Thursday, April 27, 2017

100 days of resistance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Too tired -- and busy -- to post

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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The predator and the prude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Lest we forget: massacres then and now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

#MarchforScience: for all generations

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

And you turn out for future generations.

You know you want to pass on your values.

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

Kids get it.

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

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

No one is taking any nonsense here.

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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

#MarchforScience snapshots

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

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

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

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

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

A movement takes all kinds ...

and many cultural and generational expressions.

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

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

Saturday urban scenery: affirmations of resistance

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

A culturally appropriate message for the Mission.

The bakery makes a more general statement.

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

Remarkable and remarked.

And this goes to the heart of the matter.

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Why the March for Science?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday cat blogging

Safe behind glass, this animal eyed me.

Outside, any passerby is inherently more threatening.

These Richmond district cats were encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

You gotta have hope

The Democratic Party intellectual and political scientist Ruy Teixeira is promoting a new book that counters the current mood among many of us: The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think. I have not read it and likely won't ever get around to it. But he offers a synopsis of some of its points in an excerpt at Vox.

Some parts of his argument ring true to me: after all, I'm a Californian who has seen that the rise in voting strength of people of color communities and of a younger set have wrested the state from the death grip of frightened old white people. That something similar is painfully progressing in the rest of the country looks obvious from the Left Coast.

Other Teixeira themes seem not so self-evident. I just can't buy that economic growth is always good and that such growth will compensate for the dislocations that globalism imposes on some people and some communities. Either we're all in this together or we're not. People who get left behind and left out naturally demand to be heard and cared for. A left which is not paying attention to them is not worth much.

But I resonated deeply with this part of Teixeira's argument:

Many on the left insist that it is their job to highlight negative trends with as much theatricality as possible, since that is where the motivation for change will come from. But this confuses the motivations of left activists with the motivations of average citizens. It is absolutely true that most left activists are fundamentally motivated by what they see as wrong and unjust in contemporary social arrangements.

But this just isn’t the way most people work. The typical American generally adopts a bifurcated view of their situation that does not comport well with the relentless pessimism of many leftists. On the one hand, most Americans do tend to believe that many things have changed for the worse — that the economy has been doing poorly, that long-term trends have hurt security for average families, that leaders just don't get it. On the other hand, these very same Americans believe that they are holding up their end of the economic bargain, that they are working hard and doing right by their families, that their story is one of achievement against the odds, not pessimism and despair. Left pessimism appeals to one side of Americans’ outlook, completely missing the other.

The left should reject this approach. Leftists and liberals should promote instead a sense that positive change has been, is, and will continue to be possible. That will make it far easier to mobilize their fellow citizens. ...

In my experience, the further "left" someone considers themself to be, the more likely that person is to insist that the only truthful assessment of our situation is that everything is FUBAR- Fucked Up Beyond All Redemption.

We cannot ask people to struggle for justice from that standpoint. Being normal humans, they'll recoil. There are always elements of hope.

The job of progressive activists is to identify hopeful paths and help others to do the same -- and help each other to follow where those insights lead.

There's quite enough to do. Resist and protect much.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

No Congressional seat is safe for Republicans in this era

Damn, this Democrat beat all the odds and nearly won a strongly Republican Georgia Congressional seat outright yesterday. This is the district that used to elect Newt Gingrich; an unknown young Congressional staffer isn't supposed to be able to make a dent there.

Now the contest goes to a straight up vote between Ossoff who got 49 percent and Karen Handel, the top GOPer, who came in second with 20 percent. Handel is something of a piece of work. In 2012, when she worked at the breast cancer group the Susan B. Komen Foundation, she was responsible for getting its board to end grants to Planned Parenthood. When that news leaked out, Komen lost 22 percent of its funding for the next year. Komen's base of women supporters rose up in outrage. Handel quickly resigned. It sure would be nice to see Jon Ossoff thwart her electoral ambitions.

For me, it means I'll be on the receiving end of a couple of additional months of Ossoff's fundraising emails. I know the guy needs the money, but whatever email consulting firm Ossoff is using sure is annoying.

But hey, email annoyance is a small price to pay for an additional, unexpected Democratic Congressional victory.

Resist and protect much.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

For DiFi, a necessary nudge

Environmental activists and a posse of Indivisables rallied outside our senior Senator's Market Street office today. They want to hear from her that she'll fight riders to the upcoming budget bill that would further enable fossil fuel companies to pollute the land.

It's always a good a idea to keep on Senator Feinstein's case -- sometimes she seems oblivious to constituents.

Democrats: don't neglect the corruption

What I learned from taking part in the Tax March over the weekend was striking enough that it feels worth repeating: there's a substantial group of citizens, not so much usual protesters but newcomers to active dissent, whom the Cheato's blatant, lazy, greed simply repulses.

If Democrats don't carry this message front and center, in every aspect of campaigns for the House and Senate in 2018, they'll be missing a real opportunity to broaden their appeal.

Professor Stephen Walt is demonstrating how to talk about this in the unlikely arena of foreign policy.

Trump doesn’t actually care if his policies work or not. He doesn’t care if health care is ever fixed, if the climate warms up and millions of people die, if coal miners or autoworkers get new and better jobs, if the Islamic State is ever defeated, or if U.S. infrastructure is rebuilt. All he cares about is whether he can convince people that he’s responsible for anything good that happens and persuade them that adverse developments are someone else’s fault. It has been apparent from day one that Trump cares first and foremost about himself, his family, and his fortune. Full stop. Doing the people’s business — that is, actually governing — is hard work, and it really cuts into the time you can spend on the golf course.

Not caring about getting anything done is also liberating: It means you can hire whomever you want, give them a thousand impossible things to do before breakfast, and then get back to correcting your slice. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why [son-in-law] Jared Kushner has a job in the White House that no one could possibly perform.

It’s also why you don’t see [Kushner] devoting much time or effort to trying to resist the Washington foreign-policy establishment his father-in-law once so vociferously maligned, as evidenced by the recent humanitarian intervention in Syria and discussion of sending tens of thousands of ground troops there. It is entirely predictable that Kushner, and Trump, would abdicate to the Blob, since their stated political beliefs, even when they contained a glimmer of insight, were never moored by practical knowledge. The Trump family’s essential interest in the jobs they’ve acquired is personal vanity; they’re happy — indeed, obliged — to outsource those jobs’ other aspects.

It's not hard to make these points, because they are simply true. Sure, political junkies may consider them too obvious to be worth mentioning and cynics may just dismiss Trump's greed as the way of Washington and elite capitalism. But there are lots of people who care and who want something better. Tell them they have a right to object to kleptocracy and you unleash a force. Offer them candidates who credibly propose a better way, and they just might buy it.
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