not sit atop a global empire. He was not an intuitive genius and tough guy who created billions of dollars of wealth through fearlessness. He had a small, sad operation, mostly run by his two oldest children and Michael Cohen, a lousy lawyer who barely keeps up the pretenses of lawyering and who now faces an avalanche of charges, from taxicab-backed bank fraud to money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

Of course there's a long way to go. But Davidson believes the Trump presidency will not survive this exposure.

Of course Trump is raging and furious and terrified. Prosecutors are now looking at his core. Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its partners around the world; he was chief consigliere and dealmaker throughout its period of expansion into global partnerships with sketchy oligarchs. He wasn’t a slick politico who showed up for a few months. He knows everything, he recorded much of it, and now prosecutors will know it, too. It seems inevitable that much will be made public. We don’t know when.

We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.

Since the first week of the Trump regime, I've opined we're up against three malignant strains that combined: 1) Donald Trump's wily authoritarian political instincts which have won him the fanatic allegiance of about 30 percent of us who are disappointed by the direction of their lives and country; 2) a Republican Party agenda which has no content except enabling looting of the country's considerable resources by wealthy elites, mostly in fossil fuels and financial manipulation; 3) Trump's economic model, the same model as that of oligarchs everywhere -- criminally using the state to extract individual, personal profit while contributing nothing to the life and well being of the community.

Davidson dares to say this triad is crumbling -- that unstable foundations will matter. We can't know how it will look, but we can sense that it cannot stand.

Citizens are not just spectators. Our agitation, our demands, our votes can help bring it down -- and then determine where we go from here. Resist and protect much.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Enough police killings

There were plenty of celebratory contingents in the annual Cesar Chavez parade down Mission Street on Saturday, but there were also a growing number of groups of families, friends and their supporters demanding accountability from the District Attorney for killings by the San Francisco Police Department. On the banner above, Amilcar Perez Lopez, shot by the SFPD on February 26, 2015. D.A. Gascon did not charge the officers who killed him.

Alex Nieto's parents have been marching since he was executed by SFPD officers while eating a burrito in a park on March 21, 2014. The D.A. filed no charges.

Mothers on the March along with family members are demanding the D.A. file charges for the killing of Luis Gongora Pat by the SFPD on April 7, 2016.

The latest unhappy addition to this parade of the injured is the family of Jesus Adolfo Delgado, executed by 99 bullets on March 6, 2018.

In the same time period, the SFPD has also killed Mario Woods and Jessica Nelson.

Officers of the SFPD won't stop shooting citizens of the city until they suffer some penalty for killing. The D.A. must charge; the department must discipline. Shooting their guns at all should be cause for rigorous inquiry and usually discipline, even if no one is hurt. Cops will kill so long as police and political authorities don't make it certain that use of excessive force will be punished.

Enough.

Albert is no more

This past week I was shocked to learn that my friend Albert Naccache (pictured above enjoying his boat on the Mediterranean) had died in his home city of Beirut. As another friend wrote of him "... [he was] such a generous, gentle, sweet soul, and so smart."

Albert was a linguist and historian, a UCBerkeley Interdisciplinary PhD. determined to study his own Lebanese/Arabic roots, inventing his field if necessary. Some of his scholarly writings are accessible on the web in English, including Beirut Memorycide: Hear no Evil, See no Evil. In that article, he argued that Lebanon had missed a chance to develop a unifying understanding of its own history when, after the destruction left by the Civil War (1975-1990), it allowed reconstruction that bulldozed archeological treasures in the central city.
Mass psychosis waxes and wanes, and the sobering effect of the rubble might not last long. This is why it was important to take advantage of the rubble of Beirut’s Downtown to start a program of concerted archaeological research designed to uncover as much as possible about the history of this major Lebanese site. The proper archaeological study of Beirut would have been a first step towards the writing of the much sought-after “Unified Lebanese History Book.” Unfortunately, the needed “research framework or set of objectives and priorities for the archaeological work” ... was never elaborated. ...

... The aborted archaeological program has denied the Lebanese an opportunity to acquire a common ancestor, i.e. to have a common history. Because the loss of the archaeological wealth of Beirut has been the result of conscious and obstinate policies, and since it amounted to a loss of a shared, albeit “forgotten” memory, we are entitled to describe it as a memorycide. And we can but fear the consequence of this memorycide on the future of Lebanon.
Bath site uncovered in Downtown Beirut
Albert Naccache ¡Presente!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

U.S. strikes in Syria

In the mad world of instant international media, the Times provides some opinions from Syrians about our latest exercise in murderous futility.
The people of these (dis)United States -- we know nothing of war.

California shows how GOP dies

An East Coast political pundit paid a visit to the exotic Wild West -- and noticed what those of us who live here already know: California passed through the white panic stage of the national demographic change over a decade ago and is demonstrating what a more civilized country might look like if U.S. democracy can survive Trump's kakistocracy. (Thanks to John Brennan for popularizing an academic word for government of the worst.)

The New Yorker's John Cassidy writes:

In many ways, the Golden State represents the American future that Trump—with his white nativism and economic protectionism—is trying to turn back, Canute style.

The 1990s in California were rough. The local Republicans recognized that their numerical advantage among the electorate was temporary -- soon enough (around 2000) all those Black, Brown, and Asian newcomers would outnumber them, even if these citizens weren't voting yet. So we lived through a series of attempts mostly driven by older whites to use government policy to slow the efficacy of demographic change: we passed initiatives that outlawed affirmative action in the university system (still in place), denied public services to immigrants (ruled unconstitutional), a three strikes law that locked up people (many of color) for life for relatively minor offenses, and outlawed most bilingual education (repealed in 2016).

But we lived through this storm of repressive white populism -- and came out in a California that should offer hope to the rest of the country. I think I know why. In Whiteness run amok, I laid out why I think we were so fortunate.

California is not a racial and social nirvana. Our (quite diverse) cops shoot black and brown men without justification all too frequently. A widening divide between economic winners and losers expresses itself in a housing crisis; nowhere in this state can people making even our quite high minimum wage afford available homes. But we have left the Trump/GOP train. Those politics don't work here.

Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira have characterized the state of the nation as verging on a civil war in which Republicans and Democrats represent very different futures. Their vision of how this all works out is both dire and exhilerating.

The red states held by the Republicans are deeply entrenched in carbon-based energy systems like coal and oil. They consequently deny the science of climate change, are trying to resuscitate the dying coal industry, and recently have begun to open up coastal waters to oil drilling.

The blue states held by the Democrats are increasingly shifting to clean energy like solar and installing policies that wean the energy system off carbon. In the era of climate change, with the mounting pressure of increased natural disasters, something must give. We can’t have one step forward, one step back every time an administration changes. One side or the other has to win.

... The differences between two economic systems or two classes that are fundamentally at odds could conceivably get worked out through a political process that peacefully resolves differences. However, culture frequently gets in the way. That’s especially true when pressures are building for big system overhauls that will create new winners and losers.

They are confident this doesn't end well for the Republican party:

... the entire Republican Party, and the entire conservative movement that has controlled it for the past four decades, is fully positioned for the final takedown that will cast them out for a long period of time in the political wilderness. They deserve it. Let’s just say what needs to be said: The Republican Party over the past 40 years has maneuvered itself into a position where they are the bad guys on the wrong side of history. For a long time, they have been able to hide this fact through a sophisticated series of veils, invoking cultural voodoo that fools a large enough number of Americans to stay in the game. However, Donald Trump has laid waste to that sophistication and has given America and the world the raw version of what current conservative politics is all about.

Where they write "cultural voodoo," I would say racial resentment. I think California proves these authors are right: the Republican party is simply no longer significant in California outside isolated rural pockets. Even Orange County is turning blue. Leyden and Teixeira conclude:

... political change is slow until it’s very fast. The fall of the GOP is likely to be no different.

Let's make it so. We must resist and protect much; be compassion with one another; and win.

Thanks to the Labor Center at UC Berkeley for documenting the state's condition in the video.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Score one for Smokey!

The Department of the Interior has backed off its plan to increase the cost of entry to the most popular National Parks from $25 to $70. They'll still raise the fees by $5, but this is a win for vacationers and families.

According to the Washington Post "an analysis by the National Parks Conservation Association showed that 98 percent of 110,000 public comments opposed the dramatic increase." The people have spoken.

Now if we can just keep these thugs from giving our public lands to coal barons and from drilling oil along our beaches ...

Friday cat blogging

Dirty window; sleeping beauty. Somewhere in District 8.
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