Sunday, May 20, 2018

Stacey Abrams is making history

Stacey Abrams is all over these days. This highly qualified Black woman aims to become Governor of Georgia by turning out to vote an emerging majority consisting of people of color and young folks of all races. She has been the subject of a comment in the New Yorker and of speculation in the New York Times, just to mention a few of her appearances on the national scene. Her primary is Tuesday -- she's expected to win this round and become the Democratic standard bearer in this rapidly changing state.

But she's my favorite candidate of the season because she's the only one I know who tells her life story in a comic book. Learn more.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Nicaragua: some volcanic eruptions give little warning

Down with lies! 64 people killed in Nicaragua -- Long live socialism! Freedom for the heroes!

Echoes of the popular uprising in Nicaragua demanding the resignation of President Daniel Ortega have come to light poles in San Francisco's Mission District.

Even with the current rapid gentrification, the Mission remains very close to Nicaragua and that Central American country's ups and downs erupt in our streets too. In 1978, during the insurrection against the dictator Somoza, the initials of the insurgent "FSLN" predominated in the local graffiti. Today the posters set a heavily armed pig figure labeled "SFPD" alongside "La Chayo" -- a reference to Ortega's wife and omnipresent Vice President Rosario Murillo, also as a heavily armed pig figure. (As usual, click on image to enlarge.)

The digital magazine Envio, a publication of the Jesuit Universidad Centroamericana – UCA, reports from Managua in sorrow and hope. Some excerpts:

No one expected such a flare-up, but it was ignited by innumerable pent-up grievances. It started when pensioners protested social security reforms. Once the student-supported protest was met by violence, it was surprisingly joined by even more, not fewer people. Rural areas have lived with terror and deaths for years while Managua just seemed to slumber through it all. But once awake, the entire country came together. This spontaneous and unexpected explosion wasn’t the product of an outside conspiracy, but the eruption of pent-up grievances. Volcanoes don’t forewarn. ...

Two Nicaraguas now stand opposed to each other to a degree unimaginable only a month ago.

One continues to support the Ortega-Murillo government despite everything. The reasons include common economic interests on the one hand, and an impenetrable ideology on the other. Those in that Nicaragua believe the government, which still holds all the levers of power, will be able to recover its hegemony by force and reglue its alliance with big business, thus recovering the stability shattered in April. ...

The other one, the Nicaragua of the insurrection of consciousness, can’t forget or forgive the spilling of so much unnecessary blood or the continuation of a regime that went way beyond the nation’s patience and tolerance. That other Nicaragua is demanding not only justice but a change of government. Some, particularly students, intellectuals, peasants, owners of various-sized business and much of the population in general want that change now. Others, above all the powerful economic groups, want a smooth and ordered change, step by step, even if it takes until 2021, very likely because they have a clearer idea of what it would cost to unseat this government, and prefer to protect their interests. Whatever the timeline, those who want a real change are inspired by that insurrection of consciousness, one that is still growing.

There are also two Nicaraguas in a chronological sense, with a clear dividing line between them: the Nicaragua of before those unexpected days of rebellion and the Nicaragua of today. There’s no way to know yet how or when the new country born of that insurrection will take shape, but virtually no one believes anything will remain as it was before. ...

I can only report all this with almost immeasurable sadness. Nicaraguans have been through so much in the last 50 years; they apparently will have to go through more to determine the direction of their country in the days ahead. They are smart, enduring, and believe in their country's resilience.

Meanwhile, I continue to support the work of El Porvenir, helping Nicaraguan communities at the end of rutted dirt roads to enjoy clean water and healthy sanitation facilities. Director Rob Bell writes:

After a brief interruption, our Managua and field staff are back to developing projects and working side by side with communities who desperately need water and sanitation services. Our work is more important than ever as the Nicaraguan economy will suffer from reduced tourism; economists are predicting at least a 100 million dollar decrease.

... we are preparing for lower income and working to raise the funds for the projects that were to be built with income from the canceled [visiting work] groups. We urge you to make a special donation today at /donate so that we can continue to partner with rural Nicaraguans on much needed water, sanitation, and watershed projects. In 2017 alone, El Porvenir worked with 20,271 rural Nicaraguans to build 24 water projects, 6 school handwashing facilities, 405 latrines , and 81 fuel-efficient stoves. Additionally, community members planted 102,840 trees throughout their watersheds.

We plan to work with even more people this year, but we need your help to be able to do that.

We hope for peaceful and just resolution in Nicaragua.

Friday, May 18, 2018

“Dear Racism in School, your time is over!”

Students, parents, and friends from the statewide community organization, Californians for Justice, rallied on the steps of the capital in Sacramento yesterday calling for an end to racial injustice in the schools.

Sixty-four years after the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education called for desegregation in our schools, the California school system is still separate and still unequal.

Students of color face systemic racial injustice and nearly 40% of Black and Brown students in the state attend predominantly (90-100%) student of color campuses. These facilities are underfunded and resourced compared to predominantly white campuses.

Their new report, Why Race and Relationships Matter, is available for download at the link. It excels at sharing the feelings of the next generation of Californians.

School climate is a critical factor in behavioral, academic, and mental health outcomes, yet students of color experience a far less supportive school environment than their white peers.

  • In California, Black students are twice as likely as white peers to feel unsafe or very unsafe at school
  • More than half of Latinx students in California report feeling disconnected from school, and less than half report that they are treated fairly
  • In California, Asian students were among the least likely to believe their schools had caring adult relationships (30% of respondents, compared to 39% of white students
  • Black girls are suspended six times as often as their white peers, and Black and Latinx students are more likely to be referred for discipline violations and then suspended or expelled than white students

Trinity Harper, an Oakland student leader, had a message for Racism:

You have overstayed your welcome. You have negatively impacted the development of too many of our students, especially youth of color. You give us the illusion that we are incompetent which is something we are anything but… While you have been deeply ingrained into our schools and institutions it is now time we part. You will be replaced with solidarity, love, and constant evolution.

Let's hear it for the young people!

Friday cat blogging

This one seems suspicious.

While this one surveyed its domain confidently.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

This too is what resistance looks like

Sometimes the proliferating puzzle pieces that are the Trump/Russia/Michael Cohen influence peddling/porn star payoff scandals seem more than any normal person can untangle. It probably isn't necessary to track every detail. Who can? That's what prosecutors and lawyers are for. But a pattern of corrupt dealings continues to leak out.

New Yorker reporter Ronan Farrow, who broke the Harvey Weinstein woman-abuse story, got the accounts that knocked off Eric Schneidermann, and improbably also has a new book on U.S. diplomacy, is sure on a roll these days.

Now he's leaped into the all-consuming Trump scandal vortex. We've been hearing for a few days that someone leaked the government banking reports that showed that Michael Cohen had been selling (possibly fraudulently) consulting about Trump to credulous corporations. Farrow put out the story of the information's origins today.

In the era of Trump, apparently what motivates a leaker to release government banking documents can be fear that somehow proper legal bureaucratic process is being undermined. Whoever put out the bank reports was willing to risk going to jail lest truth was being concealed.

...disclosing a SAR is a federal offense, carrying penalties including fines of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and imprisonment for up to five years. The official who released the suspicious-activity reports was aware of the risks, but said fears that the missing reports might be suppressed compelled the disclosure.

“We’ve accepted this as normal, and this is not normal,” the official said. “Things that stand out as abnormal, like documents being removed from a system, are of grave concern to me.” Of the potential for legal consequences, the official said, “To say that I am terrified right now would be an understatement.” But, referring to the released report, as well as the potential contents of the missing reports, the official also added, “This is a terrifying time to be an American, to be in this situation, and to watch all of this unfold.”

This person may well be exposed. But the leaker grasps what is at stake.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Calling out evil

Yesterday San Franciscans rallied outside the Israeli consulate, refusing to be silent about our government's complicity in massacre and expropriation.


In case anyone missed it, here's Dana Milbank's catalogue of foul creatures who the US invited to the opening of our new embassy on stolen land in Jerusalem.
Robert Jeffress, the pastor who gave the opening prayer, who has said that both Islam and Mormonism are “heresy from the pit of hell” — and that Jews are bound for that same destination. “You can’t be saved being a Jew,” he said in a 2010 interview.

John Hagee, an evangelical Christian leader who gave a closing prayer, who is known for, among other things, once saying God allowed the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, to happen “because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was standing at Trump’s side last year when the president said there were “very fine people” among neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and later defended Trump’s handling of the situation.

And Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who spoke at a reception for the U.S. delegation, after which Kushner and Ivanka Trump asked for Yosef’s blessing. The rabbi made waves recently for comparing black people to monkeys and proposed blessing only “a person with a white father and mother.”

Given the lineup, this was less a diplomatic ceremony than a campaign event. David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, praised “the vision, the courage and the moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and eternal debt of gratitude, President Donald J. Trump.”

Moral clarity! And that’s not all: “I think President Lincoln is smiling today as another great Republican, Donald J. Trump, opens our embassy.”

... what’s clear today is that Israel now resembles one of those ancient kingdoms that God rained down his wrath upon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Earth acting up

We had a little earthquake last night, shaking us just enough to remind that the earth can move.

This prompted me to check in on the ongoing volcanic eruption underway on the Big Island of Hawaii. This video provides the most vital footage I could find, from the exhausted-appearing scientist offering the US Geological Survey report and warnings, through the local guys in the National Guard doing their best to assist in a community disaster, through the extraordinary closing close ups of an inexorable lava flow. Somebody wanted us to see what it's like to have the earth's molten core crawling toward us.

With this going on not far from Hilo, I miss my friend Hattie, recently deceased, who would have provided a realistic local picture.

I do have another friend on the Big Island who is experiencing the volcano's awakening from a different vantage point. Andrew is a technician/engineer caring for the Keck telescopes located on the top of Mauna Kea. He begins his description of the mountain's recent stirrings like this:

The ground beneath us is one constant in life you just expect to never change. Solid and unyielding, we build our lives upon the firm foundations of the Earth. When this constant betrays us it is truly disconcerting. The world loses some of its comforting stability.

Last Friday was a day when our islands were reminded of the instability of our world in a rather abrupt fashion.

It was clear weeks ago that the volcano was restless. volcanophiles like myself found ourselves checking the reports and charts daily. ...

A Darker View

Then came the 6.9 earthquake last Friday. Read it all at the link. Andrew is not eager to experience anything like it again.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dangerous clowns

Vegas Tenold, born in Norway, now living in Brooklyn, responded to Anders Behring Breivik's white-nationalist-inspired 2011 massacre of seventy-seven Norwegians, mostly young people, by wanting to understand the hard right in his new country. He describes himself as a balding white European, the perfect appearance for hanging out among our white nationalist fringe, despite always having voted socialist in Norway. A graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, he went about his project responsibly: "The reporting for this book always took place with the full knowledge and consent of my subjects. I never concealed who I was or presented myself as anything but a journalist." For five years, he embedded himself among Nazis, violent skin heads, neo-Confederates, Klansmen, and white pride nationalists. He spent election night in November 2016 drinking with several guys from a white nationalist mini-formation that called itself the Traditionalist Workers Party.

The ominous title for his resulting book, Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America repeats the tweet the TWP's leader sent him at 3 AM that morning.

The far right had their president, and all I had was a splitting hangover and five years worth of notes I hoped would help me figure out how they'd managed to pull it off.

Tenold's story leads through scenes that are scary and repulsive. But though I found it gripping, it inspired in me more curiosity than terror. These men (Tenold's subjects are nearly all men) are clowns, sad ones at that. The narrative follows around an inept aspiring Fuhrer, Matthew Heimbach of the TWP, as he visited rallies and encampments of all the varieties of the white extremist fringe. Pre-Trump (and pre-Richard Spencer of alt-right notoriety who Heimbach thought a lightweight), the TWP hoped to unify the hard right into a serious political movement. But however dangerous they might be to a person of color who unwarily encountered them, most of them couldn't organize themselves out of a paper bag. These were radicals who might have forgotten to bring matches to a cross-burning. Most preferred drinking and fighting among themselves to any political project. Fortunately.

Tenold has concluded

if six years spent with the radical right taught me anything about the underlying reason for white nationalism, it is this: 'We are not them, and they are not us.'

The Trump election glow among the hard right faded quite quickly. Establishment Republicans didn't need these angry, unsophisticated men; they had power now and the poor slobs should crawl back in their holes. And the violent Charlottesville marches and rally proved the hard right's undoing. Heimbach received some laudatory "Heil Heimbach" salutes from the Nazis in attendance, but most of the country recoiled from visible hatred and bigotry, from the beating of DeAndre Harris and the murder of Heather Heyer. Under pressure from civil society if not their President, all the old splits and jealousies reappeared.

The bickering, disavowals, and counter-disavowals in the wake of Charlottesville are a reminder that, for all the attention it received and hysteria it created, the far right movement in America still had no idea what it was doing. That isn't to say that the groups and their members, on their own and together, aren't capable of violence, harassment, and even acts of terror, merely that corralling their efforts into a focused political movement would be akin to herding a flock of particularly hateful and racist cats.

... Ultimately, I believe the far right in America, at least in the incarnation I spent years covering, is destined to fail. Not because America is inherently good and that the forces of justice and progress are always stronger than those of intolerance and hatred, but because white supremacy is doing just fine without the far right.

The country has spent decades perfecting an ostensibly nonracial form of white supremacy, and it is serving with remarkable efficiency. Private prisons, mandatory sentencing, seemingly unchecked police power, gerrymandering, increasingly limited access to healthcare and abortion -- these are all tendrils in an ingenious web designed to keep people poor and powerless. ... I believe Matthew [Heimbach] was right when he said that the elites and politicians hate his people, but they don't hate them because they are white; they hate them because they are poor.

Aspiring Fuhrer Heimbach is last seen launching a miserable sort of back-to-the-land commune for worn out bigots.
I'd describe this book as a workman-like effort, not for everyone, but if you want or need a glimpse into the world of the US hard right, an approachable introduction. This bunch hasn't produced a Timothy McVeigh, but it certainly could.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Remembering my mother

Here she is with her squirmy toddler, circa 1948.

I feel a bit discordant posting this as she despised Mother's Day: "it's just something invented by the florists!"

I was very lucky in my relationship with my mother; few of my peers seem to have had it so easy. She simply unequivocally supported and loved me, even when I evolved into someone whose life and beliefs were unexpected. I loved her.

I think she would have said that raising me was her most significant accomplishment. Knowing that makes me a little wistful -- she was smart, competent, informed. In a time with different opportunities for women, she might well have had other, or additional, achievements.

I think too, if someone had asked her what else she was proud of in her life, she might have answered having been an active citizen of a country that defeated Hitler. (She wouldn't have instinctively given the Russian people the credit for this that I do, though I remember her explaining to me that she first had hope during World War II when the Nazis made the mistake of invading the USSR.) Most everyone of her generation felt they'd made a contribution to the war effort; she participated in aircraft monitoring in fields around Western New York. Though a person of the conventional right and no admirer of FDR, she left notebooks from the 1930s full of horror at what was rising up in Germany. She knew personally refugees from fascism. She had no truck with the America Firsters -- the domestic faction soft on fascism in her day -- who wanted to let Hitler conquer all of Europe rather than go to war.

She believed in engaged citizenship. I do too.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

An artist fights complacency

The Trump regime intentionally makes it easy to become numb to ongoing assaults on decency, rule of law, and truth itself.

Artist/Activist Michael D’Antuono put a show on trucks and offered it to tourists in the nation's capital. Then he interviewed them.

The video is a little long, but worth watching.

Saturday scenery: Year of the Dog

The grand civic festival we call Chinese New Year falls in February, complete with parading dancing dragons and fireworks. But the ancient lunar year runs, naturally, for a full year.

This year, we're in the time of the eleventh zodiac animal, the dog.

Honest and loyal, Dogs are the truest friends and most reliable partner.

Perhaps also dogs bring good luck in the lottery?

Households throughout San Francisco quite commonly display the animal on their doors.

"Chinese New Year" is also the "Spring Festival." This may explain why some canine representations are so perky.

All encountered over the last few months while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, May 11, 2018

"The arc of climate awareness curves toward reality" ...

The assertion in the post title comes by way of an article in Grist. This reports on polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and George Mason University that shows that Republicans are somewhat less inclined than they were a year ago to deny climate change.

As to why Republican opinion is bouncing back now, the Yale program’s director Anthony Leiserowitz has an idea: Republican leaders have just been talking about climate change, and climate denial, less often lately.

Past research has shown that public opinion is strongly shaped by “elite cues” — basically, what high-profile politicians and celebrities say and do and how often the media covers it. Last year, the focus on President Donald Trump’s announcement about pulling the country from the Paris Agreement was one factor that could partly explain the sharp downturn in Republican opinion on climate change, Leiserowitz says.

The less Republican leaders talk about climate change, he says, the more their constituents’ opinion “rebounds to where Republicans would be normally if they weren’t hearing a bunch of climate denial from their leadership.”

Most Democrats aren't making climate a big issue either, though for getting out our base, climate concern is a strong spur to action.

In general, except when climate change feels very immediate -- close by, painful -- all of us default to more immediate fears. Those fears are too often defined by by elite cues. I'm supposed to be afraid of Iran and homeless people this week, not rising seas and carbon pollution. Climate communicators haven't figured out how to keep our minds on threats with a longer time frame. Reality will eventually kick us in the teeth, dramatically raising awareness, but it's worth doing all we can to avert worse.

Friday cat blogging

She wasn't sure about the passerby. Was I a danger? I can fairly confidently refer to this one as "she," since 80 percent of orange cats are female.
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