quote unquote: Thomas Jefferson

I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them,
and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." -- Thomas Jefferson, writing to H. Tompkinson (aka Samuel Kercheval), July 12, 1816

A Christmas Carol, American Style

Antonio Rodriguez Garcia

An 8-year-old boy from Guatemala died in United States custody early Christmas Day, the second death of a child in detention at the southwest border in less than three weeks, raising questions about the ability of federal agents running the crowded migrant border facilities to care for those who fall ill: 8-Year-Old Migrant Child From Guatemala Dies in U.S. Custody by Miriam Jordan (New York Times)

Can America Survive the Rule of a “Stupified Plutocracy”?

Lewis Lapham, who as editor of Harper's magazine made it essential reading, is without doubt our greatest living satirist, sardonic, erudite, righteous in the tradition of Twain, Mencken, Vidal and Hitchens. As the Times put it, "Lapham's portraits of his country are astute and his dry wit as sharp as a knife."

The occasion for this interview is the 30th anniversary reissue of his book of essays, Money and Class in America (with a new introduction by Thomas Frank), as essential a deconstruction of American political culture today as it was the moment it was first published in the decade that sent us spiraling down our current path.

Incidentally, Lapham Quarterly, the project of his "retirement," is out with a Special Issue: A History of Fake News.

Herding cats: Why being governor or mayor is good preparation for a president

Herding cats: An idiom denoting a futile attempt to control or organize a class of entities which are inherently uncontrollable, such as legislators or city councilors.
I hope the Democrats will look beyond Congress -- especially beyond the handful of self-anointed U.S. Senators banging around the Beltway like so many ego-filled hot air balloons -- at some of the mayors and governors who have expressed an interest in running or might be persuaded to get in the race. Governors and mayors deal with real issues with constrained resources. Mayors are typically very good at retail politics. They have experience handling legislative bodies. And neither is tainted by
association with the Beltway.

Many of the parishes mayors manage are not small-scale operations. For example, only seven states in the nation are bigger than L.A. County (Los Angeles, by far its largest city, is bigger than 23 of the states). The populations of 38 states are smaller than NYC's. Chicago, Houston: these places are huge. Being chief executive in any of theses hamlets is going to give you more relevant experience than you'd get as, say, governor of Arkansas.

Even in smaller cities, mayors are dealing with issues like poverty, housing, immigration, schools, medical services, police and fire protection, infrastructure, utilities, transportation, even massive problems like global warming and international trade, while senators spend most of their time raising campaign dollars and whining that the other side won't let them get anything done.

Several mayors are considering runs, most seriously Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (a small city with big problems) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Also being talked up are New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a progressive favorite, and Boston Mayor and former labor leader Marty Walsh.
Only 7 states are bigger than L.A.
Parenthetically, Sens. Booker and Sanders are former mayors.

Governors, too, who deal with political problems at the granular level, need a closer look, although in the wake of the calamitous Obama years, the ranks of experienced Democratic governors are thin. California ex-Gov. Jerry Brown is probably too old (although nowhere has he said he'd turn it down). CA Gov. Gavin Newsom, IL Gov. JB Pritzker, WI Gov. Tony Evers, MI Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and CO Gov. Jared Polis are all too new, and NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken himself out of the 2020 competition. But MT Gov. Steve Bullock and former MA Gov. Deval Patrick are exploring runs; MD ex-Gov. Martin O'Malley will want another shot; WA Gov. Jay Inslee gets high marks from all sectors of the party, especially on climate change; and the party ought to take at least cursory looks at other governors like LA's John Bel Edwards, NC's Roy Cooper and RI's Gina Raimundo, as well as ex-govs like VA's Terry McAuliffe and CO's progressive John Hickenlooper.

Reading list:
 Why Democrats should take mayors seriously as presidential candidates: From City Hall to the White House by Alex Shephard (The New Republic)
 The bloom has come off the gubernatorial rose in presidential politics and that might be good news for Democrats: Maybe a Democratic mayor should be president by Jamal Simmons (The Hill)
 Democrats might need a straight white man from the middle of the country, like Steve Bullock, to win the 2020 election. But do they want one?: Could This Unknown Montana Governor Be Our Next President? by Anne Helen Petersen (BuzzFeed)
 As mayor, he has helped usher in Los Angeles's renaissance, most recently by bringing George Lucas's Museum of Narrative Art to the city. Can he work the same magic in a possible 2020 challenge to Trump?: Eric Garcetti Is the Anti-Trump, Pro–Star Wars Man We Need by Chanan Tigay (GQ)
 Democratic insiders can’t stand the progressive New York mayor and want him to pipe down, despite his record of real accomplishment back home. What gives?: What’s Bill de Blasio’s Problem? by Edward-Isaac Dovere (Politico)
 Can an Obama acolyte be elected after Trump?: Deval Patrick’s Presidential Prospects by Jeffrey Toobin (The New Yorker)
 Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is gearing up for an unconventional 2020 presidential run: ‘He’s going to do it … He’s got a theory’ by David Siders (Politico)

Extra credit:
 Top party donors and operatives are eager to see the Texas congressman jump into the presidential race: Beto O’Rourke blows up the 2020 Democratic primary by David Siders (Politico)

Building Economic Democracy One Worker Co-op at a Time

A worker cooperative is a business that is owned and democratically governed by the people who work in it.
Own the Change, a 22 minute, free documentary produced by TESA Collective and the Laura Flanders Show, is a guide to starting worker co-ops. The video lays out the the real-world challenges of launching a co-op and the transformative benefits co-ops offer to workers. It includes interviews with people who have launched their own co-ops.

Available since 2015, Own the Change has been watched nearly 35,000 times on YouTube, and has been screened in community centers and at organizing events around the country. There is also an accompanying education guide.

TESA collaborates with organizations to develop educational projects big or small from start to finish, and to improve existing programs, tools and curricula. The group can build custom games for a campaign, organization or company, merging cause with play. In addition to making games and programs for others, they design and produce their own games, including Rise up: The Game of People & Power, Co-opoly: The Game of Co-operatives, Loud & Proud: A Fast-Paced Social Justice Word Association Game, and Space Cats Fight Fascism: The Board Game.

Extra credit:
✓ What Is a Worker Cooperative? (Democracy At Work Institute/US Federation of Worker Cooperatives)
 When maximizing profits isn’t the only goal, companies can actually work better: Worker Cooperatives Are More Productive Than Normal Companies by Michelle Chen (The Nation)
 With new tools and political policies now in place to support them, there could be a boom in employee-owned business ahead as baby boomers retire and sell their companies to their workers: More U.S. businesses are becoming worker co-ops. Here’s why. by Eillie Anzilotti (FastCompany)
✓ Getting Rid of Bosses: Can a company succeed if no one is in charge? by Alana Semuels (The Atlantic)
 Why are we told a broken system that creates vast inequality is the only choice? Spain's amazing co-op is living proof otherwise: Yes, there is an alternative to capitalism. Mondragon shows the way Richard Wolff (The Guardian)

Can we have less "lesser"

Good candidates are running across the country, and pretty much every Democrat is better than his or her opponent. But the national leadership has not crafted a compelling program comparable to the New Deal or the Great Society (to say nothing of MAGA). They haven't even tried, the closest thing being the proposal to use the tax cut to pay teachers, a pr stunt not a program.

Many of the most compelling candidates (in Texas, Florida and Georgia, for example) owe little or nothing to the national party. In many cases, the "great candidates" the DNC and DCCC did recruit are ex-military and veterans of the security state apparatus, which means they will not be of great help in turning swords into plowshares, an essential project if we are to find solutions to our festering problems in such areas as poverty, infrastructure, housing, education, and health care.

When Republicans got the polls, they know what they're going to get, as awful as that is. The same cannot be said for Democrats, who once again are being asked to vote against rather than for something. Will the Democrats as a party fight for infrastructure spending, progressive taxes, Medicare for All, a living wage and universal basic income? Who can say? Are they going to take on the military-industrial giants and the security state? Not likely, but who really knows.

The House and maybe the Senate are at stake; it would be helpful to know what the stakes really are.

And, parenthetically, in a census year, the outcomes in races for governor mansions and state legislatures will determine the makeup of the House for at least a decade.

Just sayin'

Election of 1800.
Thomas Jefferson: John Adams has a “hideous hermaphroditic character.” 
John Adams: Thomas Jefferson is “the son of a half breed Indian squaw.”

If you hear the word "reform," reach for your gun.

Term limits are on the ballot in Santa Monica and, I suspect, in other places where voters are frustrated. To put it as positively as possible, term limits are intended to bring new ideas and put a brake on entrenched interests. But there is no evidence that either of these outcomes occur.

In 2004, the Public Policy Institute of California published a research paper about the state legislative term limits that California voters enacted in 1990. The analysis found that rather than representing a new breed of "citizen legislator," "new members after term limits behave a great deal like their precursors.”

Term limits are a terrible idea. Here are some reasons why:

1. Term limits are anti-democratic. A fundamental principle in our system of government is that citizens get to choose their representatives. Term limits curtail that fundamental right. Voters should be able to vote for whomever they want to represent them.

2. Like it or not, politics is a profession. We ask our representatives to find solutions to pressing problems, often problems with no simple answers. Political representation is a learned skill; as with any profession, experience matters. The public is not well served by inexperienced people making policy choices with widespread, lasting consequences. In effect, term limits deny voters expert representation. Government is complicated. Just when representatives begin to learn their job, they are termed out.

3. Representative government is dependent on compromise. Term limits severely hamper the opportunity for understanding and trust to develop between council members. Strangers in a new environment can't know whose judgement to accept and which colleagues know what they're doing. Also,decreasing the number of seasoned elected officials results in greater deference to bureaucrats, especially in cases like Santa Monica's where elected officials have no independent staff of their own.

4. Term limits discourage the development policy expertise: members who know their time on the city council (or any office) is limited will be disinclined to spending the time and effort necessary to acquire expertise on specific issues knowing that, in most cases, that difficult-to-acquire knowledge won’t be nearly as valuable or useful in the assembly or state senate or wherever they're forced to head next. Also, special interests are always ready to jump in to help elected officials bone up on an issue, which distorts policy in favor of those interests.

5. Term limits empower bureaucrats and the special interests. Institutional memory is in the hands of staff: it is difficult to know when you are being manipulated or misled if you don't know the history of the issue being considered. By the same token, if lobbyists don't like an outcome, they don't have to wait long before they can take another shot at new arrivals. The people's representatives will soon be gone; the bureaucrats and special interests will be around forever.

6. Inevitably, there will be the temptation to defer to individuals, groups, and lobbies with matters before the council that may be helpful in getting the next political job.

7. Special interests are empowered at election time: campaign spending becomes all important when new faces need to be sold at every election.

8. Knowing they are going to be termed out, incumbents spend their time running for their next job instead of doing the job they have now.

9. We already have term limits. They're called elections.

Term limit campaigns are often cynical attempts by politicians to exploit voters' frustrations by appearing to favor a "reform." They often reveal a deep distrust of the democratic process. If you're unhappy with the government you have, you have the power to change it. Get involved. Vote.

Vote no on Prop TL.

"Vote for Yetta and watch things get betta" (slogan, Yetta Bronstein presidential campaign, 1964)

Both major parties follow scripts leading up to elections. The GOP pitches prayer in the schools, criminalizing abortion and what amounts to racial cleansing. Never happens. The Democrats hawk social and economic justice (this year in the form of free education, Medicare for All and criminal justice reform). Never happens. Whatever is promised turns out to be "too hard," we can't afford it, the other side just won't compromise.

Whichever party wins, though, what does happen is this: endless war, corporate welfare, and unimpeded transfer of public wealth into private hands.

Vote. Vote locally. Vote strategically. But, wherever possible, don't vote for corporate shills and the war machine. Change is a long, slow process. It's not going to happen in one election. Or two. Or probably ten. But it's not going to happen at all if we keep falling for false narratives.

There are plenty of Democrats to vote for, especially at the local level. But we need to be selective. The Democratic establishment
apparently learned nothing from 2016. They may need to hear from you again.

If you don't favor kleptocracy and militarism, then in races where the outcome will be the same, don't vote. Or vote Green or Peace & Freedom or Working Families or whatever other off-brand choice you have. Or write in yourself or Lebron James or Kshama Sawant or Jimmy Dore or Helen Keller or Stormy Daniels or Noam Chomsky or the progressive who got outspent in the primary or anyone else you think will get across the point that you're not accepting business as usual or the lesser evil anymore.

Otherwise, change? Never happens.

Resource: Worker Writers

Worker Writers, an institute founded and directed by poet Mark Nowak, organizes and facilitates poetry workshops with global trade unions, workers’ centers, and other progressive labor organizations. These workshops create a space for participants to re-imagine their working lives, nurture new literary voices directly from the global working class, and produce new tactics and imagine new futures for working class social change.

Worker Writers has run workshops with organizations as varied as Domestic Workers United in New York City, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, Justice for Domestic Workers in London, and the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union in Amsterdam and The Hague. For the past four years, Worker Writers has facilitated annual workshops for the PEN World Voices Festival.

Other links:
PEN American Center
Organization for Undocumented Workers
The Working-Class Studies Association supports scholarship, teaching and activism related to working-class life and cultures.

Haley Bails

No surprise or consternation over the news that Nikki Haley is stepping down as United States ambassador to the United Nations. It must be wearisome to take Donald Trump's crap as a regular diet. Besides, it's well-known that she has higher aspirations. She wants to be the first female President of the United States.

Yeah. Well. Of course. But for Nikki Haley to be their nominee will require the Republicans to be rational enough to allow it. In the event, probably too few GOP leaders will be able to overcome their misogyny, but neither that nor the assumption that she'd make a terrible president should obscure the fact that it would be a clever move for the Republicans to nominate her. Good presidential candidates and good presidents are not necessarily cut from the same cloth. As a candidate, she'd be hard to beat.

Haley's articulate enough, and she cleans up good, as we used to say of someone making themselves presentable. She has a more solid record than any of the Senate blowhards who will offer themselves: she has business experience, including as a CFO; she was treasurer and then president of the National Association of Women Business Owners; she
Her Master's Voice
served in the state legislature, in her first term beating a long-sitting GOP incumbent, in her last winning re-election by 83 - 17% over the Democrat; she served nearly two terms as governor before resigning to go to the UN: added together, business experience, a national network of contacts, both legislative and executive government service, and extensive foreign policy exposure make her CV hard to top.

In addition, because she agreed to serve Trump, the party whackos will give her a pass: the moneybags never had a problem with her. She demonstrated just enough independence from Trump at the UN to be plausible as an alternative. Now she's jumping ship just as a sea of troubles is washing over the president's gunwales (one way or another Trump himself is likely headed for the lifeboat: impeachment in the remote event the Democrats control the Senate and, even more remotely, man up; evidence of criminal activity -- from Mueller's or other investigations -- so incontestable the president will resign in exchange for immunity or pardon; a stroke; or retirement to his dacha in Mar-A-Lago so to gaze at leisure into gilded mirrors at the greatest president ever).

Finally, as both female and off-white, Haley cuts into two electoral assets the Democrats tend to fetishize (these advantages, if that's what they really are -- it's still the economy, stupid..., these advantages will evaporate if the Dems nominate an elderly white male). If it happened, her presidency would be about as good for women as Obama's was for African-Americans, but inevitably she would get a measurable amount of campaign support because of her gender and the Democrats would lose their "party of women" props in the process.

Nikki Haley's politics are terrible -- the best that can be said is that she evolved on the confederate flag issue under political pressure and she demonstrated a degree of independence on women's issues, but on other matters her policy positions are hard right: she was the Tea Party candidate for governor with a rousing endorsement from Sarah Palin, she is hostile to unions, she opposed the Affordable Care Act, she is against gun control, she has consistently voted for bills that restrict abortion, as governor she slashed the state budget at the expense of social programs, and she resigned her UN job one-day after being accused of accepting while in office a series of free private luxury plane flights from three South Carolina businessmen and GOP donors. She can't be held directly responsible for promoting Trump's anti-human rights agenda at the UN, because she was just doing her job, but she can be blamed for taking the job. Still, having shown a willingness to work across the aisle as legislator and governor, she will be hard to demonize. She'd be a formidable candidate for the Democrats to run against.

The next president will be a woman. Elizabeth Warren or Nikki Haley: Your choice.

The rest of the story:

Nikki Haley to Resign as Trump’s Ambassador to the U.N. by Maggie Haberman (New York Times)

Be afraid

Think of the Presidential Alert as a kind of Amber Alert. It warns that a sexual predator is on the loose in the West Wing.

Until this moment, Senators, I think we never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness.

So let's see if we have this straight.

The National Council of Churches opposes Brett Kavanagh. Countless Jewish and Roman Catholic leaders and organizations (not associated with fundamentalism) oppose Brett Kavanagh. The Human Rights Campaign opposes Brett Kavanaugh. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights opposes Brett Kavanaugh. The American Bar Association opposes Brett Kavanagh. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes Brett Kavanagh. The National Women’s Law Center opposes Brett Kavanaugh. Over 1000 law school professors oppose Brett Kavanagh. Hundreds of psychiatrists and psychologists oppose Brett Kavanagh. Every women's group in the country (not associated with fundamentalism) opposes Brett Kavanagh. A majority of Americans opposes Brett Kavanaugh.

Even so, the Senate Republicans think it's a fine idea to install him on the Supreme Court, there to remain until well after most of those who put him there are dead.

Repeal and replace

The National Anthem.

"The Star-Spangled Banner." Too martial.

"This Land Is Your Land" and "America the Beautiful." More uplifting and far easier to sing, although the latter may not be sufficiently secular.

It should have been Woody's song all along:

Rumpled but Right

“I just want to make clear that I send @SenSherrodBrown out of this house in dress shirts ironed with so much spray starch they stand on their own like tombstones on the carpet. Two hours later, reporters are calling him ‘rumpled.’" -- Connie Schultz, tweeting about on her husband’s attire.

Parenthetically, in a Democratic Party that had its priorities straight, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown would be at the top of the prospective POTUS list.


A couple of days ago, I'm in a coffee shop on Montana. You know the one. I'm having a scone and coffee near the door at a table next to that counter holding the cream and milks, sweeteners, condiments, straws and napkins. The stream of dogs is unrelenting, but what can you expect in a city that enforces only those laws that affect squeaky wheels.

The entitled have no second thoughts about turning others' protections to their benefit. Case in point: you could open a wildly successful store here selling nothing but counterfeit service-dog outfits.

So, just another day in paradise.

Then this happened, over the top even by Westside standards. A woman enters, wearing expensive workout clothes, apparently aspirational, with a small pooch that also looks like it has missed a few days at the doggie dojo. The woman drags her little darling over to the food-laden counter, grabs a handful of napkins, and proceeds to wipe the dog's ass. Then she reaches up and throws the toilet paper into the hole between the honey and the half and half.

There are good reasons for the regulations prohibiting animals, other than service animals, in places that stock and serve food: hygiene, allergies, disease, noise, bites, fights, the rights of other patrons among them. Service dogs are excepted because they are a necessary aid to people with certain disabilities. They are also well-trained: they don't bark, fight, climb on the furniture, or lick the tables (there is one local mutt that drags his ass around the floor every day while his "master" gets his order; I wonder what level of fecal matter Mythbusters would find on the Sugar in the Raw at that location).

The regulations are reasonable. They should be enforced.

Wanna know how scared Ted Cruz is?

“Searching for new wedge issue, Cruz says O’Rourke will ban barbecue” (Austin American-Statesman headline).

That's how scared Ted Cruz is.

Official campaign site for Beto O'Rourke, the 2018 Democratic Candidate for U.S. Senate in Texas: Beto for Texas.

Whistling past the graveyard

So Andrew Cuomo, smug in the afterglow of his primary win, says the progressive "wave" is "not even a ripple."

But I have to ask, moving forward, do you want to be in the party of, say, Beto O'Rourke and Elizabeth Warren or the party of Andrew Cuomo?

'Cause it's not going to be both.

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Netroots Nation 2018

Sen. Warren tells her own story to show how radically government has abandoned its responsibility to help the poor and working class.

The next president of the United States will be a woman.

Elizabeth Warren or Nikki Haley.

Your choice.

This morning, someone said to me...,

"If we can survive this stupid, ignorant, corrupt dictator-wannabe, we can survive anything." I'm not so sure. What if he was an intelligent, informed, personally ethical dictator-wannabe? Take away Donald Trump's creepiness, avarice and racism, teach him to read and write and hold a coherent thought, and you have Barack Obama, ruling by executive order, conducting endless wars because he can. We have stood by as representative legislative government has become enfeebled, fossilized, barely functional, nearly useless; watched as power has increasingly vested in our serial kings. Isn't there a significant (and probably growing) number of us that would be happy to bring the curtain down on political theater that offers no happy endings, to bring an end to kleptocracy and dysfunction? Aren't there more than few voters who would respond readily to someone who promised convincingly to make the trains run on time?


Bernie Sanders ran; Hillary Clinton moved left. Cynthia Nixon ran; Andrew Cuomo moved left.

It takes an existential threat to their power to make establishment Democrats do the right thing.

Good to know.

Why the U.S. Should Provide Universal Basic Income

America is the richest civilization in history. Why, then, are our living standards so low compared to those of other wealthy democracies? A universal basic income would help close the income inequality gap, eliminating poverty and increasing opportunity for all Americans.

End: Less War

The Long War has dragged on for nearly two decades, with huge losses in lives and wealth inflicted on countries suffering our attention, but also at great cost to American citizens.

In Yemen alone, for example, since the beginning of the conflict there, more than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 40,000 wounded, mostly from air raids; the collateral deaths from damage to the infrastructure (hospitals, especially) and from "non-lethal" actions such as blockades and sanctions (from starvation, cholera, etc.) is immeasurable. This is just another illegal and immoral war racking up war crimes on our tab, crimes against humanity that have gone on far too long.

And yet there is no peace movement in the United States. Neither moral outrage nor the costs to the nation in lives, in quality of life and in reputation and influence has been enough to strike a spark of resistance.

What is wrong with us?

Must read: The War on Peace by Tino Rozzo (The Dissident).

Must read: War, war and more war

The War Party, comprised of nearly all Republicans and most Democrats, manipulated by the security-industrial state and the Pentagon, the craftiest lobbying operation inside the Beltway, must be stopped. Nothing can be fixed -- infrastructure, housing, health care, poverty, social services, the environment -- until military adventurism is brought to an end.
On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.
The rest of the story:
The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another: War Without End by C.J.Chivers (New York Times).

Should we let go of Roe?

With Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court short-circuited the political debate that we needed to have about abortion if the issue was ever to be successfully terminated. It appears that the court is about to short-circuit debate again, with untold harm befalling countless women and families. But
will short-term pain at least result in long-term gain? Will the matter be settled politically as it has been in most enlightened representative democracies, even Ireland of late?

Required reading:
✓ "How can someone who calls herself pro-choice oppose Roe v. Wade? Let me count the ways: Let Roe Go by Megan McArdle (Washington Post).

Extra credit:
✓ Europeans may have stricter abortion laws, but Americans have less abortion access: Abortion Is Different in Europe Because Religion Is Different in Europe by Amanda Marcotte (Slate).
✓ Why Is the US Still Hung Up on the Abortion Debate? A Bioethics Perspective by George Dvorsky (io9).
✓ Leo Varadkar vows legal terminations by end of year after huge vote for change: Ireland votes by landslide to legalise abortion (Guardian).
✓ A proposed law to ban abortion outright has sent thousands of Poles onto the streets, coat hangers held aloft and drawn on posters -- a long-standing symbol of dangerous self-induced or back-alley abortions: 'Coat Hanger Rebellion' Grips Poland by Cassandra Vinograd and Eva Gallica (NBC News)

Without Diana Ross, The Supremes couldn't cut it

But the Supremes without Anthony Kennedy won't change a whit. So he hit a few right notes: he was no moderate.

Three Blue Dog Democrats, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, met with Donald Trump at the White House last week, along with GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, and judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley, to discuss the president's plans to pack the Supreme Court with reactionary ideologues.

So far they claim to be in wait-and-see mode, all having raised doubts about whether they would vote for a nominee with a record of opposition to Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act.

But talk is cheap: Donnelly, Manchin and Heitkamp all crossed the aisle last year to support Rightist blowhard now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, as terrible an appointment as anyone Trump is likely to unearth.

The Democrats have the power to shut down the Senate until they get a satisfactory compromise nominee or the election happens, whichever comes first. Or, for that matter, to achieve any other goal they're serious about (DACA, say).

For Democrats, unfortunately, being able to do something and doing something are two very different matters.

Or: they could hold out for changes to the terms of judges. The primary argument for lifetime appointments, judicial independence, a horse that escaped from the barn years ago, is as well served by single terms longer than a president's two. If justices were limited to 12-year appointments, say, they would still be independent, but you would no longer have the incumbent party trying to control the judiciary decades after it has left office.

An interesting sidebar is what should happen to the terms of justices currently ensconced on the court that exceed the new limit, especially since removing them simultaneously would require also that several new judges be appointed at once. But in politics everything is negotiable. There is nothing impractical in working out a formula to dispose of the longest-serving justices (who are Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer and Alito, the latter, conveniently, having been there 12 years) if their removal supported the intention of the reform.

With the promise of more turnover, any single appointment would be less fraught. The Democrats would lose the opportunity to influence this court seat, but by forcing a change to termed justices they might make future appointments less contentious for being less momentous.

Extra credit:
✓ If Democrats refuse to participate in roll call votes, the Senate will come to a halt for lack of a quorum: How Democrats can shut down the Senate by Gregory Koger (Vox/Mischiefs of Faction).
✓ Quorum-breaking can be very disruptive but does not provide a long-term option for blocking a Supreme Court nomination: How Democrats can shut down the Senate, part II by Gregory Koger (Vox/Mischiefs of Faction).
✓ How can someone who calls herself pro-choice oppose Roe v. Wade? Let me count the ways: Let Roe go by Megan McArdle (Washington Post).
✓ “Massive numbers of women resisted the law” -- a historian on life before Roe: The secret lives of women before Roe v. Wade by Rickie Solinger (Vox).
✓ A testy exchange with Dianne Feinstein helped make a former Notre Dame law professor a favorite of conservatives: How Amy Coney Barrett vaulted onto Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist by Eliana Johnson (Politico).
✓ Humans are living longer. That means judges are serving longer, too: It’s Time to Retire Lifetime Appointments for Supreme Court Justices by Adrienne LaFrance (Slate).

حبيبتي ، بيبي ، تقود سيارتي.

Palestinian cellist Naseem Alatrash and Syrian singer Nano Raies produced this rendition of the Beatles’ 1965 song “Drive My Car” to celebrate of the lifting of the Saudi women’s driving ban. Alatrash arranged the piece, arabizing it both lyrically and vocally, while Raies provided the vocal. ref

Aspirational thought o' the day

When Andrés Manuel López Obrador presides in Mexico, Jeremy Corbyn is British prime minister, and Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren is president of the United States, what a better world this will be.

Youth is irrepressible

Palestinian youth performing the Palestinian Dabkeh on the border under the close watch of Israeli snipers.

Central America: So far from God...

...so near to the United States.

How much of the refugee crisis in the Americas is caused by our own actions?
And at least one more, in Venezuela, almost certain soon to come.

"The four countries discussed in this report [see, below], Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, share a history as well as contemporary social and economic characteristics. The Spanish colonial period, which lasted from the early sixteenth century until 1821, laid certain institutional foundations whose legacies are still in place. Two legacies stand out: concentration of land in the hands of a small powerful elite and the exploitation of the indigenous labour force. The economies of all four countries are dominated by a handful of extremely rich families while the overwhelming majority is socially marginalized, economically and politically excluded, and suffers the lacerating effects of poverty, racism and discrimination. Moreover, the bloody internal conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s produced large-scale displacement, economic hardship, and debilitating fear. The recent surge of everyday violence rips into the most vulnerable, but society as a whole suffers from the instability resulting from the failure to reign in criminal activity.

"The new gang-related violence can be attributed to several factors including decades of internal wars and impunity, extensive displacement to urban areas, the absence of social and economic programmes to integrate the youth, the migration to the United States, and the over all social exclusion of a large proportion of the population. The continuation of death squad violence and the expansion of the drug trade is a reflection of the absence of the rule of law as well as the continued links between these clandestine organizations and the military and other power elites.

"The harsh response to the variety of gang activities in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has proved ineffective. While the problems are real, the government and the press find it more expedient to target the gangs and street children for virtually all the rampant violence in the society. In response, many citizens support draconian anti-gang laws and self-help “social cleansing” practices. In the process, the more powerful clandestine organized crime units tend to be overlooked, in part because of the links, influence and control they exercise at various institutional levels in the governments. Nicaragua, while the poorest country in Central America, has fewer gangs and less violence and its government’s alternative approach to rehabilitate and integrate gang members into society has been much more successful.

"Violence against women is an extremely serious problem. These crimes are seldom solved or punished, creating further fear and vulnerability among women. Crimes against homosexuals are less identified and are also likely under-reported. Politically motivated violence against party workers, human rights defenders, and professionals dedicated to investigating and bringing to justice those responsible for these crimes, especially in Guatemala, has seen an alarming rise. The judicial system and the police have proved largely to be ineffective. The serious instability and danger resulting from violence and the failure of national protection leads to displacement and migration out of the country, especially to the United States. These undocumented migrants live in limbo with the increasing threat of deportation back to the country they fled, often in fear for their lives."

From Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua): Patterns of Human Rights Violations (pdf) by Beatriz Manz (University of California, Berkeley) commissioned by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Status Determination and Protection Information Section (DIPS) (Writenet Independent Analysis).

Writenet is a network of researchers and writers on human rights, forced migration, ethnic and political conflict.

See image larger.

(Resource: GreenNet is not-for-profit collective, established in 1985, providing internet services, web design and hosting to supporters of peace, the environment and human rights.)

quote unquote: Molly Ivins

I prefer someone who burns the flag and then wraps themselves up in the Constitution over someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag. -- Molly Ivins

It's good to be the king...

Having one, less so.

The Founders intended the legislature to be preeminent, with the President largely an administrator (and the Supreme Court a referee), but over time Congress has ceded far too many of its responsibilities and far too much of its power to the executive, until we have reached the point where what we have is a sort of serial monarch, one chosen -- because of Citizens United and other electoral corruptions -- by the nobles, like a Polish King. And although we still have a more or less (mostly less) functioning legislature, our king has vastly more power than any constitutional monarch among his contemporaries.

How we make our way back to truly representative democracy is the most central political question of our times.

Our enemy ... Canada?

It is ironic, given our long and sordid history of meddling in the domestic affairs of other nations, that regime change in the U.S. is now a reasonable foreign policy goal for our former allies.

Party poopers

“Nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties.” -- Alexander Hamilton, 1787
While at present political parties are practical mechanisms for the expression of political intentions, for average citizens allegiance to party -- partisanship -- is self-defeating.

It was the existence of independent concentrations of power and influence, especially labor unions, national associations (such as the NAACP) and, on the local level, social clubs, that gave ordinary people muscle in the long struggle for economic and social justice.

Restoring such organizations must be part of any long-term reform of our democracy.
“If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” -- Thomas Jefferson, 1789


"Leap Before You Look"

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

-- W. H. Auden

quote unquote: J. M. Keynes

“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work together for the benefit of all.” ― John Maynard Keynes

What's wrong with this picture?

2018 has been deadlier for schoolchildren than for military service members. You are safer in our various and sundry war zones than you are in school.

Our long-running political theater of the absurd

Closing soon?

When Scott Pruitt is fired he will be replaced by his deputy, Andrew Wheeler (not incidently a coal lobbyist and former aid to Jim Inhofe, the Senate’s most prominent denier of climate change), who will calmly, efficiently, and unostentaciously proceed along the same course as Pruitt, polluting air and water, trashcanning regulations, shutting down enforcement, highjacking public lands, and generally undermining 70 years of hard-won progress on the environment.

The system will have worked, however: the corrupt and "extremist" Pruitt will be banished (but, not to worry, he will in all certainty spin through the revolving door to a high-paying precinct from which he will pester his former employees for special treatment for the same industries he currently -- nominally -- regulates).

The same dynamic will follow Donald Trump's departure. We will be told ad nauseum that our "exceptional," "democratic" system of checks
Dan Wasserman twitter@wassermantoons
and balances
has rescued us from a narcissitic, unlettered, wannabe dictator and replaced him with the moderate, unassuming, grown-up Mr. Pence. Ignored in this account will be Mike Pence's history as a right-wing fanatic and fundamentalist religious lunatic whose real job will be to put lipstick on the pig of the Right's determination to turn back the clock, if not all the way to the 11th century, at least to 1876.

If the system worked, it hardly needs to be said, we wouldn't have a Pence or a Trump in the first place. Nor for that matter, would we be burdened with elected officials like blue dog Democrats Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly who helped to deploy Andrew Wheeler for his assault of the environment.

Extra credit:
✓ If scandals oust Pruitt, Andrew Wheeler is an ex-coal industry lobbyist pledged to end the ‘pure hell’ of Obama regulations: Scott Pruitt's new EPA deputy could surpass boss in scrapping protections by Oliver Milman (The Guardian)
✓ The US election and the systematic failure of modern politics by Benjamin Farrand (Critical Legal Thinking)

How other countries keep money out of politics

What does he think, drone pilots grow on trees?

Barack Obama made a point of criticizing electronic devices in a commencement speech to more than 1,000 graduates and thousands of their family and friends gathered on the football field at Hampton University, a historically black college in
southeastern Virginia.

"Obama said today’s college graduates are coming of age at a time of great difficulty for the United States. They face a tough economy for jobs, two wars and a 24/7 media environment not always dedicated to the truth, he said.

"Added to the mix are the distractions offered by popular electronic devices that entertain millions of Americans.

“'With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation,' Obama said."

The rest of the story:
Obama criticizes iPods & iPads; Xboxes & PlayStations -- Reuters news story.

When you hear the word "reform"...

...reach for your gun.

The most pointed irony of the DCCC/DNC interventions in California, specifically, is that here the party leadership is being hoist on its
Drew Shebeman—Tribune Media
own petard. They colluded in a "reform" effort led by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to lock insurgents and independents out of general elections by limiting the final contestants to the top two vote getters in open primaries, assuming they would be the establishment picks from each party. Now the party bosses are forced to intervene to protect their pre-washed, pre-shrunk, pre-approved, corporate-friendly choices from an army of progressive challengers and angry Democratic voters.
"The approach is laced with peril for a party divided over matters of ideology and political strategy, and increasingly dominated by activists who tend to resent what they see as meddling from Washington. A Democratic effort to undercut a liberal insurgent in a Houston-area congressional primary in March stirred an outcry on the left and may have inadvertently helped drive support to that candidate, Laura Moser, who qualified for the runoff election next month."
The same thing is happening across CA where the party establishment's chronic distrust of voters is leading them to make the same mistakes that have cost them countless seats in local, state and congressional races (not to mention Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton) since the 1990s.

The rest of the story:
Fearing Chaos, National Democrats Plunge Into Midterm Primary Fights by Alexander Burns (New York Times).
Democrats consider attacking their own California candidates to win back Congress by Emily Cadei (Sacramento Bee).

Reading list:
Unintended consequences of California’s open primary by Martin Wiskol (Orange County Register).
California GOP should embrace open primary system: Orange County Register editorial 2017/10/22.
The political parties would like voters to kill California's top-two primary system in 2018 by John Myers (Los Angeles Times).
✓ The defining characteristic of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for too many years has been its well-honed ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: Texas Progressive Laura Moser Is Beating Democratic Insiders by John Nichols (The Nation).
✓ While this article is mostly true, it would be fairer to say that, after 30 years of Democratic missteps, the chickens came home to roost during Obama's stay in office: The Democratic Party Got Crushed During The Obama Presidency. Here's Why by Mara Kiasson (NPR).
✓ Instead of campaigning on issues that reform-minded voters care about, the DCCC is going after a GOP “culture of corruption.” Once again, elect us because we're not them. It worked then. But not since. Will it work now?: Democrats Look To Their Successful 2006 Messaging In Bid To Retake The House by Amanda Terkel (Huffington Post).

Extra credit:
✓ Maybe they can hire the lawyers who won the Citizens United case: DNC Lawyers Argue ‘Primary Rigging’ Is Protected by 1st Amendment (Liberty Headlines).

On Hanging Together

Some have said I'm a pessimist.

Not true.

I'm an optimist.

Things always turn out worse than I predict.

This is a post from 2015, titled "Block the Kochs":
When Dylan sang "Your old road is rapidly agin'/Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin'," he was sending out a warning to the establishment of the day, the old order, the holders of the reins of authority, the guardians of business-as-usual.

And the times changed all right, just not the way he predicted. Now, it is we the people who need to heed the warning. The counter-revolution is nearly over. The oligarchs' final victory is around the next turn of the road. Despite the valiant resistance of individuals all over the planet, there are still too few willing to lend a hand. Difficult as it will be, we have to find the way to collective action.

"We must all hang together," Franklin said, "or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
2015 seems like a long time ago.

Potted history, episode #947

We exited WWII with the most powerful military in the world and didn't demobilize, making a quick and seamless transition to neocolonialism and Korea. Surely, the existence of the Soviet Union was a boon, but the Reds were more of an excuse than a threat; in accounts of the Cold War it is clear that the Kremlin was usually playing catch-up when it came to escalation. A world map of the 1950s shows the Soviets surrounded by American bases and surrogates, not the other way around (Russian screwing with Cuba was an example of playing catch-up, however feebly). Long before the fall of The Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union, we were engaged in military adventurism around the globe, the sorriest example being Vietnam. Luckily for the military-industrial complex, 9/11 and The War of Terror arrived in time to keep the global network of military outposts and franchises thriving.


Spend like there is a tomorrow.

Liberals and progressives should be wary of making an issue of deficits, despite the imbalance resulting from the GOP's hypocritical tax cuts. The federal debt, per se, is not a problem. If the government used deficit spending to invest in the nation's future prosperity, as it must and should, there would be no occasion for complaint. What needs to be attacked is our retrogressive tax system, corporate welfare, and military waste and adventurism. Deficit funding -- on efficient and economically competitive infrastructure; health care; lifetime education (not just pre-K to college and technical school, but skill-maintenance and retraining to avoid obsolescence); housing; and guaranteed basic income -- would be a bargain in the long run.

Must read: If MLK were alive today, his words would threaten most of those who now sing his praises

A radical man deeply hated and held in contempt is recast as if he was a universally loved moderate.

"The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. King’s courageous and compassionate example shatters the dominant neoliberal soul-craft of smartness, money and bombs.
His grand fight against poverty, militarism, materialism and racism undercuts the superficial lip service and pretentious posturing of so-called progressives as well as the candid contempt and proud prejudices of genuine reactionaries. King was neither perfect nor pure in his prophetic witness – but he was the real thing in sharp contrast to the market-driven semblances and simulacra of our day.

"In this brief celebratory moment of King’s life and death we should be highly suspicious of those who sing his praises yet refuse to pay the cost of embodying King’s strong indictment of the US empire, capitalism and racism in their own lives."

Martin Luther King Jr was a radical. We must not sterilize his legacy by Cornel West (Guardian).

The Party of Hope and Change -- or the new Whigs?

If you look at today's Democratic Party and wonder, how did we get here?, consider words Bill Clinton uttered on April 7, 1993: "'I hope you're all aware we're all Eisenhower Republicans,' he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. 'We're all Eisenhower Republicans here, and we are fighting the Reagan Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn't that great?'" (from The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House by Bob Woodward).

Though he spoke those words in frustration, what he said was true. The party of FDR and LBJ had become -- and in many ways remains -- the party of Ike: on some issues, on support for Labor and protection of Social Security, for example, on economic policy and national security, the Democratic Party today stands to the right of 1950s Republicans.

It is because the party leadership has been doing Wall Street's bidding for so long, now going on four decades, that Democrats have lost much of their following among the middle and working classes; nor will the voters return unless in the next two election cycles the party changes direction as radically as it did in the 1990s.

At the grassroots level, Democratic voters, and people who would vote Democrat if the party were true to its roots, are organizing: fighting pipelines and fracking; pushing for a living wage or a guaranteed income; demanding gun control; defending the Dreamers; shoving back against free trade; marching in defense of the environment; calling for Medicare for All. Even the general public sides with the left on a number of key issues that reflect on the size and purpose of government: hefty majorities support higher taxes on the wealthy and the corporations and think the government should be actively reducing the growing gap between the rich and the rest; want legislation to significantly increase in the minimum wage; and look to Washington to create jobs by making urgently needed repairs to our neglected infrastructure.

What nearly all Americans crave most, though, is leadership.

Part of Donald Trump's appeal as a candidate -- his only appeal, really -- was in his promise to do something, even if that something was just to break up the furniture. Doing something was more appealing than poking along the road to ruin, as the Democrats seemed to intend on doing.

The elections of 2018 and 2020 together will mark a turning point in our history. Another round of defeats for the Democrats, and the party will fade into irrelevancy. There is still a chance that the Democrat Party will again take the lead in the struggle for social and economic justice. If it does, the party will be invincible. If it doesn't, a new Liberal party will arise from its ashes as surely as tomorrow will dawn.

Must read: The Left ascendant

"With his primary election victory last week, Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski -- a Blue Dog and cultural conservative -- won the first major 2018 battle between the Democratic Party's establishment and progressive wings. But don't be confused about what it means. The war is already over, and the establishment lost.

"Even though only two states have actually voted so far this primary election season -- Texas, a red-state redoubt, and Illinois, a blue-state stronghold -- the battle for supremacy this primary season is all but complete. In state after state, the left is proving to be the animating force in Democratic primaries, producing a surge of candidates who are forcefully driving the party toward a more liberal orientation on nearly every issue.

"These candidates are running on an agenda that moves the party beyond its recent comfort zone and toward single-payer health care, stricter gun control, a $15 minimum wage, more expansive LGBT rights and greater protections for immigrants. In the surest sign of the reoriented issue landscape, they're joined by some of the most prominent prospects in the 2020 Democratic presidential field -- Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris among them -- who are embracing the same agenda."

The rest of the story:
Forget about Conor Lamb and Dan Lipinski. The progressive wing has already beaten the establishment in 2018: How the Bernie Wing Won the Democratic Primaries by Charlie Mahtesuian (Politico).

Issues matter

A story with 140 characters

Fiction on Twitter: From short short story to endless stream

It is said that Ernest Hemingway once bet that he could write a complete short story in six words. He was Twitter-ready a half century before anyone conceived of tweeting.

In 2012, before it descended into wordy 240-character journalistic one-upmanship and tribal warfare, Twitter hosted a five-day Twitter Fiction Festival (#twitterfiction), “a virtual storytelling celebration held entirely on Twitter,” inviting creative experiments in storytelling from authors around the world.

According to Twitter, it had hosted great experiments in fiction already, from Jennifer Egan’s “Black Box” to Teju Cole’s “Small Fates” to Dan Sinker’s @mayoremanuel. And Twitter bragged it has even inspired some literary criticism.

To get into the spirit of things, and without delving into the whole business of streaming and interaction as components of twitter-fiction (working within the limitations of the classic tweet, you could say), I came up with this 140-character, short story:
On the desiccated, recalescent planet, barren at last, the desolated creature, a cockroach, grief-maddened, devoured the corpse of its mate.
Hemingway won the bet, by the way. As the story goes (and the anecdote itself may be fiction), he scribbled “For sale: baby shoes, never used” to take home the pot.

Reading list:
Nanoism is an online publication for twitter-fiction: stories of up to 140 characters.
✓ Craig Taylor, Charlotte Mendelson, Louise Doughty, John Niven, Victoria Hislop, Val McDermid...Top writers try their hand at writing a story with only Twitter's 140-character limit to play with (Guardian).
✓ Well-known writers – from Ian Rankin and Helen Fielding to Jeffrey Archer and Jilly Cooper – come up with a tweet-length story: 21 authors try their hand at 140-character novels (Guardian).
13 Beautiful Pieces of Twitter Fiction Remind Us How Powerful Reading Can Be by Anne Charlton (Mic).
✓ Twitter Fiction: "No Constraints, No Joy" by Isaac Fitzgerald (Buzzfeed).
Twitter Fiction Reveals The Power Of Very, Very Short Stories by Maddie Crum (HuffPost).
Consider Twitter Fiction by Anthony Santulli (The Review Review).

quote unquote: Bill Hicks

...All drugs should be legal.

War is wrong.

The rich get richer.

The poor get poorer.

Thank you.

I'll be here all week. -- Bill Hicks

Lucy Aharish: Humanity Made Irrelevant

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” ~ Albert Einstein

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