Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Free speech??

I've written on this before, and I just updated several posts with the tag Free speech to make them easier to find.  And after Charlottesville, and the mess in Berkeley on Sunday August 27, maybe it's time to restate my views.

If Nazis don't have freedom of speech, I don't have freedom of speech.

Full disclosure:  I don't like Nazis.  I'm a history buff; I've read numerous books on World War II, including twice through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  I have a very clear view of who the Nazis were and what they did to people they considered "inferior" - which included everyone except white men of "Aryan" (which meant German) descent.  They considered women inferior beings suited only to produce more Aryan male babies.  I shouldn't even have to mention what they did to Jews - and yes, the holocaust actually happened.  There may even be a few American World War II vets still alive who remember liberating those concentration camps.

I've seen no evidence that the people who call themselves Nazis today, in 2017, are any better than the ones in Germany in the '30s and '40s.  They claim to want a "whites only" nation.  They show up armed at public rallies and beat up people who disagree with them.  One of them used a car to kill an unarmed woman in Charlottesville, and injured 19 more unarmed people.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

We're Losing in Afghanistan

I just heard yet another newscast quoting Donald Trump as complaining, "We're losing in Afghanistan."  This impelled me to draft a post about why we are, of course, losing in Afghanistan.  When I searched my blog, I realized I wrote that post in January 2015, and as I reread it, I see it makes my points pretty well. 

Briefly, a formal army cannot defeat a guerrilla insurgency fighting on its own ground, with any kind of support from the local population, so of course we're losing in Afghanistan.

For the full argument, with historical detail, I refer you to this post:

Losing the Wars

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Suicide

I'll start this with an article in the East Bay Times on Saturday, July 8:

Man hangs himself from Lake Merritt bridge in apparent suicide, police say

It's a very short article.  It didn't appear in the San Francisco Chronicle, my usual paper.  This is the significant sentence:  "Witnesses said a woman ran up and down the bridge screaming for someone to stop him before he jumped."

Four days later, at my gym after a water aerobics class, I found myself sharing a hot tub with the woman who ran up and down the bridge screaming.  

For the purpose of this story, I'll call her Ethel, which isn't her name.  She's an older African American woman who works in San Francisco and exercises regularly at the Oakland gym, and one of her exercise habits is a daily walk around Lake Merritt, a course of a little over 3 miles. We chat regularly in the locker room.  After climbing into the tub, she told me flatly that she'd seen a man kill himself on Friday evening.  I asked her to repeat herself a couple of times, partly because the jacuzzi makes a fair amount of noise and partly because I wasn't sure I'd heard correctly.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

What Those Words Mean

All languages change over time, of course.  if you don't believe me, take a look at Shakespeare's plays (400 years or so) or Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (more like 550 years).  But the English language (and several others) are morphing as we watch, particularly in the political arena.

Take the most obvious:  President Trump's continual use of the phrase fake news.  It should be obvious to anyone who isn't part of his base that when he says fake news, he means, something I don't like.  It doesn't necessarily mean the news isn't true.  It just means he doesn't like it.  Careful observers may immediately start looking around to see what recent development he's trying to distract us away from.

He isn't the first American to do this; he's just the most recent, and the loudest.  In the 1950s, when I was growing up and just learning what "the news" was, people would often use the word Communist to describe someone whose opinions they disagreed with.  It didn't mean the person was an actual member of the Communist Party; it meant they disagreed with the speaker.

This usage isn't, of course, limited to Americans.  My classic example, before Mr. Trump came along, was Bashir al-Assad of Syria.  It's been much too clear since that whole mess started that when he says the words jihadi or terrorist, what he means is someone who doesn't think I should be running Syria.  His definition includes a lot of people in Daesh, who actually are terrorists; but it also includes the ordinary Syrians who turned out, unarmed, six or so years ago, to ask him peacefully to step down.  President al-Sisi of Egypt also appears to use a variant this meaning from time to time - terrorists are people who don't think he should be running Egypt.

Other misconstructions of the word terrorist include Mr. Trump's version, which means Muslims with brown skin, and Saudi Arabia's, which roughly means Iranian, or possibly merely Shiite.  President Erdogan of Turkey also competes in this - his terrorist translates to Kurd, and secondarily to any Muslim who isn't Sunni.  Given that Turkey now houses the largest single population of refugee Syrians (possibly over 2 million by now), many of whom are Alevis (a variant of Shia Islam), this may cause trouble some day, but so far the situation is peaceful. 

This usage seems specific to prominent political figures, so the next time you see a prominent political figure say something like, "Obamacare is a failure", ask yourself what they really mean.  The LA Times just did exactly that.  What the Republicans mean by "Obamacare is a failure" is that they hope you'll believe them and not ask questions about it - which is basically what all these misstatements mean.  Believe me and don't ask questions.  We always need to ask questions.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Republican Legislation

As appalled as I was (and am) by the election of Donald Trump, my real concern these days is the Republican leadership in the House and Senate.  (Ed. note:  I see I've blown it once, but I try to follow Bernice King's suggestion that we refer to the president by his number, because it encourages his narcissism when we publish his name.)

 Paul Ryan routinely excuses every idiocy committed by 45 ("He's new to government...").  And Mitch McConnell, who began last year by ignoring his constitutional duty to advise and consent on presidential nominations, is now personally rewriting the Republican health care bill, in secret with a small cabal of co-conspirators, and plans to ram it through the senate with no public hearings, no review by the Congressional Budget Office, and no time given to senators to read it. If the Republican rank and file in the senate had any balls at all, they would stand up en mass and refuse to vote on a bill they hadn't been allowed to read; but I don't think they've even considered that.

The Republican leaders use 45 as a smoke screen, to keep everyone's attention off what they're up to.  They learned that from him.  The mainstream media routinely complain, correctly, that the President is breaching the Constitution; believe me, the Republican congressional leaders are right next to him, refusing even to work with Democrats or moderate Republicans, revising Congressional rules of procedure to make it easier to pass their legislation without opposition support.

The Congressional leaders will support any insanity 45 proposes, because they expect him to sign off on the bills they want to pass.  And the bills they want to pass, my fellow Americans, will disenfranchise you and me, especially if we are old, poor, minority, female, or any combination of these.  They don't want people like that to vote at all.  They will also raise your taxes and give the money to the rich.  Nobody yet knows what's in the secret health care bill, but we know what was in the House bill - no insurance for 23 million Americans who now have it; Medicaid gutted, with Medicare next on the list. I can't imagine this "secret" bill will be any better.  McConnell doesn't seem to realize - or maybe to care - that his secrecy on the bill is an indictment of it.

I have yet to see a Republican health care proposal that can't be summed up as "Just Die, Already."

I've emailed both my Senators to oppose the secret Republican health bill (and thank you, Sen. McCaskill, for your public objection to the whole process!).  But my senators are Democrats; they will vote against the abomination, but they're outnumbered.

My only rays of hope are the Special Investigation into the Russian involvement in the 2016 election, and the committee investigation in the Senate Intelligence Committee.  But even if one or both of those does turn up probative evidence that Trump has broken some law or Constitutional principle that could justify impeachment, impeachment can only happen if Ryan agrees to prosecute the case and McConnell's senate agrees to hear it - and convict him.  They can keep him in office until 2020, if not longer, just by ignoring evidence.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Immigrants

My mother was an immigrant.  Her family came to America in 1921, from Canada.  She was 9 years old.  Her mother was Irish; her father was Scotch-Irish.  I'm a first generation American citizen, born and raised here. We've talked a lot lately about who immigrants are, what they do when they get here, and why they come.  Here's the story of my family. 

They came for economic reasons, and because they had family in California.  My grandfather was a photographer; my great-uncle Tom, his brother, had a chicken farm in the San Jose area.  They lived in San Jose for awhile, then moved to Vallejo around 1930, where my grandfather opened a photography studio.

When they arrived in California they had 4 children:  a 19 year old daughter, a 15 year old son, a 9 year old daughter (my mother), and a 2 year old son.  Here is the course of their lives:

  • The 19 year old daughter contracted TB from a carrier in her nursing class, and died in November 1928.
  • The 15 year old son attended Stanford University, married a young woman from the Napa Valley, and eventually got a job as a manager in a firm manufacturing aluminum windows.  He had 3 children, and died in 1989.
  • The 9 year old daughter eventually attended college briefly, dropped out to work to help support her family after her father died, and very eventually (1944) married a man from Missouri, whom she met at the USO in Vallejo (my father).  She had 2 children and died in 2000.
  • The 2 year old son contracted TB in his hip bone, probably from his sister, which left him with one leg shorter than the other. I remember him using an orthopedic shoe built up to near 6 inches.  He attended U.C. Berkeley and other universities, ending up with a Ph.D. in Economics at Michigan State University.  He married a woman from New York, had one child who died at birth, adopted 2 other children, and died in 1995.
My grandfather died in 1936.  My grandmother died in 1962.

Many people who emigrate to the United States today look pretty much like my grandparents, except for their skin color and language.  Things weren't so great in the old country, they hope to make a better life here, the children they bring (or produce here) go on to become Americans, and produce more Americans.

Americans could be rough on immigrants.  We've always had a xenophobic streak, not necessarily aimed only at people of color.  The Irish, and later Italians, were unwelcome because they were Catholic, an early echo of the anti-Muslim prejudice we see.  Now, of course, we also have war refugees, many but not all Muslim, simply running for their lives from countries like Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. My reading suggests that in the early 20th century, Americans often disliked immigrants, because they weren't "like us", but they weren't afraid of them, as we're now being urged to fear Muslims.

Most immigrants just want to make a better life here.  Now there's a very small group of people - a few thousand out of tens of millions - who believe that killing infidels (including Americans) is a service to Allah.  Should we really shut out all the people who just want a better life, because a few of them might be a threat?  Immigrants built America; shall we stop building America because we're afraid?  We're all armed to the teeth these days - couldn't we handle a few jihadis, if they did show up?

As for their threat to American jobs - most immigrants take jobs that Americans wouldn't do, even for better pay.  How much would it take to make you pick vegetables by hand all day, stooped over in a field?  Or pack chicken carcasses on a factory line?  Immigrants don't threaten American jobs; automation threatens American jobs.  But that's another post.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Regulations

The new administration says, among other things, that it is opposed to "new regulations"; that it will remove 2 old regulations for every new one proposed; and that it wants to destroy the government departments which make and enforce the regulations.  This, they claim, will make us "free." 

I beg to differ.  It will make a small number of us free to do things not currently permitted under government regulations.  The rest of us will have to live with the fallout from that.  Specifically, businesses large and small will now be able to do things not currently permitted.

The new administration has already issued permits for a previously blocked practice:  dumping coal ash.  Pickens County, South Carolina is seriously concerned about a proposal to dump coal ash from another state in a landfill in their county, apparently whether they like it or not.  And they don't.  Dumping substances into streams isn't a problem restricted to coal country.  My husband is from Wisconsin and he has told me stories of creeks poisoned when dairies simply dumped their waste whey into streams, rather than pay to dispose of it.  This was decades ago.  And remember the Gold King Mine waste water spill in 2015?  There were regulations against that, but contractors working on the mine didn't follow the regulations properly and destroyed an entire ecosystem.

If you look back at history, many of the regulations that annoy businesses so much were created because at some point, businesses did things that seriously harmed people, to the point that the government (urged by its voters) told them, "You can't do that any more."  Here are some random examples.  I didn't research these; this is what I can think of offhand.  A lot of these changes came from labor union negotiations, or from citizens joining together to protest a situation.
  • The windows in your cars have to shatter into tiny squares with not much edge, so as not to slice you to pieces in a collision.  I'm old enough to remember when car windows broke like any other window, and a piece of the windshield, if you were unlucky, could cut your throat.  
  • You can buy a car today with reasonable expectation that it will not only protect you in a crash, but will not emit noxious vapors that pollute the air; all due to government regulations that make cars more expensive to produce.  I remember when none of that was true.  In particular, I remember when the air in Los Angeles was so bad that your eyes began to sting when you drove through the pass on the Grapevine at the edge of the plain containing the city - 1,500 feet above sea level and 88 miles away from downtown L.A.
  • You must be paid extra wages if you work longer than 8 hours a day, or on a weekend or holiday.  These rules came about, through union bargaining, because before the rules, you could essentially be forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, at threat of losing your job if you complained.  Research the history of factory work in the late 19th and early 20th century if you think I'm kidding.
  • If you're injured working on your job, you can apply for worker's compensation to pay for your treatment, which your employer is required to pay into as a form of insurance.  Before worker's comp, if you were injured on the job, you were probably just fired - which left you broke and unable to work.
  • Food you buy at the store can't contain poisonous substances.  The classic recent example of this happened in China in 2008, when milk and infant formula adulterated with melamine (cheaper than protein but looks like protein on analysis) poisoned approximately 300,000 infants, of whom 6 died from kidney damage and 54 were hospitalized.  Yeah, that's the same melamine in some dishes.  The World Health Organization said this was "clearly not an isolated accident, [but] a large-scale intentional activity to deceive consumers for simple, basic, short-term profits."  The FDA, which is at considerable risk of being eliminated, is why you don't worry about this here.
The Republican Party and its business supporters want to eliminate government regulations to make life easier for businesses.  Unregulated businesses have a history of operating in a way that makes them money, at the expense of both their employees and their customers.  They say eliminating regulations will make you "free."  Yeah - and disabled, poisoned, and broke.  What kind of freedom is that?  Not all businesses operate this way; but without government oversight, how do we know which ones they are?  This war on regulations is one of the most dangerous things the current President has suggested, and it isn't getting nearly enough attention.