Archive for the ‘The Good Fight’ category

Odds and Ends

December 21, 2016

Consider this a proof-of-life post.  I went into a renewed Trump slough of despond a few days ago and am only now crawling out.  My reaction these last several days is summed up by this, fresh from my son’s vault of amusing internet clutter:

I’m climbing out of my funk in a couple of ways:  for one, by forcing myself to focus on work (and disconnect, insofar as I can, from Twitter).  Turns out that a deep dive into the story of Edmond “Comet” Halley as the father of life insurance does wonders for the mood.

Then there’s the promise of action.  My spouse is not letting up, and she’s making sure I’m going to march and all that.  The mood’s grim around here, but not abject.  I count that a win.

Then there’s all of you who read this.  Your company is  a light against the darkness.

And, though I may be a hopeless optimist on this one, I think the press is getting just a little better.  Not enough, yet, but the combination of obvious corruption, the overwhelming evidence of a tampered election, and the terror many are beginning to feel as the sheer slapdash incompetence of the Trump junta becomes ever more obvious has woken at least a few in the elite press.  Relentless pressure on social media, letters to the editor and so on will help.  That’s something the less crowd-loving among us (me!) can do, pajama-clad, in our basements.

And when all else fails, there’s the absurdity of it all.  That doesn’t make it better, of course, but it does give us something to gawp and cackle at.  Exhibit A?  This insight from the physician who attested to the Cheeto-faced, ferret-heedit shitgibbon’s Yuuuuuugely perfect health:

“If something happens to him, then it happens to him,” Bornstein said. “It’s like all the rest of us, no? That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”

They. Can. Just. Keep. On. Dying.

That’s the perspective I seek in my medical professionals…

BTW — check out this gem from the good doctor:

“It never occurred to me that he was the oldest president, not for a second,” Bornstein, 69, said in his Upper East Side office of the 70-year-old Trump. He said that “there’s nothing to share” on a regular basis about a president’s health. “Ronald Reagan had pre-senile dementia. I mean, seriously, did they share that one with you, or did Nancy just cover it up?”

Reassured yet?

Last, because I love you, and I couldn’t resist this when I saw the shot, how about this edition of….

SEPARATED AT BIRTH

and…

Kitten Tikka Masala is unamused by Trump, and doesn’t care who knows it.

Thread, this one, open it is.

Image:  Yousuf Karsh, portrait of Winston Churchill, December 30, 1941.

Moral Action in Trump’s America

December 7, 2016

I’m way deep in a big project, and rather significantly behind on it too, so my blogging for the next few months is going to be quick-hit stuff rather than anything thought through.  I’ll try to make up for that by making it as regular a practice as I can to toss good reads your way.

Todays comes from Masha Gessen, someone y’all know I greatly admire.  About a week ago she posted a piece on The New York Review of Books site.  In it, she asks if the realist stance in politics can function in the context of Trump.  To find out, she looks to her own family history — including choices she made — to answer no.  She takes no prisoners:

In Bialystok ghetto, my great-grandfather’s responsibility in the Judenrat was to ensure that the ghetto was supplied with food. He ran the trucks that brought food in and took garbage out, he ran the canteen and supervised the community gardens that a group of young socialists planted. He also discouraged the young socialists from trying to organize a resistance movement: it would be of no use and would only jeopardize the ghetto’s inhabitants. It took him almost two years to change his mind about the resistance efforts, as he slowly lost hope that the Judenrat, by generally following the rules and keeping the ghetto inhabitants in line, would be able to save at least some of them.

As in other ghettos, the Judenrat was ultimately given the task of compiling the lists of Jews to be “liquidated.” The Bialystok Judenrat accepted the job, and there is every indication that my great-grandfather took part in the process. The arguments in defense of producing the list, in Bialystok and elsewhere, were pragmatic: the killing was going to occur anyway; by cooperating, the Judenrat could try to reduce the number of people the Nazis were planning to kill (in Bialystok, this worked, though in the end the ghetto, like all other ghettos, was “liquidated”); by compiling the lists, the Judenrat could prevent random killing, instead choosing to sacrifice those who were already near death from disease or starvation. These were strong arguments. There is always a strong argument.

But what if the Jews had refused to cooperate?

640px-le_brun_charles_-_horatius_cocles_defending_the_bridge_-_google_art_project

Was Arendt right that fewer people might have died? Was Trunk right that Judenrat activities had no effect on the final outcome? Or would mass murder of Jews have occurred earlier if Jews had refused to manage their own existence in the ghetto? We cannot know for certain, any more than we can know now whether a scorched-earth strategy or the strategy of compromise would more effectively mitigate Trumpism. But that does not mean that a choice—the right choice—is impossible. It only means that we are asking the wrong question.

The right question…or better, the right stance, the right scale on which to weigh any choice of action?

We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge….

Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.

I’m convinced Gessen is correct.  More, I believe her demand that we make the moral choice first, and then pursue whatever particular tactic seems most likely to embody that choice while advancing (or at least defending) the cause will be the most effective, as well as the right thing to do.  A Democratic response to Trump that says we can make this work a little better enshrines Trumpism, and all the vicious GOP assumptions as the ground on which such matters get decided.  One that says “No. This is wrong.  Democrats will oppose, not mitigate…” is the one that creates a real choice going forward on the ground on which we want to fight.

Read the whole thing.

Image: Charles Le Brun, Horatius Cocles Defending the Bridgec. 1642/3 (I know it’s not dead on point, but it’s close, and I always loved the story, so there.)

A Couple Of Things To Talk About When You Pick Up The Damn Phone

August 12, 2015

I promise I won’t post on this every day — but I’m going to come back to this pretty often until we get through the votes on the Iran deal.

Anyway — yesterday I asked everyone to call their Congressional representatives — Senators and Congresspeople alike — to thank them if they’ve already declared for the deal, to urge them to do so if they’re still (publicly) thinking about it, and, respectfully but very firmly, to give them grief if they’ve come down on the wrong side.

I’m asking again.  Here are the House and Senate directories.

Today I’ve got a couple of new developments you can talk about when you do call.

First up, meet Gary Samore:

“I think President Obama’s strategy succeeded,” said Mr. Samore, who left his post on Monday. “He has created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear concessions.”

Samore quit his job as head of United Against Nuclear Iran — a pressure group that worked to deepen sanctions against Iraq and that now, under its new head, old friend Joe Lieberman (D then I, but really R-Likud) opposes the Iran deal.

Giuseppe_Arcimboldo_-_Winter_-_WGA00819

The key here is that Samore is not someone who just fell of the turnip truck, nor is he a squish about the sweetness and light that may follow an agreement:

Though he backs the accord as the most that can be achieved diplomatically, Mr. Samore is skeptical that the agreement will open a new chapter in American-Iranian relations.

“The best you can achieve with diplomacy is delay in the hope that at some point a new Iranian government emerges that is not committed to developing nuclear weapons,” he said.

And if that leadership does not materialize, Mr. Samore acknowledges that Iran might vastly expand its nuclear enrichment program after core elements of the agreement expire in 15 years.

He is also not convinced that Iran will continue to adhere to the accord once economic sanctions are lifted. Even so, he argues, the accord will put the United States in a stronger position to respond than a congressional rejection would.

“We will have bought a couple of years, and if Iran cheats or reneges we will be in an even better position to double down on sanctions or, if necessary, use military force,” Mr. Samore said. “If I knew for certain that in five years they would cheat or renege, I’d still take the deal.”

This is what “best available option” means:  not that Lieberman and his herd of neo-con ilk can fart pixie dust and will away Iran’s political establishment, its institutional memory, and the broadly available knowledge of nuclear weapons design, but that we put ourselves in the most advantageous position we can to shape events as they unfold.

And in other news, it turns out that Iran is not, in fact, a monolithic Borg committed to the destruction of the United States and Israel.  Who says so? None other than a reporter from that famously pro-Iran media organ, The Forward.*

Mr. Cohler-Esses’s reporting, coming as Congress prepares to vote on the nuclear agreement next month, presents a more nuanced view of Iran compared with the dark descriptions advanced by a number of Jewish-American advocacy groups that consider Iran a rogue enemy state…

“Ordinary Iranians with whom I spoke have no interest at all in attacking Israel,” Mr. Cohler-Esses wrote. “Their concern is with their own sense of isolation and economic struggle.”

Among some of Iran’s senior ayatollahs and prominent officials, he wrote, there is also dissent from the official line against Israel.

“No one had anything warm to say about the Jewish state,” he wrote. “But pressed as to whether it was Israel’s policies or its very existence to which they objected, several were adamant: It’s Israel’s policies.”

While he wrote that there was no freedom of the press in Iran, “freedom of the tongue has been set loose.”

“I was repeatedly struck by the willingness of Iranians to offer sharp, even withering criticisms of their government on the record, sometimes even to be videotaped doing so,” Mr. Cohler-Esses wrote.

There you have it, folks: the deal on the table — even if the Iranians break it — still works to the advantage of the US, according to one of the most expert and skeptical figures in this long-running debate.  And the Iranians have a polity that is not in fact a unified autocracy bent on rogue violence, but is instead a much more complicated web of interests, beliefs and aspirations — exactly the kind of situation that offers opportunity for those deft enough to seek it out.

Oh — one more thing.  Last night I got an email from someone I’ve never met, who thanked me for yesterday’s effort to get some calls into the Hill.  He identified himself as someone who works on the senate side, and this is what he wrote:

We all hear the report every week on the top issues being called/written about and the breakdown. That message isn’t lost.

Your five minutes makes a difference.  Go to it.  Call your representatives.  Let them know you’re paying attention.

Once more:  the House and Senate directories.

*Snark, friends, if you’re not familiar with this pillar of New York Jewish newspapering.

Image:  Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Wintersecond half of the sixteenth century.

 

I’ll Be Your Cornhusker Tonight

May 27, 2015

Go Nebraska!

Nebraska on Wednesday became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty, with lawmakers defying their Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, a staunch supporter of capital punishment who had lobbied vigorously against banning it.

Manet,_Edouard_-_The_Execution_of_Emperor_Maximilian,_1867

By a 30 to 19 vote that cut across party lines, the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto on Tuesday of a bill repealing the state’s death penalty law. The measure garnered just enough votes to overcome the veto.

Slowly, haltingly, one step forward, often too many back, we progress.

Image:  Edouard Manet, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian 1867

Great Satan And Islamofascist Central Agree!

April 2, 2015

Nuclear talks with Iran produce a preliminary agreement.

Joannes_Fijt_-_Mushrooms_-_WGA08352

Statement glossed here.

Obama to speak on the accord at 2:15

In the meantime, here’s the debate prompt:

Worst deal since Munich or worst deal ever?

Image: Jan Fyt, Mushrooms, first half of the 17th century.

La Lucha Continua…With A Sideways Reason To Keep Fighting From The (A) Good Doctor

November 6, 2014

Serendipity works sometimes.  My friend David Dobbs publishes a near-daily newsletter of three or four fascinating essays or articles to read.  (You can sign up here.) Today he took me to a writer I’ve only occasionally glanced at in the past, Sadie Stein, (may have to change that)  for a piece that comes to a climax with a vision of a young, fictionalized Joyce Carol Oates, TA-ing her first class.  Trust me; it’s worth a look. (It’s over at the Paris Observer, itself a venue I chance upon more than seek out — might want to change that too.)

Contemplating the various joys of full-body immersion in student fiction was fun, enough so that I clicked through to Stein’s archive, and there, just below the bon-bon of a post to which David had directed me, I came upon her entry for Tuesday.  Mostly (though not entirely) she hands the microphone over to William Carlos Williams, and a poem, which, thus acknowledged, I herewith steal:

Election Day

Warm sun, quiet air

an old man sits

in the doorway of
a broken house–

boards for windows
plaster falling

from between the stones
and strokes the head

of a spotted dog

George_Wesley_Bellows_-_Man_and_Dog_(1905)

The dog and the man deserve better.  The struggle continues. It will not end easily, as Tuesday’s results remind us.  But to mix references and speakers of very different histories, the arc of the moral universe is long.  But that we can conceive of the idea of justice allows us to bend that arc towards the just end.  (And yes, I’m feeling my Anselm just a bit today.)

Image:  George Wesley BellowsMan and Dog, 1905.

Stupid..and Smart

July 25, 2014

Here’s a yin and yang post for your afternoon delectation.  I’m still trying to get some time to do a big honker post for y’all, but day job and a true 1st world problem — the start of a massive kitchen remodel on Monday — mean that I haven’t two thoughts to rub together.

So, given that we all need good stuff at which to foam at the mouth, I thought I’d just clip a couple of pieces to give us all a really good look at why its so much better not being a Republican.  Just imagine trying to defend this.

In an intensely awkward congressional hearing Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S government officials as representatives of the Indian government.

The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about “your country” and “your government,” in reference to the state of India.

Arthur_William_Devis_-_Emily_and_George_Mason_-_Google_Art_Project

“I’m familiar with your country; I love your country,” the Florida Republican said. “Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I’m willing and enthusiastic about doing so.”

Apparently confused by their Indian surnames and skin color, Clawson also asked if “their” government could loosen restrictions on U.S. capital investments in India.

Face, meet palm.

Head, meet desk.

America, meet your legislators.

Oh, and Florida? Thanks.  Thanks a lot. (Sorry Betty.)

On the other hand, sometimes you just get to kvell* when you read something at once smart and beautifully rich on snark.  Here’s Kareem Abdul Jabbar opining at Time.com on unionizing college athletes (an obviously good and just idea, IMHO):

new survey finds that 60% of incoming college football players support unions for college athletes. The horror! Were such unions allowed, our glorious cities would crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory; our government officials would be loin-cloth-clad elders gathered in the rubble of an old McDonald’s passing a Talking Stick; our naked children would roam the urban wilderness like howling wolves, their minds as blank as their lost Internet connection. We would be without hope, dreams, or a future….

…Most Americans agree that the athletes are being short-changed. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll concluded that 51% of Americans believed that universities should be required to cover medical expenses for former players if those expenses were the result of playing for the school. A whopping 73% believed athletic scholarships should not be withdrawn from students who are injured and are no longer able to play.

But when it comes to these same student-athletes forming a union, an HBO Real Sports and The Marist College Center for Sports Communication poll showed 75% of Americans opposed to the formation of a college athlete union, with only 22% for it.

Why such a difference between wanting equity and supporting the best means to achieve it? Despite 14.5 million Americans belonging to labor unions, we’ve always had a love-hate relationship with them.

The Love: Unions can be like a protective parent arguing with an arrogant teacher over their child’s unfair grade. The Hate: Unions can be like a bossy spouse who complains about all the work they do for you while shoveling corn chips into their maw from the La-Z-Boy.

Our relationship with college athletes is much clearer. We adore and revere them. They represent the fantasy of our children achieving success and being popular. Watching them play with such enthusiasm and energy for nothing more than school pride is the distillation of pure Hope for the Future.

But strip away the rose-colored glasses and we’re left with a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

Go read the whole thing.  It’s righteous, vicious, and above all, smart.

Discuss.

*I’m guessing WordPress doesn’t do the Sabbath on Saturday.  It wanted to change “kvell” to “knell” — which is really not the meaning shift you want.

Image:  Arthur William Devis, Emily and George Mason1794 or 1795.