Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Disaster has its way

A man hands a child over a fence Tuesday as a group of residents moved to get to Interstate 10, which was one of the places where people could reach high ground in New Orleans on Tuesday. Times Picayune photo, by Kathy Anderson

By chance, in this week when the city of New Orleans was reduced to a shallow toxic soup and some million or so residents of Louisiana found themselves homeless refugees, I've been reading Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. Mike Davis' strange, baroque tour through the natural and human disasters that have shaped and are themselves reshaped by Southern California's real and imagined environment. The book offers an apocalyptic vision perhaps almost equal to Katrina's horrors, as we are now seeing them in photos and on video.

Maybe it needed an Angeleno to find a spokesman for the New Orleans disaster. Kevin Sack in the LA Times tells the story:

In 1718, French colonist Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville ignored his engineers' warnings about the hazards of flooding and mapped a settlement in a pinch of swampland between the mouth of the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and a massive lake to the north. . . .

But when the rainfall brought by Katrina breached levees and overwhelmed the city's pumping stations, the catastrophic consequences of Bienville's miscalculation could no longer be ignored.

. . .

"The river gives and the river basically takes away," said novelist Richard Ford, who lived in New Orleans until last year. "There really isn't a vocabulary that I have access to that describes this. And as always, it's the least able to recover from this disaster who will suffer most intensely." . . . "If you live in New Orleans," he said, "you've decided that whatever it is about that city that you like is more important than whatever anxiety you feel.". . .

"That's the structure of living in New Orleans," he said. "People feel that the place is doomed at some point, but they're going to stay. It's just a way of dealing with the end that's different from other ways of dealing with the end."
Mike Davis also aims to describe how a society built in a violent, disaster-prone land evolves its own sometimes venal, sometimes merely delusional, approach to survival. From earthquakes to human sprawl, from fire to tornados, from encroaching "wildlife" to rioting human life, Los Angeles sells Eden-like paradise in the midst of real and imagined looming threats.

The results are often tragic as when wild fires periodically sweep through luxurious hillside homes in Malibu Canyon and urban fires destroy cheaply built tenement buildings in Downtown; in neither case are fire prevention authorities able to enforce rational precautions. In the former, restricting building in dangerous chaparral prone to Santa Ana winds would reduce the profits of developers; in Downtown, enforcing building codes would lighten the pockets of landlords. Neither happens and residents of both ecologies continue to face frequent killer fires. As in New Orleans, "those least able to recover will suffer the most intensely." In Los Angeles these days, the sufferers are likely to be new Mexican and Central American immigrants -- in New Orleans, they appear to be largely poor African Americans.

In a catalogue of disasters, you have to take what humor you can amidst the pain; Davis manages to make the history of Southern Californian tornados downright funny in a chapter called "Our Secret Kansas." Los Angeles is a "tornado hotspot," hit by a twister on average every 2.2 years. But since the 1920s when the city was heavily sold to migrants from the Oklahoma and Arkansas escaping funnel clouds, local media, to this day, almost never refer to these wind events as "tornados." They are "baby cyclones," "waterspouts," "freak winds," etc. If the T-word becomes unavoidable, the event is "the first ever tornado" or "a California twister . . .strong and fearsome, but lacking the awesome destructive power of similar phenomena frequent in other parts of the country."

New Orleans is too close to Katrina for the brutal quirky humor of disaster to have much poked its head up. The Times-Picayune soldiering on with its mission to record "Everything New Orleans", made a weak try at the light touch:

Ms. Mae's Bar has been open around the clock at Napoleon and Magazine streets for 11 years. The bar stayed open during Hurricane Katrina, but owner Mae Brigham decided to shut down Tuesday at 1 a.m.

"Everybody was just worn out," she said.

But Brigham reopened about 9 a.m. later that morning, partly as a defense against looters. The bar is located across from a police station, and Brigham figured looters would be unlikely to attack a busy bar, especially since some of the patrons might be police officers.

Probably it is too early to celebrate local fortitude as helicopters buzz overhead making rooftop rescues -- but they try. For immediate and harrowing news from New Orleans, try the TP Newslogs.

To give private donations for relief, the standard charity is the Red Cross. Of course what devastated New Orleans really needs is genuine public aid: a new government that uses the wealth of the nation to build infrastructure like levees and its police powers to assist disaster victims, not invade other countries. But getting that is going to take even more than succoring those whose lives have been torn up by the hurricane.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"It wasn't a hate crime . . ."

That's what they usually say. The Columbia Missourian tells the story:

The police report states that Haitham Alramahi, 22, was walking home about 2 a.m. when he was struck by a car at Sixth and Cherry streets. He was in the crosswalk, but the car did not stop at the stop sign. He said four or five men got out of the car.

“I thought they were going to help me,” said Alramahi in an interview. Instead, they shouted racial epithets at him, telling him to go back to Iraq, he said.

When Alramahi, born in Jordan to a Palestinian father and a Greek mother, protested, the assailants began to punch and kick him. “It came from everywhere,” Alramahi said. “I didn’t even have time to get away.”

“It does not fit the statute,” [Investigative Division Commander of the Columbia PD] Martin said. He added simply using racist language during an assault does not automatically mean the crime was originally perpetrated because of race.

If this sort of thing is not a hate crime, I certainly don't know what is, assuming Alramahi is telling the truth. Perhaps the guys in the car did not originally hit him because he was perceived as a Middle Eastern foreigner. But once they got out and started beating him while calling him names, they were announcing a hate motivation while committing assault. What more does it take to make a "hate crime?"

If the authorities do not condemn racial, religious and gender hate acts, they condone them; apparently that is what is going on in Columbia.

In the spirit of another hate victim who asked "can't we all get along," Alramahi seems to just want to make peace: “I can’t judge all of Columbia because of this one incident,” he said. “People are nice here, very nice.”

See also my account of David Neiwert's valuable Death on the Fourth of July and follow these eruptions of bigotry at his blog.

Monday, August 29, 2005

End user's lament

Here I sit, vacillating between seething frustration and groveling gratitude. For 36 hours, my email has been down. My email is ordinarily directed to a hosting ISP, then is forwarded to a big national internet ISP and finally comes down the pipe to my computer, whether I'm on my home office DSL connection, working off a client's Ethernet network, sitting a WiFi equipped café, or even dialing up from the boonies. I get my 100s of emails a day (about one third spam funneled rapidly to "Junk") and cope and grouse a little about the volume.

Suddenly, only yesterday but it seems like ages ago, the plopping sound the Mac laptop makes when email arrives stopped. STOPPED! I had noticed my morning digest of the New York Times was missing, but didn't have time to read it anyway. It took me a while, maybe a couple of hours, to be sure that the mail really wasn't coming.

Then of course I panicked! I was going to have to deal with Tech Support. Like most end users, this is my idea of hell. They want to know things like "your name" -- only sometimes that means your actual name, sometimes it means the handle you use with that service, and sometimes it means your email address -- or even more mysteriously, it means "admin." Huh?

But I got on the web, found an obscure phone number on the hosting ISP's website and called in. It didn't go too badly. This outfit didn't want my name; they wanted me to punch in my "client ID number." Fortunately I was able to find it. I described my problem -- no mail because for some reason that was THEIR PROBLEM their server wasn't forwarding. I knew it was their problem because test emails sent directly to the big national ISP came right through as expected. They tried saying my mailbox (storage on their server) was full, but since I have set their controls to erase email when it is forwarded, there was nothing in my storage space. The nice man said he would kick it upstairs and it would be fixed in 20 minutes.

Life went on, six hours later I came back to the computer and still no email. But by now it was Sunday night and the obscure phone number led only to a message telling me to leave a message. Hmmm -- I thought they had Tech Support 24/7.

I entertained a small hope that somehow the problem would go away over night -- but in the morning, still no New York Times. So at 6:00 am I'm on the line to Tech Support again: "It is not fixed." After several rounds, Tech Support (a nice woman this time) wrote me to my other email address: "We have escalated your issue to the next tier of support. We will work to resolve your issue as quickly as possible." Off I went to my work.

Until noon, I concentrated on my client's problems, but since there was no melodic plop in the background, I knew that no miracles had occurred. By now Tech Support (a nice man again) was getting frustrated; he insisted that his company was forwarding my email -- the big national ISP must be blocking it. So, just to rule this out, off I went to their Tech Support, this time in the form of online chat (remember I'm at work and can't very well be spending all my client's time trying to get my personal email working.) Couple of rounds of this -- no, it must be the hosting service because big national ISP is not blocking my domain; no, it must be the big ISP because little hosting service is forwarding. Blah, blah, blah -- they can't both be right and they are each perfectly certain the problem is with the other party.

Me, I'm neutral. I don't care which of these outfits is falling down on the job, but I still don't have my email. Just fix it guys!

Finally it is after hours again and I am back on the phone with the hosting service's Tech Support -- another nice guy. We start over. He wants to know how long this has been going on. Days I say; that is what it feels like. Oh yes, he says, we've been having some trouble with the server your mail goes through. Maybe we can put your mail through another server. I don't scream -- hasn't the fact that this was what was needed been obvious for 24 hours? He does things in the ether; I'm not exactly feeling trusting.

Well what do you know? Early this evening, plop, plop, plop again. Maybe I'll keep getting email; maybe I won't.

Most all of us go through this sort of thing trying to keep our computers working for us. Do we need them? Apparently. Will they someday work more smoothly? Who knows. Plop.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Kansas--engaging crackpots and strange omissions

The many reviews and discussions I've read of What's the Matter with Kansas? failed to prepare me for what I found most attractive about this book: Thomas Frank actually likes Kansans. He seems to enjoy describing the peculiarities of his native state. Once an abolitionist and populist stronghold, Kansas is still home to "some of the most flamboyant cranks, conspiracists, and calamity howlers the Republic has ever seen." Frank marvels that these characters have enlisted in a crusade against abortion, gays, and above all, liberal elitism, while supporting the corporate capitalism that undermining their quality of life.

Political activists, both right and left face a similar problem: most people don't want to live a life of endless struggle. As we used to say on the left: "struggle is hard, that is why they call it struggle." Ordinary people can be roused to activism by something they feel as an immediate crisis (see mothers of US soldiers in Iraq today) but the object of their activism is usually to correct something so they don't have to continue being activists. Franks documents how the right has made permanent backlash activists out of masses of working Kansans by rousing them to a permanent state of fury with liberals.

Everything seems to piss conservatives off, and they react by documenting and cataloging their disgust. The result is what we will call the plen-T-plaint, a curious amassing of petty, unrelated beefs with the world. Its purpose is not really to evaluate the hated liberal culture that surrounds us; . . . The plen-T-plaint winds us up. It offers no resolution, simply reminding us that we can never win.

Clearly what Frank calls the "plen-T-plaint" is the contemporary form in which many Kansans respond to the reality that US society disrespects and derides working people. As long as they are pre-occupied with beefs against liberal elitists, they aren't going to notice the elephant in the living room: the encroachments of the rich are destroying their way of life.

Frank describes all this masterfully and artfully, and yet I came away from the book wondering whether, on some level, he really "gets it." The rightwing zealots he introduces us to in a chapter called "Happy Captives" have been hoodwinked into working against their economic interests, but they have also spent their lives being royally "dissed" by the culture they live in. Being despised doesn't make any of us clear thinkers; if we have spunk it usually makes us mad which, in the absence of countervailing contacts, can set us up to be manipulated. Frank is right of course that liberals have neglected these folks. (I think too Frank misses how normal these people can seem to a leftish "movement activist"; their willingness to persevere without material gain in hard political struggle is the norm for serious political activists of any stripe, setting them apart from ordinary folks who actually seek their own demobilization.)

And then there is race. . .

Where I definitely part company with Frank is his airy dismissal of white racism as underlying Kansans plen-T-plaint. "Kansas does not have Trent Lott's disease. . . .They glory in speaking of themselves as a new breed of abolitionists." According to Frank, Kansas is not following the trajectory of the old South that turned to Republicans in reaction to the civil rights revolution of the 1960s; Kansans are different. His evidence for this seems awfully thin. Sure, conservatives love to manipulate the symbols of civil rights, but do they do anything for equality with people of color?

What Frank is missing is that appropriation of the history and symbols of the Black struggle for justice is the ultimate in white racism, even more deeply offensive than outright, visible bigotry. Erasure trumps insults. Kansas conservatives have all the conventional hallmarks of racist reactionaries in the rest of the country; it would be very odd indeed if, as the non-white population grows, they don't display the more familiar signs of white reaction. (People of various non-white colors were only 10 percent of Kansas voters in 2004, confirming that at present it remains one of the politically whitest states.)

By dismissing race, Frank undermines the credibility of this otherwise very convincing book. Aside from one footnote, I had a hard time finding any evidence that he talked with any non-white Kansans. And he makes statements that leave me gasping when I fill in the unmentioned racial context. For example, he introduces us to a white working class man who supported McGovern in 1972; this man was converted to rightwing fanaticism because of he believes legal abortion is murder, even though Republican economic policy has devastated his town, leaving it looking like "a miniature Detroit." Now wait a minute -- Detroit may be a burned out post-industrial wreck, but its chief distinction today and for 30 years has been that it is a Black city. In fact, a recent study named Detroit the most liberal Democratic city in the country -- because it is so heavily African American. That progressive politics might be anchored in the communities of color is a possibility that seems to be inconceivable to Frank.

The ground Frank has covered so well in Kansas has been surveyed by other political observers who do take racial and sexual politics seriously, even if they do not write so engagingly. For a corrective to Frank's narrow focus, I would recommend taking a look at Jean Hardisty's Mobilizing Resentment.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

California's "foreign" relations make tricky footing

What a difference a few years can make. In 1998, Gray Davis was elected Governor with a deluge of Latino votes. Latinos were eager to repudiate Pete Wilson's perceived immigrant bashing in the 1994 campaign when he saturated the airwaves with blurry images of dark figures climbing a fence and running. "They keep on coming …" the voice-over warned. Wilson won the election and became an icon of nativist prejudice against Mexicans in the opinion of politically engaged Californians.

So when Davis took office, almost his first act was to travel to Mexico to meet with President Ernesto Zedillo and pledge friendship as well as win "points south of the border, where California exports about $12 billion in goods annually," according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Zedillo paid a return visit to Sacramento in May 1999 to address a joint session of the state legislature. He was greeted with shouts of "Viva Mexico!"

"This is a symbolic closing of the gap that had developed for the last six years under the previous administration," said Harry Pachon, an expert on Hispanic politics and president of the Claremont Graduate University's Tomas Policy Institute….

"The trip gives Zedillo an opportunity to connect with Mexicans and Mexican-Americans living in California. They send home more international currency than Mexico receives from tourists, " Pachon said.

Fast forward to 2005. Yesterday the leader of the California assembly, Fabian Nunez, a native Spanish speaker who is representative of California's new Latino power, visited Mexico -- and stuck his foot knee deep in controversies of his own making. According to the LA Times Nunez has called on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to seal the border, pointing to deaths among desperate people trying to cross and pointing out that Latinos in the US face backlash from whites who fear undocumented immigrants. His call was not popular.

But to many Mexicans, the demand for cheap labor and illegal drugs by Americans on one hand, and the demand to seal the border on the other are at best a contradiction — and at worst, hypocrisy.

One woman told Nunez that this contradiction was captured in a scene of the movie "Crash," which recently opened here: The affluent Sandra Bullock character tells her long-abused Mexican maid: "Want to hear something funny? You're the best friend I have."

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger, sensing a chance to turn an issue back on Democrats who have tormented him for months, has now announced that he opposes sealing the border.

If social security is the "third rail" of national politics, scorching anyone who touches it, immigration policy is the third rail of California politics. So long as this country looks like wealth and opportunity to hungry people south of the border, while the US wants those people as cheap labor to exploit, large-scale immigration, legal and "illegal," is going to continue. The only actual "solution" to the "problem" would be development in Mexico and Central America that spread wealth created in those countries fairly among their citizens. That would stop the seemingly unstoppable suction from the wealthy north. Since US politicians wouldn't even dare advocate the only "solution" likely to work, the "problem" of people migrating to where they can survive and even thrive is likely to continue and politicians will likely continue to stumble around it.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and politician Beatriz Paredes stand as the Mexican national anthem is played. (Eduardo Verdugo / AP)

Peace activism site for back to school season

LEAVE MY CHILD ALONE! gives practical advice and support to parents who don't want their kids stalked by military recruiters. Federal education law requires school districts to give the military the names of the potential cannon fodder -- that is, high school students. But parents can opt out for their kids. The site includes a blog that publishes news of the recruiters' tactics. It is sponsored by a wide coalition of peace groups -- good to see them working together.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Iraqi constitution? No comment here

Poor Bush, who once ordered mighty armies into war and tampered with the US Constitution through his Draconian "PATRIOT" act, now is reduced to pleading with a pro-Iranian cleric to please make nice with the ex-Baathists. And he isn't even succeeding in the plea!

From Juan Cole at Informed Comment

Welcome to Lebanon times infinity.

From "Friendly Fire" in comments at Helena Cobban's Just World News.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Morning Retch: Administration hides its own scientific findings

According to the New York Times this morning, Lawrence A. Greenfeld practiced sound science in Bush's Justice Department and lost his job. His offense? He wanted to include in a news release a finding that African Americans and Latinos stopped by the police were significantly more likely to be searched and have force used against them than whites.

The April study by the Justice Department, based on interviews with 80,000 people in 2002, found that white, black and Hispanic drivers nationwide were stopped by the police that year at about the same rate, roughly 9 percent. . . .

Once they were stopped, Hispanic drivers were searched or had their vehicles searched by the police 11.4 percent of the time and blacks 10.2 percent of the time, compared with 3.5 percent for white drivers. Blacks and Hispanics were also subjected to force or the threat of force more often than whites, and the police were much more likely to issue tickets to Hispanics rather than simply giving them a warning, the study found.

There's no surprise in the findings to anyone who lives in a multi-race US city, but the study provides hard evidence that supports legislation such as that promised by Rep. John Conyers Jr. to ban the use of racial or ethnic police profiling.

Apparently some higher ups in the Justice Department didn't want the public to see that evidence, so the study was simply placed online without an announcement amid what statisticians call "an avalanche of studies issued by the government." Greenfield was threatened with dismissal after 23 years of service but now has been shipped off to work in the Bureau of Prisons.

Meanwhile, Bruce Fuller, a professor of education at UC Berkeley, recounts in the Los Angeles Times that Bush's National Literacy Panel developed hard evidence that, lo and behold, bilingual education was helping kids acquire language skills. So the Education Department is stonewalling on releasing the report. Fuller asks:

Why would the administration sideline its own report? It's possible that the bilingual education results weren't what it wanted to hear. "English only" is a rallying cry in the culture wars, and evidence that works against it also works against such Bush allies as English First, which has led the charge against bilingual education.

When the facts don't serve your political agenda, better hide those facts.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Pestering your Democratic Congresscritter to represent you against the war

Today a local antiwar group asked my advice on this topic, so I thought I'd share what I recommended more broadly.

Suppose you're an antiwar activist. You live in one of the roughly 190 safe Democratic Congressional districts around the country. You trust that the Democrats in your district overwhelmingly oppose the Iraq war -- in fact many have been against it since long before March 2003; subsequent failures have only confirmed their opinion that Bush's war is a murderous boondoggle. But your Democratic congressperson has not done enough that you have heard of to get the US out of Iraq. What do you do?

Research the record

Find out some basic facts: for starters, how did your Congressperson vote on the Iraq War Resolution in October of 2002 that gave President Bush the green light to start a war? One hundred and twenty-six Dems voted no at that time; you need to know whether you have one of those. You can check here. If you do have one of early naysayers, your Congress member will have a much easier time calling for withdrawal now, unlike a famous Presidential candidate who "voted for it before he voted against it" (and now seems to be for it again.)

Next, it would be a good idea to know whether your Congress member has done anything since then to oppose the war, such as sign on to Rep. Lyn Woolsey's resolution calling for the President to make a plan for immediate withdrawal or Rep. Barbara Lee's resolution declaring that it is not US policy to establish permanent military bases in Iraq. The former had 34 co-sponsors in January 2005; the latter had 43 in June.

Look at your own Congressperson's web site. What does (s)he say about the war, if anything? Think about what you know about your Congressperson's general role in the House -- is (s)he in the leadership, a maverick, invisible?

Finally, do you know who the Congressperson turns to for personal support, for friendship? Congresspeople's personal connections can be significant policy influences; during the 1980s Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill was a surprisingly good vote on issues about US policy in Central America because his aunt was a Maryknoll nun with connections to the region.

Planning what to ask of your congressperson

Once you have a sense of the Congress member's positioning, then you should figure out what to ask of your representative:
  • Perhaps you are lucky enough to be represented by one of the few who both voted against the war resolution and supported Woolsey and Lee; if so, thank the member for their leadership! Congresspeople need to know someone is paying attention when they do something right.
  • Many more Democrats are represented by Congress members who voted against war in 2002 and since have kept their heads down; ask them to pick up the antiwar leadership role again -- are they going to let Republican Senator Chuck Hagel lead the antiwar movement in DC? Calls, letters, emails, public meetings can help. Ask them to join as co-sponsors on the Lee and Woolsey resolutions. We'll know the antiwar movement is succeeding when more of these members speak out.
  • With bad luck, you've got a Democratic who is pro-war. Even those come in two kinds: one set that made a wrong bet that the war would be quick and easy; another lot who believed and may still believe Bush's lies about the war. These people should face the entire repertoire of pressure tactics; not only calls and letters, but eruptions of antiwar protest at their public forums and visits from angry constituent groups including veterans if possible, tempered only by a genuine effort to win them over as will have to be done eventually.
And then there are those of us who live in districts represented by Democrats that are not safe seats. This gets complicated; you need to ask them to take antiwar positions, but you may need to try to keep them in office as well because of other issues. My breaking point on this would be if they attack other Democrats for being antiwar, those members aren't worth keeping!

No fly list or blacklist?

Photo by Aaron Murphy

Three air cargo pilots have to wonder whether the Transportation Security Administration's "no fly list," ostensibly a measure to keep terrorists off airplanes, isn’t being used by someone to throw them out of their jobs. Someone mailed "animal or human waste" to ABX Air executives; the three pilots, who worked for ABX Air out of the DHL hub in Cincinnati, were questioned by the FBI about the incident. They were cleared. Nonetheless, somehow their names turned up on the no fly list, according to the Cincinnnati Enquirer.

For most of us who've had a run in with no fly list, the consequences have been delays, or missed flights, or at worst the chilling experience of being detained by police authorities in an airport. (It can get a a lot worse if you are of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin.) But because these guys fly for a living, they are screwed if they can't get themselves off the list.

They find themselves stuck in a Kafkaesque nightmare. Their union, Teamsters Local 1224, is trying to help:

Lynn Nowel, the union's general counsel [said] "It's a problem when you deny someone the ability to make a living without checking it out first. And an even bigger problem was the terrible time we had even finding out why they were on the list and how hard it was to get them off." . . .

The FBI previously acknowledged it was conducting a criminal investigation into the acts, which it said could be covered by domestic terrorism laws because it involved the mailing of potentially biohazardous material.
. . .
TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis also would not discuss specifics about the list, but said that it gets information and recommendations from other agencies, including the FBI. "We trust that when they suggest that someone be placed on the 'no-fly' or 'selectee' list, that they do so for very good reasons," Davis said.

Sure looks like a blacklist to me. "The term implies that someone has been prevented from having legitimate access to something due to the whims or judgments of another." In this case it sure looks like ABX Air has the TSA doing its dirty work; I wonder if the company made any interesting campaign contributions?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Texas plans to execute this woman on September 14 . . .

and she may be innocent. Frances Newton was convicted of fatally shooting her husband and two young children in April 1987. The state claims she wanted $100,000 from insurance on them.

According to her supporters, Newton’s court appointed trial attorney, Ron Mock, did nothing to prepare for her trial. He interviewed no one and investigated nothing. He has been sanctioned by the State Bar of Texas at least three times and is no longer allowed to try death penalty cases.

A cousin who was with her when she walked in to find the bodies of the victims reported: "I know in my heart that after watching the reaction of Frances upon discovering her husband and children, there is absolutely no way she had any involvement in their deaths."

If the execution goes forward, Newton will be the third woman -- and the first black woman -- to be executed in the state since the Civil War. Her execution would be the 349th since Texas executions resumed in 1982, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Now I don't claim to know whether this woman is innocent, but I don't care. I don't believe the state should be in the "eye for an eye" business -- plenty of killing goes on without "duly constituted authorities" getting into it.

If you want to contact officials on behalf of Frances, you can use the form at Free Frances Newton homepage.

UPDATE: This possibly innocent woman was killed by the state of Texas on Thursday, September 15, 2005.

It could have been worse

It is bad enough that it has come out that an innocent man, Jean de Menezes, dressed in a light denim jacket, walked to the London subway on July 22, picked up a paper, rushed to board a train, had his arms pinned behind his back by one cop and was shot in the head by another. But Phil Edwards at Actually Existing asks: What if it had been [one of the four men whose bombs failed to go off on July 21] who was shot?

Would we be hearing calls for multiple resignations? Or would an act of summary justice - an extra-judicial execution in broad daylight, a truly appalling precedent - have been accepted? Would we now be being encouraged to hail the Metropolitan Police for its resolute stance against terror and its willingness to take the fight to the enemy? (They might cut a few corners here and there, but what's the odd dead terrorist to you or to me?)

You're right, Phil -- it could have been worse. People living inside the envelope of rational fear inspired by the July 7 suicide bombings would probably have applauded.

Of course, extrajudicial executions are not exactly unprecedented, even by those quaint British cops, especially when the IRA was involved. Here in the US, it takes no imagination at all to know how we would react if police were to kill a terrorism suspect, even one who was unambiguously not immediately dangerous. After all, this is the land of endless "CSI" and "Law and Order" reruns, on which extrajudicial execution is often portrayed as the only way justice is done. And a generation ago, this is the country that watched on national television as the witless idiots to the Symbionese Liberation Army burned alive in a house in Los Angeles in a shootout with the LAPD.

It is horrible to contemplate our police killing people without out judge or jury, as they too often do. It is even worse to imagine the rapture of revenge we might succumb to if we believed that such a killing had really eliminated a terrorist.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Is voting worth it?

If anyone still thinks that elections are meaningless, they should consider this:

Sacramento -- Gay-rights advocates scored a legal victory Thursday when a judge left largely intact Attorney General Bill Lockyer's summary of a ballot measure that would outlaw same-sex marriage and repeal newly established rights for domestic partners.

Sponsors of the proposed state constitutional amendment argued that Lockyer -- a Democrat who supports gay rights -- stacked the deck against the measure with an official description that exaggerated and distorted its effect on domestic partners and underplayed its effect on marriage.

But Sacramento Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei said the formal title -- "Marriage. Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights" -- accurately reflected a principle effect of the measure: nullifying recent state laws that granted registered domestic partners many of the same rights as spouses.

All through the 1990s Californians fought a series of right wing, race-baiting backlash initiatives:
  • Prop. 187 -- official title: Illegal Aliens. Ineligibility for Public Services. Verification and Reporting; actual effect -- ended many services to immigrants;
  • Prop. 209 -- official title: Prohibition Against Discrimination or Preferential Treatment by State and Other Public Entities; actual effect -- killed affirmative action;
  • Prop. 227 -- official title: English Language in Public Schools; actual effect -- restricted Bilingual Education.
Former Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren approved those ballot titles. This was what voters saw when casting their ballots. By doing so he gave his rightwing friends a big head start for their measures, since many voters never delve deeper into the thicket of propositions than the titles. Who would oppose reporting "illegal aliens" or vote for "discrimination"? Only someone who knew what the propositions would really do -- and that' education was hard to accomplish for cash strapped opponents.

As the news account notes, Bill Lockyer is a Democrat (and I'll add one from Northern California where survival requires at least a modicum of liberalism.) He is not about to let the right wing frame the debate on its gay marriage measure. Instead, he has used his power to unmask their real agenda of forcing gay people back in the closet.

I contend that mere neutrality from Lockyer in 2003 on Prop. 54, which would have outlawed state collection of racial demographic information, was a huge aid in sinking that bad idea.

It matters a lot who we elect to these anonymous down-ballot jobs. "Too obscure" or "too confusing" to figure these contests out won't cut it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The boss has even more power than you thought

Don't think you have a First Amendment right to do this after work.

I didn't think much could shock me, but this news did:

Employers can forbid their workers from going to lunch together, attending each other's weddings, or doing anything else they might want to do with each other outside of work.

And there's nothing in federal labor laws to prevent it.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that a security company could ban "fraternizing" outside the job. Under labor law, theoretically employees have the right to talk about union activity -- something most bosses would prefer not be discussed -- after work. But federal law does not protect conversations about sports or the grandchildren. The First Amendment does not protect workers in this situation, as it is the company, not the government, which is prohibiting their speech. The First Amendment applies only to government and the company could legally fire workers who violate their policies.

Companies claim the policies aim to prevent sexual entanglements and exposure to sexual harassment lawsuits.

If I ever ran afoul of this sort of thing, I'd try to publicize it to the world -- this is a situation in which a boss can be made to look ridiculous. Even a management lawyer, Nate Kowalski, agreed: "In this day and age, you wouldn't expect many employers to be that stupid." Actually I wouldn't be surprised if many are that stupid -- but they probably don't want people noticing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

On getting "OUT OF IRAQ NOW"

Yesterday Tom Hayden had an oped in the LA Times available here entitled "An Exit Strategy for Iraq Now." It is worth pulling out his action points:
  • Washington should declare that it has no interest in permanent military bases or the control of Iraqi oil.
  • Announce goals for ending the occupation and bringing all our troops home - in months, not years.
  • US should request that the United Nations. . .monitor the process of military disengagement and de-escalation and take the lead in organizing a peaceful reconstruction effort.
  • A US "peace envoy" should encourage and cooperate in peace talks with Iraqi groups opposed to the occupation, including insurgents, to explore a political settlement.
These certainly aren't my perfect description of what is needed; I think the third one is dubious and the last nonsense, actually. But in this moment when most people in the US are getting around for very mixed reasons to wanting the Iraq war done with, the peace movement needs to keep shouting from the housetops that an exit strategy is possible. Events are very likely to overrun anything activists in this country propose, but insisting our politicians start with these points is something we should all be able to work on.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Cure for an execution shortage

Photo By Larry Dalton

During the 1990s, Dan Lungren was the attorney general of California. He was such a clear right wing nutcase that the pathetic Gray Davis successfully painted him as "out of the mainstream" and crushed him in the gubernatorial election of 1998. So naturally Lungren went on to become a right wing Republican Congressman from a conservative southern California district in 2004.

Now he is back to his old tricks -- Lungren is leading a move to revamp the law to kill more people.

California currently has more than 640 inmates on death row; the state has executed just 11 murderers since restoring capital punishment in 1978. For Lungren (and some relatives of murder victims), that's not good enough. They seek to stop federal courts from reviewing state verdicts and speed convicts to execution, regardless of the quality of their trials. The San Jose Mercury News reports:

When Congress adjourned several weeks ago, it was on the brink of slamming the door on the ability of most death-row inmates and others to present new evidence to show their original trials were tainted by police or prosecutorial misconduct, or incompetent defense lawyers.
. . .
The unprecedented limits would come at a time when concerns are mounting about the fairness of the death penalty -- including examples of innocent men set free around the nation. Even some strong death-penalty supporters, from California's chief justice to former U.S. attorney generals, have expressed reservations.

"This is being rushed through with all sorts of disturbing ramifications,'' said California Chief Justice Ronald George, whose court consistently has upheld a higher percentage of death sentences than other state high courts around the country. "My fellow chief justices and I are all in favor of efficiency and speed, but the overall concern is with fairness."

Fairness certainly ought to matter. Since the death penalty was reinstated, at least five men in California have been sentenced to death that were either acquitted on the charge of murder or had their murder convictions overturned. These include Oscar Lee Morris in 2000, Lee Perry Farmer in 1999, Troy Lee Jones in 1996, Patrick “Hootie” Croy in 1990, and Jerry Bigelow in 1988.

Last fall, a group of 450 attorneys participating in the Conference of Delegates of the California Bar Association urged a moratorium on the death penalty in California until the state reviews whether capital punishment laws are enforced fairly and uniformly. "If you make a mistake, it's not like you can go back and correct a mistake because the person is dead," said Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Danette Meyers, a supporter of the measure.

Meanwhile in Sacramento, Assemblymembers Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) and Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View) introduced the “California Moratorium on Executions Act” (AB 1121). The act, if passed, would suspend all executions in California until January 1, 2009 while the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice conducts a thorough study of the state’s criminal justice procedures. Asm. Koretz declared, "For the state of California to continue to execute prisoners, while an official governmental body investigates the findings and allegations of error and justice and unfairness in the criminal justice system, just doesn't make sense." For more on this initiative, visit Death Penalty Focus.

I suppose it is too much to expect that a country which goes in for "pre-emptive" invasions will preserve such niceties as being careful who it kills through judicial processes, but one must hope . . .

Monday, August 15, 2005

Babies now on TSA "no fly list"

According to the August 15, 2005 Guardian our Security Theater bureaucrats have bravely carried their performance into a new arena.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Infants have been stopped from boarding planes at airports throughout the U.S. because their names are the same as or similar to those of possible terrorists on the government's "no-fly list.''

It sounds like a joke, but it's not funny to parents who miss flights while scrambling to have babies' passports and other documents faxed.

Ingrid Sanden's 1-year-old daughter was stopped in Phoenix before boarding a flight home to Washington at Thanksgiving.

"I completely understand the war on terrorism, and I completely understand people wanting to be safe when they fly,'' Sanden said. "But focusing the target a little bit is probably a better use of resources.''

What are the TSA gnomes thinking? Looking for suicide bombers in diapers?

There is nothing about the "no fly list" that plausibly is making us safer. Some recent adult "no fly" episodes that have trickled into the media:
  • Lately TSA has repeatedly stopped a former US diplomat who travels abroad often doing nonprofit work.
  • The Grand Forks (ND) Herald reported in some consternation that a local accountant had been "selected" when flying home from Chicago.
  • Former Presidential candidate John Anderson was told an airline would not issue him a ticket to Germany because he was on a "watch list."
  • And then there was the lawyer who represented this blogger and her friend who had sued the government to find out why they were on the list -- and that attorney himself ended up on the list.
None of this is making any of us safer. Fenton Johnson, the author of Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey, spoke for many of us when he described his reactions to finding himself on the list in the LA Times:

Why am I on the TSA list? Because I have a common first and last name? Because I snapped at a security screener who confiscated my nail clippers? Because I write critically of the administration? Because I vote Democratic?

Once I would have thought these questions paranoid — then I found myself on the list. If it's a mistake, why not remove my name, thereby making the list more efficient and effective? If a law enforcement agency somewhere thinks I'm dangerous, shouldn't it question me, let me clear myself? Don't bother asking these questions, because "national security" answers all questions and justifies all actions, including wars abroad and civil rights restrictions at home.

I believe in the possibility of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, but I think there's a better chance that hackers will penetrate the TSA's computers or that a TSA employee will sell access to confidential records. I am even more concerned that a chaotic bureaucracy — which has had four directors in three years — is ripe for manipulation by snoops, politicians, data thieves and even law enforcement agencies eager to know more and control more about us.

Everyone cited in this post is white, a US citizen, and relatively entitled (at least.) We can only imagine what the knowledge of being constantly inspected and listed does to the lives of Muslim, Arab, and Asian people in the US who have done nothing that could rationally warrant suspicion.

Futile as it sometimes seems, we must continue to resist a power hungry Administration's drive to enmesh us all in a culture of fear.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Morning Retch: "Whites Only" bathrooms at Tyson


Tyson Foods Sued for Race Bias and Retaliation Against Blacks; 'Whites Only' Restroom at Issue

[An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit] alleges that Tyson violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Henry Adams, Leon Walker, and other black employees, by establishing and maintaining a locked bathroom facility, which on occasion had signs posted on it stating "Out of Order" and "Whites Only". Keys to the facility were distributed to white employees only. After Mr. Adams and Mr. Walker complained of the segregated facility, management subjected them to adverse employment actions, including suspensions and disciplinary write-ups. Link.
Not surprisingly, the poultry and meat producer denies the charges. What else are they going to do? But given the sorry history of the EEOC failing to do much about discrimination complaints, this one is likely to be well documented. If you feel motivated to ask Tyson about how they treat their employees, they have a comment form here.

Thanks to Shannika at Political Sapphire for pointing out this story.

Reality breaks in

Last fall, Ron Suskind famously reported that a White House staffer had brushed back his questions with the confident assertion: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

Yup -- they've created a new reality in Iraq -- they've completely screwed the country and now they are being forced to give up. From today's Washingon Post:

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq. . .the realities of daily life are a constant reminder of how the initial U.S. ambitions have not been fulfilled in ways that Americans and Iraqis once anticipated. Many of Baghdad's 6 million people go without electricity for days in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors.

Barbers post signs saying they do not shave men, after months of barbers being killed by religious extremists. Ethnic or religious-based militias police the northern and southern portions of Iraq. Analysts estimate that in the whole of Iraq, unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent.
. . .
Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing, but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. …"We've said we won't leave a day before it's necessary. But necessary is the key word -- necessary for them or for us? When we finally depart, it will probably be for us," a U.S. official said.

Okay, so the U.S. is about to cut and run from the rubble it made, perhaps hiding behind the fig leaf of what NY Times columnist Frank Rich today called a "shotgun constitution."

None of this is entirely surprising to those of us who always lived in the reality-based community, though the collapse is playing out more rapidly and more catastrophically than we might have expected. How will the fantasts in power respond to this irksome intrusion of reality? How will the rest of us respond, because this is not just the Iraqi's rubble?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Late to Lakoff, part 4: in practice, the Arnold case

Don't think of an elephant includes one chapter which demonstrates both the strengths and the limitations of Lakoff's effort to bring language theory to political practice. I'm particularly interested in this story because I worked (and in a way am still working) in the campaign he describes. "Enter the Terminator!" is dated October 13, 2003, locating it in the immediate aftermath of the California recall election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed Democrat Gray Davis out of office a mere year after Davis had been elected in a landslide.

Lakoff enumerates very cogently some ways the media framed the story of the recall and evaluates them briefly:
  • Voter Revolt -- ignored Republican-engineered pseudo-populist scheming;
  • The Great Noncommunicator (Davis) -- locates failure too much in one politician, too little in Democrats generally;
  • Kooky California -- standard national media dismissal of the country's largest, most diverse state;
  • The People Beat the Politicians -- more phony Republican pseudo-populism;
  • Just a Celebrity -- a subset of the Kooky California theme, explaining nothing;
  • Right Wing Power Grab -- a Democratic frame that Davis never managed to put across.
All these frames hide as much of the story than they tell:

They don't explain why a lot of union rank-and-file members ignored their unions' support for Davis and voted for Arnold against their self-interest. They don't explain why a great many Hispanics voted for Arnold instead of Bustamante. They don't explain Arnold's popularity with women despite the revelations against him of sexist behavior.

For Lakoff, the story of the recall election is the story of the perfect fit between Schwarzenegger's Terminator character and a majority of the public's desire for the reassurance of a "strict father" leader after Enron-induced electricity shortages and the shock of 9/11.

I'm not about to say Lakoff gets this wrong. He clearly gets a lot right. But there was more going on. During the 2003 campaign, I worked against a rightwing initiative also on the ballot that would have outlawed state collection and use of racial demographic information; we smashed Prop. 54, against the supposed conservative tide. Yes, the voters were in the mood for a strict father figure; the campaign I worked for ran ads featuring Dr. C. Everett Koop of all people! But I think Lakoff underplays the extent to which Davis and the California Democratic Party set themselves up for their loss.

As I argued here, Democrats, with our diverse coalition of jostling communities, win by speaking to hope, not fear. Davis had won the governorship (twice!) by casting himself the lesser evil against unattractive Republican opponents. He actually managed to influence the selection of the inept Bill Simon in 2002 by running ads against the more attractive Richard Riordan in the Republican primary. Once he was elected, he delivered little to the constituencies that put him in office -- Davis was a remote figure who managed to win without making any real friends. Meanwhile California Democratic politicians, despite controlling reapportionment, cut a deal with the minority Republicans that guaranteed that no seats would change party in legislative elections. Both at the Gubernatorial and the legislative levels, Democrats conspired to take competition between moral visions out of politics, to render elections mere perfunctory exercises in marketing. In the recall, they had no idea how to present themselves as appealing. And so Democrats stood no chance when confronted with 1) real public anxiety and 2) an opponent who embodied one of the polar moral archetypes of politics.

However, since getting elected, Arnold has gone a long way toward proving that playing a strict father in the movies isn't enough to captivate the public permanently. This spring I had the privilege of working with the California Nurses Association to help cut the Terminator down to size. By trying to marginalize nurses, teachers and firefighters as "special interests," Arnold set up a direct conflict between the two value systems underlying US political contests: strict father morality v. nurturance, fear v. hope. He's not faring very well when subjected to a direct comparison and determined opponents; plummeting polls suggest that the public trusts the people who work responsibly to teach their kids and keep them alive more than a phony animated hero. This fall's special election will be a further test of the limits of selling fear; I expect to enjoy working in it.

Late to Lakoff, part 3: an alternative moral metaphor

In Don't think of an elephant, George Lakoff describes conservatives as guided by a "Strict Father" morality while liberals derive their values from a "Nurturant Parent" metaphor. Sorry, I think Lakoff is conceding to the right's frame as soon as he tries to describe US politics within family values metaphors.

Lakoff, drawing on "Focus on the Family" honcho James Dobson's child rearing prescriptions, notes that Strict Father types believe we are born bad and need to be kicked into line as children by a father (standing in for their God, I guess.) Once we've been so kicked, we'll know how to behave obediently and so will be rewarded with plenty and properly shun the undeserving whose unworthiness is demonstrated by their poverty and suffering. Meanwhile Nurturant Parent people think we are born good, that we respond well to empathy (and their God embodies infinite love), that parents teach responsibility to children by encouraging caring, freedom, fairness and open communication.

If I had to pick, I'd identify with the NPs. But actually, I don't play inside these family-centered bounds -- nor do I think US politics is actually stuck in them. The root political actor within the US system has historically been the free person/citizen, a category that has been extended through great struggle to include many previously excluded persons beginning with white males not owning property, then women and people of color -- and currently being stretched in the direction of gays and other gender deviants.

Looked at from the stance of the free political actor, the conservative paradigm looks like the abused child's worldview: perpetually powerless children try to either emulate or placate the worst playground bully on the lot. Alternatively, liberal political morality depends upon the mature adult who has learned to make personal moral choices while recognizing that no individual has all the answers. Within the understanding that the actor is the person, not the family, Lakoff's description of the liberal values of responsibility, empathy and protection reads mostly true.

Family values metaphors pick at and activate the scars individual and groups carry in a society that has historically consigned them to permanent childhood. That's okay with conservatives -- theirs is the morality of the Great White Father; they want to get and stay on top. This is powerful stuff: we are deeply conditioned to respond to childhood hurts (including new ones inflicted in adulthood.) Conservatives sell defensiveness, fear, and we've mostly had enough experience with pain and powerlessness so that fear sells.

Truthful frames for liberal values speak to the emerging, never fully actualized, adult within us. They evoke our aspirations, our hopes. Hope can dangerous; it often requires a leap of faith. Bold leaps are at the core of liberal values; courage is their essence from which empathy, generosity and responsibility flow.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Too tired to write; Friday cat blogging

A cross country flight in the cattle-car confines of a United Airlines tourist section has left me drained for twenty four hours. More on Lakoff will have to wait.

Here are some recent cats that I've run across:

He thinks he is a panther.

She thinks the string I'm waving is a mouse tail.

Drive carefully.

And don't just look at these; you can find some cats posted from Baghdad here. Say hi to Raghda Zaid.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Late to Lakoff, part 2: good stuff

The central theme of Don't think of an elephant is that we all understand the world in "frames." That is, we hold underlying values and assumptions about the world that are implicit in how we talk about everything. The language we choose carries those assumptions without our necessarily being conscious of the implications embedded in how we speak. Using its think tanks, marketing research, and ownership of the media, the Right has consciously managed to frame most public conversations within its preferred values. So we have lots of people who should know better talking about the "death tax," "racial preferences," and "the war on terror."

Lakoff contends that if progressives are to recapture power, they too have to learn to use frames to win public acceptance (or at least acquiescence.) By failing to appeal to the implicit structures of our belief systems, progressives have ceded the field to conservatives. He urges progressives to learn that: "Framing is about getting the language that fits your worldview."

I've got some quarrels with the descriptions that Lakoff lays out of the conservative and liberal value systems that I'll take up in a later post. But many of the practical ideas he derives from the concept of framing seem incredibly valuable to anyone doing what old time leftists like myself used to call "propaganda," what political junkies now call "spin," and what just about anyone might call argumentation. For example:

When you think you just lack words, what you really lack are ideas. Ideas come in the form of frames. When the frames are there, the words come readily.

I find this a very useful notion to keep in mind when I watch Democratic Party politicians flailing around for answers on issues such as racial profiling or the Iraq war. They either lack or are afraid to utter any unconventional ideas on these fraught subjects.

The last chapter of this little book is a very practical, helpful set of suggestions: "How to Respond to Conservatives." A few:
  • Hold your ground. Always be on the offense.
  • Many conversations are ongoing.
  • Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is just common sense.
  • Tell a story.
He ends with this:

Show respect.
Respond by reframing.
Think and talk at the level of values.
Say what you believe.
Or, as I've learned through long experience in persuasive activism: know what you believe and have enough courage to talk with others who disagree; you'll clarify your own thinking and probably deepen your understanding of the values that underlie your position.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

"We know what the enemy looks like."

No, we don't. What a crock! Former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir made this unsubstantiated assertion to TV personality Chris Matthews while defending the NYPD's effort to "randomly search" subway users.

Since the London subway bombing, there has been a lot of this fear-mongering:

New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) held up photos of Muslim men at a news conference last week and said: "The individuals involved [in terrorism] basically look like this. Why must police think twice before examining people of a particular group?" [LA Times report.]

The Assemblyman plans to introduce legislation to repeal state anti-racial profiling laws so that police can stop people they think are terrorists.

Naturally, there are objections:

Councilmember Charles Barron, representing a largely black constituency in Brooklyn, noted that the police profile of a "typical" New York drug dealer is a 22-year-old white male. "I'm certain [legislators supporting profiling don't] want us to go to Staten Island and check out all of the 22-year-old white men there for drugs," Barron said. "We want the same kind of justice to be observed whenever police start searching people on the subway."

Security as Theater

Most of what US authorities are doing about "security" is bullshit. In its more benign form, it is simply something baffled governments do to convince frightened citizens that they are doing something. I put stationing National Guard troops with telescopic equipment below the Golden Gate Bridge in that category: slightly foolish, expensive, but harmless. (When the same Guardsmen were patrolling San Francisco Airport after 9/11 it wasn't quite so harmless; one of them shoot himself in the butt.) But when government incites more fear of terrorism than is warranted and turns to rounding up (in Safir's words) "the enemy" who is not "us," then security theater does far more harm than good.
  • it gives frustrated police departments license to "round up the usual suspects," without any showing of wrongdoing;
  • it leads to culturally ignorant guesses about people's ethnic and religious affiliations and imputes guilt simply by association with stigmatized groups;
  • it alientates members of suspected communities who might have some actually useful tips for law enforcement;
  • and it undermines the very best instincts of people who, left to their own devices, are usually quite imaginative and resourceful in a crisis.

Baruch Fischhoff is a professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University and president of the Society for Risk Analysis; he has described how we actually react in a emergency:

…the critical first responders in almost any crisis are ordinary citizens whom fate has brought together…. In discussions of homeland security emergencies, one hears "panic" a lot, despite the evidence that panic won't be likely, whatever our enemies throw at us…. If our leaders are really planning for panic, in the technical sense, then they are at best wasting resources on a future that is unlikely to happen. At worst, they may be doing our enemies' work for them - while people are amazing under pressure, it cannot help to have predictions of panic drummed into them by supposed experts.

It can set up long-term foreboding, causing people to question whether they have the mettle to handle terrorists' challenges…. It's time to end chatter about "panic" and focus on ways to support public resilience in an emergency.

There really are a few, somewhat organized, somewhat funded, nutcases out there who believe they have a right to terrorize the people of the US and other countries. But the answer to terror is not more fear, more racial profiling, and diminished civil liberties. The answer to terror is courage, understanding as much as we can about causes, intelligent law enforcement, and cleaving to our own best ideals including equality of all persons and the rule of law.

Why is Bush afraid of this woman?

Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Casey Sheehan, a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.

She's holed up just down the road from Bush's ranch in Crawford.  She's unarmed, nonviolent, and carrying little but questions.  She simply agrees with the 61% of Americans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war.  All she's doing is demanding accountability from her elected president. From Bob Harris, because Sheehan's story matters.

Bush should be very afraid; when the ordinary people of this country realize that they've been betrayed in the name of protecting them, they are likely to be very unforgiving. That's a side effect of bandying about the notion of "evil" in politics.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Late to Lakoff: "philanthropic" follies

When lots of folks in the Democratic activist set were reading Don't think of an elephant in the summer and fall of 2004, I was worrying about making voter contacts. And, later, during the mourning and post mortems, I didn't think I could bear to ingest the latest nostrum offered for our political ills.

But having finally gotten around to reading George Lakoff's primer on what ails progressive efforts in the contemporary US political environment, I have quite a few observations that I'm going to divide into a series of posts.

Let's start with a bit for which I want to offer raving, leaping applause: Lakoff vividly nails how "progressive" foundations (the institutional funders of nonprofit enterprises) pretty well guarantee political impotence among their grantees.

Progressive foundations spread [their] money around. They give twenty-five thousand dollars here, maybe fifty thousand, maybe even a hundred thousand. Sometimes it is a big grant. But recipients have to do something different from what everyone else is doing because the foundations see duplication as wasting money.

Not only that, but [these] are not [unrestricted] block grants; the recipients do not have full freedom to decide how to spend the money. . . .

The emphasis is on providing direct services to the people who need the services: grassroots funding, not infrastructure creation. . . . the [nonprofit] organizations [that foundations] fund have to have a very narrow focus. They have to have projects, not … areas they work on. Activists and advocates are overworked and underpaid, and they do not have time or energy to think about how they should be linking up with other people. . . .The system forces a narrow focus-and with it, isolation.

Lakoff must have applied for a lot of grants from "progressive" funders, because he certainly nails the absurd bind that organizations which are dependent on foundation funding find themselves in. The game is to sell the funders on your definition of a problem, then show you are uniquely the answer to the problem as you define it, so that funding you will give the foundation a sense that it is doing "good" work.

This is a profoundly dishonest process; its conventions reward deception, most obviously of the funder, but also self-decepton within the recipient organizations, as they internalize the behaviors that pay the bills. It is easy to begin believing that your program or your idea is the unique truth that will enable you to achieve your progressive ends. Far too many nonprofits, perhaps especially those that aspire (in the lingo of foundations) to be "changemakers" come to believe their self-presentations. The ability to present a striking, solo "initiative" (that's another foundation-favored noun) is rewarded. But what restoring a potent progressive politics requires is the ability to see one's work as a small piece of a larger, longer term strategy.

Lakoff thinks this self-defeating behavior comes out of the way that progressives understand and attempt to live out their moral system -- I'll accept that some of that is at work, but also we really shouldn't forget that foundations exist to provide a tax dodge for the very wealthy. Consequently we shouldn't be too surprised that they don't fund coherent progressive initiatives that might actually upset the status quo.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hiroshima remembered on Martha's Vineyard

The tiny notice read:
Sunrise Remembrance for the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima Day at 6 a.m. at the Gay Head Light in Aquinnah, sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Peace Council

I'm always ambivalent about events of this sort. Little gatherings of well-meaning US folks seem so inadequate to mark the world-shaking advent of mass death and planet poisoning in Hiroshima sixty years ago, much less to stop the rising tide of violence and hatred on our contemporary scene. What good can it do for the usual suspects once again to gather to pray, sing, and meditate?

Sixty years after Hiroshima, the Los Angeles Times wants to be sure we know that even in Japan, people are forgetting that peace is precious.

"Only on this day are people enthusiastic about peace — that's it," said Yuki Shibazaki, 17, as she gossiped with friends around the Peace Memorial Museum after the ceremony. Her high school class was supposed to designate two representatives to attend Saturday's ceremony, but there were no volunteers.

"I don't have any clear sense about war or peace," she said. "To be honest, for the locals, it is an inconvenience and annoying to have a ceremony like this."

That sentiment worries Hiroshima survivors, who warn that complacency about the lessons of the atomic bombs make war and even the use of nuclear weapons more likely.

Complacency leads to death, so I go to the remembrance, because it would be worse to be absent. Giving up is not an option; we have no choice but to seek ways to peace (and perhaps, if lucky, to find that peace within ourselves is a prelude to peace in the world.)

Though my political work is seldom among the "peace people," the stalwarts at the Gay Head too are my family. It was a privilege to spend an early hour with them, remembering the unthinkable and knowing that they too work against all odds for the survival of the planet.