Friday, August 31, 2012

Republican convention detritus

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Fortunately we already have better. The dusty newspaper rack barely reveals the murky headline.

As far as I can make out, Mitt Romney thinks he should be elected President because a President ought to be someone who looks like him. And/or someone who looks like his running mate.

I suspect most of us don't start from that anachronistic premise anymore. Let's hope the electorate doesn't prove me wrong.

Mitt and the historic Mormon paradox

In this moment when Mormonism is thrust under the national spotlight by Mitt Romney's candidacy, Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: the transformation of America 1815-1848 provides a perspective on this peculiarly New World religious variation. Howe's portrait of the emerging sect in the 1830's includes this intriguing description.

The Book of Mormon purports to chronicle the history of an ancient people who once inhabited the American continent. … True or not, the Book of Mormon is a powerful epic written on a grand scale with a host of characters, a narrative of human struggle and conflict, of divine intervention, heroic good and atrocious evil, of prophecy, morality, and law. Its narrative structure is complex. The idiom is that of the King James Version [of the Christian Bible], which most Americans assumed to be appropriate for a divine revelation. Although it contains elements that suggest the environment of New York in the 1820s, … the dominant themes are biblical, prophetic, and patriarchal, not democratic or optimistic. It tells a tragic story, of a people who, though possessed of the true faith, fail in the end. Yet it does not convey a message of despair; God's will cannot ultimately be frustrated. The Book of Mormon should rank among the great achievements of American literature, but it has never been accorded the status it deserves, since Mormons deny Joseph Smith's authorship, and non-Mormons, dismissing the work as a fraud, have been more likely to ridicule than read it.

I had never been exposed to the idea of the Book of Mormon as literature before.

I was also struck by the parallel between Muslims and Mormons in this regard: both religions deny that their scriptures can be read in any way except as direct revelation from God, without human intermediaries. Most Christians and Jews assume human authors assembled/wrote their sacred books. A belief in direct revelation creates an unyielding edifice for a faith. Yet such religions have found that they needed mechanisms to interpret their divinely revealed books in different societies. Most Muslims have empowered a class of law-interpreters who are scholars -- not in any way sacred, but wielding authority. Mormons created a hierarchy led by a President/Prophet who can lay down the law within the denomination, for example by ending the religious admonition in favor of polygamy and re-interpreting Mormon scripture to permit persons of African descent to assume male religious authority. Living traditions of all sorts require such interpreters, but obviously those that claim to derive from holy books written directly by God have a harder time steering new courses.

Mormons played a political role in Howe's period -- in fact hostile reactions to their political activity played a part in the persecution that drove Mormons to emigrate to Utah -- the absolute back of beyond in its day. The early Mormons tried to use their votes to protect their charismatic prophet and their right to their novel faith.

… the Mormons cast their votes in 1840 for the Whig presidential electors [because Democrats failed to protect them.] …Democratic politicians did not give up on the Mormons, however, and when Missouri agents came to arrest Joseph Smith as a fugitive from justice, Stephen Douglas, acting in his capacity as an Illinois state judge, set the prophet free. The grateful Mormons returned to the Democratic fold in 1842. In predominantly Democratic Illinois, it seemed a safer bet. The switch infuriated the Whigs, and did not restore the Mormons' popularity with their Democratic neighbors in the nearby towns of Warsaw and Carthage. Americans were accustomed to bloc voting by ethno-religious groups, but not to bloc voting that could go either way as directed.

The prophet Joseph Smith then planned to run for President in the 1844 but was lynched by anti-Mormons, setting off the move to the far west. Howe describes the paradox that resulted from Mormons' successful departure from the rest of the United States:

The Mormons transplanted their culture whole. Unlike so many other frontiers (Gold Rush California, for example) Utah experienced no transition from anarchy to civilization. The closest analogy in American history to the Mormon exodus would be the Great Migration of the Puritans from East Anglia to Massachusetts Bay in 1630, likewise religiously motivated, well organized, and implementing a preexisting blueprint. ….Early Mormon Utah was the largest of American utopian communities, an example to the world but not a part of it.

Ironically, the Mormons who sought to escape from the United States ended up playing a role in extending the United States. Their way of life, originally a millenarian critique of the larger society and a collectivist, authoritarian dissent from American individualistic pluralism, now impresses observers as the most "American" of all.

This year we'll be deciding whether the Mormon Romney -- the white patriarch with good hair -- is the prototypical "American" -- or whether a skinny mixed race guy with big ears can be just as much an icon of who we are. It's interesting that Romney's Mormons have always embodied and embraced "Americanism" while seeming foreign to their fellow citizens.

Other posts about What Hath God Wrought: Speed, communications and hope, Elections: Rousing the sluggish, and Doubling down on whiteness.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Too busy to care about whining Republicans

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Yesterday African American leaders held a rally on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall in support of Prop. 34 which will replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole when it passes in November. No more death penalty; no more waste of tax dollars on a broken system that doesn't deliver justice; no more risk that California will execute an innocent person!

That's my boss, campaign manager Natasha Minsker, speaking from the podium.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A vestigial artifact of a bygone era

So the Republican are holding a national convention. I'm too busy with the campaign to pay any attention to it.

And I know I am not alone. Lots of people are tuning this one out and will tune out the Democratic wingding next week as well. Here's Ed Kilgore on the demise of these quadrennial circuses. This week's speeches are just entertainment for

... a lot of delegates and other self-appointed spox for the party who will want to growl and rant about the Godless Socialist in the White House and his evil plans to disrupt the well-ordered lives of virtuous retirees and loot their savings in order to empower welfare queens and their spawn, the ever-threatening Roving Bands of Youths.

And what's the profit in broadcasting that? Not much, the networks have determined.

We still have national political conventions for the same reason we still empower a handful of states to exert enormous power over presidential nominations -- inertia. ...

The decision to bag [Monday]’s Republican Convention schedule may have been necessitated by the possibility of a weather disaster, but it was lubricated by the earlier decision of broadcast networks to forego live coverage entirely for Day One. Tampa is awash with journalists trying to find something interesting to write or talk about, in a pitched battle with party operatives trying to keep the whole show as boring as possible until the Big Chiefs get their unfiltered opportunity to address a Super-Prime-Time audience.

…it’s probably time to consign them to history.

That would be okay with me and probably with most of us. Meanwhile, I see Hurricane Issac is banging the Gulf Coast. Perhaps someone might notice that these things are ill-timed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Republican woman

This video makes me think about my mother who has been dead for 13 years. Watch it. This election would have cross-pressured Mother terribly.

She was a Republican and not just a casual sympathizer. All her adult life, she was a loyal member of the Frontier Club for Republican Women. When I was very young, she became the local Republican committeewoman; she was responsible for getting out the vote in our neighborhood. In a gray metal box, she kept a card on every registered voter, listing address and party affiliation. After every election, she carefully scanned the election records to check who had voted and who hadn't. Woe to the Republican who skipped an occasion to cast a ballot! As soon as I could read, I learned about mobilizing turnout by helping her keep the cards up to date.

She was a Republican because she thought of the party's WASP male leaders as honest, hard-working people, serious people, like her. To her, the Democrats were corrupt city bosses (our Dems were), often from strange foreign lands (perhaps Polish or Italian), and probably Catholic (she had a Protestant disdain for the Pope.)

But along with her bigotry, she had redeeming tendencies. She thought African Americans ("the colored") were often good people who had hard lives (in those days Blacks presented no competition to her class). She hated anti-Jewish prejudice; she had learned the lesson of Hitler well. And she was a feminist. When Operation Rescue came to town to shut down abortion clinics, though well into her 70s, she signed a public protest and contributed heavily to Planned Parenthood. She was a Republican for Choice.

In the 1964 presidential election, she got out the Republican vote. She dragged me to the kick-off for right wing Senator Barry Goldwater's running mate, a forgettable Congressman from nearby named William Miller. But she couldn't bring herself to cast a ballot for Goldwater, or so she whispered to me.

She was a complicated person, striving to advance the common good within the limits of her time, status and place.

I like to think that today's Republicans are too simplistic, too resistant to scientific knowledge, and too bent on keeping women down to have held her allegiance. I like to think she would have been able to see through Mitt Romney, to perceive the ethical void that allows him to run a campaign of lies and deception. But Romney would have looked like a president to her.

Supporting Obama would have been a stretch for her. He's different, you know. Some notion of Republican rectitude that never was (to my way of thinking) had a firm grip on her. Some sense that the country she knew was slipping away from her also held her. In this election, those sentiments would have been at war. I like to think that, like the women in the video, she would have been able to break through that powerful inner line that kept her a Republican. The values she believed in no longer live over there, if they ever did.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Doubling down on whiteness in an earlier time

As we head into a Republican convention that will formally nominate a candidate whose weak prospects have led him to "double down on whiteness," it's not a bad moment to look back at the distortions that a sectional embrace of white supremacy embedded in the politics of the pre-Civil War United States. Let's continue my discussion of Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: the transformation of American 1815-1848. Previous installments here and here.

Howe is no fan of Jacksonian politics (1828-40). He describes this south western movement rooted in Alabama, Mississippi, and the further frontier as a force that turned racial prejudices into a political principle.

White supremacy, resolute and explicit, constituted an essential component of what contemporaries called "the Democracy" -- that is, the Democratic Party. Jackson's administrations witnessed racial confrontation not only between whites and Native Americans but also between whites and blacks. In the case of African Americans, however, the government did not embark on an initiative of its own like Indian Removal but responded to actions by the blacks themselves and their handful of radical white supporters. [Early white abolitionists were as far outside the intellectual and social mainstream as gay liberationists in the 1950s.] …The southern practice of ignoring inconvenient federal laws in order to preserve white supremacy was established long before the Civil War. …The refusal of the Post Office to deliver abolitionist mail to the South may well represent the largest peacetime violation of civil liberty in U.S. history. Deprived of access to communication with the South, the abolitionists would henceforth concentrate on winning over the North.

As we watch Mitt Romney pander to white racial anxiety, we are reminded that it was the political party carrying the name "Democratic" that pioneered assembling majorities by manipulating racial fears. The labels change; the poisonous power of race among whites has been chronic.

The success of the Democratic Party among white wage-earners owed more than a little, unfortunately, to the emphasis it placed on white supremacy. Democratic politicians found an effective way to synthesize their party's appeal to two disparate groups, the northern working class and the southern planter class. They declared that solicitude for southern slaves distracted attention from the plight of northern "wage-slaves," who, they insisted, were actually worse off.

This bit of political sleight of hand from the 1830s seems awfully contemporary, doesn't it? Then as now, the one percent always seek to turn popular discontent to their own advantage.

Okay -- so there were a lot of white people in the early United States who wanted to keep black slaves and freed black people down and to kill off native people entirely. But it is worth also attending to how racial animus effected the policies and strategies that politicians adopted to grow the new country. The rapidly expanding nation needed government to build its infrastructure and communications; then as now, private enterprise was not going to create roads, canals, and communications systems that were universal and rational. Whigs fought for a national bank to mitigate financial panics (recessions) and for such institutions as a national post office. The party of populist white supremacy feared such innovations would lead to a slippery slope that might end slavery. The contemporary label for government action in the economy was "internal improvements."

Democratic suspicion of government aid to internal improvements reflected not a horror of the market revolution but a fear that such a program might threaten the institution of slavery. The danger, from the slaveholders' point of view, was twofold. In the first place, national plans for internal improvements might be designed to wean areas in the Border. States or Upper South away from slave-based agriculture toward a diversified economy in which slavery would become vulnerable to gradual emancipation. In the second place, national plans for internal improvements set a precedent for federal activity that might encourage interference with slavery -- for example, by exercising the interstate commerce power over the interstate slave trade. Jacksonians welcomed transporting farm products to market, so long as it could be done without the centralized planning that raised the specter of emancipation.

The era's Democrats won three consecutive national elections based on their racially inflected opposition to this kind of government meddling. The Northern states, where big industrialists had more influence, did create their own improvements -- the slave dependent South, though apparently as wealthy or more so, did not, for fear of destabilizing the slave system. It took the Civil War to make a breakthrough, not only by freeing the slaves, but also by empowering national government to assist "interstate commerce."

The party labels have changed. Now it is Republicans who lead the white supremacist and anti-government charge. Their geographic base looks a lot like that of the Jacksonian Democrats. But we're still living with the race-soaked contradictions of our early sectional history.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A reason to be proud of those 49ers

Being a fan is one of the silliest, most granfalloonish, enterprises imaginable, but I am one. And just occasionally my team does itself proud.

That Little Old Lady in tennis shoes

The Blogger is pooped. Yesterday included an outdoor afternoon wedding, followed by a birthday feast with an 87 year old friend whose curiosity about the world sparkles.

This moment of exhaustion seems a good time to post this which has been turning up among the parade of auto ads that go with the return of TV football. What do you think of it?

I think I like it. I think it breaks some stereotypes. But does it? Who are they selling to?

For what it is worth, I'm currently enjoying driving a far less sensible car myself.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Francisco from the bay

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When foreign friends come to town, we want to show off our city at its best. So we provided visiting Brits a view from a sail on the bay at dusk one summer evening. That's the "Russian Hill" area in the center; apparently in Gold Rush times, there was a Russian cemetery containing the graves of visiting sailors on this rise.

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Downtown lies to the east, culminating in the Bay Bridge to Oakland, Berkeley and beyond. That's not our famous bridge; it's the homey one over which many friends have escaped this over-priced peninsula to find cheaper housing. The Golden Gate Bridge is due west -- on this evening in line with the sun and not to be photographed.

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The downtown skyline is dense and impressive. When I moved here in the early 70s, we still debated whether San Francisco would succumb to "Manhattanization." A contemporary visitor would not ask that question.

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Only as the sun sank into the perennial fog bank did it become possible to point a camera due west.

Visitors give us a chance to appreciate once again the drama of our setting.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Campaign season and intellectual integrity

When I'm in campaign mode, as I am now, I'm a warrior. My responsibility is to focus all my energies and capacities on winning the current electoral contest. It's both draining and oddly relaxing. I have nothing extra for anything else; I can only plow ahead with the necessities of the moment. Most of life is now on hold until after November 6.

But the paradox here is that I'm an effectual warrior because the rest of the time I have broad interests and curiosities that expose me to diverse intellectual and ethical possibilities. At least, I aim to place myself to force such exposure.

All this meandering is introduction to some clarifying thoughts whose origin requires some explication. Here goes: a pretentious British historian at Harvard, Niall Ferguson, has published a trashy, lying attack on Barack Obama in Newsweek. No, I haven't read it. I've tried some of Ferguson's books and he did not impress -- and besides, I'm in a campaign so I don't have time for the latest pseudo-intellectual sludge. But lots of good academic liberals and journalists -- Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, James Fallows -- have taken Ferguson to the woodshed. There's a school of thought that Ferguson is just trying to inflate his speaking fees before business audiences rather than make any serious intervention in political debate.

Okay -- so this is just about greed and the excesses of campaign season. But Sir Charles at Cogitamus pointed to a more interesting commentary that reminded me of who I want to be when I am not in campaign mode. Here's some of what Timothy Burke, a professor in the Department of History at Swarthmore College, had to say about the Ferguson flap:

...I still think you can’t afford to treat communities and groups that you politically oppose, however fiercely, as if their motivations and habitus aren’t as complex and historically intricate as any other community or group. You have to be curious about everything or you might as well be curious about nothing. That doesn’t mean I like some of them, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t think some of them are dishonest, manipulative or motivated by goals other than the ones they claim to be pursuing. But I can’t come to rest on the easy certainty of any of those interpretations, and my own convictions and views have to be always subject to the skeptical thought, the unforeseen fact, the surprising experience, the persuasive counterthrust.

Sure, I get frustrated too and blow off steam at times. We’re all human. But when we’re trying to be both (or either) scholars and intellectuals, at least, we have some other responsibilities that kick into gear.

…A scholar has to believe on some level that things are known or understood only after being investigated, tested, read, interpreted, that there’s something unseemly about robbing the graves and morgues for cast-off “facts” in order to assemble them into a shambling, monstrous conclusion built from a hackish blueprint. Being an intellectual takes some form of thoughtfulness, some respect for evidence and truth, something that goes beyond hollow, sleazy rhetoric that plays dumb every time it gets caught out truncating quotes or doctoring charts.

I hope I remember those verities, even when I'm in campaign mode. When this season is over, I'll be letting myself be grilled by my partner's public policy grad students on issues of campaign ethics. It will be an important conversation, I think.

Friday cat blogging

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You might not think that a cat would choose to survey the world from the dubious comfort of a blue naugahyde perch, but Morty rather likes this spot.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Early 19th century United States elections:
"Rousing the sluggish to exertion"

Brutal election ads are an old story; Andrew Jackson depicted as a jackass.

Since I work on mobilizing and turning out voters, I was delighted to encounter the phrase in this post's title, spoken by a party election operative, in Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought. Howe's volume chronicles the beginning of the two-party system (then Democrats and Whigs) in U.S. politics, the populist eruption associated with the President Andrew Jackson, and the communications revolution that enabled mass democracy.

His picture of the expansion is not of a sterile or decorous politics. The Democracy, as contemporaries labeled the Jacksonians, could verge on acting like a mob.

The typical antebellum American polling place displayed many of the worst features of all-male society: rowdy behavior, heavy drinking, coarse language, and occasional violence. (This rude ambience, in fact, was one of the reasons offered for excluding women from voting.) Commonly, two or three weekdays would be set aside for each election and declared holidays so men could come to the polling place and vote.

…Voting was sometimes oral and seldom secret. Even where written ballots were used, they were printed by the rival parties, each on paper of a distinctive color to make it easy for poll-watchers to tell which one a voter placed in the ballot box. A ballot would only list the names of the candidates of the party that printed it. To cast anything other than a straight party vote, a man had to "scratch his ticket' -- line out a name and write in a different one.

… When some states proposed requiring voters to register in advance, the Democratic Party generally opposed it. The prevailing electoral practices encouraged a large turnout, party line voting, and various forms of partisan cheating, including vote buying and intimidation. Absence of secrecy encouraged most men in each community to vote the same way. …

We have made some progress in running elections so as to give at least an appearance of fairness. Yet these unruly assemblages were creating a set of democratic realities then unequaled in the world. For one thing, the new nation rapidly did away with the property qualifications that even revolutionary 18th century political men had thought necessary to an orderly state.

During the years after 1815, state after state abolished property requirements for voting; the actions of Massachusetts in 1820 and New York in 1821 attracted particular attention. Historically, such qualifications had been defended as ensuring that voters possessed enough economic independence to exercise independent political judgment. Now, voting increasingly came to be seen as the right of all adult males, at least if they were white. Reflecting the new attitude toward the suffrage, none of the states admitted after 1815 set property requirements. The change in opinion largely antedated industrialization and typically occurred before a significant population of white male wage-earners had appeared. …

They usually excluded free black men from the broadened suffrage. They did not realize that their new rules would enfranchise an industrial proletariat and the large influx of immigrants who would begin to arrive in the 1840s, for they did not foresee the appearance of either. As a result, suffrage liberalization occurred in many places with relatively little controversy. …The widespread change in the conception of the suffrage, from a privilege bestowed on an independent-minded elite to a right that should be possessed by all male citizens, reflected in part the success of the American Revolution and general acceptance of its natural-rights ideology. …

Practical as well as principled considerations operated to broaden the suffrage in the young republic. Eager to attract settlers (who boosted land values), the newer states saw no reason to put suffrage obstacles in their path. Some of them even allowed immigrants to vote before becoming citizens. This in turn put pressure on the older states, which worried about losing population through emigration westward.

The increasingly effective system of communications -- canals, turnpikes, the telegraph and the national postal system -- changed politics: naturally skilled political operatives quickly figured out how to exploit new means of spreading their messages.

Political pamphlets had been around for a long time, and there were also political books, for campaign biographies appeared of every presidential hopeful; but the most influential segment of the political media was the newspaper press. By 1836, both administration and opposition newspapers flourished in all parts of the country. So long as they exempted slavery from criticism, they enjoyed freedom of political expression everywhere. …

On occasion, the communications revolution could itself become the subject of partisan debate. In 1832, the Senate spent a week debating a measure to grant all newspapers free postage. Supporters argued that it would promote political awareness among the electorate and help unify the nation. Opponents complained that it would enable people in the countryside to subscribe to big-city newspapers and undercut the local markets of the small-town press. The proposal went down to a narrow defeat, 22 to 23, with all Jacksonian senators voting no. Then as now, those who defined themselves as outsiders distrusted the influence of metropolitan opinion-makers.

In this system, heading up the Post Office became an office akin to leading Fox News in our day. President Andrew Jackson appointed a member of his kitchen cabinet, Amos Kendall, to this vital post. Kendall proceeded to use his office to build up his party.

In his nurture of the Democratic Party, Kendall synthesized the power of the press over public opinion with the power of patronage to create a network of self-interest. Although the customs offices, land offices, and Indian agencies all provided federal jobs, the postal system dominated the patronage machine that made the national Democratic Party work. The expansion of the Post Office thus fostered both the communications revolution and the development of a modern party system. Even before becoming its formal head, Kendall largely controlled appointments to branch post offices.

Though the period saw the rise of a bumptious democracy, it certainly was not only a time of broad empowerment for some. The new nation's popular program included stealing Native American land (the contemporary language was "Indian Removal"), entrenching African-American slavery, an aggressive war of choice to grab half of Mexico, and denying the first sputtering assertions of women's rights. This was not democracy for everyone -- yet it inspired a level of participation we have a hard time equaling. "Rousing the sluggish to exertion" ...

by fair means or foul, the party leaders did their job effectively enough that voter turnouts increased to the point where they compare favorably with those of today, despite longer hours of work and the difficulties of getting from the family farm to the polling place.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Sunset search
U.S. Army Pfc. Michael McKinney, a combat infantryman with the 1st Platoon, Delaware Company, Team Apache, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, Task Force 4-25, climbs a hill during a patrol to search for weapons caches outside Saparah, Khost province, Afghanistan, Aug. 1, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kimberly Trumbull/Released)

According to the New York Times, Specialist James A. Justice of the Army who died at a military hospital in Germany was the 2000th U.S. military death in the Afghanistan war.

Nearly nine years passed before American forces reached their first 1,000 dead in the war. The second 1,000 came just 27 months later, a testament to the intensity of fighting prompted by President Obama’s decision to send 33,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in 2010, a policy known as the surge.

... According to the Times analysis, three out of four were white, 9 out of 10 were enlisted service members, and one out of two died in either Kandahar Province or Helmand Province in Taliban-dominated southern Afghanistan. Their average age was 26.

The dead were also disproportionately Marines... Though the Army over all has suffered more dead in the war, the Marine Corps, with fewer troops, has had a higher casualty rate: At the height of fighting in late 2010, 2 out of every 1,000 Marines in Afghanistan were dying, twice the rate of the Army. Marine units accounted for three of the five units hardest hit during the surge.

Another Times article does point out:

Among [Afghan] civilian dead, estimates typically reach well beyond 100,000, but a precise reckoning is unlikely to ever be known.

Meanwhile USA Today reported:

[U.S.] Soldiers killed themselves at a rate faster than one per day in July, the Army announced Thursday. There were 38 deaths either confirmed or suspected as suicides, the highest one-month tally in recent Army history, the service said.

What was this war for, anyway? Does anyone remember?

Listen up

An old Maine veteran recognizes courage:

I couldn't see how anyone who had been in combat could ever be cruel to anyone again … it takes a great deal of bravery to be a lesbian … marriage is too precious a thing not to share.

Mainers United for Marriage are once again asking their fellow citizens to affirm that love makes a family. With ads like these, they have a chance in November. It's enough to remind a person that something very good can come from all this electoral sound and fury. Mainers need our help.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Where are they now?

The people in this picture are Iraqis we met in Damascus in 2006. They had fled the Iraqi city of Basra, when after the U.S. invasion of 2003, militias began a campaign of "religious cleansing." These Christians had lived side by side with Muslim neighbors, both Shi'a and Sunni, all their lives, but in the chaos of war, community broke down. They saw friends and relatives killed and they fled.

Their lives in Syria were hard. Syria would not allow them to work, but at least it allowed them to live unmolested. Their children had little future, but they were alive.

The current violence in Syria is particularly devastating to the still large population of Iraqi refugees who had fetched up there. Cathy Breen from the Catholic Worker community in New York has worked with displaced Iraqis in Syria for years. She describes their situation:

“Can you help us!” cries the voice over the phone from Damascus. “
There are explosions and killings in our neighborhood. We are afraid
to leave the apartment. Where can we go?” I have no words to
advise or comfort them. We are helpless to know how to intervene on
their behalf.

Many months have passed since I last wrote you. Reports of the tragic
plight of Syrians having to flee the violence of their country have
been filling the media. The UN has officially asked neighboring
countries to remain open to Syrians. But the same countries are
closed to Iraqis, and the media is silent regarding the precarious
situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria. They have no option other than
to return to Iraq…. to the country from which they were forced to

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t receive an email or desperate phone
call from Iraqi refugees we know in Syria, from trusted Iraqi
translators who know them, or members of their families living here or
in Canada. I just received news that yet another Iraqi refugee
family in Syria has returned in desperation to Iraq. In haste they
took one of the free planes sent by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al
Maliki from Damascus to Baghdad.

A UN refugee agency official reported on Tues, Aug. 7th that more than
22,000 Iraqis have fled the violence in Syria for their home country
in less than three weeks. (AFP, Aug. 7, 2012, The Jordan Times). And
we see the violence in Iraq escalating. In June of 2012, at least 544
people were killed in Iraq. Last month, July, the death toll was at
least 325, with 700 wounded. We are fearful for the well-being of
those returning. Will it be like going from the frying pan back into
the fire?

Just recently an Iraqi family with three little boys and a one-year
old daughter returned to Iraq. Iraqi children were being kidnapped
with break-ins and killings escalating in their neighborhood outside
of Damascus proper. About two weeks ago, they related to us that
they are now back in Iraq, in a dangerous area going from “friend’s
house to friend’s house.” While in Syria they were accepted for
resettlement to the U.S. They want to know what hope, if any, there
is for them?

Breen can be reached by email at this link.

Sitting comfortably oceans away, people in the United States can forget about our shameful war of destruction without purpose on the people of Iraq. We should not be surprised if others cannot.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A new country: speed, communications, and hope

A communications revolution is the underlying theme of historian Daniel Walker Howe's volume covering the years 1815-1845 in the Oxford History of the United States: What Hath God Wrought. The title phrase is what inventor Samuel F. B. Morse tapped out as the first long distance demonstration of his brand-new telegraph. Along with canals, railroads, turnpikes, newspapers, and the Post Office, the new means of interacting changed society, religion and human horizons in what was still a new, vast and deeply experimental democracy.

This is not the most tightly drawn narrative among the volumes of the monumental Oxford History that I've read. Howe sometimes seems to jump from topic to topic, offering a dab of economic history here, a literary tidbit there, mixed with a smidgen of expansionist early American imperialism as a side dish. I suspect that 30 years from now this volume may seem anachronistic, a reading of this slice of early United States history extremely resonant of the concerns of the first decade of 21st century during another communications revolution, but perhaps missing other not currently obvious unifying themes. But that's just an intuition; I nonetheless was gripped by the variety interesting information Howe offers and will be sharing some some over several posts.

Here's an introductory sample of the sort of observation that makes this such an insightful commentary on the present:

In 1837, Emerson had published his ode for the monument to commemorate the Battle of Concord "Here once the embattled farmers stood / And fired the shot heard round the world." The memorable lines were hyperbole -- the sound of the American Revolution resonated around the Atlantic but not the Pacific.

James Marshall's discovery of gold in the Sierra had a better claim to triggering an event in global history. California was the first state to be settled by peoples from all over the world. (Indeed, it remains the most ethnically cosmopolitan society in existence today.) Endowing an occurrence in such a remote place with global historical consequences were the nineteenth-century developments in communication: the mass newspapers that publicized the finding, the advertisements that sold equipment and tickets, the increased knowledge of geography and ocean currents, the improvements in shipbuilding. Although the travel times to California seem long to us, the Gold Rush of 1848-49 represented an unprecedented worldwide concentration of human purpose and mobilization of human effort.

To those who lived through it, the well-named "Rush" seemed a dramatic example of the individualism, instability, rapid change, eager pursuit of wealth, and preoccupation with speed characteristic of America in their lifetime. It also testified to the power of hope, and hope built the United States.

That is, according to Howe, our state, so recently seized from Mexico in an aggressive war of choice, was already in 1848 playing the role it still often fulfills -- exploring the cutting edge of technological and human invention. Then as now, the rest of the world looked on in mixed envy, delight and horror -- and then often emulated us. I wish he'd given a citation for the assertion that California is still the "most ethnically cosmopolitan society in existence" -- not that I can name a rival off the top of my head.

It's never boring being a Californian.
Further posts about this monumental book will take up Howe's depiction of pre-Civil War politics (these folks invented political parties and mass democracy) and their religious enthusiasms and conflicts. Like Howe, I find his subject matter too broad for a simple, short entry.
Other volumes in the Oxford History I've written about here include: Empire of Liberty and Freedom from Fear.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Many death penalty opponents were once supporters

Something I've learned from working on the current campaign to replace California's death penalty with life in prison without parole as the sentence for heinous killers: people who have seen up close how the death penalty works (or fails to work) are some of the most articulate supporters of Prop. 34. They know we could do better at using our resources to move toward justice that works for everyone.

I've passed along previously the reflections of Ron Briggs who worked to pass our current death penalty and of Donald Heller who wrote the law. They have been key movers of Prop. 34.

Retired California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno describes himself as supporting the death penalty. While on the court, he voted to uphold some 200 death sentences. But he thinks it is time for California to give it up. In the official ballot arguments for Prop. 34, he asserts

“… there’s no chance California’s death penalty can ever be fixed. The millions wasted on this broken system would be much better spent keeping teachers, police and firefighters on their jobs.”

Recently he elaborated:

“I would think that we could fix the system, make it more efficient and actually faster, but I just don’t see that coming anywhere in the future,” said the former justice, a Gray Davis appointee who retired from the court in February 2011. “In California the people may be willing to support the death penalty in principle but they’re not willing to fund it.”

The costs amount to $184 million a year, according to a study last year co-written by another death penalty supporter, Arthur Alarcon, a judge on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That covers the extra expenses of trials, appeals and maintaining a Death Row that now houses 725 inmates. On average, their cases take more than 20 years to decide — prompting Moreno to observe that when death sentences get overturned, “I don’t see how you can realistically retry those cases.” Death penalty appeals also take up more than 25 percent of the caseload of the state Supreme Court, which automatically reviews every verdict in a capital case.

Enough. In November we get a chance to end this broken system, to ensure we never execute an innocent person, and to stop this waste of California's scarce tax dollars.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday scenes and scenery: the fallen

I find these very upsetting to encounter as I wander about town. If I were a writer of fiction, I'd make up stories about them.

fallen cycle copy.JPG
Bicycle down. Still intact as far as I can see, but how long will it remain that way?

fallen scooter.JPG
This is more serious. As an urban driver who must part in small spots, I approach pulling into a space next to a scooter with terror. Just a nudge could knock the thing over. Perhaps that happened here.

fallen cycle.JPG
This one was a bigger target -- could foul play have been involved?

fallen soldier.jpg
This looks like a classic story line. Megaton monster meets slight object, apparently glued, not embedded, in concrete. But why hasn't someone moved it away from the curb or even walked off with it? I didn't do anything either.

Friday, August 17, 2012

LA musings

View out my window in Burbank.

I've been in Los Angeles this week. I've worked politically with folks here for many years and I've learned a few things that sometimes surprise people who haven't worked here. For example, in organizing volunteers to do electoral outreach, you have to understand that Angelenos don't have much of what I think of as "range." In other parts of the state, people think little of driving 20 or 30 miles take part in activities on an issue they believe in. Here, few will do anything that asks them to drive to a place a couple of towns over. You just have to accept this. They have a pervasive horror of the possibility of getting stuck in THE TRAFFIC.

And it can happen. It happened to me in a mild way the other morning on my way from Burbank to downtown LA. Sitting there on the freeway, penned in and not moving, I gradually realized that the tractor trailer next to me was pulling one of those aluminum 40 foot pens with holes all over the body -- and that inside the pen were what looked like hundreds of live hogs, presumably on the way to be slaughtered. We rested adjacent to one another for a few minutes, then the traffic unclogged and I pulled away.

Now that is a sight you'd never see within San Francisco city limits. The hog truck just wouldn't be there. Very few big tractor trailer trucks take the freeway through San Francisco because, with the city sitting out there on the tip of its peninsula, there is almost always a more efficient way to move freight north and south. In southern California, if you are going north and south, unless you are way out in the desert, you pass through some part of Los Angeles. So LA is integrated in the economic life of the region, both glamourous and grungy. Meanwhile San Francisco sits a little apart, wealthy to be sure, but not so immersed in life's productive grit, more a locus of brains and money on the move.

Thanks for the insight, hogs.

Friday cat blogging

Morty gets a rest this week. Instead, here's a scientific explanation and demonstration of how cats land on their feet. I would NEVER do that to Morty. Never.

H/t WonkBook.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Groping to name who we are

The Census Bureau is struggling to find survey terms that enable people to identify themselves according to "race" and "ethnicity" in the words that they themselves use. As the demographic mix of the country changes, the terms in which people understand their own identities also change. The result will undoubtedly seem jarring to some people, while to others it will simply state the obvious. According to Hope Yen:

The recommendations released Wednesday stem from new government research on the best ways to count the nation's demographic groups. …The research is based on an experiment conducted during the 2010 census in which nearly 500,000 households were given forms with the race and ethnicity questions worded differently. The findings show that many people who filled out the traditional form did not feel they fit within the five government-defined categories of race: white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native; when questions were altered to address this concern, response rates and accuracy improved notably.

For instance, because Hispanic is currently defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos – or roughly 37 percent – used the "some other race" category on their census forms to establish a Hispanic racial identity. Under one proposed change to the census forms, a new question would simply ask a person's race or origin, allowing them to check a single box next to choices including black, white, or Hispanic.

The other changes would drop use of "Negro," leaving a choice of "black" or African-American, as well as add write-in categories that would allow Middle Easterners and Arabs to specifically identify themselves.

I'm fascinated that many Latinos, just at the moment when they are making their communities felt within the national polity, apparently want to label themselves a "race." Historically in the United States, where "white" and "black" defined who was on top and who was held down, getting out of a race check box and assimilating as a kind of "white" was part of coming into full citizenship. But current Census research apparently finds that Hispanics or Latinos want to be called a "race."

Other interesting findings about our racial understandings turned up in this Census research:
  • "Removing the term 'Negro' from the census form did not hurt the response rates of African-Americans. While some people in 2000 indicated that the term still had relevance to them, this number has steadily declined since then."
  • "Under the proposed changes, the number of people who reported multiple races increased significantly. The multiracial population is currently one of the nation's fastest growing demographic groups."
  • "When provided write-in lines, as much as 50 percent of people who checked their race as 'white' wrote in an ethnicity such as Italian, Polish, Arab, Iranian or Middle Eastern. More than 76 percent of black respondents also wrote in an ethnicity, such as Jamaican, Haitian or Ethiopian."
We care a great deal about racial categories, though we may not be entirely sure what we mean by them -- about whether we experience them as islands of solidarity, as cultural comfort zones, or as elements in a national mosaic. I'm most fascinated by the general insistence people are showing on naming their own race. As Cornel West preached, race matters.
Census categories used to describe "race" have been changed in every ten year version of the survey. There's a fascinating history of the evolving history of racial categories in this Wikipedia article. One of the consequences of changing racial definitions is that is hard to compare population numbers complied under different definitions.
What John Holbro at Crooked Timber pointed out may hold another clue to our emerging national identities:

… here’s my one thought, after the Ryan nomination. There are no WASPS on either ticket, either for President or VP. Also, there are no WASPS on the Supreme Court. Also, the Speaker of the House is a Catholic and the Senate Majority Leader is a Mormon. It’s a political commonplace that it’s pretty damn crazy that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama got elected President. But suppose you went back in time – set the Wayback Machine for ‘Best and the Brightest’ – so you could listen to all the botheration about Kennedy running for President. Suppose you could just interject: ‘dudes, dudes, in just 50 years, a Mormon and a Black man will be duking it out for President, and that’ll be a big deal, granted. But there will be no WASPS whatsoever at the absolute top of the political system, and people won’t even notice. Get over it.’

When change is accomplished, it ceases to be notable.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: the Presidential campaign

Out of my (limited) concern for fairness, I decided I'd hit the web sites of the contenders and see what they have to say -- not about each other -- but about human-generated climate change. I've ventured into the sewers, so you don't have to.

First up, Governor Romney: well, hmmm … that was difficult because his site doesn't seem to have a search function. I emailed them and asked where it was. Now I'll be getting email all campaign season … just so you get this post.

I poked around -- and found the following which seem somewhat relevant under "Energy:"

  • Ensure that environmental laws properly account for cost in regulatory process
  • Amend Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview
  • Expand NRC capabilities for approval of additional nuclear reactor design

Really that was the closest to a mention of the most significant threat facing the country and species I could find on the site -- proposals that amount to letting energy producers do any damn thing they please in order to boost their profits.

As expected, President Obama does better. Yes, there's a search function and it returns lots of entries for climate. Here's part of one from last Earth Day:

But time and again, we've seen that our opponents are willing to play politics with the health of our natural resources—and the American people—just to protect the bottom line of their special-interest allies.

If it was up to them, we'd have no EPA working to protect our kids from harmful air pollution or make sure our water is safe to drink—polluters would once again have a free pass. And I probably don't need to remind you of their views on climate change.

...We simply can't afford a White House that is skeptical about the human impact on climate change and continues to give Big Oil taxpayer giveaways at a time of record profits.

Not very specific, but the right sort of words. Now I don't trust Obama on this. I've lived through his equivocations over the last four years too. But progress begins when politicians know they have to say the right thing, even if they don't yet do it. We have to re-elect this guy in order to have a chance to live to fight another day.
According to Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, the candidates would not suffer with the voters if they talked forthrightly about the dangers of the global warming. Majorities know climate change is happening. Candidates might however suffer with the energy interests who fund campaigns and political parties.

Warming Wednesdays will go on break for the rest of the election season. I have meant to use these posts to stretch myself -- to push me to sites and reading material that changes and deepens how I understand the science, politics and the culture of global warming and those who reject action to respond to it. But as we work to win the Yes on Prop. 34 effort, I'm not going to have the mental space to be stretched.

Warming Wednesdays will be back; global climate change is the most pressing threat to human well-being.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

War is no game

This is what the remains of a man who has just stepped on a mine looks like. Yes, he died, despite the best efforts of medics.

NBC's exploitation of the imagined attractions of soft war porn, the TV show Stars Earn Stripes, has drawn the condemnation of nine Nobel Peace prize winners. The laureates say that the program pays homage to no one and is “a massive disservice to those who live and die in armed conflict and suffer its consequences long after the guns of war fall silent," according to the Nobel Women's Initiative. Here's the full text of their letter.

An Open Letter to Mr. Robert Greenblatt, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, General Wesley Clark (ret.), Producer Mark Burnett and others involved in “Stars Earn Stripes”:

During the Olympics, touted as a time for comity and peace among nations, millions first learned that NBC would be premiering a new “reality” TV show. The commercials announcing “Stars Earn Stripes” were shown seemingly endlessly throughout the athletic competition, noting that its premier would be Monday, August 13, following the end of the Olympic games.

That might seem innocuous since spectacular, high budget sporting events of all types are regular venues for airing new products, televisions shows and movies. But “Stars Earn Stripes” is not just another reality show. Hosted by retired four-star general Wesley Clark, the program pairs minor celebrities with US military personnel and puts them through simulated military training, including some live fire drills and helicopter drops. The official NBC website for the show touts “the fast-paced competition” as “pay[ing] homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces and our first-responder services.”

It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Military training is not to be compared, subtly or otherwise, with athletic competition by showing commercials throughout the Olympics. Preparing for war is neither amusing nor entertaining.

Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People—military and civilians—die in ways that are anything but entertaining. Communities and societies are ripped apart in armed conflict and the aftermath can be as deadly as the war itself as simmering animosities are unleashed in horrific spirals of violence. War, whether relatively short-lived or going on for decades as in too many parts of the world, leaves deep scars that can take generations to overcome – if ever.

Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public.

The long history of collaboration between militaries and civilian media and entertainment—and not just in the United States—appears to be getting murkier and in many ways more threatening to efforts to resolve our common problems through nonviolent means. Active-duty soldiers already perform in Hollywood movies, “embedded” media ride with soldier in combat situations, and now NBC is working with the military to attempt to turn deadly military training into a sanitized “reality” TV show that reveals absolutely nothing of the reality of being a soldier in war or the consequences of war. What is next?

As people who have seen too many faces of armed conflict and violence and who have worked for decades to try to stop the seemingly unending march toward the increased militarization of societies and the desensitization of people to the realities and consequences of war, we add our voices and our support to those protesting “Stars Earn Stripes.” We too call upon NBC stop airing this program that pays homage to no one, and is a massive disservice to those who live and die in armed conflict and suffer its consequences long after the guns of war fall silent.


Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1997

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize, 1984

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize, 1977

Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize, 2003

President José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize, 1996

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize, 1980

President Oscar Arias Sanchez, Nobel Peace Prize, 1987

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, 1992

Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1977

Often the Nobel committee gives their award to statesmen whose, hopefully pacific, impulses they want to encourage. That explains, for example, the somewhat ridiculous prize given to President Obama in 2009.

But this list consists almost entirely of people who have actually seen the carnage of war. They know what they are talking about. NBC should be ashamed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Van Jones sets out to rebuild the dream

My friend Van Jones has a new book, Rebuild the Dream. The cover is visually a little too red, white and blue for me. But, as he has always been, Van is charming and insightful about his own political evolution, his brief participation in the Obama administration, and where we might go from here to win the country back for the 99 percent.

In the book's introduction, Van strikes me as overly careful. He writes

… I was not among the hundreds of thousands of well-wishers in Chicago who flooded into Grant Park to cheer him on [on election night, 2008]. I was in Oakland, California, far from the center of the action. I watched history unfold on a flatscreen television, sitting with my family on the sofa at a friend's house. … If anyone had suggested that night that I soon would be relocating to serve a tour of duty in Obama's White House, everyone would have chuckled. It would have seemed impossible. .

Nonsense. I remember seeing Van a week or so after the vote and asking when he was going to DC. That night he scoffed, but soon he was off to work in the White House for a green economy. And not long afterward, the wacko right media whiners successfully made an example of him for having come up in genuinely leftist circles in the San Francisco Bay area. Here, actual communists were plentiful and leftwing nut-cases all too common as well. Not surprisingly, Van could be tied to some of our outliers and he was, becoming an early scalp for Obama's right wing foes. He still appreciates the President:

Every time President Obama stands behind the presidential seal, he offers millions of children -- of every color and hue --the irrefutable proof that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. It is easy to be dismissive or cynical about this point, but we should not take it for granted. Who knows what magic his example is doing in the minds of youth around the world? Obama makes an inestimable contribution every day -- not just as a president, but as a precedent.

This book is Jone's effort to figure out where do we all go from here. In that effort, he recalls the struggles of the Bush era, recounting a movement history that is in some danger of being erased under the burden of subsequent disappointments. In his view, the struggles of that era gave birth to the movement that eventually elected the President and we'd be swallowing a right wing narrative if we forgot that.

In many ways, the movement that elected Obama was born in 2003, taking the form of a massive, desperate effort to derail Bush's planned invasion of Iraq. …the antiwar mobilization failed to prevent the war, but it became the sign -- and the seed -- of things to come. …

… flourishing of electoral activism [against Bush] was much bigger than Senator Kerry's official presidential campaign. … it was much broader in scope than the Democratic Party. In 2004. we saw the birth of a genuine pro-democracy movement -- standing up against the entire apparatus of one-party rule in Washington, DC.

…A bottom-up movement fueled by hope and demanding change ended GOP domination [of politics] in just twenty-four months. In the 2006 midterm elections, no House, Senate, or gubernatorial seat held by a Democrat was won by a Republican. Not only did Democrats not lose any seats, but they also gained, winding up with a 233-202 advantage in the House of Representatives, and achieving a 49-49 tie in the United States Senate (or 51-49 advantage, if you counted Independents Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman).

Obama's election in 2008 was the ultimate fruit of that movement -- a movement that said "Yes WE can!" not "Yes HE can!"

So what went wrong after 2008? Jones rehashes, briefly, the administration's political mistakes and especially the contradictions that killed Organizing for America once it became a subsidiary of the Democratic National Committee (and thus could not push Democratic party obstructionists.) But he focuses on what happened among social movement activists:

…looking back, I do not think those of us who believed in the agenda of change had to get beaten as badly as we were, after Obama was sworn in. We did not have to leave millions of once-inspired people feeling lost, deceived, and abandoned. We did not have to let our movement die down to the level that it did. The simple truth is this: we overestimated our achievement in 2008, and we underestimated our opponents in 2009.

…Among those who stayed active, too many of us (myself included) were in the suites when we should have been in the streets. …the main problem was that the movement itself was naive and enamored enough that it wanted to be absorbed and directed. Instead of marching on Washington, many of us longed to get marching orders from Washington. We so much wanted to be a part of something beautiful that we forgot how ugly and difficult political change can be …

Of course it didn't matter what we fantasized -- political struggle flowed on and pretty soon rightwing populism (and racial anxiety) was as energized by the Obama presidency as we had been by Bush's usurpation and his wars. But with people continuing to suffer from the one percent's depredations and unable to get any relief from the political system, people took to the streets in the Occupy movement last fall and gave us the 1% v. 99% political frame we all struggle within today. Jones affirms the Occupy movement -- but he insists that to remain significant, the movement kindled by immediate need has to move into new arenas.

… thus far, Occupy Wall Street has not tried to occupy the institutions of established, formal political power (for example, elections and political parties). Many at the core of Occupy don't want to engage with political institutions in that way. Some fear being co-opted by the Democratic Party, labor unions,, or by more established political activists (like me!). Rather than getting caught up in all the electioneering, Occupiers are choosing to focus on the hard, risky, and often-thankless work of direct action protest. They are committed to building their own community, presence, and power through direct, participatory democracy. They fear that too much entanglement with the existing system would kill their independence, idealism, and chutzpah.

For Occupy -- as the bright spearhead of a much broader movement -- that choice is sensible. But it almost certainly cannot serve all the needs of the broader movement, which potentially includes millions of people. Tens of millions of people are not going to be taking part in consensus-based general assemblies anytime soon, and even if they could, the existing system would still impact every aspect of their lives. Some groups need to step forward to make sure that the interests and ideas of the 99% are represented in political campaigns and in the established halls of power. …

These conclusions underly Jone's current initiative, the Rebuild the Dream movement. In the movement's own words:

Rebuild the Dream is a platform for bottom-up, people-powered innovations to help fix the U.S. economy. Using 21st-century digital technology, we advance highly inventive solutions that are designed to protect and expand the middle class, while creating pathways to prosperity for those who are locked out of it. Our goal is to put America back to work—and pull America back together.

Color me a bit of a skeptic. Movements are made when people who feel they have nothing left to lose take extraordinary action -- this has a whiff of think tanks and funder focus-groups about it, not people's enthusiasm. Time will tell whether it can grow into authenticity.

But like Jones, I believe that progressives win the changes we need when we pursue both an inside and an outside political strategy. He says this clearly:

I believe in both electoral politics and peaceful protest; they are two blades of a scissor, and both are needed to make real change. Some see marches, sit-ins, and public demonstrations as unruly, scary, or out of fashion -- so they reject protests. Others think our democracy is so corrupted by big money and media madness that participation is beneath them -- so they reject electoral politics. I believe that progress is made from the bottom up and from the top down. Therefore, I believe that nonviolent direct action and smart voting are the twin keys to meaningful change.

This seems quite right to me.

There have been several generations of highly talented, charismatic progressive citizens who failed to grasp or were unwilling to take up the arduous work of carrying left ideas inside the halls of power as well as on the streets. Van Jones' life is actually an example how many of these potential leaders seem to have ended up on side tracks. If he had come up in the 1950s in a place where there was any chance for a Black lawyer of his talents, most likely he would have tried his hand at electoral politics. But in the '80s and '90s, outside advocacy careers seemed possible and to have more integrity, so politics was often left to less capable and less committed community leaders. Part of retaking our democracy has to be reaffirming the moral respectability of political struggle inside institutions. It's all very well to be pure, but somebody has to get in there and govern. Those people should include the best of our community leaders, not just the most ambitious. Democracy only works for the people when the people are willing to struggle within it. That, for some, means taking up the demeaning life of day to day politics.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Time will work its magic

I guess I like this. It reminds me that the most searing events of my life -- the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam war -- have already sunk in the mists of history as far as most people around me are concerned.

Several items here need forgetting: I'd propose the Reagan Presidency, the Berlin Wall, and Clinton's Impeachment for that category.

Quite a few of these items I never noticed in their prime, like Return of the Jedi and New Coke.

2036 looks to be a very good year, flushing away the memory of a grandly distorting occasion of deadly theater.

I am reminded of Issac Watt's paraphrase of Psalm 90:

...The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day. ...

I find nothing mournful in contemplating time. Time moves on.

Cartoon via Ryan Cooper at the Washington Monthly.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Piling on Rep. Ryan

Nate Silver must inhabit a different universe than mine. He refers to Congressman Ryan as "young, attractive ..."

Looks more like an undernourished, undistinguished mid-life guy with a five o'clock shadow to me. But I will admit to not being much of a judge of male attractiveness.