Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Of an altered landscape, historians, and political lies


A couple additional notes about Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 feel warranted. It's nearly 700 pages after all and paradigmatic for late 20th century understanding of that painfilled period.

A friend, like me educated in the 1960's, noticed the book sitting by my desk and asked: "weren't we taught that Reconstruction was a failure, a scam, somehow a wrong turn?" Yes, those of us in that age group were so taught.

Foner devotes his volume to resurrecting a very different truth.

... the magnitude of the Redeemer [white Southern] counterrevolution underscored both the scope of the transformation Reconstruction had assayed and the consequences of its failure. ... The tide of change rose and then receded, but it left behind an altered landscape. The freedmen's political and civil equality proved transitory, but the autonomous black family and a network of religious and social institutions survived ... Nor could the seeds of educational progress planted then be entirely uprooted. ...

He goes on to recount how the literal descendants of brave freed-people who were active for black empowerment during Reconstruction became leaders of subsequent black struggles to the present day.

And Foner is specific about who he blames for the false narrative taught to both whites and blacks during the first two-thirds of the 20th century.

By the turn of the [19th] century, as soldiers from North and South joined to "take up the white man's burden' in the Spanish-American War, Reconstruction was widely viewed as little more than a regrettable detour on the road to reunion. To the bulk of the white South, it had become axiomatic that Reconstruction had been a time of "savage tyranny" ... Black suffrage, wrote Joseph LeConte, who had fled South Carolina for a professorship at the University of California to avoid teaching black students, was now seen by "all thoughtful men" as " the greatest political crime ever perpetrated by any people." ...

This rewriting of Reconstruction's history was accorded scholarly legitimacy -- to its everlasting shame -- by the nation's fraternity of professional historians. Early in the twentieth century a group of young Southern scholars gathered at Columbia University to study the Reconstruction era under the guidance of Professors John W. Burgess and William A. Dunning. Blacks, their mentors taught, were "children" utterly incapable of appreciating the freedom that had been thrust upon them. The North did "a monstrous thing" in granting them suffrage, for "a black skin means membership in a race of men which has never of itself succeeded in subjecting passion to reason, has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind." No political order could survive in the South unless founded on the principle of racial inequality. ...

The views of the Dunning school shaped historical writing for generations and achieved wide popularity through D.W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation which glorified the Ku Klux Klan ...

It took the uprisings of the Civil Rights era to undo this lying narrative.
***
As is true of most of the longer books I write about here, I read Foner's opus as an audiobook, all 41 hours of it. This presented one challenge that I suspect would have felt less acute in print: in this narrative, the white "good guys" -- insofar as there were any -- are the "Republicans." What impulse toward liberation and equality existed among white Northern politicians -- and there was some -- was located in the then newly-formed Republican party. Democrats seeking to disenfranchise black freedmen are the "bad guys" in Reconstruction history.

It is not as if I didn't understand that this was how mid-19th century politics aligned, but living in the times we do, it is slightly jarring to listen to stories of Black Republicans fighting off rampaging Democratic Klansmen. But that's how the political parties operated from 1863 to 1870 or so. Democrats only became a party, in the North, that sought Black adherents from about 1936; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 completed the shift that made Republicans the white supremacist party in the South.

Contemporary right-wingers peddle a modern crackpot historical meme that highlights 19th century Democrats' hostility to black empowerment in order to downplay their own current Republican drive to curtail Black voting. History remains a battleground upon which truth and freedom have to struggle against convenient lies.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Colonial economies


Historian Eric Foner's epic Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 has for several decades been the go-to-account of how northern Republicans flubbed and abandoned the project of making a different South after defeating the Confederacy and preserving the Union. Their retreat left former slaves under the thumb of their former planter owners, terrorized by "Redeemer" white authorities and largely trapped in a new kind labor bondage, tenant farming. He summarizes the result of this brutal process:

...the balance of power between the social classes in the the South had been fundamentally transformed -- a process already visible soon after Reconstruction ended. "This year," reported a New York business journal at the end of 1877, "labor is under control for the first season since the war." The policies of Redeemer governments not only helped to reshape Southern class relations, but affected the course of regional development in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Partly because of Redeemer rule, the South emerged as a peculiar hybrid -- an impoverished colonial economy integrated into the national capitalist marketplace yet with its own distinctive system of repressive labor relations.

That is, in Foner's telling, for all his rich detail on white terrorism and brutality in the service of resubjugating the former slaves, it was the national capitalist revolution in the rest of the country that set the terms for what happened to Reconstruction and to the South.

This left me wondering about what we see today in parts of the Midwest, the so-called Rust Belt. I was born in Buffalo. I never thought to remain there in adulthood; even in the late 1960s the steel, and auto, and chemical, and grain transport economy was contracting. It wasn't a happening place. And as we all have been reminded by the November election, a couple of generations of mostly white industrial and manufacturing workers in similar Rust Belt locations are hurting, the jobs that once bought their parents into a "middle-class" having disappeared to China or perhaps the anti-union South. Eric Loomis insists that this pain is plenty enough to explain the Tangerine's appeal in parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania.

If you need work or you see a recent past where you had more economic security than you have now (which is probably not a myth), it’s pretty easy to see why you might not pay attention to any of the facts that Trump is your enemy and embrace the idea of building a border wall, of building infrastructure in projects corrupt and ineffectual, of wanting to see pipelines built. ... Economic destabilization makes both racialized nationalism and lies about job creation increasingly appealing to the white working class.

Okay, so that is familiar turf, turf which raises up white economic distress and downplays racial backlash as motivating the recent vote. But maybe Foner's paradigm is just as useful for thinking about those once mighty, now so depressed, industrial centers: the former manufacturing heartland, battered by corporate flight and globalization, may be the country's current "impoverished colonial economy integrated into the national capitalist marketplace." Being relegated to colonial status doesn't make people wiser or more generous or more kind; it's more likely to make them bigoted, desperate, and ignorant.
***
And yet, to my fascination, things may be turning around for poor old Buffalo. For what it is worth, last fall Erie County, which contains the city, continued its record since 1972 of voting for Democratic presidential aspirants. And, after decades of economic "readjustment," the economy of my much diminished home town apparently is about to experience a drastic shortfall of some 137,000 industrial workers as Boomers retire. Evidently, the "national capitalist marketplace" gives and it takes away. And people's lives are flotsam.

Once upon a time ...

... President's Day inspired this:
A little tacky perhaps, but earnest.

Today just this ... Resist and protect much.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Executive Order 9066

Seventy-five years ago on February 19, 1942, frightened West Coast residents were understandably shocked by the Japanese empire's attack on the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor. Some clamored for the removal of individuals of Japanese ethnicity from their states. Although the "intelligence community" of the day reported that these 120,000 people, mostly U.S. citizens, constituted no danger to the country, President Roosevelt bowed to pressure and ordered them rounded up and sent to internment camps. In this video from the Utah Museum of Art and History, a Japanese-American strawberry worker describes her consternation.

This video from the FDR Presidential Library strives to place Eleanor Roosevelt's later activism on behalf of the 1948 United Nations "Universal Declaration on Human Rights" in the context of her husband's shameful internment policy. The document was "the first global expression of what many people believe to be the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled." In 1988, President Reagan apologized for the Japanese internment and Congress appropriated $20,000 per person compensation to survivors .

A current photo exhibit about the Japanese internment at the FDR Library, featuring images by Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams, concludes with this warning:

Executive Order 9066 reminds us that even our greatest leaders can make mistakes when the voice of the people drowns out the voice of reason. As Abraham Lincoln once said:

“Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government.”


Actor George Takei remembers what it was like, as a five year old, to be dumped in a camp because he was an ethnic Japanese. He doesn't want anything like this to happen to anyone today. You can sign Takei's petition against Donald Trump's cruel immigration orders at the link.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday sightings: the eyes see us and we them

When you start noticing them, there are a lot of eyes staring out from walls and windows in San Francisco.

Sometimes they appear in clusters ...

or alone in closeup.

A few look up from the sidewalks.

Others peer down improbably -- and are at risk.

Others are imaginative.


All encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The 'hood went dark last night.

If you were looking for a taco last night in San Francisco's Mission District, you were out of luck.

Almost all the usual small Latin restaurants were closed.

These aren't chain restaurants. Most are tiny family businesses.

Even the largest and most prosperous ones observed the "Day without an Immigrant" strike against Donald Trump's immigration raids.

Posters on the bus shelters provided some context, but I can't testify that these people "organized" the protest. One of the pleasures of living in an immigrant community is that newcomers bring their modes of protest and political expression from their former homes with them. Those of us born here can learn a lot. (Not that San Francisco doesn't have its own proud history of strikes.)

Friday cat blogging

This is MY driveway. What are you staring at? I didn't ask for a human with a camera.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How could the Soviet Union have disappeared?

Way back when I was in college in the 1960s, I was fascinated by the history of Russia, then the Soviet Union. I took every Berkeley course available that didn't require Slavic language proficiency. And then, life happened and Russia receded as an interest for me. Unconcern remained my default mode, even when the Soviet Union came undone and successive new regimes blundered forward in that vast, disturbed country. I never much took it on myself to read up on why the bogeyman of my youth came to disintegrate. I instinctively didn't give much trust to US sources and more dispassionate accounts didn't exist immediately.

But in recent years I've been trying to catch up with all the contemporary history I'd let pass me by. And so, here are some tidbits I picked up out of From Washington to Moscow: US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR by Louis Sell. Sell is a retired Foreign Service officer who served twenty-seven years with the US Department of State, including several stints in Moscow during which he dealt directly with both the top ranks of the Soviet state and also with anti-Soviet dissidents. He seems to like and empathize with many Russians. And his book is designed to answer what seems to me still the necessary question about contemporary Russia: how could the mighty Soviet Union have simply disappeared?

Here are a few points that leaped out at me:

  • Over the years, the Soviet regime experienced outbreaks of localized popular unrest sometimes accompanied by violence, but these were generally sporadic and were always quickly suppressed by the authorities ... Nevertheless, the regime never lost its feeling of insecurity toward the mass of the population, which stemmed ultimately from the contradiction between the proclaimed liberationist goals of the system and the repressive reality used to keep it in power.

    In the late 1970s I attended a football game in Moscow with a Soviet friend ... Seeing me look with surprise at the heavy security presence for a peaceful if exuberant event, my nonconformist friend said with a laugh, "Our government gets very nervous when large numbers of Russians gather in one place."
  • Fear remained the essential glue that held the system together. ... When Gorbachev relaxed the threat of repression he inadvertently released a torrent of political, national and social criticism that eroded the very foundations of the system.

People in this country are conditioned to assume that governments "derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." (Declaration of Independence) Of course lots of governments actually derive their powers from their monopoly on the means of coercion; still the US notion has demonstrated considerable stability and efficacy which the old Soviet Union proved to lack.

Sell is sympathetic to Russian revulsion with what came after.

  • It is impossible to understand Putin's Russia without also understanding the effect of the end of the Cold War on the country, its people, and their rulers. In considering this phenomenon, it is worth contemplating what might have happened if events had broken the other way and if the US had experienced roughly analogous consequences to Cold War defeat. It is hardly likely that the American people would have welcomed an outcome that saw their political system discredited and replaced by models from abroad, the country itself broken up into several weak and mutually antagonistic independent states, their standard of living drastically diminished, and former international allies eagerly embracing the victors from the East. It is quite possible that under those circumstances the American people would have come to view their now triumphant rivals with anger and resentment and looked back to the Cold War with some nostalgia.
  • Moscow's sudden fall from superpower status, although inevitable in some ways since the USSR was, in reality, only a superpower in the military sense, was unsettling to Russians who more than most people tend to identify their own personal status and wellbeing with the power of the state.

There's a generalization in that last assertion that I don't feel competent to evaluate; let's ask ourselves, do we "identify our own personal status and wellbeing with the power of our state"? It occurs to me that the segment of the country which is attracted by the unpresidential Tangerine's nationalism might indeed feel that way, while many of us don't.

Sell is critical of how the US responded to the unexpected break up of the Soviet system and empire.

In the field of national security, the United States could never decide whether its primary objective was to help create a democratic and confident Russia as a full partner in the post-Cold-War world or to build up the former Soviet states as independent counters to a possibly resurgent Moscow. The US ended up trying to do both and accomplishing neither well.

That certainly seems evident today as Putin tries to re-establish a cut-rate empire and people in the US find ourselves unable to fathom the motives and intent of our Russophiliac Tangerine. What is happening here?
***
Some previous posts on books about modern Russia:
Masha Gessen on Putin
Stephen F. Cohen on hinge moments in Russian history
Peter Pomerantzsev on Putin's nightmare state

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Did the Women's Marches really serve to activate resistance?

Survey Monkey is one of these online polling outfits that function by attracting millions of volunteers willing to answer all sorts of questions -- mostly consumer preferences, but also political and social issues. (I took part in the YouGov version of this kind of polling during the election season to get a sense of this methodology, but quit after November.) They collect demographic information on participants -- age, race, sex, education and geography -- so they can weight responses to approximate the population at large.


In their January 26-30 national survey, they asked their pool whether they had attended or paid attention to the Women's Marches across the country. Six percent of their interviewees claimed to have attended. And, as the chart here illustrates, they came away energized to keep working for their vision of a better future than that on offer from Trump and the GOPers.

Survey Monkey has posted an interesting inquiry into whether their findings really do show that the Women's Marches signaled a strong level of activism going forward. They are confident they've captured signs of strong commitment to ongoing activity.

Resist and protect much.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Resistance expresses a moral stance

Yesterday morning, glancing through this Storify collection of tweets from political consultant Mike Hettinger about eruptions of dissent at Republican Congresscritters' TownHall meetings, I was jolted by this one:
On that evening, as were cleaning up the San Francisco headquarters from which we'd run a campaign against California's anti-immigrant initiative Prop. 187, a young woman from the Democratic National Committee wandered in, looking confused and sheepish. Our campaign had just lost statewide, horribly, by a margin of 59-41 percent. We had known we would lose -- California was in an immigration panic and our Republican governor had chosen to get himself re-elected by fanning xenophobia. But we also knew we'd mobilized and organized a huge mixed crew of Latinos, people of various Asian origins, and white allies; in our city we won well over 70% NO votes. The entire Bay Area was an island of NOs.

The woman from the DNC came with a question: how can it be that when we're getting creamed all over the country, you were able to bring people out? All I had to say to her was, "people cared!" The campaign against Prop. 187 was a moral movement; the flood of people who mobilized against the measure found the notion that some children should be barred from schools and denied basic hospital care to be viscerally repulsive, an offense against their deepest values.

I think about this when I see this polling:
According to CBS polling, 35% of us are Resisters to the Trump presidency. And another 21% (the "Curious") are doubtful about the Tangerine. The sum of those groups tracks closely with Gallup's presidential approval numbers yesterday (2/12): 55 disapprove, 40 approve.

Like the woman from the DNC in 1994, conventional political operatives risk being disconcerted by the energy and commitment of this large group of Resisters. We demonstrate; we mobilize; we organize -- and we lampoon and delight in each other's company. That is what a popular eruption which is essentially moral looks like: a little chaotic, seemingly unfocused, vigorous, determined, potentially powerful, and ready to work for justice. We want and believe we should make our country more fair, more equal, more generous, better than the sad future of fear and strife the Tangerine and his Republican enablers are offering. We've decided to make that future. Nothing will come easy, but we are numerous and determined.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Why U.S. citizens don't have a clear "right to vote"

The unpresidential Tangerine's odious twerp policy advisor Stephen Miller warned today:

An issue of voter fraud is something we’re going to be looking at very seriously and very hard.

This is not surprising since they've installed a Neo-Confederate Attorney General whose history suggests he'll try to make voting more difficult for all varieties of "those people." Election administrators agree we have no significant voter fraud. But there are a lot of U.S. citizens that these guys -- and lot of Republicans -- don't think should be allowed to vote. So we are treated to repetition of this Big Lie about election fraud.

Coincidentally, I'm currently reading historian Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. (The link is to Amazon, but this is probably available from public libraries.) He describes how the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870 after Union victory in Civil War ended slavery, was both a previously unthinkable advance for the principle of black, male, suffrage -- and also, a very incomplete step toward inclusive citizenship. It's limitations still haunt us.

... clothing black suffrage with constitutional sanction, the amendment said nothing about the right to hold office and failed to make voting requirements "uniform throughout the land" ... [Radical contemporaries] derided its "lame and halting" language, for the Amendment did not forbid literacy, property and education tests that, while nonracial, might effectively exclude the majority of blacks from the polls. ... Congress rejected a far more sweeping proposal barring discrimination in suffrage and officeholding based on "race, color, nativity, property, education or religious beliefs." Nor did the Amendment break decisively with the notion that the vote was a "privilege" that states could regulate as they saw fit.

[The unrepentant South was not the only source of the Amendment's deficiencies.] ... Northern states wished to retain their own suffrage qualifications. In the West, the Chinese could not vote; if the Fifteenth Amendment altered this situation, warned California's Republican Sen. Cornelius Cole, it would "kill our party as dead as a stone." Pennsylvania demanded the payment of state taxes to vote; Rhode Island required foreign-born citizens to own $134 worth of real estate; Massachusetts and Connecticut insisted upon literacy. ...In a reversal of long-established political traditions, support for black voting rights now seemed less controversial than efforts to combat other forms of inequality. Thus it was not a limited commitment to blacks' voting rights, but a desire to retain other inequalities, affecting whites, that produced a Fifteenth Amendment that opened the door to poll taxes, literacy tests, and property qualifications in the South.

It is interesting that blacks who commented on the Amendment preferred language explicitly guaranteeing all male citizens the right to vote. Not for the first time in the nation's history, their commitment to the ideal of equal citizenship exceeded that of other Americans.

And, of course, proponents of both a "strong" and "weak" Fifteenth Amendment ignored the claims of women ...

Women won our own voting rights amendment in 1920; poll taxes were outlawed by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1964. But it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to overcome many of the weaknesses in the Fifteenth Amendment, especially the many opportunities it left open for states to weasel out of making available universal suffrage through local laws governing election administration.

Since the Supreme Court has been whittling back the Voting Rights Act -- most recently in Holder in 2013 -- Republicans have been enacting state procedures that make voting harder for people of color, the very old, the poor, the infirm and the very young. If everyone can vote, and does vote, Republicans don't win. It's that simple. So GOPers have seized on "voter-suppression" to save their unpopular asses.

It's all based on phony claims of non-existent voter fraud. One of my favorite Democratic Senate candidates who didn't quite prevail in the last cycle, Jason Kander of Missouri, is leading something called Let America Vote to help local people make the argument when faced with state efforts to reduce voting rights. He thinks most of us would reject voter-suppression if we were hearing the arguments.

Right now, in most places in the country, if a state legislator decides to file a piece of legislation that is nakedly obvious in its intent to suppress the vote, there’s a very limited political consequence for doing that. That needs to change. And Let America Vote is going to be anywhere across the country where we need to be to make sure there is a political consequence.

... The president of the United States is telling one of the biggest lies a president has ever told. It’s just made up, the idea that there was widespread voter fraud in the election—he just completely made it up. And he’s doing it not to pacify his own insecurities; he’s doing it because he wants to ease the process of passing voter-suppression laws across the country so that he has a better chance of getting re-elected and that Republicans have a better chance of winning elections in 2018. But when that’s the case, when the president of the United States is running a voter-suppression campaign out of the White House, and actively working to undermine faith and confidence in our democracy, then what choice do we have but to fight back against that with everything we can?

Repudiating voter-suppression and extending opportunity for all citizens to vote is resistance. We all need to be loud and clear about this assault on democratic rights.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Organizing with grit, integrity, and vision


The PICO National Network of faith-based community organizations, which claims a presence in 150 cities and 17 states, has a Live Free component that has been building local struggles against mass incarceration and violence inflicted on communities of color.

By happy accident, I found myself in a Live Free convening last week. In anxious times, it was great to be among tough, experienced, determined new friends working in directions which we all need.


These folks aspire to be a "prophetic resistance." We were treated to a reflection by Doran Schrantz from ISAIAH in Minnesota that dared to ask what "moral genius," if any, might reside in these Disunited States. She proposed:

  • "Moral genius" means never to pretend to reconcile what cannot be reconciled. There can be "no exceptions. Democracy cannot be reconciled with white supremacy. You cannot build a free people on lies."
  • Moral citizenship is about picking up "the bedraggled promise of freedom, of equality."
  • Moral citizenship demands that we "root out every practice/law/etc that asserts that some are more equal than others.
  • We have inherited this contradiction: we have to decide to live with being Americans and accept that we live within the American contradiction. Our hands are going to be dirty. But there is only the complicated struggle of collective action.

PICO has not always been known for "playing well with others" -- for being willing to work cooperatively alongside other community actors. In today's broad resistance moment, leaders and organizers stressed that going it alone would not be enough, even though coalition can be hard, scary.
  • "We are not living in the same kind of organizing environment as before. It doesn't feel like a democracy anymore. Organizing will be different."
  • "We have to build a bigger tent ..."
  • "Organizing works. Does it make room for new people? Does it have room to learn? Nimble is good."
  • "We can no longer win by ourselves ..."

Taking the fight into the electoral arena was considered essential. "Political involvement is not optional." That's tough to sell when people don't believe they can make a difference, but what else is organizing for but to help people find their power?


"Some of us have been made for this time... Be the storm ... Raise up our own prophets of resistance." "Our faith has to exceed our belief ..."

All of these admonitions speak to me.

Quotations are my hasty notes, as accurate as I could make them.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

From the trail ..

Sights like this, encountered while running, provide my "self-care." Wonderfully, I didn't even have to leave the city to come upon this view.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Resistance should make immunization central to our culture


So the unpresidential Tangerine has lost a round as federal judges have extended the stay of his Muslim ban. Good. We can now have some confidence that this round will play out over some time period. Any grit in the wheels of his autocratic white nationalist project is a good thing. But let's look ahead a bit. What might we really be up against here?

It looks to me a good bet that much of Trump's snarling at federal judges (and at the media) is designed to give him someone else to blame when the U.S. is hit with some sort of terrorist incident. We will suffer such an attack; in a country that sends its military tromping through nations around the world, a country awash in unregulated guns, and stocked with the usual quantity of damaged people (including the one in the White House), something is going to happen. Our incompetent president and his proto-fascist, white nationalist brain trust led by Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions hope to be able to use popular panic to overthrow constraints on the emerging autocracy.

Our struggle to preserve the rule law will be enhanced by promoting a widespread understanding that when a terror attack occurs 1) something awful and wrong happened; 2) it happened under a president failing to do his job; 3) and terrorism is no excuse for curtailing civil liberties and trying to rule by executive order. Helping as many people as possible to get a grip on that understanding now is what I mean by immunization.

Fortunately, there are people with a big megaphone are out there sounding the alarm. Jack Goldsmith, formerly of George W. Bush's Office of Legal Counsel, led off with a Lawfare blog post asking a provocative and scary question about Trump's Muslim ban: "Does Trump Want to Lose the Executive Order Battle in Court?"

... the only reason I can think of is that Trump is setting the scene to blame judges after an attack that has any conceivable connection to immigration.  If Trump loses in court he credibly will say to the American people that he tried and failed to create tighter immigration controls.  This will deflect blame for the attack.  And it will also help Trump to enhance his power after the attack.  ...the usual security panic after a bad attack will be enhanced quite a lot—in courts and in Congress—if before the attack legal and judicial constraints are seen to block safety.   If Trump assumes that there will be a bad terrorist attack on his watch, blaming judges now will deflect blame and enhance his power more than usual after the next attack.

This isn't coming from some paranoid lefty -- this is from a conservative Harvard Law professor.

Goldsmith's warning on Monday, February 6, seems to have unleashed a slew of "serious" media voices making similar points.
  • Journalist Eric Levitz:

    [Trump's attack on the judge] was not merely an intemperate tweet. It was the president instructing the American people to view the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil as an indictment of the judiciary. ... This is an argument for allowing our fear of terrorism to overwhelm our commitment to the rule of law — a line of reasoning that poses a far greater threat to the American form of government and way of life than any closeted-jihadist refugee ever could.

  • Perceptive Democratic Party pundit Ed Kilgore:

    [Trump] is preemptively clearing himself and his administration of any responsibility for future terrorist acts its policies might fail to prevent — or even invite. ... Perhaps the larger challenge is how Trump opponents can safeguard themselves and the country from this sort of irresponsible blame-shifting, which could not only misrepresent the causes for terrorist acts, but justify steps by Trump that endanger our security even more and vitiate civil liberties even further.

  • New Republic columnist Jeet Heer:

    If the U.S. is hit by a terrorist attack that can be connected to Islamic radicalism, Trump will blame his opponents, whether they be the courts, politicians, journalists, or whomever; the terrorist attack will be anyone’s fault but his own. Knowing this, Democrats must be ready to play politics in return.

  • New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza sought the opinion of George W. Bush's torture-apologist lawyer, John Yoo:

    ... Yoo told me, “If there is another terrorist attack, I could see Trump seeking all of the powers that the President can exercise during wartime. The domestic powers would have to be approved by Congress, such as limitations on habeas, domestic warrantless surveillance, and an internal security act. We really haven’t had a system like that since the Second World War or the Communist cases of the nineteen-fifties.”

  • Lizza also interviewed Todd Breasseale, the former assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Homeland Security:

    “We ... wholly believe that Trump needs a bogeyman. But, more importantly, he needs distraction and a blame source. In terrorists, he has his bogeyman. In his control of the prevailing press narrative via tweet, he has distraction. And, in the judiciary, he has a source of blame for why his way was right from the beginning.” Breasseale added, “I am fully confident that an attack is exactly what he wants and needs.”

We, let's call ourselves the Resistance, have a multitude of fights ahead. In all those fights we must holler far and wide that the President is setting the country up to use a terror event to seize greater powers than the constitution allows. That's immunization. I've done my bit. Understanding this has to be a central part of our culture of resistance.

If we do a good job, the inevitable terror attack might well bounce back against Trump. So asserts political scientist Jonathan Bernstein:

It's also possible that some event could inspire a rally-around-the-flag response that could spike his approval ratings. But that's a lot less predictable a reaction than many believe. Large, long-lasting rally effects are rare. And there's no guarantee that Trump would benefit from, say, a terrorist attack, even in the short run. Reactions to such events depend on how the media reports them and how Democrats respond, and neither would necessarily support Trump.

Nor is it certain that the Tweeter-in-Chief would be able to behave himself well enough to get the benefit of the doubt from many who currently think he's doing a bad job. It's not hard to imagine Trump reacting to a foreign-policy or national-security crisis by lashing out at an inappropriate target -- or by getting distracted by some petty unrelated feud.

Let's make sure he is right; we can do this.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

One last football moment ...


Some New England Patriots have chosen to #Standforsomething. From Color of Change:

By refusing to visit the White House, Martellus Bennett, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower, and Chris Long are making a bold rebuke of a racist, misogynist, and unqualified President who is hellbent on destroying our already marginalized communities and snatching human rights away from anyone who is not rich, white, and male.

And this bold stance shouldn’t be taken lightly. These players stood up for justice and equity and against racism and misogyny--possibly jeopardizing their relationships with both their teammate, Tom Brady and team owner, Bob Kraft who are both close friends of Donald Trump. And they’re taking a lot of public criticism for standing against Trump--even though Tom Brady deliberately skipped the White House visit when Barack Obama was president, citing a vague “scheduling conflict.”

Patriots players against a Trump presidency shouldn’t face a different level of scrutiny than Tom Brady. They have the right to refuse to interact with a President who is fundamentally opposed to everything America stands for.

Something is happening when athletes step out of their constricted role as objects for our prurient consumption. These men have taken a risk with their brief careers, knowing this was their moment. Admirable.

Still looking for overdue law enforcement

Folks from the Coalition for Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez took our vigil to outside San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon's house last night. Almost two years after the young man was hit by six shots in the back fired by two plainclothes cops, still no charges have been filed.

We have new signs! After 40 vigils outside the Mission police station, the old ones were getting tired.

In the quiet Mt. Davidson neighborhood, several dozens of us bearing quiet witness were an unexpected novelty.

How long? How long?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Why all that calling and protesting matters ...


... athough we don't, now, have the votes in the Senate to derail President Trump's cabinet of deplorables.

... there’s a reason to fight President Trump’s nominations even if they can’t be derailed. More dissent means more critical stories in the press, means sharper-elbowed hearings, means defensive guarantees made to mollify wobbly senators, means a brighter spotlight on the secretaries once they’re in office. The resistance to Trump is in part about boxing in the people charged with enacting his will. The less latitude the Cabinet can enjoy, the weaker the Trump administration is.

Jim Newell, Slate

The graphic comes from those tireless fighters for their own public education, the young people of Californians for Justice.

DeVos’ confirmation is not about challenging the status quo to create a better public education system. It is about providing a false narrative that public education is “flush with billions of dollars.” It is about reinforcing a system of winners and losers.

... We believe that every neighborhood should have quality schools. A system that creates winners and losers should never be a choice.

We will ensure that public education remains a public good. That the voices and truths of students are uplifted in a time when their leadership matters most. We will continue to ensure that we invest in school staff and create spaces that build relationships in a time when fear and hatred are becoming ordinary.

It is in this time now, we are called to protect public education because as Nelson Mandela reminds us, “education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world.”

Watch out Republicans. You are digging your own graves.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Local resistance has already won one skirmish ... take this national!

Here's an off-the-shelf resistance project that people in cities and towns seeking to be "sanctuary cities" can and should get moving on ASAP. You can learn not only why, but how, at TrumpINTELPro.

Those of us who've been around for awhile remember when the U.S. government, in the form the F.B.I., was at war with the civil rights movement, the Black Liberation struggle especially the National of Islam, the American Indian Movement, and the anti-Vietnam war movement. COINTELPRO tried to shame the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. into committing suicide by sending him audio tapes from bugged rooms where he'd had sexual trysts. There is evidence that the F.B.I. had a role in the assassination of Malcolm X. This was not "intelligence" gathering; the F.B.I. was in the business of playing dirty tricks on citizens with anti-government political opinions. Targets died.

TrumpINTELPro explains that the new President has promised to bring this kind of government repression of "enemies" back.

Donald Trump is implementing Putin's KGB tactics; he seeks to fulfill promises of unlawfully using FBI resources by creating a Muslim registry, deporting millions of innocent undocumented people, and disrupting constitutionally protected activism. We chose the name "TRUMPINTELPRO" because we’re prepared to make him own his carnage, and this legacy, by placing it all in his name.

... Many cities across the country have sanctuary laws that protect immigrant community members, Muslims, and protesters. These laws are designed to protect local police officers from doing dirty work for ICE and the FBI. The current administration is attacking these cities. Donald has already signed an executive order threatening to strip billions in federal funds from sanctuary cities across the country. ... We are ALL at risk. As Americans in this moment, we must unite and rally in allegiance to the laws that Trump is so determined to ignore.

Many local police departments have already been pulled into working with the federal government through Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Participation in these JTTFs is voluntary for cities, but most do. Police departments lend officers to the feds; this is how the F.B.I. extends itself into thousands of communities which they would otherwise never have the manpower or information to touch.

[Under existing laws,] the FBI can spy on us, putting informants in our places of worship and harassing us at home or work, even if they have zero evidence that we have done something wrong. In fact, they can do this even if they KNOW that we have done nothing wrong. And, yes, they are doing this to people all across the country. ... Trump's plans for religious and race-based profiling depend deeply on this partnership.

... Here's the real shady part: The FBI usually won’t allow officers to tell their supervisors what they are working on. Therefore, there is no real way to locally track what the officers are doing or to make sure that they are not violating state or city law. ... we have seen that the JTTF is behind much of the FBI's unchecked harm to American residents.

But the federal government is not paying for local cops lent to the JTTFs. We can set the rules for their participation.

Let’s make sure that anytime our local police work with the FBI, it is on our terms. Let’s make sure that our voices are heard by demanding officers follow the laws that we have established.

Protect our officers! Give them something clear to point to if and when the FBI asks that they violate a state or local law. It is the officer's duty to follow said laws; however, in all likelihood, the FBI doesn’t know or care about enforcing them. Still, officers that aren't compliant with local or state law could face lawsuits. Requiring that police adhere foremost to our local law actually benefits the community and the police.

TrumpINTELPro outlines how to get your local police out of the business of helping the F.B.I. to repress dissent. If our local assertion of "sanctuary" for Muslims, immigrants, LGBT people and whoever else the Donald attacks is to be meaningful in the days to come, this is vital.

This campaign can be won. We know that because the prototype campaign has been won in San Francisco. And such a campaign puts all law enforcement on notice that local citizens expect them to abide by the decisions of local governments and to obey the laws. TrumpINTELPro teaches how to take such a campaign national.

Resist and protect much.

Monday, February 06, 2017

It's raining again ...


I should be thrilled after years of California drought, but I confess I'm getting a little sick of this. Running in the rain is a lot less fun than running in dry weather. And when there is lots of water, there is also mud, another deterrent ...

But this is good -- the drought is finally broken, right? I decided to put some brains cells into finding out.

Here's the good news according to the California Weather Blog:

Most of the state currently sits at or above 150% of average for the Water Year to date, and some spots are well over 200%. This marks the wettest first half of the rainy season in many years, and perhaps the best news is that much of this water has actually fallen in frozen form as snow in the Sierra Nevada. In fact, the current snow water equivalent in California is the highest in 22 years–since the memorable storms during the winter of 1995.

Why should we be glad that so much of the precipitation takes the form of snow? Existing water systems depend on winter snows, not run off.

The melting of the spring snowpack determines how much water feeds critical reservoirs in 11 Western states. That water helps sustain Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and other cities, as well as farms and mountain ecosystems, through hot, dry summers.

Yet the warming climate points to less and less snowpack in the mountains of the West -- even if we don't have drought conditions. The Weather Blog explains how this will play out in the heavy rains of this year.

... this prodigious mountain snowfall has not occurred because it has been particularly cold. In fact, data show that temperatures to date have–for the seventh consecutive winter–been above average, though not by as wide a margin as during recent record warm winters. ... It’s pretty clear that the huge influx of Pacific moisture in recent weeks, combined with “just cold enough” temperatures, was the real driver behind this fortuitous snowpack turnaround.

This recent experience is interesting in light of expected future changes to Sierra Nevada snowpack as California’s climate continues to warm. Big snowfalls like the January 2017 event will still sometimes occur even in a much warmer climate, but future storms that might historically have been “just cold enough” will instead be “not quite cold enough,” and associated precipitation will be much more likely to fall as rain, rather than snow.

In fact, scientists foresee a drastic rise in the elevation at which rain becomes snow over the next century.

The snow line will rise by an average of 950 feet across six Western mountain regions by century's end. The study, by a team of University of Utah scientists, was published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month.

And warming conditions will do more than lower water run off.

Researcher Alex Hall used a complex computer model to look at what would happen to the Sierra Nevada mountains if [carbon] pollutants kept entering our atmosphere at the current rate.He found that by the end of the century, average temperatures could climb by 7 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit and average land area covered by snow could fall by 50 percent.

Even worse, this reduction in snow would likely fuel more warmth, since as snow melts it exposes land. Since land isn’t as reflective as snow, it absorbs more heat and adds more warmth to the area around it. Hall said it’s a feedback loop that spells trouble for the snowpack.

Sure would be nice to have a government that was trying to reduce carbon emissions and plan for our dryer future. We have something like that in California, but in Washington the oil barons reign ...

Resist and protect much. The quality of the lives of those who come after us depend on what we do now.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Let's give credit where credit is due ...

This was the New York Times teaser on a story about the plummeting appeal of Trump branded products in retail outlets. Short summary: mass retailers are deciding they don't want the aggravation that goes with the Trump name. Having at least half the country pissed off at them isn't good business.

But the headline disguises the real story here. Popular consumer boycotts aimed at pressuring retailers don't just spring up without organization. This is not solely about individuals following their consciences when they spend money. Smart organizations are picking vulnerable targets (hint: any corporation that judges its advertising image is vital to its sales) and letting people know that not buying Trump junk makes one small, mildly hurtful, statement of disgust with our cartoon First Family.

The Times article does name one such effort: #grabyourwallet. This seems to be just a Google list of targets, but in the era of social media, such a list can go far, especially with national, conflict-averse, enterprises. Smaller, regional, and more niche marketers are likely to be impervious without more organization. And if the boycott needs to go more deeply -- saying not just "I won't buy Trump," but also "I won't come in your stores that feature Trump" -- organization requires at least rudimentary means to deliver the message to the target.

Sum of Us has been organizing boycotts of bad corporate citizens for years; among other efforts, they have a campaign that is driving mainstream advertisers off Trump's favorite "news" platform, the Breibart website. That's targeting.

I'm sure boycotts will become even better organized as we move through Trump incumbency. That's what the family gets for trying to loot the country as a closely held commercial extortion racket.

I learned all this in my head, in shivering limbs, and in my feet when I worked on the United Farm Worker Union boycott of grapes in the northeast for several years in the '70s. Si se puede! Boycotts can be powerful.

On the occasion of Super Bowl 2017

Yeah, I'll watch anyway, among my longstanding comrades in escapism via socially acceptable brutality. But the brutality is feeling stale.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

From the hood: 'nature red in tooth and claw"

A few feathers were the first sign of something out of the ordinary. We usually have nothing more than an excess of impossible-to-eradicate oxalis.

These outliers were soon joined by far more in the driveway.

Ah yes, there's a hawk in the tree.

A pigeon made a nice meal for the better part of an afternoon.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Of popular sovereignty and collapsing constitutions


Four items briefly noted. Dramatic churn in what we may have thought immutable political arrangements in these days would be easy to miss amid the rush of everyday drama from the Trump regime. Here are some straws in the wind.
  • Last fall, citizens of South Dakota passed new ethics and campaign finance rules by a 52 percent initiative vote. Last week, their Republican dominated legislature and governor threw that measure in the trash can -- and even made it impossible for their voters to bring it back by another initiative.

    An emergency provision means the [repeal] bill would take effect immediately and couldn't be referred back it to the ballot. ...

    Rapid City resident Michelle Smith said before the [legislative] vote that it's wrong that the voters' voice is being overturned. She cast a ballot for the initiative and came to the Capitol to support it.

    "I've spent a lot of time saying, 'Somebody needs to do something,'" Smith said. "I'm somebody."

    So much for government by the people.
  • Meanwhile, in Britain, a vote of the British parliament kicked the legs out from under their several hundred year old "unwritten constitution" when they decided that a narrow national popular vote to leave the European Union must override their historic mandate and prerogative to govern through parliament. Writing at Open Democracy, Adam Ramsey and Anthony Barnett explain:

    ... a referendum which must be respected even if it upturns the views of MPs kills off parliamentary sovereignty. It is the people of Britain who are sovereign now.

    For a democrat, this is a good thing in many ways. It ought to be the people of this country who have the ultimate power to decide on the most important matters. But, here’s the problem. What we can now refer to as the old constitution had rules and procedures and, at least on good days, checks and balances. ...

    If we are to accept the new reality – that the people have spoken and must be heard; that it is us, the citizens of this country, who are the ultimate arbiters, then that means we too need rules and procedures. We need to figure out how we are to organise our new-found power. We need, in other words, a democratic constitution. Because without codification, the abstract idea of popular sovereignty is a path to tyranny. The people must be in charge, but that means we must organize ourselves to ensure minorities are respected, that there are proceedures for us to change our minds, and that the information put before us is honest. ...

    The need is the more urgent since the Scottish National Party won the vast majority of seats from its section of the country and stands against Brexit, for a far more equitable society, and popular sovereignty for the Scottish people exercised through the Scottish parliament. That is, so-called "Great Britain" is breaking up. We probably ought to notice.
  • And then there are manifold questions about the viability of the U.S. constitution. Legal scholars Jack Balkin and Sanford Levinson have been discussing this for a decade, long before our 18th century document yielded the present President, elected with a minority of the vote, who recognizes no constitutional restraints. Here are some abbreviated comments by Balkin:

    Demagogues do not usually sneak up unawares. Members of the public often know that demagogues are selfish, unethical, and unscrupulous, but they convince themselves that turning to such leaders is the only way to smash corrupt institutions and solve the country's problems. Once in power, however, demagogues become tyrants, bringing republican government to an end. This is the traditional story of how republics decay and fall. ...How well does the traditional account of the decay of republics match our present situation? The resemblance is altogether frightening. ...

    ... The credibility of a demagogue like Trump stems from his promise to shake up the lethargy of government, to bring change, and to improve people’s lives. The source of his power is also the source of his greatest vulnerability. To defeat him, one must bog him down, divert him, frustrate him, waste his energies. ... ... these kinds of leaders fail because people actively oppose them They fail because their political coalition begins weakened and falls apart in the face of constant political opposition. ... Above all, to defeat a demagogue whose power comes from the promise of change, one must make change difficult, and impede the smooth progress of his Administration’s ambitions.

    Democracy and Dysfunction is absolutely worth reading in its entirety; although written by high-end lawyers, it is accessible to anyone who are willing to invest a little effort.
  • And one more lawyerly contribution to understanding this moment: Mark Graber, in The Normal Politics of Abnormal Presidents takes up what we need to do now that our constitutional order is failing us.

    The normal politics that generated an abnormal president highlight the necessary repairs that must be made to the American constitutional order to prevent Trumpism.  If constitutional order A in the normal course of operation generates constitutional order B and constitutional order B is a terrible regime, constitutional order A has severe design flaws and cannot be restored merely by a temporary expedient that removes a particular manifestation of political outcome B.  ... If Donald Trump were to disappear today, the combination of campaign finance laws, media practices, party politics and sheer bigotry that produced Donald Trump will likely produce some variation on Donald Trump in the foreseeable future. ...

    ... The challenge that the normal politics of abnormal presidents present is finding the resources in the existing constitutional order for upending that regime with the understanding that the means by which this order is upended will likely become the normal politics of the next era.  A military coup that overthrows Mr. Trump provides the foundation for the military coup that overthrows President Elizabeth Warren.  If the left gains power through riots in the streets and general strikes, then opposition to a leftwing government is likely to take the form of riots in the streets and general strikes.  The best solution and the most challenging one is a campaign aimed at mobilizing voters under the most difficult circumstances for mobilizing voters since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    I agree profoundly with that last paragraph. Not being a lawyer, I'm also in favor of every popular initiative to impede the demagogue -- strikes, marches, blockades, Congressional call-ins, pray-ins, and modes of popular protest we haven't invented yet -- but we need to use the levers of popular sovereignty as much as possible along the way or we won't like where we arrive.

Friday cat blogging

How am I supposed to get anything done?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Enjoy this, part 2

This video is not directed at the people who read this blog. I doubt my blog is read by many Black people between 18-35, if any. But on its own terrain, this video is not that different from the clip in the previous post. I think the people who do frequent this site might learn from seeing that.

Enjoy this

The video is from a psychologist named Glenda Russell who lives in Colorado. I had never heard of her, but I like it. It's snappy and heartening.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

When cynicism and nihilism win

Peter Pomerantsev, a British TV producer of Russian-dissident heritage, sought glamour and fortune in the land his parents fled. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia serves up a vivid portrait of a broken society where only cynicism and nihilism thrive. If Pomerantsev is to be believed, and I see no reason to doubt him, Putin's Russia is a dystopian reality TV show cum sadistic Synanon Game cum indissoluble marriage to a cruel, battering spouse. All this masquerades as an illiberal democracy, complete with chimerical institutions of law and justice. In fact, the autocrat and his captive kleptocrats rule through intimidation and corruption. The picture is incredibly depressing.

It took Pomerantsev a decade of experience in Moscow to suss this out.

It was only years later that I came to see these endless mutations not as freedom but as forms of delirium.

The book recounts his immersion and gradual repulsion; if a reader will go there, reading this account is to ingest a foul despair.

And yet -- and yet-- there's a huge amount of context missing in Pomerantsev's stories, that I can't help believe should be essential to framing any glimpse of contemporary Russia. Whatever nightmare is going on there is the end product of a couple of hundred years of disorienting horror that cannot have failed to leave its residue in a crushed populace: czarist autocracy; a cruel communism that destroyed any credibility for humane socialism; the Stalin cult amid terror; a genocidal assault from Nazi Germany on Slavs and Jews and communists; the unheralded collapse of empire; neoliberal capitalism delivered as shock therapy; Party bosses who morphed into mafia bosses; and an oil extraction economy benefiting oligarchs while leaving most in miserable poverty. No wonder Putin's flimflam is so effective in upholding his rule. Russia is a deeply broken society; Putinlandia is the product of all that history, not just of a particular secret policeman turned tinpot autocrat.

Does the presidency of Donald Trump suggest that the U.S., also, is irretrievably broken? Do we face a similar descent into fantastic delirium? Trump is, after all, an insecure, soulless, made-for-TV character with a greed for lucre and a lust for power. Can he and his enablers substitute cynicism and disgust for the hopes of the majority for a democratic path toward an equitable, sustainable future?

Answering those questions is our fate. And we have some advantages. The places in this country which are not broken, which power some 64 percent of the economy, most of the culture, and which resonate most with our multi-faceted history and diversity, had no part in electing Donald Trump. People with hope for a better future are a majority with some material and many moral assets. The system didn't work for us in 2016; can we work the remnants of the system to reassert ourselves? We'll have to do what accumulated horrors made impossible for a broken Russia: choose hope, work together in all our integrity and multiplicity, and nurture our best values everyday, all around each of us. This is our time.

Resist and protect much.
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