May 21

Howard Zinn: Against Discouragement

By Howard Zinn
At Spelman College, May 15, 2005

I am deeply honored to be invited back to Spelman after forty-two years. I would like to thank the faculty and trustees who voted to invite me, and especially your president, Dr. Beverly Tatum. And it is a special privilege to be here with Diahann Carroll and Virginia Davis Floyd.

But this is your day — the students graduating today. It’s a happy day for you and your families. I know you have your own hopes for the future, so it may be a little presumptuous for me to tell you what hopes I have for you, but they are exactly the same ones that I have for my grandchildren.

My first hope is that you will not be too discouraged by the way the world looks at this moment. It is easy to be discouraged, because our nation is at war — still another war, war after war — and our government seems determined to expand its empire even if it costs the lives of tens of thousands of human beings. There is poverty in this country, and homelessness, and people without health care, and crowded classrooms, but our government, which has trillions of dollars to spend, is spending its wealth on war. There are a billion people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East who need clean water and medicine to deal with malaria and tuberculosis and AIDS, but our government, which has thousands of nuclear weapons, is experimenting with even more deadly nuclear weapons. Yes, it is easy to be discouraged by all that.

But let me tell you why, in spite of what I have just described, you must not be discouraged. I want to remind you that, fifty years ago, racial segregation here in the South was entrenched as tightly as was apartheid in South Africa. The national government, even with liberal presidents like Kennedy and Johnson in office, was looking the other way while black people were beaten and killed and denied the opportunity to vote. So black people in the South decided they had to do something by themselves. They boycotted and sat in and picketed and demonstrated, and were beaten and jailed, and some were killed, but their cries for freedom were soon heard all over the nation and around the world, and the President and Congress finally did what they had previously failed to do — enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Many people had said: The South will never change. But it did change. It changed because ordinary people organized and took risks and challenged the system and would not give up. That’s when democracy came alive.

I want to remind you also that when the war in Vietnam was going on, and young Americans were dying and coming home paralyzed, and our government was bombing the villages of Vietnam — bombing schools and hospitals and killing ordinary people in huge numbers — it looked hopeless to try to stop the war. But just as in the Southern movement, people began to protest and soon it caught on. It was a national movement. Soldiers were coming back and denouncing the war, and young people were refusing to join the military, and the war had to end.

The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do — to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life.

Remember Tolstoy’s story, “The Death of Ivan Illych.” A man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he has done everything right, obeyed the rules, become a judge, married, had children, and is looked upon as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wonders why he feels a failure. After becoming a famous novelist, Tolstoy himself had decided that this was not enough, that he must speak out against the treatment of the Russian peasants, that he must write against war and militarism.

My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself — whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist — you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.

Recently I saw a photo on the front page of the New York Times which I cannot get out of my mind. It showed ordinary Americans sitting on chairs on the southern border of Arizona, facing Mexico. They were holding guns and they were looking for Mexicans who might be trying to cross the border into the United States. This was horrifying to me — the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call “civilization,” we have carved up what we claim is one world into two hundred artificially created entities we call “nations” and are ready to kill anyone who crosses a boundary.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary, so fierce it leads to murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking, cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on, have been useful to those in power, deadly for those out of power.

Here in the United States, we are brought up to believe that our nation is different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral; that we expand into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy. But if you know some history you know that’s not true. If you know some history, you know we massacred Indians on this continent, invaded Mexico, sent armies into Cuba, and the Philippines. We killed huge numbers of people, and we did not bring them democracy or liberty. We did not go into Vietnam to bring democracy; we did not invade Panama to stop the drug trade; we did not invade Afghanistan and Iraq to stop terrorism. Our aims were the aims of all the other empires of world history — more profit for corporations, more power for politicians.

The poets and artists among us seem to have a clearer understanding of the disease of nationalism. Perhaps the black poets especially are less enthralled with the virtues of American “liberty” and “democracy,” their people having enjoyed so little of it. The great African-American poet Langston Hughes addressed his country as follows:

You really haven’t been a virgin for so long.
It’s ludicrous to keep up the pretext

You’ve slept with all the big powers
In military uniforms,
And you’ve taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows

Being one of the world’s big vampires,
Why don’t you come on out and say so
Like Japan, and England, and France,
And all the other nymphomaniacs of power.

I am a veteran of the Second World War. That was considered a “good war,” but I have come to the conclusion that war solves no fundamental problems and only leads to more wars. War poisons the minds of soldiers, leads them to kill and torture, and poisons the soul of the nation.

My hope is that your generation will demand that your children be brought up in a world without war. If we want a world in which the people of all countries are brothers and sisters, if the children all over the world are considered as our children, then war — in which children are always the greatest casualties — cannot be accepted as a way of solving problems.

I was on the faculty of Spelman College for seven years, from 1956 to 1963. It was a heartwarming time, because the friends we made in those years have remained our friends all these years. My wife Roslyn and I and our two children lived on campus. Sometimes when we went into town, white people would ask: How is it to be living in the black community? It was hard to explain. But we knew this — that in downtown Atlanta, we felt as if we were in alien territory, and when we came back to the Spelman campus, we felt that we were at home.

Those years at Spelman were the most exciting of my life, the most educational certainly. I learned more from my students than they learned from me. Those were the years of the great movement in the South against racial segregation, and I became involved in that in Atlanta, in Albany, Georgia, in Selma, Alabama, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Greenwood and Itta Bena and Jackson. I learned something about democracy: that it does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice. I learned about race. I learned something that any intelligent person realizes at a certain point — that race is a manufactured thing, an artificial thing, and while race does matter (as Cornel West has written), it only matters because certain people want it to matter, just as nationalism is something artificial. I learned that what really matters is that all of us — of whatever so-called race and so-called nationality — are human beings and should cherish one another.

I was lucky to be at Spelman at a time when I could watch a marvelous transformation in my students, who were so polite, so quiet, and then suddenly they were leaving the campus and going into town, and sitting in, and being arrested, and then coming out of jail full of fire and rebellion. You can read all about that in Harry Lefever’s book Undaunted by the Fight. One day Marian Wright (now Marian Wright Edelman), who was my student at Spelman, and was one of the first arrested in the Atlanta sit-ins, came to our house on campus to show us a petition she was about to put on the bulletin board of her dormitory. The heading on the petition epitomized the transformation taking place at Spelman College. Marian had written on top of the petition: “Young Ladies Who Can Picket, Please Sign Below.”

My hope is that you will not be content just to be successful in the way that our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you. There are wonderful people, black and white, who are models. I don’t mean African- Americans like Condoleezza Rice, or Colin Powell, or Clarence Thomas, who have become servants of the rich and powerful. I mean W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Marian Wright Edelman, and James Baldwin and Josephine Baker and good white folk, too, who defied the Establishment to work for peace and justice.

Another of my students at Spelman, Alice Walker, who, like Marian, has remained our friend all these years, came from a tenant farmer’s family in Eatonton, Georgia, and became a famous writer. In one of her first published poems, she wrote:

It is true–
I’ve always loved
the daring
ones
Like the black young
man
Who tried
to crash
All barriers
at once,
wanted to
swim
At a white
beach (in Alabama)
Nude.

I am not suggesting you go that far, but you can help to break down barriers, of race certainly, but also of nationalism; that you do what you can — you don’t have to do something heroic, just something, to join with millions of others who will just do something, because all of those somethings, at certain points in history, come together, and make the world better.

That marvelous African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston, who wouldn’t do what white people wanted her to do, who wouldn’t do what black people wanted her to do, who insisted on being herself, said that her mother advised her: Leap for the sun — you may not reach it, but at least you will get off the ground.

By being here today, you are already standing on your toes, ready to leap. My hope for you is a good life.

Apr 25

Do Genes Make People Crazy?

The invention of the telescope in the early 1600s led to discoveries that soon disrupted and crashed centuries of belief about the earth, the sun, and the planets.  Something similar is happening in genetics, and in particular the genetics of psychological and psychiatric disorders. The new telescope is genome sequencing. For the first time, genome sequencing technology lets researchers look at the actual genetic makeup, the DNA, of an individual. The technology has become so inexpensive in the past decade that scientists can now read and compare the DNA of many thousands of individuals.

For well over a hundred and fifty years, scientists and the lay public have held as a core belief that the cause of major behavioral disorders, such as alcoholism, schizophrenia, and much else, lay in the affected individual’s genes. When genome sequencing became available early in this century, government and private labs set out with high hopes that “the alcoholism gene” and “the schizophrenia gene” and “the [whatever] gene” would soon be discovered. Once “the gene” was isolated, pharmacology would design a drug to target it and, presto, the disorder would be cured.

It hasn’t turned out that way. What the studies have found, instead, is that an individual’s genetic makeup has next to nothing to do with it.  In my recent book, Empowering Your Sober Self, I outlined how genomics research has wrecked traditional beliefs in “the alcoholism gene.”  Comparing the DNA of tens of thousands of diagnosed alcoholics with tens of thousands of normal people has turned up no significant genetic differences.

A similar disruption is roiling the neighbor fields of psychiatric studies, notably in schizophrenia. A report in the current (May 2017) issue of Scientific American covers the story. Some media headlines had trumpeted discovery of “the schizophrenia gene,” but careful reading of the actual research results showed nothing there.  Schizophrenia turns out to be extremely “polygenetic,” meaning that the DNA of people with that diagnosis shows a wide variety and large number of different genes, all of which are also present in great variety and large numbers in people without. None of the genetic variations rises to statistical significance.

The SciAm review, by Michael Balter, almost reads like a rewrite of my chapter on genetics from Empowering Your Sober Self with “schizophrenia” put in place of “alcoholism.”  It’s a human interest story, in its way, not only about the sufferers from these disorders, and their families and caregivers, but about the scientists in the field. Ironically, the new telescope is mostly in the hands of tradition-steeped researchers deeply invested in the belief that your genes make you crazy, drunk, criminal, stupid, whatever. Some of these scientists are shaken up by the negative messages their new toy is sending.  There’s fifty shades of denial. But, bottom line, the “schizophrenia gene” theory is a bust.

Meanwhile, pay dirt is showing up in research on environmental factors.  People who have psychotic symptoms are three times more likely to have suffered childhood adversity, such as emotional or physical trauma, migration, urban stress, and early cannabis use. Not everyone diagnosed with schizophrenia has a history of childhood trauma, and not all victims of childhood trauma become schizophrenic, but the correlation is strong enough — and much stronger than anything revealed by genome studies — to warrant attention to giving children better childhoods.

And there’s the rub. The theory that your genes make you crazy leads to a neatly packaged result pleasing to the pharmaceutical industry. There’s big money in that approach, even if it only helps with symptoms and is not a cure. By contrast, the insight that bad things in your environment are to blame suggests that the fix lies in ending wars, minimizing income inequality, providing health care for everyone, having universal preschool, ending  traumatic injustices, and stuff like that.  There’s no money in it.

Scientific American has done a good job here in bringing the ongoing disruption in psychiatric theory to a wider audience.

Apr 11

To Yosemite and Back in Chevy’s Bolt EV

Bridalveil Fall

“Let’s go to Yosemite!” said Sheila, my wife, pointing to a San Francisco Chronicle photo of raging waterfalls in the fabled valley.  We checked our calendars. We had the time for a quick visit, two nights, allowing one full day of hiking. There was only one problem. We had just become a one-car family, and that car was Chevrolet’s new all-electric vehicle, the Bolt. Bolt with a B, not the hybrid Volt with a V.

The Bolt has an advertised range of 238 miles on a full charge. Yosemite Valley, according to Google Maps, is 204 miles from our Berkeley home by the fastest route. That should be within the Bolt’s range, theoretically. But after three years’ experience with our all-electric Nissan Leaf we knew that highway speeds and uphill stretches could dramatically reduce the actual distance yield.  We weren’t ready to take a chance on sitting stranded with a drained battery on some desolate upslope in the Sierra foothills.

Moreover, once we arrived, we’d need a full charge to get back home again. That charge would have to come from a Level 2 charger, minimum, which can refill the Bolt’s battery pack overnight.  Going to the Plugshare app on the web, I found two  possible stations in the valley with that capacity.  One is located on the wall of a little shed in the parking lot for the Yosemite Village store.  Another is in the back of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, the former Ahwahnee.  Two other stations in the valley offered only 120-volt Level 1 charging, which might be good for golf carts but is useless for modern electric vehicles.

Neither the Village store nor the hotel charging site showed recent user check-ins.  That’s a bad sign suggesting that the stations may not be working or accessible. Thoughtless drivers of gas engine cars sometimes block electric charging stations.  Site management sometimes doesn’t maintain the equipment. Bottom line: we decided to look for lodging outside the Valley.

A lodge and resort with reasonable room rates located along the Merced River on Highway 140 seemed like a good deal, but its website mentioned nothing about electric vehicle charging, and it had no entry on the Plugshare app. But perhaps they had an accessible 220-volt outlet where we could plug in our portable charger? A phone call to the front desk reached a desk clerk who knew nothing about the topic, but suggested I call the manager later in the afternoon.  I asked to leave my number and have the manager call me back.  No, the manager doesn’t do phone calls.  Forget that place.

Tenaya Lodge now has eight Tesla superchargers, but that’s no help for the Bolt

Tenaya Lodge, in Fish Camp, is a longer drive to the Valley floor, but much more hospitable to the electric visitor. Late last year, the Lodge installed no fewer than eight Tesla charging stations. That shows a strong commitment to electric travel, but it didn’t help us because the Chevy Bolt can’t feed at Tesla chargers. The electric charging market is still fragmented between three incompatible plug formats: Tesla, ChaDeMo, and CCS. (There’s a potential niche market here for an adapter maker.)  The Bolt requires CCS.  However, Tenaya Lodge also has a combo Level 2 ChaDeMo/CCS charger, and Plugshare showed recent positive reviews.

A phone call to the lodge met with a friendly and cooperative staff member, who forwarded me to the head of the valet service. Yes, the CCS charger was working. There would be no charge for charging. I should tell the front desk when I checked in and they would handle it from there.

That was all the reassurance I needed. We booked two nights at Tenaya Lodge, at a rate not much higher than the electrically dead place on Highway 140.

But we still had the problem of getting there.  After considerable hunting on Plugshare and similar sites, I planned a pit stop in Madera, 158 miles out.  Madera is a bit of a detour but looked the safest bet for recharging. The Save Mart on Howard Road in Madera had a pair of Level 3 Fast Chargers with CCS connectors. Level 3 chargers can top up a Bolt in about the time it takes to have lunch. Recent check-ins gave assurance that the chargers were working.

The Bolt is smooth and comfortable on the freeway. We ran at the speed of traffic – mostly seventy or a bit more — on Highways 580/205/5 out to Manteca, and then south on the four-lane 99, passing endless lines of trucks. We found the Save Mart in Madera with no trouble.  The big fast chargers stood empty in front of the “Bakery – Deli” sign to the left of the storefront. The Bolt’s dashboard showed 59 miles left in the battery.

At the twin Level 3 chargers in front of the Save Mart in Madera

Moments after we pulled in, a Nissan Leaf pulled up next to us. A couple a bit younger than our retired selves got out and ogled the Bolt. They had seen us on the road and followed us in. They had tried to buy a Bolt, they said, but no dealer in this inland area carried them.  Their other car is a Tesla. They asked a dozen questions about the Bolt and we invited them to sit in it and check it out.  As I was plugging the Bolt into the charger, the man pulled out his Leaf charging card and activated the charge. Nissan, he explained (as I knew), offered free charging for two years for Leaf owners.  He was happy to pass the freebie along to us.  Chevy, are you listening?  Great idea!

After chatting more with our new friends, we headed into the Save Mart and bought some lunch. The market is similar to the larger markets here in the East Bay, offering a wide range of deli and prepared food items.  It only lacked a picnic table out front to enjoy them, but we made do.

At the Level 2 overnight charger at Tenaya Lodge

Forty minutes later the Bolt’s dashboard showed 145  miles on the battery. That should be plenty.  We unplugged and headed toward Highway 41 northbound for the last 56 miles.

Madera sits at 272 feet above sea level.  Fish Camp at 5,062 feet.  When we arrived at Tenaya Lodge, the Bolt’s battery showed 44 miles left.  In other words, on this uphill stretch of nearly five thousand feet, the car used about 100 miles of battery charge to go an actual 50-odd miles, or roughly two battery miles for each road mile.  Without the pit stop in Madera, we would not have made it.

Recharging at Tenaya Lodge turned out to be easier than advertised.  We did not even have to go to the front desk and ask.  As we unloaded our bags from the car, a valet noticed that we only had 44 miles left on the battery, and volunteered to take the car and plug it in for us.  Why not?  Valet service is included in the room price.  The next morning, another man brought the car back.  For some reason, it only showed 194 miles on the meter, instead of the full 238, but we didn’t care, that was plenty to get into and around the Valley.

Sheila and I at Tunnel View vista point

The drive through the South Entrance of the Park into the valley floor is 35 miles of winding forest road at 35 mph.  Because of its low center of gravity, the Bolt is a dream to drive on curvy roads. No leaning. Tracks like a railroad.  In between glances at the scenery, I kept an eye on the battery meter.  When the road climbed, the charge level dropped at one point to 174 miles. When we went downhill, the battery filled up again.  Yosemite Valley lies at 4,000 feet, a net drop of about a thousand feet from the Lodge.  When we arrived on the valley floor near the Merced River, the meter showed 205 miles in the “tank” – more than we started with.  Try that in a gas engine car!

It felt good to cruise the valley in an all-electric vehicle. No tailpipe emissions.  Absolutely silent except for tire noise.  It would be a blessing for this much-abused valley if more visitors could move electrically and fewer relied on internal combustion of petroleum products.

Hiking on the Valley floor

We had picked a magnificent day. We could see snow in the higher elevations.  Bridalveil Falls and Yosemite Falls came thundering down at full throttle, as described in the Chronicle, sending up clouds of almost icy mist as they hit bottom.  The loop trail, on which we walked half a dozen miles, had some muddy spots but was otherwise in excellent condition.  We felt uplifted and humbled by the valley’s magnificence.  At hike’s end we drove back to Tenaya Lodge with 161 miles showing on the dashboard.

Yosemite Falls

Valet service brought our car back the next morning charged to 210 miles.  Because our return trip was mostly downhill and because the East Bay suburbs have an adequate supply of fast charging stations should we need one, we did not plan for a pit stop.  We did not need one.

We normally drive the Bolt in “L” mode, and we did so on this trip.  The L stands for low gear in a gas engine car, but not in the Bolt. Like other electrics, the Bolt uses no gears, and “L” here doesn’t mean “Low.”  The engineers at Chevy just haven’t figured out a better one-letter label.  In L mode, the Bolt recharges its battery so aggressively when decelerating that it actually brings the car to a stop. L  mode enables “single-pedal driving,” where you accelerate by pressing down on the accelerator, in the usual way, and you slow down and stop by letting up on the same pedal.  You only need the brake pedal for unexpected sudden stops.

As we descended from Fish Camp in L mode, the battery charge meter kept climbing.  It soon hit 238 miles, the car’s nominal full range, and kept rising.  When we coasted into Oakhurst, the first town outside the National Forest, at 2,200 feet elevation, the charge meter showed 261 miles.  I wondered whether we might be doing the battery some harm by overcharging, but no alarm bells went off.  The only change I noted is that when I took my foot off the accelerator, the expected  deceleration was almost absent and I had to touch the brake. We got all the way to Merced, elevation 171 feet, a distance of almost 80 miles,  before the charge meter dropped to 200 miles.  Cruising on the freeways at the speed of traffic, we made it home to Berkeley with 65 miles left in the “tank.”

El Capitan seen from the Valley loop trail

The Bolt has greatly extended our travel range, compared to the Leaf with its 80-mile range. Our Leaf carried us reliably to and from Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with a recharging stop in the town of Point Reyes Station.  But Yosemite was out of its reach.  Still, even with the Bolt, a fast trip to a mountain destination like Yosemite required careful advance planning for a pit stop with a Level 3 fast charging station.

Yosemite National Park has gone through a change of management recently. Hopefully the new crew will take measures to enable more electric visitors. A new electronic firm on the market, Evrus, is advertising an express charger that can charge a Bolt from zero to 238 miles in less than 25 minutes. A bank of those in the Valley could bring much-needed relief to this majestic valley’s environment.

An unexpected sequel to our return trip is what seems to be an expansion of the car’s battery capacity. When we plugged in overnight upon reaching home, the next day the range meter read 240 miles.  We drove about 150 miles around town in the next week.  Last night I plugged it in again, and this morning the range indicator said 265 miles.  A short drive mostly downhill toward the Berkeley Marina brought it up to 266 miles. The car’s dashboard also estimates minimum and maximum range, depending on driving style and environment.  With 266 miles as the average, the estimated maximum was 313 miles.  Apparently the long downhill trip back from Yosemite has somehow stretched the battery.

I’m thinking that if we took local roads, kept the speed at about 50 instead of 75, and headed straight for the Valley floor, we might be able to reach Yosemite without a pit stop.  Next time.

Bolt battery range meter a week after Yosemite trip shows 266 miles average, 313 miles maximum.

Mar 11

Take Back Red

International Women’s Day demonstration at UC Berkeley campus

Berkeley’s local election continues to provide fuel for celebration as Kate Harrison won her race for the District 4 seat vacated by Jesse Arreguin when he became mayor.  The city council now has a 6-3 progressive majority. No doubt it’ll be a challenge to keep that bloc from splintering, but that’s another story.

Meanwhile another hopeful event took place on the UC Berkeley campus on International Women’s Day, March 8. The organizing group focused the rally on the grievances of university non-academic employees, the great majority of whom are women. What I found particularly heartening was that the rally organizers called on participants to “wear red.”  And indeed, many participants in the rally crowd made a vivid circle of bright, resplendent red. Yes!

Republicans have stolen the color red, and it’s time to take it back. The appropriation of red by the party of billionaires ranks high among the monstrous hypocrisies of our time. This hijack rips off not only a symbol, an element of a brand. It ruptures the chain of continuity between the progressive peoples of today and a long history of revolutionary struggles.

In Royalist France, the Garde Nationale raised the red flag to try to terrorize demonstrators on the streets.  “L’étandard sanglant” — the bloody banner — warned that the authorities would shoot.  And shoot they did, killing 50 people in a demonstration on July 17, 1791. Thereafter, the most fearless revolutionaries adopted red as their own flag, to commemorate the martyrs and to demonstrate that they would not be intimidated. The democratic revolutionaries of 1848 raised the red flag on their barricades.  Red was the color of Garibaldi’s struggle to unify Italy.  The Paris Commune of 1871 fought under the red flag, as did the Russian workers in the October revolution a century ago.  At the time I was a college student, the so-called “red states” were Russia, China, Vietnam, Albania, Cuba, and so on.

Red has for ages been the color of everything left of center in the British parliamentary democracy.  In most of Europe, red is the color not only of the Communist parties, but of the whole spectrum of social-democratic and left-liberal movements. It was no different in the U.S. Red was the color of the left, blue the color of the right throughout the twentieth century.  During the McCarthy persecutions — the “Red Scare”– nobody who read newspapers or listened to radio would associate millionaires and billionaires with the red flag.

How did we get to the current chromatic perversion?  A 2012 article in the Smithsonian points to the election of  2000 as the flipping point.  From the advent of color TV to the end of the century, TV newscasts by CBS and NBC generally showed Republicans as blue and Democrats as red. Only ABC experimented with the opposite. But within days of the 2000 vote, the New York Times and USA Today published detailed county maps using red for Republicans and blue for Democrats. According to Archie Tse, senior graphics editor for the Times, quoted in the Smithsonian piece, “I just decided red begins with ‘r,’ Republican begins with ‘r.’  It was a more natural association. There wasn’t much discussion about it.”  That became the new standard under which we suffer today.

At the risk of disclosing my native streak of paranoia, I have to say that I don’t buy this explanation.  The claim that the senior graphics editor for the major metropolitan daily of its time never eyeballed the political implications of the color scheme, and that nobody higher up said anything about it, insults the intelligence.  Nevertheless, until someone comes forward with a more credible story, we’re stuck with this one.

Today’s reportage from Moscow says that the Putin regime intends to ignore the 100th anniversary of the October revolution later this year, largely because it does not want to celebrate citizens taking up arms and overthrowing their rulers. There’s an argument to be made that the implosion of the Soviet Union in the late 80s, and its internal purge of most of its revolutionary history, amounts to a forfeiture of its moral claim to the color red, placing red, as it were, in the public domain, for anyone to grab. Once detached from its Soviet historical linkage, the color red is an attractive commodity. It’s warm, and it comes forward to the eye. It expresses love, passion, emphasis.  In Chinese culture, red stands for courage, loyalty, honor, prosperity, and other good things. All things the Republican party is not.

All the more reason for the people’s progressive movement to reclaim red as our color.  The great Women’s March this past January boldly established pink as a color of protest on an unprecedented scale. That was a great step toward red. The International Women’s Day rally on the UC Berkeley campus clearly and strongly put red back on the progressive banner.  Let’s take back red!

Sources:  Smithsonian, Wikipedia

 

Feb 15

An important local election

Kate Harrison

With the election of a progressive slate to Berkeley’s city council last November, former District 4 city council member Jesse Arreguin became mayor and vacated his council seat.  A special election to fill that seat is taking place via mail balloting only.  Mail ballots have been sent out to District 4 voters and are due in by March 6.  The candidates are Kate Harrison, a long time Berkeley activist with a successful government consulting business, and Ben Gould, a failed candidate in the Mayor’s race who is a graduate student in an M.A. program at UC Berkeley.

I don’t live in District 4, but the election of a city council member — especially in this district, which includes downtown Berkeley and a large slice of UC students — is of concern to all city residents.  I’m therefore reposting here, from Berkeleyside, an op-ed by my wife, Sheila Jordan, endorsing Kate Harrison.  I personally have donated money to Kate’s campaign and have done some telephoning and canvassing for her.

======================

By Sheila Jordan

Sheila Jordan recently retired as the Alameda County Superintendent of Schools. She is a Berkeley resident and is volunteering for Kate Harrison’s campaign.

As the recently retired Alameda County Superintendent of Schools and a Berkeley resident, I am supporting Kate Harrison for City Council District 4.

Kate looks like the girl next door but make no mistake: Kate is a heavyweight. In addition to the list of Berkeley commissions and committees on which she’s served, she’s worked successfully with the leaders of the City of San Francisco and the State Courts of California. She’s successfully consulted with 29 California counties and ten foreign countries. Her independence is an important quality. While a team player and excellent mediator, no one is going to intimidate her, overwhelm her, or take advantage of her.

Kate is a nuts-and-bolts kind of woman. As a Berkeley citizen activist, she’s been an advocate for the principles of a diverse, participatory and caring city. She knows that in government service, “the devil is in the details.” Government means delivering concrete benefits: potholes fixed, people hired, scholarships granted, tress planted, doors opened, paperwork handled – nuts and bolts. She’s made a living advising other governments how to deliver those kinds of human friendly services. Today she advocates for strongly supporting our prized public K-18 school systems as well as responsible affordable development that provides adequate housing for students and families. We need these qualities on the Berkeley City Council.

Kate knows how to focus on “getting the best bang for the buck.” In my 16 years as head of Alameda County’s K-12 school systems and in charge of approving all Districts’ budgets, I know that without the foundation of a stable budget, the city will flounder. Kate isn’t running for office as a topic for her graduate thesis. Although she has a graduate degree from UC Berkeley, she does not live in a campus bubble. She’s made a career of understanding how to achieve smooth running organizations. She and her husband own a home. She runs a business. She has been tested and vindicated in the real world. Kate will work with the Mayor, Council and community to find and cut waste. She will provide our new Council with vital expertise in finding and spending available resources to make this the best city we can be.

Sheila Jordan

Kate’s endorsements are many and impressive. The California Nurses’ Association, the SEIU, Berkeley Fire Fighters, Central Labor Council, UCB Progressive Student Association, Sierra Club, Berkeley Tenants Union, Alameda County Democratic Party, Hotel Workers Local 2850 … These endorsements testify to a recognition that in this council race, the best candidate by far is Kate Harrison. I’m proud to be part of her long list of individual endorsements!

Please remember to vote and mail your ballot!

Feb 07

Trump Looking for Violent Incident as Pretext

The Reichstag Fire in 1933, regardless of the culprit, gave Adolf Hitler a pretext for consolidating power as quickly placed blame for the fire on anarchists and Marxist elements. Now, writes Connolly, “the very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action.” (Photo: Wiki Commons)

 

Donald Trump is sounding very dangerous these days.

He attacks the very legitimacy of the courts, for instance, when he tweets that a “so-called judge” will be responsible if there is a terrorist act during the stay he has imposed on the ban against Muslim entry to the U.S. from seven countries. This is one more example of Trump’s demand that his executive commands be obeyed, regardless of other legal and constitutional considerations. Unfortunately, his actions also alert us to previous periods in U.S history when events were created to create a false context for reckless actions leaders wanted to take. LBJ’s production of a false Gulf Of Tonkin attack to press Congress for a war resolution and George W. Bush’s manufactured “facts” about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to pressure congressional support for the Iraq war are key examples. Trump has not moved there yet, but he is looking for the opportunity to do so.

“We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression.”

Reckless, authoritarian leader are periodically tempted by what might be called the “Reichstag Syndrome.” In 1933 Hitler was handed the Chancellorship of Germany by President von Hindenburg, even though he had not received a majority of votes.

Within three months a fire occurred in the Reichstag—the building in which the parliament met. Was it started by anarchists and Marxists as Hitler claimed? Was it started by Rohmer as Rohmer himself asserted much later? The cause is unclear. But Hitler used the event to announce the necessity of Martial Law to protect the regime. It was used as an occasion to destroy the opposition parties. The event became the cover under which he became Fuhrer.

Do I suggest that Trump and Bannon may follow that precedent? Not exactly. However, they are looking for an incident, an event, whether real or contrived, that allows them to take more extreme action without interference from demonstrations, the courts, or the Congress. The very visibility of our public actions against Trump—and they must be continued—encourages them to find a pretext of violence to escalate their demands and public support for more extreme action.

Our job as citizens is to spread the word about the Trump-Bannon temptation before such action is taken. Doing so to increase the likelihood of resistance against it if and when it happens. We must continue our protests, while publicizing how they will be nonviolent. They WANT us to be violent; they even hope to construct the appearance of it to justify their repression.

Trump is a very dangerous president; we must continue to define him as such even before he escalates his Big Lies further.

—————————————-

William E. Connolly is the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. His most recent book is, Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming (Duke, 2017)

Jan 21

Talking Carnage

Pat Brown, the current California governor’s father, observed somewhere that in politics, the language always rides off in the opposite direction from the policy. So, if the policy promotes war, its advocates profess nothing but peaceful intentions, and if the policy gouges the poor, the language that wraps the package sparkles with phrases of equality and charity.  

President Trump’s inaugural address can stand as a blue-ribbon model of this rule.  The key phrases aim resentment against elites, express love for the common people, and lay out a vision — an unshakeable dedication — to enter “a new millennium” of greatness.  

“Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth … The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country … there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our country … The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer … Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation … the crime and the gangs and the drugs … This American carnage stops right here and stops right now… From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land … America first, America first … We stand at the birth of a new millennium … You will never be ignored again.  Your voice, our hopes and dreams will define our American destiny.”  

It doesn’t quite have the revolutionary thunder of the Communist Manifesto, but if you read it out of context you might think that it came from the lips of some modern-day Spartacus, seething with rage against the machine and incandescent with a fever to turn the world right side up again.  

Unfortunately, there is a context.  There is the man from whose mouth it came, there is his history, and there is the crowd he is bringing into power with him. He’s no Spartacus.  He’s the son of a rich man. In his own real estate holdings there has been “little to celebrate for struggling families,” especially not for those who are African-American.

He has made his reputation building palaces and clubs for the rich, forgetting entirely the “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities.” He has invested nothing in reviving “rusted-out factories” here, preferring to have his branded commodities manufactured in Turkey and in China. Even the official inauguration caps with his name on them were made in China.

There has indeed been carnage in American cities, with hundreds of unarmed black and Latino men, women, and children murdered by men in uniform, who in some cities form the most dangerous of gangs. Has he spoken out against this carnage? Never. Does he show sympathy for the victims?  On the contrary.  He blesses the perpetrators, and throughout his campaign he has given aid and comfort to elements who emulate the Klan in all but the bedsheets.

He says, “For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.” Who’s the “we” in this sentence? It’s not you and me but the owners and bankrollers of American industry who have moved millions of jobs abroad by outsourcing manufacturing to lower wage areas. The resulting super-profits have vastly enriched the American billionaires.  Never in history have so few individuals owned so much as they do today.  

The most effective way to stop outsourcing is to tax those profits, cutting them to the rate that would have come from American labor.  Another cure is to tax the trillions in profits that American corporations stash abroad as if they were generated in America. Does the speaker have the courage to propose this kind of action? Only look around at the folks he is bringing with him to Washington. Never in American history has there been a cabinet so stunk up with billionaires. Nothing in the president’s history nor in his campaign statements hints at any intention to touch the golden river of profits that flows into their pockets. On the contrary, his proposals aim to widen and deepen that stream, on the pretense that jobs depend on it, even though American banks are already choked with trillions in corporate profits that nobody knows what to do with.  

Patriotism, the English wit Samuel Johnson observed, is usually the last refuge of a scoundrel.  Case in point: “America First.” By the sound of it, as patriotic a policy as could be imagined.  But then consider not only the Trump merchandise manufactured abroad, but also the source of the man’s wealth.  Because he burned most American banks with his bankruptcies and broken deals, much of his business financing has come from Russian sources. The hundreds of millions he spent to turn the old D.C. Post Office into his branded hotel came as a loan from Deutsche Bank.  Deutsche Bank is a scandal-plagued foreign institution that has been accused, among other frauds, of acting as a pass-through for Russian capital. And Trump comes into office with the major US intelligence agencies having concluded that the Russian government actively intervened in the US election in his favor. Any scoundrel in his precarious position would need to thump the tin tub of patriotism very hard indeed.  

“The time for empty talk is over.  Now arrives the hour of action.”  So he said, and by his actions he will be judged.  The first thing he did was to repeal an Obama executive order that eased the path to ownership for first-time home buyers. Next, he is dismantling the Affordable Care Act, which is providing health care coverage to more than 20 million Americans.  On his early list is defunding Planned Parenthood, cutting services for victims of domestic violence, and a series of other attacks that will entail widespread suffering and loss of lives.  Much worse is to come.  

No shroud of inaugural rhetoric can mask the calculated evil of this new administration. In earlier administrations, a Marxist had to put in some effort to expose the hands of the billionaires who were directing the ship of state from behind the scenes. Now the manipulative moguls have stepped in front of the curtain and dispensed with the bother of using front men to do their bidding. They’ve little acquaintance and much contempt for government ethics. If they have to put their assets in trust, it’s with the assurance that they’ll take them back again, with tax-free gains, when their term is over.  Their administration will be a carnival of corruption and corporate welfare.  They’ll run a garage sales of public assets for favored private hands. No protection, no safety net for “the struggling families all across our land” will be safe.  You’re talking carnage?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  

(To be continued)

 

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