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.

The importance of an open mind

I always try to maintain an open mind about my point of view.  Like most people, I’m not always successful in doing so, but I like to think when I have misread a person I am willing to admit it.  (But it took me a month to process and write this post.)  So it was when I became excited about Maria Estrada’s candidacy for the California Assembly, a self styled progressive who says she supports single payer health care, immigrant rights, and labor protections, among other things.  We met her at an event we helped organize to support Tim Canova, a progressive candidate for the House running against Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  We exchanged phone numbers, and stayed in touch, planning to organize a similar event for Maria when the time was right, and ultimately picked a date to have the event.  Some details were still TBD, but it felt like it was going to happen.  Very exciting.

I subsequently learned about her comments about Zionism, “God’s Chosen People”, and her “enjoyment” of Louis Farrakhan’s speeches, and her standing by those comments.  My heart sank into my stomach.  The first thing I thought was “someone put a rhetorical “hit” on Maria - this was crazy”.  But it turned out to be true.  Now, I can understand how people that do not follow Israel closely might confuse Zionism for radicalism - this is not the case, Zionism means support for the state of Israel, not support for right-wing policy and biblical rhetoric that tries to solely claim the Zionist mantle.  She also accused Israel of “genocide” without (to my knowledge) a concurrent condemnation of violence initiated by Hamas, which is a perpetrator of terrorism and also responsible for many deaths.  Even that might be able to be walked back as excessive rhetoric.   (For the record, I oppose Netanyahu’s settlement policy, his approach (or lack thereof) to relationships with the Palestinians, his over-response to the recent Gaza protests.  I’ll have more to write on that in a future post.)  However, there’s zero excuse for citing support for Farrakhan’s speeches, and refusing to back off of that stance.  And that, coupled with her other comments, including getting mad at CA Dem Chair Eric Bauman for not keeping “your party, your religion, and your people in check” really makes me believe that she may not like Jews.

This was a surprisingly difficult moment for me I’ll admit - I was super excited about Maria’s candidacy, and was ready to go all in on it.  I wanted to reach out to Maria and see what was going on, and frankly was ready to step up and defend her if there was some kind of misunderstanding.  We reached out to Maria to respectfully inquire about it - after all, people can be misunderstood, or not quite aware of the impact of their words - but we received no response.  Remember, we were in contact with her over text and messenger to coordinate an event for September.   She did not appear to want to discuss it with us.

This is a non-starter.  Let’s be clear - Louis Farrakhan hates Jews.   His hatred of Judaism is central to his world view, and in his view many of the problems the world is experiencing today is because of Jews.   It is not possible to take “parts” of Farrakhan’s speeches as they are replete with anti-Semitic rationales for the U.S. and the world’s problems.  Anti-Semitism is a feature, not a bug, of Louis Farrakhan.  Karen mentioned to me if we were invite people to a round table about building peace and civil institutions, Farrakhan would not be at that table.

We had hoped to host an event with her to promote progressive values but that will not be happening. I’m still mad, we need progressive candidates who uphold and advocate civil rights for everyone.  And respect for all peoples is core to that goal.  Full stop.


Haleakala Sunrise

We were in Maui and watched the sunrise from the top of Haleakala, about 10,000 feet above sea level.  Three representative pictures below.  (It was flippin' cold too).

Sun is well below the horizon - it was probably at least another half hour before the sun actually came up.  

Sun is well below the horizon - it was probably at least another half hour before the sun actually came up.  

Still below the horizon - you can really see the heavenly rays of light.  

Still below the horizon - you can really see the heavenly rays of light.  

Sunrise at last! 

Sunrise at last! 

Book Review - A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey

 A Higher Loyalty, By James Comey

Of course I had to read this book, given all the drama surrounding the 2016 presidential election, Russian interference in it and its links to the Trump campaign, the Mueller investigation and of course Hillary Clinton’s emails.  I’ll say at the outset Comey is a very persuasive writer and storyteller - after all, he was the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York,  Deputy Attorney General under G.W. Bush, as well as the head of the FBI, the nation’s top law enforcement agency.  He knows how to make a case.  I would say it is a good idea to put that filter on while reading the book, to help maintain an ability to analyze what he is saying.  

The upshot of the book is it is primarily a defense of the FBI and its (and his own) handling of the investigation into the Clinton emails as well as the investigation into Russian interference in the election, and Comey’s own dealings with Donald Trump.  

Relating to the Clinton e-mails, Comey goes into a good deal of detail as to why he went public both times - once in June of 2016, and again right before the election in late October.  Essentially, the conflicts of interest involved and data that got into the hands of the House GOP that could be leaked without proper analysis led Comey to announce on his own in October - without the Attorney General - the fact that additional emails came to light that needed to be analyzed.  You have to read the book to get the full accounting.

As for Donald Trump, Comey’s account largely relates to his interactions with Trump after the election - with each encounter described in exacting and compelling detail, threading an overall narrative of how Trump deals with the people around him.  You get a clear sense of how Trump was seeing the election, the emails, and his perceived exposure to the Russian investigation.  Early in the book Comey relates his experiences as a prosecutor, bringing cases against organized crime, in particular against the Gambino family.  It is this experience that leads him to compare Donald Trump to a mob boss, with the demands of personal loyalty, bullying, an “us versus them” mentality, the lying with impunity, casting people out with public shame, and so on.  Frankly, it scared me not just a little to read this account.  As with the emails, you really have to give it a read to get a sense of it - the encounters are up close and personal.

If you are interested in the events leading up to the election, and are looking for a detailed first hand account of how the President interacts with his staff, then I would highly recommend this book.  Of course, the book is written from his point of view; even with the filter I suggest above, it is sitll a very interesting read.

Book Review - Grant, by Ron Chernow

Grant, by Ron Chernow

As soon as I started reading this book, I pretty quickly realized that I didn’t know very much about the man.  And I wondered if others felt this way too.  I unscientifically asked a few folks “what do you know about U.S. Grant?”  The answer invariably came back “Well, he was a drunkard, and used brute force to overwhelm Lee to win the Civil War.  Bad president.”  And that’s what I had thought as well.

In the same vein as David McCullough’s rehabilitation of John Adams, Ron Chernow provides us with a rich narrative of Grant’s life, providing deep and exploratory insights into his character, working through both his strengths and weaknesses.  Ultimately we learn that Grant, while having certain weaknesses and blind spots, found ways to conquer many, but not all, of the key issues that faced him during his life.  

Grant’s early military career ended in his getting kicked out for drunkenness, and he subsequently went into business, and failed miserably at it.  He was married to Julia Dent, who came from a slaveholding family in Missouri (Grant’s father-in-law remained unrepentant his entire life).  Grant, however, got his chance to get back into the military when the war started.  Between his wife Julia, and his closest military aide John Rawlins, Grant by and large controlled his drinking problem throughout the war, and later on, his presidency.  

We learn that Grant, far from being just a meat grinder general, was actually an astute strategist and tactician.  The battle and capture of Vicksburg, for example, ranks among the great military campaigns in world history.   Grant was also the first modern general to command multiple far flung, highly mobile armies in a unified, coordinated campaign, primarily utilizing Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee and Meade’s Army of the Potomac, as well as Phil Sheridan’s cavalary units.  Grant’s capture of Vicksburg, and Sherman’s subsequent march through the South, kept Joe Johnston’s army away from the eastern theatre while Grant (now in charge of all US Armies) and Meade kept Lee occupied.  Grant did acknowledge his campaign at Cold Harbor was one of the biggest regrets he had. 

Grant fully supported Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and was instrumental in accepting and organizing freed slaves in the nation’s war effort.  Grant, more than any other person, was responsible for how newly freed black Americans were treated on initial contact.  No less than Fredrick Douglass said of Grant:  

“To [President and General Ulysses S. Grant] more than any other man the negro owes his enfranchisement and the Indian a humane policy. In the matter of the protection of the freedman from violence his moral courage surpassed that of his party; hence his place as its head was given to timid men, and the country was allowed to drift, instead of stemming the current with stalwart arms.”  

Douglass’ second sentence is an indictment of the Republican Party growing weary of Grant’s ongoing efforts as President to combat, mostly successfully until the end of his second term, violence against blacks in the South, more on this in a moment.  Grant also was astute in offering generous terms to both Lee and Johnston on surrender - avoiding, until the Klan came up in the 1870s, continued guerrilla warfare from remnants of the Confederate Army.  Congress, and the Union States with Grant’s public support, passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Ratification of these was required for a Confederate State to rejoin the Union.

As President, Grant seemed to find ways to surround himself with people who were corrupt - and he was often the last to see it.  On the other hand, Grant’s support for black Americans was unwavering - appointing the first black ambassador for the U.S., as well as a number of other administration posts.  He repeatedly sent troops down to the South to quell violence against black Americans, and worked to crush the Klan terror that sprung up during the Johnson administration.  Grant was a major proponent of Reconstruction, and during that time there were black congressmen and senators, as well as local elected officials.  Ultimately, however, the North got weary of federal troops in the South, and as federal troops left, Jim Crow arrived.  Without a military presence, Reconstruction was doomed.  

Grant’s record as president is decidedly mixed - the corruption scandals throughout his presidency reflected poor judgment, and while he made huge efforts to combat violence against blacks in the South, he alone could not stem the dismantling of Reconstruction.  In the end, Chernow presents Grant  as an earnest servant of the United States, however imperfect, and a staunch supporter of civil rights.



This is not right

I have been struggling to find words to address what is happening to children of immigrants who are separated from their parents.  If you have not heard the recording obtained by Pro Publica, it is here.   This policy - people are calling it a policy, but it is better called an attack on children and families - is angry and pointed.  The entire administration soup to nuts insists this attack is necessary, and says it can’t do anything about it unless someone else does something about it, such as Democrats (who do not control any branch of Federal Government it should be noted).  Jeff Sessions and Kristjen Nielsen (DHS Secretary) are saying "we must enforce the law" consequences be damned, despite the law not requiring separation.  Prosecutors, after all, have discretion in the crimes that they file charges for - there is no requirement to file charges and take a child away.   This "zero tolerance" nonsense is needlessly cruel, and does not discriminate against families who truly are fleeing their country and someone who may be trafficking.   Trump and his administration are playing the victim, that these families may contain "murderers and thieves" all the while caging young children.   At the same time, they say this "policy" could stop if its demands on immigration legislation are met.  This is a textbook definintion of misdirection and propaganda, and is creating a crisis to use as a hostage to further the administration's own ends.  (By the way, coincidentally or not, did you notice that the U.S. just withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council?  Not a good look.)   It is clear that an absolute lack of empathy for human beings is the policy of the United States.

All of this reminded me of a quote from the 20th century - “Close your hearts to pity.  Act brutally.”  Remember who made that quote?  This administration is closing its hearts to pity, acting brutally.  If you think I am being hyperbolic consider that the administration has separated over 2,000 children from their parents over the last six weeks and warehoused them in converted Wal-Marts, industrial tents, while de-humanizing their parents as potentially murderers and thieves.  And the excuse is - just following orders (orders being the purported “law” or in  case of ICE and DHS, literally following orders of Sessions & Trump).  Support of Trump and this administration means complicity in these events.  This is not something the United States should be standing for.  I do not stand for it.  We are all fellow human beings - worthy of dignity, respect, and the right to be with our families.   We are a nation of immigrants.  The time to speak up is now.

Splitting up California is a bad idea

I have one word for you on this:  Water.  Putting aside the issues of breaking up the university system, infrastructure maintenance, prisons, bond debt, et. al. - the fight over water would be insane.  I can't imagine how that would play out in reality.  I am pretty sure it would be very difficult and ugly.  LAT has an overview piece here.

Just to give some perspective - let's say a multi-state authority - think along the lines of New York/New Jersey Port Authority - was established to manage water between the three states.  The Port Authority of NY and NJ has jurisdiction over the Hudson River crossings, the three major airports in the region - JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and other multi-state infrastructure (e.g., Bayonne Bridge).  In practice, this isn't always such a great idea - we lived in NJ and watched NY and NJ try to jockey resources of the PA for its own benefit.  An example of this was Chris Christie redirecting PA funds for repairs to the Pulaski Skyway in NJ - an old freeway entirely based in NJ, that is not a Hudson River crossing that would fall within the scope of the PA.   Additionally, both the NYC and NJ governers (Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie) also vetoed legislation that was unanimously passed by both state legislatures designed to provide more oversight to the PA - in part because of the Pulaski Skyway issue.

California is a diverse state that for all its faults, manages to lead the nation in technology, environment, the economy, civil rights and countless other issues.  Yes, we have major problems as well - lack of public school funding and an acute homeless crisis are two - and yet we still manage to have influence both in the U.S. and around the world.  As the fifth largest economy in the world, California is a force to be reckoned with.  I see no reason to walk away from California as the strong, united beacon it is today.


Afternoon Marine Layer

On a recent flight out of LA I was looking out the window and really caught a great view of the heavy marine layer that was enveloping the Santa Monica Bay.   I also caught a pic of the PV peninsula.

Sunset and the marine layer looking northwest.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

Sunset and the marine layer looking northwest.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

Looking north, heading west just after takeoff before the turnaround to go east.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

Looking north, heading west just after takeoff before the turnaround to go east.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

Marine layer looking west over the ocean as we began the turnaround to go east.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

Marine layer looking west over the ocean as we began the turnaround to go east.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

View looking south at the Palos Verdes peninsula.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

View looking south at the Palos Verdes peninsula.  (c) J. Sarrow 2018

(c) J. Sarrow 2018