Monday, November 25, 2019

Blog break

You'd think these birds would be hiding out this week, but actually they wander freely on Martha's Vineyard, a protected pest. Aggressive hunters did in the heath hen on the island, but the wild turkeys have persisted.

And so, for a blog break until Monday, December 2.

November has been a season of compound griefs, some of which I've written about here.

The griefs of the nation and of the planet compound the personal.

Cat nursing grinds on, quite possibly on a positive path.

We (and the cat) will be spend a couple of days in Maine with family, taking in both grief and gratitude.

Next Sunday, the Christian season of Advent begins -- a season of shivering terror as the darkness deepens and of clinging to joyful longing for the coming manifestation of God's love, the love which we believe we meet in a weak newborn human at Christmas.

Good travels and travails -- good winter dreams to all. Back soon enough.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Saturday scenery: Vineyard light

Sunrise on a clear morning on Martha's Vineyard.

As the sun peeks over the eastern horizon, it lights the sky to the west.

At midday looking out a window, those trees display their shapes against the sky.

And then, not long after 4:30pm, the sun slips below the horizon for the night.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Bad -- and worse? Los Angeles D.A. candidates

I'm feeling glad not to be a Los Angeles County voter faced with the available choices in the March district attorney contest.

The incumbent, Jackie Lacey, would never get my ballot. She's one of the (few) California prosecutors who remains enthusiastic for the death penalty.

Among the major issues confronting Lacey is her office’s ongoing use of the death penalty. An ACLU report issued this year identified 22 people who were sentenced to death while Lacey has been in office, and all of those defendants were people of color.

LA Times

She's also got the police and sheriffs union endorsement; again, not a recommendation to me.

And then there is George Gascón, former San Francisco D.A., now Los Angeles candidate for the same job. The national media want to make him the progressive reformer in the race. Certainly he did good work advocating for California Prop. 47 which downgraded the penalties for drug possession and some thefts from felonies to misdemeanors.

But on his watch, San Francisco suffered five killings -- five murders by police officers of civilians (black and brown naturally) -- and none of the officers involved received so much as a slap on the wrist from the legal system. None of the cases were adjudicated in a trial where all the facts would have been brought out. They just disappeared in Gascón's office. For all we can tell, he construes the law to allow police killers to walk free.

There is a former public defender in the L.A. D.A. contest. I don't know anything about Rachel Rossi but, if I were an Angeleno, I'd give her a look. After all, San Francisco has just elected a former PD who has jailbird parents. This can happen when the people in power screw up enough.

The Real Justice PAC which works nationally to "elect prosecutors who will fix our broken criminal justice system" has not make an endorsement in this race.

Friday cat blogging

For all his fans: Morty hangs on as best his aged digestive system and traumatized psyche will allow. We describe him as engaging in more and more "cat-like" behavior -- climbing up and down stairs, demanding laps, etc -- while still requiring a lot of assistance to get calories and water down him. We think he's a well cared for animal and we suspect when he's not fighting invasive treatment, he might agree. And its good to find him protesting ...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Let the young people vote!

In the Democratic debate last night, candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar made a point of her support for automatic voter registration at age 18; she contended that if this reform had existed in Georgia in 2018, Stacey Abram would be Governor today. This may be true and was certainly appropriate in Atlanta.

But there's a far more ambitious vision floating around the edges of the political system that very likely will gain traction over time. That's lowering the voting age to 16. Candidate Andrew Yang is on the case. He believes lowering the voting age would increase citizen engagement with democracy.

Studies show that allowing younger people to vote has positive impacts on overall voting habits. Localities that have lowered the voting age have seen an increase in voter turnout across all age groups. Other studies have shown that delaying when a person first votes (because of birth dates and election cycles) decreases the likelihood that they will become a regular voter.

At 16, Americans don’t have hourly limits imposed on their work, and they pay taxes. Their livelihoods are directly impacted by legislation, and they should therefore be allowed to vote for their representatives.

Last March, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass) introduced a bill in the House to lower the federal voting age to 16. She argued that young people "have their own distinct experiential wisdom."

A 16-year-old will bring with them the 2019 fears that their father’s insulin will run out before the next paycheck.

A 17-year-old will bring with them the 2019 hopes to be the first in their family to earn a college degree.

A 17-year-old will bring with them a 2019 solemn vow to honor the lives of their classmates stolen by a gunman.

The Democratic Party controlled House rejected Pressley's measure by 126 to 305. We old folks aren't ready apparently.

But if we really believe that U.S. democracy thrives when civil rights and civil responsibilities are accessible to all of us, Astra Taylor explains what we can learn from local experiments with the franchise for younger people.

In 2013, Takoma Park, Md., became the first city in the United States to lower the voting age for local elections to 16. The turnout rate of 16- and 17-year-olds in the next election was nearly twice that of those 18 and older, inspiring the nearby town of Hyattsville to follow Takoma Park’s example.

Something similar happened in local elections in Norway in 2011, when 21 municipalities conducted a trial lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. A range of studies support the conclusion that 18 is not the optimal age to bestow the right to vote; people are leaving the nest and too preoccupied navigating college and work to figure out how to cast a ballot, let alone register to do so.

It is also the case that voting, though typically regarded as the paramount individual right, is actually a social affair. Research conducted in Denmark shows that having children old enough to vote at home makes their parents more likely to vote as well. And it’s habitual: Once you vote, you are more likely to do it again. A person’s first election is critical, a kind of democratic gateway drug, and it’s best to get him hooked young.

Being serious about democracy is likely soon enough to mean, without much controversy, adopting the campaign for this extension of voting rights.

Extending the vote to younger people is not just a U.S. novelty notion. As the United Kingdom once again confronts an election in which the fate of Brexit is engaged, three of the main political parties -- Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish National Party -- all support a 16 year old voting age. If more young people had been able to vote (and more had bothered to do it), Brexit would never have passed. Yet it's the young people who will have to live with its consequences for much of their future lives.

Everywhere, it's the young people who will have to live with ever increasing consequences of climate chaos. Extending the vote to 16 year olds is only right.
And if that seems too radical, you might want to consider a good explainer by Kelsey Piper on why just maybe there should be NO age qualification for voting.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The testimony of a former asylum officer

Doug Stephens was charged with making determinations of which asylum seekers could apply for refuge in the United States -- until he couldn't stand what he was ordered to do any more.

"It was like this little window into how bad things happen in the world. This is how you get a group of people who are in a position to do good and slowly pivot them to do bad."

For Trump and his white nationalists, the cruelty is the point.

Beyond vote suppression

"this stuff isn't a Klan cross burning. ... it is very bureaucratic, very mundane, routine -- but it is lethal"


She's not on the stage, but tonight's Democratic debate in Atlanta is a demonstration of the power Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams wields in the party. Ultimately her power is the power of an idea that refuses to die in this disunited States: that all persons are created equal and when we all are able to vote, we win the government and policies we collectively choose.

I advocated strongly for a Democratic debate to come to Georgia because this is where the fight for our nation will be lost and won. And I am confident the eventual ticket will have Georgia on its mind.

Stacey Abrams, Washington Post

Abrams is not going to let Democrats write off the Sun Belt states in favor of trying to win back a tiny slice of disgruntled white voters in the upper Midwest. Such a strategy leaves their most loyal constituencies -- Black, brown, and young -- hung out to dry. And Abrams is making her move and throwing in with our future.

Since we can't count on national campaigns to attend to the on-the-ground struggle to deepen voter participation except in a few (often polling-determined) areas, Abrams and the resistance infrastructure built over the last few years will have to do it in parallel to the Democratic campaign. She's enlisted the ex-Obama staff boys at VoteSaveAmerica; they are pitching to fund Abrams' work. They've raised $1 million so far and aim to reach another million by the first of the year. Now that's something practical to do.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

May you live long and prosper, Ms. Drew!

That invaluable chronicler of Washington doings, Elizabeth Drew, turned 84 last week. She's still kicking.

If you were around during Watergate, Drew's long, careful accounts of Richard Nixon's disgrace in the New Yorker as A Reporter in Washington [paywall to archives] were the stuff of contemporary history. She was so measured, so detailed, that the confusing dramatics of the day seemed to evaporate in her telling -- only to re-emerge as a clear witness to the vitality of the Republic.

Early in the Trump administration in the winter of 2107, Ezra Klein interviewed Drew on his podcast. I remember being awed by her confidence that the institutions would prove stronger than the Trumpian bull let loose in the china shop of the presidency.

Last week, Drew brought her readers up-to-date on how she sees current political developments. As always, she's more quietly firm than alarmist. She still believes in the democratic (small "d") capacity of the people. And she has advice for today's Democrats. As she said on Twitter: "The great danger of playing today's politics [is] forgetting that it's making history."

... the great danger is that the legacy of this period will be that Mr. Trump got caught doing one bad thing rather than that he abused power across the board and wantonly violated the Constitution. The public is more than capable of understanding, among other things, that the president may have exploited his office to enrich himself, blatantly flouting the Constitution’s emoluments clause. ... I worry about the precedent set by focusing solely on Ukraine, an implicit view that other behavior — constant lying, redirecting government funds against Congress’s wishes (such as building a phantasmagorical wall), sloppiness with government secrets, using the military for political purposes, encouraging violence against the press, and still more — was acceptable.

All because of the schedule? History is unlikely to remember the schedule.

Don't cross this old lady!

Monday, November 18, 2019

A mayor as president

The prominence of Mayor Pete, not to mention former mayor Bloomberg, and former mayor Castro, and former mayor Booker, has the Upshot recounting the history of mayors running for President. The headline is that big cities have been a lousy launching pad for national executive ambitions -- no one has ever made the jump directly from a mayor's office to the White House. The discussion of the baggage which cities have historically carried among the wider electorate is actually mildly intriguing; these authors wonder whether being a mayor may carry less of a penalty these days as political polarization tracks more closely on a true urban/rural divide with the suburbs trending toward the cities. Intriguing Niskanen Center research from Will Wilkinson pursues the possibility that raw population density now predicts political leanings, yet another axis on which Republicans have hitched themselves to a declining demographic.

In any case, the discussion hit an historical nerve for me, because I grew up in the only (once) big city which has sent a mayor to the White House. I was raised on this civic accomplishment. Grover Cleveland (that's his statue outside Buffalo City Hall) was president twice, another oddity, first in 1885-9 and again in 1893-7. (In the intervening election, he won the popular vote, but not the electoral college. We know about that.) He was a Democrat, which meant in those years that he applauded the dismantling of African American Reconstruction-era political power in a solid Democratic South that provided the base for his national victories. (White Republicans were not much better, though they gave lip service to men like Frederick Douglass.) He ran on lowering government spending, against unions, for corporations, and against government corruption. As far as the last goes, his Democrats seem to have been somewhat cleaner than contemporary Republicans -- and Cleveland seems to have had the administrative chops to run the executive branch competently, no small feat in a dishonest era. No doubt, having been mayor of Buffalo and then governor of New York gave him practical experience seldom seen in less accomplished presidents.

Like many presidents, Cleveland left office deeply unpopular as political winds changed and western and southern populists led by William Jennings Bryan overwhelmed urban Democrats.

We can't neatly map the conflicts of the late 19th century onto our own, but their urgency and ferocity is a reminder that the struggle to make something of our democracy never ends.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Why is Nancy Pelosi talking about bribery?

The House Speaker does not always use the most precise language. But I think she's on to something here, although the lawyers will definitely quibble. (That's what lawyers are for.)

In case you missed it, here's how Pelosi explained the President's offense in a press conference about the impeachment inquiry this week:

The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That's bribery.

I am saying that what is — the president has admitted to and says it's perfect, I say it's perfectly wrong. It's bribery.

Pelosi is up against the fact that we tend to look at this through the wrong end of the telescope. We instinctively think what a corrupt politician wants is for someone to pay him off for using his power on behalf of the one paying.

But Trump's interaction with President Zelensky works the other way round. He's the one offering a bribe. He's offering to pay the literally embattled Ukrainian president for phony smears of Joe Biden and Democrats' 2016 campaign with our money. So what we've got here is both attempted bribery and theft from the taxpayers. It would still be bribery if Trump had offered Zelensky money from his own pocket. (Fat chance of that; he'd weasel on paying up as his foundation did with the vets.) But it's no less bribery because the money that Congress duly appropriated isn't Trump's to play with.

None of this is in the interest of United States foreign policy in support of democratic Ukraine or of the United States at all. It's in the personal interest of Donald Trump. No surprise, since the guy never discernibly has ever done anything in anyone's interest but his own.

Pelosi gets this guy. Can the rest of us?
For a less colloquial take on the "bribery" accusation, here's Charlie Savage. In particular, he explores what the men who designed the Constitution might have meant by "bribery." But for impeachment, I don't think we need to be that historically grounded and fair minded. The Orange Cheeto hopes he can use our money for his own re-election. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday scenery: a blast from the past

Now for something a little different, encountered while Walking San Francisco. People who've been around the city for awhile may recognize this, a venerable tourist attraction in the Fisherman's Wharf/Ghirardelli Square area. Those of us who live in the city seldom venture into this overcrowded, hyper-commercialized corner of the city so I had no idea of whatever happened to the Automatic Human Jukebox.

In its prime, you really could drop in your coins, select your tune from the list, and out would pop the trumpeter to blast out your selection.

A sign tells some of the story of Grimes Poznikov, a classic 1960s character who very naturally ended up in the wild and wonderful San Francisco in the 1970s. As for so many characters of that time, life didn't end well for Poznikov.

These days his box performs a utilitarian function for local construction workers.

Yes, I have a couple more San Francisco precincts to process and share while I'm 3000 miles away.

Thirty years ago ...

Six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her daughter Celina were murdered inside Central American University in San Salvador. Their killers were Salvadoran soldiers, part of the U.S.-supported army which was fighting to keep right wing oligarchs in power. NPR reporters share their vintage reporting:

ABALOS: [The Jesuits] were speaking for people who were too afraid to speak. You know, they had the mic at that time. They could deliver this message, which was - this is wrong.

HAJEK: This violence against the poor. And the country heard the priests' calls for social justice, including those who wanted them dead.

ABALOS: Whoever was viewed as the enemy was the enemy, and it didn't matter whether they wore a clerical collar or not.

HAJEK: Priests and nuns who stood with the poor were targets accused of communism. Right-wing death squads had a mantra back then - be a patriot, kill a priest.

The University of San Francisco where E.P. teaches, maintains a Ramos Room in honor of Elba.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Friday cat blogging

I've been hesitant to report about the Morty's condition. He's very up and down. Last week he had a day of vomiting and inappropriate elimination and we thought he was a goner.

Since then, he's taken to (very) moderate self-feeding and drinking, which we continue to support with subcutaneous hydration and vitamin enriched cat food pushed into him. Left to himself, he seems to prefer dry crunchies to any of the good stuff. There's no accounting for cats.

Meanwhile, sometimes he wanders about exploring his still unfamiliar environment. Here he contemplates the scene of his escape back in September. We remind him firmly, "cats don't go out."

But mostly, Morty does what many an animal would prefer as the autumn dark and cold close in: he takes to the bed (ours, naturally).

Thursday, November 14, 2019

And then there were two more ...

Just when we were beginning to get down to a more reasonable number of Democratic presidential hopefuls, we get two more.

I'm offended. If they wanted to run, they should have joined the circus back in the spring and made themselves available to Democratic Party voters to assess in action.

I watched a version of Deval Patrick's announcement video. He might have made a strong candidate; he conveys a calm confidence that he can restore decency to the White House. I was reminded that when Doug Jones unexpectedly won his Alabama Senate seat in 2017, his campaign manager reported his greatest asset was giving voters a sense that he would reduce the crazy emanated by Trump. Patrick has some of that. But when he completed his terms as Governor of Massachusetts, Patrick disqualified himself by getting a job with the private equity vulture financial firm, BainCapital. Mitt Romney's old venue is not a recommendation to Democrats, even desperate "moderate" ones.

As for Michael Bloomberg -- sure, he's funded a lot of good gun control and some climate sustainability work. But hey -- we don't need a billionaire whose idea of good police work is "stop and frisk" treatment for thousands of Black and Latin men.

Go away guys. You missed your chance and you are not what we are looking for anyway. Oh -- and use your money to elect whoever is the legitimate Dem nominee.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Martha's Vineyard confronts climate chaos

Last night I attended a packed meeting at the West Tisbury public library at which Elizabeth Durkee, the town of Oak Bluffs conservation agent, laid out what's foreseen for this island as the climate warms. The Island Climate Action Network (ICAN) is sponsoring a series of such meetings in this quiet season.

I expected to hear a lot about the dangers of rising seas, and I did. Many of the island's roads skirt the shoreline and may be inundated by more powerful storms and the ocean itself over the next few decades. Significant island infrastructure -- the ferry landings through which people and commerce flow and the only hospital -- are located in areas that will flood.

But as a Californian, I was struck by this which I much less expected:
The wooded areas where I delight to run are very much at risk in years of drought according to town maps, as is this house. Accumulated dead wood in these wild forests creates acute fire danger. According to the Martha's Vineyard Commission website:

Climate change is bringing more periods of drought, i.e. extended periods of deficient water supply, punctuated by heavy rainstorms. This will increase the risk of wildfires, especially in the spring, before trees have leafed out. Wildfire could strike quickly with potential for great loss of life and property.

On Martha’s Vineyard, between 1867 and 1929, there were 16 fires greater than 1,000 acres, the largest burning 12,000 acres from West Tisbury to Farm Neck, Ocean Heights, and Edgartown in 1916. Since then, fires have generally been smaller. The last big fire was in 1965, burning 1,200 acres from Great Plains to Katama. In 1957, a fire burned 18,000 acres from Carver to Plymouth, burning all the way to the sea; 12,500 acres, more than twice the area of Martha’s Vineyard’s State Forest, burned in 6 hours.

The Vineyard probably has more people and buildings at risk from wildfire than at any time in our history because of several factors:

  • The regeneration of the forest in land that was largely open pasture in the 18th and 19th centuries;
  • The large population growth and amount of construction of almost exclusively wooden buildings since the 1950s;
  • Fire suppression efforts over the past century, leading to the buildup of fuel;
  • The presence of hundreds of acres of dead trees from a caterpillar infestation in 2004 to 2007 as well as trees that died throughout the Island from other causes;
  • and the increased risk of drought due to climate change.

It's not just California (and Australia) that can burn.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

GOPers seem to believe their own bullshit

Do a significant number of Republican Congresscritters actually believe the Trump-serving nonsense served up by Paul Manafort, that addled hack Rudi Giuliani, and various right wing trolls about Ukraine? Their tale is that this enfeebled country meddled in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton. Any Trump transgressions were merely self-defense. Congressman Devin Nunes's list of preferred witnesses for the impeachment inquiry certainly seems derived from this fable.

If anyone knew anything about Ukraine -- which by and large we don't -- this would simply be nuts. In 2014 Ukrainian citizens gathered in Kiev, sick of the corrupt rule of President Viktor Yanukovych, and overthrew this Russian-sympathizing leader. Their struggle was dramatic, multi-faceted, and turned bloody. When Yanukovych fled to Russia, triumphant citizens flooded to visit his magnificent mansion and private zoo. They wanted the place preserved as a symbol of their overthrow of the old regime, but perhaps inevitably never agreed on a national narrative.

Russia under Putin did have a narrative about Ukraine: the country was merely an amputated appendage of the historic great Russian empire, ripe for destabilization and seizure if possible. Most Ukrainians hoped their future was being part of Europe; Russia did everything it could to reclaim its "lost" territory, seizing the Crimean peninsula from Kiev and supporting armed separatists on Ukraine's Russian border.

Trump campaign hack Paul Manafort emerged from this stew. He had profited by flacking for disgraced President Yanukovich; he threw in with Russia's aims for Urkaine, presumably because that's where the money is. Rudi -- same deal. They sold Trump on the idea that Ukraine was doing dirty work for Hillary and the DNC, much to Russia's delight. Trump believed them -- he's got a thing for shady post-Soviets. Also for anti-Semitic tropes, so he has warmed to the Russian lie that somehow Ukrainian independence from Russia is a George Soros plot.

Every creditable investigation of 2016 campaign interference from abroad found Putin's secret police, not the barely functional, semi-democratic regime in Ukraine. That includes our national security spooks, Robert Mueller, and even the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee. There is no real argument about this. Trump's smarter appointees have tried to get him off the Ukraine fable, but he isn't budging. And so his sycophants in Congress and the administration must also believe.

This will shape the on-going impeachment inquiry. I hope -- and I think trust -- that Trump can't envelope the entire system in his delusion -- but we'll see.

Monday, November 11, 2019

For Veterans Day

For as long as I can remember, my recently deceased friend and mother-in-law kept this snippet of an antiwar poem posted on her refrigerator.

The next and final stanza of the Graves poem reads:

But the boys who were killed in the trenches,
Who fought with no rage and no rant,
We left them stretched out on their pallets of mud
Low down with the worm and the ant.

Like so many of the survivors of what we call the First World War, Robert Graves was not a chest beater. Do read all this short, searing poem. Graves went on to write one of the most devastating accounts anywhere of how what we now label PTSD broke down men dumped into trench warfare.

According to a Pew Center survey, majorities of U.S. veterans who have served in the post 9/11 Forever Wars think those conflicts have not been worth fighting. As the young officer John Kerry asked near the end of his war, the war in Vietnam:

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

There's got to be a better way than harnessing the best impulses of young people, their fearlessness and desire to excel, to fruitless causes.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Twenty-five years ago: when nativist fears engulfed California

Twenty-five years ago this November, the electorate of the state of California passed Prop. 187 with 59 percent of the vote. Prop. 187 aimed to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving any public benefits such as health care, education, and social services.

For much of the white majority, the measure was a blow against an unfounded terror unleashed by a perceived Latinx invasion -- of people with and without legal papers -- people who spoke Spanish and, coincidentally, did much of the state's dirtiest and least respected work.

For much of the state's huge Latin-rooted population (19 percent in those days), Prop. 187 was quite simply a politician's self-serving assault on them and their families. Los Angeles Times reporter Gustavo Arellano has offered a perspective from his high school experience.

Gov. Pete Wilson, facing an uphill reelection campaign, led the charge, releasing campaign ads that showed grainy footage of people swarming across the San Ysidro border crossing as an ominous voice intoned: “They keep coming.”

Many Latinos, legal or not, saw the proposition as an existential threat. Wilson’s “they” looked an awful lot like them.

... Back in the fall of 1994, my first brush with immigration politics came when I was walking home from Anaheim High School and a truckful of white teenage boys yelled at me “187! 187!”

I had no idea what they meant, until I got home and turned on the news. Those white boys who yelled at me were all the explanation I needed about the proposition.

Arellano describes the excitement of student-led marches against this moral outrage and how he and his Latinx friends settled back into their lives.

For nearly all of my classmates who participated, it would be their first and last demonstration. They went on to normal, working-class lives — teachers, construction workers, city jobs, the military. ... Living fruitful lives was a direct repudiation against what Proposition 187 represented.

Many Latinx leaders did take up the political struggle to engage immigrant communities as voting citizens as well as workers. Another Southern California native, now a political scientist, thinks Prop. 187 changed the trajectory of Latinx power in the Golden State.

“Pete Wilson transformed us all,” said Lisa Garcia Bedolla, vice provost for graduate studies at UC Berkeley. The Downey native has written multiple scholarly articles, studies and books about the proposition’s impact on Latinos who grew up in the era. “I don’t know if he knows that, and I don’t know if that’s what he wants to be his legacy, but that’s how it is.”

Present day California Secretary of State Alex Padilla was one of those young people activated by Prop. 187. His office has created an online archival look at the struggle over the measure. Being a politician, his telling focuses on politicians:

According to Census Current Population Survey data, in 1994 there were 1.4 million Latinos registered to vote in California; today there are more than 4 million. There has been a more than 100 percent increase in Latinos serving in the state legislature. In 1996, there were 14 Latino state legislators; today, there are 29. In 1996, there were no Latino statewide officeholders; today, there are four. The U.S. House of Representatives had four Latinos from California in 1996, there are now 14. Prop 187 served as the catalyst for a new generation of activists who have led the way in creating the nation’s most inclusive set of policies and rights for immigrants.

It sure didn't feel so hopeful in the immediate aftermath, but determined Californians have made the state a better place; can we now meet the new challenges of our present time?

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Saturday scenery: Vineyard vistas

That's a flat expanse -- and magnificent, though threatened by rising seas. I was scoping out a long run route along the bike path between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs when I encountered the rainbow.

Out at the end of a finger of land that reaches toward the ocean at Long Point, this view is in the direction of Tisbury Great Pond.

This view is from bluffs on the Sound (mainland facing) side of this island.

Friday, November 08, 2019

What has been lost in Rojava

It's been a depressing reality of the Forever Wars subsequent to the 9/11 attacks that well-intentioned U.S.-based peace activists and anti-imperialists have been corralled in a poster of pure opposition. Unlike past U.S. imperial forays into Central America and mid-20th century Vietnam, nobody in the countries we have been blasting apart seemed to be building anything we could much affirm. The Arab Spring offered a momentary hope, but as that democratic eruption was crushed by the usual monarchs, oil barons, generals, and patriarchs, we retreated to thinking as little as possible about places like Syria and Yemen where our country's armed forces continued to wage war.

And so, when Donald Trump did a solid for his brother strongmen Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia by abruptly pulling back U.S. forces in Syria last month, we were largely unequipped to understand that an innovative, even exciting, social experiment was being wiped out. In their embattled enclave on the Syrian-Turkish border, Kurds had built Rojava -- a society based on the communal, libertarian, feminist theories of their imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan. Turkey says he's a terrorist -- though there have been no terrorist attacks on Turkey from this area in 20 years.

Here are some thoughts from Peter Galbraith, no leftist, just a competent U.S. citizen-observer who has been engaging with Kurds, Kurdish nationalism, and Kurdish politics beginning with a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan in 1987 as a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's disgusted that most everyone in his own country has responded to the destruction of Rojava merely as a possible set back to the fight against ISIS.

If policymakers looked beyond the Kurds’ military utility, they would see a remarkable social revolution with potential implications well beyond Kurdish territory. As Assad’s opponents captured more land in 2012, the Syrian army withdrew from the strategically less important northeast. The PYD was the strongest of the Kurdish political parties that filled the void there, and it looked to Öcalan for guidance.

When he founded the PKK in 1978, Öcalan was a Marxist who modeled himself on Josef Stalin, to whom he bore an uncanny physical resemblance. In 1999 Turkish commandos captured Öcalan in Kenya. Until 2009, he was the only prisoner on İmralı island in the Sea of Marmara. He has had a lot of time to read. With both Marx and Stalin long out of fashion, his lawyers gave Öcalan Turkish translations of two books by my fellow Vermonter Murray Bookchin, who argued for a society based on strict gender equality, direct democracy based on representing communities, and radical environmentalism. Öcalan was impressed and wrote Bookchin in Burlington to say he was one of his best students. Through his lawyers—and occasional visitors—Öcalan also communicated Bookchin’s views to his cadres.

Following Bookchin’s philosophy, northeast Syria’s many communities are represented in multilayered governmental structures. Legislative bodies—city councils or cantonal parliaments—include Kurds, Arabs, Christians, and Yazidis and are equally divided between male and female legislators. Each canton has a male and female co–prime minister, each municipality a female and male co-mayor, and male and female coleaders of each political party. No more than 60 percent of civil servants can be from the same gender. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) sits atop these governmental structures. It has a Kurdish woman and an Arab man as its copresidents.

... The NES has shortcomings, of course, and the biggest is an unwillingness to accept real dissent. In the course of my visits, I have met the leaders of at least twenty different political parties, all of whom expressed nearly identical positions on the major issues. Meanwhile, the NES authorities closed the offices of the Kurdish National Council, the PYD’s rival, and periodically arrested or expelled its leaders. During my trips to northeast Syria since 2014, no topic consumed more of my time than the release of political prisoners.

Nevertheless, it is hard not to appreciate the revolutionary nature of what the Kurds have accomplished. In 2016 I traveled to the front line on the outskirts of Raqqa. Members of the Kurdish militia known as the Women’s Defense Units had just captured a police station. They bivouacked with their male counterparts and demonstrated the same mastery of weaponry as the men. An ISIS fighter lay dead among the debris nearby, with an uncertain fate in paradise: ISIS fighters believe a jihadi killed by a woman will not get his seventy-two doe-eyed virgins, a significant disincentive to martyrdom when taking on the Women’s Defense Units.

On my last visit, I was out for a stroll in Amuda, a small Kurdish city in sight of the Turkish border wall, and I passed a TV station. My interpreter suggested we go in. Every employee—from top management to cleaning staff and including anchors, reporters, camera operators, and technicians—was a woman. Jin TV broadcasts four hours a day from Amuda, and its reporters explained the station’s mission as promoting women’s rights by ending child marriages and polygamy. There is nothing like it anyplace in the Middle East, or, so far as I know, in the world. It is certainly not a culture normally associated with terrorism. ...

If this sounds like a story you'd like to know more about, you can listen to this from WNYC's On the Media, direct from Rojava.
I've thought a good deal about why we in the peace movement have not been making ourselves more aware of Rojava's accomplishments. Syria has been a no-go place for good long time. Sadly. There have been some appreciative stories in progressive outlets. The feminist author Meredith Tax tried to alert us. But such efforts were a little obscure. Were Öcalan's sophisticated anarchists just not our kind of revolutionaries? An article in Jacobin fixated on Kurdish nationalism as a "Gramscian game," apparently loathe to take Rojava on its own terms.

We missed something, I suspect. We miss a lot.

Photo credit: A sewing cooperative by Janet Biehl

Thursday, November 07, 2019

This is the sort of right wing ideologue that GOPers are making judges

Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee will vote today whether to pass this guy on to be made an appeals court judge -- for life.
In this video, Rachel Maddow dissects Steven Menashi's opinion, outlined in a law review article, that "ethnonationalism" -- that is, white supremacy -- is a necessary element of a well-functioning liberal democracy. Really. She seems almost stunned. He's a misogynist and a homophobe too, to go by his writings.

Yesterday the NY Times reported on Menashi's role while working for Betsy DeVos at the Education Department in illegally using Social Security data to deny relief to students who had been defrauded by one of these crackpot for-profit "colleges."

If confirmed -- unless perhaps this piece-of-work commits a crime while in judicial office which seems not impossible based on past behavior -- we're stuck with his opinions for as along as he lives.

UPDATE: Steven Menashi's nomination was passed on to the full Senate with the votes of all 12 Republicans on the committee -- and no Democrats.

UPDATE 2: Menashi was confirmed by the Senate on a party line vote.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

We're living in the Pyrocene

(Thinking of my California friends.)

... humans turned from burning living landscapes to burning lithic ones in the form of fossil fuels. That is the Big Burn of today, acting as a performance enhancer on all aspects of fire’s global presence. So vast is the magnitude of these changes that we might rightly speak of a coming Fire Age equivalent in stature to the Ice Ages of the Pleistocene. Call it the Pyrocene.

So there does exist a narrative, one of the oldest known to humanity, and one that has defined our distinctive ecological agency. It’s the story of fire.  Earth is a uniquely fire planet – it has been since life clambered onto the continents.  Equally, humans are a uniquely fire creature, not only the keystone species for fire but a species monopolist over its manipulation.  The fires in the Arctic testify to the planetary antiquity of fire.  Nearly all are kindled by lightning and burn biotas nicely adapted to fire; many could be suppressed, but extinguishing them will only put off, not put out, the flames. By contrast, the fires in the Amazon bear witness to a Faustian pact that hominins made with fire so long ago it is coded into our genome.  They are set by people in circumstances that people made, well outside ecological barriers and historical buffers.
This is a narrative so ancient it is prelapsarian. Our alliance with fire has become a veritable symbiosis.  We got small guts and big heads because we learned to cook food.  We went to the top of the food chain because we learned to cook landscapes.  Now we have become a geological force because we have begun to cook the planet.  We have taken fire to places and times it could never have reached on its own, and it has taken us everywhere, even off world. We have leveraged fire; fire has leveraged us. ...

Steve Pyne, emeritus professor at Arizona State University, is the author of the recently updated and revised Fire: A Brief History from which this is excerpted.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Wishful thinking

Ezra Klein, wonk explainer extraordinaire, dug through the innards of Elizabeth Warren's latest attempt to turn our aspirations for Medicare for All into an economically viable plan. As far as I can judge, his is a fair effort. But that's too deep for me. I was struck by a throwaway line in the midst of it:

The compromises you make to calm backlash are also compromises that disillusion your own supporters. ...

So true.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) defended Medicare for All plans (she has one too) with similar logic:

“It’s just really clear that this is not a question of: Can we do it viably?” Jayapal said. “It’s a question of: Do we have the political will to take on the entrenched interests?”

This time around, more and more politicians do aim to summon that will -- perhaps largely because they are living in the shadow of the last Democratic president.

Barack Obama just wouldn't go there. The symbolism of electing a Black man with a funny name in 2008 thrilled many of us to our cores. You can re-experience a smidgen of the extraordinary experiment in engaged citizenship that Obama's first campaign was by listening to his manager's current podcast about winning Iowa. But before he was even inaugurated, Obama began to backtrack on the social movement-like coalition that he'd assembled, including a homophobic preacher in the Washington ceremony. Perhaps the awesome responsibility of overcoming economic disaster overwhelmed him, but soon he trimmed his own sails and the promise eroded into half measures. This may have been all he could get -- but all he could get demobilized his own constituency and left him ensnared in a bailout for the greedy wreckers of the economy and a health plan that could be diminished by right wing sniping, a crummy web interface, and a hostile Supreme Court.

Obama's failures as a social movement leader set the stage for all of the current Democrats to have to move left/populist to re-engage the diverse constituencies that make up the modern party. They have no choice because the last guy didn't deliver and only a fully engaged populace can overcome the demons Donald Trump has empowered. It seems strange sometimes, but a campaign that ignores Trump and goes toward what people hope for, rather than what we all fear, seems the way to get what must be done, done.

It's going to be a long year. May we emerge with a candidate who doesn't make it all harder ...

Monday, November 04, 2019

Why do we have to change our clocks twice a year?

It's taken me all day to figure out why I'm slightly out of sorts. Sure, plenty has been going on around me, much not pleasant, but I think I'm also feeling the time change. It seems like it's only an hour, but that hour difference can throw me off, especially these days when I'm outside a lot.

Where did this strange custom originate? The warring powers in Europe's Great War (1914-1918) set the pattern, believing they could lower lighting costs by the shift toward evening light. The U.S. picked the idea up from them. Farmers hated it; they and their critters did better with more morning light year round. Changing the time became a matter of local option until Congress legislated national daylight saving time (DST) in 1966. Under the Nixon administration, the country responded to an oil shortage by trying year-round DST. That didn't go well; winter darkness became another irritant to an irritated country. Congress fixed the current schedule for the time change in 2005.

Political scientists have looked into whether ideological inclinations correlate with wanting more or permanent DST. They do.

Conservatives (and Republicans) have been more resistant to expanding DST than liberals (and Democrats). This may seem surprising given the business community’s support for DST. But conservatives’ opposition probably stems from a broader aversion to government intrusion into something as fundamental as the time of day.

Lawmakers also pay close attention to local special interests when voting on changes to DST. Specifically, the greater the proportion of farmers in a district, the stronger their representatives’ opposition to DST in Congress. Members closer to the western border of their specific time zone — where DST pushed sunrise much later into their day and thus increased morning darkness and potentially accident risks — were less supportive than those farther away from the western edge.

Given these factors, it is no surprise that last year Californians voted to ask the state legislature to approve the change and demand it from the national Congress. There's one more measure we're not likely to get out of the current Washington log jam.

I'm all for permanent DST. I like morning light.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

All Souls Day: A great teacher remembered

I try annually on the Feast of All Souls/Dia de los Muertos to write a remembrance of someone that I knew whose days among the living have ended. One of the truths of aging is that each of us accumulates more and more such persons; our personal cloud of witnesses grows with our years.

Today I want to remember Susan R. Schapiro, 1930-2011.

"Mrs. Schapiro," as I will always think of her, taught me first high school geometry and then an elective course she had designed herself, called "Problems of Democracy." The latter was considered by my traditional girls school very difficult, obscure, and perhaps slightly subversive, suitable only for particularly ambitious seniors. I somehow talked myself into it a year early. It was my only experience in high school of delighted intellectual engagement.

She seemed very different from the rest of our teachers, though I couldn't have said exactly how until the internet allowed me to research her background much later in life. Like most of the student body, she came out of comfortable upper middle class Buffalo; like about 20 percent of the students, she was Jewish rather than white-bread Protestant, but certainly not therefore unconventional. I remember baby-sitting once for her new born infant daughter; her household seemed just like every other one of our class, with perhaps a few more books.

She had graduated from the school in the late 1940s; my mother remembered her from Mother's stint as the librarian. She went on to Mills College in California, something of an unlikely destination for a Buffalonian of her generation. After college she attended Harvard Law School, a member of only the second class there that included women. She left after one year, returned to Buffalo, and gradually created an unconventional teaching path that I suspect, in distant hindsight, was always somewhat disturbing to the institutions where she practiced her craft. Somehow she endured and rose above the stifling intellectual conformity and conservatism of the 1950s in a gray provincial city.

And what was Mrs. Schapiro's craft? She sought to elicit from students (and if necessary rigorously demand of us) that we engage with texts, understand their implications, and think critically for ourselves about them. What were her texts? Everything from the prophet Samuel's admonition to the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible to beware of kings to the Jewish, pacifist, democratic socialist credo of Albert Einstein. Oh, and all those difficult great thinkers in between -- Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, John Stuart Mill, Jefferson, Lincoln ... Yes, her canon as I encountered in it the early 1960s was woefully short of women and people of color. It was of its time. She was endlessly capable of looking for new thoughts -- and insisted on interrogating her own discoveries.

When the local elite boys high school went co-ed sometime after I left Buffalo forever in 1969, she took her course there. I always had a suspicion there was something uncomfortable about that lateral leap. There she created a Department of Philosophy, Religion and Social Relations whose offerings included "Afro-American Literature,” the “Literature of Identity” and “Existentialism in Literature.” Too bad I missed out on those offerings! By the 1980s, she'd gone back to school herself, earning a doctorate at age 61 and joined the faculty at the University of Buffalo, creating the Methods of Inquiry Program, teaching critical thinking skills to students with relatively low test scores and high school grades. In the 1990s, I remember hearing that Mrs. Schapiro was offering adult philosophy courses at the urban church, Trinity Episcopal, where I was raised.

Mrs. Schapiro lived to teach people to think. What could be more honorable?

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Saturday scenery: the chill deepens

Ah, seasonal change. In California, even as daylight wanes, it's not so obvious the earth's tilt is pushing us through another cycle of hibernation and re-awakening. But here in New England, it's all too obvious.

The creatures are fattening themselves up for the long cold.

By dawn's early light, a squirrel chases the last crabapple on a high branch. Sixty-mile per hours wind gusts had shut down the island ferry system -- but they didn't deter the squirrel.

These look like ordinary mallard ducks to me, but they'll soon be joined in tough weather by sea ducks who winter on the island when the ocean becomes too icy.

Tomorrow morning, the time change will mean earlier morning light and earlier evening. My body has already made the change, before we get around to changing the clocks. Perhaps that's how I winterize.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Ellinor R. Mitchell, 1930-2019

When someone you love dies, you realize, if only for a moment, that your world will never be quite the same again.

My mother-in-law -- as she eventually decided to introduce me -- died Friday morning. Ellinor Mitchell was 89. She was beautiful, charming, cultured, accomplished, idiosyncratic, and sometimes caustic as well as generous and determined to be on the side of the right as she saw it. That is, she was her unique self.

She lived with Erudite Partner's father for some forty years, much of it in the house on Martha's Vineyard that they built together. This was the place she loved in later years, after venturing on the streets and public transit of her beloved New York City came to feel too difficult. I am working at her desk where until recently she painstakingly composed letters to the local papers calling out the wrongs of island life.

In mid-life, she wrote two books introducing Chinese acupuncture to an American audience. Late in life, she labored through an arduous course to earn a certificate for teaching English as a Second Language; she wanted to use her gift for encountering foreign-born strangers and making them friends.

For her last two years, she lived with her daughter in York, Maine, receiving the attentions of various domestic animals and her large family.

Friday cat blogging

Perhaps this should be dispatches from the cat hospital. Morty endures -- ambulatory, digestive functions apparently working, affectionate when awake -- but neither eating nor drinking on his own. The blood work from the vet suggests no obvious impairment, except low potassium. We're fairly successfully feeding and hydrating him. He's not gaining weight, but he's not losing. We continue ... he continues.
Here he grooms EP. What could be more cat like?