Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Note to regular readers

Most days over the next few months on the Mainsteaming Torture bookapalooza and road trip, regular posts will appear here daily. We're not rushing and will usually find internet access. But if there is nothing new here for a day or two, just figure we're momentarily off the grid and will be back.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Even on the island, the cry of people in pain breaks through

Ten days ago I shared some quick pics from a Martha's Vineyard store at which welcome of the Prez and his family melded with merchandising.

In this dreadful of summer of violence, the same store is still at it.

But the other side of the chalkboard carries a demanding message.
There can be no true vacations for Presidents ... perhaps especially for decent black ones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Count me among the 37 percent!

According to Pew Research, only 37 percent of white people think

the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.”

This indifference (at best) among whites makes me want to yell at some folks "what rock are you living under?" But actually, you don't have to live under a rock in this country to have little idea how people not like yourself really live.

It starts in the schools. Although this is the year when white kids ceased to be a majority of school age children (49 percent and falling), nonetheless

In some parts of the country, black children are now more likely to attend nearly all-black schools than they were in the 1960s. Nationwide, the share of blacks attending majority-white schools has been falling. Data also suggest that the average Hispanic student today attends a school that's majority-Hispanic ...

In most areas, housing remains segregated. Whites with choices (meaning those who are not very poor) simply don't live among large numbers of people of color. Black and brown voting usually lags white electoral participation; white incumbent political leaders can often remain in office even if the demographic composition their jurisdiction changes to a majority of people of color.

Then you get this:
New York Times graphic.

Chris Hedges offers incisive observations from an interview with Lawrence Hamm, founder of the Newark community organization, People's Organization for Progress.

... the declining populations of primarily black cities -- Newark, where he has spent most of his life as an organizer, has seen its population drop from 400,000 to about 250,000 in the last few decades -- coupled with the election of black officials and the integration of blacks into police forces mean that the old centers of rebellion are less polarized.

“These [changes] helped to ameliorate the overt racism and will probably prevent a recurrence of open rebellion in these urban areas...” ... “we have suburbs around Newark [much like the St. Louis suburb] Ferguson that were once white and are now black and that replicate the racial power imbalance. And this is where the tinder will be.”And this is where the tinder will be.”

Being the object of unwarranted deadly force by police officers is part of what it means to be black and poor in America. But, as Hamm said, no matter how much blacks raise their voices against indiscriminate police violence “the killings keep coming.”

Black people, even middle class blacks, already know what it is like to live as suspects under alien authorities -- it is the 63 percent of whites who doubt that we need to understand how the structures of white supremacy continue to crush our fellow citizens that need to have a conversation about race.
Protest sign captured from live video stream of Ferguson protests, August 19.
Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Whither Japan? and some thoughts on accountability

In the hope of musing on something completely unconnected to the horrors of the moment, I've been reading David Pilling's Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival. I know almost nothing about Japan except that Paul Krugman continually holds up the economic stagnation in that nation as a horrible precursor of where we may be going.

After reading Pilling, I can say I've been exposed to a bit more, even if I don't feel exactly enlightened. Pilling, a Brit who worked in Tokyo for the Financial Times from 2002 through 2008, sets out to share aspects of Japanese culture by way of historical data and voluminous interviews with contemporary Japanese leaders, scholars and ordinary citizens. He begins and ends with the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown followed by devastation and some recovery on the country's north sea coast. In between we meet government leaders, technocrats, entrepreneurs and non-profit enthusiasts, all contesting, mostly politely, the future of their country. I found the book fascinating, though sometimes hard to follow.

Perhaps wisely, though to the detriment of incisiveness, Pilling is partial to a familiar journalistic formula: recourse to on-the-one-hand, on-the-other hand story telling. And he hedges his conclusions. Some specimens of his technique, borrowed from James Fallows' review.

“It would be foolish to suggest that rapid aging doesn’t present big challenges.”

“It would be rash to claim that a single event, even one as traumatic as the March 2011 tsunami, could change society overnight.”

“We should be wary, though, of looking only at the surface.”

My personal "on the other hand" to my own critique seems warranted: what foreign observer can make strong pronouncements about a wildly different culture and country without including some cautionary qualifiers? Only a foolish one. David Pilling seems no fool and I appreciated what I learned from this volume.
One historical reality that may prove important for Japan's future is the country's failure to move beyond continuing resentment among people in places victimized by Japanese aggression in the mid-20th century. Quite understandably, Chinese and Koreans easily become aroused at any whiff of Japanese assertiveness. This makes for continued tensions with near-neighbor states and promotes continued Japanese dependence on an unequal alliance with the United States. (Japan was even drawn into committing troops to "humanitarian" missions in our Iraq war.)

Pilling attributes Japan's inability to soften its national image to a combination of its own nationalism, its feeling of victimization as the one people ever subjected to nuclear attack, and U.S. choices after the war. U.S. observers reflexively call out the Japanese for "racism. Pilling emphasizes a particular history.

The Americans' exoneration of the emperor, [scholar John Dower] concluded had turned the issue of 'war responsibility' into a joke. In post-war Germany, by contrast, Nazi leaders, ... had died or been executed. ...In Japan's case there was no such clean break with the past. ... Bureaucrats and politicians who had served during the war continued to play a prominent role after it.

Accountability for Japanese war crimes never took place, so no clean break ever came as far as Japan's critics are concerned.

When I think of the long catalog of crimes committed by my country, even if I limit my thoughts to the last century, I find it nearly impossible to imagine all the accountability we'd have to accept and the amends we ought to make to countries and peoples around the world. In addition to Japan's representing a cautionary story of the limits of bubble-inflated hypercapitalism, it also serves as a cautionary example of what happens when a country fails to face up to the evils of its own past actions. Horrors.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blogging break today

Back ASAP. Did you ever feel there is just too much to think about?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You don't get better government from electoral gimmicks

Just about every article about the police shooting of Mike Brown, the protests in Ferguson, MO, and authorities' varieties of inflammatory responses includes a a paragraph like this one:

Although about two in three Ferguson residents are black, its mayor and five of its six City Council members are white. Only three of the town’s 53 police officers are black. ... This year, community members voiced anger after the all-white, seven-member school board for the Ferguson-Florissant district pushed aside its black superintendent for unrevealed reasons. That spurred several blacks to run for three board positions up for election, but only one won a seat.

At the Washington Post's political science blog, the Monkey Cage, Brian Schaffner, Wouter Van Erve and Ray LaRaja point out several structural factors in the local political polity (in addition to pervasive racism) that account for this gross under-representation of African-Americans.

Ferguson holds municipal elections in April of odd-numbered years. In doing so, the town is hardly unique. Approximately three-fourths of American municipalities hold their elections in odd years, a Progressive-era reform intended to shield municipal elections from the partisan politics of national contests, but one that has been shown to have a dramatic effect on reducing turnout.

Ferguson also holds nonpartisan elections (where party labels do not appear on the ballot), another Progressive reform, and one that has been shown to reduce both what citizens know about candidates as well as their likelihood of voting. These consequences are worse for people with less education and less income.

The rest of the article goes on to explicate how this works in practice and is shown to ensure racially skewed outcomes. It is worth following the link to see some revealing charts.

But what I want to highlight is that Ferguson's and St. Louis County's peculiarly exclusionary electoral system was the product of a long-past technocratic "reform" that proved to have grossly anti-democratic (small "d") and racially biased consequences.

The Progressives of the early 20th century hoped to root out corruption and partisanship in the fractious democracy of their era. Some of their reforms probably gave a real boost to democracy, most especially direct election of Senators. (Can you imagine that states used to name their senators though a bout of legislative horse trading and corporate bribery? Sure you can.) Other electoral gimmicks were less clearly positive innovations. In addition to off-season elections and excluding party labels from some ballots, we can thank this reform movement for such features of our electoral scene as ballot initiatives and recall elections whose value many might question.

This seems worth raising because California has lately shown its penchant for responding to weak governance with a couple of more modern technocratic electoral gimmicks: the top two primary and in some cities, ranked choice voting. The first too often turns November elections into intra-party contests while excluding smaller parties. The latter usually obscures the clarity of candidates' political positioning in contests run under it. It is simply a fantasy that we'll get "better" elections, "better" candidates, "better" government by messing around with the rules. What makes for better governance is increased citizen engagement and participation -- and circumstances in which somebody can govern.

In fact, both criteria are currently being met in California and the state should be a beacon to the nation in how to recover from our lost decade. Citizen engagement is up because unions and community organizations have mastered the techniques of voter mobilization. This increased participation, particularly in communities of color, has marginalized the sclerotic Republican party, so a Democratic governor can actually govern with a Democratic legislature. One-party dominance may eventually generate its own ills, but for the moment, California democracy is working much better than most states. This didn't result from electoral gimmicks -- it is a consequence of more democracy and an engaged population. Democracy is not preserved or extended by technocratic fixes -- it is preserved and nurtured by people getting in there and mobilizing in elections!
It's not just me pointing out that, in addition to public protest, the people of Ferguson need to organize themselves to vote. Here's Mary Ann McGivern reporting from a neighborhood meeting:

A coalition had already formed that includes the Tauheed Youth Organization, Organization for Black Struggle, New Black Panther Party, Moorish Science Temple, Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, Nation of Islam - Mosque 28, and the Universal African Peoples Organization. The emcee, Zaki Baruti, called on us to join an organization. You can't stand for justice alone, he said. And he and other speakers at many events said, "Vote." Ferguson's white governance would seem evidence that blacks there haven't been voting, and the black St. Louis County Executive just lost a primary race in a nasty fight.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Evidence this is strange country

Not a bad idea. It seems to be coin operated. For all I know these may be common, but I'd never seen one before.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday cat blogging

Emerson enjoying attention in Maine

Thursday, August 14, 2014

LGBT employees: what not to ask

DiversityInc -- a website that seems to aspire to give businesses advice on how to manage "diversity" -- has published a list of "6 things not to say to LGBT employees."

I'm feeling snarky, so here's a lifelong lesbian's commentary. I am fortunate in for a very long time not having needed to worry about what an employer thought about my sexuality or gender presentation. The list isn't terrible, but it begs for plain speaking.
  • 1. “Wow. I never would have guessed that you’re [gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender]! The recipient of this remark will either think you are dumb as a post or abysmally rude. Or both.
  • 2. “Is one of you the husband and one the wife? I don’t get it.” I'm going to confess I'm tolerant of this one (if the questioner didn't have power over me.) I almost find it endearing. When people really don't know anything about gay people, I suspect this is what goes on underneath all the other cultural baggage. Better to out with it and then we can learn about each other from there.
  • 3. To a transgender person: “What’s your real name? What did you used to look like?” More rudeness. The person's real name is what they tell you it is. They are who they are. None of your damn business.
  • 4. “Your lifestyle is your business. We don’t need to talk about it here.” This one means that I make the speaker nervous. Get over it.
  • 5. “It’s too bad you’re gay.” "It is too bad you are straight." How do you like that question?
  • 6. “I have a friend who’s [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] that you should meet.” Oh for goodness sake ... that's akin to the question I've sometimes gotten while traveling in far away places: "what's the weather like in the United States?"

    I may, or may not, have something in common with another gay person -- the permutations are close to endless and may or may not have anything to do with our both being gay.
We're just people.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Clinton speaks; many shudder

I've always expected to be lied to by Hillary Clinton while she runs for President. I thought while campaigning she'd tack toward an apparently restrained stance in foreign policy. She'd show a decent respect for avoiding dumb wars that accords with the weariness of the electorate she needs to elect her.

And then she'd revert to her naturally bellicose -- yes, imperial -- instincts. But apparently she is so tone deaf, she just doesn't care. In her recent Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg she advertises her absolute fealty to Israeli brutality in Gaza:

... what you see on TV is so effectively stage-managed by Hamas, and always has been. ...

... There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict ... So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.

How's that for a heaping serving of Israeli talking points? No major U.S. political figure treats U.S. interests as more important than those of that brutish little apartheid state, but at least they should pretend to while running for office in their own country, don't you think?

Clinton seems to want a new cold (or hot?) war posture toward many adherents of Islam, the religion of two billion people around the world.

... what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d'√™tre is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories.

How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat. You know, we did a good job in containing the Soviet Union, but we made a lot of mistakes, we supported really nasty guys, we did some things that we are not particularly proud of, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, but we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism.

Apparently the experience of the last 13 years hasn't quite come through to her: propping up dictatorial kleptocracies and sending the Marines to clomp around in other people's countries makes jihadis instead of subduing them.

The bits of this interview I've pulled out are the same sensational ones that all the pundits are commenting on. There are other bits that seem much more grounded in good sense. You can read them yourself. But there's a reason for the prominence given to the bits many are reacting to -- presumptive Democratic president Hillary Clinton is scaring the hell out of a lot of people. Josh Marshall, no lefty, opines that the interview seems

... to be an effort on Hillary's part today to position herself as the candidate of what might be termed the moderate wing of the neoconservative foreign policy intelligentsia.

This sickening glimpse of what a Clinton presidency would be like does not change my personal stance about the 2016 election. I will work somewhere, somehow, to increase Democratic turnout and hence to elect her; I will not vote for her. As a Californian, I don't have to; the state's electors will not be in play. (I've never voted for DiFi either and am proud of that.)

For the last six years, those of us who oppose military adventures have enjoyed the comfort of knowing we had a president who understood that there were limits to the power of the U.S. empire. Despite some adventurism, this one was at least marginally responsive to the people's overwhelming desire to avoid more dumb wars. In this, Obama has been in tune with a majority of us. Clinton doesn't seem to understand she has to at least pretend to respect majority preferences. And I certainly don't hear in her the mature acquiescence to the realities of the world that is Obama's best feature on his better days. Clinton seems firmly in the "we make our own reality" camp.

I hope progressives can get ourselves geared up to take an active, critical stance toward a president our own constituencies will have a large role in electing. That takes some political sophistication. With Obama, too many advocacy groups held back; the miracle of electing an African-American president meant that the guy got a lot of slack from his own side that any other Democrat would not have enjoyed. Hillary isn't bothering to give us the expected false promises; reciprocally, we don't have to give her any particular deference.

It's good to see MoveOn has responded to the Clinton interview:

Secretary Clinton, and any other person thinking about seeking the Democratic nomination in 2016, should think long and hard before embracing the same policies advocated by right-wing war hawks that got America into Iraq in the first place and helped set the stage for Iraq’s troubles today. These hawkish policy stances are also threatening to undermine the peaceful international resolution of Iran’s nuclear program.

Voters elected President Obama in 2008 to bring the war in Iraq to an end. MoveOn members will continue to stand with elected officials who oppose military escalation that could put us back on a path to endless war.

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