I stand behind our teachers fighting against unreasonable class sizes, for students with special needs, staffing for schools and a reasonable pay increase. For the record, I do NOT support the independent charter movement, nor do I support the expansion of independent charter schools. I support public education, with public accountability - each and every one of us should be invested in ALL of our children’s futures. Our teachers educate and watch over our future - our precious children. I have seen a public school system work when it is fairly funded; it is a myth that public eduction can’t work. I really wish this was not going to happen, but our family is with UTLA.
Elizabeth Warren announced today that she is running for president in 2020; she just formed an exploratory committee, which enables her to start raising money. Let’s put aside for a moment whether you “think she’s a good candidate” or not. Senator Warren’s candidacy will have the effect of forcing dialogue on critical economic issues impacting our country. Her announcement immediately frames the debate for who will carry the mantle against Donald Trump in 2020. Maybe you don’t think she’ll win for whatever reason. But listen to her message on how the economy works, why bad incentives are in place to push wealth into ever more exclusive pockets, why we need social justice. She gets it, and other candidates including Trump will have to answer hard questions about whether our current system actually helps Americans.
I am not saying you should refuse to consider other candidates; no doubt I am evaluating the field that will come together as well. (Full disclosure - I will say I am pre-disposed to support Elzabeth Warren as she’s aligned with how I feel about our system in many ways.) But if you believe in what Elizabeth Warren is saying, it is worth it - it is imperative - that we support her at this juncture. You can’t know how a fighter will perform until you put them into the ring. I would like to get Senator Warren into the ring.
You can contribute to her via Act Blue here. It’s now time to act.
It’s that good. There’s probably not much to say that’s not already been said. But I have to talk about it anyway. The music of course is dynamic, pulsing, dramatic, emotional and is the vehicle through which the story is told. As another review said, it is so much more than hip-hop; there are ballads (Dear Theodosia, Take A Break), blues/swing (What’d I miss), Showtune/Jazz (Room Where it Happens), broadway style (Story of Tonight), lots of driving hip-hop (My Shot, Yorktown), and some really cool indefinable, almost mystic moments (Satisfied).
But the genius of Hamilton isn’t just the music, storytelling and choreography - it is the fusion of these elements that brings the passion and ideological (if not fufilled in practice) genius of the American experiment into the modern age. Hamilton makes the American Revolution come alive in a way at least I’ve never seen before. For me anyway, the American Revolution has been shrouded in myth and contradiction no matter how much I have read about it. Here, the humanity of each of the Founders comes through through this modern telling of our story. We don’t just get to know the key characters in a fun and engaging way; we the audience are joining the revolution and experiencing all of its emotions and contradictions.
The first few songs introduce us to Hamilton and the passion and camraderie driven by the desire for freedom. We get a glimpse of the madness of King George III, followed by the bonding of Hamilton and Washington together in common cause. Throughout the production, the relationship between Hamilton and Washington is both at once human and transcendent. We get brought into the inner circle of Hamilton’s life with his intoruction to the Schulyer sisters, in the song Helpless. Angelica’s pain in Satisfied sears through us, her situation emblematic of the contradictions of the age and the revolution that promises freedom - but not for everyone. We see Aaron Burr advising Hamilton to “talk less, and smile more”, and wondering what drives Hamilton’s energy and success. When in the song Yorktown the words “ the world turned upside down” come floating from the stage after the battle has ended, it felt like we in the audience were also on the cusp of a new national adventure. I got goosebumps.
The musical then takes a new turn with Jefferson’s introduction and the debates that follow, which make the formation of the country come alive, between What’d I miss and Cabinet Battle #1. Burr’s longing for power comes through in The Room Where it Happens - in my opinion, one of the best moments of the whole musical, combining key elements of conflicting storytelling, politics back room dealing and how deals get done. One of Hamilton’s last great political acts was to help George Washington talk to the nation, highlighted by One Last Time, in which Washington and Hamilton teach the country “how to say goodbye.” What follows are a series of tragedies and setbacks to Hamilton’s life, including his affair with Maria Reynolds and subsequent revelations that prove disasterous to Hamilton’s poltical career. Without Washington as a ballast, Hamilton makes poor judgments in his life, and ultimately winds up in his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.
Contradictions are the hallmark of Hamilton; the diverse cast, along with modern music puts the contrast between the words of the Declaration of Indepencence and the Constitution, and the lack of freedom for many people in the new republic in full, unvarnished view. But the ideas propounded by the Founders still ring true and come through in Lin-Manuel’s telling of our story, reminding us of the America that we still can strive to be. I truly believe this is one of the great works of art that will be produced in our lifetimes. I’ll leave you with my favorite song, Yorktown, if you haven’t listened then I would say you’ll feel like you won the revolution after you do.
I read The Fifth Risk two consecutive times, it is that good. I couldn’t help it - what I thought I knew about how our government works is well short of what I actually did not know. And current administration poses unique risks to our government that may not be as obvious to most of us. That was certainly true for me.
The title may make it obvious, but this book is about risk. And it starts, oddly enough, with Chris Christie. As Trump became the GOP nominee, Christie winds up getting himself appointed as chairman of Trump’s transition team - the team that is tasked with staffing up the government, making recommendations for appointments and getting briefings on how the government works. And at least in Michael Lewis’ telling, Christie hires a whole team and does a credible job of pulling a lot of this together.* When Trump was elected, however, Christie was fired from his job - the Trump team tossed out all that work and chose to go into governance essentially blind.
The U.S. government has the largest risk portfolio on the planet - managing and trying to mitigate significant risks that people could be harmed by. The first risk mentioned in the book is a nuclear accident. The second is North Korea. The third is Iran, and the fourth is the safety of the electrical grid. The fifth risk is described as “project management”. Lewis encapsulates the fifth risk by saying “The risk we should fear most is not the risk we can easily imagine. It is the risk we don’t.”
Well, what is project management, you may ask? Lewis starts with the Department of Energy - the DOE. Did you know the DOE is responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal and half of its budget goes to that? You know what else the DOE does? It cleans up the nuclear waste that was produced by making all those nuclear weapons; a quarter of the DOE budget goes to that. (The bomb dropped on Nagasaki had 14 pounds of plutonium, but generated hundreds of millions of gallons of radioactive waste. Turns out the U.S. produced at least 444 billion gallons - yes billion - of waste that was put into the ground.) There was no transition team from the Trump administration to learn what the DOE did and managed. None. Except some people asking for a list of employees who had previously worked on climate change. In fact, Rick Perry, who wound up being the head of the DOE, famously said he would eliminate the DOE altogether (of course that was before he became its secretary). You start to realize why Rick Perry as head of the DOE might be a problem. Not just that, but Trump has also proposed cutting funds to cleanup nuclear waste. If you feel like it, search up Hanford, WA, nuclear waste. Project management indeed.
Lewis goes on to describe other functions of government and the risks of not properly understanding (or not caring) what the government does, such as the Department of Agriculture. Agriculture includes the USDA, which inspects all animals for human consumption. The Dept. of Agriculture also fights wildfires, oversees the national park system, manages school nutrition programs and food stamps. There’s a $200 billion bank for rural development, a science lab and a host of other functions.
There’s also the Department of Commerce, and you could be forgiven if you did not know it was responsible for the National Weather Service and NOAA. If you don’t know what NOAA is, look it up the next time a hurricane comes by the United States.
The other aspect about this education I received is an understanding of the incredible trove of data that the U.S. government is sitting on, that could be used for really beneficial purposes. For example, it was Pro Publica accessing patterns of opioid use and deaths that brought the opioid epidemic to the forefront of public discussion. The government has systematically been removing public access to all kinds of data, whether it be related to crime and police patterns, climate data, data on animal abuse just to name a few. Additionally private companies such as AccuWeather, whose CEO Trump nominated to head NOAA (confirmation failed by one vote), continually press the government to limit the public’s access to NWS weather data so that these private companies can charge for it. Michael Lewis succinctly points out that what you don’t know, the things you don’t learn, are the things that can bring the highest risk.
All of this is not to say things are hopeless - Michael Lewis goes out of his way to bring attention to the committed civil servants who are working on behalf of their country, and are doing their best to keep doing their jobs. But what he does say is that elections have consequences, even ones that might not have actually been intended by some folks. We should all read this book to get a better understanding of how our government is actually working, and how we as a citizenry can and should make informed decisions about whom we vote for, because it matters.
*I lived in New Jersey for almost three years. Chris Christie is a no good, dirty, mean politician. But he did understand the levers of government.
There’s a lot that’s happened this week. Midterms and Trump’s press conference meltdown. Another mass shooting. Multiple fires in California. The firing of Jeff Sessions only to be replaced by a shady operator that opposes the Mueller investigation. And oh by the way, on the way out Sessions signed a last minute memorandum limiting the Justice Department oversight of police abuse. Trump suspending all asylum rights for any undocumented immigrants fleeing their country. I’m sure I’m missing more.
Feels like we’re going off a cliff a little bit.
But I do take some heart in the outcome of the midterms. If you just take a moment to breathe, the Democrats took control of the House and seven - yes seven - governorships. Ohio and Florida were heartbreakers - assuming the called results in FL still stand - but were really close, as was of all things, Texas.
I was talking with a good freind of mine, and he got me into a better place by explaining that with those margins, Ohio and Florida are actually flippable in 2020 with the right candidate. Barack Obama won both states both times. But - you really need Ohio, which let’s not forget re-elected Sherrod Brown. if you take the states that Obama won, subtract FL and VA, you still get to 290 votes and a win. So - the issue is less about the fact that OH and FL went slightly Republican this time - the issue is about who will be the candidate that can take these states and flip them to the blue column.
For the record, it is true I natrually gravitate towards Democrats; my views are more often than not closer to Dems than Republicans. But I don’t have a problem with conservatives per se; as I’ve said in a previous post, conservatives - real ones - provide a natural ballast to debate. After all, no one is always right, and everyone can have boneheaded ideas. My problem is the current Republican Party and its support of Trump and Trumpism. And a majority of the country also has a problem with it. Which means in 2020 there’s a real shot at taking this country back from Trump. The 2018 midterms are actually a great start in that direction. Let’s keep that momentum going!
So much has happened in such a short time. The pipe bombs sent to critics of Donald Trump, the racially motivated killing of two black people at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky, the purging of 340,000 voters in Georgia by its Secretary of State - who is running for Governor against Stacey Abrams. And of course, the horrific massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
I have had a lot of trouble getting through these past weeks with my mental sanity intact. A good colleague and friend wrote me today, and spoke to the importance of character. And his words reminded me of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous words: The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
If you view yourself as a conservative, I ask you to hear those words from Dr. King, and not just speak out to offer thoughts and prayers, but to demand accountabilty from our leaders, and that we bring America to its best possibilties of equality, civility, freedom and hope instead of division, discrimination, violence and fear. I would say to not fear real liberals, for they can be a catalyst for positive change.
If you view yourself as a liberal, I ask you to hear those words from Dr. King, and keep an open mind to listen and invite a real dialogue with people who may not always agree with you on issues, but do care about America being its best self. I would say not to fear real conservatives for they can help keep the ballast for our great ship of freedom.
If you are neither, and fed up with our political mess and are staying out of it - well then I ask you to now step in and help bring our country to its best self. Because what is happening right now is not working.
There’s a quote from Barack Obama back from 2006 about our politics - that “there was and always had been another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country's founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.”
This is what we must do - we must be invested in one another, and believe in that truth that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart. Next week we find out whether we can validate that truth.
I would like to close this post with a prayer for peace; it was one of the first prayers I learned as a child, to this day it is my favorite prayer and it still gives me hope. May God bless not just those killed in Pittsburgh, PA and Jeffersontown, KY, but all of our brothers and sisters killed in the hateful violence that has been afflicting our nation.
Oseh shalom bimromav, Hu yaaseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael. V’imru: Amen.
May the One who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for us, for all Israel and all who inhabit the earth. Amen.
Let me start by saying that this book is not her MSNBC show. It is a thoughtful and detailed explanation on how America has unmoored itself from its own military, and removed the built-in disincentives that were intentionally designed to make going to war difficult. People may be surprised that she goes back to first principles expressed by the Founders, something commonly attributed - wrongly - as just a conservative perspective, but that is what she does.
Maddow quotes James Madison as saying “The Constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war in the Legislature.” And yet, since the end of the second world war, there has been an ever increasing push for warmaking decisions to reside in the executive branch, with Congress abdicating its Constitutional right and duty to evaluate when armed conflict is called for.
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the express power to declare war. (Side note for good measure, the Tenth Amendment says “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” So there’s no inherent power in the executive to declare war. While the President is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, the power to declare war is expressly delegated to Congress by the Constitution.) Maddow takes us through the unchecked expansion of executive power from the Korean War through Obama’s conflicts, with each one expanding the concept of presidential war-making authority without Congress.
The Korean war was the first major undeclared war fought by the United States, and Vietnam was based on the flimsy Gulf of Tonkin resolution. It was, however, Ronald Reagan’s decision to invade Grenada as well as his illegal venture into the Iran-Contra scandal - where the Reagan administration sold U.S. weapons to Ayatollah Khomeni to fund “Contra” fighters in Nicaragua - that accelerated the disconnection of war from Congress and the American people. One of the major differences between the Korea and Vietnam conflicts from wars after that was in Korea and Vietnam, large numbers of reserves were called up to fight - making the American people intertwined into these conflicts. It was the Reagan administration (in particular theorized by Ed Meese, Reagan’s attorney general) that espoused the theory that the President does not need the authority of Congress to start a war.
It is true that both Iraq wars and the Afghanistan war were ultimately authorized by Congress. But Iraq 2 was based on false premises (weapons of mass destruction anyone?) and once those premises were discovered to be false, the President chose to redefine the mission and keep troops there potentially indefinitely. Additionally, the war in Afghanistan was to retaliate against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Again, it was the President that changed the mission and turned it into the endless and fruitless nation building exercise that it has become. Obama armed and supported Syrian rebels, decided to intervene in Libya (but not Bahrain), expanded CIA drone strike operations. And so on. Congress has had the power to oversee and end these military endeavors and chose not to do so.
Back to privatization for a moment - starting with Grenada on a small scale, and embraced by subsequent presidents, many functions that used to be done by military personnel have been privatized (often in conjunction with the CIA), reducing accountabilty, oversight and impact that war has on families not directly connected to the volunteer military. These contractors are, as Maddow highlights, not exactly the people we would want representing America. Additionally, we get a view of while we spend ever increasing sums of money on military budgets, we don’t exactly take care of the military hardware we do have - in particular the neglect afflicting the U.S. nuclear arsenal. (For a more detailed and terrifying view of the state of America’s nukes, I recommend Command and Control by Eric Schlosser.) This all of course comes at a price - our constant state of war, our exploding deficits, the diversion of resources to domestic growth, such as infrastructure, research & development, health care, etc.
We are reminded that it is not too late, that we as Americans can insist on accountabilty at the ballot box. We must demand that our leaders stay true to the values of the Constitution - that the country and the decision to enter a war is bigger than just the executive. The primacy rule of law is what makes the American experiment truly exceptional. I will close by restating that this book reflects Rachel Maddow’s best stuff, showing us the Oxford Rhodes scholar that she is.
Yesterday I published my CA statewide ballot initiative recommendations for the upcoming election on November 6. Today’s list endorses state and local office candidates, as well as upcoming LA City Charter Amendments. Remember to vote November 6!
Governor - Gavin Newsom. Newsom’s public positions on civil rights, health care, immigration rights and environmental issues make him my choice for governor. Given today’s political climate and the GOP’s continued loyalty to Donald Trump, I do not believe California can afford to vote for John Cox.
United States Senator - No endorsement.
Lt. Governor - No endorsement.
Secretary of State - Alex Padilla.
Controller - Betty Yee.
Treasurer - Fiona Ma.
Attorney General - Xavier Becerra.
Insurance Commissioner - Ricardo Lara.
State Board of Equalization 3rd District - Tony Vazquez.
United States Representative, 30th District - Brad Sherman.
CA State Senator, 18th District - Bob Hertzberg.
CA State Assembly, 46th District - Adrin Nazarian.
CA Supreme Court and Appeals Court Justices - LA Times has an overview of why to vote yes for these justices.
LA County Measure W - YES. Measure W is a $0.025 parcel tax per square foot of “impermeable area” to capture and cleanup storm water. There are credits available to properties that address stormwater runoff. The LA Times doesn’t have an endorsement on it as I can tell, but it does have a good overview of it here.
LA City Measure B - YES. This measure gives LA the right to create a municipal bank. Now y’all might think I’m nuts for voting yes, and maybe I am. After all, there’s really no parameters set for the creation and management of such a bank. Additionally, a municipal bank might be subject to influence and benefit local special interests, such as developers. Politicians may try to use the bank to influence and gain favors. As well as push for investments that benefit political donors. And yet, the prospect of local banking and capital management might actually lead to more investment in Los Angeles. A bank of Los Angeles that has local influence and local incentives might actually work for the benefit of Los Angeles residents, much in the way that employee federal credit unions try to work for the benefit of the employees of a company. it may spur more investment in local housing. If a bank of Los Angeles can open up doors to more investments in housing, transportation, and infrastructure with public accountability then I’m for taking the risk.
LA Measures E and EE - YES. These measures align LA City and LAUSD election dates to the state’s primary election dates. This will help boost voter turnout.
Once again, it is time for the Valley Dude’s election recommendations and endorsements! Statewide ballot recommendations are below:
California Statewide Initiative Recommendations
Proposition 1 - YES. Proposition 1 is a $4 billion bond measure to fund affordable housing solutions. As I read the initiative, it breaks down the funding into a number of components:
$1.8 billion to build or renovate rental housing projects such as apartment buildings. This would come in the form of providing local governments, nonprofit organizations, and private developers with low-interest loans to fund part of the construction cost. In exchange, projects must reserve units for low-income households for a period of 55 years.
$450 million to build housing near urban transit centers.
$450 million to encourage home ownership for low income buyers, priomarily by down payment assistance through low interest loans and grants.
$300 million for housing for farmworkers.
$1 billion for home loan assistance for veterans.
I must admit, I do have some reservations about this measure - in particular, how will the state administer who receives the funding as well as it is unclear to me what percentage of housing built actually would be reserved for low income residents. That being said, given the acute affordable housing problem in CA, as well as the benefits for veterans, bring me to a yes vote on Prop 1.
Proposition 2 - YES. Currently, about $1.5 to $2.5 billion per year is raised for mental health services and treatment through a 2004 initiative called Prop 63, which imposes a tax on incomes of $1 miillion and above. Proposition 2 would enable $140 million per year of this money to be used to pay for a separate issuance of $2 billion in bonds designed to build housing for those with mental illness and are homeless. There is currently litigation occurring that asserts that Prop 63 funds cannot be used to facilitate housing, only mental services and treatment. This proposition would resolve that dispute and permit Prop 63 funds to be used to pay for the $2 billion housing bond. This seems like a good idea, and another small step in addressing our homeless crisis.
Proposition 3 - NO. Proposition 3 authorizes almost $9 billion in bonds for water projects. Candidly I’m having a lot of trouble digesting a bond measure of this size when two water bond measures were recently approved, Prop 68 this June, a $4 billion parks & water bond (of which 1/3, or about $1.3 billion, was allocated to water), as well as Prop 1 in 2014, a $7.5 billion water bond. Since 2000, voters have approved about $31 billion in water bonds (including the above two bonds) of which about $10 billion is still available to spend. Finally, this Mercury News article gives a good overview of how one person primarily put the bond on the ballot, vs. other water bonds having more public debate. This one smells like a no.
Proposition 4 - YES. Authorizes $1.5 billion in bonds to improve California’s designated children’s hospitals. I can probably spend days writing about how screwed up our health care system is. It’s sad that our state of affairs is such that we are being asked to vote on whether to borrow money to finance health care facilities for children. That being said, we are where we are and existing improvement funds are apparently almost used up. So I’m voting yes.
Proposition 5 - NO! Proposition 5 is a terrible idea. Prop 13 currently lets homeowners over 55 (or who are disabled) keep their artificially low tax assessment when that owner sells and downsizes to a less expensive home. And that exemption can only happen once, the idea being that older folks who want to downsize for income, space, or other reasons are not subject to a Prop 13 tax reset. Prop 5 would permit such homeowners who buy a more expensive home to also keep an artificially low Prop 13 tax assessment. And this can happen an unlimited amount of times. Prop 13 itself has created a lot of fiscal problems for the state, burdening income and sales tax rates, while depriving schools and other essential services of revenue. This just exacerbates the problem in a patently unfair and unjust way. This is an emphatic NO.
Proposition 6 - NO. This proposition repeals the gas tax passed in 2017 to fund much needed transportation infrastructure across the state. Don’t vote for this. We need this funding for our roads, bridges, and tunnels. Remember the Minneapolis bridge collapse 10 years ago? How about the bridge collapse in Genoa, Italy just this year? I used to cross the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan every day, I literally saw the concrete crumbling increase on a daily basis. Vote no.
Proposition 7 - NO. This would put California on permanent daylight savings time. Uh, no.
Proposition 8 - NO. At first glance, this seems like a proposition to vote yes for - after all, who would not support limiting the cost of kidney dialysis? The proposal limits dialysis center revenues to 115% of “allowable costs”. Anything above that gets rebated to the payer of the procedure. Seems like a good idea right? So it’s really tough to offer up a no recommendation here. But here’s why - at least as I read it, a) there’s a huge amount of uncertainty as to how this thing would work, and b) when the payer is Medicare, Medical or a government entity, it appears these entities do not get a rebate.
On the uncertainty side, the measure says it caps revenues at 115% of allowable costs. But these costs have not been specifically defined beyond some examples given such as staff wages are permitted under the calculation of costs but not administrative overhead. It seems the California regulator and the courts would have to promulgate and interpret what these costs would be. Additionally, there’s some arbitrage that could occur - dialysis companies could increase allowable costs thus increasing permitted revenues. Or they could cut non allowable costs, but if overhead admin is not allowable that seems like it might be a problem (e.g., you have to pay your lease, power bill and your office manager). There’s also the bit where the proposition questions its own constitutionality as a potential government taking without just compensation and provides for an adjustment mechanism to get itself into compliance.
On the rebate side, and maybe I’m mis-reading the CA state legislative analysis, but the text of is below, and it really does look like Medicare and government entities do not receive rebates. In fact, if the dialysis companies increase allowable costs to increase revenues, then payers including Medicare are on the hook for higher costs as well which might lead to higher premiums. So all downside for Medicare et. al., while insurance companies get the upside. The whole thing seems really off.
In 2019, the measure requires CDCs each year to calculate the amount by which their revenues exceed a specified cap. The measure then requires CDCs to pay rebates (that is, give money back) to payers, excluding Medicare and other government payers, in the amount that revenues exceed the cap.
Finally, legislating costs via the ballot for one medical procedure seems really odd - something isn’t quite right about this. It’s true we need serious reform of our health care system. This ballot measure is evidence of precisely why we need a true single payer system both statewide and nationally. This type of measure on the ballot is truly symptomatic of how screwed up our system is.
Proposition 10 - YES. Currently the state prohibits local municipalities from regulating rent control for buildings built after Feb. 1, 1995, as well as all single family homes. State regs do require that existing rent control regs also permit a fair rate of return to a landlord. Proposition 10 would repeal the state prohibition on rent control and permit localities to impose rent control for their communities, but still require a fair rate of return for landlords. Vote YES for returning rental housing policy to cities and counties.
Proposition 11 - NO. Proposition 11 would relieve ambulance companies of the obligation to provide uninterrupted work breaks and meal breaks as required by law. Until a 2016 CA Supreme Court decision overturned the practice as a violation of labor law (Agustus v. ABM Security Services), ambulance companies would require employees to be on call during work breaks and meal breaks. Proposition 11 would permit ambulance companies too get around labor law and re-instate the practice. Ambulance crews typically work 12 hour shifts. The companies maintain this practice to reduce labor costs. The price of course is crews that don't truly get rest breaks. Vote NO on this end-run around labor law.
Proposition 12 - YES. Proposition 12 would expand space requirements for confinement of farm animals. As a point of order, I really hate legislating this kind of stuff at the ballot box. But if you're asking me to vote on whether to require more humane animal farm practices, then I'm going to say yes.
It has been a little tough to gin up the will to write lately, the overwhelming volume of information and craziness has put my head into a place where I have needed to just stop, think and collect myself, to keep me from going a little insane. The Kavanaugh hearing reminds me that there are other means besides the courts to achieve social justice, such as state, local and federal legislation.
But I do need to take a moment to talk about the court and the current proceedings. For the record in my opinion, Kavanaugh appeared to show exactly who he is, belligerent, angry, partisan. He certainly likes beer. I understand he does not like what is happening at the moment. But the fact is that Dr. Ford has made an allegation, and she appears credible. Blaming Democrats, the Clintons, and “the left”, and attacking the process as a disgrace does a great disservice to a woman coming forward with her story. If it did not happen then Mr. Kavanaugh should welcome an opportunity to clear his name rather than go on the attack. This looks like the same guy who refused to shake Fred Guttenberg’s hand. (Mr. Guttenberg is the father of a child killed at Parkland.) He does not appear to have the temperment we would expect out of a Supreme Court justice, or any judge for that matter.
This is not to say that Mr. Trump should not get to make another conservative pick for the Supreme Court. Elections matter, and presidents get to pick their nominees. I do think it unfortunate, however, that the filibuster was eliminated for federal judges (done by the Democrats in 2013) and Supreme Court Justices (done by the GOP in 2017). Without the filibuster, presidents are free to nominate ideologues, and in this case, a nominee whose character is in question.
Be that as it may, a very strong possibility still exists that a Trump appointed nominee makes it on to the court by the end of the year. Even if Kavanaugh’s nomination is pulled, it is likely the Senate rushes through another confirmation, even if during a lame duck session post-November (remember Gorsuch had no such allegations). Which brings us to a reminder about the role of the courts.
The Supreme Court is not and should not be the only recourse for change, whether on social, economic or, civil rights. The court is necessary at times to push through certain walls - Brown v. Board of Education is of course the seminal example. But the court can go the other way as well, whether way back in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson (which Brown overturned), or more recently, Citizens United v. FEC (prohibiting regulation of corporate political spending) and Shelby County v. Holder (invalidating portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1964). Justice Kennedy swung the court in favor for equal rights for marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges on a 5-4 vote, but Kennedy also wrote the opinion in favor of the Colorado baker who did not want to make a cake for a gay marriage (Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission). And now Kennedy is off the court. As such, Justice Kavanaugh could start to peel back LGBTQ and other rights in the same manner that the rights conferred by Griswold v. Connecticut (right to privacy) and Roe v. Wade have eroded over time as the Supreme Court’s makeup changes.
All of this is to say it’s not just elections for President matter - they do - but pressure and actions by legislatures - local, state and federal - can and should work in as an agent for change instead of solely being reliant on whether the court has five votes. This has always been the case, but it seems in our recent history the court has taken an outsized role in this area post 1960s civil rights legislation. Our most basic protections are codified in civil law - the Constitution and all of its amendments, the Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and so on.
Where I may have some potential optimism is that there are a lot of energized people who can pitch in and make a difference outside of the courts. We need to make sure our states protect the rights of LGBTQ, women and immigrants, implement criminal justice reform, protect the environment, incentivize and/or build affordable housing, and ensuring civil rights including the right to vote. It is our responsibilty to elect legislators and hold them accountable for this progress. If the river of progress is dammed up by one avenue, then we must guide the water through another path.
As is no doubt true for many of us, I have been thinking for some time about the current ongoing malleability of the perception of truth from various corners. Of course, the current administration has accelerated and perpetrated in gross mischaracterizations of fact, and routinely engages in outright lies. But I’m really thinking about other, deeper trends in relationships that have been going on for quite some time. We have voluntarily accepted outlets and technologies that humans have not encountered before - and while they often connect people and commerce in positive and beneficial ways, they can also have the unintended consequence of virtual friends and economic interactions taking the place of deeper and more personal ones. And these deeper and personal connections help us figure out agreements by which we can stipulate a generally accepted baseline set of facts as “truth”. In the Information Age, sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is not. Who among us has not looked up from their device and thought “I’m the only one looking up right now.”
It was in this context that I was at the bookstore with my kids (G-d bless them they do love real, physical books as much as online screens) and decided to pick up a few books for myself. I have been reading quite a few books on the Kindle app for iPad - it’s great for travel - but recently I’ve read a number of physical books and have got the bug back for them. The 60th edition of Fahrenheit 451 was just sitting there waiting for me to pick it up. And so I did, I had not read it for decades. My 13 year old son looked at me with an unexpected bit of reverence and said “That’s a classic book, right?” (For the record, the other two books were by Dan Brown and Terry Pratchett, respectively.)
Fahrenheit 451 is far more relevant to today’s world than I imagined or remembered it would be. Neil Gaiman wrote a very cool introduction, but even that didn’t really prepare me for the stone cold reckoning that Ray Bradbury puts in front of us. The book was published in 1953, when radio was on the wane and television was the brand new thing. It is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman - but not the kind of fireman that we know of today that puts out fires; this kind of fireman is called in to burn down houses and buildings that contain books. (Today’s type of fireman is not needed anymore as houses have otherwise been systemically fireproofed.) Bradbury takes us through Montag’s awakening, precipitated by a meeting with a young neighbor, who is an oddity in a city of essentially sleepwalking people, kept “happy” without the thought provoking turmoil that books often initiate. (Bradbury, by the way, predicts in 1953 a form of VR/AR that is not far off from reality right now.)
The journey we travel on with Montag isn’t just about an awakening of why books are precious; Bradbury’s prescience on how people today are plugged into virtual worlds with virtual relationships at the expense of physical connectedness and critical thinking is nothing short of stunning. It is not that books matter in and of themselves - it is what is in them that does. There’s a bit of a mind bending part where Montag’s very literate fire captain quotes poetry while trying to make the argument that it is the source of unhappiness in humanity, thus the need for the firemen. The systemic burning of books is the burning of something much deeper than just paper and ink. Montag does ultimately break free from the mental vise and crosses the point of no return to awakening, at great peril to himself. Ultimately Montag’s freedom winds up saving his life, and he becomes a repository of knowledge for when humanity may come calling again to require it.
Bradbury’s vision is darker than where we find ourselves today, and there are certainly significant differences (e.g., I doubt anyone would say social media keeps an artificial lid on turmoil and unhappiness) but as Neil Gaiman says in his introduction, the writer’s job isn’t necessarily to predict the future; rather it is to take certain themes from his/her contemporanous time and expand it to what types of things might happen. Even so, Bradbury puts a slice of hope in the resilience of humanity at the end. The book is a remarkably gripping and quick read. Sometimes you gotta go back and crack open a classic book - they’re classic for a reason. I am looking forward to handing my copy of it to my son.
That’s just so jenky
Photo credit: Stephen Crowley NYT
Already so much has been said about today's bombshell op-ed in the New York Times. (Conveniently distracting for the moment from the coverage of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings). It is entirely possible that this is op-ed comes from an earnest place, ringing the alarm bell for the country while sincerly believing he or she needs to stay in the job to prevent the worst harms from happening.
And yet, as so often seems to be the case with our current (and former) White House occupants, each move is calculated with spin, misdirection and distractions to achieve some other objective. And as such I'm having a lot of difficulty placing altruism as the motive for this piece. To be sure, I certainly believe much of what is actually written in the piece is likely accurate. Additionally there's a big part of me that's relieved at some level that someone in the asylum is admitting that in fact the place needs about 12 inches of latex foam padding on each wall. Maybe the author believes Trump is going down and wants to preserve some shred of integrity when it all falls apart saying "see, I tried to stop it". Hell, as Rachel Maddow said, maybe Trump authorized the op-ed himself to create a crisis as an excuse to consolidate power even further (she said not likely).
And yet. If we take the memo at face value, we now apparently have unelected officials making significant policy decisions based on their assessment the President is unfit for office. What does this potentially say about the civilian control of the military at this very moment? And by releasing this op-ed in the manner it was, which appears to be designed to inflict maximum psychological damage to the President, has the author put the nation in even more danger given the Trump's current autocratic and impulsive tendencies? All of this is puts us into really really scary territory.
In the end, the author may have felt no other choice but to act as he or she did as there are likely not the votes with the Vice President and the cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment. Heck maybe the entire cabinet thinks Trump is mad but Pence won't sign on, or nobody thinks he will (you need the VP as part of invoking the 25th). What really chaps me is that this person waited to write until after both the tax cuts were enacted, and after the Kavanaugh nomination in all likelihood won't be derailed.
In any event, this isn't the end of it, and we as a people need to demand of our representatives in Congress an accounting of the fitness of the President to continue to serve. The Constitution provides a remedy, it's time to start looking at it.
It doesn't really matter what your politics are. You shake the hand of a man whose child has been killed by gun violence. That is what any person of decency would do. Hiding all the documents in the world from public scrutiny can't hide Kavanaugh's actions. We may have suspected before - but this is who he is. If you haven't seen it, the video is here.
Andrew Gillum won a historic primary in the race for Florida's governor, an unexpected victory over the establishment Democratic candidate, Gwen Graham. Just twelve hours after the results, while Graham graciously threw her support behind Gillum, his opponent, Ron DiSantis, warned Florida voters on Fox News - and this is a quote - "the last thing we need to do is to monkey this up and try to embrace a socialist agenda."
Of course, DiSantis and his campaign has denied this had any racial overtones, and Trump has indicated his support for DiSantis. Racist robocalls have been making the rounds in Florida. Laura Ingraham, is actually demanding Gillum make an apology to DiSantis. This is ugly, wrong, and the provenance of cowards. Gillum for his part, is staying above the fray and on message.
Yes, there is a story about an FBI investigation that has come out that he has been involved in, but he has not been implicated and is cooperating with them. Yes, I know very little about him except what I've read over the past few days (to-date which I've liked). And yet - when the chips are down, it's time to support what's right. I am making a donation to the candidacy of Andrew Gillum. You can too, at this link.
Josh Marshall over at TPM makes a compelling case that if the Democrats take the House this November, that the focus should not be on impeachment. Rather, the focus of a Democratic House should be investigating the President’s finances and conflicts of interests as well as connections to Russia. Nutshell is that there will not be enough (if any) Republicans to vote to convict Trump in the Senate. So a lot of time and effort into a process that will ultimately go nowhere and hand Trump a victory, vs. investigative proceedings that may shed a great deal of light on Trump’s actual dealings. It’s worth a read.
The Trump administration just announced a $200 million cut in humanitarian aid to Palestinians. This, on top of cutting aid to a U.N. agency that assists Palestinians in need. Both of these actions follow the United States' moving its embassy to Jerusalem this year. Neither of these moves are designed to promote peace in the region, and do not recognize the deeply held beliefs of Palestinians in their need for self governance. Pulling humanitarian aid in the name of promoting conflict and trying to improve a bargaining position is not only unjust, it is immoral.
In my last post, I covered a lot of ground on Israel's history, including the need for Jewish self governance, as well as the detrimental effects of being an occupying force in the West Bank since 1967. The need for self governance is no less acute for Palestinians than it was for the Jewish people in 1948 - Palestinians are a people without a homeland; what other country can and does claim the Palestinian people as its own? Palestinians are at the mercy of other nations for aid and goodwill. A Palestinian nation could attract investment, infrastructure, and be a platform for trade and international recognition and relationships with its neighbors. A functioning Palestinian state would give Palestinians a voice and a role on the world stage, and a chance to manage their own affairs. It would relieve Israel of the corrosive and detrimental burden of occupying the West Bank and ruling over millions of Palestinians.
No doubt this would be a long and winding road to get there - the region has a history of violence, and the current Hamas governance in Gaza is dedicated to terrorism and Israel's destruction. This would have to change, but that is not without precedent. The IRA, Sinn Fein and the UK reached across the table to make peace with each other. The horrendous conflict in the Balkans was brought to an end, with each state able to effect its own governance in relative stability.
Israel, the U.S., and surrounding Arabic countries would need to help the new state onto its feet. Symbolism and longing is incredibly important to the Jewish people, and it is no less true for Palestinians; the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is a sacred and ancient holy site for Islam. Some part of Jerusalem would need to be the capital of Palestine. While the 'right of return' as it is commonly thought of is not a feasible option for Israel to accept, the 'right of return' for Palestinians to return to a Jerusalem capital absolutely is.
Coming back to the recent actions by the Trump administration to pull aid - this is a terrible development, weakening the ability for the U.S. to be a broker of peace. While it is true that the UN continues - unhelpfully - to promote the idea of a 'right of return' for Palestinians, I do not believe humanitarian aid should be conditional. Like so many other actions of this administration, it shows little regard for human suffering and instead picks fights regardless of the costs to people in need. We need to speak up for all peoples in need, and call out injustice where we see it. I adamantly oppose cutting off aid to Palestinians, and in fact believe we should be doing the opposite by investing in, and helping the Palestinian people to its feet.
I just finished reading two books covering the subject of Israel - the first in sequence being Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by Dan Ephron; the second being Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis. One goes into great depth and analysis about the events leading up to and immediately after the killing of Yitzhak Rabin, while the other creates a broad narrative of the modern state of Israel, starting all the way back to the causes leading Theodor Hertzl to convene the First Zionist Congress in 1897. It was fascinating to read them both back to back; I felt like one gave context for the other. There is far too much information packed into each book for me to adequately summarize all of what is in them, although I found both very easy to read. What I will attempt to do here is provide an overall view of each book, and how I perceived each to lend its perspective to the story of Israel.
I read Killing a King first - it is a dual track story, following the paths of Rabin and his eventual assassin, Yigal Amir, a Jew from an orthodox family. Ephron gives us insights as to what ultimately motivated Yitzhak Rabin, an Israeli military hero from the 1967 Six Day War, to make peace with Yassir Arafat, the man who extensively practiced terrorism both in Israel and abroad during most of his leadership of the PLO. This is important - Rabin, one of the key people involved in the capture of the West Bank and the Sinai - believed Israel's future lay in making peace with the Palestinians and moving them towards self governance in the West bank. (No less than David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father and first prime minister, thought Israel should leave the captured territories.) At the same time, Ephron provides the thinking behind Amir's move towards, and ultimately act on, the killing of Rabin. Many in the settlement movement, in particular certain ultra-Orthodox groups, viewed Rabin's actions as nothing short of treasonous towards Israel and the Jewish people, and extremist right-wing incitement towards Rabin may have fueled this fire. The peace process had been gaining momentum, the first of two peace accords was signed in 1993, the second in 1995. Violence marred much of these two years, as extremists opposed to the peace process tried to derail it through terrorism. The years 1994-1996 began some of the worst terrorism that Israel has suffered, with frequent suicide bombings in public squares and on public transit that resulted in mass casualties, many of which were perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It must be said that there was violence from Israelis as well during this period (most notoriously the massacre of Arabs praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs, perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in 1994). Right in the middle of this violence, on November 4, 1995, Rabin was killed by Yigal Amir, which for all intents and purposes ended the peace process.
It's a devastating story, all the more so that he was killed at a peace rally attended by 100,000 supporters for peace. It also made me wonder how Israel got to that place, and where it is right now. I knew the general outlines of Israeli history of course, the big events. But I was seeking something a little richer, a story from the beginning that might shed a little bit more light and context on Israel's story. That brought me to Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.
A Concise History tells the story of Israel in a broad historical arc - it is in part a story of how the Jewish people see themselves, and in part the story of how the modern state of Israel came to be. Like the old joke that if you ask a question to three different rabbis, you'll get three different answers, A Concise History pushes and pulls on its assumptions, delves into philosophical reflection, and tries to see the flaws and mistakes the Israelis have made in addition to its successes. I admit I found it riveting.
Daniel Gordis traces the roots of modern Israel all the way back to the destruction by the Romans of the Second Temple in 70 CE, and the Bar Kokhba rebellion against the Romans in 132-135 CE. The Jewish population was decimated and exiled, and the Diaspora began. The reason Gordis starts with this context is to give the reader an idea of the stories Jews have told about themselves over the centuries, in particular Jewish liturgy and observance often speaks of the return to the land of Israel. Most prominently, every year (even today), each Passover ends with "Next year in Jerusalem". This context and background is important - while the persecution of Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries (including the Holocaust) directly led to the creation of modern Zionism and the formation of Israel, the roots of the modern day state of Israel hearken back millenia - as a core identity and ritual of the Jewish people.
Gordis takes us through the years that followed the First Zionist Congress in 1897, formed by Theodor Hertzl. Jews began to emigrate to their historical land of Judea from the darkening clouds in Europe; at that time, the Ottoman Empire had controlled the region for centuries. In 1917, the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which stated support for a Jewish state in Palestine. In the interwar period, many more Jews began to immigrate until the British tightened immigration restrictions before and during the Second World War. During the war, boatloads of fleeing Jews were turned away from many countries - including the United States - only to be returned to Europe. And as stated above, the British severely restricted immigration to Palestine during the war. The horrors of WW2 were indeed the catalyst for the UN partition plan of 1947 which created both an Arab and a Jewish state in Palestine. The land now known as the West Bank belonged to Jordan. Immediately, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq all attacked Israel, but in 1948 an armistice was signed and Israel was reborn. That territory did not include the West Bank, the Golan Heights, or Gaza.
The modern state of Israel was essentially a secular endeavor, with its leaders (all the way back to Herzl) looking to step away from the dark past for the Jews. In 1967, the surrounding Arab countries moved to attack Israel, but wound up losing control of the West Bank (then part of Jordan), the Sinai peninsula (part of Egypt), Gaza, and the Golan Heights (part of Syria) to Israel. This changed the character of Israel into an occupying force; many, including as mentioned above, David Ben-Gurion, advocated an exit from the occupied territories. The rise of settlers, largely but not entirely religious, began to complicate matters for the government. Much of what we see in modern Israel today traces back to the 1967 war, and the inability and/or unwillingness for the Israeli government to exit the occupied territories. Additionally, Israel's laudably broad welcoming of immigrants resulted in separation between the generally white Ashkenazi (Eastern European) community and darker complexion Sephardic/Mizrachim (Medeterranean/Middle East) communities. In 1977 Menachem Begin - of Russian descent - is elected to Prime Minister; he supported religious and Mizrachim communities, opening up a new era for these groups to influence Israeli politics. (Note it was Begin who made peace with Egypt and gave back the Sinai.) A complex and tense dynamic arises, and Gordis takes us through Israel's varying wars, successes and failures, all the while confronting violent terrorism and continued efforts by much of the international community to de-legitimize Israel's right to exist.
Gordis' approach to the Rabin assassination differs from Ephron in the sense that Ephron took a generally positive approach to Arafat's detailed involvement in the peace process and how his relationship with Rabin developed, while Gordis reminds us that Arafat did not speak out against the continued violence perpetrated by Hamas, and puts the blame for violence in large measure on Arafat's shoulders. Ephron focused on the decay caused by radical extremism in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities as a catalyst to Rabin's assination; while Gordis agrees with the premise put forth by Ephron, his focus is on the repeated cycles of violence perpetrated by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups to derail the process, separate and apart from Rabin's killing. Subsequent efforts, whether by Shimon Peres or Ehud Barak, both of the Labor party (the more liberal party), proved fruitless. Ariel Sharon of Likud (the conservative party) decided to just pull up stakes and exit Gaza, which led to Hamas controlling the region.
Where that led me to is Israel then, finds itself in a duality it is difficult to escape from - it is a country of wonder, filled with dynamic and enterprising people looking to best make a just home for the Jewish people. It is also a country that has made mistakes, and is in constant vigilance from peoples and countries expressly sworn to its destruction. An understanding of its experience in unilaterally exiting territories it occupied, in particular Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza in 2005, helps bring context as to why Israel doesn't just pull up stakes and leave the West Bank. In each case, a well funded and organized terror operation sworn to Israel's destruction (Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza) wound up controlling those territories and increased violence against Israel. The world judges Israel in ways that most other nations are not.
As history has shown, the Jewish people have a core need for self governance and self reliance. Israel is that rare country that while often imperfect, is very open about its successes and failures. It is a technological, educational and cultural powerhouse, and is unapologetic about its right to exist securely. It struggles trying to find the right balance between the secular and the religous, and the issues that come up with each. It continues to debate and search for its Jewish identity and its future, much as the Jewish people have done for thousands of years. And - it is entirely possible that Israel's own progress could be used to help build a Palestinian state. If you have any interest in the story of Israel, both the good parts and the bad, I wholeheartedly recommend both books.
I was surprised about how moved I was on hearing the news of the passing of Aretha Franklin. I don't have too many words, this Time article is lovely, and you should listen in full to her performance of Rock of Ages in the church her father had preached for 33 years. She sang this as part of an interview by Time magazine. Here it is:
Rest in peace, Aretha.
Today I am going to be talking about race and violence in America, with a particular focus on police violence. Let's begin with two very recent events.
On July 26, a black man, Daniel Hambrick, was shot in the back running away from a white police officer. Not only does the video clearly show the man running away, the police officer stops, calmly plants his feet, and fires. Later in this post we'll get to some stats on police violence in America.
On August 10, many NFL players resume protests during the playing of the national anthem. Some knelt, some raised fists, some simply stayed in the locker room.
That same day, Mr. Trump tweeted the following:
So let's talk about this for a second, in particular the piece - from the person occupying the office of the Presidency of the United States - that players are supposedly "unable to define" what they are protesting.
1,147 people were killed by police in 2017, of which 92% were through use of a gun. Of those killed, half of them were not even accused of having a gun. Only 13 officers were charged for misconduct, with even fewer convicted. There is even a case of an officer being fired for, instead of shooting his gun, trying to de-escalate the situation. His fellow officers came in and shot the person in question. In 2018, 646 people have been killed by police so far. Of those killed, 25% were black, despite being 13% of the population. 30% of black people killed were unarmed. Statistically, black people are 3x more likely to be killed by police than white people.
Let's remember a few names and stories: Philando Castile, 32, shot while reaching for ID. Terence Crutcher, 40, shot with his hands up in the air. His car stalled in the middle of the street. Freddy Gray, 25, who died after being arrested and taken into custody by police. Samuel DuBose, 43, pulled over for a missing license plate and was shot. Charleena Lyles, 30, shot in front of her children after she called the police to report an attempted burgalary. Akai Gurley, 28, shot by police in a stairwell due to an "accidental discharge". Eric Garner, 43, killed by police for selling loose cigarettes. Walter Scott, shot in the back. Tamir Rice, 13, shot holding a BB gun. Sandra Bland, 28, pulled over for failing to use a signal. Found dead in her jail cell three days later. Michael Brown, shot 6 times. Remember Michael Brown and Ferguson? That was in 2014. He, like many others, was unarmed. Most of the police officers involved were not disciplined.
This is not a recent phenomenon. What has happened is the advent of widespread use of video and cameras has brought forward what has long been known - that people of color are disproportionately impacted by state and/or state sanctioned violence. In the late 19th and through much of the 20th century, thousands of black people were lynched across America. 4,000 have been documented, there are of course surely many more.
I would strongly encourage you to read this article about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the first museum of its kind to document the history of lynching in this country. The impact on families and communities is deep and runs long - as evidenced by the story about the lynching of Elwood Higgenbotham in 1935. Lest you think this kind of thing has totally gone away, do you remember the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman? (Zimmerman was acquitted). Our very own fellow Americans have been terrorized since the beginnings of this country.
My point in this is we need to come to grips as a country that black people have been and continue to be impacted by systemic harrassment and violence daily. If you don't realize this, you're not paying attention, and my guess is you have not had a candid conversation with a black person, especially a black male. Or maybe, you simply don’t care enough to notice. I know this may sound harsh. Well, my words are nothing compared to what some of our friends and colleagues have had to go through since childhood.
Black youth and men, by the way, continue to be incarcerated at significantly higher rates than whites. I have had multiple friends and colleagues tell me about their experiences with the police - and when I grimace, and attempt to empathize, one of my friends says "well, that's just Tuesday." My friends have told me about terrifying encounters against people of color on the subway in Manhattan - Manhattan! - and other people on the train did not speak out. Or being tackled and thrown against a police cruiser while jogging to the gym.
If you are reading this and you are white - which I am - then I need to ask have you ever had to have a discussion with your child about what you need to do and not do when a cop stops you so you can stay alive? How about having a conversation with your child about navigating the treacherous waters of racial animus in this country, about why people have hostility towards you due to the color of your skin? I have not had to have those conversations. Maybe you haven’t either. But there are lots of people who do. And who must.
Back to the NFL protests for a moment. These are players peacefully using a platform to deliver a message about racial inequality in America. And the outrage over it is telling. If you oppose these peaceful protests, then you need to ask yourself why that is. If a peaceful protest in front of millions of people is not appropriate, then what exactly is appropriate? Somewhere that no one can see people protesting? A violent protest? Please. These protests are not about the flag. They are about justice. But I would be remiss to not note that the Star Spangled Banner - our national anthem - called for the capture and killing of slaves promised freedom by the British in exchange for their assistance in the War of 1812. Did you know that? We don't learn and sing this part of it in school, at least I didn't.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
In addition to conversations, to help begin this journey, I highly recommend engaging with two works - the nonfiction film 13th, available on Netflix. It is a compelling and gripping exploration of the impact of the U.S. justice system on black Americans. Additionally, I also recommend Colson Whitehead's novel The Underground Railroad. I've reviewed this book in the past. While it is historical fiction, there are few works that have been able help me understand, if just a little, what it is like to walk in the shoes of a black American as this one does. It's not an easy book, but if I had my way, it would be required reading for all high school students. Of course, I would also read up on major historical figures from the civil rights era, and the power of non violence in accomplishing major legislation in the 1960's, and the violent reaction to peaceful protest. But these two works had a particularly profound impact on me and I recommend them to you.
We are in crisis, and need to speak up now. If you didn't know, this weekend, on August 12, the so-called "Unite the Right" white supremacist group is having a rally in Washington, D.C. This is the same group that marched in Charlottesville last year, killing a woman, Heather Hoyer.
This is a conversation that we need to have not just today, but a continued dialogue with our friends, our family, our elected officials, our colleagues. I personally challenge you to come on this journey of reconciliation with and recognition of our fellow Americans, and speak out against hate wherever it rears its head.
There are three songs I would like to end this post with, and I love them all. The first is “Lift Every Voice And Sing”, as sung by Bebe Winans. “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty, let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies, let it resound loud as the rolling sea!”
The second is “Just Imagine It” by MKTO. “Somewhere off in outer space, there’s a world no wars, no hate, where all the broken hearts are safe, I don’t know where it is, I just imagine it. Somewhere far off past the stars, where the light shines in the dark, where you can just be who you are, I don’t know where it is, I just imagine it.”
The third is “America the Beautiful”, as sung by Ray Charles. “O beautiful, for heroes proved, in liberating strife, who more than self, their country loved, and have mercy more than light! America, America, may God thy gold refine, till all success be noblest, and every gain divine!“
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "None of us are free until all of us are free."