Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Democrats: aspiring leaders in a tough moment

Jeet Heer says Democrats Need To Pick a Leader. Now.

The time is ripe for a concerted, coherent opposition to Trump even before he’s inaugurated. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is facing this national crisis leaderless. ...

Having lost the Presidency and both houses of Congress, Democrats have no agreed national spokesperson for the opposition to the GOPer/Trump ascendancy. (Those of us who identify additionally with opposition outside the electoral arena also lack universally legitimate spokespersons, though there are some damn fine ones in particular sectors.)

Heer's candidate for the role is Senator Elizabeth Warren. He makes a case.

... With her sharp, relentless, and often funny criticism of Trump, Warren has already stepped up to the plate as the party’s most stalwart voice.

All that is well and good; I wish very much that Warren had stepped up as a 2016 candidate. She might have headed off the Clinton debacle -- or maybe not. But much as I respect her, I don't think that over the next couple of years she is going to be the essential factor in the electoral political leadership against the shit show coming at us.

That leadership, if there is any health left in the system, is going to come from a younger generation of potential Democratic figures who hope that the party's 2020 nomination will be a valuable prize and who push and shove to make themselves its obvious claimant. Note that this is the route Obama took after election to the Senate in 2004.

So who is out there, trying to show their chops?
  • New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is definitely making a move with a call for a filibuster of General James Mattis's appointment as Secretary of Defense. Because Mattis only retired from the military three years ago, his appointment would require a Congressional waver of a law preventing military leaders from taking high civilian jobs until they have been retired for seven years. Gillibrand is positioning herself as critical to preserving civilian control of the military -- and as a smart tactician who has seized on a vulnerable hook at which to create friction for the incoming administration.
  • Newly elected Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is proving to be mighty feisty for a newbie. I made some tiny contributions to her election, so I get her communications:

    Our government is built on a system of checks and balances, and I promise you this: I will be one hell of a check and balance on President Donald Trump. 

    Our fight is one for our future and the America we know it should be. And nobody is going to take that away from us. It is our voices, our mass, our people, and we are going to continue to fight ...I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and be that warrior for you...

    Right attitude. She's already trying to raise money for other Dems. We'll have to see what else she does.
  • Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown is uttering fierce condemnations of Trump's claim that Hillary Clinton's popular vote triumph is fraudulent.

    “Your choice to spread false conspiracy theories and to claim millions of fraudulent votes is not only unbecoming of a gracious winner, it is downright dangerous to our democracy...” ...."Peddling this nonsense and stoking these fears undermine our system of government — and your own election, damaging the public’s faith in our democracy.”

    Brown is up for re-election in 2018 from a state Trump carried (and a state where Republican voter suppression is quite advanced), so this is pretty out there.
We're in a moment when ambition might very well provide incentive for unusual boldness. Political caution isn't likely to be a career booster in the current circumstances. Let's encourage them to compete for the role of most effective insider leader of resistance.

Who else should we be watching?

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

This is what a terrorist looks like

Edgar Maddison Welch went hunting for imagined demons at a Washington pizza joint. D.C. police politely took the dude into custody. Don't we know he'd be dead if he had dark skin?

Actually, I'm glad the cops didn't come out with their guns blazing -- but let's call the guy what he is: a lone wolf terrorist.

Resistance: the selling of the inauguration

In the midst of all the other ways our con man president-elect plans to profit from his new position, the selling of the inauguration festivities can almost seem a minor misdemeanor. After all, Obama's second inauguration, a $53 million dollar party, also ran on corporate donations.

But our gilded Cheeto aims to surpass previous shindigs.

Tiers of V.I.P. donors have been created, aiming to raise up to $75 million from special interests, which won’t be forgotten when the new administration gets down to governing.

The money tree is topped by a million-dollar-plus bracket promising donors a “candlelight dinner,” where Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, will drop by; a lunch with cabinet appointees and Republican congressional leaders; and special entree to inaugural balls and parties. The tiers bottom out at $25,000, the cheapest ticket in a kind of garage sale for plutocrats.

NY Times

Since the Bigly Loser of the popular vote squeaked into victory on November 8, there have been calls for a boycott of his -- and his children's -- properties. The buyers of the inaugural festivities may prove better targets. Do consumer brands like Coke and Pepsi want 62.5 million of us mad at them? Probably not.

Boycotts take organization and focus or they are just empty gestures -- but boycotts are also perfectly suited to the internet era. You don't have to wave signs in front of offending groceries for months as we did in the 1960s and 70s for the union grape boycott in order to get the word out. A focused boycott of Trump's corporate enablers could create a healthy democratic friction. After all, in the GOPer worldview where the unfettered market is the supreme god, consumer choice is among the highest of values.

Wayne Barrett, investigative reporter for the Village Voice, wrote the book on the Donald's early misadventures in 1992. A current interview with this experienced observer is worth reading in full. But on today's subject, his conclusion is succinct:

Is greed what motivates Trump?

I think greed has been the driving force of his life, but now he can be a passive investor. So much money is going to come to him over the course of the next four years that he can be as greedy as he wants to be, and not actually have to do much to enhance his financial interests. I think he will step over the line here and there. He already seems willing to do that. But it’s going to be easy money. The easiest money he has ever earned.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Torture is still wrong

At this strange moment in the GOPer/Trump regime trajectory, we're deluged in proposed Hail Marys -- frantic efforts to use small surviving levers of power to mitigate or combat the shit show we clearly see coming.

And we've just seen a victory. The Army Corps of Engineers decision to halt the DAPL atrocity (at least for now) is heartening; it seems improbable that it could have been won under the new Bigly Bossman who evidently is invested in the pipeline. This intervention required people to offer up their bodies for the love of land and water. May their courage inspire us all. The First People know sometimes there is no alternative to courage.

Then there are all the far less probable interventions that seem to exist primarily in fantasy land -- among these I include calls for "faithless electors" to vote against their states' verdicts and that vanity candidate Jill Stein's recount boondoggle. These look to me to be counterproductive, serving the GOPer/Trump meme that elections are rigged against their aggrieved constituents. We need to prop up the legitimacy of democratic (small "d") institutions and outcomes, not join our enemies in undermining them. Or so I think.

And yet, for all my skepticism about the blizzard of proposed Hail Marys, I do want to promote one which might help us hold back the emerging barbarism. It is offered by one of our brave young crop of Constitutional lawyers who have pushed back against the "war on terror," Cori Crider. Writing in Newsweek, she suggests:

Obama Can Stop a Trump Return to Torture by Releasing Abuse Files
Many accuse President Obama of priming America to backslide on torture. By discouraging torture prosecutions—by telling Americans to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards”—he took torture not only off the prosecutor’s desk, but out of our dinner-table debates. His White House carried bucketfuls of water for the CIA, abetting its effort to obstruct (and minimize) the Senate’s devastating torture report. Preferring peace with the CIA, President Obama never bothered to secure Americans’ political will against a return to torture.

... Is the die cast? Obama cannot unmake those choices now. But there is one thing he can still do—one move that might lead America, as it stands on the brink of its next torture program, to think twice. He could declassify some of the thousands of torture photos and videos—from Abu Ghraib, secret CIA prisons, and Guantánamo Bay—that have yet to emerge.

We haven’t even seen the worst of it. The CIA retains up to 14,000 unpublished blacksite photographs, including nude pictures of detainees, “blindfolded, bound, and show[ing] visible bruises,” with CIA officers in shot. Other still-secret photos (from seven separate prisons—not just Abu Ghraib) apparently depict: “U.S. troops posing for “trophy” photos with dead bodies; others, with rifles and pistols held to live detainees’ heads. (At least one soldier serving in Afghanistan tried to excuse his actions by saying he was “joking”; another called the pictures “something cool to remember our time there.”) A third soldier described a different photograph depicting her “as if [she] was sticking the end of a broom stick into the rectum of a restrained detainee.”

Americans need to see this. A collective look at this horror is our best chance of pricking the national conscience before impressionable young soldiers serve in an administration that has promised to make them do it all over again. ...

Hey, the oh-so-proper and correct Diane Feinstein could even make herself useful at the end of a long career of ignoring the impolite desires of her constituents. Leak the Senate Torture Report, Diane. You are in your 80s -- you are not going to live forever, so you might as well go down swinging ...

Building our political imaginations

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, (discussed here) offered her wisdom for surviving and overcoming the Trump regime at the Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco yesterday.

She had no truck with a blanket condemnation of Trump's white voters as simply racist. They, like most people of color, simply aren't getting hope or change from business-as-usual, rapacious, unfettered capitalism.

Our hardships are not all the same, but they often have the same source.

Along with her hearers, she discussed where we go from here. For me the most important suggestions went back to the phrase I've used as a headline, above. We're not yet at a moment for detailed tactics and strategies.

People in the Bay Area can catch Taylor in Oakland at 7:30 pm at Impact Hub today, December 5.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Lessons from a survivor

Patricia Bell-Scott's The Firebrand and the First Lady -- Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice was a good book to read in the days following the election. However bleak our times may seem, it's worth staying aware of the brave and terrible struggles that have won us whatever is good in our country.

Pauli Murray, an obscure young Black activist, improbably forced her way into the patrician First Lady's affections, writing letter after letter alternately upbraiding, cajoling, congratulating, and demanding more equitable treatment for her people. The president's wife was 26 years older, both privileged and constrained by her husband's political career, insulated by her class from direct experience of the privations of Depression, yet determined to be on the side of "the people," a group that gradually, more and more, came to include Black people.

Murray is the vivid presence and center of this book, despite its organization around the two women's unlikely friendship; think of it as Murray's biography.

The label "firebrand" was ER's description of Murray. And no wonder. Murray's first letter in 1938 complained that President Franklin Roosevelt had lauded the University of North Carolina as a progressive institution at just the moment it was refusing her admission on the ground of her race. Two years later, Murray was back in touch with ER after being arrested for refusing to move to the back of a segregated interstate bus in Virginia. Not long after that, Murray became the field secretary for the Workers Defense League's campaign on behalf of Odell Waller, a Black sharecropper facing execution for killing a white landlord in self-defense. Murray, in tandem with Waller's mother, mobilized thousands of supporters, white and Black, to demand a reduced sentence. Roosevelt was persuaded to approach the Governor of Virginia and to try to push her very reluctant husband to intervene in the case. Their efforts failed; Waller was executed on July 2, 1943.

The struggle to save Waller led Murray go to law school at Howard University where she overcame discouragement from male professors and led student sit-ins to integrate lunch counters in the District of Columbia. Mrs. Roosevelt invited her "firebrand" friend to tea at the White House at this time. Also at this time, Murray's tortured struggle to come to terms with her attachments to female friends caused emotional breakdowns and even landed her in a mental institution. Homosexuality was considered a perverted "mental disorder." A concept of healthy homosexuality would not be invented for another 30 years. Bell-Scott quotes a painful letter Murray wrote to an aunt:

This little 'boy-girl' personality as you jokingly call it sometimes gets me into trouble. And to try to live by society's standards always causes me such inner conflict that at times it's almost unbearable. I don't know whether I'm right or whether society (or some medical authority) is right -- I only know how I feel and what makes me happy. The conflict rises up to knock me down at every apex in my career and because the laws of society do not protect me, I'm exposed to any enemy or person who may or may not want to hurt me.

In that last fear she was correct. Despite graduating from Howard with high honors, she was excluded from further legal study at Harvard for being both Black and a woman. She earned an additional law degree at Boalt Hall at Berkeley, but despite her accomplishments couldn't get a government job in the McCarthy-ite 1950s. Suspicions about her sexual orientation were an added strike against her on top of her work for racial justice. At one point, even Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP wouldn't hire her because of such rumors. Through all this Eleanor Roosevelt remained a solicitous correspondent whose friendship strengthened Murray. By then, also, Murray had established a stable, accepting relationship with Renee Barlow with whom she had worked at a law office.

By the beginning of the 1960s, Murray had added another justice struggle to her plate:

She had spent the first half of her life fighting for equal rights as an African-American, only to discover she would have to spend the second half fighting for equal rights as a woman ...

ER died in 1962; in 1966, Murray became one of the founders of the National Organization for Women; worked to keep sex discrimination as an element in the Civil Rights Act; and so influenced future Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that Ginsberg credited Murray with co-authorship of the brief that established sex discrimination as unconstitutional.

And then -- having taken on race, sex, and gender struggles, Murray felt called to break one more barrier, enrolling at General Theological Seminary in 1973 and taking a place among the first cohort of women to be ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church.

"My ordination as a Negro woman priest comes some 172 years after the first Afro-American male priest was ordained ...The Holy Spirit in our Church moves slowly at times, but it does move."

In 2012, twenty-seven years after her death, the Episcopal Church added Murray to its calendar of Holy Men, Holy Women who are held up as worthy examples of godly lives.

I'll give the last word to Murray here:

“If anyone should ask a Negro woman what is her greatest achievement, her honest answer would be, ‘I survived.’ ”

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The young people are alright ...

... their elders, not so much so.

H/t Ronni Bennett.

Saturday scenes: an urban oops

Encountered while Walking San Francisco. Too in tune with my general mood not to share.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Yet another fund appeal ...

Here's an email I sent yesterday to some of my friends ...
Bear with me; I know you’ve probably deleted fifty or more of these in the last week. Please let me tell you why I'm hoping you'll help rural Nicaraguans help their communities by making any donation you can to El Porvenir. (Click the link and go to DONATE.)

Over the last 25 years, El Porvenir has partnered with 165,000 rural Nicaraguans in 600 communities to complete over 1,100 projects. Communities come to our Nicaraguan staff for help; El Porvenir responds with assistance through on-the-ground technical support and your donations.

Clean water from sustainable sources, sanitation facilities, and health education enable very poor people to live longer, better, and more happily. Pretty simple, isn't it?

Many thanks for reading this.

Jan Adams

P.S. Most of you receiving this note, received a similar note from me last year. Many of you responded generously -- my friends contributed a total over $1000 in various amounts. This has been a tough year, but let's stick with people who are living healthier and more hopeful lives because of their own labors and the generosity of those of us who have a little more.

Friday cat blogging

Every week I think I'll give Morty a rest -- and then I catch him if a pose so photogenic that I don't resist.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Fight to preserve everyone's right to vote

Two maps show why the GOP/Trump regime can be expected to advance federal voter suppression legislation. These maps also show why they intend to seat a neo-Confederate Attorney General (Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions) who will not enforce the remnants of the Voting Rights Act that survived their stacked Supreme Court.

Via The Upshot.

If all citizens are freely able to participate, white nationalism will die off along with its aging white base. That's what is at stake in the voting rights fight.

Voter suppression will take many forms: false charges of fraud, voter ID requirements that are hard for poor and young people to satisfy, English-only balloting, limited registration and polling options, whatever the GOPers can think up. The attack on voting rights may seem abstract when set against immediate assaults on the safety and livelihood of communities of color. But our white supremacists are clear-sighted about this: they can't hang on forever unless they deny majority rule.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A puzzlement in two charts

Like all good loosely leftish agitators, I'm never free of the suspicion that our corporate overlords really run the show. After all, notions of neo-liberalism, surplus value, exploitation, all the intellectual paraphernalia of leftism, assure me that's how our advanced capitalism works.

But then there is this (click to enlarge):

According to the Brookings analysis, the less-than-500 counties that Clinton won nationwide combined to generate 64 percent of America's economic activity in 2015. The more-than-2,600 counties that Trump won combined to generate 36 percent of the country's economic activity last year.

Clinton, in other words, carried nearly two-thirds of the American economy.

With the exceptions of the Phoenix and Fort Worth areas, and a big chunk of Long Island, Clinton won every large-sized economic county in the country.

Jim Tankersley, Washington Post

Bringing the focus in a little closer to one of the country's strongest economic drivers, there's this:

Mr Trump, who is said not to use a personal computer, has railed against giants like Amazon and Apple, and has promised to cut the country’s H-1B visa programme, a source of skilled workers for the sector. He has criticised the “terrible” National Institutes of Health, America’s largest science-funding agency, and is expected to cut research funding for NASA. More than 100 tech founders and investors signed an open letter in July denouncing the future president as a “disaster for innovation”.

Mr Trump’s testy relationship with the tech industry reflects a growing divide between the Republican Party and America’s most advanced industries. In counties that favoured Democratic presidential candidates between 2000 and 2016, employment in high-tech industries grew by over 35%. In Republican-leaning counties, such employment actually fell by 37%. Today, there are more than three times as many high-tech industry workers in places that voted for Hillary Clinton as there are in those that favoured Mr Trump.

The uneven distribution of tech talent can be explained in part by job growth in historically liberal places like San Francisco and Seattle. However, changing voting patterns in formerly conservative places like Houston, Dallas, and Fairfax County, Virginia account for most of the shift. In 2000, 36 of the 100 counties with the highest number of tech industry workers voted for the Republican Party. By 2016, this figure had fallen to just 19.

The Economist

Okay, so Trump and the GOPers have got the fossil fuel sector on their side. But the rest of advanced capitalism, decidedly not so much so.

These aren't the people I'd look to lead the resistance to our emerging autocrat. If I had my druthers, I'd look to the National Domestic Workers Union and other marginalized folks who keep the world going. But it is nonetheless true that the most vibrant sectors of US capitalism suddenly find themselves on the outside looking in. They aren't going to like that. When they get their wits about them, they are going to create bumps on the GOPer road. Naturally, they'll also throw the rest of us under the bus if it serves their interests.

But whatever friction they create, it might serve the interests of broader, more democratic (small "d") resistance. Enhancing friction is the name of the game right now...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Depotism: maybe they were smarter in 1946

“You can roughly locate any community in the world somewhere along a scale running all the way from democracy to despotism,” says [this Encyclopedia Brittanica‘s] standard-issue mannered narrator before turning it over to a standard-issue sack-suited and Brylcreemed expert. And how can we know where our own society places on that scale? “Well, for one,” says the expert, “avoid the comfortable idea that the mere form of government can of itself safeguard a nation against despotism.”

This is a worthwhile 10 minutes of your life. Also worthwhile, Josh Marshall's reflection from last July on what men (yes, it was almost all men) of that time had learned about human societies.

H/t Slacktivist and Open Culture.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Look out for Montenegro under our new regime

If I hadn't hiked in Montenegro's mountains last year, I would have missed this obscure, but potentially significant, snippet of news amidst the news deluge over the weekend. Montenegrin authorities are interrogating a suspect who describes a baroque plot he claims was cooked up by Russia's intelligence service that aimed

to seize Montenegro’s Parliament building last month, kill the prime minister and install a new government hostile to NATO

The details are the stuff of Balkan conspiracies, opaque and slightly surreal, full of implied rather than proven connections -- and some plausibility. Buried deep in the story, comes the nugget that suggests trouble ahead.

To Moscow’s dismay, Serbia and Montenegro, both traditionally close to Russia, have increasingly tilted toward the West, applying to join the European Union and, in Montenegro’s case, even NATO.

With a few thousand soldiers, a handful of tanks and only 600,000 residents, Montenegro — whose application to join NATO was accepted in May and now awaits ratification — is hardly a military powerhouse. But it controls the only stretch of coastline where warships can dock between Gibraltar and eastern Turkey not already in the hands of the alliance. ...

Russia has campaigned furiously to keep Montenegro out of the alliance, supporting pro-Moscow political groups in the country and Orthodox priests who view NATO as a threat to Slavic fraternity and faith.

“NATO is an occupying force, and I am absolutely against it,” said Momcilo Krivokapic, an Orthodox priest ... . His church in Kotor, an ancient fortress town, is just a few yards from Kotor Bay, a deepwater haven long coveted by both Russia and the West for its strategic location. ...

Here's a view of that bay from above. Attractive, isn't it?
Lots of Russians have thought so, both dissidents who were getting their money out of Putin's kleptocracy and Putin's state as well. The bay is flanked by resort homes and hotels, an Adriatic Riviera with a Russian flavor. The Montenegrins I met, English speaking and part of the tourist industry, desperately wanted to be accepted as part of Europe. The country adopted the Euro as its currency, despite not being a member of the European Union. Yet the majority piety of the country is largely Russian Orthodox, looking to the Moscow patriarch for leadership.

According to the AP, today

Montenegrin lawmakers are set to swear in a pro-NATO government amid political tensions following an alleged foiled election day coup orchestrated by Russian nationalists to derail the Balkan country's bid to join the alliance. ... Opposition parties have boycotted the session.

I can easily imagine that Montenegrins might find themselves treated as a "thank you" present from our President-elect to his Russian buddies, blocked by Trump from membership in NATO. Trump's Washington Times (the Moonie paper) backers think that's a great idea. Trump showed an interest in Montenegrin hotels in 2007; my cursory investigation failed to turn up whether anything had come of that. Presumably if Trump hands over Montenegro's future to Russia, Putin would let him put up a magnificent resort or two on the Bay of Kotor.

Change of seasons: Advent comes round again

The ancient Christian liturgical year began yesterday as we entered Advent, the four weeks in which Christians annually live in expectation both of the birth of the human child who is also truly God, and of God's promise to somehow, someday, be with us in God's fullness. Both are mysteries, beyond our intellectual capacity. Liturgy -- communal ceremony -- is how we annually enact and recapitulate the many realities we sense/know, but cannot understand. I find this annual cycle profoundly grounding. Without such reminders of what I cannot grasp, wouldn't I think I knew it all?

We did not pray the traditional collect (prayer) for the season of Advent in my little parish yesterday. We offered a modern substitute. I was sorry about that. I understand that some might find the old petition outmoded and a little scary. It seems to arise out of a consciousness of life lived within a cosmic struggle between good and evil, not the usual stuff of sophisticated "modern" thought.

The prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer reads:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness,
and put on the armor of light,....

Or, as the Rev. Scott Gunn once explained the season:

Advent is a time to remember that we followers of Jesus are meant not only to be bearers of the light, but also to vanquish evil in this life, in our world and in our own lives.

This seems particularly apt in these sad days when our country has chosen to drive further off the rails. We find ourselves fearing freefall into rapacious greed and oppression of the vulnerable and weak. The works of darkness are all around, and we're going to need all the "armor of light" we can find, wherever we find it. It's long been conveniently forgotten that the oldest Christian self-consciousness was formed in tension with the most powerful, most brutal, empire of its day. For those of us for whom this tradition is a source of meaning, there's a lot there.

Another Advent theme also seems appropriate to our current moment. "Keep awake ... you also must be ready ..." say the ancient admonitions in the Gospel passage from the book of Matthew. Or, if we want to be more contemporary, #Stay Woke in every meaning of that catch phrase. Nothin' else to do ...
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