FLOTSAM & JETSAM

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Dealing with a criminal president

Sam Smith - There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits arrest and indictment of a president who commits a crime. As noted here before, should the president murder one or more people it would be absurd to not hold him accountable or, worse, to let him him commit a crime and not be vulnerable for it until both his term and the statute of limitations had expired..

Given that neither the Justice Department nor the media is interested in the real law and that the GOP Senate would override n impeachment, probably the best route is an indictment by an attorney general at the state level which would have to be assessed by the courts.

Meanwhile, the House should hold extensive hearings on the criminal activities of Trump and his administration and then pass a resolution of censure, which would have political power but which the Senate would probably just ignore.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Noted black radio host in trouble with Sirus XM

Sam Smith - Mark Thompson (on whose show I'm on every Monday morning) has apparently been suspended by Sirius XM after a brief incident in which Mark was confronted by a critic who blocked his departure from an event. I say "apparently" because Sirius XM has said nothing over the past eight days about why Thompson is not on the air. 

My own suspicion is that Sirius XM has found Thompson too progressive for its liking - including his criticism of them for providing Steven Bannon a show - and so this minor and incredibly brief incident is being used against him.

As Politcon notes:
As a Georgetown University freshman undergrad in 1985, he organized the shantytown which led to the University’s divestment from apartheid South Africa . . . Later matriculating at the University of the District of Columbia, he was organizer and spokesperson for KIAMSHA, the 1990 eleven-day student protest and boycott, and was named one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Washington” by Regardie’s magazine.

In 1992, Mark teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization to Abolish the Death Penalty, and a young fellow activist by the name of Ben Jealous, who would go on to head the NAACP, to organize and lead a campaign against a Congressionally-imposed ballot initiative forcing the death penalty on the District of Columbia. The “Thou Shalt Not Kill” campaign mobilized voters to defeat the initiative on Nov. 3, 1992.

In 1993, after organizing the weekly civil disobedience on Capitol Hill that helped win the first-ever Congressional vote on DC Statehood, Mark was jailed for 20 days. Both the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition and Mark received the United Nations Association 2004 Human Rights Award. In 1996, He joined Dick Gregory, Cong. Maxine Waters and journalist Gary Webb in exposing the CIA’s role in the crack cocaine epidemic.

... He helped to organize the National African American Leadership Summit which grew out of the NAACP, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, and he co-chaired the 1996 National Black Political Convention. He has emceed the Million Man March, every anniversary of the March on Washington, and the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. He recently emceed the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March.

Mark chaired the NAACP Metropolitan Police and Criminal Justice Review Task Force for the DC Branch. In that capacity, he co-authored legislation establishing the Board and Office of Police Complaints, and facilitated the beginning of an unprecedented study on racial profiling. He also taught courses in diversity awareness and cultural sensitivity at the DC Police Academy.
For details on the current incident check out this article from the Washington Blade by a longtime friend,  Richard J. Rosendall, who notes:
My friend Rev. Mark Thompson, morning drive host at SiriusXM Progress and a frequent MSNBC commentator, was suspended on April 9 after defending himself when accosted in Newark by professional provocateur Thomas “Afrika” Ibiang. The hashtag movement #ADOS, which stands for American Descendants Of Slaves and has been attacking Thompson for months, is defending Ibiang and exploiting the incident to get Thompson fired.
ADOS, like Thompson, supports reparations, but from a very different angle. Co-founder Yvette Carnell, as musician and social activist Talib Kweli Greene writes, “has videos titled ‘Why Is Everyone So Afraid of Steve Bannon’ and ‘Trump Is Right About Black Poverty.’ … She has tweets … about how Trump is correct about birthright citizenship. She uses her Twitter account to push anti immigration propaganda, and she uses nazi slogans like ‘blood and soil.’” Carnell is also a board member of white nationalist think tank PFIR.
If all of this sounds bizarre, I feel you. Just understand that Carnell is deliberately driving a wedge between descendants of slaves and other black Americans. Thus Sen. Kamala Harris, of Indian and Jamaican heritage, has her authenticity questioned. But the malign fruits of four centuries of American racism hit all black people regardless of how or when their ancestors got here.
You can follow the follow the story as it develops at Make It Plan on Facebook. And you can add your name in support of Mark at IStandWithMarkThompson.com

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Why liberals lose elections

Sam Smith - I'm no fan of Joe Biden but the current uproar over a few hugs and kisses he gave in public offers more than a hint that we may be once again on our way to another liberal election disaster. I was raised on the local politics of Philly, Boston and DC where few politicians were worth emulating or admiring. You supported them to get something done - not the way you might pick a pastor for your church. And as noted here before, LB Johnson and Adam Clayton Powell got more good legislation passed in less time than almost anyone in our history but you wouldn't want either one of them near your daughter.

True, I helped to start two third parties - the DC Statehood Party and the national Green Party - but unlike many members of the latter group I thought of them as instruments for new policies, not in order to get two percent of the vote in a national campaign. And it's worked: 80% of DC residents now support statehood and many of the current Democratic presidential candidates are echoing ideas pushed by the Greens for years.

 It would be great if we could win -  as some 600 Socialist mayors did before WWI -  but the rules aren't like that any more. And so, you have to treat politics as a battlefield and not as a religion that proves your virtue.

As things stand now, Joe Biden is the candidate who shows the best chance of beating Trump in non-blue states where the election will be decided. To reject him for the way he kissed some hair or lips is to play right into the goals of a guy who not only has abused women much of his life, but wants to do away with national healthcare, dump immigrants into concentration camps and turn the Supreme Court into a major anti-democratic force.

Is Biden my choice? No, but if he wins the nomination I'll support him just as I backed Hillary Clinton despite the fact that three of her close business partners went to prison and the real estate hustle she and her husband ran caused over 50% of the purchasers to lose their lots. She was, however, running against Donald Trump.

I hope one or more of the other Democratic candidates  will show surprising strength and change the game, but I also don't want Trump to win again because of a handful of misplaced hugs. Liberals have to learn that politics is not where you prove how noble you or your candidate are, but what will be the best way to get some good things done.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Some Democratic primary concerns

Sam Smith - There are several concerns about the Democratic primary race that are worth keeping in mind, not because they are decisive but because they might have an insufficiently noticed effect. They include:

- Are there too many candidates? It's an extraordinary number and one of the problems is that it will distort the results of state primaries. In other words, someone might win a state by, say, 29% but not be the collective second or third choice of that state's voters. In other words, the biggest niche beats the consensus. Among other things, this reflects the lack of clear leadership in the Democratic Party. Of course, still to be enacted ranked choice voting would deal with the problem but that's for the future.

- Is show business going to beat substance? Trump is our greatest example of image defeating reality, but it is an increasing character of much of American politics. It helps to explain the number of candidates who have personalities but are weak on policy and experience. And it helps to explain why someone of real substance  - like Elizabeth Warren - (who comes across as sort of teacherish)  isn't doing as well as she might.

- Are the two leading candidates - Biden and Sanders - too old? Your opinion on this doesn't matter. It is a decision voters in general are going to make and it could be something of a sleeper. Bear in mind that only 8.4% of those 75 or older work full time in U.S.

- How do you attract white voters if you attack them? Too much liberal talk includes sweeping criticism of whites. Bear in mind the next time you talk about "white privilege" that there are more whites in poverty than there are blacks in total. The rhetoric needs to focus on the guilty leaders and not their followers.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

What living in a white minority is really like and other thoughts on ethnic diversity

Sam Smith - The projections are that America’s whites will be a minority by 2045. We can expect the media and politicians to treat this as a crisis.

My recommendation: relax. I’m a white guy who lived for five decades as part of the white minority of Washington DC and not only did it not bother me, it was a lot of fun. When gentrification started turning DC into a majority white city again, it actually got more sober, more pompous, and more boring.

In fact, I’m having some difficulty relating to all the ethnic conflict these days elsewhere in the country, because DC constantly showed how complex and interesting ethnic relations really are. You want to talk about “black?” Well, do you mean Upper 16th Street, Adams Morgan, Shaw, Brookland or Anacostia? Are you talking about our mayor, the mayor’s biggest critic, your kid’s teacher or buddy, a taxi driver or the guy doing the evening news?

Nationally, it’s not just racists who oversimplify things. The media and politicians don’t help either. When was the last time the media told you that 15% of today’s marriages are cross-ethnic? Did you ever hear that Barack Obama spent more time at Harvard Law School than he did with a black parent?

It is participating in, understanding and enjoying ethnic complexity that leads one out of the clich├ęs and into the full diversity of a culture that shares the same skin color.

About a quarter century ago I dealt with the issue in my book, The Great American Repaid Manual:
I'm a native Washingtonian and have lived in DC most of my life. DC is two-thirds black. When someone asks me where I live and I tell them, they sometimes look at my fifty-something white face and say, "You mean in the city?" What they mean is: with all those blacks?

I don't live in DC out of any moral imperative. I'm not doing anybody a favor except myself. I live here because I enjoy it. Beside, I'd rather be in the minority in DC than in the majority in a lot of places. Here are a few reasons why:

I've found black Washingtonians exceptionally friendly, decent, hospitable, and morally rooted. They're nice folks to be around.

Black Washingtonians will talk to strangers without knowing "who are you with?" White Washingtonians, especially in the political city, are often far more formal and distant. -- and more likely to treat you based on your utility to themselves. Not knowing anyone at an all-white event in DC can be pretty lonely; not knowing anyone at an all-black event in DC means you soon will.

Black Washingtonians understand loss, pain, suffering and disappointment. They have helped me become better at handling these things.

Black Washingtonians value humor; many white Washingtonians try (as Russell Baker once noted) to be somber under the illusion that it makes them serious. I like to laugh.

Black Washingtonians value achievement as well as power. Teachers, artists, writers and poets are respected in the black community. As a writer, I like that.

Living in close proximity with another culture provides a useful gauge by which to judge one's own.

The imagery, rhythm and style of black speech appeals to me far more than the jargon-ridden circumlocution of the white city.

Many black Washingtonians are actively concerned about social and political change; much of white Washington is seeking to maintain the status quo.

White Washington always seems to want me to conform to it; black Washington has always accepted me for who I am.

I also wrote how simply being together produces change:
Janet Hampton, a George Washington University professor whose research specialty is Afro-Hispanic studies, grew up black in Kansas. She exudes a cheerful calm suggestive of having lived around a lot of love, so you might not suspect that she has taught ethnic relations to cops at the local police academy as well as having been on the faculty at both mostly white and mostly black universities. Here's how she handles the first day of class: "I ask the students to tell a little about themselves. If some one is from a cultural enclave, I tell them about other students from their school or place who have really done well." She pays particular attention to those who come from "pariah nations" like Iraq. She told a student from Eritrea that he could be very helpful when the class discussed the American Civil War.

I asked her about ethnic slurs. Let's say, Jan said, that a black student uses the word wetback. "I would make him apologize but I would also say that we don't want to lose his point." Corrected but still valued.

Janet informs her students that "As long as you are never disrespectful, you can say anything you want. ~ We will change by just being together."

And then I included some tips:

1. Be friendly and respectful: In a culturally varied society, it is easy to transmit signals that are misunderstood but, fortunately, kindness, friendliness and respect come across clearly. Make good use of them.

2. Learn about other cultures: We typically try to resolve inter-cultural tensions without giving people a solid reason for liking one another. Mutual enjoyment and admiration provide the shortest route between two ethnicities. Education is one thing that we know reduces prejudice. Yet for all our talk about diversity, this isn't so easy to come by.We could well spend less time on abstractions of racism and more on the assets of each other's traditions.

We could be teaching, in high school anthropology classes and college seminars, the variety of the world as something to explore and enjoy, not just as a problem or an issue. You don't have to teach diversity. Diversity is. You don't have to defend it in lofty liberal rhetoric. Studying humanity's medley is not a moral act; it is simply intelligent. Limiting one's understanding to the "western intellectual canon," makes as much sense as teaching leeching to medical students or limiting one's knowledge of the universe to that data available to Copernicus. It's not that it's evil; it's just not very smart,

And you don't have to learn it all in school. France became a haven for black exiles earlier this century in no small part because of French enthusiasm for jazz and African art. Similarly, jazz clubs and concerts were among the few places in segregated America that apartheid was regularly ignored.

Today we are sometimes more hospitable to foreigners than we are to strangers in our own land. One notable exception is the ethnic restaurant. Why? In part because all parties involved get a fair deal out of it. In part because it is enjoyable. In part because it is natural. No one is self-conscious; no one is made to feel uncomfortable. The owner makes a good living; the customers get a good meal.

3. Diversity within cultures counts as well as that between them: Just because jazz is important to black culture doesn't mean all blacks like jazz. Or that colleges shouldn't recruit black cellists as well as black forwards. Or that just because someone's white, they have to be Anglo-Saxon or a Protestant.

4. Share power fairly. One of the clearest manifestations of decency is equitable power. In a society wedded to winner-take-all solutions, sharing power can be difficult to achieve. But it's worth trying. One way is to learn from children. Notice how much time they spend on whether the game is "fair." They're on to something.

5. Find something in common that's more important than what's not: It can be a political goal, a sport, an avocation or a business. I've seen it work in situations as diverse as a project to train church archivists or a kid's team headed for a playoff. The importance of ethnicity is often inversely proportional to what else we have on our minds

6. Stop being shocked by prejudice. We have attempted to exorcise racism much as Nancy Reagan tried to get rid of drugs, by just saying no. It has worked about as well. Once we recognize the unpleasant persistence of human discrimination, once we give up the notion that it is merely social deviance controllable by sanctions, we will be guided away from puritanical corrective approaches towards ones that emphasize techniques of mitigating harm, and towards activities and attitudes that become antibiotics against prejudice.

7. Get real; When not on the podium or in front of a mike, people in politics talk real talk about real things. Like how you're going win the black vote or carry a Polish ward or not piss off the gays. Elsewhere, when the subject of ethnicity or sex comes up, the discussion often turns disingenuously circuitous or maddeningly abstract. This is one time when the politicians are on the right track. Lay problems and feelings honestly on the table and then deal with them.

8. Talk about it but not too much: At a meeting called to discuss racial problems, a black activist said, "I don't want to talk about race unless we are going to do something specific about it." It's not a bad rule for every public discussion of race. Unproductive talk can leave people feeling more helpless and frustrated than when it began.

9. Diversity includes people you don't like. Even liberals don't talk about this but a truly multi-cultural community will include born-again Christians opposed to abortion, Muslims with highly restrictive views on the role of women, prayer sayers and atheists, Playboy readers as well as Seventh Day Adventists. Remember that you're not required to express -- or even have -- an opinion about everyone else in the world.

10. Don't sweat the small stuff. Common sense is a great civil rights tool. Even in a multi-cultural society, loutish sophomores are going to use tasteless language, fundamentalists will sneak in private prayers on public occasions, and eight-year-old boys will grab girls when they shouldn't. Hyper-reaction to such minor phenomena hurt and trivialize the cause of human justice.

11. Go for the important stuff. One of the reasons the little stuff gets such big play is because of the lack of a clear and meaningful agenda of social justice. People wouldn't be talking so much about who said what to whom and in what tone of voice if there was a serious effort underway, for example, against discrimination in such long-neglected areas such as housing and public transportation.

12. Try to avoid putting virtues in competition: School bussing placed the virtue of integration in direct conflict with the virtue of neighborhood schools. Often such conflicts can be avoided or mitigated by choosing other tactics. For example, why was there so much attention to bussing and so little to residential integration?

13. Lighten up on the lawyers. While of great assistance in securing basic rights, lawyers are not well equipped to deal with complex human relationships. We need to train large numbers of people who can serve as peace-keepers, mediators, and referees.

14. Timely courage helps: When anti-Semitic attacks began in Billings MT, the town responded quickly -- getting rid of Nazi symbols and posting paper menorahs in the windows of homes. A little early courage at such times works better than a lot of belated hand wringing.

15. Attack economic discrimination, too: After every group gets its rights, the powerful among them will discriminate against the weak and the wealthy against the poor. As Saul Alinsky said, "When the poor get power they'll be shits like everyone else." Opposition to affirmative action might have been much less had the programs been based on zip code as well as on race and sex. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in 1964 that "the white poor also suffer deprivation and the humiliation of poverty if not of color. They are chained by the weight of discrimination, though its badge of degradation does not mark them. It corrupts their lives, frustrates their opportunities and withers their education."

 16. Stop worrying so much about language. It provides a warning sign and serves as an inter-cultural safety valve. Paul Kuritz, in an article on ethnic humor in the Maine Progressive, pointed out that "as early as 1907, the English-speaking rabbis and priests of Cleveland united to protest the Irish and Jewish stage comedians. ~ The suppression of crude ethnic humor both accompanied the economic exploitation of the lower-class work force and paralleled the dismissal of the lower classes' tastes as 'offensive' to the newly refined sensibilities of upwardly-mobile second and third generation Americans."

Kuritz, a third-generation Slovak, was arguing that the real problem with a recently fired French-Canadian radio host was not that he had made fun of his own culture but that the full panoply of ethnicity was not also represented on the air. This would have allowed all these groups to experience what anthropologists call a "joking relationship," helping to reduce tensions between potentially antagonistic clans. Said Kuritz, "As a general rule of thumb, an attempt to suppress speech as 'offensive' or 'disempowering' is not a signal to lessen the amount of talk, but to increase the amount.”

Today, inter-ethnic joking is mainly found in rough-and-tumble environments such as the modern vaudeville of comedy clubs or in sports and politics, but is frowned upon by those whose social status leads them to presume that manners create reality. The problem is that under the latter ground rules, words often disguise feelings, sidetrack action, and no longer serve to keep tension and hate apart.

17. Be tough on leaders, not on followers: Those with tightly defined ideas about how we should behave often make little distinction between people who merely accept the values of their culture and those who market and manipulate them. It helps to remember that we are all creatures of our cultures and often speak with their voice. This may not be an admirable characteristic but it certainly is a human one. After all, if it weren't for Rush, dittoheads would have nothing to ditto.

18. Make justice pay off: The modern civil rights movement started with a bus boycott -- and many more economic actions soon followed. Its leaders understood that one of the easiest ways to get people to give up a prejudice is to discover that it's costing them money. That's why you may find more racial mixing at a shopping mall than you will in a nearby church, club or neighborhood.

19. Recognize that we are all part of something else. By dint of exposure to TV alone, it is virtually impossible to live in America and not have absorbed aspects of other cultures. We all, in effect, belong to a part-culture, which is to say that our ethnicity is somewhat defined by its relationship to, and borrowing from, other cultures. There are almost no pure anythings in America anymore. The sooner we accept and enjoy this, the better off we'll be.

20. Remember that everyone is an ethnic something. There are no unethnic Americans.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What the Irish taught us about multicultualism

Sam Smith, Shadows of Hope, 1993 - The new multicultural community will work because it is jointly and severally proud of itself, leaving behind the self-hate that so often accompanies the hatred of others. It will work because there are adequate jobs for people of every group -- thus eliminating one of the primary causes of ethnic triage, and it will work because our educational system will teach not a prudish diversity but simply the way the world really is, which among other things, is very diverse. Our children will learn to enjoy and incorporate this diversity and as they do so will undoubtedly find it odd that their elders couldn’t get any closer to the matter than a rigid and legalistic sensitivity.

Perhaps this is why ethnic restaurants are among the most successful practitioners of multiculturalism in America. Why is it so hard for universities to deal with multicultural issues while the Arab carry-out across from my office offers a "kosher hoagie?" It is, in part, because most of us are like Bismarck who said when offered German champagne that his patriotism stopped at his stomach. It is also that the ethnic restaurant offers a fair multicultural deal: a good living for the owner in return for good food for the patrons.

For multiculturalism to work, we need a willing suspension of our politics as well as the creation of places where this can happen, both neutral places and places where we can participate in another culture that will leave us feeling that something good has happened. Outside of restaurants and ethnic nightclubs, this is now rarely available in America. We are not taught the pleasures of diversity, only its problems and burdens. We are seldom invited to enjoy other cultures, only to be sensitive towards them and -- unspoken -- to feel sorry for them. Thus, inevitably, we tend to think of multiculturalism in terms of conflict and crisis.

The restaurant analogy is not trivial. Political scientist Milton L. Rakove, credits Irish dominance in Chicago partially to the fact that the Irish ran saloons that "became centers of social and political activity not only for the Irish but also for the Polish, Lithuanian, Bohemian and Italian immigrants. . . As a consequence of their control of these recreational centers of the neighborhoods, the Irish saloon keepers and bartenders became the political counselors of their customers, and the political bosses of the wards and, eventually, of the city." As one politician put it, "A Lithuanian won't vote for a Pole, and a Pole won't vote for a Lithuanian. A German won't vote for either of them -- but all three will vote for an Irishman."



Monday, March 11, 2019

Back when activism was more fun

Sam Smith – Paul Krassner, whom I once described as being the Moses of the alternative press, has sent me a collection of clips and videos from the past, over which I wasted several hours.

Until, that is, I realized that I was falling for the standards of many of today’s activists i.e. analyze, attack, argue and get angry. I had momentarily forgotten that the 1960s were not only effective but fun, working on the principle,  as Duke Ellington put it, that it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.

In the 1960s you not only fought for freedom and justice, you practiced it, enjoyed it and took time off from the battle. An alternative life - called the counterculture – was created. Krassner helped show how to do it – as the journalist who started the key pub, The Realist, but was also a member of
member of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and a founding member of the Yippies. He was a friend of people like Lennie Bruce and Groucho Marx and was funny himself.  As Kurt Vonnegut put it, "His writings make me hopeful." And we loved publishing his work.

Krassner was far from alone. One of the videos he linked me to featured an interview with Tuli Kupferberg, a poet and creator of the Fugs. Wikipedia tells more:

The Fugs is a band formed in New York City in 1965 by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. … The band was named by Kupferberg, from a portmanteau for "fucking ugly" used in Norman Mailer's novel, The Naked and the Dead.

A satirical and self-satirizing rock band with a political slant, they performed at various war protests - against the Vietnam War and since the 1980s at events around other US-involved wars. The band's often frank and almost always humorous lyrics about sex, drugs, and politics have caused a sometimes hostile reaction in some quarters.

Their participation in a protest against the Vietnam War in the late 1960's, during which they purportedly attempted to encircle and levitate the Pentagon, is chronicled in Norman Mailer's novel "Armies of the Night."

I won’t bore you with any more enthusiasm, but rather cite a few examples of Krassner at work while having fun. For example, in an LA Times piece that we republished in the Progressive Review, Krassner explains getting involved in the Vietnam issue and the Democrats’ role in it:

I called Jerry Rubin in New York to arrange for a meeting. On the afternoon of December 31, several activist friends gathered at the [Abbie] Hoffmans' Lower East Side apartment, smoking Colombian marijuana and planning for Chicago [where the Democratic convention was to be]

Our fantasy was to counter the convention of death with a festival of life. While the Democrats would present politicians giving speeches at the convention center, we would present rock bands playing in the park. There would be booths with information about drugs and alternatives to the draft. We sought to utilize the media as an organizing tool, but we needed a name so that journalists could have a "who" for their "who-what-when-where-and-why" lead paragraph. . .

I came up with Yippie as a label for a phenomenon that already existed, an organic coalition of psychedelic hippies and political activists. In the process of cross-fertilization at antiwar demonstrations, we had come to share an awareness that there was a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking pot in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the planet. It was the ultimate extension of dehumanization. And so we held a press conference.

A reporter asked me, "What happens to the Yippies when the Vietnam war ends?" I replied, "We'll do what the March of Dimes did when a cure for polio was discovered; we'll just switch to birth defects." But our nefarious scheme worked. The headline in the Chicago Sun-Times read, "Yipes! The Yippies Are Coming!" What would later happen at the convention led to the infamous trial for crossing state lines to foment riot. . .

In a Variety article last year, Krassner told more of the convention tale:

Folksinger Phil Ochs observed, “A demonstration should turn you on, not turn you off.” It was the credo of the Yippies (Youth Intl. Party). We were in Chicago at the Democrats’ convention, where a certain competitiveness developed between Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Abbie bought a pig as a presidential candidate, but Jerry thought Abbie’s pig wasn’t big enough, mean enough or ugly enough, so Jerry went out and bought a bigger, meaner, uglier pig, which was released outside City Hall. In the elevator inside, a few cops were chanting, “Oink. Oink.” A book, Surveillance Valley, states: “The generals wanted to be consumers of the latest hot information. During the Chicago riots of 1968, the army had a unit called Mid-West News with army agents in civilian clothes and they went around and interviewed all the antiwar protesters. They shipped the film footage to Washington every night on an airliner so the generals could see movies of what was going on in Chicago when they got to work in the morning. That made them so happy. It was a complete waste of time. You could pick up the same thing on TV for far less, but they felt they needed their own film crew.

If you would further insight into the style exemplified by Kupferberg and Krassner, this 28 minute 1993 video featuring the two, supposedly addressing Krassner’s then new book, Confessions of a Raving Unconfined Nut, but getting into everything from antics at the Chicago 7 trial to LSD.

And if you ask yourself, how can such wild and wandering characters be effective in times of crisis, just remember that, of late, we haven’t stopped any wars that America was in, and these guys actually helped to do just that.   



Sunday, March 10, 2019

Rediscovering the good


Sam Smith –  I’ve been watching The Godfather movie series, the first of which came out in 1972, the same year in which a bunch of men broke into the Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington on behalf of Richard Nixon who was reelected later that year.

Nixon was our first modern presidential thug, followed by corporate mob pawn Ronald Reagan, a corrupt Bill Clinton and now Donald Trump.

While the sins of our recent presidents have been duly noted, what doesn’t get much notice is the fact that we, the citizens of America, elected them.

Somehow, for a half century,  large collections of us have become dutiful followers of one misdoer  or another. Like residents of Michael Corleone’s neighborhood we have learned to treat evil like the weather, something to complain about, prepare for, but not prevent. As I noted over a decade ago, “we all live in a Mafia neighborhood now.” Or as one of the characters in The Godfather put it, “Politics and crime: they’re the same.”

This is not just a political problem; it is a cultural one. There has been a fading of moral voices in our society as we become more accustomed to a few deciding what happens. I am enough of an optimist to believe there are still things we can do to combat this culture but we need to recognize it and start talking and doing things about it. Here are a few suggestions:

The media: Large media are owned by far fewer companies and local print media are disappearing. Meanwhile the most watched TV channels typically define national news by what is happening in Washington, what the powerful in the capital are saying about it, and how the DC press corps analyzes it. This creates a huge bias towards the capital's elite while fifty states and thousands of towns and cities - the places where real change usually starts - are ignored.

Television has also had an enormous effect on political ethics. Before television, corruption was largely a feudal system in which power was traded for known services given. Now purchasable TV image has replaced real rendered service and we have lost both our relationship with, and understanding of, politicians. We even elected a president we largely knew because of a TV show.

This is damn hard to combat, but the local could be brought more alive through the sort of alternative media that spread in the 1960s (although now better on line than in print) and not just at the city or state level. We need more neighborhood online information and discussion and more non-national good voices in our lives.

At present, moral views are not considered newsworthy. There has been a decline of  good people considered worth covering. Religious, intellectual, state and local figures are ignored unless they do something controversial.  For example, is Alan Derschowitz really the only Harvard guy worth quoting?

And it's not just news. When I was kid, reading comic and real books or going to the movies, I searched for role models and ways to do things right. And the mass media was happy to help me. Now, as I look for movies to see or TV shows to watch, I'm stunned by how few of the choices aren't violent, dismal, or full of psychological conflict. In fact, I've been wondering lately whether Jusse Smollett wasn't inspired to do what he did by the very TV series in which he played a role, a series that features people making a lot of bad choices.

The problem even exists in popular music, witness this from Pacific Standard:

"Lyrics obtained from a random sample of pop music from the top charts revealed that this genre utilizes violence in lyrics at a level similar to hip-hop/rap, and more so than any other music format," write University of Missouri researchers Cynthia Frisby and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz.

The researchers analyzed the lyrics of 409 top-selling songs released between 2006 and 2016. The songs, by artists including Jay-Z, John Legend, and Justin Bieber represented a variety of genres; all had sold at least one million copies.

The team noted which songs contained profanity, references to violence, and misogyny, which the researchers defined as lyrics that depicted women as "beneath men" or referred to women as "usable and expendable."

Their most striking finding: The best-selling pop songs almost uniformly contain violent imagery. Amazingly, 99.5 percent of the pop hits they analyzed (198 in total) referred to violent acts. That's slightly higher than the 94.7 percent of hip-hop numbers to feature such language, and far greater than the percentage of any other genre.

What's clear is the music most popular with today's adolescents frequently "communicates violence, demeans and objectifies women, and perpetuates gender stereotypes," the researchers conclude.

Reading this made me look at my list of over 80 traditional jazz and pop songs I regularly play and could only find a handful that even mentioned and none that emphasized violence.

We underrate the importance of pop culture to how we think and act but I learned not to trust people like Donald Trump not by going to college but by reading comic books when I was young. And if you count the number of role models you see now in the movies, on television shows or on the evening news, you’ll get a sense of the problem.

The devaluation of history and civics in schools – How do you teach the young the principles of democracy or the history of ignoring them? The prime answer is easy, but,
as these two clips indicate, far from what is going on now:

Washington Diplomat:  When pop star Taylor Swift posted on Instagram last month her support for two Tennessee Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, the number of voter registrations on Vote.org skyrocketed, outpacing in just 24 hours the total number for all of August.

… Defined as the study of citizens’ rights and duties and government workings, civics education has been languishing for years. Studies show that civic knowledge and public engagement is at an all-time low.

… Apathy, meanwhile, is widespread. The U.S. has among the lowest voter turnouts among developed nations. Despite some fluctuations, only about half of the country’s voting age population tends to cast a ballot in a presidential race.

The lack of knowledge about how our system of government works starts young. More than 80 percent of college seniors at 55 top-ranked schools would have earned a D or F on historical knowledge, according to a 2015 study published by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni members.

We’re really fortunate to teach social studies and do civic education in Washington, D.C., because there’s such a wealth of resources all around that the city can become the classroom,” said Scott Abbott, director of social studies for DC Public Schools.

Sometimes that’s a field trip to a Smithsonian Institution museum. … Some students at Dunbar High School chose gun control, and before the March For Our Lives gun control demonstration earlier this year, they met with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to discuss their bill.

Two years ago, DCPS partnered with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on visits for 10th-graders studying World War II. About 1,500 students have participated each year.

Chronicle of Higher Education: Since the Great Recession of 2008, writes Benjamin M. Schmidt in Perspectives on History, undergraduate majors have been shifting away from the humanities. And of all the disciplines, history has fared the worst, even as college and university enrollments have grown.

Schmidt, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, looked at the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded annually, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2008 there were 34,642 degrees awarded to history majors. In 2017 that number was 24,255, a 30-percent drop. And there’s been about a 33-percent decline in history majors since 2011, the first year in which students who watched the financial crisis unfold could easily change their majors, Schmidt found.

Urbanization – The loneliness that comes with urbanization is not just a personal problem; it is a social one. If you have an increasing number of people who don’t regularly relate with others, this not only affects psychology, it affects politics. Having had a father who worked in the New Deal for almost its entire length, I am struck by how little concern today’s urban liberals express for those who aren’t like themselves. A striking example is the stunning decline in liberal enthusiasm for labor unions. As Tony Matthews wrote in The Conversation: Loneliness is a hidden but serious problem in cities worldwide. Urban loneliness is connected to population mobility, declining community participation and a growth in single-occupant households. This threatens the viability of our cities because it damages the social networks they rely on.”

Atomization of subcultures –
Another noticeable change has been an atomization of subcultures. Some of this may be due to the Internet, which encourages people to concentrate on groups and things they identify with, but is also due in part to identity politics which, ranging from the Tea Party to Black Lives Matter, encourages relations culturally similar to one’s own with little discussion or approaches to relate to others. There are striking exceptions, such as the Poor People’s Campaign, but for the most part identity is regarded as more important than effective coalitions. There is no doubt, for example, that a coalition of blacks, latinos, and labor could have a political effect unlike anything today, but such concepts are hardly discussed.

As I put it a couple of years ago”

The origins of this trend may have some of its roots in what I have come to think of as “niche activism,” which is to say activism based on the presumed perfection of one’s cause combined with a lower impression of those not part of it. At its worst the others are condemned, which is considered an effective activist technique even if adds not one person to the cause and may further alienate many. The Internet, with its tendency to attract people to their own political and cultural coves, plays a role in this.

Another factor has been the increased role of academia in shaping people’s views of current issues. While in the 1960s there were plenty of college students involved in protests, their professors largely ignored the underlying issues and there certainly wasn’t a widely accepted academic analysis of the various causes of resistance.

Now there Is so much academic cultural analysis out on the streets that it is often mistakenly seen as an effective response to real life situations, say like the St Louis police department.  

As the son of someone who worked in the New Deal and having covered and been active in the 1960s and the Great Society’s reaction to it, I am sometimes stunned not only be how passive liberalism has become but how little attention is paid to dealing with actual issues and building cross cultural alliances to deal with them.

Key to this in the past has been the blending of social and economic matters. I tell people that we have always had evangelical working class white guys; we just used to call them New Deal Democrats.  And that Roosevelt got more economic bills through in his first 100 days than liberals have done in the past 30 years.

Key to changing this is to cut back on analysis and organize around issues. Nothing changes people’s assumptions about others more strongly than to discover that they heartily agree on something.

Condemning the weak instead of converting them – Having been trained in the 1960s civil rights movement and the organizing philosophy of Saul Alinsky, I tend to look at those with whom I disagree and wonder, how can I change them? Basic to this approach is not to condemn. For example, talking about “white privilege” to those in a world whose ethnicity has twice as many in poverty as do blacks is not particularly effective.  Telling people that I was part of a white minority in Washington DC for some fifty years and greatly enjoyed that city is a more effective way to start the discussion. 

Recognizing the other guy’s problems is another good start. Timothy Carney in Alienated America  gives some hints:

There’s Hillary Clinton’s brag … that she won the counties with the most economic productivity and lost the counties producing the least. Nate Silver’s colleague Ben Casselman, a statistician, found that “the evidence suggests that anxiety did play a key role in Trump’s victory.” In places where jobs were more vulnerable to outsourcing or foreign competition, Casselman found, Trump did better than Romney had. Where fewer men had college degrees, Trump did better than Romney had. “Trump significantly outperformed Romney in counties where residents had lower credit scores". . .

More subprime loans? More Trump support. More residents receiving disability payments? More Trump support. Lower earnings among full-time workers? More Trump support

And he quotes Washington Post reporter Jeff Guo who looked at the numbers in nine states with county level data: :  “’In every state except Massachusetts, the counties with high rates of white mortality were the same counties that turned out to vote for Trump.’ … Trump outperformed Mitt Romney the most in the counties with the most suicides, overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths. This was especially true in the industrial Midwest: Trump outperformed Romney by 8 points in the counties with the lowest rate of these deaths but outperformed him by a full 16 points in the counties with the highest rate of suicides, overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths. "

Now, you can call these folks racist or examples of “white privilege” but if you want to change this country so it doesn’t keep electing Trumps, you face the job of a teacher, not a scold. As the New Deal Democrats and Lyndon Johnson did, you have to give them something better to think about.

Religious and secular matters –  The decline of church attendance is clearly not working in favor of a more decent society. But even a Seventh Day Agnostic like myself found comfort in church basements in the 1960s as we organized against freeways, for civil rights and even launched the DC Statehood Party. The spirit and action of many city churches in those days was not just built on faith, but upon acting on one’s faith. This brought Christians, Jews and atheists together and I can’t remember a single time – despite a half dozen ministerial pals – that anyone questioned my  faith or lack thereof. And I dug them because they were doing good stuff.

This would be a good spirit to revive, both to make churches more relevant and help them grow again. And you don’t even have to believe in God. The Religion News Service reported recently:

In early March, more than 30 atheist, humanist and secular leaders gathered at a residence overlooking Southern Californian vineyards to discuss politics, social issues and how to draw in more people at a first-ever SoCal Secular Leadership Summit.

Sarah Levin, director of grass roots and community programs at Secular Coalition for America, said that her organization recently found that nonbelievers felt well-connected to national secular organizations but disconnected from others like them locally.

“We realized we need to help strengthen these networks of local groups so that they can be mobilized for political advocacy,” Levin said.

To that end, last weekend’s summiteers broke the day up into frequent intensive discussions about common interests, rather than asking them to sit through lectures. The Angelenos talked a lot about homelessness and climate change, while San Diegans picked up on local buzz about offering their fellow residents a public-sector alternative to the corporate monopoly that provides energy.

Rebecca Kitchings of the Inland Empire Atheists, Agnostics and Humanists group said they have the largest membership in Southern California with more than 2,500 people on their Meetup, a site and app used to organize online groups that host in-person events or meetings. But not all are active, paying members, something she hopes to increase.

Building a counterculture – We need to stop thinking of our problems as just political or economic. They are also deeply cultural. For example, if we have a new Martin Luther King Jr the media is not covering him. Our popular musicians and movie stars stay away from politics. And the young are only beginning to discover their power, as after the Parkland shootings. It can all happen quite fast. When I was in mj twenties, I started one of the few alternative papers in the country. Within a few years there were 400. It can happen fast if those with cultural power – ranging from famous stars to the unknown young – start to challenge and redefine that culture.

In short, if we do not want Donald Trump to represent us, we have to represent ourselves – loudly and clearly.