Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Francisco

We do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. These days, EP and I are hiking diligently, trying to get ourselves in shape for carrying (small) loads later this summer. Mostly, we've stayed in the city or close by. You get the benefit of some local pics, all taken for practice using an iPhone as a primary camera.

Here EP poses next to a vehicle we encountered while heading to an urban trail. It is a good half a decade older than she is.

The grasses on the side of San Bruno Mountain, just south of the city, are extraordinarily colorful right now.

If the local rabbits don't learn to keep under cover, they are in danger of becoming some hawk's dinner.

The city looks magical from this San Bruno trail.

This shot is proof you don't have to leave the city to get a good hike; after an 800 foot climb from the Mission, you can nearly get blown over at the top of Twin Peaks.

Hidden away below the mansions of the Sea Cliff neighborhood, China Beach was once used by Chinese fishing boats, presumably because they weren't much welcome at anchorages in the harbor proper.

Now the beach is administered by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. If you can find it, there is free parking which was half empty on a summer morning. A tai-chi class had taken over the rec center roof.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Republican Senate health insurance atrocity

So rich people can be given a tax cut, poor and sick people must suffer. Unfortunately, it is that simple. GOPers don't care who will be hurt. They act as if they don't really consider the people who will suffer to be human like themselves; those who will lose access to quality medical are to be treated as worthless litter cluttering the playgrounds of the plutocrats.

The smart wonks at the Labor Center at UC Berkeley illustrate the story for this state:
All so Republicans can cut taxes for people who already enjoy more than they need.

There's something broken in the souls of elected officials who would pass this horror.

Friday cat blogging


Nicky and Sadie condescended to pose for their humans' visitors. Lovely, aren't they?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to win in Georgia

I don't know whether Democrats can win many elections in Georgia at this time, but I am wildly enthusiastic about Stacey Abrams, a contender for the Democratic nomination for Governor. Abrams is currently the House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly and a State Representative. And she's an organizing wonk with a belief in person-to-person campaigns that warms my own wonkish heart.

Abrams insists that what Democrats need in Georgia is a robust field operation -- the capacity to knock on thousands of doors, identify potential sympathetic voters, listen to and talk with them, and get them to the polls. She believes there is a broad coalition to be built, if Dems will only do the work. She knows this takes time, but this -- not screaming TV ads -- is how she plans to succeed

Listen to her interview last night with Rachel Maddow.

If we invest in field, we can close the gap. ... to win a statewide election in Georgia, we have to close a 5 point gap. [By closing a 20 point gap in an historically Republican district, Jon Ossoff demonstrated] it can be done. ... We have voters in Georgia who will vote if we ask.

I'm pretty sure that somewhere, Abrams has a political consultant in her circle who is saying something like: "C'mon -- if you get on the Rachel Maddow show, tell her all the wonderful things your government will do for Georgians ... don't give 'em that campaign math ... that doesn't move voters."

I'd be saying that myself if I were in that role.

But hey, she's right about what Georgia Dems have to do to become a winning force, so you go Ms. Abrams!

For more on Abrams the uniter, see this excellent Joan Walsh story from the Nation magazine.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hold the circular firing squad

Okay, a lot of people's hopes got crushed when Georgia voters chose a hater of Planned Parenthood who has presided over voter suppression regulations instead a generic young white Dem yesterday. The result sucks.

But, as I have been writing since the election: just skip the circular firing squad if you possibly can. Given the assistance the GOPers and the Cheato are throwing their opponents day in and day out, we will eventually get it right.

Meanwhile, some smart observers have been thinking hard about the way forward. I recommend pondering these articles:
  • Franklin Foer at the Atlantic:

    To win again, the Democrats don’t need to adopt an alien agenda or back away from policies aimed at racial justice. But their leaders would be well advised to change their rhetorical priorities and more directly address the country’s bastions of gloom. The party has been crushed—not just in the recent presidential election, but in countless down-ballot elections—by its failure to develop a message that can resonate with people beyond the core members of the Obama coalition, and by its unwillingness to blare its hostility to crony capitalism. Polling by the group Priorities USA Action shows that a stunning percentage of the voters who switched their allegiance from Obama to Trump believe that Democratic economic policies favor the rich—42 percent, nearly twice the number who consider that to be true of Trump’s agenda.

    The makings of a Democratic majority are real. Demographic advantages will continue to accrue to the left. The party needs only to add to its coalition on the margins and in the right patches on the map. Doing that does not require the abandonment of any moral principles; persuasion is a different category of political activity from pandering.

  • Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

    ... it should be sobering to Democrats that a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning filled with devastatingly bad approval numbers for the Trump administration found that only 31 percent of voters thought a Democratic takeover of Congress would make their lives better.

    If your opponents are unpopular enough, it’s certainly possible to win elections this way. But especially for the party that has a more difficult time inspiring its supporters to turn out to vote, that’s an ominous sign. Right now on health care and many other issues, Democrats suffer from a cacophony of white papers and a paucity of unity around any kind of vision or story they want to paint of what is wrong with America today and what is the better country they want to build for the future. And until they do, they’re going to struggle to mobilize supporters in the way they need to win tough races.

  • and Ed Kilgore, that wise Georgian:

    Democrats searching for a silver lining in the Georgia race don’t have to look too far. This is the third consecutive special election (the fourth if you count South Carolina) in a historically Republican district where the Democratic percentage of the vote jumped sharply. Democrats will surely retake the House if the swing in their direction is similarly strong in 2018. In retrospect, ironically, tonight’s results may inspire new respect for Hillary Clinton’s performance–when she came within a point of Donald Trump in this district last November—and provide some new data points for doing well in GOP-leaning districts that resemble GA-06 with its highly educated population.

    As a long-time Georgian, I would add that in my experience Georgia Democrats don’t much show up to vote in special elections, or runoffs, much less special election runoffs. That so many did in this election was a minor miracle. ....

So much goes back to giving a broad enough swath of voters something they'll bestir themselves to vote for. It always does.

Summer solstice

For what it is worth, for some of us, this longest day of the year calls forth an internet-based performance art piece/act of resistance encompassed in the hashtags #MagicResistance and/or #BindTrump.

Here's a descriptive article. Here's a short video of one woman's spell.

I find most of the iconography associated with effort offensive: dopey images of women mixed the visual equivalent of pseudo-medieval mumbo-jumbo. But these artifacts aren't so bad:
All you authentic witches out there, do your thing. But please remember, violence can be loved to extinction by kindness -- it's the only healing way.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is job lock coming back?

If the Republicans succeed in gutting the protections of Obamacare, here we go again.

Job lock -- the condition of being stuck in an ill-fitting or simply miserable job in order to have health insurance coverage -- will be back for people under 65 who can't be sure they can get good insurance, or any insurance, if they leave their current employer.

This aspect of the US healthcare non-system has always seemed particularly pernicious to me, perhaps because I worked many years in tiny businesses or as an independent contractor, where any insurance I might find was what I could get in the individual market. It's a peculiar historical accident that access to insurance in this country is tied to working for large employers; this quirk seems to have been a perk that employers could use to attract workers during World War II when wages were legally capped and labor was in short supply. And somehow we're still stuck with it.

Obamacare ended the linkage between access to insurance and particular jobs. Insurance may not have become completely affordable, but greater options and regulations on gross profiteering by insurers increased the chance that people could cut loose from unhappy jobs to try something else or to take early retirement.

It's abundantly clear that Republicans don't care about security and free choice for workers -- only about tax cuts for their rich sponsors.

The video is a verbatim recitation by health economist Aaron Carroll of an New York Times Upshot column by Austin Frakt.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Legal eagle sees way forward -- and I agree

Jack Balkin, a distinguished professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School, gave a talk at an alumni luncheon last week. He has written for years about what he calls "constitutional rot," the gradual failure of the U.S. system to preserve its democratic essence against oligarchic trends that crush popular participation and corrupt political actors.

For all his dire, and convincing, vision of regime decay, he's a hopeful guy. Here's his conclusion:

... The regime is crumbling; Trump is the last Reaganite. In the next few election cycles, a new regime will begin, offering the possibility of a new beginning in American politics.

Second, despite the influx of propaganda and the decline of separation of powers in restraining the President, many features of the constitutional system remain robust.  We still have an independent judiciary, a free press, and regular elections.

Third, we should not confuse what's been happening in the past several months with constitutional crisis. Constitutional crisis means that the Constitution is no longer able to keep disagreement within politics; as a result people go outside the law and/or turn to violence or insurrection. However unpleasant our politics may be, all of our current struggles are still within politics.

Fourth, we are headed for a big showdown in electoral politics over the next several election cycles.  One of the two parties will have to find a way to restore trust in government and renounce oligarchical politics.  The next decade will tell the tale. I remain hopeful.

Even if Trump left office tomorrow, and were replaced with Mike Pence, there would still have to be a reckoning over these issues. Indeed, even if Hillary Clinton had won the election, there would still have to be a reckoning ... The United States has failed to reconcile globalization with democracy.  It has not accommodated the demands of republican government to global economic change. This is a serious policy failure, and it has contributed to constitutional rot. The bill for this neglect is coming due. We will have to pay it.

The central question is how to preserve republican government in the face of a changing global  economy.  Trump is a merely symptom of the larger problem. So my advice to you is: keep your eye on the larger issue, and not on the President’s latest tweets.

I believe we will get through this, together. But we have to pay attention to the real sources of constitutional dysfunction, and preserve our republic. ...

Balkin's talk is not technical; I highly recommend reading it all.

Like Balkin, I remain hopeful, though wary and determined after five awful months of the Trump fiasco. (I worry particularly about his third point.) After all, I'm a Californian. People mostly forget these days that, throughout the 1990s, California responded to the terror the majority white electorate felt about demographic change with measure after measure to abuse and keep down immigrants, people of color, and even young people of whatever color with different attitudes. And yet, today, California leads a revolt against national Republican policies that seek to restore outright white supremacy while coddling fossil fuel barons to the detriment of our communities and the climate.

What changed in California? Demographic reality proceeded and people organized for justice and a better government. None of this was easy, nor is any of it complete. But right wing Republicans can't win a toehold in most of this state, the economy is strong if not always equitable, and communities continue to agitate for further reforms.

There is a way forward. Californians have lived a version of it. The republic can yet become what we make it.

Resist and protect much.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My father


It wasn't hard to write about my mother on Mothers' Day. Writing about my father today, about what he might have made of what has happened to his country, is harder.

You see, he was one of those disappointed middle class white men living in a dying rust belt city whose "career" never amounted to much. His father was solidly upper middle class; his siblings were genuinely successful or at least dramatically engaged with their times. My father was the drone of the family. He held respectable low-end middle class white collar jobs which he diligently and loyally performed until the sort of locally-based businesses he worked for disappeared. He was too young (12) to serve in World War I and too old (36) to serve in World War II. His contribution to that great national emergency was in the accounting department of an aircraft production factory.

He did his duty as a (not terribly successful) provider, loved my mother fiercely with a love that was returned, and lived what he thought an unremarkable, honorable life. He was socially awkward, perhaps because he had stuttered as a child and occasionally slipped back into this condition. He dealt with the world by avoiding occasions that required sociability.

He was also intelligent, well read on a few subjects that interested him such as Civil War history, and capable of learning when he wanted to. In retirement, he walked and rode his bicycle about until his advancing blindness led him to run into a parked car. EP describes him as having been "rigid." He knew how he liked to perform the activities of daily living and was uncomfortable with change. As he aged and advanced into the COPD that eventually killed him (in 1991), he became addicted to television. Since he was both progressively more blind and deaf, this meant the TV blared at top volume all day and evening during his last years.

His expressed politics were what I'd call aggressively "grumpy." He thought all politicians (except perhaps a few he'd gone to high school with and maybe even them) were lying crooks. He was a conventional white racist, not hostile, just oblivious. He voted Republican without much thinking about it.

But there was a countervailing side to him. His idea of the right way for a good man to live, was the Jimmy Stewart character in such films as You Can't Take It With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It's a Wonderful Life. His idea of a good man was generous and on the side of the little people, always.

So I find myself wondering -- if he'd been alive, would this classic Trump voter have voted for Trump? I do think my mother would have been a countervailing influence. My very existence would also have weighed against such a vote; he respected me and my life without ever making any particular effort to understand the legions of ways in which we differed. If I believed my path was good for me, that was good enough for him.

But Trump's TV persona, his willingness to smash convention, and to express white men's angst at a changing society, would have appealed to him. My father was the sort of guy who might never have told anyone, even my mother, what choice he made in the election, just to keep everyone slightly irritated and off-balance.

I loved him very much.

The photo dates from about 1970, I think. The pipe served him as what he thought a marker of a sort of distinction, as well as enabling him to claim to his parents that he didn't smoke cigarettes, a total fabrication.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: visitors come to town

The arrival of an out-of-town visitor provided an excuse to take a day wandering on trails overlooking San Francisco Bay. We sometimes say to each other that we live in the most beautiful place in the world.

Hey, what's that swimming out there?

It's not often we see a pod of whales playing inside the Bay! Down at water level on the fishing pier, we were able to get a little closer.

What stunning animals!

When human sailors on the Bay began to circle too closely for a peek, the pod took off for the open ocean.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Republican's "mean" health care bill is a job killer

We know this thing the GOPers in the Senate are cooking up is "mean" (sez the Orange Cheato). Tens of millions will lose health insurance so gazillionaires can have a tax cut. They know ordinary citizens would scream bloody murder if they let us know what's in it, so they are writing it in secret, refuse to hold hearings, and intend to rush it through without any input from the public. This is legislating corruption.
But it is worth noting the Republican bill will also kill jobs in one of the best-functioning sectors of the economy. Several authors from the Center for Health Policy Research in the Department of Health Policy and Management within the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. have studied what the House-passed version of the bill will do to jobs. It's not a pretty picture.

... Coverage and spending-related policies are directly related to funding for health services (e.g., Medicaid, premium tax credits, high-risk pools). The reductions directly affect the health sector—hospitals, doctors’ offices, or pharmacies—but then flow out to other sectors. Thus, about two-fifths of jobs lost due to coverage policies are in the health sector while three-fifths are in other sectors. Tax changes affect consumption broadly, spreading effects over most job sectors. Within the health sector, job losses due to coverage-related cuts are much greater than gains due to tax repeal; losses in health care jobs begin immediately. In other sectors, employment grows at the beginning but later declines.

... Health care has been one of the main areas of job growth in recent years. Under the AHCA, the sector would lose jobs immediately, with a loss of 24,000 jobs in 2018. By 2026, 725,000 fewer health sector jobs would exist. This would be a major reversal from current trends. While our analysis shows other employment sectors grow initially, most other sectors would experience losses within a decade.

... This analysis finds that the net effect of the AHCA would be a loss of almost 1 million jobs by 2026, combined with 23 million more Americans without health insurance, according to the CBO.

Again -- there is no purpose here but for Republicans to give their rich friends a tax cut.

H/t Sarah Kliff for pointing to the study.

Friday cat blogging

Morty made a nest. I forgot to protect the clean laundry from the feline intruder.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Help offered when help is needed

On a walk near San Francisco's iconic Golden Gate Bridge, we noted this sign.

I had to wonder: do to prospective suicidal jumpers really text the counseling service? Apparently they do.

Last year, KQED News reported:

At a Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors meeting in August, officials revealed an alarming statistic: The number of people under the age of 25 showing up at the bridge intending to commit suicide has increased fivefold since 2000. Bridge and California Highway Patrol officers stop most of them, but they still need more help. On average, two to three people jump each month. The majority of the suicides are people under the age of 35.

So bridge officials partnered with Crisis Text Line to publicize this resource.

The Golden Gate Bridge District has recorded more than 120 successful suicide interventions so far this year [in September 2016]. But [Bridge Patrol Capt. Lisa] Locati says she could definitely use more staff — there can be thousands of people on the bridge at one time, and she currently oversees 31 people. In the meantime, she hopes the text line will help them make even more interventions.

“When Crisis Text Line approached us, they had already had — without any advertising — texting conversations with people that have mentioned coming to the bridge to commit suicide,” Locati says.

“Before we formed the partnership, we already had 94 conversations in which people have mentioned the Golden Gate Bridge,” confirms Libby Craig, Bay Area director of Crisis Text Line. “And we do have stories of people who were at the ledge and were back in their homes by the end of a conversation.”

I saw someone jump once. It was the ultimate in irretrievable meaninglessness. Let's hope this resource clicks for those who need it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sessions has to watch his back


At Vox, Andrew Prokop has provided a summary of questions which neo-Confederate Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to answer in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

• Whether President Trump talked about fired FBI Director James Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation with him
• Whether he was surprised to hear Trump say, two days after Comey’s firing, that the Russia investigation was a major factor in his decision
• Whether Trump has expressed anger to him over [Session's] recusal from the Russia investigation
• Whether top White House or Justice Department officials have already discussed pardons for Trump associates under investigation

Prokop goes on to try to delve into why Sessions might have asserted a (legally dubious) privilege against discussing these items under oath. He comes up with convoluted suggestions for each point.

It looks simple to me: very likely there was someone else in the room who might have heard what Sessions (and sometimes Trump) had to say. In this gang of thieves, none of them can trust that the others won't throw them overboard, especially if the investigators push hard enough. So safety requires concealing anything that others may have seen or heard.

Let 'em stew.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Boys sticking together


I suspect there are about 58.5 million women of color, and lots of white women, who recognized that, for the second time in a week, Senate Intelligence committee chairman Senator Burr (R-NC) cut off Democratic Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) for trying to get a straight answer from a Republican administration witness. Today she was cut off while questioning our neo-Confederate Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Modern crusader in Denver last weekend

He was part of an "anti-sharia" rally. Such gatherings have drawn Islamophobes, neo-nazis, and white supremacists out from the shadows, threatening the peace for us all.

I remember when some straight white guy with this sort of fantasy might have had seized the chance to act out at a Renaissance Fair. Now, with a bullying fantasist in the White House, they are encouraged to act out their nightmare visions on the bodies of vulnerable targets.

As Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR explained:

"What we are seeing in America right now is the mainstreaming of hate... Extremists feel empowered now because they think that they have the president on their side."

The rest of us must resist and protect.

Monday, June 12, 2017

When U.S.-born women were required to apply for citizenship

Linda in Lancaster described her mother-in-law's naturalization process.
Who knew? My interest was tweaked by a throwaway clause in a New York Review of Books article by Marcia Angell:
... until 1936 [women] could lose their citizenship if they married a foreigner ...
It probably shouldn't be a surprise that this happened under something called an Expatriation Act. Until surprisingly recently, women's U.S. citizenship was dependent on the nationality of the men they married.

NPR's Code Switch recently described some of this history:
In March of 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act, which decreed, among other things, that U.S. women who married non-citizens were no longer Americans. If their husband later became a naturalized citizen, they could go through the naturalization process to regain citizenship.

But none of these rules applied to American men when they chose a spouse.

... [after women won the vote in 1920, Rep. John Cable from Ohio wanted to please his new potential constituents] ...The Cable Act of 1922, also known as the Married Women's Independent Nationality Act, said women kept their citizenship if they married a man who could become a citizen even if he opted not to. [Marriages to "Asian aliens" wouldn't do.] "It sounds as though the Cable Act fixed it, if they married a man eligible for citizenship," Kerber says. However, "there's a lot of fine print."

These expatriated women had to petition the government to regain their citizenship, and their husband's status still played a role in theirs: if he wasn't eligible for citizenship, she could be denied. And if she lived on foreign soil for two years, she could lose her citizenship.
Even after the Cable Act, some married women born in the United States still were expatriated. According to an article titled Genealogy Notes in a government archive, two more legal changes were required for all U.S.-born women to regain their citizen status:
... An act of 1936 provided marital expatriates—whose marriages to aliens had ended through death or divorce—with an opportunity to regain their lost citizenship by filing an application. Upon approval, women could resume citizenship simply by taking an oath of allegiance. This act required the proof of her U.S. birth or naturalization as well as proof that the marriage had ended. Women flocked to the courts to file their applications. Women involved in ongoing marriages continued to file the regular paperwork for naturalization until 1940.

The act of July 2, 1940, provided that all women who had lost citizenship by marriage could repatriate regard­ less of their marital status. They only had to take an oath of allegiance — no declaration of intention was required. But they still had to show that they had resided continuously in the United States since the date of the marriage.
If all this seems immensely convoluted, it will be no surprise to anyone who has dealt with our current immigration and naturalization processes. These too are a nearly impenetrable thicket of accreted regulations and work-arounds, often with conflicting purposes, always lurking as traps for the unwary. Nowadays, people born in the U.S. can only lose their citizenship if they intentionally renounce that birthright. But people who acquire U.S. citizenship by naturalization remain vulnerable to denaturalization for certain false statements made in the bureaucratic process or for "subversive" activities.

Recently, grandchildren of U.S. women who had lost their citizenship to expatriation during in the last century agitated for some recognition that we'd done them wrong. Senator Al Franken led the charge for an apology which passed in 2014. The United States does sometimes apologize, after the wrong doing.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Can exclusivist theology survive a plural planet?

Can a plural planet survive exclusivist theology?

An article in the Atlantic passed on a fascinating vignette of mutual incomprehension. Senator Bernie Sanders was questioning Russell Vought, a Republican nominee for a position at the Office of Management and Budget.

Sanders took issue with a piece Vought wrote in January 2016 about a fight at the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a political-science professor, Larycia Hawkins, for a Facebook post intended to express solidarity with Muslims. Vought disagreed with Hawkins’s post and defended the school in an article for the conservative website The Resurgent. During the hearing, Sanders repeatedly quoted one passage that he found particularly objectionable:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.
“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

The reporter is horrified; wasn't Mr. Vought, in a non-governmental context, simply stating a foundational belief held by his sort of evangelical Christian? Well, yes he was. And she correctly notes that other monotheistic faiths, Jews and often emphatically Muslims, also insist the human relation to God is only made right by acknowledging exclusive faith in and reliance on their particular One.

Meanwhile, Sanders obviously finds such a faith repugnant and incomprehensible -- and he's not alone. So might many non-evangelical Christians (still actually a majority of U.S. Christians) find Mr. Vought's theology "deficient." For any non-religious reader who is bothering to plow through this, for most U.S. Jews and many U.S. Christians including some evangelicals, religious faith is functionally non-exclusive: we have ideas and hopes about how the human/god nexus functions, but we're willing to leave to God how that gets worked out in particular. Belief leaves us with plenty to do that we can control without taking on sorting sheep from goats.

For example:
Most emphatically, we don't want politicians arguing the merits of these ultimate (or perhaps merely human) categories. So the question posed by the Sanders/Vought exchange is, can this kind of exclusive faith really co-exist with democratic pluralism?

Well, of course, it has. Though the idea that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation" is a right wing myth, most everyone who has ever led, or lived in, or fought for the country has claimed some kind of religious belief, however attenuated. We've embedded in the Constitution the rule that the state can't put a thumb on the scale for one sort of religious belief over another and that it can't interfere with our individual religious choices. Contentiously, and not always gracefully, we've managed the cultural conflicts that result when differing beliefs, non-beliefs, and religious institutions rub against each other.

But how is the increasingly cosmopolitan country and world we're becoming to deal with faiths whose core proposition is exclusive? Interestingly, the three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- all defined themselves in reaction to some of the most cosmopolitan settings of their day -- ancient multi-ethnic Canaan, the far-flung Roman empire, and mercantile tribal Arabia. Drawing firm boundaries between insiders and outsiders was essential to survival amidst the clamoring throng of religious competitors -- and in some bounded arena, each faith won the day over others, if only for some long seasons.

But this isn't that kind of world. Neither Saudi Wahhabis nor our religious right are going to be able to impose their tribal stories on the rest of us. In an ancient time of imperial upheaval, a god-fearing visionary enjoined those seeking perfection to put away childish things. In our world, equal human value and citizenship cannot be bounded. That's a big ask, but a necessity for human survival.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Saturday scenes: that was fun

Yesterday I ran 41 miles in 12 hours at the Pacific Coast Trail 12-Hour Run at Crissy Field adjacent to the Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. That's 60 laps around a 1K course. I found the "squirrel cage" experience much less tedious than I'd feared. Park improvement projects forced substitution of this route around a (beautifully situated) parking lot for the planned course around a lagoon.

I think of the five months I trained for this as my birthday present as I approach 70. EP has been wonderfully supportive of this madness and faithfully crewed in cold, dark and gale-force winds, taking a few laps with me yesterday.

Friday, June 09, 2017

On loyalty

I'm preoccupied today, but just wanted to drop some unoriginal thoughts here about the Comey hearing on Thursday.

Comey's opening statement reported that, when Trump pulled the FBI director into an unexpected private conversation, he said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”

After Comey's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, the President's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, both denied the exchange and focused on the concept:

“The President also never told Mr. Comey, quote, I need loyalty, I expect loyalty, close quote. He never said it in form, and he never said it in substance,” Kasowitz said.

But, Kasowitz hedged, “Of course, the Office of the President is entitled to expect loyalty from those who are serving the administration.”

That seems contradictory.

During the Comey testimony the Washington Post ran a graphic (can't find it now; perhaps the Post thought it ephemeral) showing what text MSNBC, CNN, and Fox were running under their coverage. Fox was somewhat reticent -- many of the early chyrons said something like: "Comey -- Trump asked for loyalty".

I just wonder: have the Republicans run focus groups and found that their voters view government and rulers in personal terms. Loyalty is often a positive quality between individuals, especially between friends. Perhaps in Fox-world, asking for loyalty suggests good character.

But if you view government and democracy from an institutional perspective, what commands loyalty is not particular individuals or leaders. Democratic loyalty would be to the country, to values and abstract customs, to such enduring framing norms as the Constitution or the obligation to "take care that laws are faithfully executed" (the presidential oath).

Trump pretty clearly knows only the sort of loyalty that mafia bosses understand. Via CNN:

During a question-and-answer session from The Learning Annex Wealth Expo, Trump was asked for the "key things" a boss should look for when hiring someone and building a team. Trump was blunt.

"The thing that's most important to me is loyalty," Trump said. "You can't hire loyalty. I've had people over the years who I swore were loyal to me, and it turned out that they weren't. Then I've had people that I didn't have the same confidence in and turned out to be extremely loyal. So you never really know."

He added: "The thing I really look for though, over the longer term, is loyalty."

Loyalty to Trump means to him, personally -- no reciprocity for this guy.
***
Peter Beinert has a thoughtful take on all this.

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes Morty forgets the unalterable rule: "Cats don't go out." Not that he would venture out if I looked away; he just likes glimpses of that forbidden territory.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Our template for home-grown social movements

It was fascinating to read The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition by UConn historian Manisha Sinha during the same months when I was studying Black Reconstruction. There are similarities: both are monumental, weighty tomes, over 700 pages; both center black perspectives and the black actors in historical events who white-oriented histories have slighted; both recover and make available voluminous contemporary materials which enrich our reading of our collective past.

But Sinha's volume aims at a very different objective: DuBois presented and framed a snapshot of a pivotal, historically brief, moment. She is writing the sweeping story of the development of abolitionism as a century long (and beyond) social movement. So her grand volume is a record of shifting outlooks and actors, evolving innovations in tactics and strategies, controversies within the movement, some more meaningful than others, but all leading to grudging emancipation and formal citizenship for black men by 1873. It is in recovering these ups and downs, steps and missteps, that her history is most interesting because, as she concludes:

...For American radicals ever since, abolition has remained a model of activism, a template of a social movement.

I encountered literally dozens of new fact, tales, and events in that narrative, some small, some large, many familiar in structure if different in specifics from my own life in progressive social movements. Here I'll share some representative but brief samples of what I learned.
  • The U.S. revolution set the stage for some progress toward freedom for blacks -- progress they started toward themselves.

    Enslaved African Americans helped initiate the first emancipation in the Atlantic world. In 1781, Bett, also known as Mumbet, and a fellow slave named Brom sued their master, Col. John Ashley, a prominent revolutionary soldier in western Massachusetts, for their freedom. ... In court Mumbet insisted on giving an abolitionist interpretation to the new state constitution. She had heard that it set all slaves free. ... Membet's freedom suit, along with that of another slave, Quok Walker, led to the judicial abolition slavery in Massachusetts.

  • But we cannot forget that the Founders' compromises also framed abolitionists' ongoing critique of the new Republic.

    If the revolution engendered black anti-slavery protest, it also made African Americans subject its premises to criticism. The New England freedom petitions [organized by free blacks] laid the foundation of black abolitionism and its preoccupation with exposing American republicanism. They did not simply appropriate revolutionary ideology, but critically engaged it to highlight their plight.

  • The abolitionist critique of necessity encompassed both racial and economic equality.

    The [early 19th century] abolition movement bucked the trend that defined the American Republic as a white man's country. One of the main aims of early abolition societies was to seek "relief of free negroes" and to "improve the condition of the free black population." ...Abolitionists plans for the protection and improvement of blacks included securing citizenship for them. ... Early abolitionists visualized a better position for free blacks in society than as menial laborers ... Racial paternalism was not the only rationale for abolitionists' concern with black improvement. ... [They] claimed that making free black people model citizens ... would hasten the demise of slavery.

  • According to Sinha, by 1830, free northern black populations were creating independent anti-slavery societies.

    ... parading and carnivals in black communities gradually gave way to institutional organization. This was not just black leaders aspiring to middle class respectability but the growing sophistication of newly free black communities. ... black institutions bred community autonomy and independent abolitionism.

  • After 1830, the social movement passed through several decades of struggles over the most correct, or most possible, or most effective strategies of abolition. "Immediatism" -- the call for uncompensated freedom NOW -- eventually overcame gradualism. Support for colonization of freed blacks to Africa or of chosen emigration to free black Haiti or to Canada repeatedly roiled the movement. In a time of waves of religiously infused moral reformism, black churches split from white churches and white churches themselves divided along sectional lines, spawning southern pro-slavery branches. Some anti-slavery societies came up with tactics that may seem familiar: supporters were urged to buy only "free produce," calling the fruits of slave labor "stolen goods."
  • Like most historians of abolition, Sinha accords white activist and newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison a highly important role in advancing the struggle -- but insists

    What distinguished Garrisonians from the previous generations of abolitionists was how firmly Garrisonianism's roots lay in black abolitionism. ...Garrison took abolitionism in a new direction organizationally and ideologically. ... Four hundred and fifty of the five hundred subscribers to the Liberator in its first year were African Americans, sustaining the young editor with their financial, moral and political support. In turn, Garrison published their speeches and letters, proceedings of local meetings and national conventions ...

    ... Although denying charges of inciting rebellions, Garrison clearly aligned himself with slave resistance. ... Slave rebels, Garrison judged, deserved no more censure than the revolutionary generation of contemporary European freedom fighters most Americans admired. ...

    In calling for the immediate, uncompensated (to slaveholders) abolition of slavery and black rights, Garrison gave the movement its programmatic clarity. ... [He used] the tactic of 'moral suasion' or persuasion ... geared to awakening public opinion or slavery and racism.

  • Conventional school histories of abolitionism neglect an essential truth of the long struggle: for the two decades before Confederate secession, this was a war. Even the few white abolitionists from the professional classes were in danger of being "being stoned, imprisoned, and mobbed" according to black minister Theodore S. Wright. Black abolitionists risked lynching or kidnapping into southern slavery.

    The American Anti-Slavery Society issued an elaborate set of directives ... that instructed its agents how to face down mobs ...

    In the 1850s in Kansas, the war was literal, forming abolitionist extremist John Brown's determination to free slaves by raiding the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859.
  • Concurrently, escaped slaves published hundreds of captivity and escape narratives in the north, communicating the horrors of bondage. Frederick Douglass's 1845 best seller

    [served as the] iconic narrative [to which] belongs the credit for making the slave's indictment of slavery the most effective weapon in the abolitionist arsenal and popularizing the genre.

    Douglass' work and skillful navigation of movement controversies made him one of black people's main interlocutors with Lincoln when war came.
We've seen some large progressive mobilizations lately, but the scale and duration of the largely extra-electoral abolition campaign is not something we routinely learn.

... antislavery societies sent over six hundred thousand petitions with nearly two million signatures to Congress and state legislatures ... By 1838, the AASS had over 1000 auxiliaries with around 100,000 members ... Second-wave abolition ... was a mass movement. New modes of communication, the penny press, the mail, and democratic fund-raising proved crucial in the formation of the movement, The AASS raised over forty thousand dollars in 1838 from members as diverse as a revolutionary soldier in Maine, a four-year-old boy, and a 'colored woman' who sold apples in the streets of Boston. ... Antislavery societies also disseminated antislavery cards, poems, broadsides, and wafers with popular abolitionist sayings. Few of their opponents could match the sheer volume of abolitionist handicrafts.

... Contrary to conventional wisdom, abolition was hardly a middle-class affair. Though African Americans formed its core constituency, abolitionism spread among white men and women in the North. ... Abolitionists did not belong to a cultural and intellectual elite either. While they attracted the support of a few prominent figures, abolitionists' uncompromising activism differentiated them from the northern political and cultural establishment. ... Farmers, mechanics, and artisans formed its base. Most of the signatures in urban abolition petitions were those of workingmen ...

To be an abolitionist was to adopt a counter-culture, right up through the 1860 secession crisis. Sinha points out that most white abolitionists came to their convictions very young -- and as they aged and had their own children, they passed their culture on through "juvenile branches" of anti-slavery societies which used children's books teaching anti-racism.

Sinha asks "why abolitionist never really became popular and have come down to us as perpetual naysayers"? She concludes that to persist through decades of repression, they nurtured and clung to their counter-culture:

they continued to focus on the shortcomings of the present to prepare the way for the achievements of the future. They refused to be satisfied by the successes of their movement and warned of the dangers of looking ahead.

In this, of course, post-Civil War history proved them right, as the movement for full racial equality splintered over votes for women and progressive forces failed to both unite around and affirm the emerging labor revolt against maturing industrial capital. The leading edge of progress moved elsewhere, away from confronting white supremacy. Yet abolitionism remains the template for social movements for justice in this country. Much to ponder there.
***
I wish I could give this book an unhesitating endorsement, but unhappily, I can't quite. It is totally worth reading and studying -- and yet one wishes that Ms. Sinha had had a fierce editor. It could probably be at least one third less bulky, yet still accomplish its mission to re-center the myriad contributions to abolition by thousands of actors, mostly black, who too many histories have left out of the story. It is not smoothly written, as I discovered while trying to excerpt quotes for this post.

Nonetheless I am very glad to have made the effort to study it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

On the eve of the British general election

Now that looks familiar, doesn't it. Young people are evidently pulling one way, the elders another (as of May 30). Nothing strange to us in the U.S. in that.

People who actually know anything about the approaching British vote (not me) seem agreed that Theresa May and the Conservatives (Tories) will win enough of a majority to stay in government, but probably not much enlarge their margin. This wasn't supposed to be how this worked; May called the election expecting to be greatly strengthened, but on the eve of the vote, it doesn't look as if she'd get the wipe out against the opposition Labour Party she hoped for.

In addition to the generation gap, there are familiar elements. Zrinka Bralo, a Bosnian who found refuge in Britain from war, has described how he and other immigrants are struggling for democracy in their new home.

... we often neglect to mention that refugees and migrants are also political, and possessing the same agency to democratically determine their future. This agency is exercised despite migrants often being denied their rights, forced to endure prejudice and degrading treatment and being formally excluded from the democratic process.

We have been citizens somewhere and many are soon to be citizens here. In fact, many refugees ended up fleeing their countries because they risked their lives being citizens in pursuit of justice and democracy. For many refugees and migrants, politics, democracy, voting and civic participation is an essential part of our identity and, without exaggeration, a matter of life and death. Just before the war in Bosnia, I checked myself out of hospital in order to vote in the independence referendum. Not voting was just not an option for 24 year old me.

... When the snap election was announced by the Prime Minister, migrant and refugee communities responded in the best way they knew – through a nationwide mobilisation. Communities seized the opportunity to make this election different by organising everybody to speak out, register to vote and ensure that their voice in heard. Even those who cannot vote were able to work together to ensure that their communities and their interests are not lost in this election. In a clear voice, migrants said that decisions about us should not be taken without us. ... Since April 18, more than 2 million people registered to vote. Many of these will be migrants looking to choose a Government that stands up for them and their communities.

As is so often the case, it looks as if what happens in Britain will be decided by who gets out and votes. Historically, young people and newcomers may have opinions, but they just don't bother to actually cast a ballot. The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been drawing enthusiastic crowds on a platform of free tuition and re-orienting the state toward support for public welfare. Theresa May clearly is uninspiring to many. But pollsters wonder whether all this noise can translate into a Labour win -- or even hold down a Tory majority. Parties depending on young voters seldom reach their turnout goals. Can Britain be different?

Labour has been airing slick ads that make the case to young Brits.
Stephen Bush at the New Statesman opines that this vote could be a repeat of Brexit (and resemble Hillary Clinton's fruitless popular vote victory).

Most of Britain’s great cities – London, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Bristol, Glasgow and Newcastle – all voted to Remain. Its smaller cities and towns opted, in the main, to Leave.

Labour’s surge may be similarly geographically limited.

Labour gains where globalization fuels diversity and prosperity, but this may not be enough to overcome the drag among people for whom globalization is not benefit but painful disruption.

We'll see. Pollsters in Britain have a far poorer track record than ours. Their system is harder to model. I'm following @GoodwinMJ and the British edition of The Guardian.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Local immigrant workers targeted for deportation

Having recently knocked failures of solidarity by national union leaders, it was nice to see local labor unions taking the lead at a small rally today outside federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE - Trump's deportation force) in support of Hugo Mejía and Rodrigo Núñez.

The two long time residents were drywall workers. When they reported to a jobsite at Travis Air Force base in early May, a military official turned them over to ICE; despite having lived and worked in the U.S. for over a decade without any criminal records, they have been placed in an expedited deportation process. The Mercury News reported their detention in mid-May.

President Donald Trump, who made enforcing immigration law a centerpiece of his campaign, has suggested the administration’s focus would be targeting illegal immigrants with criminal records. But critics say his executive order changing deportation priorities — which essentially made almost every undocumented immigrant a deportation priority — makes it easier to deport people with long ties to the U.S. like Mejia and Nunez.

“When the federal government indicates a desire to really go after people who are not citizens, then other parts of the government feel emboldened to target those groups,” said Jayashri Srikantiah, a Stanford law school professor and founder of the school’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. “There’s a ripple effect. The government sets a tone for what is acceptable and what is not.”

It’s unclear if employees or officials at military bases across the U.S. are required to report undocumented immigrants who visit the bases to ICE. A spokeswoman for Travis did not say if there are any such policies in place or if the individual who reported Mejia and Nuñez to ICE used his own discretion.

The two men have attracted broad community support.

Mejia and his family live in San Rafael; Rabbi Stacy Friedman brought a message of support for her congregation's neighbor.

Support rallies have been held in several Bay Area locations.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Graduation season

My friends' son graduated from high school this weekend. (Picture used by parental permission.) He sure looks happy and handsome, as do his friends. Congratulations to them all -- one milestone down and worlds to conquer!

Like the young man pictured above, I attended a private school which put on a grand graduation ceremony. But, oh, the differences! This is my high school class of 1965, Buffalo NY. (Back row, five from the right, for the curious.) The world has become better since then in so many ways.
  • The school went to great trouble to get us all lined up neatly on bleachers for a professional photographer. That's what it took to get a proper photo in those distant times. Much effort was expended on getting the legs of the girls in the front arranged properly. How stiff we look!
  • Everyone in the picture is white. The school had one black girl in a lower class in the year we graduated. I can't imagine what her life was like. (Nowadays it looks to be a far more diverse place, I learn from their unanswered fund appeals.)
  • No pseudo-academic robes for us. We all had to wear white "lawn party" dresses. These were not something that even these privileged young women owned. Some, the most affluent or fashion-conscious, bought "frocks" for the occasion. I was fortunate to be in a long lineage of the more thrifty who passed the dresses down from year to year. I got the item I had on from the recently graduated daughter of one of the women who taught at the school when my mother had taught there before I was born. I remember it being ill-fitting and scratchy.
  • And see those bouquets! You might think we were a bevy of bridesmaids -- and in fact the form of the event did point where much of our upbringing was meant to lead. The building in the background was one of the city's society churches. The school made polite noises about the important roles we might play in our future lives. It actually offered a solid introduction to scholarly learning. But there was no question that we were being launched toward heterosexual marriage and bearing 1.5 respectable children who might attend the institution in their turn (if female).
As you can perhaps tell, I hated my high school graduation. In fact, I hated my high school.

Certainly many high school grads still hate their high schools (though not, evidently, the young man pictured above). That's okay. It's a hard time of life. But there is so much more ahead. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Dude has his priorities

Grace under pressure.

Will media ever learn to stop chasing shiny baubles?

A Sunday AP report reads:

President Donald Trump is leaning against invoking executive privilege to try to block fired FBI Director James Comey from testifying about their private conversations regarding an investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, two administration officials said Sunday.

There’s been no final decision, and the matter remains under discussion, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. Trump’s known to change his mind on major issues.

That's nice. Are you going to allow the Cheato to whiplash you around about whether he'll make one or another decision that probably won't amount to anything consequential anyway? Just stop it.

If consumers of news stop clicking on stories like this, maybe the dimwits who write them will get the message.

The Cheato will decide what he decides, when he decides. I'm quite willing to wait for the news of that decision when it happens. That's news. This is junk reporting.

Facing down fear of collapse

It's not hard to understand why Donald Trump had to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement: he reveled in a chance to strike out at all the stuck-up, pointy-headed, leftist intellectuals who will never give him any respect and who are making his presidency an embattled morass. No one seems to take seriously that he has any formed opinions on the threat to climate stability which humans have initiated. But he does know that he can bond with a segment of his supporters who've been taught by fossil fuel myth-spinners that their jobs, and their white pride, and their manhood, have been done in by the tree-huggers.

Most of the more informed deniers, skeptics, and angry rejecters of climate science are actually terrified Collapsarians. Many of them know in the deeper recesses of shrouded minds that something is happening with climate. These people -- some brighter Republican officeholders, pundits, and business leaders -- resist engaging with climate science because to do so would force them to accept that their preferred economic system has set disasters in motion -- and very possibly there is nothing [that they are willing] to do about it. Staring at what humans have done to our own future is just too unbearable. The natural reaction is terror. Climate collapse looks inescapable; they must look away ...

In parts of Trump's base Collapsarianism is a perfect fit with day to day experience in their communities. There are too many places in this country which have indeed collapsed -- not yet because of climate instability, but because of technological and economic changes, accompanied by a perception of racial and social change, if not next door, somewhere too near by. Anyone who needs another dose of evidence of this should read Margaret Talbot's remarkable New Yorker profile, The Addicts Next Door. A Collapsarian response to intimations of climate change is simply a glove that easily fits for many of these folks.

But neither Donald Trump, nor GOPer leaders, nor suffering white people in places modernity has bypassed are the Collapsarians whose willed escape from ugly reality most disturb me. I worry about Collapsarians of the left. Oh, these folks excoriate those other Yahoos, the climate change denier tribe. But, especially in liberal enclaves like the one I live in, too many good people are haunted by the terror that collapse is what's ahead -- and develop strategies that enable them to look away. The unvarnished reality -- of climate change, of racial and economic injustice, of not seeing a way forward -- is just too awful.

For example, in a recent political study group, an earnest participant explained she was having a difficult time engaging with the arguments among historical political actors we were reading about. After all, she explained, "I don't believe in the system."

Our facilitator laughed kindly and replied wisely and warmly: "That's okay -- but you know it's like gravity. It's still there, pulling on you, whether you believe in it or not."

In her day, black voting rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer engaged with this same thought when she took on not only the Ku Klux Klan, but also the Democratic Party and a sitting Democratic president in 1964. She was asked “Do you have faith that the system will ever work properly?” She had an answer:

We have to make it work. Ain’t nothing going to be handed to you on a silver platter. That’s not just black people, that’s people in general, masses. See, I’m with the masses… You’ve got to fight. Every step of the way you’ve got to fight.

In the face of collapse, there is no other answer. Looming collapse is real, but giving up is not an option. Too many good people have struggled too long for current generations to give up. We who are active now owe both our ancestors and our posterity our fiercest resistance to the terror that there may be no way forward.

"You’ve got to fight. Every step of the way you’ve got to fight."
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