Friday, March 31, 2017

Yet another football activist

I always liked Anquan Boldin when he was a 49er (2013-2015). On a team with too many mediocrities, he was a standout who gave his all.

I like him even better for this:

“It’s amazing, I think, to see how many people will call us ‘athletes’ and will tell us we need to be in the communities, and we need to serve in the different communities that we play in or live in,” Boldin said, walking the tunnels beneath Capitol Hill, hustling from House to Senate side Thursday afternoon. “But as soon as you take a political stand, they tell you, ‘Stick to football.’ You can’t have it both ways. If you’re expecting me to be a role model for younger kids or for society in general, how is it wrong for me to speak out when I do see injustices?”

Boldin has been telling his story to anyone in Congress who will listen.

In the fall of 2015, Corey Jones, Boldin’s 31-year-old cousin, was driving home late from a gig with his band. The guy played drums, had for years. Around 2 a.m., his car broke down at the side of an exit ramp on I-95 in West Palm Beach, Fla. While Jones was waiting for help, a white cargo van pulled up. It wasn’t a police car. The man who stepped out was wearing blue jeans, sneakers, a tan T-shirt and a baseball hat. He wasn’t wearing a police uniform.

“Moments later,” Boldin said, “Corey was dead.”

In the nearly 18 months since Jones’s death, Boldin has asked for answers, the whys and hows that any relative — any citizen, really — would wonder about when an innocent man meets an off-duty police officer in darkness, when six shots are fired from one gun, when three bullets find the body, when one of those lodged from behind as the victim ran away.

Unlike so many cases of this nature, the shooter will stand trial in October for manslaughter and attempted first degree murder with a firearm.

But Boldin has become an activist. He intends to continue telling anyone who will listen what goes down between Black communities and police departments after he leaves football. That might be tougher than getting hit while catching passes.

Friday cat blogging

This beauty's people provided a nice perch from which to watch the world go by.

Here, it looks as if someone failed to open a window and left her all too vulnerable to a passerby with a camera.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wars, lies, and peace movements

Viet Thanh Nguyen's Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War uses his inescapable habitat between nations and memories, both trapped and enriched, to try to make sense of the horror that is war.

In this post I will share some of his insights, necessarily simplifying what is nuanced, cutting, and heart-wrenching.

As signs along freeways announced during the height of George W's excellent Iraq adventure, war is a lie.

It is almost impossible for a citizen not to be complicit [in our wars.] ...Thinking of war as a isolated action carried out by soldiers transforms the soldier into the face and body of war, when in truth he is only its appendage.

Nguyen writes this while discussing the work of a U.S. artist during the heyday of our Vietnam invasion who painted a suburban housewife pulling aside her curtains to reveal a burning village. The contemporary U.S. way of war is to separate the rest of us even further from experience of combat -- combat which is seldom directly the role even of most members of the military. But it remains ours -- we pay for it, we enable it, we ignore it, we enjoy its fruits when there are any, and we experience the distortion of our "civilization" that becomes the content of permanent war.

Just as we are all complicit, we are also all among the victims. No male writer I've ever read on war has been quite so consistently discerning of war's particular injuries to women. Nguyen returns to this theme again and again, in the writers whose memoirs he dissects and in his own observations. War is rape; rape is war.

... ["good"] war stories lead boys and girls to dream of being soldiers, but no one dreams of war's costs, or of being a civilian caught in a war, an orphan, a widow, or a refugee. Children playing soldier may fantasize about glorious death, but probably not dismemberment, amputation, shellshock, inexplicable and debilitating illness, homelessness, psychosis, or suicide, all of which are not unusual experiences for soldiers and veterans.

And does anyone fantasize about being raped by marauding soldiers, which is an inevitable consequence of war? If war makes you a man, does rape make you a woman? ... Rape is an inevitable expression of the collective masculine desire that drives to war, for while not all soldiers are rapists, every army rapes. Despite the endemic nature of rape in war, few would enshrine rape in those many sterile memorials dedicated to victorious war. ... Nations are more likely to acknowledge the murders their soldiers commit than the rapes soldiers have done. Rape is embarrassing

... rape and sexual trauma are as damaging to its victims as the experience of combat, but while soldiers are at least honored for their sacrifice, no such succor is granted to the women these husbands, brothers, and sons raped. The experiences of men raped by men are even more invisible and inaudible, anomalous to the entire notion of war as a rite of heterosexual passage. Rape destroys any lingering ideas of heroism, masculinity, and patriotism, those oily notions that keep the gears of the war machine running smoothly. ...

So what is to be done? Nguyen has thought a lot about this:

Antiwar movements oppose and react. They can repeat the logic of the war machine, when, for example, antiwar activists treat victims of the war machine strictly as victims, taking away the full complexity of their flawed (in)humanity in the name of saving them. When a particular war ends, so may the antiwar movement opposed to it. Understanding that war is not a singular event but a perpetual one mobilizes a peace movement. This movement looks beyond reacting to the war machine's binary logic of us versus them, victim versus victimizer, good versus bad, and even winning versus losing.

He outlines what a peace movement is up against today:

Perpetual war no longer requires victory in warfare, as what happened in Korea, Vietnam, and now the Middle East shows. Stalemates or outright losses -- if not too dangerous -- can be overcome. The war machine can convert stalemates or losses into lessons for future wars and reasons for future paranoia by the citizenry, both of which justify continuing psychological, cultural, and economic investment in the war machine. While victories would certainly be wonderful, the war machine's primary interest is to justify its existence and growth, which perpetual war serves nicely. An endless war built on a series of proxy wars, small wars, distant wars, drone strikes, covert operations, and the like, means that the war machine need never go out of business or reduce its budget, as even some conservatives admit.

Nguyen reminds that peace is not about hearts and flowers.

A peace movement is required to confront this inhuman reality. This peace movement is not based on a sentimental, utopian vision of everyone getting along because everyone is human, but on a sober, simultaneous vision that recognizes everyone's unrealized humanity and latent inhumanity. Powerful memory from the low ground presses our noses against this inhumanity in a negative reminder of our capacity for brutality. This memory activates our disgust and revulsion. Powerful memory from the high ground reminds us of a more transcendent humanity that can emerge from looking at our inhuman tendencies. It does so through promoting empathy and compassion, as well as a cosmopolitan orientation toward the world that places imagination above the nation.

Empathy, compassion, and cosmopolitanism guarantee nothing, but all are necessary to break the connection between our identity and the war machine.

Yet all those fine sentiments can't be just about letting ourselves off the hook for the wars -- the hatred and cruelty and desire to dominate -- for which we cannot escape our participation, however attenuated.

... while compassion may allow us to disavow our complicity, without compassion we could never move the far and the feared close to our circle of the near and dear.

... Cosmopolitanism also underestimates how many of us remain viscerally attached to our nations or cultures, which compel real love and passion in a way that cosmopolitanism does not. To some, cosmopolitans seem to be rootless people, more inclined to love humanity in the abstract than people in the concrete. ... At the same time, cosmopolitanism's Western origins, arising from the Greeks, may mean it is unattractive to non-Western societies opposed to cosmopolitanism's global ambitions and belief in individual rights and liberties. ... The terrorist who does not want to talk with us tempts us to take up arms ourselves, even preemptively. Armored cosmopolitanism is the new spin on the white man's burden, where the quaint idea of civilizing the world becomes retailored for culturally sensitive capitalists ...

Living as humanely as possible requires accepting and embracing complexity.

[Yet] without cosmopolitanism's call for an unbounded empathy that extends to all, including others, we are left with a dangerously small circle of the near and dear. ...Understanding that the violent ones, our enemies, are motivated not only by hatred but also by compassion and empathy -- in other words by love -- gives us a mirror to recognize that our own compulsory emotions are just as partial, prejudiced, and powerful. ... Cosmopolitanism and compassion magnify these glimmers of peace. Just as warfare needs patriotism, the struggle for peace needs cosmopolitanism to imagine the utopian future. Without such an imagination and without the expansion of compassion beyond the borders of our own kin, we resign ourselves to the world we inherit.

... [Novelist Maxine Hong] Kingston goes on to say that "peace has to be supposed, imagined, divined and dreamed." This kind of dreaming will not happen without cosmopolitanism and compassion and their persistent, irritating reminder that waging war is easier than fighting for peace. If peace begins with the individuals, it is realized collectively with peace movements, for peace is not simply a matter of praying or hoping, although they, like dreaming, do not hurt.

Instead, peace happens through confronting the war machine and taking over the industries that make it possible ... [He points particularly to the "industries of memory" -- memorials, song and story -- which perpetuate myths of heroism and national virtue.] The strength of weaponized memory is why appeals from the high ground alone cannot stop war or realize peace. ... This is why a need remains for memory that looks at our inhumanity, which we might wish to deny.

Nguyen's book is profound; my summary does not do justice. Read and ponder if you dare.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

More and more macabre in Arkansas

As previously noted, the state of Arkansas plans eight executions of convicts in ten days next month -- because its supply of the drug it uses to kill is reaching its expiration date.

But Arkansas is running up against an obstacle. No, not final appeals and other legal maneuvers, though death penalty lawyers are doing their best. But rather, they are having trouble rounding up enough citizen witnesses who want to see the grizzly show. State law requires at least 6 witnesses at each execution; where to find the needed volunteers?

According to, Wendy Kelley, Director of the Department of Correction, took her problem to a Little Rock Rotary Club.

At Tuesday's meeting [Bill] Booker, [acting as substitute president,] says after a presentation ..., she casually asked the audience to volunteer as citizen witnesses for the state's upcoming executions.

"Temporarily there was a little laugh from the audience because they thought she might be kidding," says Booker. "It quickly became obvious that she was not kidding."

... "I could understand not even wanting to read about these occurrences let alone have to be in the room or watching," says Michelle Frost, a Little Rock resident. Frost is not sure how she feels about the death penalty, but is sure she would not want to witness an execution.

... Marianne McKinney supports the death penalty. She says "they made their decisions and have to suffer the consequences." McKinney believes the inmates on death row have been rightly convicted and would not mind witnessing an execution.

"I know it may seem cold, but we need justice on our streets to protect us," says McKinney. "I don't think it'd bother me at all."

The article ends with an address anyone wanting to volunteer can use to get in touch with the Department of Correction.

#SubvertTheCity in the 'hood

This bus shelter on Valencia Street has undergone an intervention. The stop in question is one of the hundreds used by the Google buses that collect and deposit our tech worker neighbors in the city.

Apparently #SubvertTheCity is an international movement.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

An anti-nationalist for these times

I think of Viet Thanh Nguyen as Steve Bannon's worst nightmare, someone whose being breaks categories of nation, origin, and history. He is the author of Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, a National Book Award finalist, and far better known as the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Sympathizer. I do better with nonfiction than fiction, but if what follows intrigues you, I recommend either book.

Nguyen is no nationalist. He's a man betwixt and between countries, histories, perspectives, and memories.

I was born in Vietnam but made in America. I count myself among those Vietnamese dismayed by America's deeds but tempted to believe its words. I also count myself among those Americans who often do not know what to make of Vietnam and want to know what to make of it. ... Today the Vietnamese and American revolutions manufacture memories only to absolve the hardening of our arteries. For those of us who consider ourselves to be inheritors of one or both of these revolutions, or who have been influenced by them in some way, we have to know how we make memories and how we forget them so we can beat their hearts back to life. That is the project, or at least the hope, of this book.

These nonfiction chapters survey memorials, fiction, film and the memories they collective construct of what people in the U.S. call the Vietnam war and people in Vietnam call the American war. His parents fled the north of his country for the anti-communist south in 1954 and, after the American war collapsed, landed in U.S. refugee camps and finally in what became the Vietnamese section of San Jose. He's been back to his ancestral country to see where relatives live, where battles were fought, and even the killing field of neighboring Cambodia. In this book, he describes crawling through what were once Viet Cong tunnels from which they ambushed U.S. GIs; these have been converted (also spruced up and enlarged) to accommodate tourist tours. He is more bemused than appalled by all sides' morphing memories.

Nguyen insists that only if we can allow ourselves the convoluted, often painful, process of rigorously examining embedded memories can we hope to create a usable past, more peaceful than what we've known. He calls this making "just memories."

...just memory proceeds from three things. First, an ethical awareness of our simultaneous humanity and inhumanity, which leads to a more complex understanding of our identity, of what it means to be human and to be complicit in the deeds that our side, our kin, and even we ourselves commit. Second, equal access to the industries of memory [currently dominated by the wealth and reach of the U.S. capitalist world culture] ... And, third, the ability to imagine a world where no one will be exiled from what we think of as the near and the dear to those distant realms of the far and the feared. ... The nation seduces us, particularly if we happen to be cast out of it as refugees, a population that now numbers at least sixty million, a floating global archipelago of human dispossession. ...

He doesn't think "the nation" is the answer to any of this agony. Everywhere -- on the ground and on the page -- he struggles against the worldwide hegemony of the U.S. view of what happened (this intrudes even within victorious Vietnam) and what it all meant.

... defenders of a homogenous America [have] cried out against the barbarians at the gate, those colored hordes who had climbed their way up the hill of civilization to the city of shining light. Reluctantly or fervently, we [authors from various Asian-origins], the barbarians, are also cultural warriors, demanding to be let in to civilization, haunted by the inhuman wars of that civilization. We, too, wish to tell true war stories, which are impossible to disentangle from the battles we fight to tell the stories.

Our English-speaking cultural arena can be profoundly unwelcoming to artists who insist on mixing their realities; he cites such unequivocally white examples as Kingsolver and Sontag as well as more obvious ones of color. Nguyen's recent acclaim seems a breakthrough in this context; but will it just be more tokenism?

A future post here will take up what Nguyen writes about the essence of war, of cosmopolitanism and compassion, and of the possibility of an effectual peace movement. He has a lot to teach.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The year is off to a scary start ...

Hey -- it's only happened in 19 states. But then again, it is only three months into 2017.

We mapped 33 incidents from January 1 to March 20, 2017, where mosques were targets of threats, vandalism or arson.

Council on American-Islamic Relations, CNN

It was always thus ...

After writing last week about latrines -- everyone needs a clean place to take a dump -- it was a nice surprise to encounter an ancient Chinese solution to this human need at the Asian Art Museum.

The museum exhibits a replica of what the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) offered its nobility for this necessity:

As the exhibit notes explain, facilities for common people were nowhere near so elegant, resulting in a stench which provoked folk tales that dangerous demons hid in privies. Modern science would conclude that this wasn't altogether wrong.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

ICE, immigrants, and criminals

As has been widely reported, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- the deportation police -- have been snatching up people who have been reporting for routine immigration check-ins. The immigrant detainees are seldom "bad hombres." In northern California, last week a man named Martin

had no criminal record, had lived in this country for 26 years, his two sons are citizens, and he ended up in deportation proceedings because he was a victim of a fraudulent "notario" [a quack posing as a "lawyer"] 10 years ago. The case was litigated in court, appealed and finally lost for 10 years, and on Wednesday, when he showed up for his green card interview, he was detained and put on the deportation bus.

Calls from community members and the offices of Senator Feinstein, Rep. Matsui, Rep. McCarthy, Rep. Harrison, and Rep. Pelosi could not stop the ICE human-grinder. Martin was summarily shipped off to Mexico.

Sometimes community intervention can win a stay that leaves room for additional legal pleadings. Here's a heartening story of State (a senator) and Church (an archbishop) combining with community pressure to keep a sick elder in this country, at least for awhile.
In How Immigrants Became Criminals, Alan A. Aja and Alejandra Marchevsky have outlined how the deportation regime is integrated with the "war on drugs" and the mass criminalization of all people of color.

In 2016 more than 60,000 immigrants were cast out from the United States on criminal grounds. According to ICE, “criminal removals” comprised 92 percent of all deportations from the nation’s interior last year, compared with only 3 percent in 1980. Yet immigrants are not committing more crime than in the past. Rather the definition of “criminal” has broadened significantly since the 1990s, when the federal government began criminally prosecuting immigration infractions that were previously enforced as civil matters, while also deporting an unprecedented number of immigrants with minor criminal records. So-called criminal deportations bring into clear focus our nation’s “crimmigration” system, where immigration policy, criminal law, and their corresponding enforcement apparatuses are tightly intertwined. ...

Immigrants and their advocates naturally point out that these people are NOT criminals under any reasonable definition. But this argument has its own pitfalls.

... the oft-made claim of innocence furthers a disturbing respectability politics that aids the Trump administration’s assault on communities of color. By insisting that most immigrants do not deserve to be deported, advocates leave unchallenged the idea that the criminals do. The good immigrant narrative misses the ways that overpolicing and mass incarceration produce a reservoir of immigrants with criminal records, creating an endless chain of detentions and deportations....

The Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II administrations bloated police department coffers and put tens of thousands more cops in communities of color. More police and bigger budgets meant more arrests, more convictions, and more incentive to police to maintain agency resources. The overpolicing of low-income neighborhoods has meant a sharp increase in the number of immigrants of color encountering the criminal justice —and thus the deportation—systems. In particular, more and more black and brown immigrants, both undocumented and authorized, were arrested and convicted of drug crimes, received longer sentences than their white counterparts, and then were deported. Between 2007 and 2012, there was an increase of 22 percent (totaling 260,000 deportations) in the number of lawful permanent residents and undocumented immigrants deported for drug offenses. Research shows that black deportees are the most likely to be legal permanent residents deported for drug convictions. The intersection of anti-drug policy and the Department of Homeland Security’s expanded deportation powers reflect and reinforce anti-black racism in our nation’s system of law, yet are rarely challenged in tandem. ...

While the good/bad immigrant debate is now being challenged by the immigrant rights movement and civil liberties groups (most notably the ACLU), progressive politicians and organizational leaders have yet to follow suit. Many states, cities and universities are creating sanctuary policies that make exceptions for criminal immigrants. ...

Although there has been growing awareness and action around the abuses behind mass incarceration, too often have they been siloed from discussions of and advocacy around mass deportation. Public pressure has forced many states to remove three-strike laws from their books, but few in the public are aware that the government may deport a non-citizen who has three misdemeanor convictions. Calls to roll back oversentencing in the criminal justice system have not made connections to deportation as a form of extreme punishment. ...

Draconian immigration enforcement -- and the War on Drugs -- and mass incarceration are all elements of Making America White Again (MAWA), all made explicit by the Trump/Bannon gang.

Resist and protect as we can. Join an Emergency Response Team in Northern California.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Too good

Stolen from someone I don't know on FB.

Let's remember: when your opponent is sinking, toss him an anvil. Don't ease up. We've got a long way to go.

What does the Trump administration really think about torture?

General Mattis at the Department of War (so-called Defense) says he's against it. Judge Gorsuch bobbed and weaved away from questions in his hearings.

But very likely this is much more telling:

The United States has declined to join other countries in criticising China over allegations of torture against human rights lawyers.

The UK, Germany, Canada and eight others signed a letter raising concerns about lawyers and rights activists detained incommunicado for long periods.

The letter urges China to investigate torture claims against lawyer Xie Yang and others.

Independent, March 23, 2017

Guess the Great Tangerine likes him some cruelty to people who get in his way. I have no doubt he'd love to put some obstreperous lawyers on the water board, when he takes a break from trying to wrench health care away from poor people.

Friday cat blogging

We've been moving some furniture around and Morty has found a new favorite perch to oversee our shenanigans.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

From inside the wire

One of the things the organization Critical Resistance does that hardly anyone does is ask prisoners what they think. Prisoners have their own, multifaceted and not necessarily uniform, takes on the goings on in the world outside.

Recently, [CR] asked imprisoned people to share their reflections on Trump's presidency and how to strengthen our resistance to what some see as rising fascism. Lacino, Robert, and Asar (quoted here), as well as others have generously offered their analysis and experience.

... The testimonies include excerpts of letters from immigrants, Black men and other men of color, people sentenced to the death penalty or life without parole (the other death penalty), gay people, and people imprisoned in California, Pennsylvania, Florida, and South Carolina. 

The entire collection of responses, including images of original letters, are posted at Prisoners Speak Out: Analysis and Perspectives.

Asar Imhotep Amen wrote from California State Prison - LA County:

"Trump's regime will greatly affect me, along with the community at large as well as all presently incarcerated people... Trump's regime serves a deliberate and specific purpose in sustaining white terror, power, and domination. In other words, the relationship between people of color, along poor white folks in America and the holders of state power in the United States is similar to that which exists between the colonized and the colonial master."

Lacino Hamilton, imprisoned at Chippewa Correctional Facility, Kincheloe, Michigan, had this to say:

Repression doesn’t come and go, it merely becomes more or less evident, as its "spectacular episodes" are spaced closer or farther apart. Donald Trump being an expression of a "spectacular episode". Repression is a permanent blanket covering the movement. Many people don't think this is so, because you don't notice the difficulty you have trying to breathe. This is because you’ve become accustomed to the reality and the weight of the blanket, long gaps between "spectacular episodes” have given many of us the impression that the blanket had been "pulled back” or “lifted". But it’s been here all the time, before Trump was elected president, and we’ve learned to move under its weight, and now consider this type of repression to be normal.

Robert Chan, imprisoned at California State Prison - LA County, added his view:

Now is the time to stand with our free-world allies as they daily protest Trump's latest ugly declarations and executive orders. In our thoughts and in our prayers, with our hearts and with our words, we stand with the oppressed and all progressives fighting for social justice. Never before have I been so surprised and inspired by the outpouring of unity that's coalescing in the sea of courageous people stepping up against tyranny.

I figure I'm called to live up to Mr. Chan's expectations -- will I?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Water for the city

The California drought may be over, but on World Water Day, it is good to know that our local water authority is thinking ahead. Amid the blizzard of verbiage that comes with the bill, there was this:

Smart, reliable, resilient and local: Groundwater for San Francisco
... Developing local groundwater can help diversify our supply portfolio and ensure we have a local source for water should a drought, earthquake or other disaster interrupt our Hetch Hetchy supply.

In March, 2017, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) will start pumping groundwater from the Westside Groundwater Basin aquifer that extends to approximately 400 feet below the surface in San Francisco. The groundwater will be treated and blended with our regional drinking water supplies before it is delivered to our customers. Over the next few years we will continue adding groundwater in order to reach our goal of blending 4 million gallons a day (mgd) of treated groundwater with our regional water supplies by 2020.

... On an average day the City of San Francisco – including our residents, businesses and visitors – will continue to rely primarily on the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System, a system that combines the resources of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir with 5 reservoirs in the Bay Area, for 60 million gallons of drinking water. Adding groundwater to our regional water supplies makes San Francisco’s water supply more reliable, particularly in the event of droughts and emergencies.

Who knew there was an aquifer there for the tapping under the Sunset District? It's easy to look at this and wonder -- is this a construction boondoggle for politically connected contractors? Well, maybe. But this city has added 150,000 residents since 1980. And new San Franciscans keep on coming, for all the congestion and crazy housing costs. Building some forward looking infrastructure seems a good idea.

Because everyone needs a clean place to take a dump

On this World Water Day, (an annual UN observance) can you help the 495 residents of the tiny rural town of La Rinconada, Nicaragua, achieve 100% sanitation coverage? That means everyone in the hamlet would have access to a clean latrine. Latrines reduce diarrhea, especially among children, and help keep well water unpolluted and safe to drink.

The community has pledged 10% of construction costs and to do all the labor, but they need materials.
  • $25 - fifteen bags of sand
  • $50 - seat & concrete slab
  • $150 - metal superstructure
  • $485 - 1 household double-pit latrine
Small sums that don't mean much to us in the U.S. can be sent along through El Porvenir, a partnership with rural Nicaraguan communities which has been doing this work for over 25 years. Please help if you can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tools for resistance: on the lookout for fake news

In the time of Trump, the rest of us don't need to be passing around conspiracy theories. As smart media reporters have explained, the point of Trump's and his handlers' lies is not to replace truth with their falsehoods, but to persuade as many as possible of us that "everything is a lie."

This works better in a campaign than in governing. Reality bites in the real world. Running hard up against reality -- families broken by deportation, lost health insurance coverage, shuttered food stamp offices -- makes for painful encounters with undisguised truth.

Still, we can work not to play along with the disinformation environment. Let's leave the false stories to the other guys and strive to be sure that we are aren't buying into tales that just aren't so.

Several points:
  • If a headline grabs your attention -- and particularly if it is something that feeds your political assumptions -- CHECK around a little. Do you know the publication/site that it came from? Is any other well known source also reporting the story? The big newspapers and CNN have lots of faults, but they don't (usually, though occasionally they'll print a conspiracy fable-maker) run with completely unverified rumors. If something seems just too juicy, or too prejudicial, or too satisfying, to be true, it might be false, even in the age of Trump.
  • When you make yourself a source of information (say you write a blog), think hard about how you "know" what you "know." The American Press Institute describes an instructive, easily understood, "hierarchy of accuracy" that journalists can use before deciding to spread something around.

    Some facts, quotes, assertions and color are more reliable than others.

    The stuff that comes from an eyewitness is better than that which is second-hand.

    The stuff that you know for yourself is better than the stuff someone else supposedly checked out … or did they? ... Beware of the idea that you have to post a story because it’s “out there” — floating around.

  • Learn from others who are wrestling with evaluating stories for accuracy. Amnesty International has launched an international Digital Verification Corps working to

    blow the whistle on inauthentic materials depicting human rights violations. But equally important is our work at using advanced digital methods to curate reliable multimedia data that can be used to demand accountability for human rights atrocities. The relevance of this work cannot be overstated, especially in an era where everyone with a cell phone camera is a potential news reporter.

    This is an inspiring project.
WNYC's On The Media podcast pointed me to many of these references; Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield provide a regular reality check. #trypod

Monday, March 20, 2017

Judicial horrors

Because Neil Gorsuch is presentable -- he could probably be introduced to a suburban mother without acting like a thug -- it is unlikely Democrats will rise up to block his confirmation to the Supreme Court. It would take everything they've got and that isn't much. Sure, he's a stone conservative white man, perhaps slightly to the right of the dyspeptic curmudgeon he would replace, but they are likely to figure that at least Trump didn't nominate Steve Bannon to the court.

I'll be watching whether Democratic Senators raise two issues in hearings:
  • Torture: During the GW Bush administration, Gorsuch was one of the merry band of torture apologists at the Justice Department making up rationales for the divine right of the President to order whatever extra-legal measures he might like in his war on an adjective. It's going to be the supreme test of our legal system whether judges will constrain a runaway president who can always cook up a national "security" threat when he wants to justify something foul. My often disappointing Senior Senator, Diana Feinstein, is the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and, after being mistreated by the CIA herself when looking into abuses, has developed a bee in her bonnet about torture. So she might push for answers in this area.
  • Birthright citizenship: I don't know if any Democrat will raise this, but they should. Maybe Senator Maize Hirono of Hawaii could do it; it would be good to hear it from a person of color. The Trump/Bannon project of MAWA (Making America White Again) founders on the fact that anyone born in the country is automatically a citizen under current interpretations of Congressional citizenship statutes and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. A citizen is any "person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof." But right wing legal activists hope that the application of this principle to children of undocumented immigrants could be ended by simple act of Congress, if concurred in by a sympathetic Supreme Court. They'll go there if they have a chance; the MAWA project is a desperation move, and fails so long as people of color can't be kept from citizenship whether by exclusion or voter suppression and/or incarceration. The great contemporary historian of the Reconstruction era when the US adopted birthright citizenship, Eric Foner, writes of birthright citizenship:

     The 14th Amendment, as Republican editor George Curtis wrote, was part of a process that changed the US government from one “for white men” to one “for mankind.”

    Those were a different kind of Republicans.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

For Lincoln, the country was about a growing, a wider, citizenship

This country has always been built up by "somebody else's babies" as Congressman Steve King asserted with such horror last week.

Abraham Lincoln celebrated that truth in July 1858 when the country was still only a few generations old. In one of the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates during his unsuccessful campaign for the Senate, he explained:

... We are now a mighty nation, we are thirty—or about thirty millions of people, and we own and inhabit about one-fifteenth part of the dry land of the whole earth. We run our memory back over the pages of history for about eighty-two years and we discover that we were then a very small people in point of numbers, vastly inferior to what we are now, with a vastly less extent of country,—with vastly less of everything we deem desirable among men,—we look upon the change as exceedingly advantageous to us and to our posterity, and we fix upon something that happened away back, as in some way or other being connected with this rise of prosperity.

We find a race of men living in that day whom we claim as our fathers and grandfathers; they were iron men, they fought for the principle that they were contending for; and we understood that by what they then did it has followed that the degree of prosperity that we now enjoy has come to us. We hold this annual celebration to remind ourselves of all the good done in this process of time of how it was done and who did it, and how we are historically connected with it; and we go from these meetings in better humor with ourselves—we feel more attached the one to the other and more firmly bound to the country we inhabit. In every way we are better men in the age, and race, and country in which we live for these celebrations.

But after we have done all this we have not yet reached the whole. There is something else connected with it. We have besides these men—descended by blood from our ancestors—among us perhaps half our people who are not descendants at all of these men, they are men who have come from Europe—German, Irish, French and Scandinavian—men that have come from Europe themselves, or whose ancestors have come hither and settled here, finding themselves our equals in all things.

If they look back through this history to trace their connection with those days by blood, they find they have none, they cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel that they are part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence they find that those old men say that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” and then they feel that that moral sentiment taught in that day evidences their relation to those men, that it is the father of all moral principle in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that Declaration, (loud and long continued applause) and so they are.

It's strange today to read that Lincoln was considered the plain speaker in this oratorical contest; Judge Douglas was the polished orator. Have debates degenerated or merely changed? Is it the spin or the consumers of politics who have changed?

Of course there were a lot people left out of Lincoln's ringing 1858 declaration from a contemporary perspective. Did these voters' sisters count? What about the indigenous people dispossessed in Lincoln's west? But, later, when he had the chance, Lincoln did get around to doing something about the people most excluded from that vision.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hannah Arendt on Evil

Yes, I'll allow myself that capital "E". I find myself meditating on this from the disputatious philosopher:

When I wrote my Eichmann in Jerusalem one of my main intentions was to destroy the legend of the greatness of evil, of the demonic force, to take away from people the admiration they have for the great evildoers ...

I found in Brecht the following remark:

The great political criminals must be exposed and exposed especially to laughter. They are not great political criminals, but people who permitted great political crimes, which is something entirely different. The failure of his enterprises does not indicate that Hitler was an idiot.
Now, that Hitler was an idiot was of course a prejudice of the whole opposition to Hitler prior to his seizure of power and therefore a great many books tried then to justify him and to make him a great man. So, Brecht says, “The fact that he failed did not indicate that Hitler was an idiot and the extent of his enterprises does not make him a great man.”

It is neither the one nor the other: this whole category of greatness has no application.
“If the ruling classes,” Bertholt Brecht goes on, “permit a small crook to become a great crook, he is not entitled to a privileged position in our view of history. That is, the fact that he becomes a great crook and that what he does has great consequences does not add to his stature.” And generally speaking he then says in these very abrupt remarks: “One may say that tragedy deals with the sufferings of mankind in a less serious way than comedy.”
This of course is a shocking statement; I think that at the same time it is entirely true.

What is really necessary is, if you want to keep your integrity under these circumstances, then you can do it only if you remember your old way of looking at such things and say: “No matter what he does and if he killed ten million people, he is still a clown.”

Interview, 1978

Friday, March 17, 2017

No Muslim ban, now or ever!

For the moment, the Trump/Bannon Muslim ban has been put on ice by two courts in Hawaii and Maryland. San Franciscans turned out Thursday to roar their rejection of the president's attempt to make the country white again.

The event was organized by the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), bringing together a broad coalition of groups who are unanimous in rejecting the Trump/Bannon racist strategy.

As Julia Carrie Wong who writes about tech for the Guardian tweeted:

Pretty cool that Muslim ban blocked by Chinese-American AG arguing on behalf of Syrian-American plaintiff before a Native Hawaiian judge.

This world of difference is what Trump/Bannon wants to whitewash from the land. They can't do it so long as people can overcome the fear; that's a heavy ask because the fear and the harm along the way will be all too real for those upon whom it falls.

The times require both "NO" and care from all who can.

Cats for St. Pats

It's important to someone that their stone cats partake in the celebration.

Green tinsel anyone?

And yellow clover?

We all have our own ways of celebrating cultural holidays.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

California: what does it mean to be a sanctuary state?

People of many faiths, from every corner of California, marched and lobbied in Sacramento on Wednesday in support of several bills now in the legislature that aim to enforce our state's rejection of the Trump administration's effort to "Make America White Again".

SB54 would bar police and sheriffs from arresting or detaining people just for immigration violations unless a judge issues a warrant. State and local law enforcement agencies would not be able to help investigate immigration violations, inquire about someone's immigration status or provide addresses to federal immigration officers.

... the committee also voted along party lines [all Democrats in favor] to advance SB6, which would provide $12 million to pay lawyers for immigrants facing deportation, and SB31, which would bar state officials from sharing data if the federal government creates a Muslim registry.

San Francisco Chronicle

Clergy led the crowd out of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

At 86, Dolores Huerta is still marching for justice.

Roughly: "God, who rules this country, brought me here -- and I'm staying!"

The crowd spread out at the Capital grounds.

A few folding chairs are a nice touch after a march.

As one speaker insisted: "No tiendo miedo. No fear. We have been here before." And another warned: "We are not passive. We are aggressive!" We'll see what what our political leaders do in this moment.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The burdens of hyper-masculinity

Why do right wing racist thugs go in for wack-doodle blonde hair displays? Both Trump and the Netherland's Wilders get their color out of a box. Guess it is worth remembering that in nature, the peacock whose image we call to mind, is the male ... Poor boys, so much work to be beautiful.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

We don't know what comes next

The historian Eric Foner is known, among other works, for his mammoth volume, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 which I've recently discussed here, here, and here.

But five years before he published that opus, he presented the Walter L. Fleming Lectures in Southern History at LSU. These were published as a small book, Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy. In this, he took a comparative tack, examining how freed people fared in other societies where slavery and similar bound labor systems had been ended, including Haiti, the British Caribbean, colonial Africa, and Russia where serfdom persisted under czars. Looking at Reconstruction in the post-Civil War South through these experiences, he notes that the permanent (if, for years, more nominal than actual) extension of voting rights to the ex-slaves made the U.S. experience essentially different. For a decade, former slaves took part in and held a share of political power in the former Confederacy. After presenting an overview, he zeroes in on strikes in the Combahee River area rice fields, showing how newly empowered ex-slaves tenaciously held on to their labor rights, even as the broader Reconstruction project was abandoned by the federal Congress.

In summary, he offers this quote which I found suggestive in another time when apparent gains for the freedom of so many us are once again under threat of cutback.

... the English socialist William Morris reflected on how historical struggles never seem to reach a definitive conclusion: "I pondered all these things, ... how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name."

If those of us working for racial and gender justice thought we could trust gains were permanent, we've been shown to be wrong. But the battle doesn't end and new struggles may presage new gains, gains not entirely envisioned yet. Morris -- and Foner -- are onto something, something whose shape we cannot yet see, but which our actions in this time will shape.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Promises, promises

Something to keep in mind as Republicans flounder about trying to repeal Obamacare -- trying to prevent poor people from having access to doctors so they can cut taxes for rich people.
Via TPM. And here's another one:

President Trump himself has said: “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

via Abbe Gluck at Vox

Is there a political penalty for breaking promises? Unless something unexpected happens, we're going to find out. Political penalties aren't accidents; activists make sure they are felt. Share this graphic if you wish.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

When values lead to exile

This memoir, Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran, is the story of what a vicious, insecure, rather stupid, dictatorial state will do to break someone it decides is a threat. It's not fun. It is, however, human and instructive.

Shirin Ebadi was an educated Iranian nationalist, a judge in the Tehran city court, who welcomed the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. When the new Islamic regime solidified its power, it fired her from her post, relegating her to the secretarial pool. For a decade, she could not work in her field, but was finally permitted to practice law again in 1993. For the next decade, she argued for human rights, most especially for improved legal status for women, children and refugees, all within an Islamic legal framework. She was jailed and heavily pressured. Ebadi gained so much international notice that she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. The prize afforded her work some degree of protection from a hostile state and enabled her to travel widely.

This volume describes the closing down of space for human rights work in Iran after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 and her involuntary exile after his disputed re-election in 2009.

Over and over, Ebadi tried to maintain that "human rights" efforts did not mean that she was a political dissident. Her cause was the rule of law within the Iranian nation. She certainly did not aim to be an agent of the Iran's Western enemies, but the government could see her through no other lens.

I was not an opponent of the state -- I was a human rights defender, and I based my criticisms of the state on legal grounds. But authoritarian governments are not fond of shades of gray; they cannot tolerate any criticism at all ...

... I had been a judge and was now a lawyer, and the law concerns itself with intent and the results of intent. If the state intended the best for its citizens, then it needed to demonstrate that in its behavior toward them. It could not arrest journalists, throw them in prison, inflict all manner of psychological torture and abuse on them, and then dispatch an agent to talk to me about America "exploiting" my objections to this.

And this determined woman would not give up. She defended members of the Bahai faith who the Iranian clerical state considers traitorous apostates from their version of Islam, worthy of prison or death. She exposed the death penalty for children; she protested torture and illegal imprisonment of people who the regime declared enemies. And she was hard to silence because the Nobel had given her international standing.

And so, the state looked for ways to reach into what she held dear, her family -- and thus to break her will to keep agitating for the rule of law. The story builds toward the Iranian intelligence service's great triumph: drawing her loved husband of three decades into a "honey trap" (an illicit liaison) and forcing him through shame and then torture to denounce her work on video. The ending is dramatic, but I found the one of the episodes on the way to that horrible end most illuminating.

The state had finally started going after my family. It wasn't just content with me anymore. I had witnessed this over the years with many of my clients, dissidents and activists, whose relatives suffered state intimidation, were hassled and threatened and sometimes blackmailed or imprisoned, all "collateral damage" in the quest to get the original target -- the dissident or activist or journalist in question -- to drop their activities. It was the dirtiest of the methods the security agencies used, exploiting these families and their emotional ties.

Ebadi recognized that she was the target when the authorities seized her daughter's passport and summoned the young woman for interrogation. She explained was happening to her daughter Nargess and husband Javad.

"This a test," I said as we sat down around the table. "It's a test to see if I'll cave, if they can use Nargess to get to me. If we react, they will try to use her forever. But if I stand firm and don't respond, they'll realize they'll need another tactic."

Nargess took up her mother's perspective; she was willing to fight. The test came when the authorities summoned the daughter for questioning on a day when Ebadi was supposed to fly to an overseas seminar.

... intelligence agents had timed their little game purposefully. Would I leave the country, knowing that my daughter was sitting in a government office with the officials of a ministry that just years prior had plotted my assassination? Would I board the plane and turn my back on my daughter .. would I blink?

... But I understood that if I postponed my trip by even a single day, in order to ensure that Nargess came home safely and that her passport would be returned, they would spot my weakness. That would be the real danger. They would know then that they could use Nargess against me, and it was that I feared more than anything. If they concluded that she was my weakness, there would be no telling what they might do to her next, or to me. ...

Ebadi flew; the officials handed her passport back to Nargess. And so the state eventually went after her husband, then her sister, and a through a legal pretext, the family's property, forcing Ebadi into lonely permanent exile in London. She's not crushed though; hence this terrible telling of their tale.
It felt problematic reading this memoir in the USofA, knowing that the Iranian state is supposed to be my Enemy Number One. (Or is it Number Two, after North Korea? Who knows, on any given day.) The Islamic Republic seems a despicable regime, but then, so is mine. This is the dilemma of western peaceniks. It's not as if our wars of this century amounted to a defense of the rule of law and humane values, for all the verbiage our rulers spew. The War on Terror has confused "the left" because there have been no "good guys" on some anti-imperial side to applaud. Can we make a consistent stand for peace without illusions? Hard, but needed.

All the more reason to listen sympathetically to others, like Shirin Ebadi, stuck in the same painful place, defending values that seem to have no home base.