Category Archives: American Society

Too political?

My daughter told me that I’ve become too political. That set me thinking. It is true that I pay much more attention now.

I hardly paid any attention in the 70s and 80s. I was too preoccupied with small children in the first of those decades. Graduate studies, two teenagers and an inter-city commute took over in the second decade. In the 90s, Clinton and his impeachment, his relentless pursuit by members of the political establishment who abandoned even the pretense of commonality, riveted my attention.

When an unprecedented, horrific attack on a complacent nation spurred the newly installed triumvirate of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to curtail our civil liberties with the Patriot Act, I was galvanized. I warned anyone who would listen to me that proud and prosperous German Jews were decimated because they believed “it can’t happen here.” It can happen here. History has taught us that no government, no society, is immutable. I was afraid we were falling down a slippery slope, and indeed, that was when Americans lost not only their privacy but their faith in the impregnable fortress America. The same powerbrokers plunged us into a war we couldn’t win. Surveillance, fear, and torture insinuated themselves into the American experience.

In the Obama years, blind hatred and the corrosive antagonism between Democrats and Republicans further undermined American democracy and paved the way for the clownish but unfunny despot who is doing his best to undermine and sabotage the institutions that made America powerful and just.

How can one not be “political”? How can one ignore Trump’s peevishness, his enthrallment with himself and his desires, his reckless onslaughts on long-established norms, his ignorance, mendacity and deliberate sabotage of arduously wrought pacts to rescue the planet and provide care for the poor and the sick?

American democracy is under siege. Only activists, roused by anger and fear, can sway the politicians who have the power to save the Republic.

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Filed under American Society, government surveillance, Politics, Trump

The New South and the Confederacy

Buried in the turmoil and never-ending work associated with a move from one home to another I’ve kept up with the headlines, but little of real substance. Over a week ago I took a break and came across the transcript of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the removal of confederate monuments.Mitch_Landrieu_2007March01 The mayor represents the new South, the Southerners who acknowledge that they live in the 21st century and understand and accept that slavery and the Confederacy died more than 150 years ago. They belong to a progressive America that has been trying to overcome that old legacy since the 1960s, an America that continues to make progress in the civil rights of people of all colors, genders and ethnicities.

Landrieu was responding to his critics who hold that by removing the statues of Confederate leaders he is erasing history:

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

The truth is that New Orleans is a great city, a “city of many nations … a bubbling cauldron of many cultures.” It is also true that

New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

Was the Attorney General listening?

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Filed under American Society, People, Race

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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Filed under American Society, Politics, Women

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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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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