EMAIL: ssmith@igc.org

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Speaka United States

Sam Smith - I've argued from time that one of the reasons liberals don't do better is because they use language that is a bit too fancy to help their interests. The last example I gave was infrastructure  instead of public works. Now here's another: LGBTQ (which I initially wrote in the wrong order).

Using initials like that assumes that you use it regularly, which is not true of the average American, something that is not surprising since only about 5% of Americans share one of the intitials. I've worked on this for some time and the best I've been able to come up is alternative gender. I like this because it can cover a wide variety of habits, characteristics and behaviors. Also, having been in a category long known as alternative journalist for a long time, I look at alternative as a positive descritive term.

Haven't come up with anything, however, as a good pronoun for those of various trans character. The best I could think of was to drop the "h" from "he" and the "sh" from "she" and use "e" instead of "they." which is currently gaining some popularity. As an editor, the latter annoys me as it makes the word "they" non-descritive in its traditional sense. And you're not going to make any friends out there scolding folks for not using it.

That this is not an easy matter, can by seen from this review of its history by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Plus (LGBTQ+) Resource Center at the University of Milwaukee:

Native English Pronouns

“Ou, a”: Native English Gender-Neutral Pronouns. According to Dennis Baron’s Grammar and Gender: In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular ou : "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces ou to Middle English epicene a, used by the fourteenth-century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of a for he, she, it, they, and even I.
The dialectal epicene pronoun a is a reduced form of the Old and Middle English masculine and feminine pronouns he and heo. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the masculine and feminine pronouns had developed to a point where, according to the OED, they were "almost or wholly indistinguishable in pronunciation." The modern feminine pronoun she, which first appears in the mid twelfth century, seems to have been drafted at least partly to reduce the increasing ambiguity of the pronoun system....
He goes on to describe how relics of these sex-neutral terms survive in some British dialects of Modern English, and sometimes a pronoun of one gender might be applied to a person or animal of the opposite gender.

Language Authorities

“One” - In 1770, Robert Baker suggested use of “one, ones” instead of “one, his”, since there was no equivalent “one, hers”. Others shared this sentiment in 1868, 1884, 1979, and even now. Others throughout this period disagreed, finding it too pedantic.

“His or Her” vs. Singular “They”

Around 1795, the language authorities Lindley Murray, Joseph Priestly, and Hugh Blair, amongst others, campaigned against pronoun irregularities in pronoun use, such as lack of agreement in gender and number. Without coining words, this can only be done in the third person singular by use of compound terms like “his or her”. Grammarians in 1879, 1922, 1931, 1957, and the 1970s have accepted “they” as a singular term that could be used in place of “he” or “he or she”, though sometimes limiting it to informal constructions. Others in 1795, 1825, 1863, 1898, 1926, and 1982 argued against it for various reasons. And whatever the grammarians might argue, people have been using the singular “they” for about the last 600 years, though (as mentioned earlier) it can only be applied in certain cases. If new gender-neutral pronouns are not adopted, i’m sure that singular “they” will still be a point of contention for centuries to come. For further information on the use of singular “their” throughout the centuries, see the large body of information that Henry Churchyard has compiled on the subject.
So, have fun coming up with answer. Just be sure the average American knows what the hell you're talking about.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Dealing with the madness of the Trump times

Sam Smith - Over a decade ago I wrote:

In a culture of impunity, rules serve the internal logic of the powerful rather than whatever values typically guide a country, such as those of its constitution, church or tradition. The culture of impunity encourages coups and cruelty, and at best practices only titular democracy. A culture of impunity varies from ordinary political corruption in that the latter represents deviance from the culture while the former becomes the culture. Such a culture does not announce itself.

In a culture of impunity, what replaces constitution, precedent, values, tradition, fairness, consensus, debate and all that sort of arcane stuff? Mainly greed. We find ourselves without heroism, without debate over right and wrong, with little but an endless narcissistic struggle by the powerful to get more money, more power, and more press than the next person. In the chase, anything goes and the only standard is whether you win, lose, or get caught.
This is the culture we live in now and one of the frustrations is trying apply logic to a system designed to make logic immaterial. If you have impunity, you can say or do what you want. For the outsider it's like trying to tell an Australian forest fire to disintegrate.

The roots of this madness are varied and go back about 40 years to the Reagan era.  Signs were the collapse of labor unions, the surge of MBAs, the increasing role of show business and corporate money in politics, the rise of evangelical intrusion into social norms, the replacement of rational arguments with public relations, and politicians like Reagan, Clinton and eventually Trump.

We keep trying to impose at least a sense of logic, if not the actual thing, as we talk, write and report on what's happening. But, for example, the hours of pointless analysis of an impeachment process  sullied by lies and other misbehavior, fills our time yet leads us nowhere. We try to find answers to things that, in the end, will provide no answers.

The thing that should really occupy us is how do we create countercultures of decency, progress and logic? It was just such countercultures that played a major role in creating the 1960s, but today we have a much greater tendency to stay in our own cultural niche, rather than sharing with others the creation of a new system. We fail to note and act upon the fact that decency, logic, and healthy planning easily cuts across the apparent borders of gender, ethnicity, or geography. 

The fact is that decency and logic have not disappeared; they have simply been replaced by the power of the culture of impunity. We are not helpless to fight back, and there are those who already doing so, witness state attorneys general coming together to push an issue, the true American traditions of older communities, and groups like the Poor People's Campaign that lists among its goals
  • We rise to change the moral narrative and demand that the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy/militarism and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism all be ended.
  • We rise not as left or right, Democrat or Republican, but as a moral fusion movement to build power, build moral activism, build voter participation, and we won’t be silent any more.
I live in a small  town in Maine where every despicable value and practice of Trump would damage your standing here because real American values survive instead. This is not something debated, It just exists. Similarly, in the middle ages there was a huge disparity between the elites and common folks, with the former having to hide in castles behind huge walls and moats. One senses in the Trump regime a similar mixture of power and fear.

So as you try to muddle your way through the unprecedented madness, cruelty, illegality, and illogic of the Trump regime, put time and effort into strengthening or starting movements that are in sharp contrast by their decency and rationality.

Press the media not to report lies as news, not to obsess over Washington at the expense of the rest of the nation, and find stories about what real Americans are doing, not just the frauds at the top.

The good folk could come together more often - such as governors and mayors meeting monthly or quarterly to speak for the real America. Neighborhoods, towns, and states could emphasize improvements in contrast to what the Trump mob would do. And we need music and symbols for the better America that we are starting to forget about.

And we need to join together in unexpected and unprecedented coalitions that will scare those at the top and remind the rest of us what true America is about.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Memories revived by "The Irishman"

Sam Smith - I went to see "The Irishman," expecting just the fine movie that it is, but was surprised by a number of passages that also brought back memories of my own life. For starters there were the shots of the 1957 Senate hearing by the Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management. I was then a 19 year old sophomore with a summer job as a reporter for WWDC News in Washington and covered the hearing shown in the film, including an interview with Hoffa.  And then there were a number of references to mob involvement in the assassination of John F Kennedy, an alleged role that remains unresolved. Kennedy also kept popping up in my life as I wrote about some years back:

In the summer of 1957, I covered a Senate investigation of the Teamsters Union. Among those seated at the long panel table was young John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts. His brother, Robert, served as a counsel for the committee. At one point, a prostitute witness made some off-color comment that brought guffaws from the audience; and Bobby’s own giggles were amplified by his mike. The humorless chair, John McClellan, rapped his gavel and told Kennedy that “This is not a joking matter.” It would be the only time I ever saw a Kennedy look chastened.

The testimony of Hoffa went like this:
Robert F. Kennedy: Did you say, “That S.O.B., I’ll break his back”?

Jimmy Hoffa: Who?

Kennedy: You.

Hoffa: Say it to who?

Kennedy: To anyone?

Hoffa: Figure of speech… I don’t even know what I was talking about and I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Kennedy: Uh… Mr. Hoffa, all I’m trying to find out, I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. I’m trying to find out whose back you were going to break.

Hoffa: Figure of speech… figure of speech.
Later, I wrote in a 1959 letter:

    The Kennedy brothers — like the remark about the Quakers — came to Washington to do good and did very well. Jimmy Hoffa, who’s astute if corrupt, told me once in the midst of the rackets hearing, “Bobby Kennedy is trying to make headlines for his brother so he can get him to the White House, but he can’t find his way out of this room.”

It may be that what happened in that hearing room helped to lay the groundwork for Kennedy’s later assassination – if theories of a mob hit are true. Certainly Hoffa hated the Kennedys and Washington investigator author Ron Goldfarb wrote that in “August 1962, Hoffa recruited an aide to kill RFK. In February 1963, John Kennedy told Newsweek’s Ben Bradlee that Hoffa had recruited an assassin to kill the attorney general."

Frank Ragano, long-time lawyer for both Santos Trafficante Jr. and Hoffa, wrote a memoir with NY Times reporter Selwyn Raab in which he recalled several conversations between the two mobsters:

    Trafficante: Somebody is going to kill those sons of bitches. It’s just a matter of time.

    Hoffa: Something has to be done. The time has come for your friend and Carlos [Marcello] to get rid of him, kill that son of a bitch John Kennedy. This has got to be done. Be sure to tell them what I said. No more fucking around. We’re running out of time – something has to be done.

After JFK’s assassination, Ragano claimed that Marcello told him, “When you see Jimmy, you tell him he owes me, and he owes me big.”

And Trafficante thought they had got the wrong man: “We shouldn’t have killed John. We should have killed Bobby.”

Goldfarb quotes the brother of Sam Giacana as boasting, “We took care of Kennedy. The hit in Dallas was just like any other operation we’d worked in the past.” Writes Goldfarb: “Sam Giancana himself was murdered in 1975 just days before he was suppose to talk to the Senate intelligence committee about plots to kill Castro.”

He also notes that “Two biographies of leading mobsters report that Marcello exclaimed, ‘Don’t worry about that Bobby son of a bitch. He’s going to be taken care of ‘ According to one participant Marcello told his listeners he would recruit some nut to kill Kennedy so it couldn’t be traced to him, ‘like they do in Sicily.'” Marcello would later deny the quote.

As Goldberg – who went on to work for Bobby Kennedy and knew a lot about organized crime – wrote in a 2009 article for Daily Beast:
Drawing on incriminating tapped phone conversations, new literature and investigations, and Trafficante’s lawyer’s 1994 memoir (Frank Ragano’s Mob Lawyer), I concluded that the assassination was generated by Jimmy Hoffa. Oswald was, as he claimed, a patsy. It was a mob touch to use someone to carry out their deadly assignments, and then to kill that person to avoid detection.
If Goldfarb is right, then during my introduction to journalism, I not only interviewed John F. Kennedy but one of those responsible for his assassination. I interviewed JFK moments after he had announced he was running for president, a photo of which appeared in Life Magazine.  Later, in January 1961, I made my only foray into the real world of network television. I was hired for Kennedy’s inauguration by CBS News as a news editor. Along with fellow WWDC newsman Ed Taishoff, I sat all day capped with a headset in a ballroom of the Hotel Washington, turning phone calls from CBS correspondents into stories which were then placed on Walter Cronkite’s personal news ticker. If there was one thing Ed and I knew, it was how to take news from callers, turn it into copy and get it on the air fast.

Meanwhile, the military draft was breathing down hard and the Coast Guard had accepted me for its officer candidate school.  My strange first assignment was as public information officer for the Second Coast Guard District, headquartered in St. Louis. I would explain that it was harder to guard the coasts in St. Louis, because on the Mississippi River there were two of them.

The Coast Guard was short on officers and so one's list of collateral duties ran long, in my case two of them thanks to the newly elected John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy had noted during his inauguration parade the lack of any blacks in the Coast Guard Academy contingent and called our bosses at the Treasury Department the next day to seek a remedy. And so the word went forth, even to the federal building in St. Louis, to do something about it and I found myself, although the name hadn’t been invented in 1961, serving as the district’s affirmative action officer.

I was totally unsuccessful. St. Louisians of any ethnicity were disinclined to think that going out on any of the major oceans was a good idea for either themselves or their children. The black businessmen and civic leaders I addressed agreed and seemed to regard me as an agent of the devil when I described what a Coast Guard officer actually did and under what circumstances he often did it.

Kennedy had also declared the nation unfit and wanted the military to set an example for everyone else. And so I found myself assigned to run a physical fitness program for the hundred men of the district headquarters. It all went somewhat better than the affirmative action effort, but in the end those who started out fit tended to stay fit while similar trends prevailed among the flabby. Being in charge of all this inertia did, however, inspire my own efforts and I pumped iron regularly in the dingy YMCA gym with that marvelous assortment (including my case a professional wrestler) one found in such places before fitness was defined by silly people in spandex jumping up and down and yelling faux encouragement at their bedraggled wards to the sounds of excessively loud rock.

Eventually I would end up as operations officer aboard the CG cutter Spar out of Bristol RI. Our job was maintaining aids to navigation and heavy weather search & rescue. In November 1963 we were also assigned to take two 40 foot patrol boats to be used to guard John F. Kennedy when he was vacationing in Florida. At a flank speed of 15 knots it had taken us days to get down there and days to get back. I had the conn as we finally pulled up to the dock at Bristol with everyone anxious to go ashore.

We weren’t more than a hundred feet off the dock when a crew member came out on the  deck below and called up to the bridge, “President Kennedy’s been shot.” I thought: what a stupid thing to say ata time like this. I edged the ship up gently to the pier, got the lines properly secured and went below. Only then did I realize that it was true. Despite days away from home port, no one left the ship for three hours as we huddled around the mess deck's television.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Speaka United States


Sam Smith - I have argued from time to time that one reason why liberals don't do better these days is that they tend to speak more in academic terms. One classic example: the replacement of  the term "public works" with "infrastructure." The above chart shows how the two compare in books over times  as measured by Google. 

Interestingly, the term "public works" grew in the late 1930s when the New Deal was engaging in it in record proportions. Now "infrastructure" has soared and we can't even keep our old bridges safe.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

How the Green Party can show more strength

Sam Smith - The practice of candidates appearing on two different party tickets - known as fusion politics - was so successful for democracy that by 1907 it was banned in 18 states. In 1996 the Supreme Court ruled that preventing fusion politics did not violated the First Amendment. Today only eight states  allow it. But there is still a way in which thirds can exercise more influence in elections - particularly national ones - than they do at present.

I write as someone who has helped to start two  parties - the DC Statehood Party and the national Green Party. I have become increasingly discouraged by the inability of third parties to exercise positive influence on national politics. Particularly the Green Party, where running a candidate for president resulted in winning 1.1% of the 2016 vote, less than half than the 2.7% it got in 2000. One of the major results has been statistically false claims that the Greens were responsible for the loss of Democratic candidates - including Al Gore, who in fact fell far more in polls during the election campaign then what Nader was able to produce.

The results in national contests for the House and Senate have been even worse for the Greens - consistently less than one percent.

So why do the Greens insist on running people for these national positions? After all, their political story at the local and state level is strikingly different. In the past ten years 456 Greens have been elected to local and state  offices. And it is in states and towns where real change is launched and grown into something powerful.

I fear part of the problem is that Greens, like many American citizens, see politics more as a religion in which they express their own virtue than as a pragmatic way to aid the causes they support. They are not choosing a saint, but the best battlefield on which to continues their efforts.

If the polling so far is correct, this election is at best going to be quite close and the Greens could once more come in for blames as a result.

But there is an alternative worth trying: In races in which the Democrats and Republicans seem close, offer the Democrats to not run a candidate and to endorse theirs  in return for a number of policy agreements. In some cases, it would be easy. Here in Maine, for example, our liberal speaker of the House Sarah Gideon could use Green help in defeating Susan Collins.

By the standards of today's Green Party, such a move would be seen as despicable by many of its  members, but it would, in fact, lend power to the Greens where they don't have it today.

From the start, the Greens have done their best at the local and state level, helping well to change the politics and the thinking in places like Maine. But they have done extremely poorly in national races and should at least considered creating a modified fusion politics that could demonstrate considerably more power.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Why does the media keep reporting lies?

Sam Smith - One of the fundamental, and widely presumed tasks, of the media is to report the truth. Yet we live in a time when a large number of prominent figures - most strikingly the President - lie with impunity and have their dishonesty reported as news.

One of the causes of this problem has been the greatly increased tendency of the national media to rely on sources of power in Washington as the basis for their reporting. The informed professor or the non-governmental expert has pretty  much disappeared from the news.

The media could moderate this problem if it more frequently contrasted the statements of chronic official liars with alternative assessments by more honest figures. For example, Thom Hartmann's show had someone who suggested that the president's comments be withheld from the media for an hour while the media investigated their accuracy. They could then be broadcast on television with closed captions raising any issues with their accuracy.

In any case, there needs to be lots more public discussion of this issue. As someone who covered his first Washington stories six decades ago, I can assure you that the degree of falsehood in public statements has accelerated considerably and that the media just acts as though its only job is to report them.

In fact, a reporter's first loyalty should be to the truth. not to power of a voice.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The rationalization of evil

Sam Smith, 2013- You don't need a lot of evil people for evil to spread. You just need evil's acceptance by people who think they're just going along with the flow. Especially when they're in the mass media. As John Ralston Saul put it:
"The Holocaust was the result of a perfectly rational argument -- given what reason had become -- that was self-justifying and hermetically sealed. There is, therefore, nothing surprising about the fact that the meeting called to decide on "the final solution" was a gathering mainly of senior ministerial representatives. Technocrats. Nor is it surprising that [the] Wansee Conference lasted only an hour -- one meeting among many for those present -- and turned entirely on the modalities for administering the solutions .... The massacre was indeed 'managed,' even 'well managed.' It had the clean efficiency of a Harvard case study "
We are far from the evil of the Wannsee Conference, but too many in power are thinking and acting in the way that eventually leads to such things. Increasingly, we are treating evil as normal or simply a fiscal or technical problem.

A case in point is Paul Ryan's budget. The mass media is ignoring or underplaying the evil effects involved. In fact, it's fair to say that Ryan's budget, if approved, would cause more Americans to die or become ill, starved or impoverished than any non-military legislation in time remembered.

The Tax Policy Center calculates that the poorest 20% of Americans will get a $60 tax cut. The top one percent will get $227,420.  And along with this the Ryan budget will rip tens of millions of Americans from healthcare, food stamps, and other forms of welfare as it takes 66% of its budget cuts from programs that aid the poor.

But how is the general public to understand the evil involved or Ryan's greed, selfishness and corrupted thinking, if the mass media treats it as so normal that a recent presidential poll found Ryan neck and neck with the likes of Biden and Cuomo in a state like Pennsylvania?

And there's little hope of a change when a publication like the Washington Post runs a column by Stephen Perlstein that argues:
Another reason for the correlation between income and life expectancy is that lower-income people lead less healthy lives - they are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs, their diets are less healthy, they get less exercise and they don't take advantage of the health care that is available to them. This raises a different sort of moral question that conservatives are quick to raise and liberals prefer to ignore:
Why should the rest of the country be prevented from making a needed, common sense reform to its retirement program because some people refuse to take personal responsibility for their own health?  Where is the fairness in that?
Rising income inequality is a big problem, no doubt about it, but it seems to have encouraged some people to view every public policy issue primarily through a distributional or class prism....
Just about every policy you can think of has a disproportionate impact on certain classes, races, genders, regions, industries or age cohorts, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't adopt them. Sometimes what is "fairest" is doing what's best for the whole country.
When it's no longer considered fair for the country to do what it can for the most, we have become a society that looks on its less fortunate not only as "people who refuse to take responsibility" but as those to whom we owe nothing including their continued survival. Where will it stop?

There is no doubt that the evil is being spread by the likes of Paul Ryan. But the likes of Steven Perlstein, in making this evil seem rational, are doing as much damage if not more.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

An early civil rights protest


Sam Smith, 2006 – In the summer of 1960, a local movement formed to end the policy of segregation at Glen Echo Amusement Park. Howard University students, members of the Bannockburn community, the local NAACP, Cedar Lane Unitarian Church and the Wheaton-Kensington Democratic Club, all picketed the park on a daily basis, as well as petitioned the Montgomery County Council, (because public school buses were bringing white kids to Glen Echo to swim and taking black Montgomery County kids to the D.C.’s Francis Pool for swimming lessons.) There was a legal battle as well, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Your editor was a reporter for WWDC and Deadline Washington News Service at the time. In August 1960 I wrote in a letter:

“Have been covering some of the anti-segregation demonstrations around the Washington area. The results here have been hopeful. Good police work has kept violence to a minimum although the presence of neo-Nazi Lincoln Rockwell and his “troopers” doesn’t make the situation any simpler. Quite a few lunch counters have been desegregated. Glen Echo Amusement Park is resisting despite a month of picketing and a Bethesda theater is also refusing to back down.”

In February 1960, four black college students had sat down at a white-only Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in fifteen cities in five southern states and within two months they had spread to fifty four cities in nine states. In April the leaders of these protests had come together, heard a moving sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

The summer I had first worked for WWDC I had covered the passage of the first civil rights legislation in Congress since 1875. Now it was getting serious. By the end of June, I was covering the desegregation of lunch counters in Northern Virginia after sit-ins by groups led a Howard Divinity School student, Lawrence Harvey. Harvey then took his troops to Glen Echo.

Although I saved few recordings from that period — tape was expensive and usually recycled — I still have the raw sounds I made that day. On it a guard and Harvey confront each other:

Are you white or colored?
Am I white or colored?
That’s correct. That’s what I want to know. Can I ask your race?
My race. I belong to the human race.
All right. This park is segregated.
I don’t understand what you mean.
It’s strictly for white people
It’s strictly for white persons?
Uh-hum. It has been for years. . .
You’re telling me that because my skin is black I can not come into your park?
Not because your skin is black. I asked you what your race was.
I would like to know why I can not come into your park.
Because the park is segregated. It is private property.
Just what class of people do you allow to come in here.
White people
So you’re saying you exclude the American Negro.
That’s right.
Who is a citizen of the United States.
That’s right.
I see.

As a biracial group marched outside with picket signs, Harvey led a group inside to sit-in at the restaurant and mount the carousel horses. The case ended up in court and less than a year later, the park opened for all.


Sunday, December 29, 2019

How activism has changed since the 1960s

Sam Smith - I first got into activism in the mid 1960s, taking part in a one day boycott of DC Transit to protest its fare hike. I wrote an article about driving 75 people that day and shortly thereafter the local head of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee - a guy named Marion Barry who had created the boycott - asked me handle his media work. Barry would later become mayor of Washington.

It was then I first learned that effective activism didn't have to be about identity but could be about issues. To scores of black activists with whom I would work in the years that followed, my perceived failings as a white guy were secondary to the usefulness of having someone like me helping the cause.

There were a few exceptions, the most dramatic being when the national leader of SNCC, Stokely Carmichael, came to town and at a meeting told the handful of whites present that we were no longer welcomed in the civilrights movement.

This was a shock but there were other causes where bi-ethnicity was welcomed, such as the anti-freeway movement and the drive for DC statehood. Both fights had been started by black and white activists.

The tendency to put cause first was made to seem natural by people like Martin Luther King and Saul Alinsky. Even in the wake of the 1968 riots, which hit our Capitol Hill neighborhood hard, some blacks and whites continued to work together because we agreed on issues.

As Alinsky put it years before the Trump presidency, "Dostoyevsky said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and chance the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system… They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. . . . If we fail to communicate with them, if we don't encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right."  

In 2013, I put it this way, "This is something that has troubled me for decades about left politics. How do you grow a cause if only proper people can join it? I realized that something bad was happening beginning about 30 years ago. Liberalism was becoming a demographic rather than a movement. And if you weren’t part of that demographic, there was little hope for you.

"That was alien to everything I had learned as a New Deal baby, a 1950s doubter and a 1960s activist. Even Martin Luther King told his aides that they must remember that their goal included that some day their enemies would become their friends."

Oddly, my own big problem was not my ethnicity but my age and size. Part of the code of the Sixties was not to trust anyone over 30. I had turned 30 in 1967, and as a 220 pound iron pumper didn't look much like a hippie. At four different major demonstrations I was challenged by protestors who claimed I was an undercover  cop. It was another lesson I learned about the dangers of identity politics. The trick was to find things that different folk had in common and could form unexpected alliances against the evils of the world. 

To be sure, DC was a different sort of place. For a half a century it would be a majority black town.  Defining it  as white or black only told a small piece of the story. For example: You talkin' black 16th Street or black Anacostia? 

And it was a city that both hosted and participated in change during the  1960s. One striking difference with today was that the young were far more important. They created, defined and acted out the protests. Despite that current conflicts center around matters seen dramatically differently by age, the young have not come close to calling the shots as well as they did in the Sixties.

Another difference that strikes me is how important churches were. Not just as leaders but as refuges. Over and over we met in the basement of churches to plan our next move. I have never been so close to church leaders as during the 1960s.  

Labor unions were also important.  They represented about three times the percentage of workers as today, but also important was the fact that liberal activists strongly considered the working class  central to the movement rather than, as in so many cases today, just a part of the problem. My hunch is that the increased education of more successful Americans - including the liberal elite and journalists - has caused many to take a more critical view of ordinary workers, leaving them an easier target for the Trumpists. Activism is heavily dependent on changing people's minds and souls. And, for example, lecturing a guy who is in fear of losing his job  about his "white privilege" is an approach that doesn't work well.  

There is also a lack of a significant counterculture. The Sixties were not just about protest, but about an alternative way of living. This not only added strength to the cause, it provided a way for folks to redefine themselves.

Finally, there is a factor that seems closely tied to the increased education of those leading change. In recent decades, the number of MBAs, lawyers and college educated journalists has soared and one of the results is a increased placing of analysis over action.

Now the power is in describing rather than prescribing. We know all about the roots of racism or the failure of the police, but effective reactions or cures are hard to come by. One of the unspoken costs of this is that we are being implicitly taught that we are hopelessly trapped in the past. As someone raised in a dysfunctional family I recognize the difference between learning from the past and being condemned to it. I learned how to replace the past rather than just endlessly ruminate over it. 

Part of doing this today would be for the young to realize they live in a dysfunctional family but are not condemned to follow its rules. They are, instead, the potential creators of a new and better America. They just need the courage.magination and vision to make it happen.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Non disclosure agreements: Keeping rich guys out of prison

Sam Smith - The Harvey Weinstein case brings to mind the fact that law and justice can be antonyms. It is far too usual that the legal profession has designed the former to protect the rich and powerful, thus weakening the latter.

Non disclosure agreements are a classic example, especially, as in the cases of Weinstein and Trump, they are used to keep women silent about sexual events that might otherwise be charged as rape, harassment or other abuse. 

Central to such agreements is something called money. Thus, if you have enough money to pay someone to keep silent you don't have to worry about going to prison for one's offenses. And it should be remembered that if one pays someone a large sum to keep silent there is probably something to keep silent about.

There have been some efforts to correct this situation. In March 2018, the New Yorker reported:
Before #MeToo, several states, including Florida, Washington, and Louisiana, already had “sunshine in litigation” laws, which prohibit confidentiality provisions if they conceal “public hazards,” such as dangers to general health or safety. (The name is a riff on Justice Louis Brandeis’s quotation that sunlight is “the best of disinfectants.”) In recent months, after #MeToo, several states, including New York and California, have proposed new legislation prohibiting confidentiality provisions in contracts that have the purpose or effect of concealing discrimination or harassment. The tax bill that Congress passed in December even included a provision disallowing a deduction for “any settlement or payment related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such settlement or payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement.” 
And these cases can involved more than sex. For example, USA Today reported:
The payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels were not reported at the time and amounted to improper campaign contributions, prosecutors said.
But the key point is that such payments are only possible if you have the money to make them, thus exempting the wealthy from more painful aspects of criminal and civil law.  The average bigamist or sex abuser can't afford a few hundred thousand dollars for silence. Non disclosure is non-justice favoring the rich and powerful.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

How the media supports Trump's fake news

Sam Smith - It used to be that journalists felt responsible for telling the truth. If a politician was a chronic lier you just ignored him. But these days, journalism is about what the powerful say and do even if it's based on serious falsehoods.

As a result of this shift, someone like Trump can spread thousands of lies but have them presented as news. While some media go back and check out the validity of what Trump has said, it is usually later - even days later - so his falsehoods have lots of time to blossom.

It is time for the media to sit down and figure out a better way to handle it. Here are some alternatives:

- Don't quote the president until his facts are checked
- Include an advisory such as "The president's allegations have not yet been confirmed."
- Ciite the president's argument but not the unproven facts behind it.
- Have a Democratic official on hand to counter any Trump falsehoods.

In any case, the media has to stop acting as enablers of America's most dishonest presidents. As things now stand they are betraying their own standards of honor. 

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The hazards of impeachment

Sam Smith - The impeachment coverage has reminded me of one big reason Washington doesn't work better: the capital speaks its own language and lives its own culture. It's no accident, for example, that Obamacare got such a poor reaction: its regulations were over 10,000 pages in length. I suggested adding something simple like lowering the age of Medicare to 55, but no one was interested.

One recent estimate has Washington having one lawyer for every 12 residents. As far as the media is concerned, when I started journalism in the 1950s over half the reporters in the country had only a high school education. Try to get a job today with that for your background. Richard Harwood once caught the social status of the press well describing his own experience a decade earlier: "We were perceived as a lower form of life, amoral, half-literate hacks in cheap suits. Thus I was assigned to a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Nashville in the late 1940s and, with other reporters, was given lunch at a card table set up in a hallway to protect the dining room from contamination."

The sorry truth is that the sort of social intelligence that had once far more power in politics and decision-making has largely been replaced by the complex rules and language of lawyers and MBAs. Things have changed mightily including once easily understandable phrases like "public works" that are now "infrastructure."

As I followed the impeachment story I was struck by the reality that the lawyers were in charge once more. The possible solutions, approaches and language were controlled by them and the issue of how this might affect the thinking of tens of millions of voters got pushed aside. The media happily joined the attorneys.

Thus a president who has violated the law and shown contempt for justice and decency like no predecessor will now be primarily judged by how he handled a matter in a country about which most Americans know hardly anything.

I'm not saying Trump shouldn't be impeached - only that the case against him is too limited to encourage a strong participation by the public.

It's not too late to do something about this. Proceed with the impeachment but add a public House investigation into the ways Trump has  violated, undermined or ignored the laws of our land, including but not limited to the Constitution.  Here, from the Chicago Sun Times, is just one of scores of examples:
Since Trump took office, about 150 fewer scientists, technicians and other employees are working in the EPA’s Chicago Region 5, covering Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio, according to EPA figures provided by the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704 in Chicago, the EPA employees’ union....The number of inspections out of the Chicago office has plummeted by more than 60%, while inspections throughout the rest of the nation declined by 30%.
This is a man who is destroying the country not just by bribery in Ukraine, but  flagrantly ignoring the responsibilities of a president and distorting the purpose of laws. We need an honest accounting of these offenses even if they do not meet a lawyer's definition of impeachable. There are other ways in which we are being betrayed and, at the very least, the public needs a honest, detailed listing of them.