Monday, July 31, 2017

Christian whiplash: an "ecumenism of hate" and Republicans meet the nuns

Checking in at the National Catholic Reporter, I was fascinated to see that my Roman Catholic comrades in progressive Christianity were buzzing about an extremely plain spoken article in an Italian Jesuit magazine denouncing an "ecumenism of hate." The practitioners of this hate are U.S. evangelical fundamentalists and extreme conservative Catholics united in our domestic right-wing. Such characters as Steve Bannon are named offenders.

Discerning the significance of this article requires a little Vaticanology (that's like Kreminology or Trump-White-Houseology -- the study of the powers behind particular instituional pronouncements.) NCR commentators insist the authors, editor-in-chief Jesuit Fr. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, an Argentine Presbyterian pastor who leads his country's edition of Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, are close to Pope Francis.

They mince no words; right-wing evangelicals and Catholic "theoconservatives" are leading the Christian faithful in a terrible direction:

The panorama of threats to their understanding of the American way of life have included modernist spirits, the black civil rights movement, the hippy movement, communism, feminist movements and so on. And now in our day there are the migrants and the Muslims. To maintain conflict levels, their biblical exegeses have evolved toward a decontextualized reading of the Old Testament texts about the conquering and defense of the “promised land,” rather than be guided by the incisive look, full of love, of Jesus in the Gospels.

Within this narrative, whatever pushes toward conflict is not off limits. It does not take into account the bond between capital and profits and arms sales. Quite the opposite, often war itself is assimilated to the heroic conquests of the “Lord of Hosts” of Gideon and David. In this Manichaean vision, belligerence can acquire a theological justification and there are pastors who seek a biblical foundation for it, using the scriptural texts out of context. ... There is a sort of “anesthetic” with regard to ecological disasters and problems generated by climate change. They profess “dominionism” and consider ecologists as people who are against the Christian faith. They place their own roots in a literalist understanding of the creation narratives of the book of Genesis that put humanity in a position of “dominion” over creation, while creation remains subject to human will in biblical submission.

... Theirs is a prophetic formula: fight the threats to American Christian values and prepare for the imminent justice of an Armageddon, a final showdown between Good and Evil, between God and Satan. In this sense, every process (be it of peace, dialogue, etc.) collapses before the needs of the end, the final battle against the enemy. And the community of believers (faith) becomes a community of combatants (fight). Such a unidirectional reading of the biblical texts can anesthetize consciences or actively support the most atrocious and dramatic portrayals of a world that is living beyond the frontiers of its own “promised land.”

... Both Evangelical and Catholic Integralists condemn traditional ecumenism and yet promote an ecumenism of conflict that unites them in the nostalgic dream of a theocratic type of state. However, the most dangerous prospect for this strange ecumenism is attributable to its xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations.

The piece goes on to combat the preposterous theological edifice that is the Prosperity Gospel whose promise that seeking riches is godly harmonizes the Christian message so comfortably with our capitalist system. These writers insist:

The theopolitical plan that is truly Christian would be eschatological, that is it applies to the future and orients current history toward the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and peace. This vision generates a process of integration that unfolds with a diplomacy that crowns no one as a “man of Providence.”

... [Pope] Francis radically rejects the idea of activating a Kingdom of God on earth as was at the basis of the Holy Roman Empire and similar political and institutional forms, including at the level of a “party.” ...

This is not the sort of pronouncement we expected from the Vatican before Pope Francis -- there's much here to ponder for all American Christians.
And yet, reading the excited commentary on this article, I was reminded of another approach to the meaning of varieties of Christian belief in U.S. life. This one comes from another segment of the theological spectrum. Fred Clark, the Slactivist, grew up in an evangelical home and worked for years at Evangelicals for Social Action. In the linked post, he explains how his community moved from a (narrow, but historically recognizable) Biblical perspective on the purpose of human activity to believing that their sole imperative most be to accumulate enough power to end legal abortion.

Sixty years ago and 30 years ago, white evangelicals instinctively evaluated every cause or “issue” by weighing it against the paramount concern of proclamation evangelism. Today they seem to demonstrate that same instinct, but it’s no longer proclamation evangelism that they worry may be undermined — it’s opposition to legal abortion. ...

... white evangelicals may be permitted, conditionally, to consider some other, tangential causes — “creation care,” or “racial reconciliation,” or “human trafficking,” or whatever you like — but only to the extent that these things do not distract from the absolute, paramount duty white evangelicals have to support the election of Republicans to every branch and every level of government in the hopes that they will eventually pack the Supreme Court with enough anti-abortion justices to overturn Roe v. Wade.

That’s a starkly blunt way of putting it ... All those other causes, you see, may be laudable and commendable in and of themselves, but they’re all also vaguely liberal-seeming. And it’s dangerous to permit ourselves to have too much sympathy for liberal-ish causes because that might undermine our resolve to vote for the kind of anti-liberals we need to support in order to fulfill our paramount obligation of criminalizing abortion. ...

Clark locates the "ecumenism" involved in alliances between fundies and right-wing Catholics in their shared determination to limit women's control of our bodies. My NCR comrades can't go there, but I can.
In the midst of all this criticism I'm passing on about the political antics of conservative religious groups, I should also celebrate the Roman Catholic religious women who are putting themselves on the line for health care and economic justice. The other night I had the privilege of hearing Sr. Simone Campbell (pictured above with friend Miguel Bustos) speak about the work of the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne reports on the protest these nuns issued against the Republican attempt to kill Obamacare. He rightly admonishes secular progressives not to forget the nuns!

Their plea was a reminder, particularly to more secular liberals, that religious witness in politics is not confined to the political right, that Christianity has long had a lot to say about economic and social inequities, and that pushing prophets inspired by faith out of the public square would be harmful to progressives as well as conservatives.

In speaking out as they did, the socially minded nuns — who do the work of justice and mercy every day in hospitals, clinics, homeless shelters and schools — made clear that depriving millions of Americans of health coverage truly is a moral outrage.

Wherever we come from, we need to make peaceful moral outrage effectual.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Interesting chart

... in view of last week's anti-gay eruption from the Cheato. Was created in order to highlight increasing acceptance of gays by U.S. Muslims (not surprising when the stigmatized groups discover the necessity of cooperation against a common oppressor). But what it really shows is the cultural isolation of fundamentalist white evangelicals.

Via Five Thirty Eight.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saturday scenes and scenery: ancient trees endure

Last week we hiked a short trail through the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of southern California.

These strange gnarled survivors scratch out an existence at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level on slopes of dusty, rocky dolomite, receiving only about 10-12 inches of annual precipitation. They literally grow out of rocks.

What these trees excel at is enduring. The oldest living trees ever identified by scientists are here, some pegged as over 4600 years old.

The rangers call the grove's oldest known specimen "Methusalah."

It is unmarked for its protection, but it continues to survive and even produce viable seeds just like many of its 3,000 and 4,000 year oldl neighbors. Greater adversity grows stronger trees, century after century after century.

...Large tree size does not necessarily indicate older trees ... stunted trees are 3,000-4,000 years old and grow old not in spite of adversity but because of it.

Bristlecones have adapted to be old.

Like human women, bristlecones even endure beyond their reproductive years, serving as necessary habitat for birds and insects that are part of the web that makes the forest possible in this harsh setting.
As much as ever, I felt my own physical aging on the trails last week. Hiking at altitude was difficult; my balance is not what it once was, but trekking poles help; I bruised and punctured myself in a few falls. But enduring still has delights.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Another small victory on a good day for resistance

After a bond hearing in federal immigration court today, Veronica is being released without putting up bail, thanks to a strong showing of community support organized by Faith in Action, many prayers, and the good work of her lawyers from Pangea Legal Services.
In this photo, attorney Luis Angel Reyes-Savalza explains to supporters that such a good outcome almost never happens. Not only will Veronica have the chance to return to her friends, without putting up bond, but the government waived appealing Judge Dana Leigh Marks' ruling.

Veronica is a refugee from El Salvador and a survivor of gang and domestic violence. She escaped death threats from gangs in her native El Salvador. In Mexico, she was taken into captivity, denied food for days, and beaten and humiliated, when she refused to have sex for money. She was rescued by a man who would later become her husband and the father of her three children. However, he and his family eventually became abusive, punching and kicking her when she was pregnant.

Since being put in detention in January, Veronica testified from the immigration jail by video link that she has had four heart attacks.

Veronica has been experiencing headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, sleeplessness and has fainted at least four times in detention. She suffers from a heart condition, and her medications for chest pains do not seem to be working.

ICE [has] refuse[d] to release Veronica so that she can receive proper medical treatment. Dr. Nicholas Nelson from Highland Hospital in Oakland has stated that Veronica’s symptoms “could represent a number of life-threatening medical conditions,” and that “she should be promptly evaluated by a physician trained in the diagnosis and management of heart disease, to exclude a life-threatening illness.”

So today, one victim of U.S. deportation mania at least gets a chance to pursue her asylum claim. People in the Bay continue to build so that many, many more can receive protection from the community.

Resist and protect much.

Our petulant pseudo-monarch takes on the gay

It seems that the Cheato's tweet that he wants transfolk thrown out of the military heralds a full-court press against LGBT equality.

The Veep has been working the House, trying to outlaw use of funds for medical care for transgender service people. The House actually voted down one effort along these lines, with 24 Republicans joining all the Democrats to kill it. But apparently this one is coming back.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department jumped into a New York State lawsuit to argue that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. The particular case may not go well; the injured party has since died, reducing its salience. But there are cogent arguments that may well reveal the absurdity pretending to separate sexual orientation from sex discrimination:

... “it would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation,’ ” as [a] Chicago court put it.

Consider the example of a gay man who’s fired for displaying a photograph of his husband on his desk. Would the employer fire a woman who featured a picture of her husband? The only difference between the two situations is the sex of the employees.

Still, the generals have pointed out that a tweet is not a legal order and the military should be continue to “treat all personnel with respect.” But if this nest of incompetents in the White House manages to write a legal order, they'll follow orders, of course. Litigation with follow though the courts have been deferential in allowing the military to discriminate against disfavored classes of citizens.

Lots of pundits have suggested that Cheato and the GOPers have rolled out their anti-gay policies this week to try to distract from the shitshow that is Senate healthcare repeal and from the ever widening scandal over Trump's bro-mance with Russia's Putin. The pundits are probably right. What could be more satisfying to the 25 percent of the Republican base who are real haters of human diversity than some hits against the gays?

But I'm willing to bet confidently that this is a desperation play that will backfire on the bigots. When the lens of national sympathy moves from the Midwestern white former industrial worker who fell into opioid abuse to assaults against law abiding gay couples and patriotic service people, Republicans lose every time.

When the culture wars take center stage, the country recoils from intolerance and sheer meanness. As a 70 year old dyke, few are as surprised by this as I am. I remember when we were simply "perverts," "inverts," "pansies," -- certainly not part of the body politic or even common humanity. Those days are over. We're here; we're queer; and we are not going to disappear. And most of our fellow citizens know this. They may wish we were a little less visible and so a little less disconcerting, but they are over contesting our humanity. It's the haters who want to re-stigmatize us who come out looking small.

This is not just bluster. A national election that went sour isn't going to derail our progress toward full citizenship. At the same time that North Carolina voted for Donald Trump in 2016, it replaced a Republican governor whose claim to fame was promoting an anti-trans "bathroom bill." This crap has limits and against all odds, the culture is spitting out the remnants of anti-gay hate. There will be casualties, but LGBT equality is winning. (Now if only the same could be said for the struggles of women to control our bodies and of people of color to be free of state violence ... not mention the women of color who still bear the worst multiple of all this hate.)
If the Cheato is going to take on our community, as far as I'm concerned he makes himself fair game for commentary on his own peculiar gender presentation. Look at this guy. I'm sure he thinks he's acting the tough dude, but what I see is a handwaving prissy queen. Check the pursed lips; the dyed hair implants. He's an out-of-shape frightened clown, not the manly man he wishes he were. No wonder he buys bimbos. The Marlboro Man would wipe the floor with this wimp -- if the Marlboro Man hadn't died of the cancer sticks he sold along with machismo. So it goes.

Friday cat blogging

I see you. That goes both ways.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Who knew there used to be a vaccine for Lyme disease?

Since every summer I worry about contracting tick-borne Lyme disease, I found this article from the New Scientist beyond interesting. Apparently all over the U.S. and much of Central Europe, global warming is leading to bumper crops of fallen acorns that provide food for a bumper crop of mice which in turn lead to an explosion of tick nymphs which then feed on human passersby. Only the humans suffer from infection by the Lyme bacteria. The mice and the ticks are just going about their business.

Once limited in geographical spread, Lyme disease has escaped New England and is becoming endemic in wide areas.

Back in 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a human vaccine to prevent infection by the Lyme bacteria. But that was the era when misplaced fears about the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine fed an unfounded panic. The drug company withdrew the Lyme vaccine rather than fight passionate opponents. Nevertheless,

when the FDA reviewed the vaccine’s adverse event reports in a retrospective study, they found only 905 reports for 1.4 million doses. Still, the damage was done, and the vaccine was benched.

Fear trumped science in this case.

There's another, wider spectrum, vaccine under development now, but it won't complete testing for another six years. So watch out for those ticks, everywhere.

H/t to Kevin Drum for pointing to the New Scientist article.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Unlikely professionalisms

When I wrote about Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, I knew and feared that I'd have to come back to his insights. After a few days respite on the trails followed by re-immersion in the news cycle, one of his points leaps to the fore.

5. Remember professional ethics. When political leaders set a negative example, professional commitments to just practice become more important. It is hard to subvert a rule-of-law state without lawyers, or to hold show trials without judges. Authoritarians need obedient civil servants, and concentration camp directors seek businessmen interested in cheap labor.

... If [under the Nazis] lawyers had followed the norm of no execution without trial, if doctors had accepted the rule of no surgery without consent, if businessmen had endorsed the prohibition of slavery, if bureaucrats had refused to handle paperwork involving murder, then the Nazi regime would have been much harder pressed to carry out the atrocities by which we remember it.

Professions can create forms of ethical conversation that are impossible between a lonely individual and a distant government. If members of professions think of themselves as groups with common interests, with norms and rules that oblige them at all times, then they can gain confidence and indeed a certain kind of power. Professional ethics must guide us precisely when we are told that the situation is exceptional. Then there is no such thing as “just following orders.” ...

The Cheato, his flunkies, and too much of the Republican Party are trying to break or sully the professional ethics of the people who do the work of government.
  • The experienced and broadly respected former government lawyer Jack Goldsmith has imagined how responsible legal professionals inside the DOJ might act under the man he calls a "Kamikaze president."

    ... the only thing for the men and women of the Justice Department to do is to keep doing their jobs well until they get fired.  That is the way to serve the American people in upholding the rule of law in the face of a president bent on trying to destroy it.  It is a remarkable fact that despite Trump’s relentless attacks on DOJ independence, DOJ continues to function with extraordinary independence, which every single Trump DOJ nominee has underscored before the Senate and—with the possible exception of Rosenstein’s shenanigans with the Comey firing—in practice.  The President can fire [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions and [Assistant AG Rod] Rosenstein and [Acting FBI Director Andrew] McCabe if he likes, but he cannot fire everyone, and he cannot stop an investigation that now has a relentless logic that is only reinforced every time he attacks DOJ independence.  In this regard, Trump’s unhinged tweets display weakness, not strength.

    Professional ethics (and professional inertia) have a species of power here. Many of us may not instinctively look to the government legal establishment for protection from a rogue government, but we should applaud this kind of professionalism if we see it.
  • There are even less likely contexts in which people with professional ethics find themselves mired in the raw viciousness of the Trump white supremacist regime. Who knew there have been Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers who wanted to play by the rules? -- and who are disquieted when the rules are torn up in favor of brute bigotry? New Yorker journalist Jonathan Blitzer cultivated a conversation with an ICE agent who has become willing to express his horror at what the "deportation force" is becoming under untrammeled racist leadership.

    We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order—that’s out the window,” the agent told me the other day. “I don’t know that there’s that appreciation of the entire realm of what we’re doing. It’s not just the person we’re removing. It’s their entire family. People say, ‘Well, they put themselves in this position because they came illegally.’ I totally understand that. But you have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.”

    ... the agent sees long-standing standards being discarded and basic protocols questioned. “I have officers who are more likely now to push back,” the agent said. “I’d never have someone say, ‘Why do I have to call an interpreter? Why don’t they speak English?’ Now I get it frequently. I get this from people who are younger. That’s one group. And I also get it from people who are ethnocentric: ‘Our way is the right way—I shouldn’t have to speak in your language. This is America.’ ” It all adds up, the agent said, “to contempt that I’ve never seen so rampant towards the aliens.”

    ... Before this year, the agent had never spoken to the media. “I have a couple of colleagues that I can kind of talk to, but not many,” the agent said. “This has been a difficult year for many of us.” These people, not just at ICE but also at other federal agencies tasked with enforcing the nation’s immigration laws, are “trying to figure out how to minimize the damage.” It isn’t clear what, exactly, they can do under the circumstances. ...

    The rest of us need them to do all they can; we need to be ready to defend these unlikely allies if we must.
  • And then there are the "lawmakers," those rather pathetic GOPers who seem willing out of tribal loyalty to pass healthcare policies that will harm millions, notably including their own constituents, without apparently feeling any professional responsibility to make their country work. The enormity of their dereliction of duty seems unfathomable. Haven't they any professional pride? Will they ever remember that with power comes responsibility? The Cheato clearly hasn't a glimmer of this; why would he, he's merely a rapacious looter. But professional pols might be expected show some measure of responsibility for what they do to us.

    It seems worth noting that, at least for the moment, Democratic lawmakers are indeed managing unity against GOPer measures, carrying out their professional responsibility to do their best for constituents and country. This was never a sure thing. We should thank them when they do right, at the same time we let them know we're watching them.
It's going to take all kinds if the country is going to emerge from this ugly pass intact. Resistance includes finding allies in unlikely places.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The hills are still there ... and so are the National Parks

... and so for the moment is this gem. Until August 28, citizens and residents older than 62 can purchase this lifetime pass providing free admission to the parks (and national forests and some other federal land agencies) for a mere $10. It is good for you and anyone with you for as long as you don't lose it, for the rest of your life if you can manage that! The minuscule price has been the same since 1994 but is going up to $80 for the same lifetime benefits at the end of the next month.

This is a pre-Trump price increase by the way. Congress, in its wisdom, decided on the price hike in the last session of 2016.

What struck me as we drove in and out of Yosemite and Inyo National Forest waving our passes was the response of the rangers. "Thank you! Thank you! Enjoy the park!"

My instinctive reaction was that we should be thanking them, rather than the other way around. But obviously some one has trained them in the political implications of making the cheap passes available to elders. Who votes in this country? Overwhelmingly, it is old people. Over 70 percent of eligible people over 60 turned out last November. The parks need defenders and supporters who vote. The Senior Pass helps build the support base for America's Best Idea.

Get one when you can. It will still be a good deal when the price goes up, but it is a phenomenal perk right now.

Heading for the hills

Heading to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada near Mono Lake for a week. This jaunt was supposed to go to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, but the winter's rains have drowned facilities there. The picture dates from another wet year -- 2010 -- but I expect far more snow and mud this time.

Any blog posts this week will be single photos; I'm experimenting with rudimentary posting from an iPad Mini.

Try not to let the Cheato and his GOPer enablers do anything too awful while we're restoring our souls. Tend your soul; resist and protect much.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Southern Sierra Nevada range

From high in the White Mountains overlooking Owens Valley. Now that is daunting. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Lundy Canyon

I usually think of the eastern slope of the Sierras as dry, hot high desert. But after last winter's rains, persistent run off from the snow pack has made for a spring that still lingers. 

This sometimes barren land could hardly be more lush. 

The forest services says there are big horn sheep in these hills. But they chose not to show themselves. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cathedral Peak

In Tuolumne Meadows and along Route 120, smoke hangs heavy from the fire at Mariposa. 

But at 10000 feet, Cathedral Lake sparkles. 

Friday cat blogging

We may be out gallivanting about, but it's good to know that Morty is home surveying the world from his tower. See you soon, buddy.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

What we ought to expect from health insurance

Almost all health care stories these days seem to be about either how millions of people are about to have access to care ripped away from them by the GOPer Senate or how the U.S. medical system is inaccessible, impersonal and balky. I had a happy medical experience today that seems to me to exemplify what we ought to be able to expect from medical providers.

People who read here probably have noticed that I've just spent 10 days on Martha's Vineyard island off Massachusetts. Cape Cod and environs are having what may be the worst tick season ever. The little buggers are not only ugly, their bites also spread Lyme and several other nasty infections. And much to my horror, I discovered Saturday night that I'd brought a deer tick home on the plane with me, embedded in my armpit.

Emergency time!

If I'd still been on the island, I knew what I would do: pull out the tick carefully, rush to the walk-in clinic, explain, and pick up a dose of the antibiotic doxycycline. That's the standard protocol and docs hand out the drug daily to a parade of visitors. If those who have been bitten get treatment within 72 hours, most avoid tick disease.

But now I'm in northern California where I have my health insurance through Kaiser Permanente. Would this system recognize the prophylactic protocol which is standard in Massachusetts? Would they give me a dose of an antibiotic on the basis of my claim to have pulled out a tick? About a decade ago, I went to Kaiser in somewhat similar circumstances and the docs didn't act as if my having a bite and nasty rash was worth attending to. Tick bites just weren't part of their world in those days.

But today, my experience could not have been more smooth and efficient. I called the advice line at 6:30am on a Sunday morning and explained about the tick and that I wanted an antibiotic. I was passed to the outpatient clinic for an appointment within a few hours. The doctor on duty listened and agreed that I should be treated ASAP. He didn't know the dosage because the need for tick prophylaxis doesn't walk in every day, but did some quick research and returned with a prescription. This was filled in the same building within 15 minutes. Less than an hour after walking in, I'd taken my drugs and -- I hope -- killed off any Lyme in my body.

This is how a medical system is supposed to work. Kaiser is an HMO, a self-contained medical facility whose doctors and ancillary staff work on salary with in-house computerized medical records, labs, and pharmacies. Instead of getting paid for doing ever more things to those of us in their system, Kaiser gets paid for keeping us healthy. They make their money when their insureds don't get or stay sick. That is, their incentives are aligned with mine as the patient. Sure, the system is big and sometimes requires a little persistence to get the process of being seen started (not today though!) but mostly Kaiser works.

Why can't all the health care system work like this? Docs, especially specialists, might not make quite the same enormous salaries, but most everyone else would be happier. This is what being insured ought to mean. Medicine can't cure everything, but the experience of being a patient shouldn't add to the misery of being ill. This can be done and we should demand it.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

An exceptional nation

My post on what happens when the United States chooses to withdraw its bulky, often imperious, weight from the world order ignited some discussion among friends on Facebook.

I thought it might be a useful followup to publish this catalogue of 20th century "American exceptionalism" from J.J. Goldberg, written in response to the Cheato's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. The history of our evasion and circumvention when it comes to international agreements is long.

... numerous commentators were suggesting that America has put itself in unfamiliar and unseemly company [with Nicaragua and North Korea as climate deal refuseniks].

But that suggestion underestimates the depth of America’s exceptionalism. After all, the Paris withdrawal isn’t the first time we’ve joined forces with unsavory outliers to defy a global consensus. Lest we forget, we are one of just three nations that have refused to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, alongside Somalia and South Sudan. In case you’re wondering, this is primarily due to opposition from America’s religious right who object to the treaty’s language criticizing corporal punishment.

There’s more: We’re one of just four nations, together with Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea, that don’t promise paid maternity leave to mothers of newborns. We’re one of seven nations that have refused to ratify the U.N. Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, alongside Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga, Palau and the Vatican. We’re one of 13 nations that reject the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, together with Iran, North Korea, Libya, El Salvador and a few others, including landlocked Afghanistan and Rwanda.

Still more: It took us fully 40 years to overcome Republican opposition in the Senate and join the civilized world in ratifying the U.N. Genocide Convention of 1948. We rank seventh in the world in executions of prisoners, trailing China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt, but outstripping Somalia, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

We’ve refused for decades to ratify the landmark U.N. Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which translates the historic 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights into legal standards. Our objection is mainly to the convention’s definition of fundamental human rights as including, among others, “a decent living,” “adequate food, clothing and housing” and the right to form and join unions.

And, of course, we’re the only advanced industrial economy that doesn’t guarantee universal health coverage as a right.

Goldberg reached a tough conclusion:

Scholars and observers worldwide used to call us the indispensable nation. From now on they’ll be calling us the indefensible nation. We are indeed an exception.

The world is about to see where it goes without us.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vineyard abundance

So many blooms ...

So much greenery ...

So many goats ...

Friday, July 14, 2017

There's a whole lot of smoke in this story

Not so surprisingly, Veep Mike has been trying to distance himself from the Cheato's sleaze. Good luck with that.

Besides, the guy is no prize himself. Here's the smoke he was peddling when he ran for Congress in 2001.

Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn't kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you.... news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit. The relevant question is, what is more harmful to the nation, second hand smoke or back handed big government disguised in do-gooder healthcare rhetoric.

Carrying water for the tobacco industry was good business for Pence:

Over his career, Pence received $39,000 in donations from RJ Reynolds, a Reynolds American subsidiary, and more than $60,000 from the tobacco-company-aligned National Association of Convenience Stores, both among his top donors. Pence owned up to $250,000 in stock in a family business, a chain of 210 convenience stores doing business as “Tobacco Road”.

That last enterprise eventually failed as smoking declined under federal pressure.

It turns out the whole Trump criminal enterprise is in bed with the tobacco industry. The Guardian has the story.

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes you don't want to show all of yourself to a passerby with a camera.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"What happens when the United States becomes irrelevant?"

Before we completely forget, amidst the rank fumes of scandal emanating from his doofus son, the Cheato impersonating a president met world leaders in Europe last week. A few observations. Fred Kaplan summed up at Slate:
Trump clearly displayed that, unlike all other American presidents since the end of World War II, he has no interest in being the leader of the Western world.
For someone like me, who has spent a lifetime inveighing against the cruelties of U.S. empire -- whether in southeast Asia, Latin America, or the greater Middle East -- that should be a mind-boggling moment. And it is is. It's been obvious as U.S. wars increasingly proved merely futile and inconclusive -- as well as murderous for populations in their path -- that empire was on the wane.

In Donald Trump we seem to be seeing an end. Given the source, it is hard to be as happy about this as I might be otherwise. Or as confident as I might be that the consequences will be an improvement.

But when an international order fades, what comes next? On Deep State Radio, Episode 11 Rosa Brooks posed the question she found implicit in the G20 meetings: "what happens when the United States becomes irrelevant?"

I've created a sort of abbreviated semi-transcript of Kori Schake's answer here (go listen to it all for the full flavor):
There seem to be three paths ...

1) The U.S. might become marginal to the advance of progress -- that would be the validation of the international order America built since World War II. That order -- free trade and institution-based rule of law -- would be perpetuated beyond our leadership ...

2) We might see greater entropy, leading to fraying of that order around the edges. The U.S. doesn't notice the fraying much, because we have such a wide margin of error, but other countries we care about start to get sucked down the drain of this entropy -- leading to regression from democracy and toward autocracy.

3) The world sees the rise of new and different rule-giver -- whether consensually (meaning Merkel and the E.U.) or forcefully (meaning China, Iran, or Russia)
The Deep State folks are far more sure than I can be that U.S. hegemony has been on balance a good, but they name the reality in front of our faces. We're likely to be occupied with events at home (and enjoying that margin of error) for some seasons, but this pivotal moment should be noted.

I vote for Merkel, but as usual when it comes to who is head empire, most of us don't get a vote.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A farce, a tragedy, and possibly some crimes

For today, a summer cold has knocked me flat, so I'll outsource reaction to Trump and the Russians to Ezra Klein.

And so we are faced with a crisis that leaves vast swaths of American politics stained. The election is tainted. The White House is tainted. Our foreign policy is tainted. If impeachment seems impossible, it is only because we believe that Republicans in Congress would sooner protect a criminal administration than risk their legislative agenda to uphold the rule of law — which is all to say, Congress is tainted, too.

The actors in this drama are often comic, pathetic, and incompetent. But the damage they have done, and are doing, is almost beyond imagining. As often as this looks like farce, we should not forget it’s a tragedy.

As usual, the victims will be those most vulnerable.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Carol Anderson will not be deterred from calling out bullshit

The hard reality is seldom laid out more bluntly than in this Guardian oped.

Then there is Trump. He has no desire or intention to govern. He wants to rule. Where his word is our command. That’s why he admires the regimes in the Philippines, Russia and Turkey – and despises administrations such as Angela Merkel’s and Justin Trudeau’s. That is why he stages rallies where he is showered with adoration by hand-picked fans and, just as significantly, why he abhors town halls and press conferences. 

That is why he issues pronouncements and executive orders rather than provides any real leadership on developing legislation and policies. That is why he demands loyalty to him – not to the US constitution. That is why he rails against a free press calling the media “fake news” and “garbage journalism” because he can’t control its content. That is why he is contemptuous of science and scientists because it and they will not bend to his ignorance. That is why his first full Cabinet meeting was a scene straight out of Pyongyang and not Washington.

Anderson is an historian, a student of social movements, and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University. Her 2016 book, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide does for U.S. history what the paragraphs above do in relation to the Trump presidency: it cuts through bullshit to deliver what our past looks like from an unvarnished Black perspective. White people respond to black protests against injustices like police killings of unarmed Black men by calling out "black rage." Anderson insists that the driver of our history is "white rage."

Hence her title and central concept:

With so much attention focused on the flames, everyone had ignored the logs, the kindling. In some ways, it is easy to see why. White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. ...

The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people, that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship. It is blackness that refuses to accept subjugation, to give up. ...

And all the while, white rage manages to maintain not only the upper hand, but also, apparently, the moral high ground. ...

White rage maintains itself by systematically distorting and erasing our history.

The truth is that enslaved African Americans plotted and worked -- hard -- with some even fighting in the Union army for their freedom and citizenship. ...

The truth is that when World War I provided the opportunity in the North for blacks to get jobs with unheard-of pay scales and, better yet, the chance for their children to finally have good schools, African Americans fled the oppressive conditions in the South. ...

The truth is that opposition to black advancement is not just a Southern phenomenon. ...

The truth is that when the Brown v. Board of Education decision came down in 1954 and black children finally had a chance at a decent education, white authorities didn't see children striving for quality schools and an opportunity to contribute to society; they saw only a threat and act accordingly, shutting down schools ...

The truth is that the hard-fought victories of the Civil Rights Movement caused a reaction that stripped Brown of its power, severed the jugular of the Voting Rights Act, closed off access to higher education, poured crack cocaine into the inner cities, and locked up more black men proportionally than even apartheid-era South Africa.

The truth is that, despite all this, a black man was elected president of the United States ... Perhaps not surprisingly, voting rights were severely curtailed, the federal government shut down, and more than once the Office of the President was shockingly, openly, and publicly, disrespected by other elected officials. ...

I have no doubt that if Anderson had been writing after the 2016 election, she'd attribute Donald Trump's victory to this same white rage. Even Van Jones, always so careful not to push white folks' buttons, blurted it out on election night: "This was a white lash."

The book explores each of the historical truths she enumerated in this catalogue and the result is solid, essentially incontrovertible, history. We don't all know these facts. If we are ever to do any better, we need to.

And Anderson does not despair of a way forward; she keeps the faith with her forebears who have struggled against the shackles forged by white rage throughout the history she recounts.

The Land of Opportunities did not have to be the Land of Missed Opportunities. We, as a nation, have a choice. ...It is time to defuse the power of white rage. ... Visionaries, activists, judges and politicians before us saw what America could be and fought hard for that kind of nation. ...This is when we choose a different future.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dueling headlines: which is correct?

In the New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi describes the increasing successes of electrical power company lobbyists with support from Republican Rick Perry's federal Energy Department at throttling the growth of solar power. They've been getting some wins:

... a concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities [has] been working in state capitals across the country to reverse incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

... “There’s no doubt these utilities are out to kill rooftop solar, and they’re succeeding,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group. “They’re now driving the agenda.”

But at Vox, David Roberts explains that utilities which are failing to adapt to the availability of decentralized solar power are merely hastening their own demise. Nobody is better at explaining energy economics to lay readers:

When a customer installs solar panels, it hurts the utility in two ways.

One, it reduces demand for utility power. Utilities generally don’t want lower demand. To justify building stuff, they need to be able to project higher demand.

Two, the more solar customers reduce their utility bills by generating their own power, the more utilities have to charge other, non-solar customers more, to cover their costs-plus-returns. This pisses the other customers off. And it incentivizes them to install solar themselves!

Utilities are terrified of the “death spiral” that could ensue as more customers are driven to generate their own power. ...

But Roberts explores a McKinsey survey that seems to prove that ready availability of large capacity, cheap batteries will soon change the power business in ways that will overwhelm utility lobbying.

... batteries allow customers to circumvent utilities’ two primary tools for slowing the spread of solar.

If utilities alter rate structures to reflect time of day and location (as they should!), batteries allow solar customers to arbitrage, storing power when it is cheap, selling it back to the grid when it’s worth more.

If utilities reduce the amount they pay for rooftop solar-generated power, batteries allow customers to increase their “self-consumption” — that is, to consume more of the solar power they generate, by storing it and spreading it out across the day. McKinsey calls this “partial grid defection, in which customers choose to stay connected to the grid in order to have access to 24/7 reliability, but generate 80 to 90 percent of their own energy and use storage to optimize their solar for their own consumption.”

That’s a nightmare for utilities: customers who use their grid but pay them nothing for it, forcing them to charge other customers more.

... According to McKinsey’s projections, partial grid defection will become economic — will outperform grid power — around 2020. That’s not very far away. Nor, in terms of the time horizons of utility investments, is 2030, when full grid defection will become a live option.

Lobbying to throttle innovation can hamper progress toward solar adoption for awhile, but most likely the utility dinosaurs are done for if they can't figure out how to change:

... What McKinsey does make clear is that for power utilities, unlike for so many other decrepit American institutions, simply clinging to the status quo is not an option. Rooftop solar can be staved off temporarily with fees and rate tweaks, but as batteries get cheaper, those strategies will stop working. More and customers are going to generate, store, and manage more and more of their own power.

Utilities have got to find other ways to make money, other services to provide, other roles to play in the power system of the future. They have no other choice.

I'd bet on Roberts' understanding of the future; he's been right about energy for a long time.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Reality through a mirror, darkly

Brooke Gladstone, co-host of the On the Media radio show and podcast, was just as gobsmacked as any of us by the Cheato's electoral victory in November. She wanted to delve into what made such a perverse result possible -- so she spent the first few months of 2017 writing a small book (or longish essay), The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time.

If you are an OTM listener (and you should be), you can almost hear Gladstone declaiming her disgust, her puzzlement (she's good at puzzlement) and her erudition in these slight pages. In this book she does not tackle the almost over-covered alienation of older, poor white America from our democracy; she was well versed in that horror story through a series on entrenched rural poverty she broadcast in the months before the election. Rather, she wants to know what it is about us as human animals in society that makes us marks for a demagogic con man. She essentially concludes, after a quick tour through the insights of such pop social science luminaries as George Layoff and Drew Westen, that just about all of us are natural suckers, at least some of the time.

Michael Signer, author of Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies wrote that true demagogues must meet four criteria ...: They must pose as a mirror for the masses; ignite waves of intense emotion; use that emotion for political gain; and break the rules that govern us. Enter Donald Trump, gasbag billionaire, reality-TV hotshot, invincible ratings rocket. Stressed by shrunken audiences and revenue, the media are willing marks for a candidate their own pundits variously describe as a “carnival barker,” a “crackpot,” “the biggest goofball ever to enter the Oval Office Sweepstakes,” and a “tire fire in an expensive suit.”

... Trump’s mirror did not present a pretty picture, but to those who saw themselves reflected there, it offered the deep relief of validation. It was a mirror reflecting loss, righteous anger, and future redemption.

... Trump’s rhetoric underscored what his supporters already believed: that the politicians, professors, scientists, and coastal elites who wept great salt tears over immigrants and minorities didn’t care about, didn’t see, the coming catastrophe.

Trump saw....

Since Gladstone's beat is the media, she is hard on her own profession: economic incentives made (and make) Trump the most efficacious, profitable click bait to come along since the digital revolution; how could the media resist giving him a dominating podium from which to perform his lying show? Media have to make money, even if parts of these outlets also aspire to professional journalistic credibility.

Gladstone observes:

... The sheer abundance of lies demonstrates, again and again, that facts are disposable, confusing devices that do not serve you, that do not matter. ... This fantastical world of unkillable lies and impotent truths arose because much of the country had accepted Trump’s deal: Believe what he says, or don’t and assume with a wink and a nod that you are in on the joke.

... As of this writing, ... investigations may well prove the most effective weapon; but for Trump, who reflexively attacks any democratic institution that criticizes or constrains him, the leaks are more infuriating. They threaten his most crucial power source: public opinion. Lose that, and he deflates faster than a balloon in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So he dominates the ether to ensure that thorny facts find no purchase there. And if he can neutralize one institution in particular, an institution that is not an institution, the rest of the resistance can probably be managed.

Clearly, the press is vulnerable. ...

Interestingly, to me, this essay is surprisingly hopeful that we needn't be mired in the current slough of deceit and despond forever.

American history is pocked with ferment, battles, and brawls over what is true. But at this moment, the nation seems to be waging civil war over reality itself. It is thrilling to watch, and tough to sit out, because the stakes are so high. But how will it end? [The German emigre philosopher of the 20th century Hannah] Arendt suggests that demagogues have a fatal vulnerability: “The deceivers started with self-deception.” ...

During the Bush II regime, our imperial dreamers insisted, when we act, we create our own reality ... They acted, they invaded Iraq because they wanted to, and reality has been biting us, and even more the peoples of the Greater Middle East, ever since. People eventually notice when they keep painfully stubbing their toes! But turning the ship of state is hard work as a president elected to do just that found out.

Gladstone wants us to avoid facile confidence that truth wins out. We all have to train ourselves to get better at discerning reality among emotional and intellectual prompts from both foes and friends.

Meaningful action is a time-tested treatment for moral panic. …But activism alone does not address the bigger issue, the focus of this tract. You cannot march to a long-term solution to your reality problem with a cadre of like-minded allies. That is a solitary journey, and it never ends. You have to travel out of your universe into the universe of others, and leave your old map at home. ...

... Personally, I wouldn’t blame you, whatever you choose to do or not do. It is possible that, after just a few bad years, all this horror, the terrible mystery of it, will slowly sink beneath our carefully curated horizons from whence it came. But we can’t simply retreat back into our own realities after what we’ve seen.

Though we are quite adept at not seeing, unseeing is an altogether different matter. We experienced reality crash. Now our reality is going to need some tweaking.

Facts are real and will reassert themselves eventually. In order to repair our reality, we need more of them, from people and places we do not see.

Gladstone's essay reminds me that I should do an update on my perennial subject: media consumption diet. Since the Trump election, like many others, I've become more willing to pay for online news sources, adding subscriptions to the Washington Post and the Guardian to my usual menu. Will this omnivorous media consumption endure? I don't know. For the moment, I can afford it. There's more to read than I choose to consume daily.

Friday, July 07, 2017

On Martha's Vineyard: Rebecca of Africa and William Martin

When I visit Martha's Vineyard island off Massachusetts, my trail runs often take me by the plaque commemorating the life of Rebecca, Woman of Africa. The marker is nestled well into the woods on the way to Vineyard Sound near Great Rock Bight Preserve.

The island African American Heritage Trail's description of what is known about Rebecca's life includes that she was abducted from Guinea, West Africa and lived out much of her life as the "the property of Cornelius Bassett of Chilmark [MA]." She bore three children while enslaved, Pero, Cato and Nancy. Available records don't seem to tell who the father(s) were. They were sold away by Colonel Bassett. At one stage Rebecca lived with a native American man, Elisha Amos, to whom she was recorded as married, although she also lived at the Bassett property. When she died in 1801, the town recorded that she owned a plot of land near the present preserve.

The institution of enslavement in New England seems to have been ambivalent. It certainly existed on Martha’s Vineyard as it did elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There is evidence to suggest that Rebecca was “allowed” to have some freedom as witnessed by the relationship between her and Elisha Amos, and under Massachusetts law she was entitled to inherit property. The property she inherited from Elisha Amos was for her lifetime only, but the stipulations of the will suggest that Mr. Amos did believe that Rebecca could live in his dwelling house.

Rebecca's great grandson was William Martin, the island's only African American whaling captain.

A young William Martin was known in town because of the dubious behavior of his mother and grandmother.

“They would have known him. He did go to school in Edgartown and became a skilled writer,” Weintraub said. “In those days, there were classes for girls on how to sew sails and for boys on maritime navigation.”

Martin was accepted early on in the community because of his natural abilities on the ocean and his writing skills.

“You see, Edgartown then wasn’t the Edgartown of today,” she said. “It was a raucous town of sailors from all over the country and Europe.”

After Martin began finding some early success in the maritime industry as a ship’s log keeper, he also found love. An American Indian woman named Sarah Brown caught his eye. She had been a live-in maid in Edgartown.

In 1857, Martin returned from a successful voyage aboard the Edgartown vessel Europa and he and Sarah married. Between voyages, Martin lived with Sarah and her family on Chappaquiddick on land designated for American Indians called the Chappaquiddick Plantation.

... “He walked between two worlds really,” Weintraub said. “It was a balancing act. Both Sarah and William Martin would work and live for sometime away from home on Chappaquiddick. He would be on voyages and she would work for families in Edgartown.”

Martin died in 1907 and is little remembered today.

On this island where celebrities and tech moguls buy boutique farms and build McMansions amid the greenery, it's good to be able to learn that African Americans and natives have been part of island life as long as Europeans.

Senators should question Wray about immigrant detentions

The Cheato's replacement FBI director, Christopher Wray, will get a Senate hearing on July 12. Wray has been called a "safe, mainstream pick" by the mainstream media.

But there's a piece of his career that many of us concerned about the administration's cavalier attitude toward due process rights for immigrants ought to be aware of -- and to push our Senators to explore in the hearing.

An article in the Daily Beast explained:

On September 11, 2001, Wray was working in the Deputy Attorney General’s office in downtown Washington D.C. After the attacks, government lawyers rushed to find what steps they could take to try to forestall any other potential attacks. One of the most controversial moves was by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (a now-defunct agency whose responsibilities were passed on to the Department of Homeland Security). The INS detained more than 700 people who the FBI suspected could have been linked to the 9/11 attacks. According to the watchdog report, issued by the Justice Department’s inspector general in April 2003, almost all were men, mostly from Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, India, and Yemen. They had all committed some sort of immigration violation, either staying longer than their visas allowed or entering the U.S. illegally.

That report noted that if those men had been arrested just because of the immigration violations, they either wouldn’t have been detained at all or would have been put in immigrant detention centers with access to visitors and attorneys. Instead, though, they were put in maximum security prisons and, at first, couldn’t communicate with their family or lawyers. It was a “communications blackout,” according to the report. The detainees’ families and lawyers didn’t know where they were or why they had been locked up.

And that’s how Wray wanted it.

The director of the Bureau of Prisons, Kathy Hawk Sawyer, told investigators that Wray and his colleagues directed her to restrict the detainees’ communication as much as was legal. ... Officials with the Bureau of Prisons told the inspector general that they did let detainees send mail so their families could know where they were being held. But the investigators wrote in the report that they had reason to believe that wasn’t true.

Some of the detainees were held in such secure conditions that prison officials didn’t even know they were there. Three attorneys went to the prisons where their clients were held, only to be told by staff that their clients weren’t there––because the staff truly believed they weren’t, as a result of blackout that Wray backed.

Post-911 incommunicado detentions of immigrants who might ordinarily have been only briefly arrested both reflected and enhanced the atmosphere of unreasoning terror that the Bush government fostered in that sad moment. The government's own report describes cruel, lawless, and sloppy procedure throughout he episode.

The federal detentions Wray supervised were not as bad as the literally tortuous detentions of hundreds of mostly Pakistani men (none of whom were ever connected to the 9/11 attacks) carried out by New York authorities. But Wray's work was not blameless either; should we ever choose to let go of unreasoning fear, this episode will be something to apologize for.

The ACLU is asking Senators to question Wray about his involvement to Bush-era legal shenanigans that led to their engaging in torture. Senators should also inquire about how Wray might faithfully carry out the law toward immigrants and Muslims in his proposed postion.