Category Archives: American Society

Snoops

Privacy is such a quaint notion. Since 9-11, we have become inured to having our personal belongings searched at theaters, airports and the lobbies of big buildings. Records and recordings of our calls reside in humongous government data warehouses, ready for scrutiny and analysis. We know that if we use the super-convenient transit credit cards like New York City’s Metrocard or drive past tollbooths with EZ Pass, we are leaving an easily followed trail of our comings and goings. Wayward husbands can no longer “hike the Appalachian Trail” in Buenos Aires with impunity. Credit cards, customer loyalty programs, just about anything that makes everything we do easier and faster comes at an unspoken price. We willingly and often unwittingly divulge intimate details that would have been unthought of only a few decades ago. Our faces are recorded by cameras in the street, at building entrances, public spaces and elevators.

One of the many devices we can rely on is a thermostat that can be remotely controlled. The Nest knows when you are home and figures out when to raise or lower the heat. It tracks your energy use and like Santa, sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, and it continuously relays all this information and more via the Internet to the company that made it. Amazon, Netflix and Roku know of your predilection for porn and what kinky action turns you on. Or not.

Your smart phone, as you know, is constantly sending out your MAC address, a unique identifier that can be tracked very precisely to determine exactly where you are, how you got there, how often you go there and where you go afterwards. Retailers can track you in their stores. The signals from your phone disclose which displays interest you, based on how long you ponder them and whether you subsequently buy the product. Storekeepers may also use this info to fine-tune the arrangement, positioning and content of their displays. We’re all familiar with the way Google and Facebook analyze what we write and the links we click to profit from that data.

Drilling down, merchants now know who is driving by their billboards and how many of those drivers are buying the advertised merchandise. According to The Boston Globe (May 19, 2016), “the nation’s largest billboard company, Clear Channel Outdoor Inc., is bringing customized, pop-up ads to the interstate.” Using data gathered from 130 million AT&T subscribers, augmented by phone apps that corral millions more, “Clear Channel knows what kinds of people are driving past one of their billboards at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday— how many are Dunkin’ Donuts regulars, for example, or have been to three Red Sox games so far this year.”

All this information is for sale, and it is probably impossible to control.

Even Trump must have been surveilled. Clearly, not directly by his predecessor. At the very least, the same devices that hover over all Americans will have collected data that can easily be exploited by any of the agencies that spy for the government. Did Trump gut the State Department and cripple Justice to hobble investigations of his Russian connections? He may have anticipated the exposure of some of the tentacles of his Russian deals, corruption and collusion.

Surveillance cameras photo by Quevaal at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.o0

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Filed under American Society, government surveillance, Trump

Women on the march

International Women’s Day in New York City— beautiful, brisk, and perfect for marching, cheering, chatting, comiserating and consoling. Women of all ages and all colors were united in their will to resist the Trump agenda. If women were striking, I did not see them. But the women I did see were marching for their less fortunate sisters who did not have the luxury of taking time off from work. They demonstrated their solidarity with the many women in the US and around the world who work very hard for long hours and minimal pay. Some are not paid at all. They marched for equal pay, reproductive freedom and the health care they now have with the Affordable Care Act. They marched to restore clean air and clean water, and public education for their children.

Young

Eight-year old Ravan Peterson (below, left) was delighting everyone who heard her with her enthusiastic support of women everywhere. “Women are stronger than men.” She said she was “marching to support all women, but especially women who are suffering all over the world.”

Older

 

Black

 

White

The sign reads, “Tinkle, tinkle little czar. Putin put you where you are.” Golden showers fall on the umbrella.

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Filed under American Society, Resistance, Women

Stand up on International Women’s Day

Women’s rights are human rights. Wear red in solidarity with women across the US and in more than 30 countries. March 8 will be A Day Without a Woman, in which women who can will take the day off from paid and unpaid labor and avoid shopping.

Show up at town halls and petition your members of congress to repair Obamacare. Speak up for the gutted EPA, clean water and clean air. Insist on the importance of public education, of the arts and of a social safety net to provide the necessities, like nutritious food and health care to those who can’t provide for themselves. Defend regulations that were put in place to protect people from predatory lenders, to safeguard public health, to keep the stock market honest. The fabric of American democracy is being rent by a blitz of lethal blows. You know of others that also affect you personally. Stand up! Make yourself heard! There is power in numbers.

Read Emily Crockett’s “The ‘Day Without a Woman’ strike, explained.” She’s done a masterly job of examining the “gendered revolt” kicked off by the Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Democracy still lives

trumpangryIn the Age of Trump, many of the people who couldn’t imagine him president now fear for the survival of American democracy. Far from making America great, Trump is undermining and attacking the institutions that made America great. He has railed against the independent judiciary, firing the acting attorney general and impugning judges who thwarted his attempt to impose a discriminatory travel ban. The ban took the form of an executive order that violated the Constitution in various ways, including the contravention of freedom of religion. Trump has declared war on the press, whose freedom is guaranteed by the First Amendment, for the reason that it is playing its essential role in a democracy. Trump and his family are profiting from his position. The press is investigating illegal and suspicious acts and attempts to cover them up by the members of Trumpworld. Fake news! cries Trump with each new leak.

Every day brings new revelations of conversations and relationships between Trump and members of his administration with Russians connected to the Russian government or Putin himself. U.S. intelligence services have irrefutable proof that Russia attempted to influence the election in favor of Trump. It is becoming apparent that Trump and an increasing number of his associates have relationships with Russia that they have tried to conceal, even under oath, as Jeff Sessions did during his confirmation hearing for the post of attorney general.

If all the contacts with Russia that are surfacing are innocuous, why lie about them? Why is Trump so dismissive of the Russian tentacles winding around him and reaching deep into his administration? After it was clear that Michael Flynn had not only undercut then-President Obama by improperly divulging information to the Russians but denied having done so, why did it take more than two weeks for Trump to decide Flynn couldn’t continue as national security adviser? In view of Russia’s meddling in the election, why are most Republicans still supportive of Trump and his tarnished cohort and reluctant to appoint a special counsel? Many questions to be asked and answered.

I have sketched only the barest account of the subversion of democracy that we are witnessing today. Long before any indication of Russian influence and possible collusion, the attempted censoring of the press and the Muslim ban, I worried very much about Trump’s despotic ability to mesmerize a crowd, his erratic nature, his ignorance about the fundamentals of government, his cluelessness about economics and foreign affairs and especially his totalitarian admiration for authority. Long ago I recognized the peril in Trump’s unlikely but steady ascendancy. Democracy is fragile, I thought. I kept thinking of the complacency of the German Jews who believed “it can’t happen here.” But it is happening here. This time has no precedent and this presidency is like no other, I read time and time again. I am not at all happy to see my prescience being confirmed.

But, after all the hand-wringing, a comforting thought came to me. Democracy is still functioning as it should. The judiciary stood up to Trump. Citizens rebelled. First they flooded the airports to protest the holding of people for hours without being charged or tried. At every airport lawyers volunteered to represent immigrants and their families who were bewildered at best and tortured at worst,. U.S. attorneys filed suits against Trump’s order and with a temporary victory, they obtained a lull in the proceedings that allowed the courts to establish some order.

Beginning with the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration, people are exercising their right to assemble peacefully and petition the government. The continuing protests, unprecedented in number and size, are in every town of every state. Citizens demand town halls with their congressmen/women where they demonstrate their anger and call for action. They know who represents them in Washington and they call to register their opinions. More people than ever before are deciding to run for office.

The free press now comprises all the media. Newspaper journalism is augmented by television, cable, radio and social media. Reporters are vying with each other to investigate and publish the truth behind the prevarications of the Trump administration.

But this is a race against time. Trump will be filling judicial vacancies with his own appointees, and it will become increasingly difficult to resist his policies and expose the lies and misdirection.

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Filed under American Society, Politics, Random, Trump

Recognition of African-American Women in 1960s long overdue

civrtsmarch

Now, as Black History Month begins, is an ideal time to celebrate the heroism of the largely unsung African-American women who put their lives on the line, fighting next to their men.

Few of the women activists in Martin Luther King’s day—women whose zeal and courage matched his—earned lasting fame. In the 1960s, women’s voices didn’t carry very far, despite the fact that their activism was critical to the movement. The resounding chorus of men, few of whom realized or acknowledged the intelligence and dedication of the black and white women who worked and protested alongside them, all but drowned them out. Of those women, only Daisy Bates, who spearheaded the desegregation of the Little Rock Schools, spoke at the rally that concluded the famous 1963 March on Washington.

A half-century later, black and white women organized massively: On January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands of women marched not only in Washington, but in cities and towns across the U.S. Their voices reverberated throughout the world.

Here are some of the African-American women of the 60s whose stories must be told again: Continue reading

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Filed under American Society, People, Race, Women

Is anybody home? The Department of State– what’s left of it

dostateThis is a diagram of the seniormost staff of the Department of State. Blue X’s are unfilled positions; red X’s are positions which were purged. Note that the “filled” positions are not actually confirmed yet. (From Trial balloon for a coup?) The reproduction is pretty bad, but you can see how many positions remain vacant.

Will Kim Jong Un decide to send an explosive ambassador? What about the minor players who have severely injured us in the past?

Trump has stripped the major agencies of the people at the top who make decisions. He fired the Acting Attorney General for overruling his immigration order. The rule of law is under siege. We are truly in uncharted territory.

It’s not looking good.

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Democracy lives!

 

Anti-Trump protesters flood O'Hare Terminal 5 on Saturday. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Anti-Trump protesters flood O’Hare Terminal 5 on Saturday. | Matthew Hendrickson/Sun-Times

Gloomily pessimistic, I shuddered with each blast in the fusillade of Trump’s executive orders. It is happening so fast, I thought, as Trump defunded, gagged and paralyzed one essential agency or program after another.

But people reacted. They resisted, protested, called their members of congress and demanded to be heard. The Women’s March was larger than any demonstration in history, drawing millions of people into the streets, united in their opposition to the increasingly unpopular demagogue.

On Friday Trump shocked and infuriated all Americans who are proud to be a nation of immigrants. We refused to target and reject our neighbors. It was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and Trump decreed that the US would not admit Syrian refugees. Families who had survived the carnage were already en route to asylum and new lives. Instead, they were detained upon arrival, sequestered for hours in windowless rooms.

Protesters streamed to the airports, chanting and carrying defiant signs. The ACLU and lawyers from big law firms and small descended on the federal court. By Saturday afternoon they succeeded in trumping the despot by obtaining a temporary stay that allowed the release of the detainees.

In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh defied the president. Not only did he refuse to aid the feds in rounding up undocumented residents, he offered to shelter them in City Hall as long as they were afraid and subject to deportation. Mayors in other sanctuary cities united in opposition to Trump and defense of their people.

Now I see the resilience of American democracy. It has taken the darkness of a fascist cloud to rouse its citizens from decades of apathy. Today I am much more hopeful and confident that we will counter and deter the megalomaniac who has managed to diminish America’s greatness in less than a week.

Make America great again? Trump has no idea what makes America great, but he’s about to find out.

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