Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Virus on the loose

Kaiser Permanente is on the ball -- I was not surprised to notice Monday that they are apparently on the lookout for infected travelers and imported viruses. Such as the Wuhan coronavirus, I expect. I see that the CDC is now urging U.S. citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to China. Let's hope the Trump administration doesn't somehow get this public health measure mixed up with its trade war -- or use it to scare silly people silly. Trump was all in with scare mongering during the West African ebola outbreak a few years back.

Meanwhile, it's encouraging to learn that somewhere in the depths of the executive branch, there are still scientists who seem to be responding professionally to the appearance of a dangerous new respiratory virus.

The CDC is growing samples of the novel coronavirus so researchers can develop medical countermeasures and better understand how the latest SARS-like virus has spread, the agency’s respiratory disease director said. ...

“We are growing the virus in cell culture, which is necessary for further studies, including the additional genetic characterizations,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a Monday telephone press briefing.

Those sample viruses will allow companies like Gilead Sciences Inc. and AbbVie Inc. that are pursuing potential treatments to see if those drugs can work. It’s not immediately clear how long it will take the CDC to isolate the virus.

“Once isolated, the virus will be available in the BEI resources repository, which is an NIH resource that supplies organisms and reagents to the broad community of microbiology and infectious disease researchers,” she said.

Bloomberg Law

Let's hope these folks can remain unpolluted by politics or panic.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Overview: where to work to help to defeat Trump in 2020

I'm doing a little analytical work for the Seed the Vote project of the EveryDayPeople PAC which aims to send San Francisco Bay Area volunteers to work on getting out the vote next November in Arizona and Nevada. This has made me realize that a general overview of where in the entire country progressive people who want to dump Trump can do the most good might be useful to some folks.

As we saw again to our sorrow in 2016, who gets to be President is not determined by who wins the most votes. The winner is determined by who captures the most electoral votes, state by state. Each state has the same number of electoral votes as its total number of Senators (2) and Congresscritters (variable by population). Except in Nebraska and Maine which throw Congressional district splits into the equation, whoever wins the state gets all the electoral votes in the Electoral College. So, for example, win California and you win 55 votes; win Vermont and you win 3 votes. It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

There are a lot of states where it is dead obvious which party is going to win the electoral votes next fall. History says Democrats start with 248, the dark blue states where huge numbers of people live.

There are three states where the Trump campaign thinks it might be able to turn past defeat into victory in 2020 -- and where progressives need to make sure our voters know the election matters:
  • Virginia
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico.
And there are several states whose past history suggests they are likely to go for the Democratic nominee -- but where progressives would be crazy to let down our guard. All these need volunteer help from people voting in other, uncompetitive states. In that category I'd put
  • Michigan (won by Trump in 2016)
  • New Hampshire
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada.
There are two states where winning for any Democrat in 2020 looks like a huge stretch -- but where building base and increasing the reach and diversity of who votes looks as if it might be a worthwhile investment in a more progressive future:
  • Georgia
  • Texas.
Finally there are the five "swing states" that Democrats, Republicans, and all the pundits agree are up for grabs:
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Wisconsin
  • Arizona.
To end the Trump era and win the space to struggle for a better, more equal, more humane, and more just United States, we have to win some of these last five. (There are several possible combinations.) This will not be easy but the 2018 showed what aroused people can do if we work hard enough. There will be many organizations in the field looking to put volunteers to work. Find one that has a plan and let's do it!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Reformation: Islamophobia and a slavery past

It's usually my practice, when writing about books here, to hold off until I finish them. That seems a fair, even prudent, idea. But it doesn't feel necessary, or wise, to follow this course with Diarmaid MacCulloch's enormous 2004 volume The Reformation: A History. This book is erudite; and long. This book is wide-ranging; and long. The book is opinionated; and long. This book is held up as masterful historic writing; and long. This book is gripping to me; and long.

As I said, it's long. I am reading the audio edition, all 36 hours of it and can highly recommend it. As of today, I only have 18 more hours to go. Some familiarity with maps of Europe and major historical markers help; as I usually feel when reading sprawling histories, I don't quite have enough background to take everything in. But who does, besides MacCulloch? Interestingly and happily in a scholarly text, the narrator is a woman. The only stumbling block I've encountered is her high British pronunciations -- we Yanks sometimes render historical names and places quite differently in speech and it takes a moment to decode.

MacCulloch tells the story of the multiple facets and formations that arose from the splintering of western Christendom. There's the magisterial Reformation (roughly the denominational ancestors of what we call mainline Protestantism); the Tridentine Roman Catholic Reformation which was as thoroughgoing in its way as the breakaways; the Anglican Reformation which was a national horse of another color; and radical reformations -- Anabaptists, Hutterites, Unitarians, etc. -- which went off in their own directions.

What I am going to do as I read along is periodically share bits that leap out at me. I hope they seem interesting to others.

MacCulloch begins by insisting that the story of early modern Europe's religious upheaval cannot be appreciated without being aware that reformers and orthodox alike were scared near out of their wits.

The biggest fear for western Christendom around 1500 was the prospect that it might disappear altogether. ... By the 16th century that destiny lay with the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Sultans had created an Islamic empire-building enterprise designed for conquest. They advanced inexorably out of Asia Minor, completing their absorption of the Byzantine empire when they captured Constantinople in 1453, and for a decade from the late 1510s they hugely expanded their territories ...

While far away in north Germany in 1516-17 Luther brooded on his campaign against indulgences, the Sultan overran the territories of fellow Muslims in Egypt and Syria ...

Then it was the turn of the Latins... The Turks occupied and wrecked the royal [Hungarian] capital Buda, whose palace castle was a show piece of Renaissance art as spectacular as anything in Italy and home to one of Europe's most distinguished and up-to-date libraries. This was the first loss in the heartland of Latin Christendom: might the Turks overrun everything?

... In southeastern Europe, ... the Turks were a real and present source of terror to all ranks in society ... Popular suspicions grew that the nobility did not have their hearts in the task of defending Europe ...

The fear which this Islamic aggression engendered in Europe was an essential background to the Reformation, convincing many on both sides that God's anger was poised to strike down the Christian world, and so making it all the more essential to please God by affirming the right form of Christian belief against other Christians. ...

Living under threat of annihilation doesn't make humans better people, then or now. I have to wonder if a visceral fear of Islamic invasion, long more conventional in Europe than in the U.S. (at least before the 9/11 attacks), doesn't include a dim ancestral echo of the true clash of civilizations half a millennium ago.

Part of that clash was a flourishing trade in capture and sale of enslaved people -- a commerce which ran in a direction white residents of the western hemisphere may find unexpected:

Even when the activities of the Ottoman fleet were curbed after the battle of Lepanto in 1571, north African corsairs systematically raided the Mediterranean coast of Europe to acquire slave labour; in fact they ranged as far as Ireland and even Iceland, kidnapping men, women and children. Modern historians examining contemporary comment produce reliable estimates that Islamic raiders enslaved about a million western Christian Europeans between 1530 and 1640 ... Large areas of Mediterranean coastline were abandoned for safer inland regions, or their people lived in perpetual dread of what might appear on the horizon ...

The modern condemnation of buying and selling people is just that: "modern." We humans make structures of society which accord with our moral first principles. So these matter.

More to come about The Reformation.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

From my clutter to your consideration: found thoughts

I have so many topics I would want to write about but never will have time to research properly. So some Saturdays I've decided I'll post some annotated links.

CalMatters has created a simple checklist evaluating measures that California might take to respond to the fact that our economy is throwing people out of their homes and onto the streets. I wasn't inclined to be sympathetic to such a listicle, but find this thought-provoking and instructive. Take a look.

I often repeat a recurring rant about how we aren't going to combat climate chaos through individual behavioral tweaks. Carbon pollution is society-wide and needs society-wide solutions. Here's an article which documents how individual action --a crackpot, but emotionally comforting, idea -- came to infest late-20th century U.S. environmental consciousness.

And if you want to feel better, read this pitch from an articulate trail running coach about why his athletes and community should be working to save our environmental laws from the Trump administration's giveaways to the polluters.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday cat blogging

There he sits, giving us a look. What a lovely fellow!

Guaranteeing rights

The last time in U.S. political history when a substantial fraction of the people were screaming that the Constitution had enabled monstrous evil was immediately prior to the Civil War. The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison famously called our basic document "a Covenant with Death, an Agreement with Hell" because it countenanced slavery. And so, eventually, conflicting passions broke the system and the nation fought a Civil War which killed 620,000 combatants. And then the victors set about fixing the Constitution.

Historian Eric Foner's The Second Founding is the story of how a radical Congress (in those days, the radicals were Republicans) set about remaking our basic law to guarantee civil equality of the races -- and how the next generation and a conservative Supreme Court set about subverting the new edifice the Civil War generation had built. Foner is the author of an exhaustive history of the Reconstruction era (1863-1877) which I've explored here, here, and here. His current book focuses on the Constitutional changes -- the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments -- which their authors believed would put the evil which they had just overthrown behind them forever.

It didn't work out that way.
  • The 13th Amendment outlawed "involuntary servitude," "except as a punishment for crime" -- an exception that the states of the former Confederacy used to entrap Black citizens in "neo-Slavery" using "vagrancy" laws and other phony offenses. The ill-effects of that Constitutional phrase continue today in our disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with criminal records.
  • The 14th Amendment guaranteed equality and citizenship to anyone born here. The courts fairly quickly allowed segregation laws to gut this promise of equal treatment, though the same courts rapidly became very solicitous of the "due process" for those favored phony "legal persons," big corporations.
  • The 15th Amendment gave black men the vote, but the same courts allowed states to hedge the franchise with poll taxes, literacy tests, and other restrictions, gutting the franchise.

Congress built further interpretation and implementation into the amendments. But this ran the risk that their purposes could be defeated by narrow judicial construction or congressional inaction.

All these amendments promised that Congress could make the laws needed to realize their intent, but a combination of lack of political will and unfriendly courts prevented that from happening until, partially, the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and '60s. I take from that experience that the meaning of law will always be somewhat dependent on how much we're willing to agitate for in the streets -- plus doing all that other stuff like educating ourselves and voting.

Foner has provided a short, very accessible treatment of the legal aspect of Reconstruction in this book. In the current moment, when Republicans believe, accurately, that they can't win numerical majorities for their policy preferences, and so must game the Constitutional system, this is history we can't ignore. Foner is not despairing.

Rights can be gained, and rights can be taken away. A century and a half after the end of slavery, the project of equal citizenship remains unfinished. ... And because the ideals of freedom, equality, and democracy are always contested, our understanding of the Reconstruction amendments will forever be a work in progress. So long as the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow continue to plague our society, we can expect Americans to return to the nation's second founding and find there new meanings for our fractious and troubled times.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Prosecute them!


This strikes me as bold. Elizabeth Warren proposed Tuesday that, as soon as she is inaugurated as President, she'll set up a task force to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute corruption and crimes by the outgoing Trump administration.

Establish a Justice Department Task Force to investigate corruption during the Trump administration and to hold government officials accountable for illegal activity. Donald Trump has run the most corrupt administration in history. He was impeached for withholding foreign aid in an effort to try to benefit his re-election campaign. He has enriched himself and his business through the power of his office. And there are public reports of potentially illegal corruption in every corner of his administration.

If we are to move forward to restore public confidence in government and deter future wrongdoing, we cannot simply sweep this corruption under the rug in a new administration. That’s why I will direct the Justice Department to establish a task force to investigate violations by Trump administration officials of federal bribery laws, insider trading laws, and other anti-corruption and public integrity laws, and give that task force independent authority to pursue any substantiated criminal and civil violations. I have also committed to establishing a task force to investigate accusations of serious violations by immigration officials during the Trump era. 

Wow! If she were to be able to make this happen, the GOPers would charge political revenge. But, after all, they do seem to commit all sorts of crimes, casually and habitually. So prosecute 'em!

This is what the Obama administration failed to do after Wall Street hot shots crashed the global economy in 2008. No one went to jail for peddling phony paper investments that trashed the whole system. We are still living with the fall out of that dumb, and possibly corrupt, administration decision. Nothing ensures cynicism and indifference toward democratic government more than watching crooks walk free while ordinary people suffer. ... And then the crooks got even richer.

Warren is saying no to this very concretely and we can assume the billionaire boys will fight her even harder. Will other Dem aspirants make the same pledge?

TPM pushed her on possible limits to her approach:

... a Warren campaign aide emphasized to TPM the limits in scope of the task force.

“The plan calls for a DOJ task force with independent authority and a limited scope to look at specific current laws that were broken: Federal bribery laws, insider trading laws, and other anti-corruption and public integrity laws,” the aide said. “It will investigate independently and prosecute or not prosecute as they see fit.”

The aide added that the proposal is not about “political rivals” but “restoring the rule of law.

“The best way to turn the page on Trump-era corruption is for people who broke the law to be held accountable so that future officials — including in a Warren Administration — will know that violating the public trust and breaking anti-corruption and public integrity laws will come with consequences.”

I couldn't agree more, but she's going to take a lot of shit for this one.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hillary Clinton: please just shut up


It's not about you. I don't care if you don't like Bernie and especially his (apparently young and male) intemperate followers.

The 2020 campaign is about dumping Trump. There are millions of us prepared to work our butts off even if the Democratic electorate saddles the effort with an uninspiring "moderate" or old white man.

You can stuff your ego and get with the job. Yes, I know, that's been your life. Struggle is long; that's why they call it struggle.
...
Yes, I know, she's backed off her original bull-bleep. But I expect better of her and her tribe.
...
I was just cleaning out my stash of Hillary Clinton images and damned if I didn't have to use one again.
...
This abbreviated post is the consequence of having lost a couple of hours, along with the hard working E.P., trying to get our calendars to sync. They never did. I'm as mad at Google and Apple as at Hillary. Not yet a good day.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Without grounding in human rights, there is no ground to rise from

Last week I had the chance to attend a talk by Noah Bullock, director of Cristosal, on his organization's work in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Cristosal works across the Northern Triangle of Central America to monitor forced displacement by physical and sexual extortion and violence, to create models for humanitarian, psychological, and legal assistance to victims of human rights violations, and to demonstrate effective strategies for sustainable, community-based victim protection and support.

What's that boilerplate mean? Cristosal is currently assisting litigation for recognition of and compensation to the survivors of the El Mozote massacre and other war crimes of decades past within the legal institutions of the Salvadoran state. This effort strengthens what should be foundations of reliable rule of law in that violent country. Today, all these countries suffer from oligarchic gangster governments which do not provide security to their people. Chronic violence and the nonexistence of effective state institutions that might protect people in their homes drive migration both within these countries and out of the countries. Cristosal has been instrumental in supporting local initiatives to recognize the rights of citizens to live in their home places in peace and without fear.

And, since these Central American countries come nowhere near providing their people the security they have a right to expect from law enforcement, Cristosal -- where it can -- provides immediate protection to move people out of danger. Moreover, they are attempting to show that people displaced by violence can be reintegrated into new communities where they'll be safe and can live in peace. This is not simple -- it's not as if anyone anywhere really wants an influx of traumatized newcomers; that sentiment is not unique to the U.S. Before Trump came along, the USAID funded some of these initiatives but nowadays the US government likes the gangster status quo. As in so many policy areas, our government acts as if it hopes all those annoying Spanish-speaking poor people would just die where they are.

Cristosal is well known in El Salvador and the rest of Central America for its work; the organization is demanding that governments and all of us take human rights as inviolable and worth defending.

I did not come up as a leftish activist in a time when human rights were at the top of our minds. In the decades of the struggle within the United States for African-American civil rights, during the heady rush of decolonization across the globe, and of the struggle against imperial resistance to national freedoms, we thought that some form of revolution was the way to justice. The suffering people would (and should) rise up and replace the bums in power. Unhappily, the track record of 20th century revolutions has not been that good. We thought "human rights" was something some First World liberals tried to impose on the world after they won their anti-fascist war in 1945 -- a good thing, but peripheral to the real conflict of classes and races.

Meanwhile, it was activists in what we then called the Third World -- developing countries as we'd probably call them now -- who occasionally reminded enthusiastic North Americans that international institutions like the the United Nations and the World Court should be guarantors of human rights, of human decency. They knew something about permanent struggle and the need for institutional bulwarks of freedom that we thought we could skip over.

On the Cristosal website, Noah Bullock explains how a nice young man from Montana who landed in El Salvador in 2005 (and stayed), understands the centrality of human rights law and concepts in the long arc toward justice and freedom.

“Human rights were taught to me as a historical process, and every generation has to be able to understand human rights and violations in their own time.

"Our moment has changed significantly from when these frameworks were established, so we are challenged now to find ways to apply these same principles in programming to address our moment’s greatest challenges of displacement by violence, poverty, and inequality.”

I am appending here a short film (10 minutes) that tells a story of Central American violence as lived by some of its victims. It has been shown more than 10 times on Salvadoran television -- and that legislature recently enacted a law purporting to guarantee that police should protect citizens. They neglected to append any funding though ... And so the struggle continues ...

Monday, January 20, 2020

Celebrating engagement


Battered, bruised, but still striving toward the beloved community. We are fortunate that Dr. King has inspired this day to acknowledge this necessity.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Credo for sanity in hard times


... it is curiosity rather than certainty that must propel us. What can be so exciting about books is watching authors end up far from where they began, carried forth by not knowing, wanting to know, then slowly knowing more, realizing what is still not known, plowing on, thinking, rethinking, going on a meandering intellectual journey that justifies you later going on a fractal of that journey with them.

Anand Giridharadas

I need to find more time to read. How do I do that?
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