Monday, February 27, 2017

#58 / I Would Pretty Much Say The Opposite

Pictured above is Michael B. Mukasey. Mukasey served as a United States District Judge from 1988 to 2006. He was then appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as the Attorney General of the United States. Mukasey served as our Attorney General from 2007 to 2009. 

According to Mr. Mukasey: 

Democracy Can't Function Without Secrecy

That statement headlines Mukasey's opinion column, printed in the February 21, 2017 edition of The Wall Street Journal. You know, I think I would pretty much say the exact opposite thing.

"Democracy," after all, is the political system that is based on the idea that "the people" are in charge of what the government does. If the people don't actually know what the government is doing, then they can't really be "in charge" of the government, can they?

Anyway, that's the way I see it. 

Once we decide that it is perfectly alright for our government to "know things" that we don't know, the government is in charge of us, instead of the opposite. And no one doubts that this is exactly how things are, right at the moment. 

People know that government officials of various stripes are in possession of lots of "secret" information to which we, as members of the public, have no access. Those who do have access to all that "secret" information are sometimes called the "Deep State," and there are some who argue that the "Deep State" seems a lot more stable, and reasonable, and responsible than the elected officials that our democracy has most recently brought forth to run the government

You know who we're basically talking about, right? Check it out below. That's him! That's the guy!

Our democratic system is being challenged in various ways right now, and I think it's probably a good idea to get back to the basics. 

If we want "self-government," then we have to get involved in government ourselves. If we want "democracy," then we need to demand that we, the people, get accurate information about what the government is doing. 

That all takes a lot of work. No big surprise.

That's no secret!

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -

Sunday, February 26, 2017

#57 / The Democratic Dilemma

The Democratic Party is in disarray, and is in the midst of trying to regroup for the 2018 elections and beyond. I have some very mixed feelings, most of which come from my direct experience with the Party at the Democratic National Convention, held in Philadelphia in July of last year. I was at the Convention as an alternate delegate for Bernie Sanders, and I did not appreciate how the Party ran that Convention.

In January, I wrote a brief letter to The Nation, the first paragraph of which indicates my continuing skepticism about the Democratic Party and its future:

I agree with John Nichols [“We Must Transform the Democratic Party,” Dec. 5/12] that “there is no point to the continued existence of this Democratic Party.” I agree that the Democratic establishment has shown itself to be “disengaged, incompetent, and indebted to elite campaign funders.” I also agree that Trump’s victory shows “the potential of an economic populist message,” but I am highly skeptical that the Democratic Party will be able to deliver any such message or that it can be “transformed,” as Nichols suggests.

On Friday, Glenn Greenwald wrote about the election to decide who would be the next Chair of the Democratic Party (an election held yesterday in Atlanta). From what I know (admittedly not much), Greenwald's thoughts about what is happening inside the Democratic Party seem pretty accurate. Out of the internal struggle that Greenwald documents, it is absolutely vital that the Party find a way to pull together, if the Party is going to be able to act as an effective check on a federal government that is now totally in the hands of extreme right-wing forces. Assuming that some sort of Party unity can be formed, there is then a question about what strategy should be pursued.

The New York Times had a news article on Friday that suggested that the Democratic Party's "alarmed base" is seeking to prod the Party into an all out war against the Trump Administration, following the model provided by the Republican Party, in its strategy of "total obstruction" to anything and everything proposed by President Obama or the Democrats in Congress. A Saturday article in the San Francisco Chronicle, providing a California perspective, was headlined, "Feinstein pressed to resist Trump." This article reported that California Democrats are calling for Senator Dianne Feinstein to pursue the "total obstruction strategy," which she has so far not done.

There are Democratic Party voices on the other side, of course, cautioning against the "total obstruction" approach. Ted Van Dyk, for instance, a longtime Democratic Party strategist, who worked for both Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern, has said that the total obstruction strategy is not only "abnormal," but counterproductive.

Has the election of a new Democratic Party Chair, yesterday, resolved this argument and solved the Democrats' dilemma? Reading the first news accounts, I doubt it. Maybe an internal reconciliation within the Party will occur, as both the winner of the election, former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and the loser of the election, Representative Keith Ellison, have mutually urged. Certainly such a reconciliation is going to be needed if the Party is going to be able to act in unison to block some of the extreme measures being put forward by both the President and the Republicans that control Congress.

The "dilemma" about how best to confront the Trump presidency, however, is not only (or maybe even mainly) a dilemma for the Democratic Party. It is a dilemma for all those who want our democratic system of government to survive. We know that this is a moment in which authoritarianism is ascendant, and in which full-scale totalitarianism is waiting in the wings. We had better make good choices!

President Trump won his election in significant part because large numbers of voters believed the government is corrupt, unresponsive to the needs of ordinary people, and ineffective. The earlier quote from John Nichols, writing for The Nation, suggested that such voters associated these characteristics with the Democratic Party. To the degree that they did, the "total obstruction" strategy practiced by the Republicans helped foster that understanding. More "total obstruction" will help validate the hypothesis that our democratic government doesn't work, and thus provide additional evidence for the idea that what is needed is an ever more aggressive authoritarian approach.

Trump offers an authoritarian approach that speaks to the feeling that the actions of normal, democratic government just don't do what is needed. This belief, to the degree that it propagates within the public, is extremely dangerous to our democratic system.

And maybe Trump isn't the worst that could happen. While I would like to think that the authoritarianism of our current president is about as bad as it could ever get, we know from both historical and contemporary examples that this is not, in fact, the case. Think Hitler and the Nazis, looking at history, and think Duterte in the Philippines, in terms of a contemporary model of an authoritarianism that goes beyond what President Trump is either proposing or doing. In case  you haven't been following President Duterte, he is now openly advertising his sponsorship of presidentially-directed death squads.

My current belief is that efforts to follow a strategy that explicitly proposes "total opposition" to  anything and everything suggested by President Trump is not going to work in favor of democracy. But whether that judgment is correct or not, the dilemma remains, because the President and his supporters are classifying any opposition, and any dissent or disagreement, as a fundamental attack on the legitimacy of the people's choice in the election last year, and thus a justification for what will certainly be a set of escalating penalties against those who dare to speak or act in opposition. First, the media who don't please the president are shut off from the news. And if totalitarianism expands, as it always wants to do, those media will later be shut down and silenced.

That is the kind of possible future we are facing. How do we act to make sure that it does not come to pass? That is a dilemma, indeed. Maybe the Elizabeth Warren tee-shirt slogan gives us a hint.

We shall speak. We shall act. We shall resist. Above all else, demanding that our democratic government must be made to work, we shall persist!

Image Credit:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

#56 / No Person...

An important case is pending before the United States Supreme Court. You can read about it by clicking this link.

Six years ago, a United States Border Patrol agent killed a fifteen year old Mexican boy who was playing games with other kids in a wide concrete culvert that separates El Paso, Texas from Juarez, Mexico. The boy, Sergio Hernández Guereca, and his companions, were running up to the top of the culvert, to touch the barbed wire of the U.S. border fence. located within the boundaries of the United States. 

As they were playing this game, a Border  Patrol agent grabbed one of the kids. The agent then aimed his gun at another one of the children, who had fled back down the culvert, and who was, by virtue of having done that, sixty-feet inside Mexico. That is where he was when the agent fired his gun. The agent was a good shot, and Sergio Hernández Guereca was killed by the agent's bullet, which hit him in the head.

Mexico asked the United States to extradite the agent, so he could be tried for murder in Mexico. The U.S. government refused to do that. The child's parents, then, sued the agent in the United States courts. So far, the courts have held that the agent can't be sued, because the complained about action was "completed" (by Sergio's death) in Mexico, not the United States.

If Hernández had been killed inside the United States, then the case could proceed. Or if he had been a U.S. citizen, it would not have mattered that Mesa was on one side of the border and he was on the other. 
But the courts so far in Hernández’s case have said the Constitution does not reach across the border — even 60 feet — to give rights to those without a previous connection to the United States.

During the course of the arguments before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts said that "a ruling in the parents' favor could have implications in many areas." Specifically, said Roberts, if those harmed by actions initiated in the U.S., but which result in harm in another country, can sue the responsible parties in our courts, this would include "a drone strike in Iraq where the plane is piloted from Nevada."

Hey, Mr. Chief Justice, you say that like you think that would be a bad thing!

I would argue, in fact, that it would be a good thing to make the United States government and its representatives responsible for unconstitutional governmental actions that cause harm, no matter where that harm occurs. If that were the rule, maybe our nation would be a little more careful about who it blows up with drone-dropped bombs. Maybe it would take a hard look at torturing people in places like Abu Ghraib

In the end, of course, it is the Constitution that should guide our courts' decisions. So, let me suggest a quick refresher reading of some pertinent language from the Fifth Amendment

No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...

The Fifth Amendment does not say "no person located within the territorial boundaries of the United States..."  It says, "No person..." period.

The purpose of the Bill of Rights, which definitely includes the Fifth Amendment, is to protect the people against abuses of governmental power. Particularly because the United States government now believes it should be able to exercise its power anywhere in the world (all in the name of freedom and liberty, of course), our government should be responsible for any harm it causes when the government and its representatives act without "due process." 

Shooting a fifteen year old boy in the head, with no warning, appears to have gone beyond due process. Let's extend the protections which the Consitution provides to U.S. citizens located in the United States, extending those protections to any person, worldwide, who suffers from wrongs imposed by our government. 

That is what the Fifth Amendment says, in plain language. And that would make the world a better place. I'm pretty sure about that!

Image Credit:

Friday, February 24, 2017

#55 / Kristol Nacht*

Bill Kristol is an American neoconservative, and he is not a fan of President Donald J. Trump. In fact, Kristol has recently opined, as follows, on Twitter:

Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state.

Have you noticed that there is a lot of recent discussion about that "Deep State" thing? Here, for instance, is a link to an article from the Chicago Tribune, online. The article notes the incredible power that is now possessed by the "Deep State. It is a story "not about rogue intelligence agencies running amok outside the law, but rather about the vast domestic power they have managed to acquire within it."

Wikipedia cites to Philip Giraldi in introducing its article on the "Deep State." Giraldi is "a former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a columnist and television commentator who is the Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a group that advocates for more even-handed policies by the U.S. government in the Middle East."

Despite his military and intelligence background, Giraldi is not a "Deep State" supporter. To read what Giraldi thinks about the "Deep State," I recommend an article that appeared on the website of the Ron Paul Institute For Peace And Prosperity. Incidentally, that is where I got the illustration above.

Giraldi's article is worth reading in its entirety. Here is just a sample of what he has to say: 

Actual American interests in fighting a war without limits and without an end were not described [in a news article earlier referenced by Giraldi]. They never are. Indeed, in the U.S. and elsewhere many citizens often wonder how certain government policies like the Washington’s war on terror can persist in spite of widespread popular opposition or clear perceptions that they are either ineffective or even harmful. This persistence of policies regarding which there is no debate is sometimes attributed to a “deep state.”
In countries where a deep state dominates, real democracy and rule of law are inevitably the first victims. A deep state like Turkey’s is traditionally organized around a center of official and publicly accepted power, which means it often includes senior government officials, the police and intelligence services as well as the military. For the police and intelligence agencies the propensity to operate in secret is a sine qua non or the deep state as it provides cover for the maintenance of relationships that under other circumstances would be considered suspect or even illegal.

Bill Kristol, in other words, to return to his support for the "Deep State," is calling for the overt and explicit takeover of the democratic government of the United States by those military and intelligence agencies that may already, in fact, be controlling much of our national policy. The headline on a column by David Talbot, who writes for the San Franciso Chronicle, properly called this kind of an appeal "Coup Fever." 

Trump is pretty bad (as far as I am concerned). However, even assuming that "the Russians" were successful in trying to influence our presidential election, to make Trump president (and we note that it's the "Deep State" types that are making that claim most directly), Trump was, actually, elected as our president, and there are constitutional ways to terminate his presidency, if necessary.

Maybe we ought to be cautious about a Kristol-like appeal to the "Deep State" to save us from what our democracy has wrought.

That is certainly the suggestion of Democracy Now which warns us as follows:

Empowering the "Deep State" to Undermine Trump is Prescription for Destroying Democracy

Ends and means! Remember what we know about that? 

Listen to Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Edward Snowden to bring to light the official documents that show us how the United States government is spying on us all, in every way it possibly can, and all the time. That national surveillance program, implemented against ordinary citizens, is a program that is of, by, and for the "Deep State." It is a program that was vastly extended and aggressively implemented under President Obama. 

I'm for using democracy to cure our ills, not any "Deep State" coup. It's not going to be easy, of course. We know that's true.


* The title on today's blog posting is meant to remind us all of "Crystal Night," which can be thought of as the beginning of the rule of terror in Nazi Germany, and as an adumbration of the holocaust to come: "In almost all large German cities and some smaller ones that night, store windows of Jewish shops were broken, Jewish houses and apartments were destroyed, and synagogues were demolished and set on fire. Many Jews were arrested, some were beaten, and some were even killed. The "Reich Crystal Night" (Reichskristallnacht) was one of the most shameful events of National Socialist Germany. Although the Jews suffered initially, the greatest harm was ultimately done to Germany and the German people."

Image Credit:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

#54 / Charging The Cockpit

You might suspect that a publication called The Claremont Review of Books would be affiliated with The Claremont Colleges. That is what I would have suspected. Instead, it turns out that The Claremont Review is published by an independent entity, The Claremont Institute. The Institute is run by a bunch of right-wingers (or "conservatives," as they like to be called). 

I learned about all this from an article published in the February 21, 2017 edition of The New York Times. That article, by Jennifer Schuessler, was titled, "Charge The Cockpit Or You Die." Schuessler's article in The Times discussed an article published in the September 2016 edition of The Claremont Review. The Claremont Review article was titled, "The Flight 93 Election." 

"The Flight 93 Election" suggested that the November 2016 election was like United Airlines Flight 93, the September 11, 2001 flight in which the passengers "charged the cockpit," stopping the four Al-Qaeda terrorists who had hijacked the plane from carrying out their plan to crash the plane onto The White House, or onto Capitol Hill. 

For the anonymous author of "The Flight 93 Election," letting the expected happen (the election of Hillary Clinton) was the disaster to be avoided. Trump's election might be a disaster, too, but at least there was still a question about that, in September 2016. With Clinton, disaster was certain:

2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.
Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

The metaphors advanced by the author of "The Flight 93 Election" do seem "histrionic," as the article itself suggests. That is particularly true as we can now evaluate the results of the Trump victory. Histrionics can go both ways. It wouldn't surprise me to see an article discussing the Trump presidency in exactly the same terms, calling the current situation a "Flight 93 Presidency." What The Claremont Review suggested before last year's election can now apply to the Administration put in place by Donald Trump. One conclusion? We had better "charge the cockpit" or we die. 

Metaphors (maybe particularly when they are "histrionic") can lead us into actions that we might come to regret. Certainly some who "charged the cockpit" to get Donald Trump elected must now be worrying about the result. If they are not, they should be. But let's not allow legitimate concerns about our democracy to be led astray by histrionics. Some of those concerned about what our new president is doing are urging that he be "eliminated" by the "deep state." 

Let's wait a minute! Watch those metaphors! Our democracy is not an airplane, because we are not "passengers." Democracy cannot be "hijacked" as long as we insist that we will pilot our own government. That's what self-government is all about. We only lose it when we decide that it is already gone. 

Not yet!

Image Credit:

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

#53 / Rotten To The Core

Here is a quote from a column that was published online in the February 18, 2017 edition of The New York Times. I snagged this quote from Amor Mundi, the weekly blog of the Hannah Arendt Center

Fascists the world over have gained popularity by calling forth the idea that the world is rotten to the core. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt described how fascism invites people to “throw off the mask of hypocrisy” and adopt the worldview that there is no right and wrong, only winners and losers ... In the last decade and a half, post-Communist autocrats like Vladimir V. Putin and Viktor Orban have adopted this cynical posture. They seem convinced that the entire world is driven solely by greed and hunger for power, and only the Western democracies continue to insist, hypocritically, that their politics are based on values and principles....

This month, Mr. Trump ... was asked about his admiration for Mr. Putin, whom the host Bill O’Reilly called “a killer.” “You got a lot of killers,” responded Mr. Trump. “What, you think our country’s so innocent?” To an American ear, Mr. Trump’s statement was jarring — not because Americans believe their country to be “innocent” but because they have always relied on a sort of aspirational hypocrisy to understand the country. No American politician in living memory has advanced the idea that the entire world, including the United States, was rotten to the core.

These observations come from Masha Gessen, who writes for The Times on LGBT and Russian issues. What she says should make us think. 

Historically, Americans have been willing to believe the very best of themselves, because Americans have always credited themselves with good intentions. Mistakes may have been made, but, we have always told ourselves, we are trying to do good. The idea that our good intentions are what really count can very easily be characterized as "hypocrisy," and many would say that hypocrisy is hypocrisy, whether "aspirational" or not.

Before we adopt that position, let's pause for just a moment. 

When "we, the people" no longer believe that we are (or even can be) "good," we turn over governance to those who are beyond any pretense of trying to do good. We abandon our government to the authoritarians, and the despots, and the "killers." 

To the degree that we believe that our entire politics is "deplorable," that it is "rotten to the core," we abandon the possibility of genuine self-government. 

That is exactly how a free democracy turns to totalitarianism. 

Let's not go there!

Image Credit:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

#52 / The Profound Problem With Fake Reality

An article in The Wall Street Journal says, "Pricey VR Headsets Are Slow to Catch On." My view? That is great news!

"Virtual" reality is, actually, "fake" reality. The bicyclists pictured above, for instance, appear to themselves to be pedaling along rural roads, with lovely, natural views. In fact, they are confined in a sweaty and unappealing large room filled with others equally beguiled. 

To my mind, the disconnect that "virtual reality" creates between our perceptions and the world we actually inhabit raises profound philosophical (and even theological) questions. 

Human beings are, apparently, so desperate to reject their real existence in the World of Nature that they are attempting, in every way possible, using modern technologies, to live in a world that is (or rather, seems to be) created solely by humans themselves. 

The attempt to deny the reality, and primacy, of the World of Nature is really an effort to reject our human dependence on that world. The World of Nature is a world in which we are "creatures," not creators, and an effort to deny the ultimate primacy of the World of Nature is just a way to deny the ultimate reality of death.

Efforts to deny death are understandable, but wrongly directed. Seeking to avoid the natural cycle of life, to death, to life, and particularly attempts to avoid our own participation in that cycle, is really an attempt to live in a "fake" world, a world that does not actually exist, but a world that  it seems that we can control, and over which we have dominion.

Again, this effort to be "masters of the universe," and in full, human control of our own existence, is very understandable, but it is an effort that is heading in the wrong direction. 

To live in such a "virtual" world represents the triumph of death, not the triumph of life, since the basic foundation of the "real" world, the World of Nature, is that the real world turns death to life. 

Our "virtual world?" It can't do that!

Image Credit:

Monday, February 20, 2017

#51 / The First Thirty Daze

Today, we end the "first thirty days" of the Trump presidency. Or should we call it the "first thirty daze?"

Last week, on February 15th, The New York Times ran an article with this headline: "Capital Reels Amid Tumult." The headline placed on the online version of the article called the first few weeks of the president's tenure a time of "unbelievable turmoil." It would be hard to deny the validity of that description.

Many, even those who supported Donald Trump in his presidential campaign, have felt that the new administration has not gotten off to a good start. Some (usually those who did not support Mr. Trump) are calling for impeachment, or for a "special election to remove Trump from office," which would be something absolutely outside the boundaries of our Constitution.

Besides noting with alarm an appearance of "turmoil" and "tumult" within the government, some have characterized the president himself as "dazed and confused." A Times column published on Sunday, February 19th, by Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinal psychiatry at the Weill Cornel Medical College, noted with some alarm that many commentators seem to be diagnosing the president as having some kind of mental disease, without actually having the information needed to make such a diagnosis. One speculation, in fact, has been that the president's behavior reflects an untreated case of syphilis.

Upset and tumult aren't usually desirable, when we think about the conditions under which good government thrives. Let's not, as citizens, become hysterical ourselves.

Calm and competent (and energetic) engagement in our government, to make it work the way it is supposed to, is the course of action I recommend. To the degree that the public believes that the government is dazed and confused, and is no longer credible, we make it easier for despotism to put down roots. 

Image Credit:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

#50 / Deep Cover

It is hard to add much, with more words, to this Tim Eagan (Deep Cover) cartoon. It presents, so clearly, the essence and fundamental reality of our "two-party" system. It's the "We" party versus the "Me" party. 

Each one of us, of course, is an individual first, and we do need to protect, and elevate, and celebrate each individual, in all our multitudinous, rainbow diversity. Everything that exists within our human world begins in the heart, and mind, and will of an individual human being.

In the end, though, we are more than a collection of mere individuals. We are in this life together, and only when we  act together can we build and sustain a world worth having, a world that is worthy of our deepest aspirations.

Image Credit: (January 3 - February 6, 2017)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

#49 / Johnny Depp And The Umbrella Revolution

Johnny Depp has been having some problems with money management. At least, that's what I have gathered from an article in the February 1, 2017, edition of The New York Times. The article was titled, "The Depp Riddle: Who Should Watch the Money?"

On that very same day, a column by Trudy Rubin appeared in the print edition of The (San Jose) Mercury News, headlined, "Hong Kong informs protesters in the U.S." Rubin is generally considered to be a largely right-wing pundit, though she is showing some exasperation with respect to the presidency of Donald J. Trump. She writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer, which had published her column a few days earlier.

I was struck by an underlying theme, common to both The Times' article on Johnny Depp and Rubin's opinion column on the 2014 political protests in Hong Kong, probably best known as "The Umbrella Revolution."

Depp's problem was that he trusted other persons to "take care of him," with respect to the management of his money. Bad idea! According to Mr. Depp, his financial advisors didn't actually put his interests first, thinking mainly of themselves. There is probably some truth to that, I'd say, based on the article, but The Times writer did have this comment, which also seems pertinent:

Mr. Depp should ... have paid at least a little attention to what was going on.

Rubin explores the case of the Hong Kong protestors as a possible model for actions in the United States. "Can the energy of last weekend's post-inaugural march be channeled into electoral politics?" That is the question that Rubin is exploring, a question that she notes has become "more urgent as President Trump lays the ground for wrecking-ball policies that will weaken America at home and abroad."

More or less agreeing with Zeynep Tufekci, Rubin is skeptical of the ability of marches and demonstrations to change political realities. She cites to "The Umbrella Revolution" as proving her point: 

Beijing's advance rejection of fully democratic elections for the chief executive in 2017 led tens of thousands of Hong Kong students and other pro-democracy activists to take to the streets in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. For 79 days the activists peacefully occupied major thoroughfares, clearing their trash each day and using umbrellas to fend off tear gas and rain. 
Ultimately, the activists lost. China stood firm, the protesters dispersed, and Beijing further curbed Hong Kong freedoms.

Rubin, though, is actually heartened by what happened in Hong Kong, for one reason: 

"After the Umbrella Revolution, people were discouraged. They felt helpless," recalled Nathan Law, a slim, bespectacled 23-year-old. Then head of the Hong Kong student union, he was a key protest organizer. "Support for the democratic movement had grown, but people were tired of expressing that by protesting," he said. 
Distraught, divided among themselves, the organizers could have given up. There was much finger-pointing between more radical elements and traditional democracy activists. But finally, says Law, the various factions took the long view - they would try to change the system from within. 
"A core group of people became very active in electoral politics," Law told me. They organized new pro-democracy parties (including Demosisto, which Law chairs) in order to run for seats for Hong Kong's Legislative Council last September. "This was David vs. Goliath without the slingshot," says Margaret Ng, a Hong Kong lawyer and longtime democracy activist. 
The young people helped organize the largest voter turnout since 1997, which handed pro-democracy forces 55 percent of the popular vote. Beijing-imposed rules prevented them from gaining a majority of the 70 seats, but the 29 they won are sufficient to block government changes to parliamentary rules or Hong Kong's constitution.

Getting involved in electoral politics! There is the key to turning a street protest into real change. I think that Rubin is right on target. It's the same principle that applies when you think about who is going to manage your money: 

Better pay attention and get personally engaged in the effort. We can't have self-government if we don't get involved ourselves.

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -

Friday, February 17, 2017

#48 / Who Profits From A Multi-Planet Civilization?

Pictured above, twice, is Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, Inc. Tesla builds motor cars. Musk is also the CEO of SolarCity, which fabricates photovoltaic panels, and SpaceX, which builds rockets. 

Last December, Musk joined President Donald Trump’s Business Advisory Council, and he's sticking with it. Some business leaders aren't. 

Travis Kalanick, for instance, the CEO of Uber, announced that he would be leaving the President's Business Advisory Council in reaction to the President's anti-Muslim/anti-immigration Executive Order. Here is a memo Kalanick sent to his staff on February 2nd: 

Dear Team, 
Earlier today I spoke briefly with the President about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community. I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council. Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that. 
I spent a lot of time thinking about this and mapping it to our values. There are a couple that are particularly relevant: 
Inside Out - The implicit assumption that Uber (or I) was somehow endorsing the Administration’s agenda has created a perception-reality gap between who people think we are, and who we actually are. 
Just Change - We must believe that the actions we take ultimately move the ball forward. There are many ways we will continue to advocate for just change on immigration but staying on the council was going to get in the way of that. The executive order is hurting many people in communities all across America. Families are being separated, people are stranded overseas and there’s a growing fear the U.S. is no longer a place that welcomes immigrants. 
Immigration and openness to refugees is an important part of our country’s success and quite honestly to Uber’s. I am incredibly proud to work directly with people like Thuan and Emil, both of whom were refugees who came here to build a better life for themselves. I know it has been a tough week for many of you and your families, as well as many thousands of drivers whose stories are heartfelt and heart-wrenching. 
Please know, your questions and stories on Tuesday, along with what I heard from drivers, have kept me resilient and reminded me of one of our most essential cultural values, Be Yourself. We will fight for the rights of immigrants in our communities so that each of us can be who we are with optimism and hope for the future. 

In a prompt follow-up to Kalanick's statement, Elon Musk tweeted that he would not be quitting. Musk says he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s policies, but he really wants to help the president “make humanity a multi-planet civilization.”

Kalanick's communication to Uber employees focused on the impact of the Trump Executive Order on people located right here on Planet Earth. That actually seems like a pretty good priority. Musk is more concerned about some hypothetical "other planet" that could support human civilization, and I think there is a little problem there. Spending lots of money on trying to create a "multi-planet civilization," when civilization still has quite a ways to go right here, strikes me as a major distraction.

Heading for outer space, in other words, as part of a quest to create a "multi-planet civilization," is just a waste of talent and money.

However, I do think I know what's going on with Musk. I may be getting just a bit cynical, as I get older, but since we know he is in the rocket business, I think Musk is just looking for one more profit center. 

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -

Thursday, February 16, 2017

#47 / Doing Some Reading In The Arctic News

The year 2026 has been drawing some attention. In case you missed it, 2026 is the year that some are now proclaiming will be the final year for human life on Earth.

I first saw the story in Counterpunch, the home of "fearless muckraking." At least, that's the way the website bills itself. Counterpunch "Tells The Facts. Names The Names.

A story that Counterpunch ran on February 3, 2017, by Robert Hunziker, was titled, "Human Extinction 2026." Despite the title, the article did not make any hard and fast predictions. It contained appropriate disclaimers about that 2026 date. Hunziker and Counterpunch, however, clearly don't think the 2026 date can be "dismissed as balderdash." Quite the contrary: 

The scientific model that leads to a conclusion that human extinction happens by 2026 is based upon facts, not fiction. Scientists simply extrapolate current data about the rate of climate change into the future. Voila, extinction is right around the corner. Ten years comes fast. Thus, the scientific modeling is credible...

An earlier article, from the November 25, 2016, edition of The Daily Caller, was titled, "Biologist Says Humanity Won’t Survive To See Thanksgiving 2026. The scientist quoted in The Daily Caller article is Guy McPherson. According to Wikipedia, The New York Times has called McPherson "an apocalyptic ecologist," and he definitely lives up to this designation. McPherson is not "pulling his punches" on the 2026 prediction: 

“It’s locked down, it’s been locked in for a long time – we’re in the midst of our sixth mass extinction,” McPherson told New Zealand’s Newshub. 
McPherson believes current efforts to fight global warming are a waste of time since humanity will be gone within a decade. Instead, the biologist wants us to focus on living life to its fullest. 
“I can’t imagine there will be a human on the planet in 10 years,” he said. “We don’t have 10 years.”

The more recent article in Counterpunch did not mention McPherson. It cited, instead, to an article on "Extinction" in The Arctic News. That article puts the 2026 prediction in the form of a question, not an assertion: 

While not so declamatory, The Arctic News' analysis is actually more persuasive than McPherson's bare assertions. As Counterpunch says, The Arctic News' analysis is "based on facts." It is also the result of work by a whole set of scientists, none of whom appears to have made his or her career on the basis of "apocalyptic predictions." It's an article worth reading

It's an article worth thinking about!

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

#46 / No Questions! Got It?

The Washington Post published an article on February 13th under the following headline:

Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions "will not be questioned"

Miller, in case the name escapes you, is pictured above. He is identified by CNN as "President Donald Trump's speechwriter, confidante and the author of his controversial immigration ban." Even if you don't remember Miller's name, you probably remember that ban. 

That's the ban that was not discussed in advance with almost anyone but "inner circle" types in the White House. That's the ban that led to amazing, spontaneous protests at airports all across the country. That's the ban that was stayed by a federal court judge. And that's the ban that was unanimously upheld, when the stay was reviewed by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit decided that the stay was proper because it seemed likely that the ban was unconstitutional, and because the President could show no compelling reason that the ban had to be implemented immediately. I wrote about that ban earlier

On Sunday, February 12th, Miller appeared on Face The Nation, to discuss the ban, and here's a key exchange, with Face the Nation's John Dickerson (emphasis added):

DICKERSON: When I talked to Republicans on the Hill, they wonder what ... have you all learned from this experience with the executive order? 
MILLER: Well, I think that it's been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become, in many cases, a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is -- is -- is beyond anything we've ever seen before. 
The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned. 

As The Washington Post noted, "Miller's statement that the exercise of presidential powers 'will not be questioned' is an incredible claim to executive authority -- and one we can expect to hear plenty more about. Trump has beaten around this bush plenty, yes. But Miller just came out and said it: that the White House doesn't recognize judges' authority to review things such as his travel ban."

That's not the way the Constitution says it works. In fact, when people want to question a presidential order, the courts stand ready to consider the question, and hear what response, if any, the president has. The courts do tend to defer to the president, when he claims to act to protect the country. But that doesn't mean that questions can't be raised. The problem for Miler, and the president, where this "ban" of his was concerned, is that the "ban" was not well thought through, and appeared to violate due process and other guarantees found in the Constitution. 

And let's remember the first words of the Constitution: "We the people." 

The president works for us, not the other way around. We can question anything, and with this president, we really need to be ready to do just that!

Image Credit:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

#45 / Autocracy On Autopilot?

The March 2017 edition of The Atlantic carried an article with this title: "How To Build An Autocracy." It is worth reading. The article, framed as a cautionary fable, quoted James Russell Lowell, one of the founders of The Atlantic. In 1888, Lowell warned that the Constitution was not a “machine that would go of itself.” As the article said: 

Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism.

Expecting that our lives can continue "normally," while our Chief Executive steers us towards autocracy, is to ignore both physics and our common experience. 

Newton's First Law of Motion informs us that an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by another force. This translates, in our experience, to an observation that things are going to go on just the way they are, unless someone changes them. 

We have been able to take for granted that we were always on the way, as a nation, to a future of freedom and fulfillment. The Atlantic is wise to warn us that our current politics may have placed us on autopilot towards autocracy. 

If checks and balances is not a "mechanism," something that will automatically steer the ship of government back to within the boundaries delimited by the Constitution (and I think Lowell is right), then what will be needed to shift sails, turn the helm and set a new direction?

The Atlantic article suggests that waiting around for someone else to do it is to capitulate to the new "Captain." I like Bob Dylan, and what he says, and I think that last line is an advisory that he directs to each one of us: 

Everything went from bad to worse,
Money never changed a thing 
Death kept followin', trackin’ us down, 
At least I heard your bluebird sing
Now somebody’s got to show their hand,
Time is an enemy 
I know you’re long gone,
I guess it must be up to me.

Image Credit:

Monday, February 13, 2017

#44 / (Re) Occupy Government

"If the 230-year American democratic experiment unravels - no longer an unthinkable possibility ... "

This is how Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank begins a column published on February 2, 2017 in The (San Jose) Mercury News. An online version of the column bears this title: "The GOP senators who spoke up against Trump’s ban are all talk."

Milbank's point is that the majority Republicans in the Congress "could have put the brakes on President Trump ... They didn't." 

In other words, our elected representatives fundamentally failed to exercise the powers granted to them by the voters, and thus made it more likely that we are, indeed, witnessing the dissolution of the "American democratic experiment." 

If our democracy does unravel, Milbank says, "the postmortem should focus on what happened in the Senate..." during the week following the President's so-called travel ban (i.e., nothing).

Presented above is a photo of the "Occupy Movement," a street and demonstration-based effort to compel the government to act for the "99%," not the "1%." The failure of the government to respond positively to the "Occupy" effort may well have helped President Trump and his cohorts gain control of the White House. Ironically, with Trump's election by voters who wanted more attention paid to the "99%," we may, as Milbank warns, have taken steps towards the end of democracy in the United States (not the result the voters expected, or desired, of course).

That hypothetical "end of democracy in the United States" is still hypothetical, but Milbank is certainly correct that this possibility is no longer "unthinkable." In fact, we had all better start thinking about that possibility quite seriously, and thinking about what to do about it, too. If we don't do something (if we emulate the Republican majority in Congress who didn't "like" the President's Muslim ban, but did nothing to stop it), then what is now only "possible" can ripen into the "actual," while we watch and wait for somebody else, somewhere, to do something. 

Zeynep Tufekci tells us that demonstrations, in and of themselves, are not likely to produce actual political change. The results achieved by the "Occupy" movement certainly provide an example that confirms her observations. 

My belief is that voters across the country will need to "Reoccupy" our government. That means getting personally involved in electoral change. Lots of people are going to need to do that. In November 2018, there will be another opportunity to decide to whom our government will respond. 

The Brand New Congress movement suggests that we need to throw out those who have done nothing to respond to the demands that our government produce  benefits for the "99%," instead of only for the "1%." An obvious deduction from what Milbank says is that we also need to throw out those who have done nothing to counteract ill-considered, probably unconstitutional, and authoritarian actions by the President. 

Whatever the mechanism, we will either "Reoccupy" our democracy, and make it work for us, or we will, as Milbank warns, watch our democratic experiment continue to come undone. 

Image Credit:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

#43 / Tell Us About All These Tremendous Things

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that the courts have the right to review orders relating to immigration that are allegedly unconstitutional. To be more specific, the court said that those who believe that a particular presidential order is unconstitutional have the right to have their assertions heard and decided upon by a federal judge. Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit held that federal judges are well within their rights to "stay" an order under challenge, if it appears that the order is, in fact, unconstitutional, and if the president cannot demonstrate an urgent need to keep the order in place pending judicial review. Click right here for a copy of the court's well-reasoned decision. 

President Trump has said that the court is simply wrong about the basic propositions stated above. He denigrated the Ninth Circuit, and said it was acting "politically," and that the judges' decision was "disgraceful." President Trump's claim is that when the president acts on a matter relating to immigration, whatever the president says is just the way it's going to be, and no judge should ever be able to stay or countermand any such order; the "constitutionality" of the order is simply not relevant.

As I read The New York Times on Saturday, February 11th, I found a news article outlining these views. Addressing his contention that the courts should simply step aside when the president issues an order relating to immigration, President Trump said this:

While I’ve been president, which is just for a very short period of time, I’ve learned tremendous things that you could only learn, frankly, if you were in a certain position, namely president ... And there are tremendous threats to our country. We will not allow that to happen. I can tell you that right now. We will not allow that to happen.

In short, President Trump is telling us that he knows "tremendous things" about our national security that, if we only knew them, would convince us that his apparently ill-considered and arbitrary "travel ban" order is perfectly justified. 


How about you just share those "tremendous things" with us, Mr. President? How about you provide some evidence to the court, which in fact invited exactly that kind of justification for your currently unsupported immigration ban?

We are a "tremendous" country. If there are "tremendous" threats out there, which make it appropriate to prevent those with permanent resident status in our country from coming back here, when they have been traveling overseas, then why don't you let us know?

We can take it. We can handle "tremendous" problems. We can understand.

And if you don't want to share with the American people the alleged "tremendous" threats to our national security, then sit down and shut up. 

Of course, the Ninth Circuit put it more politely!

Image Credit:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

#42 / Predictions Are Not The Same As Destiny

David Talbot is pictured to the right. Politically speaking, Talbot's on the left. 

Talbot is a longtime San Franciscan, journalist and author. His book, Season of the Witch, is a history of San Francisco from the 1960s to the 1980s. Talbot is also the author of The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government

Talbot founded the pioneering online news site Salon, and was an editor at the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner. He has been published in The New Yorker, Time, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, and many other publications.

Talbot's columns are now running three times a week in The Chronicle, found online at That's where I got this biographical information.

On February 9th, the print edition of the Chronicle put the following headline on Talbot's column: "The case for calm in resistance to Trump." I appreciate the sentiment, and recommend the column. "Calm" resistance seems like a good strategy to me. "Resistance," per se, is what many have identified as the appropriate response to the actions and statements of our current president, but without the modifier, "resistance" could quickly get out of hand. The idea that "resistance" to ill-considered and unconstitutional actions ought to be carried out "calmly" seems like very good advice.

In making his case for "calm," Talbot specifically references a recent article by Chris Hedges, as distributed by Nation of Change. Hedges, who is also a journalist (and a very good one, in my opinion), headlined  his recent article this way: "Make America ungovernable." Here is Hedges' pitch for what might be called the "non-calm" form of resistance:

Donald Trump’s regime is rapidly reconfiguring the United States into an authoritarian state. All forms of dissent will soon be criminalized. Civil liberties will no longer exist. Corporate exploitation, through the abolition of regulations and laws, will be unimpeded. Global warming will accelerate. A repugnant nationalism, amplified by government propaganda, will promote bigotry and racism. Hate crimes will explode. New wars will be launched or expanded. 
Americans who remain passive will be complicit.

As you will note, Hedges suggests that our worst fears will be realized. We are already cooked. Are we actually willing to concede that?

Talbot not only refers to Hedges. He also refers to a suggestion by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center who served as a human rights counselor to the Clinton State Department and the Obama Defense Department. Without directly advocating this, Brooks observes that "a military coup" could be a solution to the bad Executive Orders and other "crazy" policies being advanced by President Trump and his cohorts.

So, Hedges says we should be trying to make our nation "ungovernable," if we don't like the person elected to be our chief executive. Brooks suggests that we should (implicitly) admit that we can't govern ourselves, and turn the job over to the military.

I'm with Talbot in wanting to discourage this approach. I don't think that making the nation "ungovernable" will lead to a good result. I am also with Talbot in thinking that our government is not going to get better if the military takes it upon itself to carry out a "military coup," and to decide what's good policy and what's bad policy for all of us civilian types.

Instead of "calm" resistance, those suggestions sound like "hysterical" resistance to me, and I don't think that public hysteria is going to make our government better. Quite the opposite. It is precisely when civil life appears to become "ungovernable" that authoritarian dictatorships arise, and these are all too often fronted by military men who promptly put everyone under their military command.

Let's be honest. We are facing terrible times ahead. Our president is, in many ways, "crazy," a word employed by Talbot. The President's policies, are, in a very large part, wrong-headed and of dubious constitutionality. What should we do? Let's "keep calm and carry on," as the Brits aspired to do just prior to World War II.

It is important to take seriously predictions about all the bad things that can happen to us (and that are being threatened - no doubt about that). But predictions are not the same as destiny. What actually happens to our nation in the future will depend on what we do. "Resistance" to authoritarianism is absolutely required. But let's demonstrate that the United States can govern itself, even with Caligula in The White House.

That's what maintaining a government "of the people, and by the people, and for the people" requires of us right now.

Image Credits:
(1) -
(2) -