Thursday, August 6, 2020

#219 / This Really Grabbed Me



I saw this photo about a month or so ago, conveyed to me by one of the email bulletins that flow through my inbox. Glen Taylor is the artist who created this. You can learn something about Glen Taylor's broken-porcelain art work by clicking on this link


Somehow, the photograph above really grabbed me. I stopped scrolling my emails, and stared at that photo. I tried to think why. Why should this particular artistic creation, which I find horrible to look at, have so completely captured my attention that I literally could not turn away from it? 

I don't know whether you, my reader, will have the same reaction to Taylor's art work that I did, but that is the reaction I had. What is depicted is horrible, and I could not turn away from it. 

As I thought about it, I found the answer. Taylor's art work reminded me of something else, another photograph, another recent photograph, a picture that I just can't put out of my mind: 


It seems to me that Taylor's art work is telling us that under that creamy white polish of our high culture, that lovely china from which we eat, each day, and from which we sip our tea, there is a horrible, horrible reality. Taylor's art reveals a lacerating truth about the massive pain that is hidden under that creamy covering, with all its flowers and flourishes. A similar truth is revealed by the photograph above.

oooOOOooo

What do we do when we realize that there is a horrible, hidden truth beneath what we have come to accept as our lovely life?

First, we do not turn away. We never turn away again.

Then... we throw out all those dinner plates, fine china all. We throw it all out. 

We have yet to do that, of course, with respect to the realities revealed by the photograph above, the photo that shows us the police killing of George Floyd, with that horrible knee on his neck, the photo that makes clear that there is, in fact, barbed wire beneath the ceramic coating of our social, political, and economic life, and that it is not just the killing of George Floyd that has been revealed, but the killing of so many others, past, present, and continuing.

That is the picture that has grabbed us, that has captured all of our attention, and from which we cannot turn away. 

Once we have seen the barbed wire beneath the surface of what so many have thought was beautiful, we know that we must throw out those flawed and fatal plates. 

We have yet to do that, of course.

But we must.


Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2020/07/glen-taylor-broken-porcelain/
(2) - https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/11761477/george-floyd-minneapolis-police-neck-restraints-unconscious/


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

#218 / I Have A Thought About Congress



The New York Times let its readers know, on July 26, 2020, that "Congress is a toxic mess." Candidly, this observation was not really "news" to anyone; at least, I don't think so. 

The Times' article, by Carl Hulse, provided some specific examples of just how "toxic" Congress has become. Basically, though, this article was not the result of any independent investigation. Hulse was simply relaying the findings of a report that had not yet been released on July 26th. That report, now available, is titled, "Congress at a Crossroads." The report was produced by the Association of Former Members of Congress. The USAFMC, to use the acronym that the organization has embraced for itself, is an organization about which I had known nothing until I read Hulse's article in The Times. Thus, I guess I can attest that the article did bring at least some real "news." 

To summarize the USAFMC report, Hulse made this observation: 

Congress has largely become a dysfunctional institution unable to meet the critical needs of our country,” says a new report, “Congress at a Crossroads,” produced by the Association of Former Members of Congress. Scheduled to be issued publicly next week, it is a damning indictment of the steady deterioration of a congressional culture that today rewards power over progress and conflict over consensus.

This complaint about the deterioriation of the "culture" of Congress, a culture that used to produce compromise (and maybe, sometimes, even "consensus"), is not, by any means, a new indictment of the Congress. In its own Tweet, announcing the forthcoming report, USAFMC translates the above description into the following statement:

Bipartisanship is at the heart of a healthy Congress.

I have a thought about "bipartisanship" and about the Congress. This is just one of many thoughts I have. In order adequately to address the reasons that Congress is now a "toxic mess," I think I would have to write a signicant essay, which would certainly have to include an in-depth examination of campaign finance, and the vast power that money now plays in Congressional politics. My thought today is much more modest in its ambition. I would just like to raise a possibility that may or may not resonate with those who are reading this blog posting, and about which they may or may not have thought. 

We take it for granted that since Congress is the premier branch of our tripartite national government, every citizen in the United States, from whatever state that citizen might hail, has an important interest in making sure that every person elected to Congress, from whatever states those representatives might hail, will reflect that citizen's own views and priorities. Congress, and Congressional politics, in other words, has been completely "nationalized." 

That this is, in fact, true, is verified, in my mind, by the incredible number of solicitations I receive from Congressional candidates running for Congress in states like Texas, Maine, New York, Minnesota, and Arizona. I know nothing about the issues that might exist in all those different states, but it is clear that these "Congressional" races are not really about those local issues at all. Congressional elections are no longer focused on what a candidate might do for the local voters that he or she will ultimately represent. The only question that makes a difference is whether a candidate is "Blue" or "Red," Democrat or Republican. In other words, not only has our Congressional politics become "nationalized," it has evolved into a national effort to achieve national a partisan majority in which local issues are of marginal importance, if of any importance at all. 

The original plan was that most government would take place at the local level, which means the "state" level, and that the national government was always "additional" to that basic level of government. We are, as we all know, though we don't think about it very much, citizens of the United STATES of America. The "states" come first, before the national government. That is how the Constitution is structured. Congressional representatives were supposed to represent local concerns, as such local concerns might be addressed at the national level. It was never remotely thought that I, in California, would have any reason to get involved in a campaign in Kansas, or Wisconsin, or Maine. 

What if we could return to that way of making our politics work? What if Congressional politics were not "nationalized," but were, in fact, "localized?"

If elected Members of Congress came to the Congress owing to the fact that they had won a local election in which the partisan affiliation of the candidate was only one thing that mattered, and not the only thing that mattered, it might be easier to get back to that Congressional "culture" that suggests that the Congress could debate, discuss, and ultimately decide upon nationally important decisions not on the basis of a strictly two-party perspective imposed from the national level on down, but on the basis of a weaving together of the rather different approaches that would be reflected by Congressional representatives who were there to advance local interests, first, instead of reflecting some national party platform.

That kind of politics would require a lot more work by citizens, focused on local elections. And the "money" issues would have to be addressed. Huge difficulty there, I do have to admit. But I have a thought that Congress would be a lot less 'toxic," and would function better, and work towards compromise, not conflict, if those voting in the Congress owed their election (and their reelection) not to national party leaders and national party money, but to the constitents in the local districts from which they were elected.

Just a thought!


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/us/congress-broken-partisanship-coronavirus.html


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#217 / Michelle (And John)



Michelle Goldberg, pictured above, writes for The New York Times. Fox News has suggested that Goldberg has "psychological problems" because of her remark that she has suffered from insomnia ever since the election of our current president. 

Frankly, I think a lot of people are experiencing the same symptom that Goldberg has mentioned, and the "problem" isn't "psychological." It's a real world problem, and the cure is obvious.

Goldberg's column, published on July 31, 2020, was titled, "Lewis Believed We Would Survive Trump," Let's hope so, and let's be confident in that prediction. Many of us will sleep a lot better if we can rally ourselves to believe it. 

"Confidence," actually, is the topic I'd like to address in this brief blog posting. In her column, Goldberg speculates on the possibility that I wrote about last Friday (the same day Goldberg's column appeared in The New York Times). Goldberg is worried that our current president might just "refuse to leave." Here is how Goldberg describes this insomnia-producing possibility:

If this president makes good on his threats to undermine an election he’s likely to lose, many of us will be called to pour into the streets and face the brutality of Trump’s goons. This thought makes me feel ground down and frightened, not brave and defiant. In middle age I’ve started to envy those like Lewis who are able to believe in God.

Goldberg rallies immediately, as she remembers John Lewis, and it is her observation of where "confidence" comes from that I think is the important "take away" from her column last Friday:

Something I take from reading about the lives of civil rights heroes is that confidence didn’t always precede action. Sometimes it was action’s result.

That is a lesson we can learn from John Lewis. Confidence comes from action, not observation. Thinking of ourselves as "observers," watching what is happening to us, is to place ourselves on a promenade to powerlessness. 

In action, we find that we are, in fact, powerful ourselves, each and every one of us. Goldberg has her finger on an important human truth, and President Obama's eulogy for Lewis makes clear exactly how this works in real life. By taking action, in the face of danger, we find the confidence that lets us surmount all obstacles and change the world.

Thank you John Robert Lewis!

This is a lesson not to forget, and especially not right now. 




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.foxnews.com/media/nyt-columnist-insomnia-trump
(2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/opinion/john-lewis-legacy.html


Monday, August 3, 2020

#216 / A Worried Friend



Well, now time passed and now it seems
Everybody’s having them dreams
       -- Bob Dylan, “Talkin’ World War III Blues"
A couple of days ago, I was holding forth on the topic that when we see some "warning signs" that fascism is coming forward around the bend we should not, thereafter, immediately leap to the conclusion that fascism is in fact already here, or that it is anywhere near likely or inevitable. 

It is that "self-fulfilling prophecy" thing that I am worrying about, and that phenomenon is hugely indebted to our willingness to think of ourselves, mainly, as "observers" of reality, instead of keeping in mind that it is we who create the realities we inhabit. 

At any rate, concerns about the growth of authoritarian tendencies in the United States seem to be multiplying. More and more people are "having them dreams." More and more people are worrying about fascism's incipient arrival, including a fellow named Daniel Schwammenthal, who characterizes himself as a "worried European friend." If you click that link, and can slip by what I am pretty sure will be a paywall of some kind, you can read the entire column in which Schwammenthal outlines his worries. I'll summarize what he says here, though, just in case you can't get access to the column in its entirety.

Schwammenthal's column, which appeared in the July 29, 2020, edition of The Wall Street Journal, makes a case for American "exceptionalism." 

I learned to cherish the U.S. long before I had the privilege to live and study there. History can be very personal. What Madeleine Albright called the “indispensable nation” meant the difference between life and death for my family. I was brought up in the firm knowledge that had it not been for those unimaginably brave American boys storming the beaches of Normandy, I wouldn’t have been born, and my parents and the rest of my people would have been extinguished. No doubt I’m leaving out entire libraries of nuance, but that is the quintessential truth.

America today is what it has always been: a flawed society, like all others, but also a unique force for good in the world. No other multiethnic, multireligious society can credibly claim to be more democratic, more prosperous and more just than the U.S.

This is giving the United States a lot of credit (and deservedly, I think). However, Schwammenthal is, as the column headline said, "worried." 

America can’t remain the leader of the free world if it is itself no longer free. To be the guarantor of Western security requires military and economic power, but also a sense of mission. And right now Americans are committing mass character suicide. If the country goes beyond acknowledging that racism and inequality persist and must be fought, and instead convinces itself that it’s inherently and irredeemably racist, it can’t possibly continue to believe that it has any right to lead. Such an America would reject the notion that the West is worth defending and regard Europe as also inherently oppressive. We know who will fill the vacuum left by an America in retreat and at war with itself. As they watch America’s self-immolation, leaders in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran surely can’t believe their luck. 
Any functioning society must extend tribal loyalty beyond the ties of blood. Ethnicity and Christianity were the glue that helped hold the more homogenous European nation states together. America’s Founding Fathers laid the foundation of a society worthy of the motto “e pluribus unum”—out of many, one—by replacing ethnic and religious loyalties with liberal ideas and deist ideals. A shared loyalty to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution allows Americans to see each other not as strangers but as fellow citizens.

Yes, the U.S. has not always lived up to its ideals. But to claim that the Founding’s “promissory note” was never anything but a scam to maintain a system of white oppression is ahistorical revisionism that will erode the country’s foundation (emphasis added).

I am not sure how many who will read this blog post will find themselves agreeing with what Schwammenthal is saying. It is my opinion, though, that now is not the time to decide that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were, and are, a tissue of deception. Instead, I think we need to reaffirm that both the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are the foundational pronouncements of our collective intention - an intention to which we continue to pledge allegiance. 

Do "We, the people" (those of us alive right now) affirm that all persons are "created equal?" Do those of us present on the scene today affirm that each one of us has an "unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?" Do we believe that our government, which we call "ours" because we take personal responsibility for what it does, must follow the requirements outlined in the Bill of Rights?

If we do, then fascism, or totalitarianism, or a submission to authoritarian practices will not occur in the United States of America. And we can be certain in stating this, because we will not just stand around as observers, noting all the latest outrages perpetrated by our president or the Attorney General, or some other governmental authority. We will, rather, do whatever must be done to ensure that Lincoln's words at Gettysburg will prevail. 

As before, we will give our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to ensure that "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

This is more or less what John Lewis was talking about in the essay he wrote just before he died

As for me, I am willing to make the pledge. And I don't think I am alone. As we contemplate authoritarian actions by the government, and by the president, here is what I think we should make clear to our worried European friends (and to ourselves): 

We've Got This!



Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/to-america-from-a-worried-european-friend-11595954397


Sunday, August 2, 2020

#215 / Let's Think About This One



I saw this quote in the July 2020, edition of Sojourner's.

I am thinking this might be pretty profound!


Saturday, August 1, 2020

#214 / Walk With The Wind, Brothers And Sisters



John Lewis, who died on July 17, 2020, was one of our greatest civil rights leaders. Shortly before his death, he wrote a farewell letter to the people of the United States. The New York Times published Lewis' essay under the title, "Together You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation." In his final words to a country he loved, Lewis advocated nonviolent social, political, and economic change, urging us all to "make good trouble." 

I have reprinted Lewis' entire essay below. I approve this message!

oooOOOooo
While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity. 
That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on. 
Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars. 
Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain. 
Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself. 
Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it. 
You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others. 
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring. 
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide. 


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/opinion/john-lewis-civil-rights-america.html


Friday, July 31, 2020

#213 / What Will We Do Then?



Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar who holds the James J. Freeland Eminent Scholar Chair in Taxation at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law. In a column published in a fairly recent edition of Verdict, Buchanan asks this question: 


Buchanan takes it as a given that our current president, if he is not reelected, will refuse to leave office. He is not the only one suggesting this kind of possibility. In fact, the president himself seems to be contemplating this as a real possibility! Thoughtful political commentators are taking seriously the president's suggestion that maybe the 2020 election should be "delayed."

Personally, I take it as a given that the president would love to "cancel" the election, since he seems on track to lose. Assuming that he is not successful in doing that, I also take it as a given that the president will seek to use every dirty trick in the book to "win" the election, and that he will utilize the techniques of voter suppression and flat-out voter fraud. Whether that kind of illegitimate conduct occurs, or not, it is quite possible that Donald J. Trump will lose the presidential election in 2020. Yes, even if he cheats! No one should be assuming that Donald J. Trump is going to "lose." Definitely not a given! But while we can't count on him losing, that is certainly possible. Increasingly, that looks not only possible, but likely. Yes, even if he cheats!

Because this is true, Buchanan's hypothesis that if Trump loses he will simply refuse to leave the office of the presidency needs to be taken seriously. It is wise to think ahead. Others are definitely on the same page. Bill McKibben, for instance, has written about the need to "get prepared" in The New Yorker.

Our government belongs to the people. It is OUR government. Luckily (as Hannah Arendt has pointed out on numerous occasions) the basic unit of government in our system is NOT the federal government. We are the United States of America. Our state governments are the fundamental governing entities in our political and governmental system. That means that state governmental action will be critically important if the events that Buchanan hypothesizes do, in fact, come to pass. Let's start making sure that our state leaders understand that!

Getting mentally prepared (and otherwise prepared) for the "worst case" scenario is always a worthwhile endeavor, and one way to prepare for what Buchanan is predicting is to talk about this "worst case" scenario with friends, and neighbors, and acquaintances. We should start having these conversations now - and not on social media, either, at least, only secondarily. Firing off social media postings is not the same thing as engaging in the kind of personal exchanges that can lead to personal commitments to refuse to let illegitimate claims derail our democracy. 

In the American Revolution, those who acted to create a new nation pledged to each other "their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor." I am pledging mine, right now. I will not submit to an illegitimate claim on behalf of anyone. This is OUR government.

Such personal commitments - pledges we make to each other - will be vital if the worst does come to pass.  These pictures of peaceful protestors, taken after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, suggest to me that I am "not the only one." We are not alone here, friends.

So, do think ahead. Talk to your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. Let us all take that pledge. Let us all resolve, right now, and in advance, that we will refuse to accept what Buchanan predicts will happen. In fact, widespread refusal (coupled with resolute action) will be enough. If we were to acquiesce, that would be the end of the American experience of democratic self-government. 

But we are not going to do that, are we? We are not going to let that happen, right?

With our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor, we must be clear with ourselves, and all those we know, in person, that any attempt to derail our democracy by not respecting the results of our next presidential election "will not stand." 

A Republican President used that phrase (in a different context). It fits right in to the Buchanan hypothesis!


Image Credit:
https://verdict.justia.com/2020/06/03/is-there-any-point-in-talking-about-trumps-upcoming-refusal-to-leave-office



Thursday, July 30, 2020

#212 / Warning Signs



I am reproducing, below, fifteen signs of authoritarianism, as compiled by Ann McFeatters, a Tribune News Service columnist. I read McFeatters' column in the San Jose Mercury News on Friday, July 24, 2020, under the following title: "Signs of authoritarianism can be seen all over U.S." If you click the link above, you will find yourself reading the column under a different title, on the website of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. However, since I am pretty much reproducing the entire column right here, you don't actually need to make that extra click at all.

As you read McFeatters' listing, I bet you will agree with McFeatters [CHECK] that we are exhibiting all the signs of authoritarianism that she has enumerated so conveniently. Yep! Authoritarianism seems to be alive and well, right here in the good old U.S.A. This should be a matter of concern. 

As the name implies, "warning signs" are intended to provide a "warning," a "heads up" about a possible problem. Watch out for a steep hill ahead. Watch out for an upcoming railroad crossing. Watch out for equestrians on the road. 

WATCH OUT FOR AUTHORITARIAN PRACTICES!

Warning signs are NOT indended to state what is "inevitable," or even what actually "exists." Particularly if you pay attention to the signs (but even if you don't), you will not inevitably careen out of control on the upcoming hill; you will not, necessarily, get hit by a freight train; you will not, quite likely, collide with a horse and rider on the road.

I make this (obvious) point because lists like McFeatters' (I have seen other, similar lists) lead many people to decide that what is being "warned about" is somehow a "reality" from which we cannot escape. One conclusion, when you read McFeatters' list, is that the United States has become and that we now "are," an authoritarian society. I see lots of social media postings along that line.

That is the wrong conclusion to draw from what McFeatters has written. To come to that conclusion is to succumb to a fallacy I have written about before (and probably more than once). We tend to think that what we "see" defines the "real," so that the phenomena we know "exist" are part of a "reality" to which we must, often regrettably, genuflect and submit. Those who have not read my argument that we have been confusing two different "worlds" if we decide that what "exists" in our "human world" is, in some way, "real" and "inevitable," are referred to my "Worldview 101" blog posting. 

The United States is not, and will not become, an "authoritarian" society unless Americans permit and tolerate the kind of authoritarian practices documented by McFeatters. This is true even if our current president is reelected in November. All the "signs" of authoritarianism that McFeatters identifies are "warning signs," and they are not like some documented conclusion of a scientific experiment that proves an inevitable scientific truth, like the fact that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms, and one atom of oxygen. 

Look sharp, citizens! If we see the signs, we need to take action to change our behavior. The "signs" of authoritarianism that McFeatters has brought to our attention are a warning about one (and only one) possibility. Let's take her column for what it is, a serious warning sign about a real possibility, not the documentation of an inescapable reality. 

As is always the case in the human world, the realities we inhabit are the result of our own actions, and nothing is impossible, neither our dreams nor our nightmares.

I am hoping that we are not going to let our democratic self-government be smashed in a train wreck, or that we will lose democracy on the next steep incline. 

Watch the warning signs. 

Take action. 

Change the world.

oooOOOooo

Fifteen Signs Of Authoritarianism
WASHINGTON — You probably are asking yourself, about now, “What are 15 signs my country is sliding into authoritarianism?” 
1. The president refuses to commit to abiding by how Americans vote in the November election until he sees what happens. Check. Donald Trump in a Fox News interview would not say he will be bound by voters’ wishes. 
2. Soldiers in unmarked uniforms and no identifying insignia swoop in as the president’s personal militia to arrest peacefully protesting pedestrians in the middle of the night, throw them into unmarked vans and streak away. Check. (Happening in Portland, Oregon, and Trump promises it will happen in other cities. Trump is of German descent but apparently never heard about the feared secret police and the Gestapo.)
3. People are denied the right to vote until they pay all costs any courts say they owe, whether or not they are allowed to dispute them. Check. Happening in Florida. 
4. Data about a pandemic are hidden from the public so that the president can control who sees such information as the number of available hospital beds. Check. Trump ordered that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer gets the data, hence the public can’t see it. 
5. The president is recognized around the world as someone who does not keep his word, acts capriciously and does not tell the truth. Check. Leaders of other democracies will no longer deal with Trump. Multiple organizations have clocked Trump at telling more than 20,000 lies or misstatements in 3 1/2 years. 
6. The president courts dictators known for violating human rights. Check. Trump openly admires Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others. 
7. The president seeks to divert spending on public health in favor of public monuments, such as a new FBI building. Check. Trump is fighting the most conservative Republicans as he tries to cut funding for fighting COVID-19. 
8. Children are separated from parents and imprisoned without adequate medical attention or basic compassion. Check. Thousands may never see their parents again, and hundreds still languish in COVID-19-infested camps. 
9. Borders are sealed, and people are not permitted in or out. Check. Even before COVID-19 struck, Trump enacted bans on people coming and going, including scientists considered vital to American research.
10. Racism and sexism are openly encouraged and fostered by the leader. Check. Trump is stressing division and racial anger as he campaigns for reelection. 
11. The public display of evil symbols is enthusiastically endorsed. Check. Trump says Confederate battle flags, which were carried by traitors to the U.S., should fly when supported by white supremacists because it’s free speech, although he says protesters do not have the same right to protest racism. Would he say the same about Nazi swastikas over a public building in the U.S.? 
12. Enemies are punished and friends are rewarded. Check. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen is in jail not just for doing Trump’s bidding but for telling Congress and law enforcement about it. Roger Stone was convicted of felony offenses by a jury and is free because he lied to Congress and the FBI to benefit Trump. 
13. Millions of people are declared non-persons. Check. Trump has ordered that more than 11 million undocumented people not be counted when congressional district lines are redrawn even if they have been in the U.S. for decades. This hurts cities or states with large immigrant populations because they won’t be federally compensated fairly and such districts will get less voting representation. 
14. Science is routinely denied. Check. A thousand people die every day because the lessons of science and history were ignored and months passed with no national planned response to the novel coronavirus even as Trump demanded schools be opened this fall or lose federal funding. 
15. The power of the presidency is used for personal gain. Check. Foreign diplomats curry favor by enriching Trump’s hotels and golf courses. Large campaign donations are given and rewarded by White House endorsement of commercial products. Trump tried to get the British Open held at his golf resort in Scotland and then fired the nonpartisan inspector general who wrote a report about it and had the report marked classified. 
But you be the judge. In November.


Image Credit:
https://easternmetalsignsandsafety.com/product/warning-signs/


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

#211 / Rooted



What might we learn and how might our behaviour change if we discarded the model of agency founded on mobility, autonomy and sovereignty, and adopted the model that trees offer us: rootedness, relationality, dialogue and responsiveness?

The question posed above comes at the end of an article published in Aeon, an online magazine. The title of the article is "Rooted." The article is about trees. 

I have been thinking about trees quite a bit since I read The Overstory, a novel by Richard Powers. I recommend both the novel and the article. 

Our right relationship with trees means, automatically, a right relationship with Nature, upon which we ultimately depend. 

Do we want to survive?

Well, if we do, it's time to make some fundamental changes, and that means recognizing that trees are sacred, the Natural World is sacred, and that we should be worshipping the forest, not cutting it down, not setting it on fire, not acting like WE are the most important living things around. 

That is, more or less, what both the novel and the article say. 

They're right!


Image Credit:
https://aeon.co/essays/what-can-an-embodied-history-of-trees-teach-us-about-life


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

#210 / Corporations Meet The "Cancel Culture"



Chris Hedges, who is both a Presbyterian minister and an American journalist, is not known for being all "sweetness and light." Hedges is pretty outraged by the state of the world, and I consider that this perspective reflects Hedges' strong grasp on reality. He doesn't cut slack for anyone. 

One of Hedges' recent articles, "Don’t be Fooled by the Cancel Culture Wars," provides a good example. While Hedges is sympathetic to those who are complaining that free expression is being suppressed by social justice advocates who won't tolerate anything less than total allegiance to their exact idea of what social justice demands, Hedges wants to make a different point. He is less outraged by the so-called "cancel culture" than he is by how U.S. corporations are trying to preempt current social justice movements to ingratiate themselves with the public: 

The cancel culture — the phenomenon of removing or canceling people, brands or shows from the public domain because of offensive statements or ideologies — is not a threat to the ruling class. Hundreds of corporations, nearly all in the hands of white executives and white board members, enthusiastically pumped out messages on social media condemning racism and demanding justice after George Floyd was choked to death by police in Minneapolis. Police, which along with the prison system are one of the primary instruments of social control over the poor, have taken the knee, along with Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of the serially criminal JPMorgan Chase, where only 4 percent of the top executives are black. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world whose corporation, Amazon, paid no federal income taxes last year and who fires workers that attempt to unionize and tracks warehouse laborers as if they were prisoners, put a “Black Lives Matter” banner on Amazon’s home page..
The rush by the ruling elites to profess solidarity with the protestors and denounce racist rhetoric and racist symbols, supporting the toppling of Confederate statues and banning the Confederate flag, are symbolic assaults on white supremacy. Alone, these gestures will do nothing to reverse the institutional racism that is baked into the DNA of American society. The elites will discuss race. They will not discuss class....
Corporations have seized control of the news industry and turned it into burlesque. They have corrupted academic scholarship. They make war on science and the rule of law. They have used their wealth to destroy our democracy and replace it with a system of legalized bribery. They have created a world of masters and serfs who struggle at subsistence level and endure crippling debt peonage. The commodification of the natural world by corporations has triggered an ecocide that is pushing the human species closer and closer towards extinction. Anyone who attempts to state these truths and fight back was long ago driven from the mainstream and relegated to the margins of the internet by Silicon Valley algorithms. As cancel culture goes, corporate power makes the Israel lobby look like amateurs. 
The current obsession with moral purity, devoid of a political vision and incubated by self-referential academics and educated elites, is easily co-opted by the ruling class who will say anything, as long as the mechanisms of corporate control remain untouched. We have enemies. They run Silicon Valley and sit on corporate boards. They make up the two ruling political parties. They manage the war industry. They chatter endlessly on corporate-owned airwaves about trivia and celebrity gossip. Our enemies are now showering us with politically correct messages. But until they are overthrown, until we wrest power back from our corporate masters, the most insidious forms of racism in America will continue to flourish.

I think that Hedges is on to something, here. His article is worth reading. "Politically correct messages" are a lot less important than politically correct action. 

That's going to be difficult, and not easy. And that's going to be up to us.


Image Credit:
https://consortiumnews.com/2020/07/14/chris-hedges-dont-be-fooled-by-the-cancel-culture-wars/


Monday, July 27, 2020

#209 / Expansive Views Of Presidential Powers



John Yoo, pictured above, is the Heller Professor of Law at the University of California at Berkeley. He is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A former official in the Bush Justice Department, Yoo is the author of "Defender-in-Chief: Donald Trump’s Fight for Presidential Power," published by All Points Books on July 28, 2020.

The above description of Yoo is from the Fox News site where I obtained the image at the top of this blog posting. A July 25, 2020, news article that ran in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my hometown newspaper, gave what I think is probably a more accurate description of Yoo's background and bonafides. The headline in that Associateed Press news article called Yoo "the torture memos author." Maybe you will remember that Yoo did put forth his legal theory that President Bush did notthing wrong in operating torture centers, like the one at Abu Ghraib


As it turns out, the United States Supreme Court did not agree wtih Yoo. However, this has not, apparently, suggested to our current president that Yoo is not the best source of advice on the scope of presidential powers. As reported in the AP news story

President Donald Trump is relying on an outlier interpretation of a recent Supreme Court decision to assert broad new powers as he prepares to sign a series of executive orders in the coming weeks. 
The expansive view of presidential authority has been promoted by John Yoo, a Berkeley Law professor known for writing the so-called “torture memos” that the George W. Bush administration used to justify using “enhanced interrogation” techniques after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The article I have linked is worth reading. It discusses a theory that since the Supreme Court refused to let President Trump summarily abolish the DACA program initiated by President Obama, this means that a president can do whatever he or she thinks is best, and that no subsequent president, as a practical matter, can undo those actions, even if they are unconstitutional, without going through a long and involved legal process. Thus, a president can pretty much do whatever that president wants, and no one, even including a subsequent president, will be in a position to say "no." At least, not without going through a years' long process that will depend on Congressional approval besides action by the president. 

This is, indeed, an "outlier" theory. However, Yoo has officially "shared his opinion" with the White House, and it is Yoo's opinion that the recent decision on DACA, Department of Homeland Security, et al. v. Regents of the University of California, "gives Trump the power to reorient American immigration policy ... without having to reach a deal with Congress." Yoo also argues that "the same reasoning could apply in other areas, such as health care, giving Trump the ability, for instance, to stop spending federal resources to enforce an employer contraceptive mandate."

Trump officials, according to the news article, admit that they talked to Yoo, but they decline to give him much credit for what the president promises will be a host of new unilateral decision making on what will likely be the most controversial political issues confronting the country, from immigration to health care, to the use of federal quasi-military personnel to invade the states and cities without an invitation, as long as the president thinks that such storm troopers are needed to "keep the peace." 


White House counsel Don McGahn was quoted as saying that he and the president, and other members of the current administration, have "long held expansive views of presidential powers." We know that's true! And let's not forget our favorite Attorney General, William Pelham Barr. Barr's whole career has been to lobby for a loosening of constraints on presidential power. No "checks and balances" for our Bill Barr!

What does this all mean for us? It means that we have a genuine constitutional crisis about to break upon our heads, as the president is claiming "expansive views of presidential power," and as our elected representatives in the United States Congress (and particularly in the Senate) are standing by and doing nothing effective to contradict him.

Congress is not really "approving" what the president does, of course. But Congress is not doing anything to stop these presidential pronouncements and actions, either. The Senate, currently under the control of the Republicans, is more to blame than the House of Representatives, under the control of the Democrats, but there is a problem when the constitutional role of the Congress is understood solely in partisan terms. That's where we have arrived, and this is more than meerly "unhealthy." It's life-threatening for our democracy.

Let's be honest about where we are, though. This problem with excessive deference to the president is not something that has occurred only in the last four years. Congress has been deferring to the president for many years, with the single most notable example occurring one week after the attacks on the Twin Towers that took place on September 11, 2001. On September 18, 2001, just one week later, Congress approved the so-called "Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF)." This gives the president virtually unlimited powers to hunt down, incarcerate, or even kill anyone whom the president determines is involved in "the war of terror" allegedly being waged against the United States. Barbara Lee, the California Congresswoman, was the ONLY member of the Congress to vote "No."

If we don't want to live with the "expansive view of presidential powers" that have been asserted by recent presidents, both Republican and Democrat, "We, the people" will need to get off the sidelines, and on to the field. 

Where self-government is at stake, there is no substitute to getting involved ourselves!


Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.foxbusiness.com/person/y/john-yoo
(2) - https://www.courthousenews.com/contractor-must-face-claims-over-abu-ghraib-abuse/
(3) - https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/it-was-like-being-preyed-upon-federal-officers-in-unmarked-vans-detain-portland-protesters/


Sunday, July 26, 2020

#208 / Isn't And Is



The photo above shows President Lyndon Johnson presenting a pen to Martin Luther King, Jr., after President Johnson has just used the pen to sign the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This picture illustrates an opinion column by Ward Connerly, published in the July 25-26, 2020, edition of The Wall Street Journal. Connerly's opinion column bore this title: 


Then, of course, there is this more recent picture, taken on May 25, 2020, as a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of George Floyd for almost nine minutes, and killed him. This episode is only the latest of many killings of Black Americans by white police officers. We are asked to remember them, and to "say their names." When we do, when we say those names, the names of those killed by official agents of the law, surely we are compelled to admit: 

America Is a Racist Country


Connerly argues that, "our history is the best proof that America is not a racist nation." A pretty compelling case can be made that it is precisely "our history" that proves that America is a racist nation.

"Is!" "Isn't!" Which side are you on?

I always have a problem with the use of those "is" words that seek to state a "reality" as if "reality" and "the truth" were fixed and immutable and truly accessible to everyone, just as the results of a scientific experiment are deemed true when their results can be duplicated by different people, at different places, and at different times. Great for scientists investigating the laws that govern the World of Nature, but not so applicable when it comes to our human world. 

I hate to get all philosophical on those who read this blog, but I do believe that we have to give a little thought to epistemology before we start claiming that we can say with any confidence what "is," and what "is not." In science, we really can say something either "is" true, or "is not" true, because the World of Nature, a world that we did not create ourselves, operates according to laws that perfectly describe what must and will happen. Truth in the Natural World is quite different from truth in the human world in which we most immediately reside.

In our human world, the realities we expereience are the realities that humans have created, and can change, and an unacceptable reality can be transformed into an acceptable one, or into a more acceptable one - or vice versa. Connerly is certainly correct to say that if America were racist, in some inevitable and enduring way, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would never have become law. 

But The New York Times series on the penetration of slavery into our national life, and the photograph of the murder of George Floyd, make it very clear that racism has been and continues to be an enduring feature of our national life. Again, this is an observation based on looking to the past, to what has already happened.

Any "is" statement, if that statement concerns a feature or facet of our human world, can really only tell us about the past. What we say "is" true is not what "will be" true - at least not necessarily - because we live and act in the present moment, and depending on what we do right now, we will either continue past practice and perpetuate the past reality, or we will do something unexpected and transform the reality in which we live into something that is fundamentally new and different from the past. This rule applies both to individual and to collective action.

Both Connerly and The New York Times are looking to the past to attempt to define what "is," to state a truth about our country. And both are "right," if we understand all "is" statements to be what they really are, statements about what has happened in the past. 

America has a long history, deeply steeped in racism, beginning (per The New York Times) in 1619. But we fought a Civil War to end slavery, and our country has not always been racist in what it has done, as Connerly notes in his opinion column, citing to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan, both poets, and not epistemologists, have correctly identified our actual human situation. Here is Whitman, in Section 51 of Leaves of Grass

The past and present wilt—I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.) 
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper? 
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

Bob Dylan says the same, in a song from his latest album:

I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything’s flowin’ all at the same time
I live on the boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars and I eat fast foods . . . I contain multitudes

Who are we? What am I? We all contain multitudes, and all possibilities are within us, individually and collectively. We will decide who and what we are by our choices, by what we do right now. That is the only way we know.

Racist, or not? Do we have a choice? 
You know we do! 





Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/america-isnt-a-racist-country-11595628914
(2) - https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-05-28/what-we-know-about-two-of-the-officers-caught-on-tape-in-the-death-of-george-floyd


Saturday, July 25, 2020

#207 / The Path Not Taken


Ballerina

"My only regret in life," said Woody Allen, "is that I am not someone else."

I have mentioned this Woody Allen-identified regret before, in a posting I called, "Where Did I Go Wrong?" I got the Woody Allen quote from a book review that appeared in the June 27 - 28, 2020, edition of The Wall Street Journal. The review is titled, "Down the Path Not Taken," and the book under review is titled, On Not Being Someone Else, by Andrew H. Miller. Miller is a professor of English at Johns Hopkins University.

The review, and I gather the book, asks whether "regret" is really the right name for a feeling that our life would have been better had we only gone down that "path not taken." Maybe, it is suggested, "envy" is a better name for the feeling being discussed. That puts a less charitable light on the sentiment. No one thinks that "envy" is a very nice thing. 

Since I haven't read the book (only the review), it is not clear to me whether or not Miller comes down decisively on how best to characterize the "where did I go wrong?" feeling. It looks to me like he just discusses the topic, without resolving the nature of the feeling he discusses. If so, that suggests to me that he has writtten a helpful book, since the "truth" of anything is never one thing or another. At least, that's my view. 

During my time of political speeches (I have made quite a few, in my time), I used to discuss the nature of "choice," urging upon my audiences the idea that we do need to understand that we have various options, and that all of them have attractive features, but that we have to "choose." I was generally talking about deciding whether or not to protect prime agricultural land, or otherwise to control the path of future community development, but I used to put it this way: "You can't be both a brain surgeon and a ballerina." Both of these professions are, of course, extremely worthy, both require incredible dedication and the development of amazing and intricate skills. However, one person probably cannot master both disciplines. You have to choose!

The topic being discussed in On Not Being Someone Else is related, but different. Sooner or later, though we may have disguised it from ourself, we come to realize that we have, in fact, made choices, and that these choices have defined us, and our lives, and that since our lives are finite, what we chose to do has determined "who we are." It may be "regret," as Woody Allen says, or it may be "envy" of those who chose something different, but we can't be "someone else." We are stuck with with the person we chose to be. One path went one way. One path went another. 

You can't be both a brain surgeon and a ballerina. 

Given this inescapable reality, I do think what we need to consider is whether we can celebrate the life we have led, or whether we must come, at the end, to regret or reject it, envying others who made the choices that we now think would have better for us. 

I refer anyone who is thinking about these things to what I said in that earlier blog posting

If we are trying to base a self-evaluation on a self-created hypothetical about what we were "supposed" to do, we are almost always going to come up short. That is because "possibility," my favorite category, is literally infinite, and our personal capacities, of course, are not. Within the world we most immediately inhabit, everything is "possible," though not simultaneously, and if our freedom to choose has led us to do and accomplish some things, and not others, we have not "failed" to do the things we have not done, we have just not done those things, and have done other things, instead. I don't much like the expression, but it does have some applicability in this context: "It's all good." 
To me, at least, an inclination to be grateful for the life we have lived is a very potent antidote to the "angst" about all the things we haven't done, or didn't do. That antidote to a sense of personal angst and crisis works for both men and women, and it works in late and middle age, and it even works for young people, too.

Ungrudging gratitude for the gift of our lives. That's what I am recommending!


Brain Surgeon

Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.art.com/products/p29854123792-sa-i8742872/lewis-mulatero-ballerina-in-releve-pose.htm
(2) - https://www.facebook.com/Dr.BrainSurgeon/posts/our-all-female-surgical-team-photo-taken-by-the-very-talented-asha/10155377809411259/


Friday, July 24, 2020

#206 / White Fragility



Pictured is Robin DiAngelo, who has written a book called, White Fragility. DiAngelo is an education professor at the University of Washington and a diversity consultant. Until I read about her in The New York Times Magazine on July 19, 2020, I had never heard of DiAngelo, her book, or her theory. Here is a link to the article in The Times, written by Daniel Bergner. I think it is important to hear what DiAngelo has to say. Bergner's article provides a commentary that is supportive of DiAngelo and her ideas, but critical, too, insofar as it asks whether or not what DiAngelo is doing actually advances the goal of racial equality.

Since I know that The Times has a paywall that might block some who would be interested in reading about DiAngelo, and in getting some idea about her perspective on race relations, here is another link. This link will take you to a PDF file that will provide you with the meat of the article, although some of the pictures are missing. No paywall to protect this PDF!

Ross Douthat, also writing in The Times on July 19, 2020, critiques DiAngelo, suggesting in his column, "The Real White Fragility," that one consequence of following DiAngelo is to make it even easier than it now is to maintain white supremacy. Readers who want to get into the debate and discussion should probably put that article on their reading list, too.

The Atlantic has run a critique of DiAngelo's book by John McWhorter. McWhorter, who is Black, is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, and is the author of a number of books on language and race relations. McWhorter's article is titled, "The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility." 

DiAngelo makes big bucks as a consultant to corporations and governmental entities, as well as doing a booming business speaking to the general public. Her message drives home to white people that "white privilege" and "white supremacy" is real, and helps to make clear the racism that is buried deep within almost every white person. To face that fact, which we must, is extremely painful, and the fact that it is so painful makes white people defensive. That is what leads to the "white fragility" that DiAngelo is writing and speaking about. As explained in The Times' article:

DiAngelo ... first [defined] “white fragility” in an academic article in 2011: the propensity of white people to fend off suggestions of racism, whether by absurd denials (“I don’t see color”) or by overly emotional displays of defensiveness or solidarity.

I was immediately struck, as I read the article in The Times, by the truth of this observation. However, as I continued to read, I did not see how DiAngelo provided any clear path out of the box in which we find ourselves. The latter part of the article in The Times makes this point in various ways. Here is one: 

Frank Dobbin, a Harvard sociology professor, has published research on attempts, over three decades, to combat bias in over 800 U.S. companies, including a 2016 study with Alexandra Kalev in The Harvard Business Review. (As far back as the early ’60s, he recounts in his book “Inventing Equal Opportunity,” Western Electric, responding to a Kennedy-administration initiative to enhance equity, presented lectures by Kenneth Clark and James Baldwin to company managers.) Dobbin’s research shows that the numbers of women or people of color in management do not increase with most anti-bias education. “There just isn’t much evidence that you can do anything to change either explicit or implicit bias in a half-day session,” Dobbin warns. “Stereotypes are too ingrained.” 
When we first talked, and I described DiAngelo’s approach, he said, “I certainly agree with what she’s saying” about our white-supremacist society. But he noted that new research that he’s revising for publication suggests that anti-bias training can backfire, with adverse effects especially on Black people, perhaps, he speculated, because training, whether consciously or subconsciously, “activates stereotypes.” When we spoke again in June, he emphasized an additional finding from his data: the likelihood of backlash “if people feel that they’re being forced to go to diversity training to conform with social norms or laws.”

McWhorter has a similar critique, though he expresses himself, as a Black man, a little bit differently, and even bitterly, as he ponders the idea that a white person should be considered the "expert" in this area: 

In 2020—as opposed to 1920—I neither need nor want anyone to muse on how whiteness privileges them over me. Nor do I need wider society to undergo teachings in how to be exquisitely sensitive about my feelings. I see no connection between DiAngelo’s brand of reeducation and vigorous, constructive activism in the real world on issues of import to the Black community. And I cannot imagine that any Black readers could willingly submit themselves to DiAngelo’s ideas while considering themselves adults of ordinary self-regard and strength. Few books about race have more openly infantilized Black people than this supposedly authoritative tome.

Or simply dehumanized us. DiAngelo preaches that Black History Month errs in that it “takes whites out of the equation”—which means that it doesn’t focus enough on racism. Claims like this get a rise out of a certain kind of room, but apparently DiAngelo wants Black History Month to consist of glum recitations of white perfidy. This would surely help assuage DiAngelo’s sense of complicity in our problems, but does she consider what a slog this gloomy, knit-browed Festivus of a holiday would be for actual Black people? Too much of White Fragility has the problem of elevating rhetorical texture over common sense.

White Fragility is, in the end, a book about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves. DiAngelo’s outlook rests upon a depiction of Black people as endlessly delicate poster children within this self-gratifying fantasy about how white America needs to think—or, better, stop thinking. Her answer to white fragility, in other words, entails an elaborate and pitilessly dehumanizing condescension toward Black people. The sad truth is that anyone falling under the sway of this blinkered, self-satisfied, punitive stunt of a primer has been taught, by a well-intentioned but tragically misguided pastor, how to be racist in a whole new way.

As I saaid earlier, I think The Times' article is important. However, the problem we need to address - together - is not "white fragility." The problem we need to address is white supremacy and white privilege. To do so in any effective way will require what McWhorter says is needed:

Vigorous, constructive activism in the real world on issues of import to the Black community.

And that activism should be led by the Black community, not by a white consultant who charges up to $15,000 per event for eight to ten presentations a month. 

White people, listen! Then get in the march - and mostly at the end, not at the front of the parade!




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/15/magazine/white-fragility-robin-diangelo.html
(2) - https://briteheart.org/2018/10/27/trust-process-civic-saturday-sermon-casa-azafran-nashville/