Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Executive Order 9066

Seventy-five years ago on February 19, 1942, frightened West Coast residents were understandably shocked by the Japanese empire's attack on the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor. Some clamored for the removal of individuals of Japanese ethnicity from their states. Although the "intelligence community" of the day reported that these 120,000 people, mostly U.S. citizens, constituted no danger to the country, President Roosevelt bowed to pressure and ordered them rounded up and sent to internment camps. In this video from the Utah Museum of Art and History, a Japanese-American strawberry worker describes her consternation.

This video from the FDR Presidential Library strives to place Eleanor Roosevelt's later activism on behalf of the 1948 United Nations "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" in the context of her husband's shameful internment policy. The document was "the first global expression of what many people believe to be the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled." In 1988, President Reagan apologized for the Japanese internment and Congress appropriated $20,000 per person compensation to survivors .

A current photo exhibit about the Japanese internment at the FDR Library, featuring images by Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, concludes with this warning:

Executive Order 9066 reminds us that even our greatest leaders can make mistakes when the voice of the people drowns out the voice of reason. As Abraham Lincoln once said:

“Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government.”

Actor George Takei remembers what it was like, as a five year old, to be dumped in a camp because he was an ethnic Japanese. He doesn't want anything like this to happen to anyone today. You can sign Takei's petition against Donald Trump's cruel immigration orders at the link.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday sightings: the eyes see us and we them

When you start noticing them, there are a lot of eyes staring out from walls and windows in San Francisco.

Sometimes they appear in clusters ...

or alone in closeup.

A few look up from the sidewalks.

Others peer down improbably -- and are at risk.

Others are imaginative.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The 'hood went dark last night.

If you were looking for a taco last night in San Francisco's Mission District, you were out of luck.

Almost all the usual small Latin restaurants were closed.

These aren't chain restaurants. Most are tiny family businesses.

Even the largest and most prosperous ones observed the "Day without an Immigrant" strike against Donald Trump's immigration raids.

Posters on the bus shelters provided some context, but I can't testify that these people "organized" the protest. One of the pleasures of living in an immigrant community is that newcomers bring their modes of protest and political expression from their former homes with them. Those of us born here can learn a lot. (Not that San Francisco doesn't have its own proud history of strikes.)

Friday cat blogging

This is MY driveway. What are you staring at? I didn't ask for a human with a camera.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How could the Soviet Union have disappeared?

Way back when I was in college in the 1960s, I was fascinated by the history of Russia, then the Soviet Union. I took every Berkeley course available that didn't require Slavic language proficiency. And then, life happened and Russia receded as an interest for me. Unconcern remained my default mode, even when the Soviet Union came undone and successive new regimes blundered forward in that vast, disturbed country. I never much took it on myself to read up on why the bogeyman of my youth came to disintegrate. I instinctively didn't give much trust to US sources and more dispassionate accounts didn't exist immediately.

But in recent years I've been trying to catch up with all the contemporary history I'd let pass me by. And so, here are some tidbits I picked up out of From Washington to Moscow: US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR by Louis Sell. Sell is a retired Foreign Service officer who served twenty-seven years with the US Department of State, including several stints in Moscow during which he dealt directly with both the top ranks of the Soviet state and also with anti-Soviet dissidents. He seems to like and empathize with many Russians. And his book is designed to answer what seems to me still the necessary question about contemporary Russia: how could the mighty Soviet Union have simply disappeared?

Here are a few points that leaped out at me:

  • Over the years, the Soviet regime experienced outbreaks of localized popular unrest sometimes accompanied by violence, but these were generally sporadic and were always quickly suppressed by the authorities ... Nevertheless, the regime never lost its feeling of insecurity toward the mass of the population, which stemmed ultimately from the contradiction between the proclaimed liberationist goals of the system and the repressive reality used to keep it in power.

    In the late 1970s I attended a football game in Moscow with a Soviet friend ... Seeing me look with surprise at the heavy security presence for a peaceful if exuberant event, my nonconformist friend said with a laugh, "Our government gets very nervous when large numbers of Russians gather in one place."
  • Fear remained the essential glue that held the system together. ... When Gorbachev relaxed the threat of repression he inadvertently released a torrent of political, national and social criticism that eroded the very foundations of the system.

People in this country are conditioned to assume that governments "derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." (Declaration of Independence) Of course lots of governments actually derive their powers from their monopoly on the means of coercion; still the US notion has demonstrated considerable stability and efficacy which the old Soviet Union proved to lack.

Sell is sympathetic to Russian revulsion with what came after.

  • It is impossible to understand Putin's Russia without also understanding the effect of the end of the Cold War on the country, its people, and their rulers. In considering this phenomenon, it is worth contemplating what might have happened if events had broken the other way and if the US had experienced roughly analogous consequences to Cold War defeat. It is hardly likely that the American people would have welcomed an outcome that saw their political system discredited and replaced by models from abroad, the country itself broken up into several weak and mutually antagonistic independent states, their standard of living drastically diminished, and former international allies eagerly embracing the victors from the East. It is quite possible that under those circumstances the American people would have come to view their now triumphant rivals with anger and resentment and looked back to the Cold War with some nostalgia.
  • Moscow's sudden fall from superpower status, although inevitable in some ways since the USSR was, in reality, only a superpower in the military sense, was unsettling to Russians who more than most people tend to identify their own personal status and wellbeing with the power of the state.

There's a generalization in that last assertion that I don't feel competent to evaluate; let's ask ourselves, do we "identify our own personal status and wellbeing with the power of our state"? It occurs to me that the segment of the country which is attracted by the unpresidential Tangerine's nationalism might indeed feel that way, while many of us don't.

Sell is critical of how the US responded to the unexpected break up of the Soviet system and empire.

In the field of national security, the United States could never decide whether its primary objective was to help create a democratic and confident Russia as a full partner in the post-Cold-War world or to build up the former Soviet states as independent counters to a possibly resurgent Moscow. The US ended up trying to do both and accomplishing neither well.

That certainly seems evident today as Putin tries to re-establish a cut-rate empire and people in the US find ourselves unable to fathom the motives and intent of our Russophiliac Tangerine. What is happening here?
Some previous posts on books about modern Russia:
Masha Gessen on Putin
Stephen F. Cohen on hinge moments in Russian history
Peter Pomerantzsev on Putin's nightmare state

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Did the Women's Marches really serve to activate resistance?

Survey Monkey is one of these online polling outfits that function by attracting millions of volunteers willing to answer all sorts of questions -- mostly consumer preferences, but also political and social issues. (I took part in the YouGov version of this kind of polling during the election season to get a sense of this methodology, but quit after November.) They collect demographic information on participants -- age, race, sex, education and geography -- so they can weight responses to approximate the population at large.

In their January 26-30 national survey, they asked their pool whether they had attended or paid attention to the Women's Marches across the country. Six percent of their interviewees claimed to have attended. And, as the chart here illustrates, they came away energized to keep working for their vision of a better future than that on offer from Trump and the GOPers.

Survey Monkey has posted an interesting inquiry into whether their findings really do show that the Women's Marches signaled a strong level of activism going forward. They are confident they've captured signs of strong commitment to ongoing activity.

Resist and protect much.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Resistance expresses a moral stance

Yesterday morning, glancing through this Storify collection of tweets from political consultant Mike Hettinger about eruptions of dissent at Republican Congresscritters' TownHall meetings, I was jolted by this one:
On that evening, as were cleaning up the San Francisco headquarters from which we'd run a campaign against California's anti-immigrant initiative Prop. 187, a young woman from the Democratic National Committee wandered in, looking confused and sheepish. Our campaign had just lost statewide, horribly, by a margin of 59-41 percent. We had known we would lose -- California was in an immigration panic and our Republican governor had chosen to get himself re-elected by fanning xenophobia. But we also knew we'd mobilized and organized a huge mixed crew of Latinos, people of various Asian origins, and white allies; in our city we won well over 70% NO votes. The entire Bay Area was an island of NOs.

The woman from the DNC came with a question: how can it be that when we're getting creamed all over the country, you were able to bring people out? All I had to say to her was, "people cared!" The campaign against Prop. 187 was a moral movement; the flood of people who mobilized against the measure found the notion that some children should be barred from schools and denied basic hospital care to be viscerally repulsive, an offense against their deepest values.

I think about this when I see this polling:
According to CBS polling, 35% of us are Resisters to the Trump presidency. And another 21% (the "Curious") are doubtful about the Tangerine. The sum of those groups tracks closely with Gallup's presidential approval numbers yesterday (2/12): 55 disapprove, 40 approve.

Like the woman from the DNC in 1994, conventional political operatives risk being disconcerted by the energy and commitment of this large group of Resisters. We demonstrate; we mobilize; we organize -- and we lampoon and delight in each other's company. That is what a popular eruption which is essentially moral looks like: a little chaotic, seemingly unfocused, vigorous, determined, potentially powerful, and ready to work for justice. We want and believe we should make our country more fair, more equal, more generous, better than the sad future of fear and strife the Tangerine and his Republican enablers are offering. We've decided to make that future. Nothing will come easy, but we are numerous and determined.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why U.S. citizens don't have a clear "right to vote"

The unpresidential Tangerine's odious twerp policy advisor Stephen Miller warned today:

An issue of voter fraud is something we’re going to be looking at very seriously and very hard.

This is not surprising since they've installed a Neo-Confederate Attorney General whose history suggests he'll try to make voting more difficult for all varieties of "those people." Election administrators agree we have no significant voter fraud. But there are a lot of U.S. citizens that these guys -- and lot of Republicans -- don't think should be allowed to vote. So we are treated to repetition of this Big Lie about election fraud.

Coincidentally, I'm currently reading historian Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. (The link is to Amazon, but this is probably available from public libraries.) He describes how the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870 after Union victory in Civil War ended slavery, was both a previously unthinkable advance for the principle of black, male, suffrage -- and also, a very incomplete step toward inclusive citizenship. It's limitations still haunt us.

... clothing black suffrage with constitutional sanction, the amendment said nothing about the right to hold office and failed to make voting requirements "uniform throughout the land" ... [Radical contemporaries] derided its "lame and halting" language, for the Amendment did not forbid literacy, property and education tests that, while nonracial, might effectively exclude the majority of blacks from the polls. ... Congress rejected a far more sweeping proposal barring discrimination in suffrage and officeholding based on "race, color, nativity, property, education or religious beliefs." Nor did the Amendment break decisively with the notion that the vote was a "privilege" that states could regulate as they saw fit.

[The unrepentant South was not the only source of the Amendment's deficiencies.] ... Northern states wished to retain their own suffrage qualifications. In the West, the Chinese could not vote; if the Fifteenth Amendment altered this situation, warned California's Republican Sen. Cornelius Cole, it would "kill our party as dead as a stone." Pennsylvania demanded the payment of state taxes to vote; Rhode Island required foreign-born citizens to own $134 worth of real estate; Massachusetts and Connecticut insisted upon literacy. ...In a reversal of long-established political traditions, support for black voting rights now seemed less controversial than efforts to combat other forms of inequality. Thus it was not a limited commitment to blacks' voting rights, but a desire to retain other inequalities, affecting whites, that produced a Fifteenth Amendment that opened the door to poll taxes, literacy tests, and property qualifications in the South.

It is interesting that blacks who commented on the Amendment preferred language explicitly guaranteeing all male citizens the right to vote. Not for the first time in the nation's history, their commitment to the ideal of equal citizenship exceeded that of other Americans.

And, of course, proponents of both a "strong" and "weak" Fifteenth Amendment ignored the claims of women ...

Women won our own voting rights amendment in 1920; poll taxes were outlawed by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1964. But it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to overcome many of the weaknesses in the Fifteenth Amendment, especially the many opportunities it left open for states to weasel out of making available universal suffrage through local laws governing election administration.

Since the Supreme Court has been whittling back the Voting Rights Act -- most recently in Holder in 2013 -- Republicans have been enacting state procedures that make voting harder for people of color, the very old, the poor, the infirm and the very young. If everyone can vote, and does vote, Republicans don't win. It's that simple. So GOPers have seized on "voter-suppression" to save their unpopular asses.

It's all based on phony claims of non-existent voter fraud. One of my favorite Democratic Senate candidates who didn't quite prevail in the last cycle, Jason Kander of Missouri, is leading something called Let America Vote to help local people make the argument when faced with state efforts to reduce voting rights. He thinks most of us would reject voter-suppression if we were hearing the arguments.

Right now, in most places in the country, if a state legislator decides to file a piece of legislation that is nakedly obvious in its intent to suppress the vote, there’s a very limited political consequence for doing that. That needs to change. And Let America Vote is going to be anywhere across the country where we need to be to make sure there is a political consequence.

... The president of the United States is telling one of the biggest lies a president has ever told. It’s just made up, the idea that there was widespread voter fraud in the election—he just completely made it up. And he’s doing it not to pacify his own insecurities; he’s doing it because he wants to ease the process of passing voter-suppression laws across the country so that he has a better chance of getting re-elected and that Republicans have a better chance of winning elections in 2018. But when that’s the case, when the president of the United States is running a voter-suppression campaign out of the White House, and actively working to undermine faith and confidence in our democracy, then what choice do we have but to fight back against that with everything we can?

Repudiating voter-suppression and extending opportunity for all citizens to vote is resistance. We all need to be loud and clear about this assault on democratic rights.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Organizing with grit, integrity, and vision

The PICO National Network of faith-based community organizations, which claims a presence in 150 cities and 17 states, has a Live Free component that has been building local struggles against mass incarceration and violence inflicted on communities of color.

By happy accident, I found myself in a Live Free convening last week. In anxious times, it was great to be among tough, experienced, determined new friends working in directions which we all need.

These folks aspire to be a "prophetic resistance." We were treated to a reflection by Doran Schrantz from ISAIAH in Minnesota that dared to ask what "moral genius," if any, might reside in these Disunited States. She proposed:

  • "Moral genius" means never to pretend to reconcile what cannot be reconciled. There can be "no exceptions. Democracy cannot be reconciled with white supremacy. You cannot build a free people on lies."
  • Moral citizenship is about picking up "the bedraggled promise of freedom, of equality."
  • Moral citizenship demands that we "root out every practice/law/etc that asserts that some are more equal than others.
  • We have inherited this contradiction: we have to decide to live with being Americans and accept that we live within the American contradiction. Our hands are going to be dirty. But there is only the complicated struggle of collective action.

PICO has not always been known for "playing well with others" -- for being willing to work cooperatively alongside other community actors. In today's broad resistance moment, leaders and organizers stressed that going it alone would not be enough, even though coalition can be hard, scary.
  • "We are not living in the same kind of organizing environment as before. It doesn't feel like a democracy anymore. Organizing will be different."
  • "We have to build a bigger tent ..."
  • "Organizing works. Does it make room for new people? Does it have room to learn? Nimble is good."
  • "We can no longer win by ourselves ..."

Taking the fight into the electoral arena was considered essential. "Political involvement is not optional." That's tough to sell when people don't believe they can make a difference, but what else is organizing for but to help people find their power?

"Some of us have been made for this time... Be the storm ... Raise up our own prophets of resistance." "Our faith has to exceed our belief ..."

All of these admonitions speak to me.

Quotations are my hasty notes, as accurate as I could make them.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

From the trail ..

Sights like this, encountered while running, provide my "self-care." Wonderfully, I didn't even have to leave the city to come upon this view.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Resistance should make immunization central to our culture

So the unpresidential Tangerine has lost a round as federal judges have extended the stay of his Muslim ban. Good. We can now have some confidence that this round will play out over some time period. Any grit in the wheels of his autocratic white nationalist project is a good thing. But let's look ahead a bit. What might we really be up against here?

It looks to me a good bet that much of Trump's snarling at federal judges (and at the media) is designed to give him someone else to blame when the U.S. is hit with some sort of terrorist incident. We will suffer such an attack; in a country that sends its military tromping through nations around the world, a country awash in unregulated guns, and stocked with the usual quantity of damaged people (including the one in the White House), something is going to happen. Our incompetent president and his proto-fascist, white nationalist brain trust led by Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions hope to be able to use popular panic to overthrow constraints on the emerging autocracy.

Our struggle to preserve the rule law will be enhanced by promoting a widespread understanding that when a terror attack occurs 1) something awful and wrong happened; 2) it happened under a president failing to do his job; 3) and terrorism is no excuse for curtailing civil liberties and trying to rule by executive order. Helping as many people as possible to get a grip on that understanding now is what I mean by immunization.

Fortunately, there are people with a big megaphone are out there sounding the alarm. Jack Goldsmith, formerly of George W. Bush's Office of Legal Counsel, led off with a Lawfare blog post asking a provocative and scary question about Trump's Muslim ban: "Does Trump Want to Lose the Executive Order Battle in Court?"

... the only reason I can think of is that Trump is setting the scene to blame judges after an attack that has any conceivable connection to immigration.  If Trump loses in court he credibly will say to the American people that he tried and failed to create tighter immigration controls.  This will deflect blame for the attack.  And it will also help Trump to enhance his power after the attack.  ...the usual security panic after a bad attack will be enhanced quite a lot—in courts and in Congress—if before the attack legal and judicial constraints are seen to block safety.   If Trump assumes that there will be a bad terrorist attack on his watch, blaming judges now will deflect blame and enhance his power more than usual after the next attack.

This isn't coming from some paranoid lefty -- this is from a conservative Harvard Law professor.

Goldsmith's warning on Monday, February 6, seems to have unleashed a slew of "serious" media voices making similar points.
  • Journalist Eric Levitz:

    [Trump's attack on the judge] was not merely an intemperate tweet. It was the president instructing the American people to view the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil as an indictment of the judiciary. ... This is an argument for allowing our fear of terrorism to overwhelm our commitment to the rule of law — a line of reasoning that poses a far greater threat to the American form of government and way of life than any closeted-jihadist refugee ever could.

  • Perceptive Democratic Party pundit Ed Kilgore:

    [Trump] is preemptively clearing himself and his administration of any responsibility for future terrorist acts its policies might fail to prevent — or even invite. ... Perhaps the larger challenge is how Trump opponents can safeguard themselves and the country from this sort of irresponsible blame-shifting, which could not only misrepresent the causes for terrorist acts, but justify steps by Trump that endanger our security even more and vitiate civil liberties even further.

  • New Republic columnist Jeet Heer:

    If the U.S. is hit by a terrorist attack that can be connected to Islamic radicalism, Trump will blame his opponents, whether they be the courts, politicians, journalists, or whomever; the terrorist attack will be anyone’s fault but his own. Knowing this, Democrats must be ready to play politics in return.

  • New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza sought the opinion of George W. Bush's torture-apologist lawyer, John Yoo:

    ... Yoo told me, “If there is another terrorist attack, I could see Trump seeking all of the powers that the President can exercise during wartime. The domestic powers would have to be approved by Congress, such as limitations on habeas, domestic warrantless surveillance, and an internal security act. We really haven’t had a system like that since the Second World War or the Communist cases of the nineteen-fifties.”

  • Lizza also interviewed Todd Breasseale, the former assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security:

    “We ... wholly believe that Trump needs a bogeyman. But, more importantly, he needs distraction and a blame source. In terrorists, he has his bogeyman. In his control of the prevailing press narrative via tweet, he has distraction. And, in the judiciary, he has a source of blame for why his way was right from the beginning.” Breasseale added, “I am fully confident that an attack is exactly what he wants and needs.”

We, let's call ourselves the Resistance, have a multitude of fights ahead. In all those fights we must holler far and wide that the President is setting the country up to use a terror event to seize greater powers than the constitution allows. That's immunization. I've done my bit. Understanding this has to be a central part of our culture of resistance.

If we do a good job, the inevitable terror attack might well bounce back against Trump. So asserts political scientist Jonathan Bernstein:

It's also possible that some event could inspire a rally-around-the-flag response that could spike his approval ratings. But that's a lot less predictable a reaction than many believe. Large, long-lasting rally effects are rare. And there's no guarantee that Trump would benefit from, say, a terrorist attack, even in the short run. Reactions to such events depend on how the media reports them and how Democrats respond, and neither would necessarily support Trump.

Nor is it certain that the Tweeter-in-Chief would be able to behave himself well enough to get the benefit of the doubt from many who currently think he's doing a bad job. It's not hard to imagine Trump reacting to a foreign-policy or national-security crisis by lashing out at an inappropriate target -- or by getting distracted by some petty unrelated feud.

Let's make sure he is right; we can do this.
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