Sunday, April 30, 2017

Why the May Day strikes and marches?

In the rest of the world, May Day is International Workers Day, a holiday celebrating the contributions we all make through our labor that keep society going. Though first proposed by organized U.S. workers in the late 19th century, the day has been little noted in the United States; we are not accustomed to honoring labor.

One of the gifts of our large immigrant population has been the return of May Day to prominence. Some of the largest demonstrations in recent years were the 2006 May Day marches led by thousands of Latinx workers who came out of the shadows to demand immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented persons. Half a million marched in Los Angeles and hundreds of thousands in aggregate all over the country.

And now we have a president who spouts hate against Latinx, Black, and Asian-origin people, and against vulnerable women. That is, the Cheato trashes the true U.S. working class, the people whose toil keeps our post-industrial society going. So May Day again has risen in prominence. I saw six of these signs on one block of businesses on San Francisco's Mission Street today. There is not quite the atmosphere of excited anticipation there was in the air before the 2006 marches. What with Trump's turning the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into a thuggish deportation force, no wonder.

But there's a tough determination in the community this year, making May Day the occasion of a call to "shit it down," not just for a parade.

And, at least some of organized labor gets where the action among workers is. This graphic is from the California Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, some of the traditional gorillas of the union movement.

For more information about broad national May Day demonstrations, enter a zip code here. For national general strike information, use this link. And in the Bay Area, ABC7news has a good list of local activities.

Bonhoeffer on folly and the making of fools

One of the stock features of the 100-day presidential frenzy in the media is the report from some rust belt town where an urban-based reporter interviews voters. "Do you regret that you voted for Trump?" they ask. "No, he's doing great," says the interviewee. Oh for goodness sakes, even if this voter does have a sneaking suspicion that Trump might disappoint, s/he is not going to trot it out for this interloper to smirk at. I am not impressed.

But I remain horrified that so many people thought an Orange Cheato who lies, steals, and corrupts all he touches was a suitable leader for the country. Since the election, I keep returning to the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer's thoughts on human folly, arrived at while awaiting execution for plotting to kill Hitler.

Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. ...

... If we are to deal adequately with folly, we must understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is a moral rather than an intellectual defect. There are people who are mentally agile but foolish, and people who are mentally slow but very far from foolish — a discovery that we make to our surprise as a result of particular situations. We thus get the impression that folly is likely to be, not a congenital defect, but one that is acquired in certain circumstances where people make fools of themselves or allow others to make fools of them. ...

... The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that they are independent. One feels in fact, when talking to them, that one is dealing, not with the person themselves, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of them. They are under a spell, they are blinded, their very nature is being misused and exploited. Having thus become a passive instrument, the fool will be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. Here lies the danger of diabolical exploitation that can do irreparable damage to human beings. ... we have to realize why it is no use our trying to find out what “the people” really think, and why the question is so superfluous for the person who thinks and acts responsibly ...

But there is some consolation in these thoughts on folly: they in no way justify us in thinking that most people are fools in all circumstances. What will really matter is whether those in power expect more from people’s folly than from their wisdom and independence of mind.

Bonhoeffer concluded that we only turn away from our human tendency toward individual and collective folly through an inward liberation that is found through the practice of a responsible life seeking Good. In our diverse ways, an awful lot of us lately have been forced to take up this challenge more seriously than has been our comfortable custom. We reject the onslaught of fakery, of folly.

Resistance isn't fun, but it feels life-giving. When the horror gets you down, do something! And be gentle with others also struggling for hope, understanding, and effectual action.

H/t Slacktivist.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Saturday scenery: for the Orange Cheato's 100th day ...

a few more signs of San Franciscans' discontent:
Just a couple of random windows ...

in a boutique storefront ... very tastefully displayed ...

looks like this person is keeping a sign at the ready for persistent protest ...

This one is graceful.

Hope is a theme ...

Hortatory hope.

Short, to the point, easily disseminated.

Many from Walking San Francisco. Don't worry, I'll go back to less political Saturday images soon enough, now that it is not quite so muddy on the trails.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why the Climate March?

Actually, that's a silly question on this site. The Climate March is a heart cry from all of us who can feel the planet we inhabit being smothered by our species' excesses. So we march. National Peoples Climate March information is here. People's Climate Movement Bay Area information is here.

Any seasoned political observer can't help asking: why did we have a Science March last week and the Climate March this week? That both arise from congruent if not quite identical impulses seems obvious. Oh, I know, some of the scientists continue to hope that their discipline can exist above the political hurley-burley, but that's both faux-innocent nonsense and damn poor anthropology. So I did some cursory internet research and here's what I learned:

The Peoples Climate March aims to promote the broad truth that:

... climate change is as much a social issue as a scientific one. “We are a broad-based coalition that represents immigrants and workers and women and people of color and multi-issue community organizations,” [coordinator Paul Getsos] said.

Washington Post, April 21

Moreover, the Climate March was initiated without regard to who might be elected President. The call would have gone out just as certainly under Hillary Clinton as under Donald Trump. The struggle against soiling our own (and only) nest really is universal, as well as particular in every community and political context.

For those of us who have been trying to make our rulers do the right thing for decades, it is probably correct to think of the Peoples Climate March as the worthy successor to what felt like an endless parade of "Spring Mobes" -- fraught coalitions which demonstrated successively, spring after spring, against the Vietnam war, nuclear power and nuclear bombs, Reagan's wars in Central America, South African apartheid, Iraq War One, Iraq War Two,... In the spring when green shoots flourish, it's always time to push for justice and peace.

Friday cat blogging

Morty is so decorative ... though you can't tell from this picture that he is taking up most of my desk and no intention of ceding space to something so mundane as a computer.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Bay Area Korea activists responded to the Orange Cheato's theatrical but empty classified Senate briefing on Korea policy with a People's Briefing in downtown San Francisco in front of Senator Feinstein's office. They emphasized that any Korean military action could easily kill a million people, mostly in Seoul, in the first 24 hours. That's according to Pentagon estimates. When the U.S. indulges in war talk, the lives we are putting on the line are in east Asia.

On May 9, South Korea will hold a presidential election. The leading candidate, Moon Jae-In, seeks more engagement with North Korea and more independence from U.S. foreign policy, while appreciating the U.S. security guarantee to his country.

100 days of resistance

After 100 days of Trump, I'm liking the people of this country. It turns out that a whole lot of us aren't willing to roll over and play dead because some of our fellow citizens put a cruel ignoramus in office by a tiny margin. We hold on to hope for a better future.

So we have resisted: women have marched; people have mobbed airports in defense of immigrants, Muslims, and refugees; Congresscritters can't come home without Indivisables getting in their faces; scientists and their friends have demonstrated; folks who demand to see the Kleptocrat-in-chief's tax records don't quit. And some of the frayed and fragile institutions of society and government -- courts, legislative hurdles, tireless lawyers, segments of the media -- have impeded the worst impulses of the Cheato and his GOPer friends.

Shock, awe, and instant autocracy seem averted. Instead we have ahead some number of years of steady assault on the lives and security of vulnerable people, mostly black and brown; of additional pollution and desecration of the only planet we've got; of theft of everything that isn't nailed down for the enjoyment of a tiny class of billionaires. Lovely prospect.

It appears to be the case that Trump has no substantive agenda greater than enriching himself and his clan. Nor has he any competence. He merely has prejudices and vendettas which empower more competent actors who do have a project: Making America White Again -- MAWA.

It goes almost without saying that this starts with an Attorney General telling polices departments to fire away with impunity. Recent history offers no reason to expect restraint unless we force restraint, locality by locality.

But also, there is an enormous amount that empowered thugs in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) can do to make miserable the lives of racially profiled residents, many of them citizens. Presidents since Bill Clinton have gradually warmed to these unaccountable tools to such an extent that even under Obama, nearly 50 percent of federal criminal prosecutions were for illegal entry, reentry, and other immigration offenses. But that increase in enforcement was just about playing politics, trying to throw the nativists a bone by promising "border security." With a neo-Confederate Attorney General, this trend could become far worse. Sanctuary cities and a rapid response network can perhaps get in the way, but the law gives very little recourse to people caught up in the cruel farce of immigration proceedings.
And the GOPers in Congress might be able by legislation to restrict even legal immigration very substantially. There are impediments and we can make more of them. But most of us alive today are probably unaware that the United States rejected most immigrants and refugees (including people fleeing fascism) for decades after 1924, a pause in immigration that enabled earlier waves of newcomers from southern and eastern Europe to "become white," to make themselves "real Americans." The MAWAs would like to repeat that -- to simply keep out the black, brown and yellow hordes of their nightmares. Those of us with a happier vision can make this difficult, but this is a fight we need to be ready for.

And there is worse possible. If, like most of us, you've managed to push aside memories of our enduring gulag at Guantanamo, this could sneak up on you. George W. and the Dick loved this island prison for "War on Terror" prisoners because they hoped to keep them out of any judicial review. Eventually the Supreme Court said no, and Congress gave them the Military Commissions Act. This was license to create a novel, from the ground up, jerry-rigged pseudo-legal system just for non-citizen enemies. So far, this non-system has been unable to convict anyone of much of anything, including the proud self-confessed master mind of 9/11. Starting a legal edifice from scratch is impossible work, especially when torture and abuse are involved. Anyway, barely noticed in the law that legalized this perversion of legality, is that it limits the use of military tribunals to non-citizens -- and that means that 43 million people in the US, including green card holders and others in various immigration statuses, could be subject to these kangaroo courts, according to Department of Defense lawyer (that job can't last?), Michel Paradis.

... the Guantánamo tribunals are a separate and unequal justice system into which noncitizens have been segregated. That creates a precedent that endangers us all. ...

... for all the dark periods of bigotry and national danger in U.S. history, this is the first time that we have retreated from the constitutional commitment to equal justice under law that has governed this country since the end of slavery. In fact, in every previous use of military tribunals, including those used to try Nazis during the height of World War II, citizen war criminals were tried on equal terms with noncitizens. The only countries that made the distinction now being made in Guantánamo were Germany and Japan. ...

... The Guantánamo tribunals have become a laboratory for the bare minimum of due process that the public can be convinced to accept. Each aberration, each shortcut on the rules of evidence, on torture or on judicial independence becomes a precedent. ... The Guantánamo tribunals perpetuate a naïve prejudice that the rule of law is a luxury, a waste of time or a privilege belonging to “us” and not to “them.”

This is precisely the dream of the racist xenophobes currently occupying the executive branch of government. The injury they can do to people and law itself is both all too easy to envision and incalculable going forward.

We've had a better-than-expected 100 days -- but we can't ease up. Resist and protect much.
Back in 2009, I wrote an assessment of citizen response to President Obama's first 100 days which both holds up alright for its moment and seems to emerge from another universe.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Too tired -- and busy -- to post

Here's the view out my front window in this most lovely of rain-drenched California springs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The predator and the prude

Usually I think Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air as one of the smartest interviewers around. But today I've got a quibble to raise. In a recent interview with the New York Time's Maggie Haberman who has been making a career of covering Donald Trump, Gross initiated this exchange (somewhat shortened here to pull out a point):

GROSS: Let's talk about Vice President Mike Pence's role for a moment. What is his role in the Trump White House?

HABERMAN: It's evolving. You know, he has been sort of searching for the right spots to pick to put himself in. ... He's been sort of the Trump translator with Congress. He is a confidant to the president in a way that we often don't see vice presidents, although I would say that the relationship between Barack Obama and Joe Biden was quite close. But this vice president is the person whose opinion Trump wants sought or weighed or measured in some way on almost everything, regardless of what it is, before he makes a final decision.

He trusts that Mike Pence has his best interests at heart. He does not believe that Mike Pence is doing anything to undermine him. And for Trump, that is enormously important. ...

GROSS: But they are so different, I mean, just on the level that President Trump bragged that he grabbed women by the P-word because he had enough power to be able to do that. Mike... And whereas Mike Pence, you know, it's been reported, like, won't dine alone with a woman unless his wife is accompanying him. So it's hard to imagine them being compatible.

HABERMAN: Yes. And when - yes, it is hard to imagine that. And yet, it actually has worked. ...

Of course it has worked. For both these unreconstructed male sexists, all women are only occasions of aroused awareness of sex, not co-workers, or colleagues, or, heaven forfend, friends. Sure, they work out their alienation from the always dangerous female differently. Trump predates; Pence subjects himself to purity rituals. But the content is the same.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lest we forget: massacres then and now

Annually on April 24, people of Armenian ancestry and friends remember the genocide instigated (and denied) by the Ottoman Turkish regime in 1915. Perhaps 1.5 million Armenians died of hunger, disease, in forced marches, and by gun and bayonet. A major march will take place in Los Angeles, the metro area with the largest concentration of people of Armenian ancestry in the country.

The Ottomans fought in World War I in alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary as the Central Powers; their realm was dismembered in the aftermath. The victorious powers -- the Allies -- led by Britain and France, redrew the map of what had been the Ottoman "Near East." The land of the Armenians, an ancient people with a religious and ethnic culture distinct from their neighbors, ended up divided between a reconstituted modern Turkey and the emerging Soviet Union in what had been czarist Russia.

A postwar tribunal convicted Ottoman officers of organized mass murder of the Armenian victims, but Turkey allowed these offenders to escape. Many were hunted down and assassinated by Armenian vigilantes in Europe during the 1920s. Meanwhile Turkey denied that there had been a planned and coordinated genocide -- any bad things that Armenians suffered were just accidents of the wider war. Just recently, Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian at Clark University in Worcester, MA, has uncovered a document he insists is the "smoking gun" proving Ottoman intent and execution of the mass killings.

Mr. Akcam’s life’s work has been to puncture, fact by fact, document by document, the denials of Turkey.

“My firm belief as a Turk is that democracy and human rights in Turkey can only be established by facing history and acknowledging historic wrongdoings,” he said.

Today the national arrangements imposed on the region after World War I are collapsing amid religious strife, ethnic contention, local power struggles, and great power meddling. Much as we might instinctively call out Turkish responsibility for the Armenian slaughter, both Europe and the United States have plenty of responsibility for the current catastrophes in Iraq, Syria and beyond. Is the agony to which Syrians, Kurds, Iraqis and others are being subjected that different from what was done 102 years ago to Armenians? American diplomats in the Ottoman empire in 1915 provided much of the intelligence about the slaughter of Armenians that reached the rest of the world. But despite international recoil, and the establishment in war propaganda of "starving Armenians" as a trope of ritual horror, little was done to save individual Armenians. Then, as now, we did not open our arms to desperate refugees fleeing annihilation.

A much reduced nation state of Armenia emerged from the collapse of Soviet Russia in 1990. This map shows the area where Armenians once lived, superimposed on post World War I boundaries. How long will those boundaries endure?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

#MarchforScience: for all generations

When the future of the species and the planet is at stake, you bring the whole family.

And you turn out for future generations.

You know you want to pass on your values.

And you are wise enough to know that no one can escape hard realities.

Kids get it.

Elders -- and that ignorant real estate mogul -- may not quite live to see it, but the oceans are rising and will sink many of his properties. Perhaps he thinks he can order the Defense Department to seize another planet for him?

The small ones will suffer most from current generational short-sightedness.

No one is taking any nonsense here.

This post is part two of my #MarchforScience posts. See also #MarchforScience, part one.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

#MarchforScience snapshots

An awful lot of people think the Great Cheato has proved his hostility to science through executive orders, his public statements, and his appointments to vital agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. And they are determined to let him know that this aggressive ignorance won't do.

Somewhere between 10 and 20 thousand people marched Saturday in San Francisco as one of 600 demonstrations across the globe affirming that "facts matter," no matter what the Trumpites may imagine.

Yes, an astonishing fraction of the marchers were women, as EP noted -- she hasn't been to as many of these resistance events as I have. Women always seem over-represented. Or perhaps we are just turning out in our numbers and these marches look different. Hooray for us!

Black and brown science fans were not over-represented, but neither were they rare at this march. The March for Science appeared far more diverse than the Tax March last Saturday, perhaps because it was also much younger; college science students were well represented. The younger cohort are simply less overwhelmingly white.

Studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) can be a hard route for young women. Affirming one belongs among friends is a joyful experience.

A movement takes all kinds ...

and many cultural and generational expressions.

When people put out the energy to create personal messages for a march, something is happening.

This wouldn't be San Francisco if serious themes weren't interspersed with humor. Marchers had a great day at the March for Science. Thanks to organizers of this significant festival of resistance.

Saturday urban scenery: affirmations of resistance

This San Francisco small business proclaims a bracing, heart-filled message. Like so many of us, the owner apparently thinks the ascension of President Cheato demands action.

A culturally appropriate message for the Mission.

The bakery makes a more general statement.

This one was in downtown Oakland. Jeff Sessions, listen up.

Remarkable and remarked.

And this goes to the heart of the matter.

Here in NorCal, we are not willing to be pushed backward. Building a better, gentler, more equitable community doesn't come easy, but there is no alternative.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Why the March for Science?

Truth Must Prevail
Human activity has always been in some sense an ongoing experiment. Progress is built on these experiments. But our experimentation can sometimes cause large unforeseen problems, and we sometimes find out the hard way. Toxins, radiation, and drug side effects are just a few examples.

Burning fossil fuels turns out to be another example. Subtle, initially invisible, but, as it turns out, extremely consequential. Everybody understands the immediate danger of a poisonous gas such as carbon monoxide, and we have taken steps to control it. Carbon dioxide is a different kind of danger. Carbon monoxide is an immediate and acute threat to human health. Carbon dioxide is a long-term threat to global climate stability.

But the path to understanding and dealing with these threats is fundamentally the same: through science. And so we develop an understanding of pollutants, measure them, and determine what is necessary to minimize the dangers.

This is not rocket science, but it is science. What has happened in the case of CO2, however, is that some very powerful interests don't like the prescription offered by our planetary doctors.

Their response has been to attack not only the message, but also ... the messengers. That's unfortunate for two fundamental reasons. First, it has postponed a rational timely response, which has made the threat all the more dire. Second, by attacking the very process of science itself, they have also confused the mechanisms by which we understand and address any problem. It is akin to attacking and undermining the structure of the English language to the point where communication between people can no longer take place.

This ill-advised mode of response is dangerous for the climate, dangerous for the bedrock practice of science on which our whole technological civilization rests, and dangerous for a fact-based political discourse on which our whole system of democratic government rests.

'Nuff said. More on the marches nationally and locally.

Text via The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles.