Monday, August 31, 2015

Gotta keep an eye on the powerful and the profiteers

On this anniversary of Katrina, Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes urge us to look not only at past horrors in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, but also at what militaries, governments, and big corporations have learned from that tragedy.

Could it happen again today? ...

... the structural inequality and institutional racism that underpinned the Bush administration’s response is still there, a fact that President Obama noted on his visit to New Orleans this week. Moreover, the already bloated military and security complex that reflected these power relations has expanded enormously since Katrina – and is now using the spectre of climate change to grab yet more public resources.

Two years after Katrina, in 2007, the Pentagon released its first major report on climate change, warning in no uncertain terms of an “age of consequences” in which, amongst other things, “altruism and generosity would likely be blunted.” This was followed up a year later by an EU security report that talked of climate change as a “threat multiplier” that “threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone.” It warned that this would lead to “political and security risks that directly affect European interests”. ...

... in one sense, the accuracy of the predictions doesn’t really matter. On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina  we only have to look at how the humanitarian crisis on Europe’s doorstep and in its borderlands is unfolding. In Calais, we see a humanitarian emergency being treated as a security issue as the British government has pledged 22 million Pounds on fences, police and dogs to keep out refugees fleeing war and torture. Both Hungary and Bulgaria announced this week that they were deploying troops, so-called “border hunters”, to prevent refugees entering the country from the former Yugoslavia.

Further afield in Brazil, there were reports this summer of authorities mobilising troops to defend water infrastructure amid an ongoing drought in the megacity of São Paulo. ...

... And we can already see how the national security planners are factoring protests against inequality and social injustice into the new crisis management paradigms: by trying to predict complex emergencies and social unrest. Today, the UK’s National Risk Register, for example, lists “public disorder” and “disruptive industrial action” as among the most severe and likely security threats facing the country.

... Dystopian preparations by the state are reflected in the corporate arena. Where we see a future climate crisis, many companies see only opportunity: oil firms looking forward to melting ice caps delivering new accessible fossil fuels; security firms touting the latest technologies to secure borders from ‘climate refugees’; or investment fund managers speculating on weather-related food prices – to name but a few.

... Hurricane Katrina was a watershed moment and a warning to us all ... We the people have to combine our actions to end worsening climate change with a transformation of the institutions that seek to respond to its impacts. 

What they describe here (and presumably will elaborate on in their forthcoming book The Secure and the Dispossessed) is the line up of institutions and individuals who are counting on enhancing their profits and power through the disruptions of climate change.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina

Ten years ago, I spotted this sign in the window of the neighborhood video store. The rapper Kanye West, at a concert for storm relief, had blurted out some truths:

I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, 'They're looting.' You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.' And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. ... George Bush doesn't care about black people.

West's outrage felt a relief. What we'd all seen on the TV was so horrifying -- New Orleans drowned and so many of its people still trapped by water and the failure of our systems to provide help.

West gave us somewhere to direct our rage -- this travesty must be George Bush's fault. In 2005, we were still close in time to the 9/11 attacks, after which for awhile the national need to pull together had made it hard to voice criticisms. Of course many of us had protested the Bush administration's follies and crimes: the Iraq invasion, Abu Ghraib tortures, the absurd security theater at airports, the color-coded alerts. But West's blunt declaration seemed to open the floodgates for all of us who desperately needed to scream at the administration: "you are taking the country in a wrong direction!" Thanks Kanye.
Looking back ten years, I now have to wonder whether Kanye might have spoken more accurately if he'd raged, "America hates black people." Yes, New Orleans got rebuilt ... without many of its poor and black citizens and perhaps much of its uniqueness. Over the last decade despite an administration headed by a black man, shockingly, blacks have ceased to be an absolute majority in Washington DC, now a boom-town for the young, affluent, hip and white. There goes another enclave of black culture and some autonomy. The nation continues to push aside, lock up and sometimes simply shoot poor black people. No wonder there's a broad movement to shout "Black Lives Matter."
I sent this photo to Steve Gilliard at The News Blog and he used it more than once. Steve was a towering presence in progressive blogging in those days. He died in 2007, one more loss along the way.
I was exceptionally lucky during the days after the hurricane to find myself working in what was one of the few usefully responsive institutions in the country. At the California Nurses Association (now National Nurses United) people did know what to do. Within twenty-four hours after the levees broke, CNA staff were on the phones, organizing medical personnel to fly in, hustling resources, and shaming anyone in authority who dragged their feet. For two weeks I listened to these urgent conversations and could feel assured that someone was doing something.
Just one more point, ten years later. Amazingly, despite technological change and finding itself located in the very epicenter of the San Francisco tech-fueled boom, the video store is still alive. That little business seems to have nine lives. It's owners have been nimble, merging with a music distributor and together providing quirky non-commercial offerings. Long may they last.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Donald in the 'hood

He's available as a piñata!

The message from Bill Maher at the top of the display reads:

We have this fantasy that our interests and the interests of the super rich are the same -- like somehow the rich will eventually get so full they explode, and the candy will rain down on the rest of us. Like they are some kind of piñata of benevolence. But here's the thing about a piñata, it doesn't open on its own. You have to hit it with a stick.

Saturday scenes and scenery: Mt. Davidson park

Much of the year, the west side of San Francisco is fogged in. A cloud blows in off the ocean and blankets the area we call West of Twin Peaks. But occasionally, especially in the fall, we have clear days on which we can take in the view from our hills. Yes, that brown stuff out there is smog over the East Bay, but nowhere is perfect and this sure isn't bad.

This view is from the flank of the public park that surrounds the 103 foot tall Mt. Davidson cross.

The 40 acre park combines wooded paths with windswept ridges. Most visitors seem to live nearby; it is not exactly a destination to which many people drive.

Many of its entrances seem almost hidden.

The enormous cross was dedicated in 1934 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. I can't help wondering whether the huge concrete structure was a Depression era stimulus project?

In any case, public ownership of this gargantuan religious symbol became controversial in the 1990s. After a legal battle, the city auctioned off .38 acres of land including the cross to the highest bidder. The winner was the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California which installed the plaque commemorating the 1915 genocide shown in my previous post.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The twentieth century's "first genocide"

The current centennial of World War I is also the centennial of the all-too-successful campaign by Ottoman Turkish rulers to exterminate their Armenian minority. I was raised with a vague awareness that there had been an Armenian genocide: whenever my mother, who had been a small child during World War I, wanted to cajole me into eating something I thought looked yucky, she'd tell me how she had been told when she was young to "remember the starving Armenians." It was only as an adult when I made the acquaintance of Armenian-Americans that I began to learn more about this terrible episode.

Oxford historian Eugene Rogan's The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East is largely a somewhat dry account of the political and military unraveling of the long-enduring (1299-1923!) Ottoman empire and the rise of a Turkish nation state. But his chapter on what happened to the Armenians is very accessible to this contemporary reader.

In Rogan's telling (and modern Turks still dispute much of this, not very plausibly), ethnic animosity between the many peoples of the Ottoman empire had been rising for a century or more as the Muslim state was gradually pushed out of the Balkans. In the late nineteenth century and extending up until the First World War, there were horribly painful, but relatively peaceful, transfers of Muslims out of Greece and the Balkans to what is modern day Turkey and, in turn, Greek Orthodox Christians sent west across the Aegean Sea out of what Europeans call Asia Minor.

But Christian Armenians seemed to nationalist Turks to present a special danger.
... a distinct ethnic group with its own language and Christian liturgy, and centuries of communal organization under the Ottomans as a distinct millet, or faith community, the Armenians had all the prerequisites for a nineteenth century nationalist movement bar one: they were not concentrated in one geographic area.
Spread out between the capital at Istanbul, Mediterranean coastal regions just north of what is now the Syrian border, and in far eastern Anatolia, Armenians seemed a foreign virus in their midst -- a foreign population that might appeal to their co-religionists among the time's Great Powers to extract concessions from the declining Ottoman state. There were large, but localized, massacres of Armenians in 1896. And Armenians did look to imperial Russia to perhaps carve out a Christian enclave for them in eastern Anatolia.

A military junta, called the Young Turks, took control of the Ottoman State in the first decade of the 20th century, fought inconclusive wars in the Balkans and against Russia, and sought military assistance from the Kaiser's Germany. With the outbreak of the 1914 Europe-wide war, the Ottomans join in on the side of the Central Powers, Germany and Austro-Hungary. Armenians seemed a threat to national unity in that war and some gave open support to the Allies (Britain, France and Russia.)
With the onset of the Allied attack on the Dardanelles, the Armenians [of nearby Istanbul] made no effort to hide their celebration of immanent delivery from Turkish rule.
The Turkish rulers struck against Armenians in the capital on April 24, 1915, a date since designated as Armenian Genocide Memorial Day. Meanwhile Armenians in the Anatolian town of Van, a place relatively evenly divided between about 16,000 Muslims and 13,500 Armenians, had risen up against the Ottomans, seeking to draw in a Russian army that was slowly advancing toward the town.
By facilitating the Russian occupation of Van in return for the right to govern the Van region, the Armenians had confirmed the Young Turks suspicion that they ... posed a threat to the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire.
And so, the Turkish rulers made unwritten, but clearly conveyed, plans for the mass murder of all Armenians. And they proceeded to achieve something very close to extermination of every Armenian man, woman and child they could lay hands on. This was not an industrial tour de force like the Nazi genocide in the next European war. Males over 12 were rounded up and shot or bayoneted by Turkish troops where they were taken, while the women, children and old people were sent to march across the Anatolian desert without food or shelter. Stragglers were picked off as they fell. Muslim villagers and gangs along the way were encouraged to fall upon the long columns, robbing, raping and murdering. An Armenian Orthodox priest, Grigoris Balakian, recorded what he heard on the death march.
... [he] engaged the officers accompanying his caravan in conversation. The Ottoman gendarmes were willing to answer any questions, as they did not believe the Armenians they were "guarding" had long to live. One of the most forthcoming was Captain Shukri, who by his own admission had overseen the killing of 42,000 Armenians.

"Bey, where have all these human bones along this road come from?" Balakian asked the captain disingenuously.

"These are the bones of the Armenians who were killed in August and September. The order came from Constantinople. Even though the minister of the interior ... had huge ditches dug for the corpses, the winter floods washed the dirt away, and now the bones are everywhere, as you see," Captain Shukri replied.
Historians estimate that no more than 5 percent of Armenians sent on these death marches survived; somewhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians perished as a result of "wartime measures."

After the war, the victorious Allies forced the Turks to hold trials of military leaders responsible for the killings. The Turks let most of the defendants escape, but the proceedings established a record.
Witness testimony revealed how the mass murder was organized: the official printed orders calling for deportation were followed by oral instructions to massacre deportees. Evidence was presented of convicted murderers released from prison and mobilized in gangs to serve as "butchers of men."
Most of the officers convicted by this tribunal evaded punishment in the moment -- but nearly all were hunted down in Europe by Armenian nationalists and executed in the following decade.

All this killing did nothing to save the Ottoman empire. Defeated by the Allies, the French and British empires divided up most of the Ottoman territories, drawing borders of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine that have persisted until quite recently. Modern Turkey was consolidated after the war as an authoritarian and (temporarily?) secular quasi-democratic state and seems to still be struggling with the vestiges of its multi-ethnic, multi-religious character. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenians who had been part of that other rotting empire have carved out a small state of their own between Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan.
Weirdly, the Armenian genocide is a perennial issue in U.S. presidential politics. In general, candidates for the office, Republicans or Democrats, affirm that they'll use the G-word once elected. But, since naming the massacres "genocide" amounts to a challenge to the official Turkish narrative that Armenian deaths were just accidents of war, they back off once elected. George W. Bush followed this pattern as has Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton loudly proclaimed her awareness of the Armenian genocide in the 2008 campaign, but since then she has been Secretary of State and apparently internalized the rule that "serious" U.S. officials don't say such things about the past behavior of an ally that lends bases for our military adventures.
This commemorative plaque sits below the Mt. Davidson cross in San Francisco. Click to read.

Friday cat blogging

While walking San Francisco the other day, I found myself in a precinct where cats were unusually accommodating to a stranger with a camera. Nothing shy about this beauty. It wanted to be scratched and admired. I complied.

For this one, I was an interesting curiosity.

This leashed prize was the most suspicious of the three. Wouldn't you be if someone held you in a harness?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Marin Democrat hasn't declared on the Iran agreement

Most California Democrats in Congress have thrown down for diplomacy not war and have promised to vote to uphold the deal. Both our Senators are on board. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi is rounding up support in the House. But the Congressman who represents Marin County and parts north is not yet among them. Some of Jared Huffman's constituents turned out Wednesday in San Anselmo to suggest he needs some phone calls.

This micro-demonstration was one of hundreds around the country stimulated by the coalition of peace advocacy groups working together to support the agreement. I must have heard about it from 5 or 6 email lists. Among these I remember Peace Action and Move-On.

It is up to us to demand better training and more treatment

When they don't know what to do ... when our cities and towns don't provide treatment facilities ... police too often shoot. There are remedies.

More than half of all suspects shot and killed by police were suffering from mental illness.

And there are over 300,000 American in prison today that have a mental illness diagnosis – this is crazy.

There is a critical and immediate need for treatment of mental health through a public health system, not the barbaric criminalization of it mental illness we currently see happening all over the United States.

Learn more.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Taking notice

That Latinos don't like Donald Trump is no great surprise. He's a blustering insult. But it's interesting that the next least popular Republican in this list is Ted Cruz. Apparently Cuban ancestry doesn't inoculate him among Latinos against disapproval of his fractious arrogance, insofar as these voters have noticed he exists.

Gallup describes its findings:

In terms of familiarity, only Trump and Bush are recognized by a majority of Hispanics. Eight in 10 have formed an opinion of Trump and about six in 10 of Bush. Familiarity dwindles to roughly 40% for Rubio and Cruz, both Cuban-Americans, as well as for Perry and Chris Christie, but drops well below that for all the others.

That +11 percent positive score for Jeb! derives from 34 percent positive ratings versus 23 percent negative. That is, a lot of people are withholding judgement on the guy. If he keeps talking, he can probably manage to lower this as more Latino voters become aware of him.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lots to do to end police violence

Activists who are part of the movement against violence inflicted on Black individuals and communities have offered a list of remedies they call Campaign Zero. This effort is wider, more of a coalition effort than Black Lives Matter, which leads a vibrant cri de coeur that inspires Black people to come together and assert their simple right to be. Campaign Zero gives everyone who will listen lots of specific campaign objectives that might help.

An easy deflecting response to demands for change is always "what do you people want, anyway?" We've been given an extremely comprehensive list. I'll crib a summary from Molly Weasley at Daily Kos as she's done a good job of catching some details of a program that has multiple local, state and federal components.

End broken windows policing. This calls for an end to the decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities, especially in neighborhoods with people of color. Also addressed are the need for different approaches to those with mental health issues and an end to racial profiling.

Community oversight. This calls for an all-civilian oversight structure with discipline power that includes a Police Commission and Civilian Complaints Office. Both offices would have specific responsibilities and across-the-board power.

Limit use of force. This solution seeks to establish standards monitor how force is used.

Independently investigate and prosecute. Among other recommendations, this point seeks a permanent Special Prosecutor’s Office at the state level to investigate any police shooting.

Community representation. This calls for officers to be a more accurate representation of the communities they serve.

Body cams/film the police. This would require and fund body cameras as well as dashboard cameras. All citizens would have the right to record police interactions on a cell phone, and police would not have the right to confiscate that phone, as is the case in some states.

Training. This calls for rigorous and sustained training, especially about racial bias.

End for-profit policing. This calls for an end to quota systems and limits fines for low-income people.

Demilitarization. This seeks the end of the sale of military weapons to the nation’s police forces.

Fair police union contracts.
This seeks to rewrite police union contracts that create a different set of rules for police, and asks that disciplinary records be open and accessible.

Different pieces of this will take center stage in different localities, depending in part on who lives where and what the power relations are between various communities. Where Black people and other people of color are numerous and are able to exercise political influence (usually but not always by voting), it might be realistic to focus on police recruitment, training and community oversight issues. Where Black people have little power (almost all state level decisions), the core issues are likely to be for-profit policing, demilitarization (police don't have to acquire all that armament) and "police rights" deals that negate their duty to serve the people by protecting individual officers rights as employees.

Getting and keeping the Justice Department on the side of widespread oversight is unequivocally a political issue. Minimally, we can't afford a Republican president or an indifferent Democratic one.

Police have been substituted for a mental health system in most of our urban areas. A huge fraction of police violence happens when a mentally disturbed person confronts insecure officers with a military mindset equipped with badges, tasers and guns. Police also kill disabled personsdisproportionately. This is worst in communities of color, but our failure to fund services to the mentally ill happens everywhere.

As a fix, body cams are tricky. As police have usually done with requirements they display their badges at all times so we at least can know who did the bad deed, officers will figure out how to avoid the scrutiny they create. They will also fight to ensure that review of film is limited to their peers and it is never released to the public. Yet having the political fights over these issues seems a good way to build the struggle. It matters when majorities say "Hey -- that's not right!"

There's so much more. None of us lack for something to do.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Indicted murderer to visit

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court from 2003 to 2012, says the U.S. should arrest Omar Hassan al-Bashir, president of Sudan, when he comes to New York to the United Nations in September. After all, there's a warrant out from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the guy for mass killings in Darfur.

Yeah, and pigs should fly.

Under Clinton, the U.S. signed the treaty creating the ICC -- but that treaty never went to Senate for ratification. George W. Bush said no way we were going to submit to the jurisdiction of a court currently recognized by 123 nations. We're exceptional ... then he proved it.

We have company in our stance. When we withdrew our ratification, we joined two other countries that had signed the treaty but then pulled out: Sudan and Israel.

George W., Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and their underlings should watch where they travel, as I am sure that they do.

Divided Democrats but good news for anti-nuke deal with Iran

Democratic Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (NV) has come out for the agreement. This certainly increases the likelihood that enough Democrats will stick with the President's initiative to ensure that it survives, even though Obama will have to veto a Republican vote to disapprove it. There was never any great reason to think Reid would not go along, but still the signal is a good one.

This picture of the members of the Democratic Senate leadership points to the back story. Reid is wearing his sunglasses subsequent to an eye injury. At Reid's left is Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Durbin is the Senate point man rounding up votes for the Iran deal. He is also Reid's Assistant Leader, number two in the Democratic Caucus. On the left looking over his glasses is Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, number three in the present leadership. He is one of only two Democratic Senators so far who has come out against the Iran deal.

Reid is retiring after this term. He has endorsed Schumer over Durbin to succeed him in leading the caucus. Why should a guy who won't play with the team get to leap frog over the guy who is organizing for one of the greater accomplishments of a Democrat in power?

These guys, and Washington State Senator Patti Murray who is number four, will be jockeying for position through the 2016 election. Whoever the Democratic Senators are in 2017 will vote for which leadership they want. I'm sure constituents will remind them who was there when it counted.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Towards a new religious past

Though I'd argue that the dominant culture of the United States still derives from Protestant Christianity, an honest look around reveals that a bewildering variety of religious structures, practices, and experiences finding adherents. A May 2015 survey from the Pew Research Council of our "religious landscape" summarized these changes with the sub-head Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.

We're coming a new context; when hasn't that been true of this youthful nation? And any emerging identity requires a new history. Over the last fifty years, women's histories, African-American histories, native histories and gay histories have intruded into our stories and reshaped our understanding of the past. Peter Manseau in One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History is offering us the raw material for a new religious history just as unsettling of old verities.

The book is episodic, eighteen loosely connected chapters about various religious eruptions in what for Europeans was a "New World."

Some are delightful such as the saga of Mustafa Zemmouri. Born a Muslim in North African Morocco where some religious interaction was traditional, he was enslaved by Christian Portuguese and Spanish adventurers and carried as a servant along on the doomed trek of the Spanish Narváez Expedition across what became Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, through modern Texas, and the desert Southwest, finally meeting up with other Spaniards in California. Only four of the original members survived; Zemmouri had become the indispensable intermediary with native peoples along the way acting as translator (language skills were good for slave survival?) and religious healer. Sent back north to guide some Franciscans, he seems to have taken off to join the Zunis. The Spanish telling of what followed has the natives killing him. But Manseau reports other possible endings:

Another story recounts an event that was ambiguously remembered as either his expulsion or his forced return to the spirit world. It was said that the wise men of the village in which he sought refuge took him to the edge of their pueblo at night and then "gave him a powerful kick, which sped him through the air to the south whence he came." Still another story suggests that among the Zuni he found neither death nor exile but apotheosis. His image has been linked to one of the many divine spirits of the kachina religion of the Pueblo people, of which the Zuni were a part. In legends from native mythology enacted in elaborate dance ceremonies, the figure possibly inspired by Zemmouri, a kachina called Chakwaina, is depicted with black skin and carrying a sacred rattle -- an indication , perhaps, that his career as a god lasted longer than the time he spent as a slave.

Other chapters I'd characterize as entertaining include a depiction of 19th century women's rights activists participating in an infatuation with what they understood of Hinduism and an exploration how psychedelic enthusiasms intertwined with the anti-Vietnam war movement of the 1960s.

Of course much of the history of religion on this continent is not at all benign. Manseau characterizes the expansion of the Franciscan missions into California, the Christianizing of the "heathen," as "an American jihad" and he means to evoke something more like ISIS than interior struggle for right relationship to God. He recounts the early colonies' "Jew bills" restricting full rights to Christians, riots against Sikh laborers in Washington State, and the mixed story of Chinese exclusion and assimilation through which these workers preserved loyalty to ancestors and ancient places.

A book as ambitious as this one can be impressive; Manseau has obviously been researching for years and this does impress. But such a book leaves the reader wanting a narrative with less loose ends. That's normal when a new identity is coming into being. America the multi-religious is both old and effectually very new. We need a new past; this is a solid, necessary contribution to finding one.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday scenes and scenery: sleepers in the city

Good news this week: the Department of Justice told towns and cities the obvious:

When adequate shelter space exists, individuals have a choice about whether or not to sleep in public. However, when adequate shelter space does not exist, there is no meaningful distinction between the status of being homeless and the conduct of sleeping in public. Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.

Washington Post

This should block San Francisco's recurrent ballot measures to criminalize being poor and homeless. But it probably won't.

San Francisco does have far too many folks who get their rest where they can. This gentleman seems to have just put down his book before nodding off.

It's hard to tell whether this fellow is passed out or just feeling the sun. We take what sun we can get here in Fog City.

Some sleeping choices seem to make a statement.

Others just seem counterintuitive.

Not all who recline are animate.

Some sleepers might bark if disturbed.

Come to think of it, this one almost certainly would bark.

This harmonious figure smiles as the world goes by ...

... while this one embodies harmony itself.

Most photos are out-takes from 596 Precincts.

Friday, August 21, 2015

After torture, facing awful realities

Here's a heartening note: the Chilean ship Esmeralda can't take part in an Amsterdam naval festival this month without provoking protest.

The presence of Chilean school ship Esmeralda, used for the torture of political opponents under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), has brought controversy to the family event.

An association of Chilean exiles has said it would hold a vigil next to the four-master on Wednesday.

"At least 100 people were tortured or raped on board," the association said in a statement, expressing disappointment that "the boat's dark past is still taboo."

In addition to serving as a training vessel for the Chilean Navy, the Esmeralda roams the oceans acting as a kind of floating embassy for the South American nation.

I remember protesting the Esmeralda on one of its visits to San Francisco in the 1970s when its reputation for horrors was more fresh. In trying to confirm my recollection, I came across this letter published in the Baltimore Sun from a William A. Yankes:

While I was a cadet in the Chilean Naval Academy, I and everyone I knew viewed the Esmeralda as the symbol of all that was bright and good about my country. I was eagerly looking forward to sailing with my graduating class as a midshipman in 1973.

But before that happened, my family fled to the United States to avoid President Salvador Allende's Marxist regime. At 17, I was forced to leave with them.

I first heard about torture on the Esmeralda from protesters while visiting the ship in San Diego, Calif., in 1997. I dismissed the charges as absurd. I was sure it was just another attack by extremists determined to besmirch her unimpeachable reputation.

When I asked a Chilean naval officer, a former classmate of mine at the naval academy, whether civilians had been tortured on the Esmeralda, he looked straight at me and said, "We were at war." My heart sank, but even then I couldn't bring myself to believe it.

But while traveling in Chile in March [2000], I interviewed several Chilean writers, some of whom told me they had been tortured. They said that it was well known that people had been tortured on several ships, including the Esmeralda, during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Finally, I had to accept that it was true.

After speaking with some who were tortured, I now understand why protesters have expressed outrage against the presence of the Esmeralda at various foreign ports and why she was turned away from San Francisco in 1974. ...

Mr. Yankes chose to face unwelcome truths. As I always say about the probable course of any effort to repudiate torture, this takes time. We don't want to look, to know. But looking is how a turn away from wrong begins. Looking is hard, but necessary.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Do you feel the Bern?

Here's a strong Bernie Sanders clip (5:38). It is worth watching the candidate being articulate and passionate about what he cares about. He's good!

It also points up why many of us no matter how liberal or progressive we are on vital economic issues don't instinctively trust him. I'm old enough to remember when old white guys who talked about doing right by the working class didn't really include women in their picture of that class -- and certainly they weren't thinking of queers or single women. It doesn't take a lot of imagination for me to wonder whether Bernie's mental image of the working class really includes people of color. I suspect Bernie's pretty good on my issues and even on communities of color's issues.

But for an awful lot of the people, people who are the contemporary working class, old white guys have to prove they mean it. They have to work for an awful lot of people's trust.

For what it is worth, if he's still in the game, I'll vote for Bernie in the California primary. I've even sent him a few bucks. I don't expect him to be the Democratic nominee, but he's playing a good and honorable role, demanding national policies to fight economic inequality.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Prescribed and proscribed values

Governments seem drawn like moths to flame by the fantasy that they can dictate to teachers what opinions they should hold and what ideas of the world they can teach. The controversies that ensue can be clarifying. It may seem that in the era of 24/7 internet-facilitated information glut such efforts would be inherently laughable. But they recur.

When I arrived at the University of California at Berkeley in 1965, the saga of faculty resistance to a McCarthy-era anti-Communist loyalty oath was still an iconic part of campus history. Many of the participants were senior faculty in the 1960s. When the oath had been introduced, some professors and more non-academic employees were fired for failing to sign; the faculty quite rapidly won a free speech judgment against the oath. The university governing board rescinded the rule. Ordinary employees were not so absolved however; to this day the California state constitution requires state workers who are US citizens to sign a loyalty oath as a condition of employment. In 2008 this was challenged by a Quaker who could not promise to use violence to support the state. The state cobbled a compromise. The most recent national litigation about a loyalty oath seems to have reached the Supreme Court in 1972; the Court agreed that Massachusetts could require an oath to "oppose the overthrow of the [government] by force, violence, or by any illegal or unconstitutional method." So existing precedent makes this sort of thing legal.

Apparently another round may be currently playing itself out in Nebraska. According to reporting by Sarah Lazare:

Dating back to 1951, the law requires "all persons engaged in teaching in the public schools of the State of Nebraska and all other employees paid from public school funds" to sign the pledge of loyalty. The oath includes the following language (emphasis added):

"I acknowledge it to be my duty to inculcate in the hearts and minds of all pupils in my care, so far as it is in my power to do, (1) an understanding of the United States Constitution and of the Constitution of Nebraska, (2) a knowledge of the history of the nation and of the sacrifices that have been made in order that it might achieve its present greatness, (3) a love and devotion to the policies and institutions that have made America the finest country in the world in which to live, and (4) opposition to all organizations and activities that would destroy our present form of government."

The local affiliate of the ACLU threatens a civil rights lawsuit if a school district enforcing a requirement that its employees sign this pledge doesn't back off. This will be worth watching. Do we currently have a civil liberties consensus in which courts would invalid such an oath? I'm not sure.

Interestingly, something like this is going on Great Britain as the acerbic Cambridge don Mary Beard discovered:

For various reasons, I was having a careful look yesterday at a secondary school's website and was surprised to discover that they had a whole section of their website devoted to the question of how they promoted British values. For those readers abroad, this clearly related to a government directive last year that all schools should do precisely that: promote Britishness. This apparently means the values of "democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs".

Now there are all kinds of obvious problems with this. For a start, it is hard to know what the government thought any teacher was supposed to do when confronted by the clever 13 year old who asked if the law-breaking suffragettes were promoting British values or not. And the idea that these values are peculiarly British causes one to gag a bit (one section of the government guidelines actually suggests that teachers should  get across "the strengths, advantages and disadvantages of democracy, and how democracy and the law works in Britain, in contrast to other forms of government in other countries". Like what "other countries"? France?

She goes on to report that a quick examination of other schools' websites shows that they've all sought compliance by posting the same verbiage. She doubts there is much real world effect of these boilerplate affirmations, except perhaps to burden police and fire departments with school visits.

I enjoyed Ms. Beard's response to her government's mandatory "values" boosterism. If we can't get rid of such initiatives legally (and I don't think either here or in Britain we can look to courts to do that job) we can perhaps mock them into the moth zapper. That seems worth the attempt.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The torture regime endures

If Jeb Bush's flirtation with torture upsets you, blame Barack Obama. The Prez is a very careful guy; he picks his fights. Sometimes that serves him and the rest of us well: Obamacare and the Iran nuke development moratorium are big wins.

But very obviously, from his first days in office, Obama discovered that restoring the rule of law in relation to a national security agenda would cost him big time. If the CIA's backing, filling, stalling and obstructing of Congressional oversight means anything, it means that the agency knew full well that John Yoo's phony-baloney torture memos wouldn't protect its agents. Torture is a crime under both U.S. and international law. So they've fought disclosure every step of the way. So have all the other spook agencies, even larger institutions than the CIA, operating out of the War (Defense) Department and other secret hideaways.

These agencies not only want to conceal what they did (do? -- how can we know if they are allowed to hide behind "security"?). They want to keep us focused on whether torture "worked." That's a non-question. Torture is a crime and crimes should be prosecuted. Period.

But Obama ducked that fight. He needed the spooks to try to prevent a terror attack that could undermine his tenure. So he caved. If Jeb were elected President, all he'd have to do is give a nod to the spooks -- Barack Obama's administration has made the laws in this area meaningless.

And having ducked the fight, Guantanamo remains still open. Obama's Justice Department recently has gone to court to prevent compassionate release of an inmate on hunger strike who is down to 75 pounds and has been cleared for over half a decade. The National Religious Coalition against Torture has a letter writing campaign. If we don't like being a torture state, we have to keep protesting these things.

Yes, Erudite Partner has just written a book about these issues. She expects a spring release.

Not everyone's idea of a breakthrough for women ...

... but I find this is uplifting: Jen Welter (l) is coaching inside linebackers for the Arizona Cardinals this preseason. Sarah Thomas (r) is the first full-time female NFL official. They greeted each other before the pre-season game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cards last weekend.

I assume they are both very good at what they do.

I don't find it hard to believe in Thomas' professionalism. My ex was a national-class women's rugby player back in the day and she went on to referee men's games. From what I've seen, male ruggers may be even more unruly than American football players.

But how do you coach linebackers in a sport in which you can't have played at a high level? Not surprisingly, Welter played women's rugby in college; then she developed her skills in the low profile world of women's American football. I sure hope Welter is a success. Women on the sidelines have been athletic trainers, if they weren't cheerleaders. But these roles are new.

Info and photo from the Guardian.

Monday, August 17, 2015

That damned flag still ignites rage

Historian/journalist Rick Perlstein kicked off an unexpectedly violent storm when he piggybacked on removals of Confederate battle flags from public buildings in the wake of the racist Emmanuel AME massacre in Charleston to tell the true story of the POW/MIA flag that hangs on many government buildings. He contends, with plentiful backup, that that the Nixon administration cruelly cultivated the ambiguity in the designation "Missing in Action" to rally families and war supporters behind the myth that the Vietnamese enemy was holding thousands of hidden prisoners. The U.S. military knew perfectly well that downed flyers had crashed in the jungles and were almost certainly dead. But Nixon thrived politically on exaggerating the number of U.S. troops in Hanoi's custody and backed the "National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia" as a counter to antiwar passions. The black and white banner was made into a symbol of aggressive patriotism.

[That flag] memorializes Americans as the preeminent victims of the Vietnam War ...

In other words, that flag is a tool of psychological projection: we bombed, defoliated, poisoned and burned Vietnam, but they're the guilty ones.

When I read Perlstein's account of Nixon's exploitation of the families of the MIAs in The Invisible Bridge, I reacted strongly. This seemed to me one of Nixon's more grotesque offenses. Yet on reflection, I think that reaction is something of an anachronism. Now that we use a small professional army which we expect to fight our wars without bothering the "Homeland," we compensate for our guilty awareness that we're passing off the pain to others by exaggerated solicitude for the irreproachable troops. In the era of mass citizen armies, I suspect there was a chronic realistic awareness that the military machine often wasted the lives of men who thought of themselves more as grunts, than heroes. Every history of broad-scale war is one of wasted lives.

When Perlstein's article was first published in The Washington Spectator it appeared under the headline "The Forgotten Story of America's Other Racist Flag". No longer. If you follow the link above, both author and editor have appended apologies for using the term "racist." I see in the comment section that the old passions, especially from those who had lost relatives and friends in the jungles, have broken out from the flag's defenders. It was not pretty.

But I am sorry that Perlstein and his editor felt they had to retract the adjective "racist." That they reacted as they did makes me think that in addition to an N-word, U.S. usage now nearly has an R-word.

I'm not prepared to accept that linguistic prohibition. Of course the U.S. war in Vietnam was racist. The enemy (and the set we called "allies") were incomprehensible little brown people, "gooks." The notion that the U.S. had the right to take the place of the French imperialists and dictate the evolution of this complex, ancient land was a product of racist ignorance.

What I might have retracted was the article's lede, the equation of the POW/MIA flag's racism to the struggle against our country's deepest white supremacy. The Confederate flag stands for the particular racism that defended the slave status of persons of African origin. Its widespread prominence in southern U.S. state capitals some fifty years ago signaled defiance of the African American civil rights struggle. That's our domestic racism; Vietnam was more in our imperialist vein, still morally indefensible, but a differently contested territory.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Letter from Lebanon: August 13, 14, 15

Reproduced with permission from the writer: Tina from Beirut.

Dear Friends,

On August 13, it was the first anniversary of the killing of Yazidis in Iraq, I went at the screening of a documentary on this massacre, done by a Lebanese journalist who was the first Lebanese to make it there. I cried.

On August 14, it was the 9th anniversary of the defeat of the Zionists in Lebanon. I am sure you remember what happened then and how the Zionists destroyed large parts of the infrastructure of our country from North to South. And during those 33 days, what happened was a total support [by] the majority of Maronites for the million Shiaa who left their homes in the South and moved North. Many, many homes were destroyed and when leaving, the Israelis left behind more than 100,000 cluster bombs. And of course you recall that without the support of the [U.S.] Empire, all this would not have happened.

Yesterday, there was a very moving ceremony organized by Hezballah in a valley in the South, the place were the Mirkava tanks were attacked and destroyed, after which the Zionist soldiers just ran away, it was on August 14.

Today, we, in my part of the world, we are still in a war zone created by the Empire and its allies, be it the Zionists or the Saudis or the Qataris or the Europeans. This war zone includes Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

I am well aware that you are not anymore the activists who can move things in the US, like I am not in my country either; but you are still people involved in politics and you will be voting or maybe even working on campaigns for presidential candidates. Please, please, look at what is a candidate's stand on my part of the world before getting excited for her/him. Really, really, until now who ever was your president, he took part in the destruction of my part of the world and in the destruction of my country in particular.

Do you know that it is your government who is stopping the election of the strongest Christian/Maronite in Lebanon, Michel Aoun, because he is not under the control of anyone and because he is an ally of Hezballah? Do you know that your ambassador gets involved even in stopping a specific general to head the Lebanese Army? This to give you just small details.

August 15, it is the "our lady's holy day" Mary is considered the protector of Lebanon, she is the replacement of Ashtarut (Ashtar) the goddess who was the goddess of our mountains.

I am not a believer, but Mariam is our goddess. I love it, especially that she is loved by both Muslim and Christians. Yes yes I am a non-believer, but my name on my ID is Christiane Maria and any Takfirist will recognize me as a Christian and would kill me ...

One day, the Empire will disappear. I doubt this will happen in our lifetime. Hopefully it will disappear before destroying totally my part of the world.

With my love ...

If you've forgotten the Israeli assault on Lebanon in 2006, this Seymour Hersh article from the New Yorker tells the sordid story.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Today it begins ...

... the San Francisco (San Carlos) 49ers take the field for their first preseason game.

It is hard to anticipate the arrival of the season with hope. Horror seems more appropriate.Fans have seen
  • ... the precipitate departure of a winning coach
  • retirements and leave-takings, perhaps departures from a sinking ship?
  • releases of guys who couldn't control themselves
  • yet another roster of cast offs and newbies
  • an exciting but undeveloped quarterback, perhaps surrounded by a cast among whom he'll never be able to prove himself ...
Meanwhile football itself becomes more and more suspect, arbitrarily governed, leaching the life from vibrant young men who mistake brawn and bluster for accomplishment. All for the profit of 32 billionaires.

Perhaps this year I'll finally lose interest. Or perhaps not.

Saturday scenery: Martha's Vineyard, summer 2015

Actually I'm cheating a little on the geography here. This fine patriot was on the concourse at Logan Airport in Boston. He's a perky creature, isn't he?

Oh, and by the way, I believe Tom Brady is innocent, so I was right at home in New England last week.

The island was lovely, as always.

In the first week of August, there was already a hint of autumn in the air.

As usual, I wandered the trails.

The sound was quite still on this morning.

A lesson in sharing the road.

These cows seem intent on getting somewhere.

These bucolic scenes convey a false impression. In truth, the Vineyard is jammed in August, full of tourists, extra vehicles, and the Prez with family. After so many presidential visits, the security seems to have it down about being unobtrusive. The island welcomes its illustrious visitor.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A perennial question: Who's next?

When the people you live among are enthusiastically voting to take away what little hope you have -- education for the children, emergency health care, stable work -- and deliver you to be deported, you ask the question.


How can I be safe in America if I can’t be safe in my body? It is a confrontation with a most discomforting concept: that there is no amount of righteous behavior, no neighborhood right enough, to produce sufficient security.

It produces a particular kind of terror, a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability, a fear that makes people furious at the very idea of having to be afraid.

Charles Blow

What can people who are on the butt end of injustice do but A) come together, B) draw strength from those beside them and anyone else who will respectfully accompany them, and C) demand the injustice stop NOW! Organize!

Friday cat blogging

I think he's glad we're home, but he's watching us closely.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A reminder: the Iran nuke deal matters

It would be possible to think all these gabbing candidates (of both parties) are what's important. That would be a mistake.

What's more important is the push by the incumbent president is to do all he can to lower the danger of civilization-destroying war and increase the chances of peace. This species can kill ourselves (and most everything else) off much more quickly with our weapons than we can by allowing carbon pollution to increase.

(There may come a moment when that balance of danger tips. Certainly moving now to mitigate climate change is the stuff of survival. But if we allow unchecked warming to continue, we're not likely to be able to do much about a climate that won't support our kind of life.)

That venerable interpreter of political doings, reporter Elizabeth Drew, tries to fix our attention on what's vital:

We’re now so close to the fray and the din that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is a historical moment. It’s on a scale of a decision to enter a war or make peace.

It’s about the efficacy of negotiations versus military action. If the deal’s opponents succeed in canceling it, they will have to answer to history. At a minimum, if the deal works, it postpones the day that Iran might have a nuclear weapon.

Those who insist that the deal should have been more punitive toward Iran overlook the fact that it’s the result of a negotiation. Simple logic suggests that a man as obsessed with his place in history as Barack Obama wouldn’t consciously allow his negotiators to reach a deal that’s easily breached. He has said that he expects to be around when the deal has expired and he wants to be able to hold his head up. ...

The signing of this agreement is a concrete step toward choosing life over death. The chances seem good that the naysayers will not be able to block it. Now that's "one small step ..."