Archive for October, 2016

Dickens vs. Trollope

October 31, 2016

I read Charles Dickens’ Bleak House as part of a novel-reading group hosted by my friend Linda White.  We read it after reading the six novels in Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series and the six in his Palliser series.

Trollope was a good storyteller.  I got a lot of pleasure out of reading his novels.  But reading Dickens after reading Trollope gives me an added appreciation of the greatness of Dickens.

Both Dickens and Trollope created memorable and believable characters, whom we talked about as if they were real people.

charlesdickensbleakhousemd19091475224Trollope’s characters were like people I know, if the people I knew had grown up in Victorian England.  The women in the reading group said Trollope was remarkable for knowing how women talked among themselves when there were no men around.

A few of the Trollope characters were completely villainous, but were mixtures of good and bad, and Trollope regarded them with amused tolerance.

Dickens’ characters were much more extreme—the good ones were much better, the bad ones were much worse, the eccentric ones were much more strange, but they all were memorable and believable.

Both Trollope and Dickens were keen social observers.   Trollope was a keen observer of the middle and upper classes.  In fact, one of his protagonists was a Prime Minister.  But he treated the lower class as comic characters.

Dickens did not reach so high in his observations, but described the lives of the poor as sympathetically as the lives of the middle class.

He depicted characters on every level of society, from aristocrats to paupers in the slums, some caring and responsible, some hypocritical and self-deceiving and some cunning, manipulative and cruel.

He thought that no matter who you were, your moral choices made a difference, and he accordingly was much more judgmental than Trollope.

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The real threat of vote-rigging

October 31, 2016

Donald Trump’s supporters say the integrity of the coming U.S. election is threatened by illegal voting.  Hillary Clinton’s supporters say it is impossible to rig the U.S. election.  They’re both dead wrong.

The real problem is the vulnerability of electronic voting machines to hacking and the lack of transparency in vote counting.

LINKS

We Will Never Know If Electronic Voting Compromises Elections; Democrats Should Worry About This by Mike the Mad Biologist.

DHS Seeks to Protect U.S. Election Infrastructure – But Is That Even Possible? by Brad Friedman for The BRAD BLOG.

How to Hack an Election in Seven Minutes by Ben Wofford for POLITICO

America’s Electronic Voting Machines Are Scarily Easy Targets by Brian Barrett for WIRED.

Democracy’s Gold Standard: Hand-Marked, Hand-Counted Paper Ballots, Publicly Tabulated at Every Polling Place in America by Brad Friedman for The BRAD BLOG.

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A really frightening trick-or-treater

October 31, 2016

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Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Kittens in mid-pounce

October 29, 2016

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These photographs are from the Pounce portfolio of Seth Casteel.

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Ruby K. Payne on understanding poverty

October 27, 2016

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Ruby K. Payne is a teacher who thinks that middle class teachers often fail to understand poor children because they don’t understand that the poor operate by different rules than the middle class.

In her book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, she says that holding on to poverty’s survival rules will hamper you if you try to function in the middle class.

It is not that one is good and the other is bad.  It is that their situations are different.  If you don’t know from one month to the next whether you’re going to be able to pay the rent, for example, you aren’t likely to planning your career goals for 10 years from now.

Social class is a taboo topic among Americans.   So long as we can see somebody below us on the social and economic scale, and somebody able us, we think of ourselves as middle class, even if we’re in the lower 10 percent or the upper 10 percent of income earners.

Thinking of ourselves as all “middle class” binds us Americans together.  As Ruby Payne points out, it also blinds us to real differences.

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The hidden rules of social class

October 27, 2016

Could you survive in poverty?  A checklist

_____1. I know which churches and sections of town have the best rummage sales.

_____2. I know where the nearest food bank is and when it is open.

_____3. I know which grocery stores & garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food.

_____4. I know how to get someone out of jail.

_____5. I know how to physically fight and can defend myself if necessary.

_____6. I know how a person can get a gun even if they have a police record.

_____7. I know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the Laundromat.

_____8. I know what problems to look for in a used car.

_____9. I know how to live without a checking account.

_____10. I know how to get by without electricity and without a phone.

_____11. I know how to use a knife as scissors.

_____12. I can entertain a group of friends with my personality and my stories.

_____13. I know what to do when I don’t have the money to pay my bills.

_____14. I know how to move my residence in less than a day.

_____15. I know how to feed 8 people for 5 days on $100.

_____16. I know how to get and use food stamps.

_____17. I know where the free medical clinics are and when they are open.

_____18. I am very good at trading and bartering.

_____19. I know how to get around without a car.

_____20. I know what day of the month welfare and social security checks arrive.

Source: Knowledge of the Hidden Rules of Social Class: A Questionnaire

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The danger of war with Russia over Syria

October 27, 2016

During the whole of the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never faced each other on the battlefield.  Both sides feared possible escalation into nuclear war.

If the United States proclaims a “no fly” zone in Syria or sends troops to create a “safe zone” for anti-Assad forces, there is a real danger of a shooting war between the United States and Russia.

The United States and Russia are the only two nations with enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other.  Presumably leaders of neither nation want this, but who knows what a direct Russian-American conflict could escalate into?  And for what?

LINKS

Making Sense of the Russian Task Force Off Syria by The Saker, a pro-Russian blogger.

Is the US Headed Towards War in Syria?, an interview with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, on the Real News Network.

Looking Ahead: Clinton’s Plans for Syria by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Fact Check: Trump Is Right That Clinton Might Cause WW3 by Carl Herman on Washington’s Blog.

What the election won’t change

October 26, 2016

A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup by John W. Whitehead for Counterpunch.

‘Critical support’ of Hillary Clinton?

October 25, 2016

Choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is like choosing between Richard Nixon and George Wallace.

One heads a powerful machine dedicated to preserving the status quo.  The other is rebel who appeals to hatred and prejudice.

GettyImages-480679428.0I can understand why someone might support the Nixon-like candidate as a lesser evil.  The expression for this is “critical support”, which is means you may support a candidate, but reserve the right to call the candidate to account.

The problem with this is when the support ceases to be critical, which is what I see happening.   I know a number of liberal Democrats who are so afraid of Donald Trump that they think it out-of-bounds to point out that Clinton is a warmonger and literally a paid servant of Wall Street.

Support for a candidate should never be unconditional.  If you demand nothing in return for your support of a candidate, nothing is what you’ll get.

The leaked Hillary Clinton e-mails, especially the ones with the excerpts from her Goldman Sachs speeches, show that she regards her rich donors as her peer group, but that she finds it necessary to appease her core voters, as with the Dodd-Frank banking reforms.

The fact that Clinton can be pressured is, as I see it, the only argument for anti-war, pro-labor, pro-consumer or environmentalist Democrats to support Clinton.  And they are naive if they give their support without demanding commitments in return.

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Bible Christianity and social justice

October 19, 2016

One of the distinctive things about the Forward Together social justice movement led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II in North Carolina is that it is based on religion.

He believes that politics has to be based on morality and his morality is based on religion—not religion in general, but specifically the Bible-based conservative African-American church tradition.

And even though that tradition puts its stamp on all of Rev. Dr. Barber’s People’s Assemblies and Moral Mondays, he is able to rally people of many different religious traditions and of no specific religion at all.

Now, I don’t think it should be surprising that a progressive political movement should arise from a theologically conservative form of Christianity.

After all, the followers of Jesus and St. Paul were people, most of them poor, living under an oppressive government.  In the Gospels, the presumption is that a rich man or a government official is a sinner unless shown to be otherwise.

St. Paul taught that in Christ, there are no distinctions between rich or poor, free or slave, male or female, Greek or Jew (and presumably white or black).

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4Christianity is rooted in Judaism whose lawgiver, Moses, who forged a nation consisting of fugitive slaves.   Later Hebrew prophets denounced rulers of Israel for oppression of the poor.

Now, although the early Christian communities were models of what a just and compassionate society would look like, neither Jesus nor St. Paul was a revolutionary or a social reformer.  Furthermore Christians developed a priesthood which, like almost all priesthoods in history, allied itself with the rich and powerful.

But the basic Christian teaching of justice and compassion for the poor never died out.   And down through history, there have been Christians who have taken the next step—to attempt to create a just and compassionate society instead of simply waiting for the Last Days.

Rev. Barber grew up in that tradition.   “I cannot remember a time when I did not know God to be both real and to be about bringing justice into the world,” he wrote in The Third Reconstruction.

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Rev. William J. Barber II on peace and justice

October 19, 2016

The Rev. William J. Barber II is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and leader of a non-violent social justice movement called Historic Thousands on Jones Street.

The video above is his response on July 8 to the killings of black men by police in Baton Rouge and in St. Anthony,, MN, within a 24-hour period, followed by the killings of five police officers in Dallas.   The video below is from his address to the Democratic National Convention on July 28.

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Russia accused of war by using weaponized truth

October 18, 2016

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Russian intelligence services are accused of waging cyber-warfare by releasing embarrassing Hillary Clinton e-mails through Wikileaks.

There is no direct evidence of where Wikileaks got the Clinton e-mails, but the Russians have the capability and the motive to hack her system.

Would this be an act of war?  I for one would welcome war by means of weaponized truth.

If revealing accurate information about your geopolitical enemy is a form of warfare, I think escalation of this kind of warfare would be a good thing and not a bad thing.

I think the NSA and the CIA should retaliate by arranging the release of damaging secret information about Vladimir Putin—maybe through Wikileaks as a form of poetic justice.

In fact, there are those who think they already have done so, through the Panama Papers leak

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An outsider’s view of the U.S. election

October 18, 2016

Hat tip for the video to peteybee.

Tariq Ali is a distinguished British left-wing writer, born in Pakistan, who has lived in London for the past 50 or so years.  In this commentary, he sums up the issues in the U.S. election calmly, objectively and accurately.

He refutes progressives who say that anybody who fails to support Hillary Clinton is objectively a supporter of Donald Trump.

It is as if the two leading candidates were Richard Nixon and George Wallace, and leading liberal politicians and newspapers accused anybody who criticized Nixon of being pro-Wallace.

My great fear is not that Trump will win the current election, but that he and his supporters will become the main alternatives to the status quo.

There is a real possibility Hillary Clinton will blunder into nuclear war with Russia.   Even if that can be avoided, we can expect more military intervention and failure to cope with the next recession.  Her policies will make the Trump movement stronger—unless progressives can offer a better way.

Why white supremacists support Donald Trump

October 18, 2016

A good article in Mother Jones tells how Donald Trump has sought and received the support of avowed white supremacists.

Nowadays the word “racist” is used very loosely, like the word “Communist” during the McCarthy era.   I’ve even been called a “racist” myself in conversation a couple of times.  By “racist”, I mean people who state that members of certain races are genetically inferior and should not have equal rights.   Such racists exist.   And Donald Trump has successfully sought their support.

He has done this by quoting them (without attribution) and by using their talking points.   An example of this was an infographic, taken from a white supremacist Twitter feed, falsely claiming that blacks were responsible for 81 percent of homicides of whites.  The truth is that 82 percent of homicides of whites are the result of white-on-white crime.   But Trump refused to back down or retract in the face of the facts.

That is not to say that the mass of Trump supporters are racists, any more than the mass of Clinton supporters are war hawks and plutocrats.   That’s not the issue.   The issue is whether Trump as President or, more likely, as a permanent opposition voice will promote racism.

LINK

How Donald Trump Took Hate Groups Mainstream by Sarah Posner and David Neiwrt for Mother Jones.

The danger of war with Russia is real

October 16, 2016

Russia Is Preparing for War While the American Public Slumbers On by Gilbert Doctorow for Russia Insider.

Where ISIS gets its money

October 16, 2016

We finally know what Hillary Clinton knew all along — US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding Isis by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.

Time for another Reconstruction?

October 14, 2016

Black people in the South were liberated during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War.   It was followed by a white backlash and the Jim Crow era, in which most of their newly won rights were taken away.

Then came the civil rights era of the 1960s and 1970s, which the Rev. William J. Barber II, leader of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, calls a second Reconstruction.  Another white backlash attacked the gains from that era.

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4Rev. Dr. Barber says it is time for a third Reconstruction.   Like the first two, he said, it requires fusion politics—blacks and whites working together for the common good.   The backlash succeeds only when they are divided.

To see what he means, take a look at the Constitution of North Carolina, originally drafted in 1868 and retaining much of its original wording.  It is a very progressive document, even by today’s standards.

It states that not all persons created equal and have the right not only to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but to  “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.”

It guarantees free public education as a right.  It states that beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate and the orphan is among the first duties of a civilized and a Christian state.   It guarantees all the rights in the U.S. Constitution and eliminates property qualifications for voting.

All these provisions are the result of Reconstruction.  North Carolina’s present Constitution was drafted at a constitutional convention immediately following the Civil War.   The 133 delegates included 15 newly enfranchised African-Americans and 18 Northern white men (so called carpetbaggers).

It was ratified by a popular vote in which 55 percent voted “yes”.   As a result, more African-Americans were elected to public office in North Carolina in the following period than at any time since.

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Fear and loathing of Bernie Sanders

October 14, 2016

Swat Team: The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders and real reform by Thomas Frank for Harper’s magazine.  What the Washington Post’s coverage of the Sanders candidacy reveals about the liberal establishment mentality and the future of American journalism.

Moral Mondays and the new fusion politics

October 13, 2016

A Bible-believing black minister in North Carolina is the leader of a new movement called that has brought tens of thousands of people of different races, creeds and backgrounds into the streets in support of social justice.

He is the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C.  Firmly rooted in the African-American church tradition, he brings together people of all races and many creeds.

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4I read about his work in his new book, THE THIRD RECONSTRUCTION: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics and the Rise of a New Social Justice Movement.

He wrote that the histories of Reconstruction following the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which he calls the Second Reconstruction, show that black people achieve their goals only through “fusion politics”—white and black people working together for their mutual benefit.

In 2005, soon after being elected president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, he joined with Al McSurely, an experienced white civil rights activist, to organize a meeting of a broad cross-section of reformers in the state—advocates of education funding, living wage, health care, affordable housing, environmental justice, immigrant justice, criminal justice reform and many others.

He had each group draw up its goals on a big sheet of butcher paper and then, on another sheet, list the obstacles to achieving those goals.

The goals were diverse, but the obstacles were the same—North Carolina’s state government and the corporate interests that controlled it.

This was the birth of a new movement called HKonJ, which stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, the location of the state legislature in Raleigh.  Each year they bring together a People’s Assembly, which hears testimony of victims of injustice and speakers about how injustice can be remedied, and then closes with a sermon and prayer.

Then they march on the legislature to make their voices heard.  Because they represent such a large cross-section of North Carolinians, it is hard to dismiss what they say out of prejudice against a particular group.

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Why Trump supporters aren’t going to go away

October 12, 2016

Six reasons for Trump’s rise that no-one talks about by David Wong for Cracked.com.

How the GOP locked in control of Congress

October 12, 2016

Democrats stand an excellent chance of keeping control of the White House and a reasonable chance of regaining a majority in the Senate, but it’s a foregone conclusion that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives not only for the next two years, but for the next 10 years or more..

That’s because of a successful plan, code-named REDSTATE, that Republican operatives implemented starting in 2010.  By targeting money at key state legislative races, they ensured Republican control of state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.

rat666c-838x621Then they used Big Data to draw legislative and congressional districts in such a way as to guarantee Republican majorities, even when Democrats won a majority of the state’s popular votes.

David Daley described this in his book, Rat-F**ked: How the Democrats Won the Presidency But Lost America.   I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read an excerpt and interviews, to which I link below.

Gerrymandering goes back to the early days of the Republic, and has been used by Democrats and Republicans.  What’s new about REDSTATE is the use of Big Date—detailed demographic information and computer analysis—to make gerrymandering more precise and impregnable than ever was possible before.

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Black voters matter

October 11, 2016

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Fatal police shootings of black people are fewer in states where black voter registration is higher.

Statistically, the higher the percentage of an eligible black voters are actually registered to vote in any state, the less likely it is that a black person in that state will be shot and killed by police.

LINK

An Intriguing Link Between Police Shootings and Black Voter Registration by Maimuna Majumder for Wired.

All we talk about is Trump! Trump! Trump!

October 10, 2016

A great many important issues face us Americans as a new Presidential term begins—nuclear weapons, trade agreements, fracking, climate change, economic stagnation, the likelihood of financial crash.

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Campaign Rally in Vandalia, OhioBut among my circle of acquaintances, hardly anybody wants to talk about these things.  All anybody wants to talk about is Donald Trump, and the outrageous things he says.   It can be highly enjoyable to have such an obvious target.

I think that it is an objective fact that Trump is temperamentally, intellectually and morally unfit to be President of the United States.   I think this is becoming more manifest as the campaign goes on.  I base this more on his record as a business owner and public figure than what he says on a day-to-day basis, but what his statements show a lack of knowledge and a lack of discipline.

The problem is that the real problems of the country go unaddressed, and the most that can be hoped for in this election is a preservation of a bad status quo.

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The money vote

October 10, 2016

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In the 2010 federal elections, a quarter of all campaign donations came from the top 1% of the top 1% of Americans, by wealth; who gave $10,000 or more.   The differences are much more extreme now.

Source: Government for the Super Rich | Visual.ly

How the power of money was unleashed

October 8, 2016

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In a way, the enormous amounts of money that are spent in U.S. elections reflects the democratic nature of American institutions.

If the political process were controlled by a few party leaders, as during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and other times in the past, it wouldn’t cost so much to control the process.

Many reforms were enacted in the 20th century to limit corporate power and make the government more democratic.  The Tillman Act of 1907 forbid corporations to contribute to political candidates or elections.  The Constitution was amended in 1913 so that Senators would be elected by the public instead of chosen by state legislators.

Over time limits were placed on campaign spending, and the Democratic and Republican parties began to nominate their candidates through primary elections rather than party conventions.

These reforms made possible the legislation of the Progressive era and the New Deal, which subjected corporations to unprecedentedly strict regulation and rich people to taxation at top rates reaching 90 percent, while providing Social Security, unemployment insurance and extensive public works.

Business leaders made a concerted and successful effort to turn things around.  They altered the climate of opinion, both among educated people and the public.   They supported candidates committed not only to the interests of particular businesses, but support of unrestricted capitalism in general.

And they worked through the courts, just as liberals had, to change the limits of what was legally permissible.

What follows is a (very incomplete) list of milestones in their progress, with an emphasis on the legal milestones.

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