Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On searching for perfect security where there is none

A couple of weeks ago, as the media-stream overflowed with speculation over the Boston bombings and then the Tsarnaev chase, I was reading Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger by Harvey Molotch. I wonder what Mr. Molotch was thinking?

This author is a New York University sociologist who came to his subject after watching the Twin Towers fall on 9/11. He describes himself as drawn to promoting a "sense of humanistic shared responsibility" through which we might re-establish our sense of security -- but this was the road not taken in the past decade as we instead declared the "war on terror." So Molotch has brought sociological, anthropological, urban studies, design and architectural research to bear on a list of arenas in which we have lately tried to shore up our feeling of security. These include public bathrooms, subways, airports, and the City of New Orleans under threat of further hurricanes.

Here's a distillation of the author's description of his project:
This book traces fear, from the soup of indistinct but keenly felt worries over one's own body, to the hard nuts of bombs and bastions. … Through various intermediaries of institutions and physical implements, individual angst transmutes into the power of authorities who themselves, of course, come to have an interest in stoking the fears that feed them. …Bad things do happen, and death is the final outcome no matter what; but the routes to death can be more or less reasonable, more or less decent -- a guiding assumption in the chapters that follow. This book is against security as officially practiced, favoring instead meaningful ways to extend lives and provide people with decent experience.

… I am not directed toward security in the sense of material satisfaction -- a decent house or full belly -- however righteous such goals may be. I'm thinking of security as the feeling and reality that such goals are even possible to pursue, that there is a sensible and reliable world in which to act. It is a more-or-less state; no individual and no community can be fully secure either in feeling or in reality, but some are closer than others.

… What to do? It would be naive to suppose that there were zero threats "out there", and I readily acknowledge, as we so poignantly learned with the July 2011 massacre of eighty-four young people in a Norwegian summer camp, that even quiescent societies can be hit by horror. However an exaggeration in terms of actuarial statistics compared to other threats, attacks are likely. But even so, we spend absurdly too much and sacrifice beyond what makes sense as we enshrine the possibility in national policy and local practice. But politically, if for no other reason, there is no choice but to do something. The question is how can we act in a way that creates a better world. and not an inferior one?
Some of what Molotch comes up with is fascinating. I was particularly taken with his descriptions -- based on embedding among them -- of how New York City subway workers make a run down, poorly designed and ill-maintained system hobbled by bureaucratic management function in spite of its flaws. Attending to their successes is one of his suggestions for improving "security."
Authorities should know and respect workers' repertoires for dealing with ordinary problems, including those based on their experiences with outside agents. If workers think their supervisors have bad information, they will not treat instructions given to them as bona fide. If they think their supervisors do not take into account job exigencies at hand, they will discount their directives. If they think bosses' initiatives are silly, they will deride rather than follow them. Remedies for dealing with such disjuncture are either to change the routines of the work situation (easing, for example, the vulnerabilities to human and mechanical challenges) or to make sure instructions take those contexts into account.
If that comes across as awfully abstract, I'd agree. Much of this book is like that. But I sure do concur that paying attention to the people who do the jobs to make systems work might help. His solution to flight security is similar: trust the in-air crews and passengers more:
It … might not come as a surprise that the handful of would-be perpetrators (and occasional actual ones) were caught mostly through the alertness of ordinary people as opposed to those charged with doing security itself. It was passengers and flight crew who foiled shoe bomber Richard Reid. …
Molotch is no fan of our country's choice of violent responses to security anxieties.
The debate continues as to whether our aggressive moves abroad (and, on occasion, at home as well) have made the United States safer or only increased its exposure. … At the heart of [our] ferocious real politick is belief that if we capture, torture, or kill innocents, we will eventually get at the bad guy. Those who survive our wrath will learn the lesson and be less likely to help such people in the future.

… I know no real way to refute such a claim for the wisdom of bellicosity with utter certainty. But surely those who would oppose how I think have at least a modicum of uncertainty for their position -- or certainly should have. Put bluntly and at the extreme, I am proposing that when you don't know what you are doing, the best approach is the more directly humane one. … Before the application of militarism, one should simply ask what would be most decent?
He enumerates what he considers the largely spurious expedients we adopt in the name of security: "guns, machines, dogs … [plastic] jersey barriers, chain link fence, [concrete] bollards, and commanding signage." He doesn't believe that further proliferation of such measures is going to make us feel secure. At least part of what we need is a greater capacity to admit that perfect security is impossible, that we must "accept loss."
We need to accept bad outcomes, most importantly, death. Lack of acceptance makes us sitting ducks for any program, policy, or action that can be spoken of as adding "security" -- regardless of how little sense it makes.
We're not going to achieve perfect security so instead of chasing the impossible, we need to ask what quality of life we want while living together. That seems right to me. I am heartened by the Pew Center poll after Boston that showed that most of us have come to understand that occasional acts of terrorism will be simply "part of life" for the foreseeable future. That's a prerequisite for learning to avoid panicked behavior and choices in the future.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Who votes?

There's a story from the Associated Press making the rounds over this past weekend headlined "Black Voter Turnout Passed White Turnout For The First Time In 2012." The story doesn't offer any concrete numbers, but I interpret that to mean that, nationally, a higher percentage of eligible African-Americans voted relative to the overall numbers of possible Black voters than eligible whites voted relative to their overall numbers.

Is this a new story? I'm not convinced that it is. Because the writing is not very clear, it is possible that something new happened last fall because Barack Obama was on the ballot, but I'm not so sure. There have been previous studies of the electorate that have produced similar findings. For example, this depiction of the demographics of the 1996 California electorate suggests that Blacks voted in greater numbers than their raw proportion of the state's population in that year. (So did whites, by a lot, that year; evidently Asian-Americans and Latinos were not voting or not eligible because of age or immigration status.)
Fast forward 12 years and consider this:
When all other factors are held equal (e.g., once the impact of age, duration of residence, region of residence, sex, educational attainment, and family income are all held constant), the odds of voting in 2008 were about twice as high for Blacks as they were for the non-Hispanic Whites reference group (2.3:1).
The real story here is that, when they can, Black people vote.

Maybe last year this happened because Blacks identify with Barack Obama, but the phenomenon long precedes his rise. Maybe Blacks are raised to remember that their grandparents fought for the right to cast a ballot. Maybe Blacks cling to a belief that has become uncommon among white citizens, a belief that the doings of government is essential to our collective well-being.

The conclusion remains simple: when they able to, Black people vote.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Looking for movements in all the wrong places

I hesitate to comment on this "Critic at Large" column from the New Yorker magazine because it is behind the subscriber pay wall. I read it on paper; the New Yorker is the only magazine I still sporadically look at in hard copy.

But that sometimes excellent journalist George Packer has written something so off base that I can't help myself. In "Don't Look Down," he discusses what he calls "the new Depression journalism," chronicles of today's poor and suffering written by Barbara Garson (Down the Up Escalator: How the 99 Percent Live in the Great Recession), DW Gibson (Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today's Changing Economy), Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson (Someplace Like America: Tales from the New Great Depression), Charlie LeDuff (Detroit: An American Autopsy) and Chris Hedges with Joe Sacco (Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.)

I haven't read any of these -- though I've seen articles and excerpts from several. They all sound like worthy efforts to ensure that the human cost of our greed and austerity regime is not completely swept under the metaphorical rug. I'm glad they got coverage in the New Yorker.

But what humiliation Packer puts these writers through for their grudging mentions! These writers just don't stand up to comparison to their historical forefathers in Packer's opinion. Before he gets to describing any of them, he waxes lyrical for a full page on the 1930s Depression-era literary lions who visited the victims of that crisis of capitalism. Here's a sample:
In early 1931, Edmund Wilson left his desk job as the literary editor of The New Republic to travel around the stricken country and write a series of articles on the effects of the Depression, then in its second year. … There was nothing unusual in those owl-eyed literary man from the landed gentry, Princeton '16, showing up in Virginia coal country. Sherwood Anderson was there, too -- "all full of Communism," Wilson reported to his friend John Dos Passos. … After Dos Passos finished the second novel of his "U .S.A." trilogy, he joined a group of writers led by Theodore Dreiser on a trip to Harlan County, Kentucky, where they held hearings on the miners' living conditions, and were charged by local authorities with "criminal syndicalism." …
Packer apparently wants a jolt of insurrectionary romance from writers on poverty and he's not getting his fix. He complains that none of the contemporary chroniclers he reviews somehow deserve the pedestal on which he places the men who reported on the Great Depression -- not apparently taking into account that these gents' celebrity was not rooted in their foray among the poverty stricken.

Moreover, there's something oddly anachronistic in searching among the literary chroniclers of the current Great Recession for inspiration. Might not the liberal intellectuals who could fill such a role be located somewhere very different in our current media environment? Perhaps to comprehend our current morass we should be looking at bloggers, say Digby or Ta Nehisi Coates. Or perhaps our best creative commentators on social suffering are no longer primarily writers at all -- they've gone off to do TV -- think old timer Bill Moyers, or Chris Hayes, or Melissa Harris-Parry. This is a different creative environment -- the enthusiastic energy to make a better world that Packer admires in '30s literati almost certainly has different outlets (and very different faces) today.

Moreover Packer goes all nostalgic -- the 1930s gave birth to a heroic labor movement; why aren't there heroes struggling for economic and civic equality today?
Why haven't victims of the new depression come together in a mass movement? Where are the Bonus Marchers, he Townsend Clubs? … Occupy turned out to be a moment of its time -- a cri de coeur, stylish, media-distracted, …
And thus basically a bust. Well maybe. But as with Packer's apparent lack of connection to contemporary intellectual social currents, he's also just showing how out of touch he is contemporary struggles for justice. Some of his '30s icons made heroes of the poor of that day -- but only when they weren't very close. James Agee's portraits of sharecroppers look no more populated by people likely to rise up in anger than LeDuff's characters in Detroit.

There are potent social movements in our time -- it is just that we the comfortable (and Packer) don't easily see them because they haven't broken through yet and we don't have to look. As is usual in the history of eruptions for justice, these are arising among people who have almost nothing to lose and radiate out from that core. In our day, excluded workers -- taxi drivers, day laborers, housekeepers and nannies, fast food employees -- are searching for new forms of self-assertion. The National Domestic Workers Alliance is one potent new organizational formation. All these efforts are tightly tied in to agitation for immigration reform -- and improbably our dysfunctional politicians of both parties have been forced to at least pretend reform is on the agenda. There are no guarantees -- but George Packer would be more credible if he were looking where the action is.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Satrurday scenes and scenery: the trees show faces

treeface.JPG
Often, when large limbs are cut away, the surface that remains seems to take on facial features. Is this tree growing a beard?

tree face.jpg
Sometimes humans feel the need to help the tree express itself.

Do you believe in Ents?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Listen to the matriarch….

She says "We've had enough Bushes …" Her assurance that her assessment of who is qualified to be President matters is unattractive, but I'll take the substance.
My mother thought Barbara Bush was a perfect specimen of a political wife. I thought Mrs. Bush seemed loathsome. Obviously, my mother and I had different politics.

I sometimes wonder whether George W's presidency might have been enough to dislodge my mother's inherited Republican allegiance if she'd lived to see it. She was a Republican who believed in abortion rights and would have felt shamed by the Bush torture regime. But for her, for all George W.'s phony folksy facade, she would have seen him and his family as proper occupants of the White House, the right sort of people.

Contemporary Republican knuckle-draggers might have finally pushed my mother away. Their ignorance and crudity might have been too much for her. She would have thought the Obama's were a "nice family." And, I'm pretty sure that she would have thought we'd had enough of the Bush family. Let someone else do it.

Friday cat blogging

morty getting morning hommage.jpg

Morty and I have been home alone together the last couple of weekends. He gets extremely clinging in these circumstances. It is amazing I have a chance to write anything at all.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

World heritage site destroyed in Syria

Ummayad mosque in Damascus, surrounded by the dense city.
This news made me feel sick.
The 11th-century minaret of a famed mosque that towered over the narrow stone alleyways of Aleppo’s old quarter collapsed Wednesday as rebels and government troops fought pitched battles in the streets around it, depriving the ancient Syrian city of one of its most important landmarks.

President Bashar Assad’s government and the rebels trying to overthrow him traded blame over the destruction to the Umayyad Mosque, a UNESCO world heritage site and centerpiece of Aleppo’s walled Old City.

“This is like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis in Athens. This mosque is a living sanctuary,” said Helga Seeden, a professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut. “This is a disaster. In terms of heritage, this is the worst I’ve seen in Syria. I’m horrified.”
I should be far more moved by what's happening to people, but word of the destruction of Aleppo's historic landmark holds my attention.

In 2006, I had the chance to see a little of Damascus and spend a day at the Ummayad era mosque in that city (not the one in Aleppo that has been destroyed). This building was (is!) quite simply the most impressive religious space I've ever been inside. It's seen a lot. I hope it survives.

I don't read hardly anything the U.S. media offers up about Syria. Our government is not innocent here and we are simply ignorant. But this article captures something of the little bit I saw of Syria.
There was a distinctive sense of national pride in Syria. It flowed from the confidence of a civilization dating back to the times of the earliest alphabets and visible in the country’s wealth of archaeological sites, including some of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It came from the depth of local culture. It stemmed from the music of Syrian Arabic, the elegance of Syrian manners, the finesse of Syrian cuisine and the sincerity of Syrian hospitality. It proceeded from modern geopolitics, too, as Damascus carved out for itself a role bigger and bolder than its scarce resources should have allowed. In particular, and despite tremendous pressure, Damascus stood firm on the Palestinian cause, which Syrians feel more strongly about than anyone, perhaps, except the Palestinians. The regime may have been a conveniently quiescent foe for Israel, but Syria was, on the map of the Arab world, the only state still “resisting.”

Syrian pride, too, fostered a strong national identity and a calm self-assurance, even among Palestinian refugees, chased from what is now Israel, who blended in over the years -- in stark contrast to the ostracism their kin experience elsewhere in the region. Such equipoise was on display when in 2006 large numbers of people fleeing violence in neighboring Lebanon and Iraq were absorbed with rare ease into a society that seemed to know and accept itself well enough to open its arms to others. Friction occurred, as in any refugee crisis, but remarkably little considering sectarian tensions and the sheer scale of the influx.

Syrians have lost much in the conflict they are now locked into, with no way back and little sign of a way forward, either for supporters of President Bashar al-Asad or for the assorted opposition forces. ...
The whole is worth reading.

If -- when -- US involvement in Syria becomes more visible, I don't think there will be much of a citizen response here. We don't know enough.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: highlighting the new normal

Just for the fun of it, I'm reading Consider the Fork, a thoughtful, informed and playful tour through the history of cooking technologies and kitchen labor. It's fun. The author, Bee Wilson, is a British historian and food writer.

I was brought up short by this very ordinary passage from Wilson's introduction:
Most days, my breakfast consists of coffee; toast, butter, marmalade; and orange juice, if the children haven't drunk it all. … I grind my beans (fair trade) superfine in a burr grinder and make myself a "flat white" (an espresso, steamed milk poured over the top), using an espresso machine and a range of utensils (coffee scoop, tamper, steel milk pitcher). …Toast, butter, and marmalade were known and loved by the Elizabethans. But Shakespeare never ate toast such as mine, cut from a whole-grain loaf baked in an automatic bread maker, toasted in a four-slot electric toaster, and eaten off a white dishwasher-safe china plate. …

… who can say if comfortable breakfasts like mine will exist a few years from now? Oranges from Florida may become unaffordable as wind farms replace citrus farms to meet rising energy needs. Butter may go the same way (I pray this never happens) as dairy land is diverted to more efficient use growing plant foods. Or perhaps in the techno-kitchen of the future, we will all be breakfasting off "baconated grapefruit" and "caffeinated bacon," as Matt Groening imagines in an episode of Futurama.
Welcome to what I think we need to recognize as "the new normal." Wilson goes on to describe past and contemporary cooking quite cheerfully -- but she has prefaced the story with this. It is becoming impossible to write thoughtfully about much of anything and project into the future without recognizing that the future will be shaped by global warming.

This recognition isn't a political statement -- it is simply realistic. Narratives like this that nod casually to "the new normal" will do a lot to help break the current political impasse over responding to climate change. If everything takes place in a world where humans are conscious that we are reshaping the climate, we will grope our way to changing how we organize our societies. Our adaptation probably won't be comfortable, efficient or elegant -- and it is certainly not timely -- but we'll move.

This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking. I know. I'm a proud lesbian leading a good life in the United States. In my lifetime this society has adopted a another sort of "new normal" which is on the way to treating me as a full, responsible member of the human family. From unthinkable and perverse, we queers are on the way to normal. Adapting to reality can happen -- but first the "new normal" gradually becomes integrated into all our thinking. And that is imperceptibly happening with awareness of climate crisis.
***
On the topic of how we talk about the new normal, I want to quote a response to the recent Earth Day from the Washington Monthly's Ryan Cooper that I find wise:
… this is qualitatively different from something like, say, rescuing the California Condor. Climate change is not just a case of some corporations profiting from raping the collective commons, it’s our society slowly destroying itself.

This is why I get somewhat frustrated when I hear climate hawks reflexively invoke “the planet” as a reason for strong action on climate. The planet is nigh invincible. We literally couldn’t destroy it if we wanted to. It’s just a big chunk of rock. The Earth’s biosphere, however, upon which our society is totally dependent, is little more than a thin layer of grease between that rock and the void of space. ..
I've used that language about our destroying "the planet," but Cooper is right: the new normal is that our society and our species are behaving suicidally. The planet will be fine; we humans, or our offspring, will not unless we change.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- reminders of an inconvenient truth.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Armament

If you have an arsenal to protect ...
gun safe.JPG
you can get one of these from your local Costco. It even comes with a free subscription to Sports Afield. Only $3000. I guess if we're going to be a society of the heavily armed, it better that people have these than not have them.

A Cambridge, Mass. police commissioner says the Tsarnaev brothers didn't have permits for their guns. Big surprise. They have gun laws in that state. All legal purchasers go through a background check via local police departments and a state Criminal History Board. Very few automatic weapons are legal and no magazines in excess of 10 rounds. The surviving brother couldn't have got a permit anyway; Massachusetts doesn't issue permits to individuals under 21.

But we live in a country in which aspiring criminals can almost always acquire guns if they want. Maybe they bought them from local criminals or from another state with less laws. Maybe they stole them or someone else did?

The only people charged legally after Columbine were the men who helped the students get their weapons.

Will the Feds be able to find out the source of these guns? From a law enforcement point of view, it certainly seems it would be a good thing to be able to so. Maybe someone should keep a list of the weaponry floating around? Oh no, that wouldn't do.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thinking about cities and gentrification

Just to be sure I was on the right track, I looked for a definition. Here's the Merriam Webster dictionary:

Gentrification:… the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

I think there's a predicate missing there. Gentrification is peculiarly something that happens in cities. It is urban.

Here are a couple of stories that have me thinking about gentrification.

A Catholic Worker House (CWH) in San Antonio, Texas, has been barred from providing meals to homeless people. They had been doing this work since 1985, currently handing out about 400 meals a day. Local columnist Gibert Garcia explains:

There are two issues at play here: the official one that's driving the city's effort and the real one that's motivating neighbors to get the city involved.

The city argues that CWH is defying a local ordinance that prevents an establishment from preparing food without a licensed kitchen. That issue first flared up in August 2009, when the city shut down CWH's kitchen.

Shortly after that, the charity seemed to render the issue moot by moving next door to a new home that did not have a kitchen. From that point on, CWH simply handed out meals prepared for it by local restaurants ...

Truth be told, the people who are instigating these investigations -- the community members who've made four complaints to the city in the past 20 months about CWH -- are not worried about the quality of the food being served or the possibility that CWH's clients could get sick from eating it.

They're angry about what's happened in Dignowity Hill since CWH's clientele exploded about three years ago [thanks to changes in city policies.] ...“We have people laying on the porch, sleeping on the porch, sleeping in the back, going to the neighbors' homes begging for money, peeing in their yards, and hanging out in the alleys and drinking,” said Dee Smith, president-elect of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association. …

If there's a “compelling public reason” for this city to tamper with CWH, it has little to do with food safety (the ostensible justification) and everything to do with the popular will of a frustrated neighborhood.

This sounds like a classic conflict -- a neighborhood feels it is on the way up and wants to be able to be part of its city without having to see the city's underside. These people may have some legitimate complaints -- in fact, I am sure they do. Homeless people with no facilities don't mix well with others. But there's an escalation reported here and that's where the label gentrification comes in. What used to be tolerable, even if unwelcome, somehow became intolerable to this neighborhood, apparently an upward trending place.

Wonder how they'll work it out? People who have been serving the poor since 1985 aren't likely to just stop …
***
The second situation I'm pondering is much closer to home. Last week I went down to City Hall to support Planned Parenthood at a hearing on a proposed 25 foot buffer zone meant to keep anti-abortion activists away from patients and clinic doors. PP says, and I certainly believe them, that women seeking medical services are being harassed and given inaccurate information as they approach the clinic.

San Francisco has a rule that protesters must stay 8 feet away from their targets, but it isn't working. Some cities have much stricter limits -- up to 300 feet -- but we're into free speech here.

There was cogent testimony from medical providers and from the anti-abortion folks. Here's a news report, prefaced by a 15 second ad.
Don't miss my friend Renee at 1:37. What they didn't include from her that goes to the heart of this conflict is her indignation with the very idea that young women like her hadn't thought through their decision to abort and need half-baked "sidewalk counseling."

So all well and good. Supervisor Campos has done a careful, lawful, balanced job of framing it. This proposal will pass overwhelmingly -- this is San Francisco after all.

But during the long public comment period, there was another strain besides that represented by Planned Parenthood, its clients and medical providers. Resident after resident from the neighborhood got up to talk about how they shouldn't have to see the anti-abortion people's gory signs -- their children should not be exposed to such things. Hmm …

I wonder if that's what Representative Nancy Pelosi's neighbors and Senator Diane Feinstein's neighbors say about my kind -- antiwar and eco-liberals periodically invade their neighborhoods to make our voices heard. I think I know the answer to that question.

The neighborhood of the Planned Parenthood clinic is not considered a "good" location. Not exactly a slum, working class in an insanely expensive city. But I was hearing the hope that the area could be on the way up. Right now, that rouses residents to want to get the anti-abortion protesters out of sight. But will this same impulse someday move the neighborhood to want to push Planned Parenthood out as well? "Too controversial .." Could happen I think. That too is gentrification.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Two more thoughts on Boston
















Okay, I can't seem to let this go.

Last Thursday while lunching with a friend, I confessed I was hoping desperately that whoever set off the marathon bombs would turn out to be what people in this country call "white." The bombing itself had done enough damage to the social fabric; we didn't need an explosion of race hatred on top of that damage. We agreed.

So Thursday night when the authorities put out pictures of the men they thought were the bombers, I was pleased to see they appeared "white."

Like Joshua Marshall, I thought of frat boys -- perhaps college students like those my partner teaches. Boston has lots of those.

So it turns out, I wasn't altogether wrong. They had, at least recently, been college students. And they were as Caucasian as any of us can get -- actual immigrants from Central Asia. But they were also from Muslim backgrounds. So the usual suspects now are howling.

I have to wonder: does the historic practice in the United States of branding people who a majority fears mean that we must now believe that Muslims from the Caucasus region are non-white? It wouldn't be the first time we incongruously applied a racial label for an ethnic origin. It would however be flat out absurd -- and instructive about our notions of race.
***
Up until the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I was prepared to give Massachusetts authorities and the Administration pretty high marks for not engaging in bellicose posturing in response to the crime. And they still deserve credit for largely tamping down unrealistic fears; a "Westerner's" chance of being killed in a terrorist attack in modern times is "one in three million each year, or the same chance an American will be killed by a tornado" according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

But then the feds had to blow it by announcing they were going delay giving the surviving Tsarnaev his Miranda warning -- put off telling him he had a Constitutional right to shut up and ask for a lawyer. Withholding the warning is just Administration posturing, demonstrating they are "tough." This guy is a kid who grew up with cop shows and, having completed naturalization, probably studied the Constitution; in theory he knows he has such rights.

I'll outsource legal comment on what is wrong with failing to expeditiously warn the prisoner:
Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said it would be acceptable for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ask Mr. Tsarnaev about “imminent” threats, like whether other bombs are hidden around Boston. But he said that for broader questioning, the F.B.I. must not “cut corners.”

“The public safety exception to Miranda should be a narrow and limited one, and it would be wholly inappropriate and unconstitutional to use it to create the case against the suspect,” Mr. Romero said. “The public safety exception would be meaningless if interrogations are given an open-ended time horizon.”
Sure, there are lots of things our security spooks want to know from this guy. And they are going to find out; they've got an airtight case with a death penalty option.

Choosing to use exceptional procedures because this concerns a crime of terror signals weakness, not strength. The Administration has turned down Republican calls to hand the guy over to the inept, law-free military commissions, but apparently it couldn't resist making a gesture to our homegrown authoritarians. Too bad; they'd been doing a good job.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Haunted by Boston

I could post intriguing photos today as I usually do on a Saturday, but I want to meditate on the last couple of days and my reactions.

Yesterday I let myself get locked into the awful drama going on in the Boston suburbs. I picked up the WBUR (local public radio) live stream on my smartphone and listened as I went about my life.

Why? What possible purpose would it serve to listen to hours of broadcasters fumbling, filling empty moments with quasi-information, with fear, with "expert commentators" trying to fit the the incomprehensible into whatever frames they carry about with them? But I listened. When life has turned into a TV movie -- and you are at a safe distance -- it is not hard to get sucked in. I am not proud of my fascination; there was never going to be a good end to this.

I need to applaud the local radio station. It turned out one of their regular hosts, Robin Young of "Here and Now" had met Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at a high school prom party she hosted for a nephew. The station took serious flack for her journalistic enterprise in putting on the nephew to report what a regular guy the fugitive young man had seemed so recently. Broadcasting this took some courage: Boston had good reason to believe this young man had killed a cop -- killed a cop in a city where, more than in many of our cities, police seem less an occupying army and more like good fathers from down the block.

Repeatedly, reporters put on various academics and "terrorism experts" to opine about Russian Chechnya. I don't know anything about Chechnya but the incoherent drivel coming from these people was enough to make me agree with the thuggish Chechen president "You must look for the roots of their evil in America." These Boston men had grown up in the US; they seemed to have made lives in New England. Moreover, it quickly came out that they've essentially never lived in the terrorist-filled Chechnya the "experts" referenced.

The day's standard photo of Dzhokhar should be enough to derail the push for marijuana legalization for a decade, though I don't imagine it will (nor should it). But how much more can a person brand himself as a stoner than Dzhokhar does in this high school picture?

It was noticeable to me that these guys were described as living in a world unusually devoid of women, as two young men alone. Listeners were told nothing about a mother. The older man had apparently had a wife and a child -- and a domestic violence arrest -- but these people seemed dim appendages. Just maybe that means they'll be able to make an unstigmatized life?

Nobody was asking one obvious question: "Where did these guys get their guns?" Now that the NRA has triumphed in the Senate, I guess we're not supposed to think about that, though if I'd been a time-filling reporter, I'd have wondered. Will we be told? My partner teaches college students -- she has at least one who doodles gun sites in class. Should that worry her? Nobody thought this Dzhokhar was dangerous until he apparently was.

I sure hope we don't get more of this reaction, but we probably will:
Every day, Heba Abolaban of Malden checks on her family in war-strafed Syria, where water, bread and electricity are in short supply. She was far more worried about them than about herself on Wednesday morning when she put her baby daughter in a stroller and headed into the sunshine to a play group with a friend.

But as they strolled down Commercial Street, an angry-faced man charged toward the petite woman, his hand balled into a fist. He punched her hard in the shoulder and screamed curses inches from her face. Then he pointed at her and walked away shouting.

“He said, ‘(Expletive) you. (Expletive) you Muslims, You are terrorists, you are the ones who made the Boston explosion,’” said Abolaban, recalling the episode in a phone interview Thursday. “I was really, really completely shocked. I didn’t know what to do. Then I realized what happened. I was crying and crying.”
Enough for now. I remain haunted. Catching one of the perps does not dispel the mysteries.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday cat blogging

Morty-Caught-in-the-Act-web.jpg
Morty's "you caught me in the act" pose. If you weren't such a pretty boy, maybe we wouldn't keep invading your space, Mr. Cat.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

They know how it feels

H/t Beth Murphy at the Atlantic. Many more pics at the link.

Too much grief and shame to post today ...

But go read this -- Boston and Beyond: For Whom the Bell Tolls -- from my marathon-running, peace agitating friend, Max Elbaum.
To My Dear Peace Movement Comrades,

Though using the gender-biased terminology of 1624, John Donne's Meditation 17 seems to me as if it could have been written in the first hour after Monday's carnage in Boston:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

For those of us who have crossed the Boston Marathon finish line, those last few blocks on Boylston Street are unforgettable, emotionally as well as physically. To see the pictures and videos of maimed instead of merely exhausted bodies there is an especially searing experience. Saying that the bombing instantaneously turned a moment of large-scale human triumph into horror has already become a clich̩. But it is true nonetheless. Reading about the lives of the dead and wounded is heartbreaking. Seeing the heroism of so many people who immediately ran toward instead of away from the explosions Рincluding Boston Athletic Association volunteers and peace activists Рis an inspiring reminder of human beings' capacity to put the needs of others before their own. But also a reminder that almost all of the killed and wounded were present on Boylston Street for that very reason: to support a loved one who would need all the encouragement she or he could get over those last body-punishing yards. That's the spirit of "the people who watch marathons" Рand after Monday I will never look at another person who turns out to cheer us runners in the same way. ... [More]

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: something to do about it

Part of my difficulty in envisioning climate change comes from an overwhelming terror that the amount of destruction we nonchalant humans are wreaking on planetary systems is so great that nothing can be done about it. This is particularly distressing to inveterate campaigners like me: we're used to seeing a wrong and figuring out what combination of agitation and policy could make it right, then fighting for our solution. This climate change stuff is just too damn big and too damn complicated to look at.

The good folks at 350.org are offering people in the United States a practical way to get involved in preventing yet greater fossil fuel emissions. Their campaign may not be perfect, but at least they have one. They are working to stop the Canadian tar sands pipeline (Keystone XL) running from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. James Hansen, the retired NASA climate scientist who has been warning about global warming for over 20 years, has said that if all those tons of carbon pollution are let loose in the atmosphere, it is "essentially game over" for the climate.

The Obama administration will decide soon whether to permit construction of the pipeline. The administration seems so in the pocket of fossil fuel companies -- and so pleased to get energy from somewhere beside the Middle East -- that they are likely to approve construction.

But there is still time to enter public comments urging restraint. 350.org has set up an easy tool from which to enter your comment. Do it now. The object is to collect one million protests in the next week.

Go ahead. It is not hard. This is something you can do.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- reminders of an inconvenient truth.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Choice in the presence of horror

On Monday night in California, we know that Boston headline should read (at least) "3 killed". Who knows what more we'll know tomorrow?

We happened to have the 12 noon radio news on in California, so we heard about the bombing in close to real time. We've run a few marathons.  Boston is the ur-marathon for long time runners, even if neither of us ever dreamed of meeting its qualifying standard.  Both of us have lived in Boston. We could imagine the scene too well.

We consoled ourselves there couldn't still have been too many people on the course -- Boston Marathoners don't take 5 hours and more to finish -- this isn't like New York's 12 hour marathon cum folk parade. I was wrong in that assumption; a Wave 3 had started at 10:40, so there were still plenty of runners out there at 3 pm Boston time.

Media and even Presidents have learned to discourage jumping ahead of what we know when horrors occur. I keep remembering the false leads thrown up at the Atlanta Olympics and at Oklahoma City. We're not a restrained society, so I imagine some of us are jumping ... I'm staying away from Twitter.

We've become accustomed to knowing that such atrocities take place in Iraq (42 killed there Monday), in Syria, in Pakistan, in many other countries, frequently, even daily. Our country is not innocent in those places -- but neither were the Boston runners and spectators guilty. And we have no substantive reason to connect this event to those horrors. There may be a reason, but we certainly cannot presume one tonight. That's what I mean by refusing to jump ahead of what we know.

People who commit acts of terrorism want us to respond out of the inner well of hate that most of us have lurking somewhere inside us. If we cleave to our best selves -- to grieving appropriately, uniting with our neighbors, acting judiciously -- we foil them. That won't heal the injured and bring back the dead, but it preserves the lives of the living.  That's a choice we can make when confronted by atrocity.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Surprise: California is a good example














TPM's Josh Marshall makes a significant observation:
… over recent months we’ve seen more and more polling which shows that Hispanics aren’t voting for Democrats because of the immigration issue. They’re voting for Democrats because they turn out disproportionately to be Democrats. …Quite apart from the immigration issue itself and whatever disconnect and tensions are created by anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic elements within the GOP, most Hispanics align with the issues supported by the Democratic party.

... different ethnic groups in the US simply have different politics. It all points toward doing something I think most people across the racial spectrum have a hard time doing, even as it becomes more and more of a demographic fact: seeing whites as another ethnic group in the US, still a huge but no longer an overwhelming majority of the country.

Quite apart from racial or cultural hostility or opposition to immigration for whatever reasons, it may be hard for the GOP to make significant inroads into the Hispanic or African-American or Asian-American votes, while remaining the party that so wildly over-performs among whites.
I read this -- and there's a good deal more in the original that deserves a more nuanced consideration than what I quote here -- and I wanted to scream: haven't these people who write about politics from the East Coast paid ANY attention to political developments in California over the last two decades?

If they had, none of this would have seemed so foreign. Politics in this state have been about working out a transition from white supremacy to pluralism for a long time and there's a good chance that the national trajectory can be envisioned by attending to what we've experienced here.
  • When older whites began to sense that their unquestioned numerical and electoral majority might not last forever, they used the Republican Party as an instrument to inflict policies that amounted to "Rule or Ruin" on the state. Specifically, they passed measures that broke state government's power to tax and hence to govern, beginning with Prop. 13 in 1978. The impulse to impede the progress of the rising tide of black, brown and various Asian Californians led to anti-immigrant measures (Prop. 187 in 1994), destruction of state affirmative action efforts (Prop. 209 in 1996) and outlawing bilingual education (Prop. 227 in 1998.)
  • Action leads to re-action. People of color and progressive whites -- including especially younger whites who had grown up in a plural society -- saw Republican racial bigotry and obstruction and mobilized electorally as Democrats. Since 1998 Democrats have monopolized almost all the positions elected statewide. Only the cartoonish Arnold Schwarzenegger could break the Democratic monopoly, though he couldn't bring other Republicans along on his coattails. Republicans could still stymie the legislature however, because a two-thirds vote is required to make a budget and they consistently had one vote in excess of one third.
  • Last year Democrats finally managed, with the growing black, brown, Asian and progressive white electorate, to pass new taxes by initiative and to win two thirds of both houses of the legislature. We can have government again -- Republican Rule or Ruin no longer prevails. The new balance is by no means certain, but any Republican gains in 2014 will almost certainly be swept away again by a California Democratic electorate in 2016.
  • Democratic pluralities of this size do not mean political nirvana. Ideological and interest struggles -- such as choices between spending on education or high speed rail; who is going to have lose as the state deals with its growing water shortage; should we allow fracking -- now have to get worked out within the Democratic Party. The minority Republicans are largely irrelevant; they've been dismissed by the voters. But the conflicts that are democratic politics remain.
It was possible to see that this was how the politics of California were likely to develop as early as the early 1990s -- the surprise is how rapidly California passed a democratic (small "d") tipping point. In two decades, we've moved from ground zero for a politics of racial polarization to a moment in which we're collectively trying to set the terms of the next period's challenges. We haven't achieved harmony -- far from it -- but the terrain has shifted, irrevocably.

I see no reason not to expect a similar national transition from the Republican Rule or Ruin era that we're currently living through to a more plural society. Yes, there are obvious obstacles: uneven geographical demographic change, the Senate, federalism, the South. But the most amazing feature of the last two decades of politics in California is simply that we did work our way through it. In 1994, the level of racial animosity in California and its accompanying political strains were bad enough that some of us found ourselves trying to explain that "California is the new Alabama."

California is not that state anymore. We still have many, many challenges, but at least we can say that it is possible to move through old problems and on to new ones. That's a lot when the alternative is fixating on the current gridlock in Washington and the constrained Obama presidency.

I'm getting on, but I can imagine living to the other side of this national impasse; California has demonstrated that it need not take as long as we might expect on our bad days.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The times they are a changin':
Religious institutions and their queers

As the Supreme Court deliberates gay marriage, there's a lot going on among the faithful and leaders are beginning to adjust.

Item: Long Island Roman Catholic Nicholas Coppola was one of those devoted parishioners upon whom churches depend: a lay eucharistic minister, catechist, altar server. That is, he filled all those roles until he married his husband. He'd never made any secret of being gay, but now his diocesan bishop made his pastor fire him from his parish work. For many years, that would have been that … but not these days. He rapidly discovered:

"The best part about telling my story is that it has reminded me that I'm not alone," Coppola told the press Thursday. "I have been given so many words and signs of support and love by my fellow parishioners at St. Anthony's Parish. … "There is a tremendous disconnect between the hierarchy and the people in the pews" on the issue of the inclusion of gays and lesbians, he said.

…Coppola remains deeply committed to maintaining his own place in his parish. Given the love he has been shown by his parishioners and pastor, he believes leaving would only exacerbate the pain already being felt by the community.

"St. Anthony's was, is, and will continue to be a welcoming parish," he said.

National Catholic Reporter

More on Coppola's story in his own words here.

Item: The headline says it all: Mormon Church Abandons Its Crusade Against Gay Marriage. After having provided the resources and foot soldiers to the 2008 campaign that passed Prop. 8 in California outlawing same sex marriage, the Mormon Church has recoiled from the backlash that followed.

Although the LDS's prophet hasn't described a holy revelation directing a revision in church doctrine on same-sex marriage or gay rights in general, the church has shown a rare capacity for introspection and humane cultural change unusual for a large conservative religious organization.

"It seems like the [Mormon] hierarchy has pulled the plug and is no longer taking the lead in the fight to stop same-sex marriage," says Fred Karger, the LGBT activist who first exposed the church's major role in the passage of Prop. 8. "The Mormon Church has lost so many members and suffered such a black eye because of all its anti-gay activities that they really had no choice. …"

The whole article is worth reading; it is interesting to observe such relatively supple behavior in so hierarchical an institution.

Item: Reverend Jim Wallis of Sojourners has made a career of being Mr. Liberal Evangelical, always ready with a quote for the media. But he and his institution have long been out of step with more inclusionary mainline Protestants when it came to recognizing the full humanity of gay and lesbian people. Now, less so … Sarah Posner has the story at Religion Dispatches.

Item: Retired Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton has been a insistent voice for peace, justice and reconciliation for years -- and there's seldom been much indication that anyone of any importance in his institution (except possibly God?) paid any heed to his pleadings.

Recently the current archbishop of Detroit told Roman Catholics that people who differed from the denomination by supporting gay marriage should stay away from holy communion. Bishop Gumbleton doesn't agree and we tells a TV reporter why (the ad is only 15 seconds):
Fox 2 News Headlines
***
H/t the National Catholic Reporter, the Reverend Susan Russell, and The Lead for these stories.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday scenes and scenery: a bevy of Buddhas

All these grace the side streets of San Franicisco.
laughing buddha.jpg

This fellow exudes a lovely calm.
flute player (buddha?) before lion2!.jpg

On the other hand, this once is awfully energetic. He has an incongruous companion, too.
buddha w angel.JPG

That's a welcoming smile!
laughing buddha.jpg

This one is never going to have suffer a stable existence.
buddha on a spring.jpg

These photos are by-products from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Immigration "reform" won't help with this

Center for American Progrees

U.S. immigration law is a maze of preferences, exceptions, bureaucratic interpretations of regulations, but one principle (usually) underlies it: families should be able to live together, should be reunited if necessary.

For most Republican officeholders, conservatives and the particularly the Roman Catholic Church (otherwise a reforming institution), gay people's relationships can't form families. Consequently, family reunification policies don't apply to us.

There are an estimated 32000 binational LGBT couples (one born in the U.S., one a noncitizen) in the country today. Colorlines reports that nothing in the current proposal helps these couples.

Yet. One more hurdle to jump ...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A perennial outrage recurs: hospital bars gay partner

We like to think stuff like this doesn't happen any longer, but unhappily it can. According to Roger Gorley, a Kansas City Hospital refused to let him stay with his domestic partner for whom he has a power of attorney. They had him arrested and removed and got a restraining order to keep him away.

There's the inevitable Change.org petition asking for an apology from the hospital.

The right to visit was the chief selling point for San Francisco's ground breaking domestic partner initiative in 1990. Apparently we still have to keep having these fights.

Toward immigration reform

1laborers local.JPG
The ALF-CIO and community immigration activists held rallies calling for comprehensive reform yesterday. News media report the Washington rally drew 10,000 campaigners; the San Francisco iteration of this mobilization drew a small but noisy crowd for a march from Senator Diane Feinstein's office to the old Burton Federal building on Golden Gate.

For those of us who've been watching immigration issues for a long time, it is heartening to see organized labor taking a lead in demanding a more equitable system. Undocumented workers fill many of the low wage jobs that most need the protection of a union; these marginalized workers are more likely to engage in militant action than folks a little further up the economic ladder. It is going to take militance to breath life into the labor movement these days.

3time is now!.jpg

Meanwhile, a posse of Senators apparently are on the verge of making an immigration proposal, according to the New York Times. Their law sounds pretty awful. Apparently we'll be required to waste $3.5 billion taxpayer dollars on "homeland security" measures (that's a fence to keep out scary Mexicans) before we'll be allowed to let people who are already here move toward citizenship. This is ridiculous. I feel damn sure that very few of the ancestors of these legislators had to jump through hoops like those planned for the current generation.

But there we are: a fearful, tired, though still rich, hulking husk of a declining empire.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: will rising temperatures bring down the Pakistan state?

These days I'm reading Anatol Lieven's Pakistan: A Hard Country. It's a big, smart, wide ranging book about a country where the U.S. is both deeply involved and often deeply ignorant.

There are lots of U.S. pundits who dismiss Pakistan as an irrational, Muslim-fundamentalist, ungovernable "failed state." Lieven is offering an alternative narrative: his Pakistan is a wildly diverse, complicated but essentially resilient society where competing ethnicities, religious traditions, and economic classes somehow co-exist and are likely to continue to succeed in doing so. He labels it a "negotiated state" -- two big political parties (that are both actually ethnic and feudal assemblages) alternate ostensible control of government, occasionally interrupted by military takeovers, but underneath all the fuss, life for most Pakistanis goes on with little change.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes and arresting facts. Who would have thought that in 2002, according to economists' system for measuring such things (the Gini co-efficient), Pakistan is actually a less economically unequal society than the United States? Though millions live in absolutely destitute poverty, their plight is mitigated by family, clan and tribal ties. That is, they enjoy a safety net; it is just organized differently than ours.

I should however point out that Lieven's somewhat attractive Pakistan works not nearly so well for its women.

Lieven sees only one threat that might turn Pakistan into the violent, dangerous "failed state" of so many Western imaginings. That threat is the loss of water resources exacerbated by climate change.
The huge youth bulge making its way through the Pakistani population means that this population will continue to grow steeply for a long time to come (in 2008, 42 per cent of the population was estimated as under the age of fourteen). If present trends continue, then by the middle of the twenty-first century, according to World Bank projections, Pakistan may have as many as 335 million people.

This is far too many people for Pakistan's available water resources to support, unless the efficiency of water use can be radically improved. If the old Indian economy used to be described as 'a gamble on the monsoon', then the entire Pakistani state can be described as 'a gamble on the Indus [river]' -- and climate change means that over the next century this may be a gamble against increasingly long odds. The capricious power of water in this area is demonstrated by the remains of numerous cities -- starting with those of the Indus Valley civilization 4,000 years ago -- that have been either abandoned because rivers have changed their course, or been washed away by floods, as so many towns and villages were by the great floods of 2010.

At an average of 240 mm of rainfall per year, Pakistan is one of the most naturally arid of the world's heavily populated states. … Only 24 per cent of Pakistan's land area is cultivated -- the great majority through man-made irrigation systems. The rest is pastoral land, or uninhabited: desert, semi-desert, and mountain. Chronic over-use, however, means that many of the natural springs have dried up, and the water table is dropping so rapidly in many areas that the tube-wells will also eventually follow them into extinction. That will leave the Indus once again; and in the furor surrounding the debunking of the exaggerated claim that the glaciers feeding the Indus will disappear by 2035, it has been forgotten that they are nonetheless melting; and if they disappear a century or two later, the effects on Pakistan will be equally dire, if no serious action is taken in the meantime radically to improve Pakistan's conservation and efficient use of water.

If the floods of 2010 are a harbinger of a long-term pattern of increased monsoon rains, this on the other hand would potentially be of great benefit to Pakistan -- but only potentially, because to harness them for agriculture requires both a vastly improved storage and distribution infrastructure, and radical measures to stop deforestation in the mountains and to replant deforested areas. Otherwise, increased rainfall will risk more catastrophes like that of 2010 …

…dependence on the Indus is the greatest source of long-term danger to Pakistan. Over the next century, the possible long-term combination of climate change, acute water shortages, poor water infrastructure and steep population growth has the potential to wreck Pakistan as an organized state and society. Long-term international aid projects in Pakistan should be devoted above all to reducing this mortal threat, by promoting reforestation, repairing irrigation systems and even more importantly improving the efficiency of water use. Human beings can survive for centuries without democracy, and even without much security. They cannot live for more than three days without water.

… If anyone thinks that the condition of Pakistan will be of little consequence to the rest of the world in the long run, they should remember that a hundred years from now, if it survives that long, Pakistan will still possess nuclear weapons, one of the biggest armies in the world, one of the biggest populations in the world and one of the biggest diasporas in the world, especially in Britain. lslamist radicalism, which has already existed for hundreds of years, will also still be present, even if it has been considerably reduced by the West's withdrawal from Afghanistan. All of this will still mean that of all the countries in the world that are acutely threatened by climate change, Pakistan will be one of the most important.
That's what global warming may mean in one country. Some of the earth's oldest known civilizations arose in the Indus River valley; the collapse of the present order there could unleash hideous consequences for Pakistan's people and even for those of us half way round the globe.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Obama in idiot mode again

I suppose I should write something about the Prez plumping down for unnecessary Social Security cuts by way of changing how inflation is measured.

My thoughts are simple: the man is a political idiot. He wanted to be a transformative figure and being the first Black man elected President gave him a huge leg up on the project. But he has never apparently understood that policy options that satisfy "experts" and mollify centrist opinion mongers merely make a President mediocre. Transformative Presidents build the political force to sustain their achievements.

Abraham Lincoln is generally thought the country's greatest President. His policy choices saved the integrity of the country and ended slavery -- that's greatness alright. But we forget that he accomplished this while somehow building a new political party out of northern businessmen, urban workers, small farmers on the frontier -- and the unruly, noisy chorus of moralist abolitionists. He knew he needed the absolutists, even if they were the most fractious bit of the potential ruling coalition. And somehow he held all these tendencies together, won the war, and won the future by launching the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. Now that's transformative. (See here and here.)

Obama simply doesn't seem to understand that nothing he does -- Obamacare, any "grand fiscal bargain" -- will survive if he doesn't leave behind an organized constituency (a Party) to defend his policies. Maybe if Obamacare ever gets off the ground it will develop a constituency, but a Rube Goldberg machine like this seems more likely to be picked apart before people form any attachment too it. The "there that is there" is too opaque. And by abetting Republicans at picking away at the structure of Social Security -- that's what chained CPI does -- he's throwing away whatever allegiance his Party commands as the defender of middle class citizens. (Another Democrat, Bill Clinton, kicked poor women under the bus a couple of decades ago.) Sure, he might even achieve some slight of hand that means that the cuts aren't as harmful as they seem on first glance -- the former Obama budget director is peddling this line today. But he's putting himself and his party on record against the fundamental wish most citizens have of government -- that it provide some basic security. This is a prescription for seeing even the good he's done washed away in his wake. The spectacle is sad and infuriating because the people need to the government to do its job. That's why we have it. And watching Obama fumble the politics is getting boring; we saw all this in the 2011 debt ceiling debacle. Nothing much has changed.
***
Interestingly, the often irritating Ezra Klein at the Washington Post pointed out on Friday what a President building a legacy would be fighting for.
Today, Social Security provides 37 percent of the income for all Americans over 65, and about 80 percent of the income for seniors in the bottom half of the income distribution. …

In a report for the New American Foundation, Michael Lind, Steven Hill, Robert Hiltonsmith and Joshua Freedman survey [the] data and conclude that the ongoing debate over how to cut Social Security is all wrong: We need to make Social Security much more generous.

…It has become common in Washington for wonks and politicians alike to lament the public’s resistance to cutting Medicare and Social Security. But that resistance is there for a reason: These programs work extraordinarily well. Social Security has been wildly successful at raising living standards for the elderly, even as other forms of retirement savings have grown shakier. Medicare is cheaper than private health insurance, and has seen its costs grow more slowly, to boot. We’ve gotten so used to thinking of our entitlement programs as problems to be solved, we’re missing all the problems they can solve.
We're thrown back to the truism: if (organized) people lead, maybe the leaders will follow.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Something wicked passed this way ...

It seemed appropriate this morning to awake to BBC radio calling on Henry Kissinger to eulogize Margaret Thatcher -- one foul monster offering an encomium to another. Neither will be missed by ordinary -- that is human -- humans.

Airbags for the urban cyclist

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

It's chicken to be a realist ... Cars are so yesterday. Bikes are the future.

If these were available, they would significantly raise the possibility that I'd brave riding a bike around town. I have always hated helmets. When I charged off on my bike as a child, the experience was about freedom. Now "they" say, rightly, that I need to protect my head. "They" are right, but there goes much of the freedom I would be seeking by getting on the bike.

Sorry about the sponsorship from GE for this video, but it's fun and I hope the idea works out.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Wars' residues

Meeting security
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Sal Somoza, Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, pulls security outside the Farah provincial governor's compound in Farah City, Feb. 5. U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives

The people in power who start wars don't seem to much attend to this, but for people caught up in the violence they initiate, wars are never "over." If they are still around when the fighting dies down, nonetheless, their lives and their world are changed forever. Here are a few items I've noticed recently that highlight this:
  • PTSD symptoms may NEVER subside.

    Mr. Perna was 80 when he finally made his way to the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, where he began therapy with Dr. Cook and joined other World War II and Korean War veterans in a Thursday afternoon support group. “We began to understand what was happening to us,” he told me. “In your home by yourself, you figure this is just you. You don’t know other guys are going through the same thing.”

    New Old Age, March 15, 2013

  • Invaders may depart, but enmities linger.The U.S. will (more or less?) get itself out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But there remain the Afghans …

    Mr. Balegh dismissed American concerns that released prisoners would return to the war. “We Afghans are the ones who face the most danger from these people who are released, not the Americans,” he said.

    New York Times, March 26, 2013

    Novel notion that, attending to the people who live there.
  • The majority of the men still held at the United States prison at Guantanamo have been "cleared for release" -- 86 out of 166. More detainees have died without charges in the camp (9) than have been convicted of a crime (7). Now, according to lawyers who represent some of them, some 130 are on a hunger strike against mistreatment by Army guards and their indefinite, endless detention. On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke about the camp:

    “… this systemic abuse of individuals’ human rights continues year after year,” she said. “We must be clear about this: the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold. When other countries breach these standards, the US – quite rightly – strongly criticizes them for it.”

    “As a first step,” Pillay said, “those who have been cleared for release must be released. This is the most flagrant breach of individual rights, contravening the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. …

    Office of the High Commissioner, April 5, 2013

    Guess the Guantanamo prisoners are just the unwanted residue of the misbegotten "War on Terror" indulged in by a terrified nation.
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