Monday, September 30, 2013

Once upon a time: a popular debate before the bombing starts …

I thought I knew something about what Lynne Olson (following historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.) calls "those angry days." In my 1950s childhood, which position people had chosen about U.S. intervention in the European war against Hitler was still a live issue, at least in my family. My mother had been vehemently pro-intervention. At the end of World War II, she had a job in a high school; the other women who taught there became her friends for life. Except one. When I later attended the school, Mother was always stand-offish about the woman who taught me modern European history; "she was an America Firster," she'd snap icily. I got the impression that meant this teacher had been pro-Nazi or something else too awful to discuss.

Mother was still angry into the 1950s. There was lots more to learn about this the period in U.S. history that led up to World War II.

In Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941, Olson tries to help her readers imagine the passions of that time. Because, after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, most U.S. people quickly rallied around winning the two-front war in the Pacific and in Europe, pre-war animosities have tended to disappear from our memories. But Olson makes a strong case that coming to U.S. intervention was a hard fought popular struggle, one she believes had positive consequences for the nation.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt apparently harbored no real question that the U.S. would eventually have to fight the European dictators.

After the Munich agreement [in 1938], Roosevelt had little doubt that appeasement would fail, that war would soon follow, and that the United States could not escape unscathed, no matter what the isolationists claimed. But he shrank from passing this thought on to the American public. When Harold Ickes urged him to do so, he replied that they would not believe him. …With the president making little or no attempt to persuade Americans that it was in the country's best interests to help stop the dictators, the increasingly dire events in Europe only confirmed their determination to stay as far away from that hornet's nest as possible. As a result, when FDR tried to redirect U.S. foreign policy in 1939 toward a greater involvement in the European crisis, he was acutely aware that public opinion did not support him.

Olson's picture of FDR portrays him as a hyper-cautious politician repeatedly hesitant to make a case for war, even after popular opinion moved toward his views after the Nazi blitzkrieg overran western Europe in 1940.

The anti-interventionists are personified in this book by aviator Charles Lindbergh whose first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 had made him the country's most admired celebrity-hero. Lindbergh seems to have been a strange, shy, introverted and distant character who never properly understood the reactions others might have to his views. Olson describes him as believing that the United States was completely unready to fight Germany and so therefore willing to throw himself into the "America First" cause. Many contemporaries thought he had Nazi sympathies but Olson doesn't reinforce that.

The book contains much about the emotional turmoil of Charles' wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whose family were leading interventionists. This didn't much interest me -- anachronistically, we expect women to have their own opinions and wonder when they act trapped by their husband's leanings. On Martha's Vineyard where the Lindberghs moved to get out of the public maelstrom, older people can still point out, sometimes with a bit of disdain, where this slightly notorious couple resided.

There are many details of this period that Olson enlightened me about. It's fascinating to imagine a time in which numerous well-known luminaries, including private citizens like Lindbergh, Republican Henry L. Stimson (who later became FDR's Secretary of War) and Elizabeth Reeve Cutter Morrow, Anne Morrow Lindbergh's literary mother, could command vast audiences for radio speeches and thus move public opinion. I cannot imagine equivalent figures capturing so much attention these days -- maybe if they made clever two minute YouTube videos?

Olson highlights the forgotten bravery of businessman Wendell Willkie whose interventionist stance unexpectedly inspired a groundswell that won him the (doomed) Republican presidential nomination in 1940. Party leaders were mostly isolationists as were most Republican voters. But in a nominating convention held just after the fall of France to Hitler's armies, Willkie received the party nod.

"It wasn't the packing of the galleries or the flood of telegrams that nominated Willkie," one of his key advisers later said. "Adolf Hitler nominated Wilkie. With the fall of France and the Low Countries, American public opinion shifted overnight -- and that was responsible for Willkie's nomination." As Life saw it, "The people saved the day. They proved that when they are really aroused, they can push through the bicker and dicker of party politics and make their representatives pick the man they want."

Willkie's nomination meant that the election of 1940 was not fought over the country's most contentious issue: whether to help the British to fight on against the aggressors. Willkie agreed with FDR not to raise the topic. Later, when FDR did go to Congress for authorization to send supplies to Britain and later start a draft, Willkie bucked much of his party, explaining:

"if the Republican Party allows itself to be presented to the American people as the isolationist party, it will never again gain control the American government."

… Willkie was denounced as a turn coat and a traitor by members of his party. …Roosevelt was well aware of how much he owed his former opponent …"we might not have have Lend Lease or Selective Service or a lot of other things if it hadn't been for Wendell Willkie."

Congress felt the wrath of those seeking the keep the U.S. out of the war.

Thousands of supporters of [a] so-called "mothers' movement" traveled to Washington whenever Congress took up legislation they considered interventionist. Dressed in black, many with veils covering their faces, the women made life miserable for members of Congress who were not avowedly isolationist. They stalked their targets, screamed and spat at them, and held vigils outside their offices, keening and wailing ...

The horrors of European battlefields in World War I proved to many citizens that a foreign war would be a fruitless, murderous national misstep; great masses of people simply didn't want to do that again, however little they liked Hitler.

Olson's account of the popular conflicts of this period has a gaping hole: she simply ignores the gyrations of the left, both Communist and intellectual/socialist. In 1936, military fascists rose up against the elected republican government of Spain with the support of Hitler and Mussolini. The U.S. Congress almost unanimously voted to embargo arms shipments to Spain's government and let that democracy be overthrown. That isolationism came easily. Meanwhile Communists and socialists of every stripe rallied to extra-legal private efforts to support the doomed Spanish government against General Franco's atrocity-filled (and ultimately all too successful) assault. So by the beginning of the period Olson covers, the left, a significant force at the time, was united in trying to rally people against European right-wing dictators.

Then, in 1939, the Soviet Union's ruler Joseph Stalin cut a deal with Hitler to partition Poland and, he hoped, keep his country out of the Nazi bomb sights. Loyal party-member Communists turned on a dime from warning about the dangers of fascism to preaching nonintervention. They only came around when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941 and subsequently experienced the sort of popular rejection that Willkie had warned that the Republicans risked if they became isolationists. Meanwhile, the non-Communist left remained staunchly interventionist. Olson simply omits this drama. Her book is the poorer for skipping over this significant sub-plot in the period's history.

Olson shares some of her reflections on the book's website:

In those two years I write about, this country engaged in one of the most vigorous debates in its history. As I said earlier, millions of private citizens were involved in that discussion. It became very nasty, especially toward the end, but everyone got a chance to make his case, and, as a result, the pros and cons of U.S. involvement in World War II were carefully and thoroughly weighed against one another. By the time of Pearl Harbor, the American people were aware they would have to pay a heavy price if they entered the war, but most had come to the conclusion it was probably necessary. That psychological and emotional preparation was one major reason, in my opinion, for the immediate unity of the country once war was declared against Japan, Germany, and Italy.

By contrast, most of the wars America has waged since then, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, have been undertaken by the executive branch of our government with little or no consultation with — or input by– the public or Congress. This is certainly not what our Founding Fathers had in mind and has not only resulted in considerable national disunity and dysfunction but presents a real danger to our democracy.

***
It was thought provoking to read this book during the week when the country debated President Obama's plan to attack Syria in response to President Assad's release of chemical weapons. I had no doubt at all that we should not engage more deeply in the Syrian civil war.

But what would I have thought during the 1938-1941 debate?

I'm sympathetic to pacifism -- that is, I strongly suspect that refusing to take up the sword is how we ought to live. I have a t-shirt that says "anything war can do, peace can do better." People like it. And I think it is true … But …

But back then, as now, I would probably have been what I call a "non-aligned leftist." Then, that would have meant that I knew a lot about the atrocities of fascism in Spain and the anti-Semitic pogroms in Hitler's Germany. I might not yet have appreciated the horrors of Stalinist Russia, though I would have had suspicions. And I would have felt that FDR had made too many dirty compromises with Southern white supremacy, such as allowing segregation in New Deal programs. But in that time and place, I probably would have moved from isolationism to an early belief in the necessity of defeating fascism.

Where I'm sure that Olson is right is that having the long contentious national conversation as prelude helped make possible World War II's subsequent status as our "Good War."

"One of the most dangerous points in our history, right now ..."


An insurgent angry minority intends to use the fiscal choke points available to the Republican House of Representatives to impose their cramped delusions on the U.S. majority during this coming month. In another vein from Senator Harkin's measured warning, one of the more cogent responses that I've read to this slow moving disaster comes from a writer who calls himself Doug Milhous J:

… let’s buck up. Gettysburg was a million times more depressing, and we know how that war ended. ...

I am not looking forward to October. No wonder the Prez wants to work on relations with Iran ...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Russian homophobia -- from the inside


When I first heard about Russia's new law criminalizing "gay propaganda" -- any positive or neutral portrayal of LGBT people -- I thought: uh-oh, the Russian authorities are about to discover that this will cause more revulsion in much of the world than supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

This surmise has proven true. Sure, it is still usually possible anywhere to whip up xenophobia by attacking supposedly "alien" gay folks. But cosmopolitan global opinion will speedily condemn those who do this. A new global red line has been set. People and whole countries that pride themselves on their modernity and liberalism don't take kindly to political gay-bashing. Twenty-two percent of the world's population may still be struggling to survive on less than $1.25 a day, but we're living the gay rights moment in the sun,

The web portal Open Democracy has published a couple Russian gay activists' observations on their sudden visibility. We'd probably do well to listen to the people whose lives are actually on the line while we shout our outrage.

Here's Sergey Khazov: explaining how the anti-gay law has backfired:

… in Russia these days you have to be pretty lazy not to have an opinion on LGBT issues; in intellectual (and other) circles, it is your attitude to gays that defines you. It used to be anti-Semitism that was the dividing line between ‘us’ and ‘them’; now it’s homophobia. 

… the new homophobic law itself that has made the difference: it has in fact worked both ways. On the one hand it has triggered a public witch hunt: a steep rise in cases of discrimination; people losing their jobs; attacks on LGBT activists; regional LGBT organizations being harassed and prosecuted under the law that bans NGOs from engaging in ‘political activity’. But on the other hand, this is happening precisely because people have suddenly started leaving their closets in a way that they never did before … people who have never thought about it before are now making a choice…

The ostensible reason for the law was to protect children from ‘gay propaganda’. But even here it has had the reverse effect. A couple of months ago a friend of mine, a Moscow poet, was putting her son to bed and they were imagining how when he grew up he would live in a big white house with cats and a pool to swim in. ‘I’ll have a wife,’ he said, ‘and I’ll love her – it won’t matter whether she’s thin or a bit plump.’ And then he suddenly added, ‘Of course there are gays as well; that’s when a boy loves another boy. And lesbians. Granny and I saw gays in a cafĂ©, and they told us about lesbians at nursery. But that’s not my thing…’  This child is six years old, but he is already on the right side of the acceptance dividing line. And that is the most important achievement of parliamentary homophobia.  

Igor Yasin thinks the law shows that Russia needs its own Stonewall: He is very aware that Russia's gays are being used as pawns in a political effort to invigorate the Putin regime's shaky legitimacy.

We never wanted this battle. Some members of the LGBT community are even nostalgic about ‘the old days, before all your parades’, when politicians weren’t interested in gay people, and many of them were even quite happy in their closets.  But then the politicians, first at a local and then at a national level, started drafting laws against ‘gay propaganda’ – they needed some nice quiet scapegoats before the elections, and decided we fitted the bill. After the elections we came in handy as well: exploiting public prejudice is a cheap and easy way of splitting opinion and distracting attention from real social and political problems.

… our lives are simpler than those of our predecessors in the west. The gays at Stonewall couldn’t draw on any support from LGBT people in other countries. It was the very beginning of the rights movement, so they had no experience, no success stories to inspire them. But thanks to them we can take inspiration from other people’s successes. Not everything in that experience is universal and equally relevant everywhere, but its importance should not be underestimated.  

…given that the Kremlin likes to present sexual minorities as a ‘fifth column’ of ‘foreign agents’ who are trying to force alien values on Russia, any attempt to involve western governments or organizations in the battle for our rights will only reinforce these myths and give the Kremlin and the ultra-right an extra excuse to stigmatise us. 

Let Putin be greeted by Rainbow demonstrations when he goes abroad… the LGBT community shouldn’t be pawns in a new Cold War, but part of an international movement for real democracy and equal rights for all.  The best way for people abroad to help us is through empathy and genuine solidarity, and not isolation or a boycott.

We don't help Russian LGBT people by posturing. We do help by completing our own rights "revolution."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday scenes and scenery: a bevy of San Francisco Buddhas, part 2


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.


In just about every neighborhood where I've walked, I encounter one or two of these statues.


They seem intended to create a smidgen of quiet on city streets.


Often they succeed.


Since I'm in California, this variant was probably inevitable.

A previous collection of San Francisco Buddhas appeared here.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Muslims: not allowed here

The other day James Ferguson, a journalist who has written about Somalia, published an oped in the New York Times titled: "The West Need Not Fear Its Young Muslims." I found his argument so obvious as barely to need stating: despite the mall attack in Kenya, most Somali refugees to the United States -- and most immigrant Muslims, period -- aren't about to start shooting randomly at perceived "enemy" Westerners. (Hey -- we're pretty good at producing home-grown shooters, anyway.)

Then I took a look at the comments to the article and realized that we do have to keep pointing this out. Here's a representative sample of what some of the more articulate of my fellow citizens are saying:

Islam has a problem that it can't seem to address. I'm tired of hearing about all the nice Somalis and other Muslims who want nothing to with extremism. It doesn't matter - this is Islam's problem.

***
It's not about fear. It's about recognizing a segment of the population which has produced terrorists in the past, is producing them presently and will continue to produce them in the future.
***
Unfortunately, there are no First World countries with a large influx of Muslims who have benefited from their presence and no amount of positive thinking can make any difference.

Living in California, where over 27 percent of the population is foreign-born and lots of very different people have (mostly) learned we just have to get along, the raw violence of these anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant voices is not what I hear every day. Lucky me.

But far more important and odious than what any of us are saying in comment threads are the many ways in which anti-Muslim bigotry has infiltrated government practices.

Example: Sarah Abdurrahman, who reports for NPR's On The Media, was returning with friends, all Muslim and U.S. citizens, from Canada via Niagara Falls when they were all held for six hours by rude and abusive Border Patrol agents. Such stops of Muslim citizens are not uncommon. The U.S. government asserts the right to abrogate any expectation of legal process any of us us have when we cross the border into the country. Here's Abdurrahman's account:

Example: Even when Muslim immigrants play by the rules and do everything in order, secretive U.S. agencies can block their citizenship applications. Here are some stories; worth watching:

"We cannot be guilty just by default … "

As Sonali Kolhatkar points out

Secret programs like [the one these people apparently fell afoul of] give lie to the right wing rhetoric that undocumented immigrants simply need to get in line to legally obtain their papers just like everyone else. The problem is that, depending on where you come from, what your name sounds like, or what religion you are, the immigration system is set up to thwart you. And worst of all, you may not even realize it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Too true to be funny

Brain/body synchronization


In search of a more unified sense of location, I set out to run up hill this morning. Note the small white sign in the lower right of this picture.


On closer inspection, I'm not sure it helped.

Hoping my brain soon catches up with my body

All of a sudden, I'm on the other side of the continent, doing my bit for a friend in pain. Posting will resume when I'm more oriented, possibly later today.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: on the significance of a human future


Samuel Scheffler, a philosophy professor, poses a conundrum:

What I believe is that other people will continue to live after I myself have died. You probably make the same assumption in your own case. Although we know that humanity won’t exist forever, most of us take it for granted that the human race will survive, at least for a while, after we ourselves are gone….

He asks the reader to imagine that we could not take the continued existence of the species for granted and asks, how would this change how we live now? Would we continue to engage in activities that amount to adding to the sum total of human culture, like cancer research, or bridge building, or political activism?

Scheffler thinks the mental exercise reveals that nearly everyone would live at some loss for purpose if we couldn't be confident that someone would still be around when we are gone.

However self-interested or narcissistic we may be, our capacity to find purpose and value in our lives depends on what we expect to happen to others after our deaths. Even the egotistic tycoon who is devoted to his own glory might discover that his ambitions seemed pointless if humanity’s disappearance was imminent. Although some people can afford not to depend on the kindness of strangers, virtually everyone depends on the future existence of strangers.

When I was a child in the 1950s, the possibility of thermonuclear war incinerating all civilization hung over many of us. I don't remember taking this on heavily, even when Gov. Nelson Rockefeller sent us home from school with brochures for our parents about fallout shelters. (No kidding!) But I certainly know at least one person who grew up in Washington DC who went to bed in fear of the bomb every night. Nuclear fear is not so acute these days, though maybe it should be.

The current challenge of the same absolute sort is obviously anthropogenic climate devastation. We really don't know whether the excess carbon our species has already unleashed and the future amounts that we seem determined to put into the atmosphere might carry the climate over some tipping point that will make this planet uninhabitable by our sort of animal. It's hard to believe; it is outside our experience. But scientists who've been right about climate so far think this can happen. And soon.

Are we already beginning to live as if humanity had no future? I think for many of us, the temptation to such despair is great. I do not doubt that despair about the future hangs over many people -- perhaps most those whose education and power in society make them responsible for doing something about carbon pollution. Is the despair of not believing in a future responsible for some of mad antics of our so-called leaders?

I still believe in the resilience of the species. Humans are imaginative, feisty, even if not very wise. Some of our descendants are liable to endure with the consequences of our foolishness for a long time. But if we keep on the current trajectory, their lives are going to be very different.

Back to Scheffler's conclusion, an inversion of how we usually think about the human future:

Yes, our descendants depend on us to make possible their existence and well-being. But we also depend on them and their existence if we are to lead flourishing lives ourselves. And so our reasons to overcome the threats to humanity’s survival do not derive solely from our obligations to our descendants. We have another reason to try to ensure a flourishing future for those who come after us: it is simply that, to an extent that we rarely recognize or acknowledge, they already matter so much to us.

Graphic via an article on climate scientist James Hansen's predictions, here.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hispanics to the fore


The Spanish language TV broadcasting network Univision created this video to sell advertising. I think it presents some simple demographic realities engagingly.

I am not the melting pot; I am the new American reality...

Where I live in California, the more usual term for this growing segment of the population is "Latino," both among people whose language-heritage is Spanish and in the media. But the federal government adopted "Hispanic" for the complicated ethnic/racial group they seek to count through the census. It seems more commonly used in the east and may eventually predominate.

The Mexican-American woman who helped the feds choose the "Hispanic" ethnic designation explains the choice in this article:

Let’s face it, the people in America of Spanish origin have been discriminated against because of the color of their skin and their Spanish sounding names, nothing can change that except laws but laws unfortunately don’t necessarily change hearts and minds.

So in order for people of Spanish origin to better share in the American dream, we should have in place an accurate accounting of their needs and accomplishments, and the only way to account for this, is to trace their origin beginning with the Spanish influence that has long been a blessing and a curse, to their rightful place in America.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Making Obamacare a little better: special for Californians


Like anyone who ever participated in internet activism, my email inbox is jammed with petitions and letters that someone wants me to sign for some worthy cause. Perhaps foolishly, I sign lots of these. I suspect most politicians' offices have become pretty much immune to form letters and petitions. But I'll sign if I want to be kept aware of a developing issue or controversy. I can count on hearing more about it as organizations harvest my email address.

Periodically I unsubscribe from most appeals, listing my reason as "annual email purge." If I'm interested, I know they'll turn up again.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, worthy advocates who have been patiently pushing boulders uphill for many years, pass on some insights into how Congressional offices deal with email. Highlights:

Sorting through this mass of communications can be difficult. “We hope to spend about as much time answering your communication as you spend sending it to us,” one congressional staffer explained to FCNL recently.

… Individualized letters, emails, and faxes received a lot of attention. Form letters that look like the individual simply clicked “send” on a pre-written letter receive less attention. But the congressional survey found that 63 percent of congressional offices said that even a form email—that is one that is not edited at all to insert individual content—has “some influence” on their member of Congress.

What I never do with mass email appeals is use organization's forms to pass these items along to my friends via Facebook or Twitter. My friends can figure out for themselves what they want to get roped into. I'm sure the same outfits that find me find most of them.

All this is prelude to breaking with my custom by passing on a petition that I hope a few more people will sign. A good friend, some of whose writings I've highlighted here, is serving as the poster girl for an effort to get California Governor Jerry Brown to sign one of those state-level tweaks that can make sure that Obamacare is really a good development.

Over the years, advocates have won strong protections for the privacy of patients' sensitive health information. Federal law says medical providers have to ensure that this information only goes to the patient, even if the patient requests it be sent to an different address or other special requirement.

But one of the best provisions of Obamacare ( the ACA) could undermine this privacy protection, especially for young people. The ACA will work by getting more of us insured and thus broadening the risk pool, spreading the costs of medical care more widely. Getting more young people insured helps everyone as, by and large, the young use less care. The Affordable Care Act therefore enables young adults to be covered under their parents' health insurance until they are reach age twenty-six.

But if you are a young person insured under your parents' insurance, the statements they see are likely to show what tests, procedures, and appointments you've had. And you might have wanted to keep this information to yourself, so you might feel you couldn't use your insurance. My friend Renee tells her story of needing privacy in these trying circumstances.

In California, the legislature has passed a fix that would require insurers to be mindful of patients' confidentiality. SB 138 is waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown's signature. Jerry is an odd duck; sometimes he needs a lot of reminding to do the right thing.

Californians can help by signing this one!

This looks to be a year when San Francisco waistlines balloon

With the local gladiators looking like hapless lost puppies, we're at risk of widespread civic size inflation according to Pierre Chandon, a marketing professor who has studied the eating habits of NFL fans.

... football fans’ saturated-fat consumption increased by as much as 28 percent following defeats and decreased by 16 percent following victories. The association was particularly pronounced in the eight cities regarded as having the most devoted fans ...

We're pretty dedicated 49er faithful around here. It looks like a tough fall ahead.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Media consumption diet, revisited

Obsolete?
Yesterday afternoon a nice young man knocked at our door asking me to purchase a subscription to the local newspaper. He didn't have a chance; I don't want more fish wrap around here. And, because so many are like me, the paper probably hasn't got much chance of survival.

But, somehow, the journalism we do want on the web, has to get paid for. Journalists who help us understand the world, writers who introduce us to new delights and interests, need to survive too. but how?

I contribute to the problem by using an ad blocker in my browser; I don't want newspapers and mostly I don't want stuff, so I remain hard to entice to buy. I'm not alone in this. Don't know how accurate this is, but a crowd-sourced answer site called Quora reports:
On average, 9.26% of impressions were found to be ad-blocked, with some sites reaching as high as 50%

Tech sites average at 17.79%, followed by news (15.58%) and culture (9.94%). Business, real estate and travel sites average lower

Ad-blocking is higher in the US and EU: top countries are Austria (22.50%), Hungary (21.52%) and Germany (19.44%). Average in the US is 8.72%

Blocking rate is found to be highest among Firefox users (17.81%), followed by Safari (11.30%) and Chrome (10.06%). Explorer averages at 3.86%

Linux users have a staggering 29.04% blocking rate, compared with 12.95% for Mac users, and 9.25% for Windows users.

Mobile blocking is gaining popularity: Android shows a 2.24% blocking rate, and iOS 1.33%
There it is: I use Firefox on a Mac in the US, so I'm not uncommon. (BTW, Quora wanted me to give my email address to read that; I understand the social model there, but I get enough spam, so I declined.)

So what am I willing to pay for? Reliable internet access, obviously. Even in motels, though more and more I resent those that charge and those venues are selecting themselves out in the future, if I have a choice.

I also pay for the New York Times. Because I consider their $15/every four weeks pretty hefty, no other all-purpose newspaper site is going to have a chance with me. Sorry LA Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.

Just last week, I decided I wanted to pay for Foreign Policy ($36/year). I'm addicted to several of their blogs (Walt; Ricks) and appreciate that they cover the empire, friends and enemies, from multiple points of view.

Years ago I paid some, not too large, sum to Daily Kos to avoid the advertising there. I don't spend much time on the site, but like to drop in and sign in to take the pulse of the internet-centered sector of activism.

I was willing to toss a small sum to Andrew Sullivan when he went indie. Any site that imaginative deserves encouragement, especially because I don't always agree with him. What Sullivan calls "subscribe" I think of in the same category as a number of other sites that I'll donate to, just to keep the posts coming, most notably Digby. I also donate to Grist to keep the environmental horror stories coming.

On the other hand, there are some sites I've let go because they started locking themselves down or erecting rigorous paywall limits. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists locks too many articles. I'd like to read them, but not to pay for this.

Though I check in on Talking Points Memo every day, I have not joined their TPM Prime paid community. I want to read Joshua Marshall's reflections about events, not chew the fat with other semi-informed commenters.

Though its writers are often right up my alley, I haven't subscribed to the Nation. This is a hangover from the days of print. We subscribed for years, then realized we'd stopped reading it. I have a feeling I'd have the same experience with the web version, even though at any time they have something posted by someone I respect. It's odd. By the way, the only print magazine we still subscribe to is the New Yorker. Their blogs are great too.

Meanwhile I appreciate the hundreds of free blogs and news sources I wander through, especially in some of my niche interests like religion, aging, and football. I try to wander widely. I am continually amazed and grateful for the creativity so many of us are sharing on the wild web!

What do you read and what are you willing to pay for?

(A previous post on this perennial topic.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Season creep at Costco


Apparently we're skipping right over Halloween and Thanksgiving this year. I'm not ready.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Better late than never.

Sofia Campos of United We Dream flew to Washington to participate in the big fancy commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. First invited to speak along with the politicians and dignitaries, she was then cut from the Lincoln Memorial program.

She recorded her speech, so we still can hear what she had to say:


Listen up: this smart young person is on her way to grad school at MIT -- despite lacking immigration papers.

Friday cat blogging

Morty is a curious fellow. A friend saw him in this posture and suggested "he's kind of hunky." Solid anyway.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Institutional ethics for the U.S. Army

Two years ago I wrote a review here of Joshua E.S. Phillips' painful yet empathetic account of some horrible crimes and their aftermath committed by U.S. soldiers in our misbegotten wars of the 00s: None of Us Were Like This Before. Those us of us who were paying attention knew these abuses were going on, but nonetheless this remains a story that still needs telling.

By way of Thomas Ricks, here's another agonized take on how the US military has allowed itself to be mesmerized by false values in the last decade. Three officers -- Lt. Col. Peter Fromm, U.S. Army, Retired; Lt. Col. Douglas Pryer, U.S. Army; and Lt. Col. Kevin Cutright, U.S. Army -- have published an article in Military Review entitled The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves: and the Harm These Myths Do. They are unstinting in their analysis of how the profession they wish they could be proud of has violated its proclaimed moral principles.

When an institution adopts false beliefs about itself, it corrodes itself. …

***
People honestly calculate and, with good intentions, recalculate what reality is until they find a place where they are comfortable with their moral myths, where they can sit complacent. Soldiers cannot afford moral complacency.

…. A prevalent form of this complacency involves rationalizing one’s own superiority above others. The myth of American exceptionalism permeating the U.S. military’s ranks is an example. It usually occurs when Americans apprehend the empirical fact that they enjoy remarkable freedoms and prosperity and transfer those accomplishments of their forebears into feelings of personal superiority. Instead of perceiving their heritage as a lucky accident, they irrationally perceive it as a personal virtue and a sign of their own superiority. … to some American “exceptionalists,” a restriction that applies to other nations and militaries does not necessarily or fully apply to the United States if, by applying it, an apparent American advantage is taken away.

Failure to fully consider the ethic of reciprocity is apparent in the ongoing debate on torture. Nearly all American service members would call it “torture” if they were subjected to waterboarding, forced nudity, water dousing, extreme hot and cold temperatures, sleep deprivation, or any one of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs). After all, the goal of these EITs is to inflict suffering so great that it overcomes the subject’s will to resist without physically marking or injuring the subject. Many of these same service members, though, become offended when any description of Americans applying these techniques refers to “torture.” …
***
[The Army Values rubric] contributes to self-deception by convincing people that they are good, an ethical member of a values-based organization, even though it does very little to actully encourage right action. For example, before the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 made “enhanced interrogation” illegal, one could employ Army Values to endorse harsh treatment of detainees. Those who used torture could argue they displayed “loyalty” to their nation and fellow troops by helping extract intelligence that might save lives. They could display “duty” to country and “selfless service” by their hard, dirty work for good ends. They could show proper “respect” for detainees, since they treated detainees like evil terrorists should be treated (meaning, with no respect). They could show “integrity” through the use of only approved techniques. They could embody “honor” by fulfilling the other Army values, especially the “personal courage” needed to deliberately agitate dangerous detainees. …By simply saying them, we soldiers frequently delude ourselves into thinking they make us more ethical, like they are a talisman.
***
Of the 100 detainees who died in U.S. custody between 2002 and 2006, 45 are confirmed or suspected murder victims. Of these, eight are known to have been tortured to death. Only half of these eight cases resulted in punishment for U.S. service members, with five months in jail being the harshest punishment meted out.

This is only a summary of the most extreme cases. During the last decade, the military opened hundreds of investigations concerning detainee abuse. Investigators closed most of these quickly, not because there was nothing to them, but because investigators lacked the resources, command support, or willpower to meaningfully investigate them. Even in those cases where investigators found criminal negligence, military juries and commanders consistently chose not to punish wrongdoers.
***
…A sense of American superiority makes it easier to tolerate and forgive offenses that we would decry if committed by the enemy.

Ever since civilian leaders in the Bush administration chose to normalize and embrace torture in their wars, the strongest bulwark against worse atrocities has been the professionalism of people who were part of the system -- soldiers, lawyers, even spooks -- who took it on themselves to protest what they saw as violations of essential ethical norms. There's a lot to be said for ethical education; these officers have made a worthy contribution. The article can be downloaded at the link.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: rising sea levels


This interactive graphic lets you see which cities in your state will be under water with current trends -- and whether any can be saved by deep cuts in climate pollution. Because there is a lag of decades between warming and the full sea level rise, for many locations, flooding is "locked in." You may find the graphic responds slowly.

Because I've been flying a lot, I'm particularly conscious of this:

Oakland International and San Francisco International Airport — the 7th-largest U.S. airport by passenger volume — were both built on land reclaimed from wetlands, and are about 10 feet above the current local sea level.

Climate Central

Uhoh.
***
And as the seas rise with the addition of melt water, they also get warmer, at least in some areas. That apparently is prompting the rise of the jellyfish. Who knew those sometimes beautiful and sometimes lethal critters could cause this much havoc?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rethinking the New Deal

A preliminary rant: I hated listening to Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Columbia University political scientist and historian Ira Katznelson. My reason is trivial, nothing that should discourage anyone else from reading it. Just don't even attempt to absorb the edition from the Audible.com. The reader seems to think he is giving a staged performance, inserting what seemed to me random dramatic emphasis. The written text may be florid in places, but the reader makes it close to unfathomable. He also mispronounces nouns in the text, most notably "Manichaean" and John Maynard "Keynes." The effect is extremely distracting from a very interesting argument.

So what is Katznelson doing here? Something extremely ambitious: he wants to raise up the many illiberal facets of the long New Deal (including both the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, 1933-1952) that left the country with some of our continuing distortions of democracy and polity. The book is an argument with more sanguine historians who focus on progressive victories and, in Katznelson's view, underplay how fear of greater racial equality, of communism, and of the atom bomb shaped the postwar state.

From start to finish, the New Deal flourished with ethical compromise.

It was not news to me that FDR consistently allowed to the southern Democratic bloc in Congress to ensure that his economic agenda did not challenge Jim Crow. The Tennessee Valley Authority pioneering rural electrification, the Wagner Act legalizing union organizing, the Works Progress Administration creating jobs, and the Social Security system were all designed not to disturb the South's segregated power structure, either by excluding farm work and domestic work ("colored" jobs) from coverage or by leaving administration to the mercies of the states. There have been abundant studies of this: see for example Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton's American Apartheid. Biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as FDR's private ambassador to Negroes and lost just about every appeal to her husband to include African Americans in the benefits of his policies, also trace this story. (See for example Blanche Wiesen Cook's Eleanor Roosevelt.)

I was not as familiar with Katznelson's tale of how white southern power strove to ensure that the national mobilization for World War II did less than it might have to break down white supremacy and avert any gains for social equity after the war. Southern Democrats fought against voting measures for the millions of draftees (many of them black), against the industrial unions so central to war production, and against fair employment anti-discrimination regulations. Each of these measures might pose a challenge, however weak, to white supremacy. The war was a good time for blacks in the north, but the political class aimed to keep growing equality from leeching into the south. And it largely succeeded, although returning black veterans in the south became central to the emerging civil rights struggle of the later 1950s.

Counter-posed to this account of Truman administration failure to protect New Deal accomplishments -- most notably enactment of the Taft-Hartley act over a presidential veto, crippling aggressive union organizing -- I was surprised not to see any mention of Truman's most enduring blow for equality: Executive Order 9981 issued in 1948 outlawing racial discrimination in the military and eventually leading to desegregation of the army. This was not for nothing. It was an exercise of executive power in a different direction from what Katznelson emphasizes.

I was left wanting more, as ambitious works of history usually leave me:
  • Repeatedly, our polity has flirted with the promise of a powerful leader doing great accomplishments. Early New Dealers looked to Mussolini as someone who had "made the trains run on time." (Concurrently, the loathsome Robert Moses exuded the same aura and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been given a whiff of it over the last 12 years.) So far U.S democracy has not gone there; what stands in the way? Does a similar bulwark still stand in contemporary conditions of economic frustration and imperial contraction?
  • Southern Democrats seem to have been immune to the isolationism that Roosevelt pushed against in the run up to World War II. Keeping them on board with his economic legislation always required a balancing act and concessions. They seemed to have little fear of unintended consequences from putting the nation on a war footing, though they sure weren't about to help Ethiopia (invaded by Mussolini) or the Spanish Republic. In view of the increase in centralized federal power that accompanies war, why were they not more wary?
  • If the New Deal was really such a failure at bringing greater equality to African Americans -- most of whom still lived under Jim Crow in the South -- why did blacks move en masse from the Republican to the Democratic party in localities they were able to vote? I think I found part of the answer to that in Isabel Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns. Democratic party operatives worked hard to recruit southerner black migrants in the North. But mostly the Roosevelt administration offered more atmospherics than concrete benefits to this constituency. Apparently in those days, a verbal vision of greater dignity and equality was enough?
Often when looking at U.S. politics, I find myself asking mentally, "don't these idiots [whichever set I'm focused on that day] have any sense of the common good?" Katznelson's conclusion is that the political contradictions between southern economic populism and southern fear of racial equity which were intrinsic to the New Deal have left us with a state without a "common good" to appeal to. We are left with interest groups pulling and hauling -- and frequently failure of the state to act.

The social whole, and with it the idea of a common good based on shared goals, disappeared. There was no attempt to galvanize agreement about the ends of government. That orientation served democracy by building a barrier against excessive ambitions of those who rule and as a means to constrain any potential tyranny of the majority. With government possessing no inherent goals of its own, the potential to abuse power is moderated. This procedural state thus advanced a robust version of democracy….

But this particular type of democratic state opened the door to three kinds of deep problems that have persisted. First is a narrowing of politics to thin, confined, restricted, and potentially polarized interests. This contraction of civic sensibility to a politics without public purpose or norms can heighten conflict over limited matters and lead to gridlock or the rule of intense minorities.

Second is how putatively neutral rules favored those with more resources. Open rules can lead to the capture of key policies, agencies, congressional committees, even political parties, by outside interests with focused goals and concentrated means. A state without substance is a state ripe for special interests to grab hold of key elements of government. …

Third is how … the procedural state generates recurring crisises of public authority and civic trust. Disillusionment and cynicism result when a system declared to be impartial and just by definition is found to be unfair. The result is either too little political participation or episodic and volatile participation by enraged citizens who are convinced that the putatively neutral rules or the game are rigged. ...

Yes -- we live with all of that. Thanks to Katznelson for his exploration of some of the origins.

This is a big, detailed, demanding book. Do read it if you are struggling with these issues -- just read it in print or maybe Kindle if the footnotes are hyperlinked. Oh -- and don't expect much from the index. Harvard University Press accepted a poor job on this element of a scholarly book.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Celebration time


One of the harder tasks for progressive political activists is to recognize when we win something. We're used to getting beat up, hurting, and painfully pulling together the courage to move on to the next necessary fight.

But hey -- US progressives have been (part of) some big wins for people power in the last week. Let's celebrate before moving on.

At least for now, the US is not going to make war in Syria -- and maybe now will become never! This time, the people said NO and our leaders followed. Sure, our rulers got a lifeline from a self-interested Russian nationalist, but hey, we got to take what we can get. And keep making friction in the system.

David Swanson, a peace activist whose purism I often think impedes building broad coalitions, is saying this well:

Admit It: Things Are Going Well
... A major victory has been won, and we need to claim it and celebrate it.

Imagine the euphoria -- or don't imagine it, just remember it -- when this country elects a new president whose main redeeming feature is that he isn't the previous president. For personality fanatics that's big stuff. And there are big parties. For policy fanatics -- for those of us interested in seeing policies change rather than personalities -- that kind of moment is right now. We need some parties ...we have to celebrate what really happened. We have to announce it. The point is not to take credit. No one person or group did this. People espousing a variety of ideologies did it. And they did it over many years. Millions contributed. The point is that war was popularly rejected.

Why does this matter? It's not a case for optimism, or for pessimism. I continue to have very little use for either bit of self-indulgence. The forces that press for more wars have not gone away. Neither have they been empowered. The point is that those who nonsensically proclaim that stopping wars is impossible cannot get away with saying that anymore.

Read it all.

And then, over the weekend, Larry Summers took himself out of the running for appointment as chair of the Federal Reserve system. The president had wanted to give him the job, but, again a wide variety of people simply said NO. Summers was one of the architects in the Clinton administration of releasing the financial and banking business from any restraints, all to great profit among Wall Street wheelers and dealers. He may have all sorts of good economic plans now, but putting one of the guys in charge who enabled the crime is just wrong.

The popular NO to Summers worked because a new crop of Democratic Senators on the Banking Committee (where their votes were essential) have come along who listen to progressives. It's worth learning the names: John Tester, an old fashioned rural populist from Montana; Jeff Merkley, a tough progressive policy guy from Oregon; and Sherrod Brown, a union-backed economic populist from Ohio. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who actually understands finance, was also expected come out against Summers. These people bear watching.

For a fuller discussion of how liberals won this one, see Jonathan Chait.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hey, that's my parish!

Sigfried Gold mourns the monopolization by government and non-profit bureaucracies of assistance available to "outsiders" for self-transformation:
I fervently yearn for a day when people wishing to be better have easy access to free or donation-based support, offered primarily by their peers, possibly facilitated by modestly paid clergy, and offered without coercion, without insistence that one set of beliefs is right and the rest are wrong, offered because people who actively pursue their own paths towards meaning, fulfillment and some vision of the good feel a generous desire to share what they’ve learned on those paths with others.
It's not all about magnificent arches and artfully executed mumbo-jumbo though we value those things. All that just informs and reinforces what we really do.
Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco Mission District
H/t Sullivan.

"A Mother-A Son-Civil Rights-Vietnam"

Something riveting arrived in the mail the other day, just in time for me to lose myself in it while nursing an injured toe. I feel incredibly lucky. SPOKE is an intense memoir by a man who has taken the name "Coleman," focused on the startling upheavals of the late 1960s and early 70s in the United States. Subtitled "A Mother-A Son-Civil Rights-Vietnam" it's a wonderful reminder of a time when a generation -- my generation -- became alienated from many our fellow citizens because we were repelled by cruel and violent resistance to African American equality and by an immoral Asian war. At our best, we wanted to build a beloved community in this land. Millions of us were brave and foolish and more than a little ridiculous. That's all there in the story of Coleman's life path. He moved on from a white Oklahoma high school where he excelled at patriotic speaking, to concluding that the Vietnam war as a crime of aggression while in college, to defying the military draft system, to destroying a draft office, and then serving time in a Federal prison. Actually, Coleman comes across one of the saner ones of the time, even when driven to hallucinations while being held in solitary confinement.

Concurrent with Coleman's story -- and framing it -- is the story of his mother, a far more painful tale. Coming up in rural white Texas and Oklahoma, abandoned by an abusive husband with four boys and no money, she didn't have hardly any natural opportunities for the liberating self-invention and re-invention that became the hallmark of so many of her son's age cohort. So she made her own opportunities. Horribly disfigured by fire, locked away in a mental hospital for the crime of working for Black equality, Rosie Gilchrist simply did her best. She cooked and cleaned and embraced what life sent her, warm, engaged, always curious, and always suffering. Coleman drew strength from her; she died during his prison term. Their bond, strong even when separated, is the center of SPOKE. Perhaps unexpectedly, this is a joyful book.

Full disclosure: I knew Rosie at the end of her life. I never knew Coleman.

If you are interested in the real lives of ordinary people caught up in one of those magic moments when we can believe we can inject ourselves into the tumult of human social change, you'd like this book. I certainly did.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

No posting today

That's what a well bandaged big toe looks like after medical nail removal, something I had done to me yesterday on an emergency basis. It's not really as awful as it looks, but it means I'm juggling Epsom salt baths, towels and dressings which is quite enough activity for the moment.

Friday, September 13, 2013

This president


Since the last fortnight has been "bash Obama" season around here, I feel moved to share this from Kevin Drum:

If you want to give Obama credit, give him credit for something he deserves: being willing to recognize an opportunity [diplomatic openings on Syria] when he sees it. I can guarantee you that George W. Bush wouldn't have done the same. But Obama was flexible enough to see that he had made mistakes; that congressional approval of air strikes was unlikely; and that the Russian proposal gave him a chance to regroup and try another tack. That's not normal presidential behavior, and it's perfectly praiseworthy all on its own.

Agreed. Immersion in the Washington smog may cloud the man's judgement, but compared to recent incumbents, we've still got a mature, conscientious adult in place.

For all I hate about this guy's presidency -- his chummy cave-in to the financial con artists; his "security" fetish that supports surveillance, secrecy, and unending detentions at Guantanamo; his failure to lead on climate change -- he is probably the most sympathetic president I'll get to see in my lifetime. It makes a difference that he recognizes the reality that, if he had a son, that son could be Trayvon Martin. It makes a difference that he sees in his own life experience reinforcement for the country's better aspirational values, even though he cannot afford politically to focus on how narrowly that same progress is shared. He has personal reason to believe in this country as something more than a milk cow to be sucked dry by the slickest hucksters.

It will be interesting to see what he does after his term. He'll only by 55. It looks as if his hair will be completely gray. The last couple of Democratic presidents have probably been more socially useful after their terms than they were when in office.

Meanwhile, three more years of struggle and abuse from all sides to look forward to. And then we'll have to break in the next one.

Friday cat blogging


Maybe we should send Morty out to earn his keep as a model? Here he is, showing his stuff on the floor of a shower.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Obama's confused, mendacious, and manipulative talking points


Unusually for me, I actually listened to President Obama's speech on Tuesday night. I was not impressed. He seemed to be stringing together a hodgepodge of confused and used talking points. Some consisted of bellicose threats left over from before the Russian diplomatic initiative threw him a lifeline; others revived the administration's orientation toward talks, not bombs, (at least U.S. bombs) that had previously passed for a Syria policy. None of it made much sense or seemed likely to convince anyone that we must make war in Syria. It was simply odd.

Obama did try to plant one new historical falsehood.

In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust.

True, the Nazis used heavy doses of the agricultural pesticide Zyklon B on helpless prisoners in their mass extermination camps; the United States had used non-lethal doses of the same chemical to "disinfect" Mexican laborers working in our fields in the 1930s. Neither usage falls under a meaningful definition of "warfare"; modern sensibilities would consider both crimes, I trust. The Nazi use of lethal gas in specially constructed, confined killing pens has nothing to do with a chemical attack using a completely different gas (sarin) -- widely dispersed -- on a Damascus suburb in the context of civil war.

The Prez insisted

… we know the Assad regime was responsible.

But where's his evidence? I'm inclined to believe him, but after being lied into war in Iraq and after being lied to about government spying under Obama (more evidence of NSA dissembling revealed today), he's going to have to produce evidence, not just tell us to trust him. How does he "know"? How do we "know"?

He argued

…it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons …

But then he made no case for what "national security interests" the Syrian civil war can threaten. Listening to him was more puzzling than convincing.

Atlantic magazine journalist James Fallows made a point that captures exactly the revulsion I felt listening to this speech.

… it really is time to stop basing appeals for international action on the "see the videos of children dying horribly" theme. This is a note that the president touched on briefly last night, and that has been the dominant element in presentations by Susan Rice and Samantha Power …

Stop it. You want to know about innocent children dying in horrible circumstances? Read John Hersey's Hiroshima. That book made clear, as the Syrian videos have, that death in warfare is terrible, and particularly heart-wrenching and unbearable to know about when it involves children. I have children whom I love as much as anyone anywhere ever has, and now a little grandson; if such a thing were possible, I would love him even more. Like most people in most places I don't need reminders of the special cruelty and heartbreak of any suffering inflicted on the young.

But as the Hiroshima comparison illustrates, to mention the suffering of children does not settle political, strategic, or even moral questions. You can argue that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were historical necessities and even "merciful" in some way, in averting later and much larger numbers of Japanese and American deaths during an invasion. You can argue the reverse. Either way, little children had their flesh roasted as they walked to school or happily played. Their suffering does not answer the "was Truman right?" or the "is deterrence moral?" questions. The suffering of people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania 12 years ago today did not answer the "should we invade Iraq?" question. The Syria videos tell us that something horrible happened, not what we should do about it. 

Obama seems a smart and even a decent guy. He knows better. But right now, he's not doing better. Let's hope, for the sake of the people of Syria, the truly despicable Putin finds it in his interest to help Obama wriggle out of this one.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: questions for Tom Steyer


Ryan Lizza writes a terrific dissection in the New Yorker of the struggle to block the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The piece revolves around what I've always wondered: can this fight serve as a political pivot point to build a broad-based people's movement for action against global warming? Is it the right fight? Why and why not? If those are your questions too, read it.

Central to this struggle has been the involvement of California hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer. Lizza presents an interesting profile of this guy who can raise money for Obama by inviting guests to a fundraiser while offering them an opportunity to jack up the Prez about climate change.

Lizza elicited this in answer to why Steyer has thrown himself into the cause:

“In every generation, there’s an overwhelming issue that people may not recognize at the time, but that becomes the issue that is the measure of what you did,” he said. “In World War Two, if you look back, everybody was measured by what they said in the thirties and what they did in the forties. Charles Lindbergh was the biggest hero in the United States of America, and he went wrong on the biggest issue of the day, and that was the end of him. Look back to where people came out on civil rights in the fifties and sixties: maybe you were right about economic policy then, but, if you blew it on the big issue, then that’s the measure.” Climate change, Steyer insisted, “is the issue we’ll get measured by as a country and a generation. If we blow this, it will be because we were very focussed on the short term, on our pocketbooks, and we had no broader sense of what we were trying to do and what we were trying to pass on.”

That's a politician's answer and a good one. We need climate change politicians; people whose primary issue is human-caused global warming. Steyer wants a political office, probably to succeed Diane Feinstein or Gov. Jerry Brown. I can't see him going for any lower platform. Politically inexperienced California billionaires have a lousy record of success when they try to jump to the top of the heap, but this one seems to be building a sort of base.

So Mr. Steyer -- if you want me to vote for you when your time comes, I'll be looking to hear your answers to a couple of questions. I completely agree that our response to climate change is the issue on which our society will be judged, but our response comes enmeshed with other very broad, deeply unsettling, realities that a serious politician should address.
  • How do we make carbon emission reductions and warming mitigation measures a means of building a more equitable economy and society? The state and nation need money from somewhere, presumably those who have it, who have profited from a polluting, inequitable system. That's tough, but essential. And having acquired the cash to do the work, how do we use it so that wrenching economic change is more beneficial than harmful to the entire population, not just a boon to a limited class of the masters of new technologies?
  • How do we make an equitable response to climate change that is global? Anyone paying attention knows this isn't something that can be solved by one state or one nation. That's sort of the point here. But concurrently, we're living the reality that the United States isn't what it was, momentarily in the last century, undisputed top world empire. That's on balance a good thing for the world; humans need to organize ourselves less through such systems of dominance. But declining US preeminence comes with issues: we believe the country is broke; our actions are often unimaginative, held back by legacy inefficiencies, the opposite of creative or bold. Rising empires innovate; declining ones stagnate. But if we are to prevent the worst of climate change, somehow the US has to do its part, as well as get out of the way when appropriate. How to navigate this circumstance?
I'm not claiming I know the answer to these questions -- but I do think they are the right ones to be asking politicians seeking high office for whom climate change is the central agenda.

How about it, Mr. Steyer? Will we get a campaign from you that touches on these facts? Now that would be bold.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Just maybe, we're not going to make war in Syria


let's hope not. And work to make it so. Antiwar activists turned out last night in San Francisco outside the Federal Building that houses Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's office.


Some have memories.


A very few folks from the other side of the debate co-existed peacefully.


This protester was right in tune with public opinion on US action in the Syrian civil war. Let's make our politicians take notice of that opinion.

Disturbance in the 'hood

Things got dramatic Sunday night. We were sitting lazily, watching football, when there was shouting and the sound of many feet running outside. Looking out the window, we saw a dozen or so young men -- boys really -- yelling, pushing and shoving. They were doing that chest bumping thing, charging toward each other for a poorly aimed punch or kick, then backing off, screaming insults. It was not obvious whether distinct groups were involved.

Whatever conflict was going on seemed to be exhausting itself.

Meanwhile, we were trying to decide if we should call the police. That's not a simple decision. If this was an inconsequential juvenile storm that was going to pass by, adding the police might have bad additional consequences. Afterward, I was able to figure out what my criteria might be in the future: in descending order of urgency, I'd call the police if men were beating up on a girl, if there seemed to be a gun or knife, if someone was down and being set upon by a group, and/or if a crowd was randomly smashing cars on the street. None of this was visible, though I can't say what occurred before the fight arrived in front of our yard.

Our druthers didn't turn out to matter. Suddenly we heard multiple sirens and shouts: "Get down; get down." Looking out the window, a cop was pointing a gun at a couple of boys down on the sidewalk in front of our house, and other figures were similarly spread out on the street. There were about half a dozen patrol cars.

I'm glad to say that on this occasion, the San Francisco Police Department was restrained. One kid yelled "nigger bitch!" at a Black cop; he was quickly cuffed. I can't imagine quite what the young man thought he was going to get out of that bit of bravado.

The commanding officer asked us to come out and say what we'd seen. We did, including that whatever it was about seemed to be abating before the officers had arrived. He told us that someone had called in that a kid had a gun; hence the overwhelming force. They had found no gun. He seemed to have already formed the impression that there was less here than he'd feared.

We never will find out what the excitement was about. We'll never find out if there had been a gun, though the situation didn't feel as it it included that level of violence.
***
On Monday I happened to listen to a Fresh Air podcast titled "Program Fights Gun Violence: Bravado With 'Story Of Suffering.'" I strongly recommend it. Terry Gross interviews trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg and 'Trauma Outreach Coordinator' Scott Charles. They work to bring home to North Philadelphia youth what the gun violence culture means. Here's Charles describing the kind of dangerous machismo that perpetuates youth street violence:

SCOTT CHARLES: So you know, there's a lot of mythology that surrounds guns and gun violence in the neighborhoods. But one of the things that being shot does, I believe, is that it really is the thing that suggests to the community, at whole, that somebody imposed their will on another. And as the victim of the gun injury, I think there's a sense or a desire to recoup something that was lost.

And the word is that they're now soldiers as a function of being shot. They go back out and they say it wasn't really that big a deal being shot, 'I took it like a soldier.' And I completely understand that, because their concern, I believe, is the fear of being reinjured or re-victimized. They become a target. You don't want to be seen as soft. I get that.

The problem is for those who've not been shot yet. They have no idea how bad this experience is. The reality for 80 percent of the people who get shot, more than 80 percent of people who get shot in Philadelphia and who will survive, it's really a story of suffering. And so what we wanted to do with the Cradle to Grave program is to reveal the truth about that experience. …

Gross went on to interview a kid who had been recently badly injured by a street shooting.

GROSS: How did you get to the emergency room?

GREGORY CUNNINGHAM: Philadelphia police, they came and they saved me. So there's a lot of people out there that got some bad stories with Philadelphia police, but I got a good one.

… GROSS: You know the person who shot you.

CUNNINGHAM: Right.

GROSS: Did you report it to the police?

CUNNINGHAM: No.

GROSS: Because?

CUNNINGHAM: I don't want to see him in jail.

GROSS: Even though he shot you.

CUNNINGHAM: Absolutely.

GROSS: Why don't you want to see him in jail?

CUNNINGHAM: Because he don't belong there. And another thing is, I would've lost credibility in my hood had I said who shot me. So that was one of the reasons why I didn't say nothing. And another reason is I don't believe he deserves to be there. So I didn't tell the police what happened.

Fresh Air transcript

I'm not going to fault that kid for his ambivalence about law enforcement. If he and his friends live, they'll be better off for not relying on the police. But they do need someone, somewhere, somehow, to rely on, someone who can get across to them that they are valuable human beings.
***
My neighborhood is not North Philly. Bad things -- shootings, muggings -- can happen here, but they don't happen every day. Thank goodness. I'd flee a setting of daily violence if I were able to; most people would. But this is a city. Shit happens. Also sunrises. Here's one from our street:
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