Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Democratic debate wisdom

In this week of what we all hope will be the last of the oversize Democratic debates (most of these people not pictured here need to quit, NOW!), this smart admonition seems on point:
Mr. Schatz, a senator from Hawaii, has distinguished himself among his peers by not running for president.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Justice foully delayed -- but not denied forever

This case always stunk to high heaven. But Hamid Hayat had to serve 13 years in prison because the federal government and too many of his California neighbors were scared stupid after the 9/11 attacks.

A father and son, immigrant Pakistani agricultural workers from Lodi, visited their old country in 2003-2005. The federal government, desperate to find secret Muslim terrorists in our midst, accused both men on their return of having received military training. I described the case this way in May, 2006 and nothing that has come out since shows U.S. law enforcement as other than ignorant and racist.

Hayat "confessed" under FBI interrogation, after much prompting, saying that he had been to a terrorist camp in Pakistan. This "evidence" might seem more convincing if his father had not also "confessed" under interrogation that his son had attended a terrorist camp -- at a completely different location where "the training, including firearms practice, took place in an enormous, deep basement where trainees masked like 'Ninja turtles' practiced pole-vaults and executions with scimitars."

Unfortunately for Hamid Hayat, his jury never heard this version as his father was tried separately under a completely different theory about the location of the putative camp. The father's jury was unable to agree on a verdict.

Okay -- I wasn't there at this trial, I didn't hear it all -- but this case sure sounds like a prosecution for the thought crime of stupidly fantasizing about being an Islamic warrior. Dumb, yes -- but criminal? Not in my book. The evidence that this guy did anything but harbor silly ideas seems awfully thin.

With better attorneys and in different times, Hayat's defenders have never given up.

And now a federal judge has thrown the case she once presided over out of court. The government could appeal, but their "evidence" has been effectively rebutted by witnesses in Pakistan who saw both father and son every day of their visit.

Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also applauded the decision.

“After all these years, we never lost hope that Hamid’s wrongful conviction would be overturned,” Elkarra said. “At the time of Hamid’s case, the prosecution took advantage of anti-Muslim, post-9/11 bias to convict an innocent man. And this much-needed good news comes at a time when Islamophobia and bigotry as a whole is on the rise.”

Sanctuary laws don't enforce themselves

Friends, neighbors, and supporters gathered outside city hall in Daly City on Monday to file a complaint against the suburb's police department. In the case of Armando, the local cops seem to have violated California's sanctuary law (SB54) and city policy by delivering a resident who had no criminal record to immigration enforcers.

Jessica Yamane, an attorney from La Raza Community Center, described how the DCPD had stopped Jose Armando Escobar-Lopez (who goes by "Armando"), his partner Krisia Mendoza, and a friend in a car on their way home from church on May 11. The police ran a check on 21-year-old Armando who entered the country in 2015 escaping violence in his native El Salvador. They discovered he had a deportation order of which he was unaware and handed him over to ICE. Thanks to vigorous legal interventions, Armando has so far not been deported, although he is still being detained outside Bakersfield.

Armando's partner Krisia (here holding his picture) has advocated tirelessly for Armando's release while working two jobs to afford to keep their residence.

The group trouped into the building to file their complaint. Here Angela Chan from Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus finds the offices of the mayor and city council locked.

It takes a determined village to keep local jurisdictions on track within the law and delivering better justice.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Heading for the hills ... back next week

Don't know if we'll get to this lovely spot again. Photo was taken in 2010. But we'll get close, hiking the eastern Sierra slope from Lee Vining.

Blogging will resume on Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

White supremacist violence

While most attention to hearings is naturally turning to Robert Mueller's House testimony, I don't want this declaration from FBI Director Christopher Wray yesterday to get lost. He explained that the majority of cases of domestic terrorism the Bureau has investigated this year have involved "white supremacist violence." Scary times.

Meanwhile we have GOPers bleating that there were no Russian trolls and there is no racism.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

What U.S. democracy is up against

This chart haunts me. Click to enlarge. Over the last 50 years,, the Republican Party has evolved to play on the same far right turf as neo-Nazis in Europe. It's positioning is not simply conservative. With a nudge from Koch Brothers and the Murdoch media, the GOP has drifted into evil waters. Trump's unrestrained racism seals the deal.

Only unity among people in resistance can impede this. Can we put up with each other for the larger good?

Monday, July 22, 2019

If everyone just voted ... well, maybe

Greg Sargent is the lead author of The Plum Line column at the Washington Post. Day after day he excoriates the Trump administration; he wields a sharp skewer and is a satisfying antidote to the daily insanity.

Perhaps because he is so predictable day in and day out in that context, I didn't expect to encounter much unexpected in An Uncivil War: Taking Back Our Democracy in an Age of Trumpian Disinformation and Thunderdome Politics. Happily, Sargent is serious about second half of that title: he presents realistic prescriptions for how small "d" U.S. democracy can be preserved and enhanced. And unlike a lot of Washington-based pundits, he has a grasp of how elections actually work at the grassroots level that I seldom encounter from political scientists bemoaning our politics.

I'm just going to focus here on his discussion of what it would mean and what it would take to get more people to vote. Our history is bad on that front: between 2004 and 2014 in legislative elections, our rate of participation had us ranked as 113th out of 114 countries. And the citizens who don't vote are different from those who do -- mostly poorer, browner, younger, and less "conservative." (Sargent's book came out in October 2018 so he didn't see the "historically high" turnout in the midterm elections: the country hit 49.3 percent of eligible voters showing up. That number doesn't seem something to cheer about.)

Sargent is realistic about how hard it is to increase voting. He reports, accurately in my experience, that vote-by-mail options and most early voting arrangements merely change the mechanics of how and when the same shrunken electorate casts its ballots. These measures are supposed to "reduce the cost" of voting and they do, marginally. But he states a caveat:

It's just not clear how far these efforts take us in the direction of the Holy Grail: making our electorates more representative and improving our politics.

However, "one reform holds real promise" -- automatic voter registration. After all,

we human beings are lousy at planning ahead. ... [According to Princeton researcher Sam Wang, automatic registration at every contact with government] triggers "the power of the default option," meaning that the easier option is to allow oneself to be registered to vote. "Human beings, it turns out don't like to think very hard." ... it's actually pretty unremarkable once you realize that many people have very busy lives and are not all that tuned in to the daily news about politics, which (let's face it) can often be mind-numbingly frustrating and impenetrable to non-junkies.

That's the story about automatic registration from the point of view of the potential voters. But where Sargent shines is understanding how having a largely automatically registered population would change campaigns. Increasing the electorate by registering new voters is expensive in both money and volunteer time, so much so that many campaigns simply skip that work, settling for trying to reach the same old voters who are already on the rolls. Any voter registration is an afterthought. Automatic registration would mean campaigns could move directly to identifying supporters and persuading the persuadable from lists that include just about everyone potentially able to vote. Those canvassing activities have been found to be most fruitful way to increase voting among people who don't have the habit.

Still, Sargent insists we need to understand there's nothing easy about encouraging more voting. He quotes extensively from Democratic pollster Celinda Lake who has been investigating why people don't vote for decades.

Lake told me that what comes up in these focus groups [of nonvoters] again and again is that nonvoters live in a social context heavily populated by other nonvoters. She recalled one focus group of unmarried female nonvoters in which the moderator asked them if they would vote if they knew their their friends and family were voting. Lake says one woman replied, "I don't know who your friends and family are, but mine don't vote."

Campaigns working to turn such individuals out have to create so much noise and activity and at-the-doors contact that it all stands in as an alternative social milieu for the target voting group. That's a big job and it is both expensive and labor intensive.

I've only touched on part of one chapter in An Uncivil War here. There's lots more on gerrymandering, on legislative hardball, on constitutional disillusionment. This is a good nuts and bolts book, not just more theorizing about "democratic recession" as marked by the ascension of the Orange Crook. it's a smooth, short read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

It's Mueller time again

The former Special Counsel is expected to testify before House Judiciary and House Intelligence Committees this Wednesday. He has made clear that he will not enlarge on his findings as expressed in the report delivered in March.

But how many of us have read this 400 page document? Not many of us.

In The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts, playwright Robert Schenkkan has adapted the words of the report for a staged reading at the Riverside Church that took place on June 24. An all-star cast led by John Lithgow as Trump performs the legal phrasings with energy and even some laughs. After all, the Trump entourage are clowns as well as knaves and wanna-be gangsters. Lithgow's rendition of the raging Trump is sometimes funny -- until you remember this guy is president and shows every sign of wanting to use the power of his office to harm his enemies.

This performance is well worth a little more than an hour of your time. Stick with it, let it roll over you and sink in, and then ponder again what you are doing to make sure the Orange Crook is a one term president.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Movement history that can inspire today

Since I dinged one academic yesterday for what I considered weak historical analogies that shed little light on his subject, now I want to raise up an article by an historian that I think uncovers powerful resonances between contemporary events and US history.

Manisha Sinha is the author of the monumental study The Slave's Cause: a History of Abolition. In The New Fugitive Slave Laws in the New York Review of Books, she discusses several recent criminal cases brought against humanitarians which call to mind 19th century struggles to end slavery in the United States.
Scott Warren, a volunteer for the group No More Deaths, has been charged for illegally providing food and water to migrants in the Arizona desert. His travails remind her of the Ohio farmer John Van Zandt whose long legal battle in the 1840s against indictment for assisting nine fugitive slaves to hide successfully left him penniless and broken. Warren's recent trial led to a hung jury; the government wants to try him again.

The German ship captain Carola Rackete rescued 41 African migrants from the Mediterranean Sea; the right-wing populist government of Italy seized her ship, though individual criminal charges laid against here were dismissed by an Italian judge. The organization that sponsored her voyage, Sea-Watch International, charges Italy with "kidnapping." Sinha points out that

Abolitionists, too, often called those who captured free blacks and assisted in fugitive slave renditions “kidnappers,” ...

She goes on to draw out the similarities between our recoil from images of the drowned Salvadoran father, Óscar Ramírez, and his young daughter, Valeria with the immense impact of the scene of the slave Eliza and her infant escaping across the Ohio River in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852).

She concludes:

Today, in criminalizing the provision of humanitarian assistance to migrants we have resurrected the fugitive slave laws of antebellum America. Just as abolitionist activists were once targeted, human rights activists have found themselves in the sights of the Trump administration for surveillance and prosecution, according to a recent Amnesty International report. ...

Some historical analogies can mislead, granted, but we should be mindful of the lessons from history that can shine light on our current humanitarian crisis. The first is that evils we had thought long banished from civilized societies can reappear, and with alarming speed. ... The second lesson from history is how quickly such measures can be accepted as necessary, even “natural.” That ordinary people of any ethnicity or nationality can partake in and support evil actions at any time is not news to historians.

... the interracial nineteenth-century abolition movement can provide valuable inspiration to those involved in today’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees and to resist the threatened descent into authoritarianism, mass atrocity, and inhumanity. ... The plight of today’s “Dreamers” and citizens and legal immigrants married to undocumented immigrants is comparable to the status of runaway slaves who married free blacks and raised children in free states. ... We might well paraphrase Frederick Douglass’s great speech, “What to the interned migrant is the Fourth of July?”

The [1850] Fugitive Slave Law sparked outrage in the North, especially in areas where the abolition movement was strong. Hundreds of cases brought to court under the law by slave-catchers and slave owners in the 1850s led to abolitionist protests and scuffles with federal marshals.

Manisha Sinha's history of abolitionism is less a retelling of what happened in the course of this country's tormented trajectory toward ending slavery and more an exploration and evaluation of abolitionism as a prolonged social movement. Because that's how she's chosen to look at the past, it is not surprising that she excels at picturing the present within a social movement vision. Read it all here.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Can the US let go its global dominance without war?

I've thought since the end of the Cold War that navigating an inevitable stormy downsizing of US ambition would be the urgent responsibility for any political leader who aspired to memorable accomplishment. (It's turned out it will be just as burdensome to mitigate climate chaos and to reduce domestic terror about demographic change. Trump's the proof.) Obama seemed to understand our need to give up on being the world's economic hegemon and biggest bully. He got damn little respect or support for his necessarily weak moves, well out ahead of elite consensus.

Graham Allison of the Harvard Kennedy School explores whether a US war with China-on-the-rise is inevitable. Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? looks at the question through a somewhat tortured historical framework. The thesis:

Thucydides went to the heart of the matter. When he turned the spotlight on "the rise of Athens and the fear this inspired in Sparta," he identified a primary driver at the root of some of history's most catastrophic and puzzling wars. Intentions aside, when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power, the resulting structural stress make a violent clash the rule, not the exception. ...As far ahead as the eye can see, the defining question about global order is whether China and the US can escape Thucydides's Trap.

People who write within the discipline of international relations seem to feel free treat history as a handy bucket of threatening analogies, more or less applicable to whatever dynamics they want to write about. I get it; I sometimes succumb to the same temptation when trying to apply what I know of history to the present. But Allison's list of 15 analogous examples of hegemonic transitions strikes me as once-over-lightly cherry picking rather than bumpy, granular history, so I won't explore them here.

What I found more interesting was Allison's description of "what Xi's China wants." Like Trump, China's present ruler wants to make China great again; he's "driven by an indomitable determination to reclaim past greatness." After a couple of centuries of Western domination, Xi and most Chinese believe their huge, productive, inventive country is ready to resume its proper destiny leading the civilized world.

"Making China Great Again" means:

  • Returning China to the predominance in Asia that it enjoyed before the West intruded.
  • Reestablishing control over the territories of "greater China," including not just Xinjiang and Tibet on the mainland, but also Hong Kong and Taiwan.
  • Recovering its historic sphere of influence along its borders and in the adjacent seas so that others give it the deference great nations have always demanded.
  • Commanding the respect of other powers in the councils of the world.

Those ambitions hardly seem surprising for the country with the most people and the largest economy in the world. Real conflict is more likely to arise from their source:

At the core of these national goals is a civilizational creed that sees China as the center of the universe.

Allison takes his cues about Chinese ambitions from Lee Kuan Yew, the longtime, successful modernizing authoritarian ruler of Singapore, who of necessity knew a thing or two about co-existing with China. Lee helped him grasp Xi's vision of a revitalized (less corrupt) ruling Chinese Communist Party, reawakened Chinese patriotism, further exponential economic growth, and rebuilding a "fight and win" military. Though all this at once might seem like an unsustainable project, Allison concludes that Xi is well on the way to being able to tell the US to "butt out" of Asia.

So how will we react? Will we be governed by fear of China's rise? Allison sketches several terrifying scenarios that might lead -- mostly without malicious intention -- to a shooting war. He also suggests that China and a wise US might be able to redefine our relationship and achieve another long era of peace. Both parties know that war, especially with nukes, would mean Mutual Assured Destruction.

But a happy outcome is going to take wisdom -- currently lacking badly on our end. And China needs good fortune as well as ambition on theirs. It's worth remembering that China faces plenty of domestic challenges as has lately been very visible among the intelligentsia as well as in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Friday cat blogging

He ignored his new fountain for a month, but suddenly Morty has deigned to drink. He still expects us to turn on the water for him in the bathroom sink, but this is progress.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Offshoring our concentration camps

The Trump administration would like to turn Guatemala into an open air prison for Central American asylum seekers. Johnathan Blitzer explained at the New Yorker that:

... the Trump Administration is expected to announce a major immigration deal, known as a safe-third-country agreement, with Guatemala. For weeks, there have been reports that negotiations were under way between the two countries, but, until now, none of the details were official. According to a draft of the agreement obtained by The New Yorker, asylum seekers from any country who either show up at U.S. ports of entry or are apprehended while crossing between ports of entry could be sent to seek asylum in Guatemala instead.

We have such an agreement with Canada -- asylum seekers who somehow get to Canada are deemed to be in a safe country and so are almost always ineligible to apply for asylum in the United States.

But Guatemala?

In addition to the fact that many of the current wave of asylum seekers are running away from danger in Guatemala, that country is designated as very dangerous indeed according to the U.S. State Department's own travel advisory system.

Violent crime, such as armed robbery and murder, is common. Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics trafficking, is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents. 

The whole country is labeled "Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution." As for the capital city and airport, it's even worse: "Level 3: Reconsider Travel."

Now obviously, no U.S. court would approve such a travesty of justice as allowing this phony "safe country" designation to stop asylum claims by migrants at the border?

Perhaps so. But people better versed in the law than I at Rational Security assert that the determination of whether a country is really "safe" is reserved under U.S. statutes to the sole authority of the Attorney General. And we have ample evidence that the current Attorney General is a Trump toady.

The Israelis have Gaza for their open air prison for Palestinians; apparently we're aiming to replicate that in Guatemala.

And the administration aims to coerce Mexico into another phony "safe-country" deal. Will Mexican nationalists resist? They often have in the past, but we'll see.

My favorite Mission District destination

The other day I answered some questionnaire, one of whose questions was "What's your favorite feature of your neighborhood?" I remember thinking they wanted some store perhaps -- but I knew right away that my answer was our nearby public library.

So I'm overjoyed that San Francisco's Board of Supervisors (what would be called a city council most places) has passed a resolution to end late fees and reduce outstanding fines. This has been in the works for awhile. Mission Local did its usual good job of explaining:

This means that the more than 17,000 local patrons whose accounts were previously blocked due to accumulated overdue fines (which was automatic once a fine of $10 was accrued) will once again be free to check out library materials. And the 157,000 library patrons — some 35 percent of the library’s users — who owe late fees will now be in the clear. Among those owing money, the average tab was $23.

Michelle Jeffers, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Public Library, said she has been looking forward to this decision for a while. “We really feel that late fees had been leading to inequity for certain segments of the community,” she said, adding that the fees are incongruous with the overall mission of a public library. “We want to be welcoming and equitable, and we want more people to be able to use the library.”

Jeffers isn’t concerned that the elimination of late fees will lead to later returns or longer wait times for books.

“We’ve been a library for 140 years, and fines haven’t really changed people’s behavior,” she said. “There are a lot of people who return their books on time, and a lot of people who don’t.”

Librarians are realists who want their patrons to use their resources. How healthy!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The ice tells the story

Now here's an insight into human history:

A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tied the rise and fall of lead in Arctic ice samples to economically significant historical events over the course of the last 2,500 years, from the Roman Empire to the present. Climate scientists and historians worked together to conduct the research, using data from 13 ice samples taken from different regions around the Arctic.

Atmospheric lead pollution and economic growth shared a “direct link,” said study coauthor Nathan Chellman, because of lead’s ties to money. Production of precious ores used for currency, especially silver, was pretty much the only source of lead pollution for many centuries.

... For most of history, wars and plagues corresponded with economic decline. That translated into dips in lead levels in the ice that formed during those years. Periods of growth and prosperity, on the other hand, were marked by increasing levels of lead pollution. That shifted into overdrive in the mid-1700s, when the Industrial Revolution brought rapid technological developments.

Grist, July 15, 2019

Those technological developments increased lead pollution exponentially over previous levels.

Have these scientists discerned the cycle of human species development? First we become really smart and improve living standards and life expectancy, then we poison ourselves and everything else and die back, only to start the sequence again (at least so long as the damage was localized)?

Those ice cores show a lot about increasing climate chaos too.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The personal is still political

Erudite Partner's latest commentary on our fraught world tells the story of her long-ago abortion. It's a thoughtful meander ... much to chew on. Do read.

I came away from her piece realizing that the short five-year difference in our ages (I'm older) makes for a split in our recollections. When I was in high school, I knew dimly that some girls who got pregnant did get abortions -- just how I had no idea, and the operation was a secret, a shameful thing. The girl had "let" some guy get her pregnant.

In college at UC Berkeley from 1965-69, we "knew" that abortion was possible, if difficult and maybe dangerous. I remember taking up collections to send friends to Tijuana for the procedure. They came back alive; I never knew if they were scarred physically or in their psyches. For myself I got lucky. My experiments with heterosexuality were unprotected but without lasting consequence.

When I lived in New York in the early '70s, abortion was still illegal in most of the country, but the Empire State had legalized it with a pro forma, overnight residency requirement. I remember hosting more than one friend for a three day stay. We didn't talk about it much, that I remember.

And then Roe v. Wade made abortion mostly legal in 1973 and, for those outside of that emergency, a non-issue. Abortion never truly became a moot question, of course, for young women and poor women and women blocked from access by other people's violent scruples. And now it looks as if this sad cycle may be played out again.

Many women won't stop getting abortions. The drive to save their own potential lives will continue to outweigh whatever drive they have to birth a child. But women will suffer more in the process.

EP invites other women to tell their abortion stories by telling hers. It's a worthwhile call.

Monday, July 15, 2019

San Franciscans protest Amazon complicity with ICE

People organized by Bay Resistance, Causa Justa, San Francisco Jobs with Justice and many more groups took to Market Street on #PrimeDay to deliver a massive petition to Amazon demanding the company stop selling its face recognition technology to immigration enforcers.

Amazon refused the petition.

Protesters shouted their solidarity with Amazon's warehouse workers who accuse the company of making a killing off their backs.

"We're humans, not robots," William Stolz, an Amazon warehouse worker in Shakopee, Minnesota, told CNN Business. "They're treating us like machines."

When a company becomes the world's retail colossus, people demand responsibility.

One tough woman in one tough campaign

If you are wondering why Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is not intimidated to find herself at odds with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, this film is for you. She's seen her fill of old, entrenched, white liberal women who don't recognize their time may be coming to an end.

If you wonder how Congresswoman Omar bears up under racist bullying by Donald Trump and friends, this film is for you. She's survived plenty of vicious attempts to squelch her. Trump's demand she "go back" somewhere won't stop her. She has a community and a home.

If you are curious about the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's hyper-participatory caucus nominating process, this is a great introduction to its potential. (Here's my commentary from a year when there was less obvious potential.)

If you have ever wondered what I mean on this blog when I declare someone running for office has become a "good candidate," Congresswoman Omar conducts a master class in meet, greet, and near-magical charisma in this film.

If you want an inspiring picture of a people-powered campaign that wins, this film is for you.

Time for Ilhan is available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Google Play.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Immigration raids and resistance

I'm pasting this inflammatory image here today because, for the second week in a row, I've been asked by friends at church, "But what can we do?"

They hope I might know. They are wrong. None of us who care about human decency and the torture of babies by our own government know -- yet. I have no roadmap, but I have experience, and I have thoughts.

Many of those of us who came of age during the long moral horror that was our country's war in Vietnam have experience that prepares us for this time. Much against our hopes, we learned to persist, to refuse to give up. The struggle against the war seemed to drag on forever in our young lives. By 1966, a substantial fraction of us knew that our government was doing something very wrong -- evil even -- into which some of our age peers might be conscripted. Yet our purportedly ethical political system seemed incapable of bringing the atrocity to an end. The Vietnam war dragged on for another 9 years with escalating commitments of U.S. troops; over all, 50,000 of our soldiers and millions of Vietnamese and other South East Asians were killed before North Vietnam definitively booted us out in 1975.

And across those long years, people of conscience in the U.S. tried expedient after expedient, tactic after tactic, appeal after appeal, trying to end our national atrocity in progress.

We educated, first ourselves, then our fellow citizens (at least I hope it usually went in that order.) What did we really know about a peasant society in South East Asia? What do we really know today about failing kleptocratic states in Central America's Northern Triangle, about how climate chaos drives migration, about how U.S. and international immigration and humanitarian law work, about how migrants who settle in the United States survive and thrive? Not all we should, though it may seem a little easier today to be informed in the era of internet. In the face of atrocity, knowing and spreading opportunities for knowing seems like not much, but it is a prerequisite to much more.

We mobilized and organized, by which I mean that people imaginatively found ways to create friction that expressed revulsion from an evil war in every sector of society. There were draft resisters and mass marches, but also over time there appeared businessmen [sic, though there weren't many women] against the war, labor against the war, teachers against the war, farmers against the war, even GIs against the war ... Name a social sector, some of its members sought to give it a role. They struggled to win over the indifferent and the hostile, they passed resolutions, held teach-ins, boycotted and picketed Dow Chemical (makers of that fiery weapon, napalm) and other war profiting companies, and supported military objectors. Today the Trump policy of deliberate cruelty to brown people seeking succor in this country has moved people to a multitude of similar actions, from shaming Amazon for selling its facial recognition technology to ICE to experts confirming that it's accurate to call the CBP detention facilities "concentration camps." These areas of pressure are limited only by our imagination and willingness to chip away through them.

We challenged power using the constitutional system. This came last in the Vietnam era, because both political parties were wedded to that evil war. (Ah yes, that was the era of less acute partisanship we're sometimes admonished to yearn for.) But we did bring down a sitting president; LBJ gave up on re-election in 1968 because Vietnam opponents had divided the Democrats. People repulsed by cruelty to migrants start off far ahead today. None of our Dems are going to endorse Trump's wall and his family-breaking random deportations. Can we get the Dems affirming that an aging country should welcome enterprising immigrants and refugees into our complex multi-ethnic future? This seems a goal worth agitating for.

A lesson from movement history is that you never can be sure in advance which initiative against the machine will strike a chord. Some take center stage for a season, then fade. But many of them might erupt at any moment. Pay attention.

A further lesson is that non-violence and kindness to one another in the midst of moral anguish and urgent struggle also count while working for greater justice. If so inclined, try praying. It too can help.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

How indeed?

Something is desperately wrong here. From The Pentagon Run-Down with Jeff Schogol:

Gen. Mark Milley warns against withdrawing from Afghanistan after only 18 years
You know what they say: If at first you don’t succeed, keep plodding on for two decades with no hope for victory.

That’s the story about the Afghanistan war in a nutshell.

Despite the fact that recruits will soon enter boot camp to train to fight in a war that began before they were born, Army Gen. Mark Milley said it is too soon to pull out of Afghanistan.

... Your friend and humble narrator may be bad at math, but it seems strange to call any withdrawal of U.S. troops from nearly 18 years premature. (Especially when a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of veterans surveyed said the Afghanistan war has not been worth the sacrifice.)

Schogol offers a clear, short timeline of the U.S. Afghanistan war in case you've forgotten or never knew. Two more U.S. soldiers died as recently as in the last week of June.

As the young John Kerry, recently returned from fighting in Vietnam in 1971, once asked Congress, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

Saturday scenery: the avenue of the pink sweet peas

'Tis the season when stands of wild sweet peas line the Old Pedro Mountain Road on the flank of Montara Mountain.

The higher reaches are too exposed to wind and fog to support the plants, but the old crumbling roadway admits enough sun to make a perfect environment for these flowers.

In a couple of weeks, they'll be gone for the year.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes Morty just has to stick his whiskers in your face. Usually earlier in the morning than you had intended to wake up ... It's not clear what he wants. Often once you've stirred, he'll go back to sleep.


San Franciscans rallied against raids announced by the Trump administration that aim to seize migrants for deportation on Thursday afternoon.

Not in our 'hood; not on our watch!

Fr. Richard Smith leads several hundred protesters in prayer.

San Franciscans stand with our sisters and brothers who are threatened by Trump's campaign against migrants. "We all stand together" here.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Baby died following ICE detention; Congresswoman doing her job

Guatemalan mother Yazmin Juarez told a Congressional investigating committee on Wednesday that, after she lawfully applied for asylum because of fearing for for her life, she and her healthy daughter were confined by U.S. immigration agents along with many other children in Dilley, Texas. Mariee caught the flu, received no medical treatment while in custody, and died in a U.S. hospital soon after release.

Juarez testified that an ICE agent had told her, “You know, this country is for Americans, Trump is my president, and we can take your little girl away from you and lock you in jail.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Texas, one of the new crop of women of color elected to the House in 2018 is doing her best to help migrants get a fair hearing. Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso detailed some of her Congressional staff to help a few migrants who may have had a legal claim to be admitted to make their case. The Customs and Border Protection agency had sent them back to Mexico. Apparently tipped off by someone in CBP, rightwing media is denouncing Escobar. The Congresswoman is not backing down:

EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar is responding to accusations of sending her staff to Ciudad Juarez to teach asylum seekers how to exploit and work around the “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Escobar said that is untrue and calls those false allegations a diversion from rising tensions with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Escobar said she and her staff have been working with El Paso lawyers who have clients seeking asylum, and have been sent back to Mexico in violation of CBP’s policy.

“It’s no coincidence I think that these false allegations are coming on the heels of the fact that there’s this secret [CBP agents' racist] Facebook page. It is an effort to intimidate me to prevent me and my staff from performing one of our fundamental functions which is oversight of the government that we fund,” said Escobar. ... Escobar said since those allegations came to light, she and her staff have received multiple threats.

The Congresswoman combines competence with passion. See here her speech on the floor of Congress, surrounded by some of her Democratic colleagues, after the drowning deaths of a father and his child in the Rio Grande:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Campaign tactics: Bernie in Iowa

I'm a huge fan of David Weigel's wide-ranging, on-the-ground presidential campaign coverage in The Trailer at the Washington Post. Mostly the last thing I want is more email, but these dispatches are engaging and often catch whiffs of popular currents before more conventional journalists notice them.

But I was puzzled by his recent description of "the Sanders's campaign's new organizing tactic."

In Iowa during 4th of July parades (four of them!), as Bernie walked, greeted, and smiled, "campaign organizers" (does that mean staff?) followed with stickers and signs and their Bernie apps, trying to collect the names and zip codes of anyone who'd made contact with the Senator.

Weigel explains:

This is the Sanders's campaign's new organizing tactic, from a campaign that can't try enough new things. “Distributed organizing,” when it works, trains volunteers to do the work that used to be centralized by the campaign: contacting a voter who just happened to shake the candidate's hand could lead to a non-answer, a vote or a new organizer. Over two boiling summer days, the campaign signed up 1,004 voters along parade routes, all on the path toward a single goal: turning as many nonvoters as possible into Sanders voters.

I find the notion that this is some kind of novelty simply bizarre. In a retail campaign situation, it would be malpractice if campaign workers weren't chasing down those names. Bernie isn't going to get very many chances with the parade viewers.

And it would be further malpractice if the campaign wasn't finding and phoning and texting these people within 36 hours. Not enough staff to get that done? Fine -- recruit some of the new recruits to do the work. There's no better -- or more obvious -- way in a retail people-to-people campaign to lock in new supporters.

The Sanders campaign has announced that it aims to identify 25,000 volunteers in the Hawkeye state. Weigel says other campaigns call this "naive." I don't. In small scale races, which is what Iowa is, unless the campaigns are completely wasting the energy of supporters, you can usually discern who is going to win by the quantity of volunteers they attract. Successful election campaigns involve smart messaging and smart targeting, but they also also thrive on participation. More "professional" professionals than I neglect this aspect, but until you start running nationwide, and maybe even then, you need the people who will make the human contacts that bring out the vote. They are gold.

I'm still not throwing down for any of the presidential aspirants yet, and, as I always emphasize, I'll work to elect whoever wins the nomination. But I watch the tactical aspect of the campaigns with my usual curiosity and fascination. Maybe someone will invent something new ...

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

A rant: national pundits don't get California -- here's one who does

We're different here and there are good reasons.

Gov. Gavin, who I don't consider the sharpest bulb around, is trumpeting our state's freedom from Republicans.

“California in the 1990s is a lot like America in 2019, 2020, 2021. And here’s the real story. The Republican Party was walked off a cliff. They’re third party status. That’s exactly what Donald Trump is doing, and Mitch McConnell, who is completely complicit, is doing to the Republican Party nationally. They don’t even know what is about to hit them.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaking to Axios’ Jim VandeHei ...


In outline, he's right. Why California became a solidly blue state is complex and I am not going to offer my opinionated slant here. The libertarian Cato Institute leans on the idea that the bigotry of Republican Governor Pete Wilson's Prop 187 drove Latinx voters out of the GOP -- for decades. Manuel Pastor's State of Resistance provides a more multi-faceted analysis. In any case the Republican Party is vestigial here, not only unable to elect statewide officers since the early '00s, but also down to just 7 Congressional reps out of 53 total.

Finally -- a major writer for a national publication which, like all of 'em, usually seems to peddle an East Coast perspective on the country's politics, has taken note of how the Trumpian Republican Party is repeating its California reaction to racial and ethnic demographic change, enfleshing this reaction by abusing migrant children. Adam Serwer is a worthy successor to Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, writing about U.S. history and race brilliantly in a forum where the audience might need a lot of educating. (I'll cop that I do.) He gets where California fits in Trump's cruel politics.

Though the president himself is from Queens, New York, as Jane Coaston [of Vox] has written, the ideological engine of his administration is rooted in California, once the Reagan heartland, now a conservative wasteland. Trump advisers such as Stephen Miller are convinced that they lost California not through persuasion, but through demographics—that an influx of Latinos forever doomed conservatism. Cruelty toward migrants, even children, is justified as necessary to preserve the republic against what these advisers see as a foreign invasion. That Trump’s own home borough, once the home of Archie Bunker, is now one of the most diverse areas in the country likely only increases the resonance of this argument for the president.

On Fox News, which exercises unparalleled influence over Trump, conservative pundits warn that they will “lose the country” because of a “demographic shift” driven by Latino immigration, echoing warnings of “race suicide” from a century ago. Presenting Latino immigration as an existential threat allows both the president and his supporters to justify anything they might choose to do in response.

Yet this is not an inevitability, but a choice—conservatives in California made a political decision to demonize immigrants and paid the price. ...

Serwer is a moral writer. What I think of as Serwer's Sermons are always worth pondering.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Change history

I'm not going to deny myself the joy of this just because it's a damn sneaker ad. Struggle is a messy, collaborative, team effort.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

China's Great Awakening

One afternoon while sitting in our living room shooting the breeze, a Chinese-American friend -- an aggressively atheistic friend -- assured us that Chinese are the most atheistic people on the planet. Really?

The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao by journalist Ian Johnson asserts that this is a Western misunderstanding. (Our friend can be forgiven; he's something like a fifth generation American who speaks little or no Chinese.) According to Johnson:

Until the past few decades, scholars thought Chinese religions were somewhat analogous to the Abrahamic faiths. Instead of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, China had Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. That was wrong. ... religion was "diffused" in Chinese society. It wasn't one pillar next to secular society and could not be defined as one particular thing you did once or twice a week, at a certain place, under the guidance of a certain holy book ... Chinese religion had little theology, almost no clergy, and few fixed places of worship. But this didn't mean that Chinese religion was weak. Instead, it spread over every aspect of life like a fine membrane that held society together.

... pollsters have a hard time figuring out if Chinese people are religious. ... They expect a clear cut answer like "I am a Buddhist" or "I am a Daoist." But for most of Chinese history, this sort of question would have been strange. Religion was part of belonging to your community. A village had its temples, its gods, and they honored certain holy days. Choice was not a factor. ...

The turmoil of the past century and a half has ... made people uncomfortable about expressing their religiosity. ... studies are absurdly flawed. Almost all try to get people to define their behavior based on the loaded Western vocabulary. ... Put this way, almost all Chinese will say no. [But] a 2005 survey by East China Normal University in Shanghai found that 31 percent of the country's population, or about 300 million people are religious: two-thirds are worshippers of Buddhism, Daoism, or folk practices in addition to 40 million Christians, with the rest divided among other faiths. The key reason for the high response rate was that the survey used the word xinyang, or faith, instead of zongjiao, or religion.

What Johnson calls "Chinese Religion" is simply how people live in their society. During long stays in China beginning in 1984, Johnson set out to understand through what I'd call respectful "participant research." (He'd never refer to his process in such ungainly pseudo-social science jargon, but I do.) The result is one of the most graceful, most fascinating, most mind-bending volumes I've read in many years.

As in everything in that ancient civilization, layer lies upon layer of history and consciousness. Johnson contends that, first, Western imperialism and Japanese invasion inflicted national humiliation. A long civil war was finally won by the Communist Party in 1949, definitively ending the moribund dynastic system. The subsequent famines and political upheaval which were the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution has left a people eager for the material plenty of Chinese capitalism -- but also often feeling something is missing.

Faith and values are returning to the center of a national discussion over how to organize Chinese life. ... hundreds of millions of Chinese are consumed with doubt about their society and turning to religion and faith for answers that they do not find in the radically secular world constructed around them. They wonder what more there is to life than materialism and what makes a good life. ... We have long known that China's ethnic minorities -- especially the Tibetans and Uighurs -- have valued religion, sometimes as a form of resistance against an oppressive state. But now we find a similar or even greater spiritual thirst among ethnic [Han] Chinese, who make up 91 percent of the country's population.

... For millennia, Chinese society was held together by the idea that laws alone cannot keep people together. Instead, philosophers like Confucius argued that society also needed shared values. Most Chinese still hold this view. For many, the answer is to engage in some form of spiritual practice: a religion, a way of life, a form of moral cultivation -- things what will make their lives more meaningful and help change society. All told, it is hardly an exaggeration to say China is undergoing a spiritual revival similar to the Great Awakening in the United States in the nineteenth century.

The fiercely atheist Chinese Communist Party has been intermittently actively hostile to religion, sometimes destroying ancient shrines and temples. But the CCP also is often warily tolerant of undercurrents in this enormous, unwieldy country.

Traditional values and practices are encouraged as a source of stability and morality. But faith is also feared as an uncontrollable force -- an alternative ideology to the government's vision of how society should be run. In the past, state and religion were united, forming a spiritual center of gravity for China. That old system is now gone, but nothing new has taken its place.

Johnson took part in, studied, and describes daily life in folk, Buddhist, Daoist, and Protestant Christian settings. For these rich descriptions, people who are interested should read for themselves; I will not dilute their granular descriptive power. But here's just one sample from Johnson's stint with a Daoist master:

One evening he stated that China was the last ancient culture still alive. How many Greeks or Egyptians, he said, could read their classical texts or draw on their ancient practices? In China, though, the language was still roughly the same. Learning classical Chinese is not easy, but it is still taught to all students in school and is much easier, say, than a Westerner learning Latin.

... "In the West, most of this kind of knowledge was lost or suppressed, " he said. "But in China, through Daoism, this prehistorical knowledge was transmitted."

... No one reads ancient Greek texts to re-create religious life in modern-day Athens, but in China precisely this is happening.

The book delves into Chinese speculations about what the ascent of the country's current authoritarian leader Xi Jinping may mean for Han Chinese religiosity. (Muslims are another matter.) He made a name for himself after the Cultural Revolution by reviving a provincial Buddhist center as a tourist attraction; whatever his personal sympathies, he knew what was good for a community he had power over -- and what was good for his Party prospects. Johnson interviewed an old woman who had known Xi Jinping in that period:

"He believed in Buddhist law," [she said.]

This probably was not literally true; as a Communist party official, and a savvy one at that, Xi would not have actively worshipped at the temple. I mentioned this to the woman.

"Well, of course he would not have lit incense," she said, "But when you look at what happened during his term, how this temple was rebuilt and how he kept coming back to see the old master, how else can I express it? Actions speak louder than words."

Folk superstition or perhaps insight? Johnson leaves this to his readers.

China's millions of evangelical Protestant Christians are under more state suspicion than other religiously inclined groups but even they find cracks in an edifice which claims absolute control. Beijing had send orders to provincial Chengdu to curb unauthorized congregations. But their leader, Peng Qiang, wasn't worried.

Yes, he agreed that that Xi Jinping's administration was making a concerted effort to strengthen state control over society by arresting dissidents and lawyers. It was also promoting Chinese traditional values and religions at the expense of Christianity. But Peng stayed positive, not out of naivete but because he saw the longer-term problems in the government's hard-line approach. One is the cost of "stability maintenance"...

Talking to Peng reminded me why it was so important to get out of the capital. There, the government's power seemed limitless; here it was tamed by distance. It would be naive to downplay the hard political power of an authoritarian leader like Xi but equally glib to ignore long-term trends beyond the government's control.

This is one many instances in this book which expose a Western reader from a hurried civilization to the very different sense of time Chinese society retains from its long history. The book is organized around religious practices as dictated by the older moon calendar. In 1929, modernizing rulers transitioned China to the western calendar, but underneath ancient sense of time and season remains.

Few practices are as important to a society as how it measures time.

At least one geneticist, much criticized by other scientists, has proposed we humans come with a "god gene," an inherited predisposition to spiritual experience. Now there's something I'm agnostic about. But Ian Johnson's account of the persistence of religious belief and practice in contemporary China makes me wonder ...

Saturday, July 06, 2019

This is sickening, but looking away won't help

After the planes had soared and the generals did their spit and polish thing, Donald Trump ended his Me-a-thon on the mall on Independence Day with yet another trite ghost-written line:

... we are Americans and the future belongs to us.

The Erudite Partner and I had to same thought: somebody has mis-remembered the film Caberet. At least we hope the echo is more accidental than intentional.
The reporter from the Hollywood Reporter heard similar echoes.

After all, our two-bit Mussolini does have his concentration camps ... even if he's just a vain old man looking a little silly in the rain.

Friday, July 05, 2019

The campaign for lung rot and youth addiction has begun

San Francisco has banned vaping -- that is, sales and distribution of electronic cigarettes not reviewed by the FDA (none are). Also flavored tobacco. Individuals over 21 can use the shit if they want, but sales are no go. The supervisors and the mayor were all in on this one. That's rare.

Naturally the drug peddlers -- Juul, which is headquartered here -- want to fight the measure on the ballot and have collected the necessary signatures. The first piece of campaign mail arrived this week. They've bought some heavy hitters as you can see. I have no doubt we'll be getting this crap by the shovelful from now until November. And straight to recycling it goes.

We'll knock these parasites down in the fall election. Then the battle will continue in the courts where health groups are already suing the FDA for slow walking health evaluations of the harms of vaping.

Friday cat blogging

In a burst of enthusiasm, Morty climbed and leaped to the top of a hutch the other day. Looks cute next to the Diablo, doesn't he?

Then he seemed to wonder, how do I get down from here? Yes, I ended up having to help. I wanted to leave him treed -- but I worried about the modem.