Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Yet another test of what kind of country this is


Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether to uphold President Trump's Muslim Ban 3.0. Though somewhat more carefully drawn than previous versions, this executive order essentially blocks entry into the United States by most people from the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The government says they are acting to keep out people who threaten our security. But Trump hasn't been shy about saying that he'd really like "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." Just before issuing this version of the ban, he tweeted that the restrictions "should be far larger, tougher and more specific - but stupidly that would not be politically correct!"

It remains to be seen whether this Court wants to make the country party to ugly religious bigotry by affirming Trump's ban.

Meanwhile Muslims in this country live within a climate of increasing threat. The Council on American-Islamic Relation's annual civil rights report documented

a 17 percent increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents nationwide in 2017 over 2016. This was accompanied by a 15 percent increase in hate crimes targeting American Muslims, including children, youth, and families, over the same period.

Of particular alarm is the fact that federal government agencies instigated 35 percent of all anti-Muslim bias incidents recorded in 2017. This represents an almost unprecedented level of government hostility toward a religious minority within the United States, and is counter to the American value of religious freedom.

What's it like for US Muslims these days? Too much of this:
  • Virginia: “It just feels like a nightmare. Just a bad dream and we’re gonna wake up from it,” said an American Muslim couple whose apartment was broken into and vandalized while they were out of state visiting family. They received a call about the break-in and returned home to find “f*** Muslims” written on the wall, their Quran torn to shreds, and all their valuables gone."
  • California: Two American Muslims who were cousins were held at gunpoint by an automotive body repair shop employee. The employee made several derogatory comments, including “go back to Afghanistan,” “all you [people] are alike,” and “get out of our country.” He then pulled out a gun and accosted the two American Muslim customers.
  • Michigan: An American Muslim family had their children taken by Child Protective Services. They requested that the children be placed in an American Muslim family’s home but were told that none were available. The children were instead placed with a strictly practicing Christian family. The American Muslim family was threatened with complete separation from their children if they refused to consent to their children attending church services with the foster family.
  • Ohio:The U.S. government denied a Muslim man, married to an American Muslim U.S. citizen, an immigrant visa for nine years. During the course of their unusually delayed application process, the couple had four children together and the Muslim applicant missed an opportunity to accept a full scholarship to earn his doctoral degree in psychology at an American university. This caused extreme hardship to his family. The U.S. Consulate refused to provide the couple with any reason for the visa delay, other than to state that it was in “administrative processing.” CAIR Ohio’s Columbus chapter filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. Consequently, the Consulate was compelled to grant the man his immigrant visa. In December 2017, he was able to join his wife and children in the U.S. after a nine-year wait.
  • Oregon: Vandals spray painted “ISIS” in large red letters on the walls of the Abu Bakar Islamic Center in Portland. New Jersey: The Islamic Center of Passaic County received a spate of eight phone calls containing death threats over the course of 24 hours. The callers used profane language and stated they would kill the attendees and “burn [the] mosque down.”
Globalization, an interconnected world where cultures and faiths and social structures meet and sometimes collide, is scary. It's also here, a fact. Freedom of (and freedom from) religion is one of the pillars that can made a global society work. No wall can roll back the global reality. In its better moments, this country has held up religious freedom as a core principle. Is that true today?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

We can house some homeless students ... why not?

Yesterday afternoon as I got out of my car across from Buena Vista/Horace Mann School, a small, slightly diffident, white woman approached me.

"Do you live at this house?" she asked.

"Yes, I do. Is everything okay?"

"Do you know they are planning to put homeless families in this school?" she continued.

"Why yes -- I think it is a great idea," says I. And with that we were off on a long, utterly civil discussion. Suffice to say, she feels the school is failing her child who has special needs and, she explained, doesn't get the program she needs. She believes the school is failing all its children. She doesn't think it should take on one more thing.

I don't really know whether it's true the school fails many kids. I am confident that the teachers over there are doing their best; few people teach in inner city schools except from devotion to the kids. I also am pretty dubious that any of us have good measures of educational success, since I think testing kids all the time only makes it harder to help them learn.

And I do like the idea of using school facilities to house a few of the many school families who have no stable place to live in our crazy, inflated housing environment. According to the school, there are some 60 such kids among their students. There are thousands of students in unstable living situations in the city. We should use the facilities the city already has to reduce some tiny fraction of this crisis situation -- or so I think. It's fine to demand that it be done thoughtfully and carefully, but we don't want the novelty of the idea to overwhelm its promise.

So it was nice to see that three Buena Vista/Horace Mann School parents have explained why they want this to happen in an oped in the Chronicle. Here's how they explain their support:
Buena Vista school can meet its homeless students’ needs now
 Principal Richard Zapien, walks the floor of the gymnasium, where the shelter would be located at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 school in San Francisco, Calif
We are two moms and a dad trying to raise kids in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Every day we see the effect this is having on families at all income levels at our children’s school — and how devastating it is to our most low-income families.

Last month, one of us saw a mother scolding her two kids not to run in the playground after school. When we asked why, she shared that she didn’t want them to get dirty because they are living in their car and can’t bathe or easily wash clothes. It was heartbreaking to hear.

One of us knows a mom of three who stayed in an abusive relationship because she felt she had nowhere else to go — she and her kids lived with him. At one point, her third-grader started to kick the walls of his classroom. It pains us to think of the trauma that this child was going through. ...
Go read what these parents have to say.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Why are the National Parks so white?

This sharp short video answers that question succinctly -- and includes a multitude of old pictures from America's Best Idea (if you weren't a native person who was dispossessed in order to create them.)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Letter to some editors


Dear Washington Post,

Why so mealy-mouthed? The nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency has once again raised awareness of the torture practices the George W. Bush regime instigated, allowed, and covered for in the wars of the '00s. Nobody disputes that Haspel ran one of the "black sites" where the CIA literally taught itself how to torture, using the body of Abu Zubaydah. Nobody disputes that she dispatched the order to destroy video tapes of waterboarding, though the CIA contends she was just following orders (no shit, that's how this action is discussed.)

But over and over, the Washington Post writes around what all the world calls by its name: torture. Some samples:

  • "techniques often referred to as torture"
  • "[Senator Rand] Paul also intends to vote no because of her role in harsh interrogations during the Bush administration."

The debate is over. The torture apologists lost. The US tortured and has been rightly condemned around the world. Even that careful Senator Diane Feinstein calls what we were doing "torture."

Call it what is was. Get real with your "Democracy Dies in Darkness" stuff. Democracy dies when truth is obscured by phony polite obfuscations.

Yours sincerely,

A concerned citizen

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday scenes and scenery: E.P. is learning to ride

We spent a lovely afternoon in Pacifica yesterday; she worked at her new avocation. I watched and enjoyed the sun. Juniper seemed to enjoy being curried and brushed.

Both rider and horse warmed up in the dirt ring.

E.P.'s oh-so-encouraging teacher Claire watches her trot. I get joy from seeing E.P. get joy from her new relationship with the horse.

Friday, April 20, 2018

From the perspective of 1968, they asked "now what?"

My dear friend Max Elbaum's thoughtful and exhaustive chronicle of how some of the 1960's best and brightest US leftist radicals charged off down a Leninist party-building rabbit hole for a couple of decades -- Revolution in the Air with a new foreword by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter -- has come out in paperback. This history of well-intended struggle and idealism losing touch with the realities of its own society is well worth preserving; Max's comprehensive account of the New Communist Movement ensures that experience won't be entirely inaccessible to new generations of activists.

The social and student movements of the 1960s in this country and throughout the world, the civil rights and Black freedom struggles, mushrooming resistance to the imperial US war in Vietnam, and more, all reached a zenith in 1968 -- and that explosion of energy left a lot of young people wondering where to go from here. Max's subject (of which he was a leader) is the direction a devoted subset of those young people came up with.

... a portion of those who participated developed a long term commitment to political activism. Many of them -- seeing how intransigent "the establishment" was in resisting racial equality and defending imperial prerogatives -- decided that "the system" could not be reformed. ... Within the Third World Marxist ranks, a determined contingent set out to build tight-knit cadre organizations. ... Deciding that the real problem was that the Communist Party USA wasn't Leninist enough, they set out to build a new vanguard of their own. From 1968 through the mid-1970s, the resulting New Communist Movement grew faster than any other current on the US left. ....

... the New Communist Movement can be understood as one more in a century-long series of (so far) unsuccessful efforts to make socialism a significant force in US politics. This movement's consensus was that a breakthrough could finally be made if top priority was given to tackling three longstanding dilemmas of US radicalism: How can the US working class movement be put on a firm internationalist, anti-imperialist basis? What strategy can mobilize a successful fight against racism? And how can revolutionary cadre be developed and united into an organization capable of mobilizing workers and the oppressed to seize power?

Although at this remove the third element of that triad (seizing power) seems batshit crazy, in that super-heated moment, "revolution" was in the air. And the other two priorities -- figuring out how leftists in the belly of capitalist empire should relate to the rest of the world, while struggling to overcome the multi-faceted, ingrained racism(s) of their society -- remain central tasks for all in the US who care for human beings and the planet.

Max recounts the New Communists' intricate twists, turns and permutations and is unflinching about their failures.

History's trick on the generation of 1968 was that -- despite appearances --the odds were stacked against building a revolutionary movement in the 1970s. ... [T]he realities of US politics did offer prospects for the consolidation of an energetic radical trend, numbering in the thousands, anchored in anti-racism and anti-imperialism, with institutional stability at the capacity to galvanize stronger popular resistance to the rising right wing. The essential failure of the New Communist Movement is that it ultimately dissipated rather than coalesced the forces that could have accomplished that task.

... the backward US two-party system, the winner-take-all electoral system erects tremendous barriers to revolutionary forces translating gains made in periods of exceptional upheaval into a lasting base among the country's exploited and dispossessed. Navigating this difficult terrain requires tremendous flexibility; the pulls toward surrendering revolutionary politics in order to gain temporary influence on the one hand, or remaining pure but marginalized on the other, are immense. ... the New Communist Movement did not even put this essential problem at the center of its deliberations. ...

... for all the movement's audacious plans for social revolution, in a sense its failure was not due to thinking too expansively. Rather, it was because the movement shunned the true broad mindedness and flexibility displayed by successful revolutionaries in favor of a narrow and mechanical perspective that this book dubs "miniaturized Leninism."

... this book has been written partly to identify the markers on [the] slippery slope to sectarian irrelevance ...

The book includes a chapter on what this slice of US radicals did with the their lives after their little lefty formations imploded. Some dropped out of collective activism, but many -- gradually -- found new opportunities to plug into the justice struggles of new times. After all, they got into this to struggle for human liberation, even if they lost their way for a season.
***
Max Elbaum will be doing a bit of a book launch tour for this new edition, beginning on Saturday, April 21 from 4-6pm at the First Congregational Church of Oakland. A full national schedule of events is available. Max is not only an historian -- he's a wise observer of contemporary events, always worth listening to when the opportunity offers.
***
The decade of the 1970s has also become the proper subject of history, yet unlike the explosive '60s and the reactionary Reaganite '80s, it lacks a distinctive image, even among those of us who lived through it. Anyone seeking background about the 1970s could do worse than look at a couple of histories I've discussed here: Judith Stein's Pivotal Decade and Jefferson Cowie's Stayin' Alive.

Friday cat blogging

There's nothing quite like waking up with this in your face and his weight on your chest. Here he is merely helping me write.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

National media misunderstanding California -- as usual

The national media has noticed San Francisco and California again. A couple of major New York Times articles in the last few days have laid out how our shortage of affordable housing is promoting gentrification, segregation, ill-considered building practices, and increasing the political conflict between those who prosper in the tech economy and those who labor for far too little reward.

All true, though sometimes lacking in local nuance.

But then these articles point to the collapse of State Senator Scott Wiener's Senate Bill 827 through which the state would have blown away local zoning impediments to development. California must be hopelessly dysfunctional. Isn't that always the story?

Wrong. State intervention to help bridge the housing gap cannot be fronted by a guy whose entire political record is as a stooge for irresponsible urban development. Wiener is my state senator. He's seldom met a highrise development he didn't love, while his occasional support for tenants in existing affordable housing has been merely cosmetic when he showed up at all.

California needs to negotiate a path to developing far more affordable urban housing. Density is the urban future and that's good for the environment and for people who live in cities. But big developers and rich winners in tech can't be the only winners. We need a more inclusive vision engaging more sectors of the state's population -- all promoted by more credible leaders.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Battered, but still resisting ...

Sometimes we all feel like piñatas.

I spent an evening last week with friends -- older white lesbians, relatively prosperous, good and kind and liberal but not activist in the way we are in my household -- and was overwhelmed by the depths of discouragement they are feeling at this moment in the Trump/GOPer ascendancy. For myself, I know things are truly dire and this regime is daily working to impoverish, poison, or blow us all up, yet I am also delighted by the tenacity and creativity of resistance I see all around.

So here's a bit of a Washington Post oped that highlights one resistance accomplishment we too easily ignore:

Here’s a reality check: The resistance is not “failing” — it is gathering steam for a long, uncertain battle ahead.

Let’s start with the fact that seems most vexing to the resistance critics: the failure of Trump’s approval rating to fall below 40 percent, even as bad news mounts. To be clear, at 40 percent, Trump remains as unpopular as he was when he was the most unpopular first-year president ever — 20 points below Gerald Ford after he pardoned Richard Nixon.

True, Trump has not sunk further in this sub-sub-basement level of public support, but that misses the point: The success of the anti-Trump movement is in keeping him there, notwithstanding the low unemployment rate, stock market gains and billions in tax-cut stimulus surging through the economy. Only two other modern-era presidents enjoyed an unemployment rate below 4.3 percent in their terms and suffered an approval rating below 50 percent: Lyndon B. Johnson (during the Vietnam War) and Harry S. Truman (during Korea). 

Trump’s 40 percent approval rating doesn’t reflect a failure of his opposition: It reflects success in preventing Trump’s ratings from soaring the way any other peace-time president’s would under such conditions.

Moreover, the anti-Trump movement has shown political progress where it matters most: the ballot box. In the past 150 days, Trump opponents have won a blow-out in Virginia, the first newly elected Democratic senator from Alabama since 1986 and a victory in a Pennsylvania House district Trump carried by nearly 20 points. If the anti-Trump movement is “failing,” that’s news to the GOP leaders sounding “blue wave” tsunami alerts.

My emphasis. We have a massive lot of work ahead, but we've been doing very good work, in all our various ways, all along. No quitting now!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How about a Muslim woman for the House?

There are two sitting Muslim Congressmen: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.). Among the 309 Democratic women currently vying for nominations or actual Congressional seats, three are Muslims.
  • In Maryland's Sixth District, Dr. Nadia Hashimi is one of eight candidates trying to attract notice in a race for a safe Democratic open seat. Her parents immigrated from Afghanistan in the early 1970s; their sacrifices set her on the way to college, medical school, and service as a pediatrician; she is also a published novelist. Health care policy is her passion: "A total outsider to politics, I joined a growing movement to elect the right doctors in office." She's very much an underdog in the June 26 primary.

  • Fayrouz Saad, seeking nomination in Michigan's 11th Congressional District, is a far more seasoned candidate. She's worked for a Michigan state representative, in the Obama Department of Homeland Security, and for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in his office of Immigrant Affairs. Her district is the focus of much Democratic Party effort as the Republican incumbent has retired and Donald Trump won the area by only 4 percentage points. There are four Democrats in the race with significant financial support; the primary is August 7.
  • When Representative John Conyers resigned amid sexual harassment charges, his Michigan 13th District attracted a huge, squabbling field of candidates. Whichever Democrat survives both a primary in August and the general election in November will most likely occupy this Democratic seat for close to perpetuity. The Conyers family put up TWO challengers; the retiring Conyers has endorsed his son over his nephew. There are half a dozen other contenders, including many well known Detroit political veterans. Into this scrum, former state representative Rashida Tlaib is trying to bring out her fellow citizens of Arab heritage, a growing constituency just learning to make itself felt through active citizenship. She's experienced in leading racial justice coalitions, as she explains in this inspiring Re-Dream video:
None of these women are favorites to make it to office this round, but you can't win if you don't try. Their entry into the fray is a good omen for our country's future.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The end stage of the Trump presidency?

Since November 2016, responsible journalists have been hesitant to predict Donald Trump's downfall. After all, his election surprised most of us, though in retrospect we've become convinced the signs were there if we'd looked more dispassionately at the evidence. The New Yorker's Adam Davidson has crossed that line. He makes a bold prediction:

This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency.

He contends that when prosecutors raided the president's fixer, advocate Michael Cohen, they began a process that will crash the pillars of Trump's edifice.

The narrative that will become widely understood is that Donald Trump did not sit atop a global empire. He was not an intuitive genius and tough guy who created billions of dollars of wealth through fearlessness. He had a small, sad operation, mostly run by his two oldest children and Michael Cohen, a lousy lawyer who barely keeps up the pretenses of lawyering and who now faces an avalanche of charges, from taxicab-backed bank fraud to money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

Of course there's a long way to go. But Davidson believes the Trump presidency will not survive this exposure.

Of course Trump is raging and furious and terrified. Prosecutors are now looking at his core. Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its partners around the world; he was chief consigliere and dealmaker throughout its period of expansion into global partnerships with sketchy oligarchs. He wasn’t a slick politico who showed up for a few months. He knows everything, he recorded much of it, and now prosecutors will know it, too. It seems inevitable that much will be made public. We don’t know when.

We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.

Since the first week of the Trump regime, I've opined we're up against three malignant strains that combined: 1) Donald Trump's wily authoritarian political instincts which have won him the fanatic allegiance of about 30 percent of us who are disappointed by the direction of their lives and country; 2) a Republican Party agenda which has no content except enabling looting of the country's considerable resources by wealthy elites, mostly in fossil fuels and financial manipulation; 3) Trump's economic model, the same model as that of oligarchs everywhere -- criminally using the state to extract individual, personal profit while contributing nothing to the life and well being of the community.

Davidson dares to say this triad is crumbling -- that unstable foundations will matter. We can't know how it will look, but we can sense that it cannot stand.

Citizens are not just spectators. Our agitation, our demands, our votes can help bring it down -- and then determine where we go from here. Resist and protect much.
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