Saturday, April 20, 2019

Silence gives consent

Now that the Mueller Report (the redacted version) is in the hands of the public there is a lot of discussion in the news about how the Democrats are divided. To impeach or not to impeach, that is the question (apologies to Shakespeare). The House Democratic leadership isn’t in favor. Number 2 Steny Hoyer says the voters can decide in 18 months. And others, with my own Rep. Rashida Tlaib out front, are saying the Mueller Report gives plenty of reasons to impeach.

I’m not going to share any reasons from the Dem leadership on why they don’t want to impeach, mostly because I haven’t heard one. The bit about letting voters decide is an excuse, not a reason. I will share many reasons why impeachment proceedings should begin – starting with replies to the nonsense from Hoyer.

* Hoyer is assuming fair elections. Based on 2016 I’m pretty sure they won’t be fair, especially since measures to make them more fair aren’t being implemented and measures to make them less fare are.

* Impeachment proceedings can explain to voters why they should not vote for the nasty guy. Cheri Jacobus explains:
Why spend millions of dollars in the 2020 election cycle trying to educate voters what the Mueller report says when you can educate them thru live, televised, unfiltered impeachment hearings? …

Which will more viewers/voters watch? (and subsequently become educated about what the Mueller Report actually says versus what Barr, Trump, Hannity and Limbaugh claim it says)
[ ] oversight hearings
[ ] impeachment hearings
That one speaks to my earlier thoughts that perhaps we should continue investigations and just not call them impeachment proceedings for now.

* Many Dem voters who helped flip the house in 2018 want to change Washington. The only way to do that now is to impeach. Taking impeachment off the table is making these voters cynical, with the feeling that both parties are the same. And cynical voters stay home.

Congressman Al Green rebuts Hoyer’s thinking:
When the Mueller investigation began, powerful voices indicated it was “too early” to impeach - wait for the Mueller report. Now that the report has been released, powerful voices are starting to indicate that it’s “too late” to impeach - wait for elections.
And Maris Lawson responds:
Every time a Democrat shuts down impeachment, Trump and the GOP become more emboldened and will try to get away with so much more evil. They know they won’t be held accountable and Dems are scared they will say something mean about them. It’s beyond old and so dangerous.
As does Carrie Luckas:
To quote @sianoresist “If we don’t Impeach Trump there is a very real possibility that there will be no presidential election in 2020.” Chew on that one.

And other reasons for why impeachment hearings should begin:

Laurence Tribe is coauthor of the book To End a Presidency, the Power of Impeachment. He tweeted a quote from Michelle Goldberg from the New York Times:
To not even try to impeach Trump is to collaborate in the Trumpian fiction that he has done nothing impeachable.
Commenters, starting with Greg Olear, add:
The opposite of impeachment is appeasement.
And from Peter Donato:
It's also complete capitulation to Russia vs an aggressive offensive to thwart their next election attack. We need to remind Putin & the world that interfering in the affairs of the USA will have consequences; the first step on that road is removing Trump by lawful means.
Nanette Price:
If we don't impeach we are saying we no longer live in a democracy, the Constitution means nothing & America is now ruled by a king (dictator) NO, I refuse to just hand my country over to Donald Trump & a Rep party that betrayed all of us to feed their greed.
Twitter user the Reconing is coming:
It doesn't matter if the Senate won't remove him. We can NOT allow his behavior to become the norm.
That tweet includes an image with the words:
Its no longer about whether Trump has any decency, but if we do.
The maxim is "Qui tacet consentit": the maxim of the law is "Silence gives consent". If you fail to hold hearings leading to an impeachment inquiry, you are giving permission to Trump to break any law he deems fit.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is the highest profile Democrat so far and the first prez. candidate to call for impeachment. She said the Mueller Report lays out the facts and puts the next step in the hands of Congress. Ignoring the nasty guy’s abuses suggests future presidents are free to abuse power in the same way. The House should initiate impeachment proceedings.

Leah McElrath notes that Warren’s statement did not come with a moneybeg. Both McElrath and I like that.

A comment from Sarah Kendzior, who studies authoritarian regimes:
It's rare people regret doing the right thing, even if they fail to achieve their end goal. The "what-ifs" are what keep people up at night with shame and regret.

For more in Kendzior’s reasons to impeach, see my post from a month ago.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Gentlemen farmers

I’ve finished the book The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. I bought it at an LGBT bookstore in Ann Arbor going out of buisness. Josh and Brent are a gay couple who live in New York City where Josh is an advertising executive and Brent is a Vice President of the Martha Stewart Living organization. One day, back in 2006, they drove through rural New York west of Albany. They were charmed by the little town of Sharon Springs. They spent the night at a hotel run by another gay couple. In the morning they passed the Beekman Mansion, built in 1802, and were charmed again. To their delight, it was for sale. The next spring they bought it and started to turn it back into a working farm.

Slight problem – they still worked in NYC during the week. Weekends became a sprint trying to finish all the tasks before they needed to head back to the city. Of course, they overdid it – Josh tells of a 36 hour session to can all the tomatoes because they would spoil before he could be back at the farm and he had put in so much effort to grow them.

There are tender moments, such as watching a goat give birth to triplets. Josh is also good with the witty comment. During the birthing process he comments:
I was shocked at how easy – and messy – it all seemed. The clumps of bloody goo surrounding the new kid looked a little superfluous to me. Was all that glop really necessary? If humans could engineer a spotless McDonald’s take-out window, couldn’t God have done the same?
There are other issued to deal with. Brett tried to bring Martha Stewart perfectionism to the farm. Josh decided to make the garden even bigger, then couldn’t keep up with it. The 2008 recession hit and both lost their jobs. They realized they have to come up with the way for the farm to be profitable. They started with goat milk soap and a country living website and that also threatened to overwhelm them.

However, they persevered. I just visited their Beekman 1802 website. Ten years later they’re still selling goat milk soap and lots of other stuff. Their farm has become a brand the features food, beauty products, and crafts by local people.

The book was fun. The website is just commercial, in spite of all they say. Even so, it may be worth it to see the mansion.

Nothing happens

The redacted version of the Mueller Report is out. The administration is spinning hard saying there’s nothing to see here. Progressives are saying actually, there is a great deal here that’s damaging to the nasty guy.

From a Twitter thread from a couple weeks ago Sarah Kendzior lists things that we don’t need the Mueller report to see. These are things in the public domain. Some of them:

* The nasty guy asking Russia for HRC’s emails at a July 2016 presser.
* Roger Stone collaborating with Wikileaks.
* The changes to the GOP platform to make it more favorable to Russia.
* The 2016 Trump Tower meeting which Don Jr. tweeted about in 2017.
* Multiple staffers, including Ivanka, Jared, and Jeff Sessions, lying about illicit Russian contacts on their clearance forms.

I’ve heard it said that if these crimes are brazenly out in the open and nobody does anything, they must not be serious crimes.

Kendzior quotes her Gaslit Nation podcast:
You don't need the Mueller report to see all this. What we need are answers about why nothing was done when all this took place in public and was a massive security threat. And we need answers about why the media lied about it then and now.

Ilhan Omar, a new member of Congress who is a Muslim woman, is still learning how to be careful in what she says. The nasty guy created an inflammatory video from her words and she is getting death threats. Congress has enhanced her security detail. People are now asking what happens if Omar is killed or harmed because of that tweet.

A Twitter user with the handle 5’7” Black Male has an answer:
Nothing. Nothing happens.

Nothing happens then that didn't happen when an admitted rapist white supremacist became President.

Everyone keeps waiting for the critical moment that signals that it's all gone too far.

It already happened. We did nothing useful about it.

I know how everyone feels.

I get it. It's the same feeling I had when I was SURE that once we had video of the cops shooting an unarmed child, that things would finally change.

Because you think at some point it has to be obvious that it's all gone off the rails.

But nope.

People will continue to await the sign.

They will continue to wait for the signal in the sky that says "Now is the time to fight back"

And they'll ignore that it's been on the whole time.
He gives reasons why he feels this way:

There have been plenty of reasons outside the Mueller Report to impeach the nasty guy. Nothing done.
Every news network has continued to allow a network of itinerant liars to continually excuse and misinform the public about the long list of crimes committed by the President.
The media still treats him as a legitimate leader even as he incites violence towards them as he undermines their own legitimacy. They should be pushing back and aren’t.
The day that the Presidency is brought down by harm caused to a woman of color is the day after we already fixed white supremacy in America somehow.

Policy discussion and clickbait

In the April 2019 issue of The Washington Spectator Patricia Roberts-Miller looks at the seemingly constant criticism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) as an entry to talking about the current state of our national media.
My objection to propaganda machines is that all of them (“left” and “right”) presume a binary of political options—you are either us or them. By design, the strategy is to make us argue about the identity of the people making the arguments, instead of arguing about the policies those people are advocating.

American media is demoralizing because it is profit-driven. There are three foolproof ways to get people to click on and share a link about politics (and thereby make a profit), and all of them involve avoiding policy argumentation:

* outrage porn, in which the participant takes pleasure in being outraged at the idiocy of “them” (some out-group);
* a cat fight (a fight between two women); and
* personalizing politics, so it’s never about policy, but about the identities of the people on the two sides (nonconservative sites generally accept the fallacy of presenting “both sides”).

Any one of these devices is more likely to get a click than something that offers a reasoned discussion of the various (nonbinary) options we, as a community, have available to us.
So, as Orwell pointed out in his underappreciated *Homage to Catalonia*, a for-profit media and democratic deliberation are inherently at odds.
I think we’re seeing the same pattern in regard to AOC. Supposedly liberal sites post articles featuring something negative about her, with photos that make her look fanatical. It’s the stinkiest clickbait there is because:

* the controversy, even if entirely manufactured, will get clicks;
* any mention of AOC warms this outrage/attraction dynamic in people who drink deep in toxic masculinity and get excited about the possibility of dominating her;
* it’s politically useful for GOP rhetoric to create any kind of rift among people who might vote Democratic, a strategy that typically comes into play when some Democrat is being critical of another;
* potentially Democratic voters are prone to the narrative that the Democratic party is hostile to progressives. (It is, but I don’t think we should relish dwelling on it.)

Anything about AOC, of course, is good for generating outrage on the part of misogynists, but anything about any Democrat criticizing AOC is the perfect outrage porn. It’s money shots all the way.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Changing the opinion of half the country

Shankar Vedantam and his NPR program Hidden Brain look at the huge change of opinion of lesbians and gays. This is one story where the LGBT acronym doesn’t fit. The opinion of transgender people hasn’t changed nearly as much. And in this case bisexual people, when in a same-sex relation, can be seen as part of lesbians and gays. Most of the time in this story the term gay covers male and female. From the episode’s webpage:
In 1988, the GSS [General Social Survey] began asking Americans to share their thoughts on another topic: whether gay people should have the right to marry. That year, fewer than 12 percent of respondents said yes.

Fast-forward three decades. In 2018, 68 percent of those surveyed said that gay couples should have that right.

"This is actually one of the most surprising things in the whole history of public opinion," says Stanford sociologist Michael Rosenfeld. "There's more and more rapid change in attitudes towards gay rights in the past thirty years in the United States than there ever has been in recorded attitudes in the United States on any issue."

Public opinion rarely shifts on contested issues. Given the long history of discrimination against gays in the United States and abroad, this change has social scientists scratching their chins.

"This was not a simple negative attitude. Gay people have been killed. So how can it be that an attitude that was as vicious as this one has changed?" asks Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji.
An example of the shift: William, the adopted son of a Mormon couple was thrown out of the house after he announced he is gay. Fifteen years later his parents enjoyed Thanksgiving in the home of William and his partner.

The first thought in such a big swing in opinion was just a generational change – younger people have different opinions than the older and more conservative respondents of previous years. But the data showed personal changes of opinion, such as a person giving a different answer in later years. Even conservative people changed their minds.

Opinions of wartime enemies may change quickly, but the change is from dislike to hatred. But with the change of 12% to 68% we’re talking a change to the opposite opinion by half of the country! And the most dramatic change wasn’t in courtrooms, but in families, on the job, and in school.

Banaji conducted a test of bias against different groups of people. The bias against lesbians and gays has dropped by 33%. This is the only group where bias has changed much. The trend line shows that bias might be eliminated in only nine years (though this is not a prediction). In contrast the trend line for race says it will take six decades for blacks and whites to be seen the same way and 138 years to get rid of the bias for lighter skin (if current trends persist). Bias against the elderly won’t reach neutrality within the next 150 years.

So what drives that?

Gay people were and are embedded in the homes of people who thought they were an abomination. Gay and straight are in the same family. Much more rare is white and black in the same family. Straight people met gay people with a similar social status to themselves. Parent had to choose between their love for their child and their preexisting attitudes of homosexuality.

Coming out of the closet is a big reason of why attitudes change. But this change is so big it isn’t the only reason.

For example, old people also exist in large numbers of families in all parts of the country and in all economic levels. They’ve had long associations before becoming elderly. But biases against the elderly haven’t budged. The same is true for women. Their presence in families hasn’t changed the level of misogyny.

Another big change in attitudes was the AIDS crisis. Gay people were seen as parts of families and people who were grieving and caring for one another. This was a profound change in gay people. The attitude changed from just leave us alone, to let us into the institutions (such as marriage) that will protect us too. We want to be a part of the community. That prompted the creation of activist groups. And that translated into a political presence.

Pres. Bill Clinton may have fumbled badly on the Defense of Marriage Act and the military Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. But he did start a big shift towards gay rights being civil rights. That allowed Hollywood to begin to tell gay stories. Lots of things built on one another. But that still doesn’t tell the whole story. The same things have been true of women and black people.

Another part of the answer: Not all prejudices are the same. Some have deeper roots. The stakes – societal structures – in entrenched misogyny and racism are much greater than the stakes of casual homophobia.

There is also the pace of change. The poll showed 68% approval in 2018. But it 2016 it was only 59%. A huge change in two years. The change accelerated in 2004 – after 11 states banned same-sex marriage. Ah, there’s a hint.

Back in the 1980s Evan Wolfson began advocating for marriage equality. Some said it was the wrong time. But he knew the right to marry would pull lots of other rights and concepts along with it – love, caring, commitment, dignity, respect. As straight people saw gay people with these attributes, other rights would come along as well. It was a way to say gay people and straight people are similar. Wolfson had a lot of resistance in the gay community. Why do we want to say we’re just like the people who oppress us? Why do we want to join the institution of marriage which is based on patriarchy? Why aren’t we trying to redefine institutions?

But gay people needed allies. We’ll never be in the majority. We’ll be facing straight judges and need the support of straight voters. We need to talk to them. But isn’t it unfair for the oppressed to speak the language of the oppressor? Wolfson said it is unfair, but the greater goal is to end the oppression.

So does an oppressed group look back and seek retribution and restitution? Or does it look forward and seek change and reconciliation and forgiving of those who have oppressed. Both can be done, but there is tension between them. It asks a lot of the oppressed. But change means winning over some of the oppressors. Shared goals and shared dreams means more allies. And given enough allies legislatures and courts would follow.

The marriage equality movement was different. The cost to allies was minimal. It asked allies to join in celebration of love, commitment, and normalcy. The commitment aspect allowed allies to say they’re like us.

And marriage has pulled other rights with it, though the work continues.

The way forward, perhaps for any oppressed group, is connecting with others, to bring about empathy, understanding, and awareness and doing so by bridging differences and invoking shared values.

Do you overthrow the old order perhaps through violence or revolution or do you reform the old order, reconcile, and forgive? The choice of path depends on your own strength and whether you need allies. Both ways can succeed. But violent movement succeeded about ¼ of the time. Militant activists that do a lot of disruption get lots of attention, but can turn off allies who say they’re not like those activists. Non violent movements succeeded about ½ the time. It is hard to fight with people who say they embrace your values.

Public opinion changed for us because we asked for marriage, and in asking showed how much we share values with others.

Who speaks for the Armenians?

This afternoon I attended my third Freep Film Fest event. This was the documentary Armenian Trilogy. Dan Yessian is the grandson of Armenian immigrants and is a part of the large Armenian community in the Detroit area. His grandparents came here for a particular reason – to escape the Armenian genocide that happened in 1915. Over 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Turks as the Ottoman Empire fell apart.

Yessian made a living as a musician, mostly in jazz and dance bands. He made a pretty good living writing jingles for commercials, the most famous one was for Dittrich Furs. Coming up to commemorating the 100th year since the genocide the leader of the local Armenian church thought a musical piece should be written. His wife suggested Yessian.

So we see how Yessian went about creating the piece. That was fascinating to me because Yessian doesn’t read music very well, so couldn’t put pen to paper (or operate a notation program on a computer). He could record the sound while he played his ideas on the piano, sometimes singing along. He then worked with someone to notate it for him, then worked with another person to orchestrate it. They had to figure out how to communicate what Yessian heard in his head and how to match it.

Yessian was put in touch with the Armenian ambassador in Detroit. The ambassador liked what he saw and heard and put Yessian in touch with the director of the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra in Armenia. He also liked what he saw and arranged a performance, which Yessian and family attended. Yessian talked about coming home to a place he had never been to.

The film includes excerpts of the performance. Yessian discusses writing each movement as we hear bits of it and as we see and hear the corresponding parts of Armenian history. The first movement is The Freedom, life before the genocide. In the Ottoman Empire most Armenians had a pretty middle class life. The second movement is The Fear, a musical depiction of the atrocities (though the music isn’t as far out there as some modern composers can manage). When the empire collapsed and modern Turkey was being formed the Turks were jealous of the success the Armenians had. Racial tensions spilled into hatred and genocide. The third movement is The Faith, what sustains the survivors after such horrific damage.

The film mentions Hitler saying, “Who speaks for the Armenians now?” This has been taken as inspiring Hitler and his Final Solution of the Holocaust. Afterward we got to meet Yessian and the team that put the film together. We also met a historian from University of Michigan who wrote a book about the Armenian genocide. He said Hitler’s inspiration wasn’t Armenia, but the way America treated its own native population – such a great way to eliminate the undesirables and make more room for the white race.

There is a recording on YouTube on Yessian’s page, though it doesn’t look to be the one by the Armenian orchestra. The orchestra isn’t named. It is 17 minutes long.

There is a puzzle that wasn’t addressed by the film. If the piece was proposed by an Armenian pastor in the Detroit area, was there a local performance? If so, what group played it?