Monday, June 30, 2014

Our enduring paradox: slavery and freedom born together

What to do if the people supposed to serve as the "workers" won't work? In American Slavery, American Freedom, Edmund S. Morgan makes the case that in early Virginia the plantation-owning class solved this ongoing dilemma by instituting chattel slavery and further securing their economic and political power by creating the racial caste system peculiar to this country.

I came to this 1975 classic of historical writing by way of a recommendation from Ta-Nehesi Coates:

Morgan is indispensable. There is no single book I've found myself reviewing more over the past five years.

There are few books I've ever encountered that did more to deepen my understanding this country's historical and contemporary contradictions.

Morgan seeks to explicate "the American paradox, the marriage of slavery and freedom" and suggests "Virginia is surely the place to begin." The men who brought English rule to Virginia in the 1600s came with visions of easy living in idyllic harmony in a bountiful land as well as with dreams of acquiring treasure, either from the colony itself or seized from the proceeds of Spain's South American colonies. According to the historian, they were proud of English "freedom" -- of a somewhat constrained monarchy that nonetheless gave the prosperous confidence in a stable regime of laws. What neither their leaders who came from minor but ambitious gentry at home nor the dregs of England's excess working class who were the bulk of the colonists were prepared to do was to work hard at making a living.

The colonists nearly starved for most of a decade, They soon discovered they could not extract riches or even food from the natives -- nor could they bind the Indians to service. Disease and brutality quite rapidly drove the natives into resistance or simply away. But how were the colonial leaders to make a living? Their only hope was to import an indentured servant population, Englishmen so desperate that they signed away their freedom for a term of years in return for passage across the ocean and perhaps a better life at the end.

These colonists weren't much for working. After all, back in England most people, middling or poor, managed to only work the necessary amount to sustain life. They were not gripped by an ethic of labor. Dissenters and Puritans (who were founding New England in the north but were barred from Anglican Virginia) may have come to believe that earnest toil showed the favor of the Divine. But this was not the attitude of most poor servants.

Laborers were the despair of everyone who employed them, large or small. ... Besides loafing and sleeping on the job, laborers were notorious for spending their small wages on drink and failing to show up for work at all. Since the Reformation had done away with the celebration of the traditional saints' days, they took off frequent "Saint Mondays" to nurse their hangovers....

Through the labor of such inferior human instruments, Virginia's big men aimed to enrich themselves.

Gradually Virginia's leaders settled on an export crop. Tobacco was thought a disreputable product, but there was a clamoring English market for this mild vice. Men who could assemble large acreage (some grandees specialized in marrying widows who had come into property from diseased husbands) could make themselves very rich indeed. But always there was a labor shortage. Imported servants had to be paid off at the end of their indentures. Land unclaimed by Europeans was still abundant; free men could and did take off for new lands, sometimes without completing their legal obligations. Planters brought in a few African workers from the Caribbean alongside their English laborers as early as the 1650s, without making any distinction between them. These blacks were semi-free laborers, not slaves.

While racial feelings undoubtedly affected the position of Negroes, there is more than a little evidence that Virginians during these years were ready to think of Negroes as members or potential members of the community on the same terms as other men and to demand of them the same standards of behavior. Black men and white serving the same master worked, ate, and slept together, and together shared in escapades, escapes, and punishments. In 1649 William Evans, a white man, and Mary, a Negro servant, were required to do penance for fornication, like any other couple, by standing in the church at White River with the customary white sheet and white want ...

By the end of the 17th century, planters became ever more fearful of the people who toiled on their expanding lands. Economic opportunities for free laborers contracted as land ownership became more concentrated. Might freed servants and natives make common cause to overthrow the emerging gentry? Small rebellions and general lawlessness seemed to be increasing. Something had to give. A new sort of Englishman came into this troubled situation and changed the course of the colony's development.

Englishmen with spare cash came to Virginia also because the prestige and power that a man with any capital could expect in Virginia was comparatively much greater than he was likely to attain in England, where men of landed wealth and gentle birth abounded. ... these were the men who brought slavery to Virginia, simply by buying slaves instead of servants. Since a slave cost more than a servant, the man with only a small sum to invest was likely to buy a servant. In 1699 the House of Burgesses noted that the servants who worked for "the poorer sort" of planters were still "for the most part Christian." But the man who could afford to operate on a larger scale, looking to the long run, bought slaves as they became more profitable and as they became available.

... Virginia had developed her plantation system without slaves, and slavery introduced no novelties to methods of production. ... The plantation system operated by servants worked. It made many Virginians rich and England's merchants and kings richer. But it had one insuperable disadvantage. Every year it poured a host of new freemen into a society where the opportunities for advancement were limited. The freedmen were Virginia's dangerous men.

... The substitution of slaves for servants gradually eased and eventually ended the threat that the freedmen posed: as the annual number of imported servants dropped, so did the number of men turning free.... With slavery Virginians could exceed all their previous efforts to maximize productivity. In the first half of the century, as they sought to bring stability to their volatile society, they had identified work as wealth, time as money, but there were limits to the amount of both work and time that could be extracted from a servant. There was no limit to the work or time that a master could command from his slaves, beyond his need to allow them enough for eating and sleeping to enable them to keep working.

The new labor system posed a new version of an old problem: how do you get the workers to work?

... The only obvious disadvantage that slavery presented to Virginia masters was a simple one: slaves had no incentive to work. ... In the end, Virginians had to face the fact that masters of slaves must inflict pain at a higher level than masters of servants. Slaves could not be made to work for fear of losing liberty, so they had to be made to fear for their lives. Not that any master wanted to lose his slave by killing him, but in order to get an equal or greater amount of work, it was necessary to beat slaves harder than servants, so hard, in fact, that there was a much larger chance of killing them than had been the case with servants. Unless a master could correct his slaves in this way without running afoul of the law if he misjudged the weight of his blows, slave owning would be legally hazardous.

And so men who had seen themselves as bringing civilized law and freedom to a benighted new world conformed its laws to the economic interests of slave masters. Brutal punishments became the law.

But still the danger remained: what if the African-origin slaves made common cause with the freed English men against the planters? This was an unruly society. Perhaps such a combination of the lowly could come about.

Although a degree of racial prejudice was doubtless also present in Virginia from the beginning, there is no evidence that English servants or freedmen resented the substitution of African slaves for more of their own kind. When their masters began to place people of another color in the fields beside them, the unfamiliar appearance of the newcomers may well have struck them as only skin deep. There are hints that the two despised groups initially saw each other as sharing the same predicament. It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together. ... as long as slaves formed only an insignificant minority of the labor force, the community of interest between blacks and lower-class whites posed no social problem.

But Virginians had always felt threatened by the danger of a servile insurrection, and their fears increased as the labor force grew larger and the proportion of blacks in it rose. ... the answer to the problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism, to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous slave blacks by a screen of racial contempt. ... if Negro slavery carne to Virginia without anyone having to decide upon it as a matter of public policy, the same is not true of racism.

And so discrimination between persons on the basis of color of skin was enshrined in law and encouraged in practice in colonial Virginia.

Morgan asserts that it was living in -- and on the products of -- a slave society that made the founding generation of United States Virginia leaders like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, such enthusiasts for the independence of the colonies and the colonists.

The presence of men and women who were, in law at least, almost totally subject to the will of other men gave to those in control of them an immediate experience of what it could mean to be at the mercy of a tyrant. Virginians may have had a special appreciation of the freedom dear to republicans, because they saw every day what life without it could be like. [Moreover] ... aristocrats could more safely preach equality in a slave society than in a free one. Slaves did not become leveling mobs, because their owners would see to it that they had no chance to. ... The most ardent American republicans were Virginians, and their ardor was not unrelated to their power over the men and women they held in bondage.

...Racism thus absorbed in Virginia the fear and contempt that men in England, whether Whig or Tory, monarchist or republican, felt for the inarticulate lower classes. Racism made it possible for white Virginians to develop a devotion to the equality that English republicans had declared to be the soul of liberty. There were too few free poor on hand to matter. And by lumping Indians, mulattoes, and Negroes in a single pariah class, Virginians had paved the way for a similar lumping of small and large planters in a single master class.

***
Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom is over 40 years old. Reading it, I looked around for the arguments and refutations from other historians likely to have followed on such a bold and combative work. I found much less than I expected. Subsequent writers chip away at the edges of Morgan's thesis and accuse him of channeling the passions of the socially disruptive civil rights movement of the 1960s, but they don't really refute his line of argument. The contradictions of a country founded amid racially-defined slavery for some and expansive freedom for others march on in our lives.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Rainbow's end over eastern Washington

Click on picture for a larger view.

Gay pride in San Francisco


Harvey Milk's stamp has hung over City Hall's main atrium for the last month. I don't usually put pictures of myself on this blog, but here's an exception: that's my friend Dana and I (in red) plotting a little after a legislative hearing, as snapped by Michael.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On changing the world ...

In this Gay Pride weekend, I want to call to mind one of murdered gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk's great accomplishments. No, I'm not thinking of his landmark gay civil rights ordinance. I'm thinking of his "pooper-scooper law."

Within a month of being sworn in, he began to work on a city ordinance to require dog owners to scoop their pets' feces. Dubbed the "pooper scooper law", its authorization by the Board of Supervisors was covered extensively by television and newspapers in San Francisco. Anne Kronenberg, Milk's campaign manager, called him "a master at figuring out what would get him covered in the newspaper".

He invited the press to Duboce Park to explain why it was necessary, and while cameras were rolling, stepped in the offending substance, seemingly by mistake. His staffers, however, knew he had been at the park for an hour before the press conference looking for the right place to walk in front of the cameras. It earned him the most fan mail of his tenure in politics and went out on national news releases.

You can see vintage footage of Harvey's press conference at this link. Harvey had an instinct for what touched the humanity of voters and he didn't mind being thought a bit ridiculous in pursuit of such an issue.

San Franciscans still continue to push back against encroaching dog feces. On my precinct photographing project I've collected dozens of images of attempts to shame dog owners into dealing with their pet's leavings.










When Harvey was promoting the pooper-scooter law, he was laughed at. But as has happened with gay rights, some aspects of our world have changed for the better. I was touched recently by this anecdote from the Times Well Blog.

One of my 11-year-old twin daughters recently came home from school distraught. When I asked why, she lifted her foot.

There was dog poop on her sneakers.

She watched as I flicked away the doggy detritus with a twig, then scrubbed the sole of her shoe with an old brush and hot water. “We don’t like to pick up Buddy’s poop, either,” I could hear her telling her sister, “but we do it because it’s gross to leave it on the sidewalk.”

When I handed her the shoe, cleaned and as good as new, she beamed. “Thanks, Mom,” she said, lacing up. But after a few test twirls in the yard, she stopped.

“Didn’t that dog’s owner know he would cause so much trouble for other people?” she asked, brow furrowing. “He might have even caused trouble for himself if he came back and stepped in it!”

Maybe the lesson that we're all better off when curb our dogs is more socially significant for our society's survival than one might at first grasp. Maybe Harvey was on to something.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Toasty times ahead

A group of business execs, many Republicans, have realized that they and their interests will be burned down or floating away if they don't get action to prevent the worst of climate change. The result is a report called Risky Business full of scary charts and graphics, organized by regions of the country.

Here's a picture of what today's young people will be dealing with as adults and as elders if we continue on the current carbon pollution trajectory.

The whole is worth perusing. And then worth getting getting active about.
***
The Prez has been outspoken about the necessity to get active on climate change lately -- and blunt about what stands in our way.

President Barack Obama is letting his inner Don Rickles run free, mocking climate deniers as the crowd who used to think the moon was made out of cheese or spineless dopes who can’t or won’t listen to science even though the science is all overwhelmingly pointing in one direction. Their heads are in the sand. They are members of the Flat Earth Society.

... “It’s pretty rare that you encounter people who say that the problem of carbon pollution is not a problem,” Obama said [to a League of Conservation Voters crowd]. “In most communities and workplaces, they may not know how big a problem it is, they may not know exactly how it works, they may doubt they can do something about it. Generally they don’t just say, ‘No I don’t believe anything scientists say.

'Except, where?” he said, waiting for the more than accommodating crowd to call back, “Congress!”

Democrats believe that going on the attack about climate change denial is good short and long term politics. Reality has a way of kicking back at groups who think they can override it; just look at the present across-the-board popular repudiation of George W.'s wars.

Friday cat blogging

Sadie's  humans were holding a meeting and had locked her out of all the fun (and patting and finger food.) How could they do such a thing to an appealing cat?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Who deserves protection? Not apparently living women.


My friend Renee Christine writes in response to the Supreme Court ruling that the Massachusetts buffer zone around women's clinic facilities is unconstitutional.

I'm really disappointed that the Supreme Court has struck down the buffer zones around abortion clinics. I have volunteered outside of clinics and been threatened, yelled at within an inch of my face, and told that I am a race traitor. They have recorded me and the patients entering the clinic in an attempt to threaten us.

The abortion clinic I went to for my procedure had a BOMBPROOF door. Think about that. A bombproof door for healthcare. The reason we have these laws is because doctors, nurses, and police officers were shot and killed by clinic protesters before we had them. No one should be harassed outside of their healthcare facility, no matter what kind of procedure it is.

No matter how we personally feel about abortion, someone shouldn't be harassed into a crying fit before going in. Someone shouldn't feel so threatened that I have to escort them in through the backdoor out of the protesters' view. You have the right to free speech and dissent from the government, not to shout obscenities, slurs, and hateful remarks at your fellow neighbors.

Not to mention, the Supreme Court has a buffer zone around it.

More here.

Government rebuffed again on no-fly list

View full comic.
When I first reflected on Jeffrey Kahn's Mrs. Shipley's Ghost, a history of the U.S. government's restrictions on our right to travel, I was skeptical about whether contemporary courts might ever join past ones in deciding that, mostly, our urge to move about was none of the authorities' business. One historical set of onerous passport restrictions eroded during the Cold War anxiety-beset 1950s -- might we ever revert to something like the degree of ease about travel we enjoyed before the national freak-out after 9/11?

Just maybe, we might be getting back on track. Federal Judge Anna Brown recognized in a decision issued Tuesday that
placement on the no-fly list turns routine travel into an “odyssey,” and some of those on the list have been subjected to detention and interrogation by foreign authorities.

... The process “does not provide a meaningful mechanism for travelers who have been denied boarding to correct erroneous information in the government’s terrorism databases,” Brown ruled.
The ACLU which brought the case on behalf of 13 plaintiffs whose travel had been impeded, including four military veterans, explained further.
According to media reports, there are more than 20,000 people on the No Fly List. Their only recourse is to file a request with the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP), after which DHS responds with a letter that does not explain why they were denied boarding. The letter does not confirm or deny whether their names remain on the list, and does not indicate whether they can fly.

The ruling from the U.S. District Court in Oregon found, “[W]ithout proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, an individual could be doomed to indefinite placement on the No-Fly List. … [T]he absence of any meaningful procedures to afford Plaintiffs the opportunity to contest their placement on the No-Fly List violates Plaintiffs’ rights to procedural due process.”
Not for the first time, I am grateful to the ACLU for diligently fighting their way through the thicket of unproven and over-expansive "security" measures that successive administrations have implemented since a few theatrically-minded terrorists scored a horrible success and gave our rulers an excuse to keep us permanently fearful.
***
Think I'm taking the "security" threat too lightly? Read this from experienced policy journalist William R. Polk:

We don't want to live in fear, and we believe that the danger is foreign. The irony, as one of the authors of our Constitution already put it over 200 years ago, is that our principal danger is ourselves. Of course, he could not have guessed the extent: we murdered almost 200,000 of our fellow citizens in the first decade of this century. (That was with guns and knives; we killed about twice that many in the same period with our most dangerous weapon, the automobile.) The number of Americans killed by foreign terrorists in America was less than 3,000. The odds of an American being killed by a terrorist were said to be about 1:20,000,000. ...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Evidence this is a strange country


Your flat tire supports starving children?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Proud of my church

The Rev. Cameron Partridge
(Reuters) - An Episcopal chaplain on Sunday became the first openly transgender priest to preach at the historic National Cathedral in Washington D.C.

The Reverend Dr. Cameron Partridge, one of seven openly transgender clergy in the Episcopal Church, spoke from the Canterbury Pulpit in honor of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community's Pride Month, the Cathedral said.

Partridge told congregants in his guest appearance he was proud to be a part of a church that was pushing for acceptance of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity.

"As we behold one another in these days of celebration may we honor the way we sustain each other," he said.
Bravo to Cameron!

Yet I find myself wondering: what does it mean to be "proud" of my church?

The work of a church is to proclaim that we are loved, all of us.

Is "a church" really "a church" if it is not doing that work? Sure, it can be a specialized sort of non-profit, a polity, a quite complex and struggling social institution.

But unless "a (Christian) church" is announcing and striving to enflesh God's generous love for all humanity, I have trouble labeling it "a church." Just saying.

Hitting the road on the bookapalooza


We launched off this morning on our cross-country road trip and book tour for Mainstreaming Torture.


We probably don't need all this crap, but we're going to be out and about for a long time. We're got the gear for hiking as well as for Rebecca's book talks. Yes, that is the corner of a small loom on the left side.

The first public book event will be in Corvallis, Oregon, on Thursday, June 26 at 7pm in the friendly confines of Grass Roots Books and Music.

Monday, June 23, 2014

When women were breaking the sports barrier

On this day in 1972, Title IX -- the U.S. law that prohibits sex discrimination in athletics by federally funded schools (pretty much all colleges) -- was enacted. It took awhile, and the process is still sputtering on in some places, but contemporary accomplishments in women's sports have their foundation in this landmark.

Since the enactment of Title IX, women’s participation in sports has grown exponentially. In high school, the number of girl athletes has increased from just 295,000 in 1972 to more than 2.6 million. In college, the number has grown from 30,000 to more than 150,000. In addition, Title IX is credited with decreasing the dropout rate of girls from high school and increasing the number of women who pursue higher education and complete college degrees.

When we delight at the successes of a Serena Williams or a Mia Hamm, it is hard to remember how much has changed in a mere 42 years. To get a sense of the distance from that time, take a look at this video celebrating pioneer tennis champ Billie Jean King's victory over an over-the-hill male player. The gulf between that time and this one is very wide.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

San Francisco gets to watch big money play in elections

Laurence Lessig has started a PAC (Political Action Committee) -- #MayDay -- aiming to get the influence of big funders out of our politics and win our democracy back from the plutocrats. Huh? He figures it will take money to win a Congress that will do the job and we can crowd fund the project.
For 2014, our goal is $12 million. With that money, we will make fundamental reform the key issue in five congressional races. And win.

Then we’ll apply what we learn to 2016 — when we’ll run a much much bigger campaign in many more districts for this one purpose: to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform.
I'm more than a little skeptical. After all I have worked in politics for a couple of decades. But I do know that he understands how the current crop of billionaire political dabblers are getting their way with most politicians. Here's his vivid description of how this works:
The single greatest fear of any incumbent is that thirty days before an election, some anonymously funded SuperPAC will drop $1 million against him.

When that happens, there’s little the incumbent can do. He can’t then turn to his largest contributors — by definition, they have all maxed out and can’t, under the law, give any more. So in anticipation, the incumbent must line up support — or let’s call it protection. In light of the risk that the incumbent will be targeted, the incumbent needs a kind of assurance: If she needs a defense, there will be the resources to defend her.

... It’s not technically “insurance”; it’s not issued by an insurance company, and there’s no cash premium collected in advance. But it functions like insurance, and indeed, like any insurance, there is a premium of some sort that is collected in advance. Because if you’re going to convince a SuperPAC to be there when you need them, you need to signal that you’re the kind of incumbent they want to protect. “They’d love to support you, Senator, but they have a rule that they can’t support anyone who doesn’t get a 95 percent on their score card.” So the rational representative has a clear goal to work towards — 95 percent or better — long before he actually needs anyone’s money. Thus, without a single dollar changing hands, the SuperPAC achieves its objective: bending Congressmen to its program, through the expectation of a defense if a defense is necessary.
Supervisor David Campos
San Franciscans in the 17th Assembly District have just seen this process at work, with appropriate local variations. Two incumbent city supervisors, David Campos and David Chiu, are running to succeed our termed-out warrior, Tom Ammiano. Campos is a Guatemalan immigrant, gay, and decidedly the candidate of progressive community organizations and progressive labor. Chiu is Chinese-American, generally the candidate of real estate, business, and finance interests in the city; he will have a large money advantage. The district could elect either of them. The probable winner is not easy to call.

On the eve of the June 3 primary (which served as a warm up between these two men for the general election, thanks to California's imbecilic Top Two Primary), venture capitalist Ron Conway who likes to throw his big bucks around in city politics, dumped bundles of cash on perfectly legal hit pieces against Campos. The stuff was vicious, equating a past procedural vote with Campos having endorsed domestic violence. Hits like this assume that most voters have little information. They sometimes work.

Campos didn't have insurance of the financial kind that Lessig talks up -- unless you can call San Francisco's sizable organized contingent of progressive community and labor election activists a form of people's insurance. Phone calls and shoe leather kept Campos close enough in the primary so he retains a good chance of winning among the much larger electorate that will turn out in November. But he'll probably face big tech money playing dirty again.
***
Lessig (he's a Harvard Law prof) is definitely on to the mechanics of how money is distorting our elections. Will his crowd-funded Super PAC make inroads on a corrupt system? I don't know. I have usually felt that agitation for "campaign finance reform" amounted to squeamish moralizing and demonstrated too little awareness that struggles over power are life and death matters, even in a democracy. Maybe the corruption has become so obvious that we're ready to get smarter and tougher. Maybe Lessig can show some of the way. You can sign up to follow his weekly Politics$Picks newsletter. I did.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday scenes: "Gold Star Mothers' Rock"

Sticking up like an isolated dragon's tooth, the rock sits hidden within a shady redwood grove in Golden Gate Park. I think of myself as knowing the park intimately, but still was a little surprised to come upon it.


Three sides are covered with lists of names, mostly men, many Irish, a few Italian or Asian, but mostly Anglo Californians.

These are the names of locals who died in World War I, erected by the Gold Star Mothers organization in 1932. There are ten women somewhere among the 700 men listed.

The dates require a little explanation for those of us for whom the "Great War" is distant history, especially since we can expect to hear about the 100th anniversary of that war in the next few months.

The April 6, 1917 date is when the U.S. plunged into the European conflict that then had been raging for two years. On July 2, 1921, President Warren G. Harding signed a proclamation declaring the war terminated, although the United States never ratified the Versailles Treaty by which the victorious British and French had redrawn the map of Central Europe and what we call the Middle East. World War II (1939-45) and the collapse of the Soviet empire (1989) redrew many of those European boundaries. Very likely, the lines imposed further east are now coming unstuck.

There's no path or sign that points to this monument from roads in the park. If you don't know it is there, you'll only come upon it by chance. The park website only refers to it obscurely as Heroes Grove and barely mentions this massive marker.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Wisdom from an American footballer?


San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis hasn't knocked himself silly yet. In fact he's got some smart observations on NFL life, race, poverty and maturation in the NFL.

The truth is, for many players, the size of the contract doesn’t matter because they’re going to blow the money anyway. Financial literacy is the biggest problem I see in NFL locker rooms. Too many players spend their money on cars they don’t drive and homes they barely live in. I’ve had veterans on their second contract ask me for money. More often, it’s retired players who need the help, once the checks have stopped coming. It took me fours years to figure it out, to see not only guys crash and burn, but to watch other players with business sense and learn from them.

It should come as no surprise that quarterbacks are the best with their money. They’re the kids whose fathers owned small businesses or had comfortable enough careers to coach them up as kids. We didn’t have that. My parents were unstable or absent for my brothers Vontae and Michael, so we were raised by a grandmother in Washington. Many of the black players I know come from similar backgrounds, from single or no-parent homes. We were trying to figure out how to scrape together $5 while the quarterbacks were learning to manage a $100. Our young athletes need help, and that’s where the NFL and the NFLPA need to come in.

It’s not enough to gather rookies in June and tell them how not to go broke, or to offer an offseason financial seminar at a college. Those are great steps taken by the NFL in recent years with their rookie symposium and the player engagement program. But if they really want to save young players from themselves, they have to make it mandatory. Send a college professor to every NFL team and require all players to attend business seminars during training camp. Maybe guys didn’t pay attention during college, but the lessons take on a new meaning when you’re finally getting paid.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Davis took part with local youth in painting and signing the neighborhood mural pictured here.

Friday cat blogging


Morty being beautiful.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Is a snarling Dick encouraging Dems to be the peace party?


I tend to think so. Certainly Harry Reid thinks so.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took to the Senate floor today to rip into Dick Cheney for pushing more war with Iraq. Reid said, “To be on the wrong side of Dick Cheney is to be on the right side of history.”

Those remarks reminded me of this, a set of truths that are hard to take in if, like me, you came up in the Vietnam era or before.

... after the Vietnam War, American liberals changed their minds on ground troops in foreign wars. Unless there is a direct attack on the United States, American liberal writers, interest groups and politicians believe that sending substantial numbers of ground troops overseas is risky, ineffective, and often counterproductive.

Since the Nixon Administration, no Democratic president has ever sent (nor has any majority of congressional Democrats favored) substantial numbers of ground troops overseas on a new military mission except in direct response to an attack on US soil. Obama did support a temporary surge in the number of troops in Afghanistan, but for the purposes of paving the way for a later full pullout. Liberal Democrats in Congress criticized Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada and George H.W. Bush’s invasion of Panama. A majority of Democrats voted against authorizing the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War.

The only authorization of ground troops that Democrats have supported since Vietnam is the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” [AUMF] which passed Congress almost unanimously just 3 days after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.

Johnathan Ladd, Ten Miles Square

This record doesn't mean the Dems are hostile to U.S. empire or even "American exceptionalism." They mostly love them some drones and some "special forces" spooks working the U.S. will in conflict zones. But a very substantial fraction of Dems are consistently averse to the more obvious, expensive, forms of power projection.

And this history certainly suggests that doing away with the AUMF which presidents use to chase around after people they label "terrorists" should be priority one for a peace movement.

If Obama does something further dumb in Iraq or Syria, count on his claiming authority under the AUMF for his actions.

UPDATE, THURSDAY JUNE 19: I guess we'll get to see whether Obama's "advisors" can overturn this record, and also how his own party responds. I would expect cautiously, but sceptically.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

U.S. wallowing in lawlessness


What has this country become when a newspaper feels it must run this headline? If guilty, sure, this is a bad guy. But in civilized countries, governments have to prove their cases in courts of law, not toss perps, however awful, in permanent lockups or to the military.

In the USofA, white supremacy is always part of the story


Unfortunately, torture is as American as apple pie.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A candidate with a delightful ad


If I lived in Providence, Rhode Island, I'd certainly consider voting for this guy. The combination of humor with nerdy intensity is both politically attractive and kind of cute.

Providence has long been known for wacky politicians. Daily Kos Elections reports that the city's very own Rob Ford-equivalent, Buddy Cianci, is thinking of making a comeback. In 1984, while serving as mayor, Cianci was convicted of assault. Returned to office after that episode, he lost the job again when he went to prison in 2002 for racketeering. At 73, now he is mulling another run as either an independent or a Democrat; he started political life as a Republican.

If the charismatic Cianci ran, he would certainly make things more entertaining here, and he can't be counted out. Cianci seems to have an Edwin Edwards-like appeal to him among many in the city, remaining popular despite (or maybe because of) his battles with the law. (He's also maintained a presence on radio and TV.)

If voters think Cianci is too much of a good thing, they can always go with Brett Smiley whose ad shows he understands that Providence elections thrive on a bit of the light touch.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Enjoy this


I had never seen Van Gogh's Starry Night rendered as a gif until I saw this at Andrew Sullivan's blog. It put me in mind of Psalm 19:

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the dome proclaims God's handiwork.

***
Blogging may be light this week as we prepare to take off on a five month road trip around the country promoting Mainstreaming Torture. This is a book for anyone who cares about how institutionalized torture affects its victims, its practitioners, and the nation that gives it a home. Torture, in our wars and at home, is still an urgent moral issue.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day


Since I am digitizing vast numbers of old pictures, I will share this of my father. Here he is at perhaps age 12 in around 1917. He seems to have been a happy child. He always loved dachshunds; he called them "weenie pups."

He lived a long life, a life that seemed uneventful, even constrained, to me. He didn't much like events. He did not seek out new experiences. He thrived on doing his duty as he conceived it, going to work, passing his days with great order and regularity. He was a bookkeeper/accountant for a wholesale hardware business. His slow, diligent, careful accuracy was eventually made superfluous by computing power.

I think I am glad he didn't live to see the Tea Party. He might have felt at home with their seething resentment against contemporary life, against social changes, against unfamiliar people and customs. Or then again, perhaps not. He didn't approve of upsetting apple carts.

He loved my mother and me.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What kind of library user are you?


Are you a “Library Lover”? An “Information Omnivore”? Or are you totally “Off the Grid”? Take the Pew Internet Project's library engagement quiz to learn how your library habits and attitudes stack up against the general population. It is short and amusing.

I'm a "Library Lover." No surprise there. The study found wide and deep support for this public institution:

Libraries loom large in the public imagination, and are generally viewed very positively: 90% of Americans ages 16 and older say that the closing of their local public library would have an impact on their community.

What I would call class advantages and Pew calls "social landscape" correlates with engagement with libraries.

As a rule, people who have extensive economic, social, technological, and cultural resources are also more likely to use and value libraries as part of those networks. Many of those who are less engaged with public libraries tend to have lower levels of technology use, fewer ties to their neighbors, lower feelings of personal efficacy, and less engagement with other cultural activities.

... those who are less engaged with public libraries are often less engaged in their communities overall. ... lower rates of library use and lack of familiarity with libraries seem to coincide with lower patterns of social and civic engagement in other areas of their lives. Members of low and non-engagement groups are often less likely to participate in similar community activities, such as visiting museums or patronizing bookstores, and more likely to report having difficulty using technology; they also tend to be less comfortable navigating various types of information, such as finding material about government services and benefits.

Libraries are a collective social project that more privileged people mesh well with, unlike so many others such as public schools, public universities, public transit, etc. Folks who don't do so well in our society don't know how to "get in" at the library anymore than into other socially valuable arenas.

The study describes its findings about various sorts of library users and non-users. There are interesting tidbits buried among them. For example:

Most Americans do not feel overwhelmed by information today. Some 18% of Americans say they feel overloaded by information -- a drop in those feeling this way from 27% who said information overload was a problem to them in 2006. Those who feel overloaded are actually less likely to use the internet or smartphones, and are most represented in groups with lower levels of library engagement.

Perhaps most of us have developed more sophisticated filters for dealing with the technologically enabled information deluge than we had a decade ago? No proof of that, but it feels right. I imagine our various filters help us maintain the political polarization that another recent Pew study documents. Lots to chew on here.

Saturday scene: Mission irritant


This escalator seems to be "out of service" most of the time at 24th & Mission. Nice correction on the notice. BART does have elevators for the disabled, but I'd be scared to use them. That may be an unjustified bias.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dumb then; dumb now. Just don't do it, Mr. President


ERBIL, IRAQ - JUNE 12: Iraqi fleeing violence arrive in a makeshift camp at a Kurdish checkpoint in Kalak after the city of Mosul and Kirkuk were overrun by ISIS militants. June 12, 2014. By: Sebastiano Tomada

Yes, Iraq is going to hell in a handbasket as my mother would have said. That means Iraqis are once again on the move, running for their lives while men and boys with guns shoot their way through their homes.

And political pressure on the Prez might very well succeed in getting him to do something stupid. The NYT reports:

Recognizing what one official described as an “urgent emergency situation,” President Obama and his aides moved on multiple fronts. A senior official said the president was actively considering American airstrikes against the militant groups. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. telephoned Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to express American support. And Pentagon officials briefed lawmakers about what one senator later described as a “grave situation.”

This president has sometimes showed that he understands the irrefutable truth of the present moment:

This is painfully hard for Americans to accept, but sometimes you can't just send in the Marines.

Thanks Kevin Drum. Hang on to that thought, Mr. President.

Tom Ricks, a longtime military columnist now blogging at Foreign Policy, writes something I can relate to in my own way:

I am sitting here thinking that with the fall of Mosul, I feel like I should write something. But I also feel like: damn it, I have nothing more to say about it. This comes after about 12 years of writing about it constantly, first a couple of thousand news articles and then in two books. I don't feel grieved by this. More, I just feel numb.

I spent the better part of a decade, both before the U.S. invasion and afterward, building a popular movement against this devastating crime of empire. Before the invasion, we knew it was both morally wrong and practically stupid; once Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld and all got their way, it turned out to be even more futile, vicious and shameful than we'd even imagined. Owen Jones, in the Guardian, which opposed the Iraq invasion from the get-go, catches something of what many of us must feel:

... disaster seemed inevitable to so many people. ... In a way, opponents of the war were wrong. We were wrong because however disastrous we thought the consequences of the Iraq war, the reality has been worse. The US massacres in Fallujah in the immediate aftermath of the war, which helped radicalise the Sunni population, culminating in an assault on the city with white phosphorus. The beheadings, the kidnappings and hostage videos, the car bombs, the IEDs, the Sunni and Shia insurgencies, the torture declared by the UN in 2006 to be worse than that under Saddam Hussein, the bodies with their hands and feet bound and dumped in rivers, the escalating sectarian slaughter, the millions of displaced civilians, and the hundreds of thousands who died: it has been one never-ending blur of horror since 2003.

He doesn't even mention U.S. adoption of torture as a routine practice in the "war on terror" and occupation of Iraq.

What is revealed in this moment is what too few of us in the United States ever understood: after World War I, Europe drew boundaries and created states in the terrain of the former Ottoman Empire that have never achieved legitimacy with their own populations. By overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the U.S. knocked over one of the (terrible) dominoes that held up what regional stability existed. Everything else follows. That is no reason to go tromping back into further endless war.

Friday cat blogging


Morty wants to know "why does this thing make noises when there is no one near it? What's creeping out of that slot?" For all the trouble he gives me, I don't mind confronting him with a disconcerting puzzle occasionally.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Republicans: the downfall of Eric Cantor

The first thing I thought of when I heard House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had unexpectedly lost his ballot line to a Tea Party challenger was: "Cantor is Jewish." Did his religion make it harder for him to hold his Virginia Republican district? If so, the usual commentators aren't opining about it. After all, he was a long time incumbent, so his religion wasn't news to his former constituents. But I had to wonder ...

Ed Kilgore has pointed out that Cantor was "the only non-Christian Republican in either chamber."

... for now, the estimated 27% of Americans who don’t identify themselves with some form of the Christian faith will likely have no representation among Republicans House and Senate members come next year.

Incongruously this train of thought reminds me of this -- ungenerous, but hilarious.

H/t to Hannah at Blue Hampshire.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reparations in Nova Scotia


Thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the fraught notion of reparations for African Americans is being discussed again. As well it should be. Do read the article.

Here's his conclusion:

Perhaps no number can fully capture the multi-century plunder of black people in America. Perhaps the number is so large that it can’t be imagined, let alone calculated and dispensed. But I believe that wrestling publicly with these questions matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced.

An America that asks what it owes its most vulnerable citizens is improved and humane. An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future. More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders.

The special strength of Coates' article is that he introduces us to living African Americans who have suffered measurable damage to their economic life chances, as well as to their security and human dignity. Reparations aren't only about the past injustices of slavery, debt peonage, and Jim Crow law; the discussion is also about individuals and communities disadvantaged by white supremacy today.

In the context of absorbing Coates' historical and ethical tour de force, it is both encouraging and daunting to learn that, just this month, some African-descended Nova Scotians have finally received official recognition and some recompense for terrible past abuses. Their story is moving:

They say they are no longer orphaned children cowering from sexual predators, or body blows of switches, fists and boards.

On Tuesday, they became “equal citizens,” taking a step away from the “second-class” sphere they had inhabited for so long.

There will be a public inquiry -- pointedly described as "non-prosecutorial" -- into what happened to poor black orphans lodged at the Nova Scoita Home for Colored Children between 1921 and 1989. The abuse survivors, perhaps as many as 100, will share in a $29 million fund created by the provincial government.

“Right now I feel a sense of relief,” said Harriet Johnson, one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action.

“I’m very happy that all of us, all my brothers and sisters that were suffering with me, we can now start to put this behind us,” Johnson said in an interview from her Ontario home.

“We can start healing.”

In a series of interviews with The Chronicle Herald two years ago, she said that as a teen ward she had been raped by a former home staffer and forced into prostitution in Halifax.

“We proved to the black community that this was happening,” said Johnson. (Most of the home was staffed by African-Nova Scotians.)

“You did turn a blind eye,” she said, referring to that community.

“We had to go through all of this for you to see what was really going on.”

Johnson said she looks forward to a public inquiry.

“That’s where everything’s going to come out and that’s where the home and the province can no longer say it didn’t happen.”

In an irony that Coates would undoubtedly appreciate, the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children was a black community project according to a short history published by Solidarity Halifax.

In response to the racism in this province, and as an act of independence and self-sufficiency, the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children was conceived, built, funded and run by the Black community for African Nova Scotian children in need of care.

In 1921, when the Home was built, White home care institutions would not accept Black children in need. As Charles Saunders, author of a history of the home notes, this was not a case of the Black community wanting to create an institution that was “separate but equal” to White institutions.

This was, rather, a case of  “separate or nothing.”

But something went terribly wrong in the "refuge" that white exclusion forced black Nova Scotians to build. Leading plaintiffs in the class action suit brought to an end by the settlement reported they were beaten, forced to fight each other, as well as being sexually abused. At this link, you can watch a video clip and experience the dignified delight with which formerly abused adults greeted the legal agreement with the province.

Even small gestures of delayed justice can help to heal individuals; reparations is about healing the community as a whole.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Frightened feds still won't let her into the USA


The cold dead hand of bureaucracy shamed never lets go. The only remedy is to put a stake in our own terror of terror.

Sorry about the ad, but the clip is worth 30 seconds.

On the walls

The Mission has broken out with a rash of big-character posters -- or perhaps a flock of escaped koans. A sampling:


 I don't know -- I don't have to.

Monday, June 09, 2014

In which the Prez educates and persuades


Friedman asked the President if he ever wants to "just go off on the climate deniers in Congress."

"Yeah, absolutely," Obama responded. "Look, it’s frustrating when the science is in front of us. ... We can argue about how. But let’s not argue about what’s going on. The science is compelling. ... The baseline fact of climate change is not something we can afford to deny. And if you profess leadership in this country at this moment in our history, then you’ve got to recognize this is going to be one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that this country faces and that the planet faces."

TPM

Our oh-so-cautious president is on the case at long last.

All the amplifiers chime in. Here's Charles Blow writing on the peculiar shape of religiosity in this country:

What worries me is that some Americans seem to live in a world where facts can’t exist.

Facts such as the idea that the world is ancient, and that all living things evolved and some — like dinosaurs — became extinct. Facts like the proven warming of the world. Facts like the very real possibility that such warming could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise.

And here's Paul Krugman employing his acerbic intelligence on global warming denialists:

Well, think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.

And the natural reaction is denial — angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

When a President uses his elevated perch to lead, others -- often proponents of far more disruptive stances -- can take more of the field. Is noting this Green Lanternism?

Will the Prez kill the Keystone XL pipeline and upset the rogue petro-state across our northern border as well as the coal barons? Has our species dawdled so long that avoiding the most drastic consequences of a couple of centuries of unbridled capitalism has become impossible? Our descendants will find out.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Spreading the word

The past weekend was busy and stressful in a way that much of the next few months will be.

My courageous partner Rebecca Gordon spoke movingly about the institutionalized state abuse of human beings she writes about in Mainstreaming Torture alongside Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance who works for prison abolition. Photos by the artist Lenore Chinn.

Next event for Mainstreaming Torture: Saturday, June 21 at 7pm at Modern Times Bookstore on 24th Street in the Mission.


The Green Lantern and presidential heroics

Readers of the endless stream of pundit verbiage about the political stalemate in Washington have probably been exposed to -- and chastised for naively adhering to -- "the Green Lantern theory of the presidency." What's that?

Ezra Klein, late of the Wapo and now of Vox explains the concept like this:
According to Brendan Nyhan, the Dartmouth political scientist who coined the term, the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency is "the belief that the president can achieve any political or policy objective if only he tries hard enough or uses the right tactics." In other words, the American president is functionally all-powerful, and whenever he can't get something done, it's because he's not trying hard enough, or not trying smart enough.

... Why do so many people believe in the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency?

One reason is that even as the US executive is structurally weak he's perceptually strong. "The heroic narrative of the presidency dominates media coverage," Nyhan says. It also dominates culture.
Klein goes on to insist that those who adopt the Green Lantern theory fail to understand or appreciate both what presidents do accomplish and to understand where the much of the fault lies (Congress) when their accomplishments are inconsistent with their proclaimed intentions.

Readers of this blog know that I've been reading The Founding Fathers (American Presidents), edited by the eminent historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. It would be more accurate to say that I have been listening to 42 hours, consisting of four short biographies of the first four presidents, by different and quite individual authors. This mode of reading also means that I have now heard Schlesinger's introduction to the series read four times.

And all I could think was that Schlesinger was a Green Lanternist.

Here are some excerpts from that boosterish introduction:
The president is the central player in the American political order. ...The American system of self-government thus comes to focus in the presidency -- "the vital place of action in the system," as Woodrow Wilson put it. Henry Adams, himself the great-grandson and grandson of presidents as well as the most brilliant of American historians, said that the American president "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek." The men in the White House (thus far only men, alas) in steering their chosen courses have shaped our destiny as a nation.

Great presidents possess, or are possessed by, a vision of an ideal America. Their passion, as they grasp the helm, is to set the ship of state on the right course toward the port they seek. ...

"All of our great presidents," said Franklin D. Roosevelt, "were leaders of thought at a time when certain ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified." So Washington incarnated the idea of federal union, Jefferson and Jackson the idea of democracy, Lincoln union and freedom, Cleveland rugged honesty. Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson, said FDR, were both "moral leaders, each in his own way and his own time, who used the presidency as a pulpit."

To succeed, presidents must not only have a port to seek but they must convince Congress and the electorate that it is a port worth seeking. Politics in a democracy is ultimately an educational process, an adventure in persuasion and consent. Every president stands in Theodore Roosevelt's bully pulpit.

... The greatest presidents in the scholars' rankings, Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, were leaders who confronted and overcame the republic's greatest crises. ... Still, even in the absence of first-order crisis, forceful ind persuasive presidents -- Jefferson, Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan-are able to impose their own priorities on the country.
My emphasis. Now maybe Schlesinger is just promoting his book series; after all, he is touting books about presidents. But I suspect this historian (he died in 2007) really did believe that the better presidents overcame the structural limits of the office through education and persuasion, the bully pulpit, thus assembling popular democratic consent to their aims.

This realization led me to ask myself: are there elements in our current situation that diminish this President's ability to educate and persuade so profoundly that we must mock our own belief in his powers by reference to a cartoon character?

Well that isn't so hard. As a Black man who succeeded through his own talent, the President is a suspicious character to be occupying his office. I mean, he is not what a president was supposed to look like! (He doesn't look anything like the Green Lantern, does he? He's "a tall, skinny guy with big ears," not a white hunk.) Furthermore, lacking the assets of family money or privilege, a lot of how he got where he is was by successful education and persuasion. He wrote books. He introduced himself to the nation through a visionary speech about what sort of nation we are. When it looked as if his presidential campaign might founder on the shoals of white racial anxiety in the Reverend Wright affair, he managed to talk persuasively to the nation about race. That's not allowed -- especially by a Black man. This county is frightened by Black men, not persuaded.

In office, much of the country has overcome shock at his novelty and he's getting the full treatment a Black man gets in this country: disbelief, lies, baseless suspicion, groundless fear ... None of this is a surprise: he came up through this barrage; too many of us create it without premeditation or much thought. We may have thought, since he came to us through persuasion, that he'd be able to continue to utilize it for power. But no.

Obama's beleaguered circumstances provide an environment in which the Green Lantern theory seems self-evident. Of course he can't get much done; that's just the structure of the constitutional system. The political scientists must be right that those who look for more from him are stupidly naive.

Or, perhaps, Schlesinger's historically informed Green Lanternism also captures something true about U.S. presidents and our political system. Though race gives the vitriol aimed at Obama a particular cast, history certainly shows that most presidents who sought to be more than caretakers attracted pretty venomous opposition. We forget, even if we've lived though it or even contributed to it. (I'm thinking of my own vilification of Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam war.)

And yet some presidents have been able to translate their beliefs, though education and persuasion, as well as smart manipulation of the system, into lasting ideological underpinnings of the country. Changed and highly charged new ideas have made this a different nation, from Lincoln's unbreakable union of the states, through Roosevelt's government for the public welfare, to Reagan's bastion of individualist market capitalism. Schlesinger's list of our more persuasive presidents, quoted above, seems a true one.

I have to wonder whether contemporary academics and pundits are so attached the Green Lantern theory because it paints a gloss of science around what is actually merely an acute, immediate, time-constrained situation. In general, the social sciences -- poli sci, sociology, especially economics -- are suckers for theory that elevates applied observation into something like replicable "science." But reality is messy and particular to particular moments in time.

Not all presidents have been so constrained as the present one; in the future, historians will tease out the particular constraints of Obama's situation -- and be better able to see his actual accomplishments and actual failings. The sense that there is more to Obama's presidency than our investment in a cartoonish notion of super heroic presidential power will likely prove true. We're too close to see all of how his presidency is changing the national trajectory, if at all. And concurrently, right now, we need a more realistic grasp of how little structural power presidents are allowed by the Constitution and political history.
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