October 27, 2016

The Dead Hub Cap Society

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2011-
Volvo won't be selling any more station wagons in America. The station wagon, whose sales rose from 29,000 in 1946 to 707,000 in 1965 has joined the Dead Hub Cap Society.

I don't actually miss our Volvo wagon. It had been a lemon because new features were added without enough testing.

But I grew up on station wagons. We were the recipients of my grandfather's cast-offs and my father hated to part with a vehicle. So at one point in the mid-fifties, my parent's collection of vehicles in Philadelphia and at their farm in Maine included a 1952 DeSoto station wagon (the first new car my father had purchased since 1938), a 1948 Chrysler New Yorker, a 1946 wooden Plymouth station wagon, its 1941 forerunner, a 1946 six-wheeled Army truck with a winch, a 1939 laundry van, plus my father's four door 1938 Cadillac convertible and my mother's 1936 Plymouth. In 1955 I drove to college in the then 14-year-old Plymouth wagon and little concern or surprise was expressed when the front hood flew up at 60 mph on the New Hampshire Turnpike. The bent hood was secured with a jury rig and the car continued in service. There were, however, limits. When the DeSoto, with more than 100,000 miles on it, lost its front wheel on the Maine Turnpike, it was reluctantly retired as a pleasure vehicle.

At the age of 14, I learned to drive in the Army truck. I was double-clutching and shifting into six-wheel drive and using a winch to haul things out of places long before I was able to drive legally on Maine roads beyond the farm.

My brother recalled, "You couldn't go directly from one gear to another but had to go into neutral first, let the clutch all the way out and accelerate or brake the motor before shifting again, depending on the direction of the shift. The maneuver also required one to take into account the load on the truck, its speed and the grade of the road."

The truck was a marvelous machine that lasted for decades. It withstood all punishment including my father's attempt to launch a boat by towing it out onto the mudflats. The truck, of course, became deeply mired, but the winch eventually pulled the vehicle back to dry land.

The Army truck was just one of a fleet of amazing vehicles that kept my parent's farm going, ranging from the practical to the insane. For example. my father obtained the local Railway Express truck from Clarence Bolster, a familiar figure at the local railroad station. It was, however, short on brakes. Asked how one operated such a vehicle, Jim Degrandpre, son of the farm manager, told me, "You planned ahead." Jim's brothers, Richard and David, converted the DeSoto wagon into a monster tractor, one of several such homemade vehicles.

None of this surprised me much. After all, when I accompanied my parents to France as a college student, our rented Simca had broken down some miles from the nearest village. It turned out to be a broken accelerator rod. My father had me stand on the front bumper with the car's hood up adjusting the speed of the car by hand as he stuck his head out the window and steered it.

I followed in my father's tradition. My first car was an Olds - a 1941 - was bought in 1961 literally from a little old lady who only drove it on Sundays. It had 26,000 miles on it, still smelled new, and featured a Hydromatic Drive. Unfortunately the final attribute lasted only about six months. I replaced it with a 1956 Chrysler New Yorker, which I called Gloria, because it was such sick transit. Then I got into station wagons with another Olds, which was in an accident that necessitated a complete paint job. Unfortunately, I did not make my intentions adequately clear and the whole vehicle was repainted red, including the grillwork. Its successor, the Volvo station wagon, didn't run when it was cold, hot, or wet and was quickly replaced.

In 1985 I moved up from station wagons to a Plymouth minivan, which both my sons considered too embarrassing to use for dates. I would own two such vehicles and among their many attributes was the fact that thieves, like my sons, didn't like them.

I only bought the second one nine years later because the first one had collided with a cow.

The bovine miscreant had wandered from behind some bushes onto Virginia's Route 237, exploded into the frame of my windshield, rolled over, careened off the front fender and scudded by, pausing only long enough to look me directly and critically in the eye. The cow then completed its original mission -- namely to cross the road and enter the pasture on the other side.

My wife and I were wearing seat-belts and so the encounter between a Plymouth Voyager doing 40 mph and a 1300-pound cow doing 2.5 left us stunned but mobile. We stepped out of the car and were soon joined by a state trooper, the local rescue squad, a fire engine, a sheriff's deputy as well as a small swarm of men wandering silently with transmitters in the night.

Having quickly, almost perfunctorily, ascertained our good health, the rescuers asked which way the cow had gone. We pointed towards the field and most of the figures in the dark, much as the cow before them, rapidly faded into the pasture as though they, too, had been interrupted in their true errand.

Later, other problems developed. Our Honda was stolen twice. The first time it disappeared from a parking lot right next to the Brookings Institution. The DC constabulary said we would never see it again but at 11:30 that night I was awoken by the Prince Georges County police with word that it had been located at a public housing project recently in the news for the frequency of its murders. We were invited to retrieve it promptly or it would be taken as evidence in a drug bust. Which is why, at 1 AM, my wife and I found ourselves in a parking lot in the most dangerous locale in the Washington region. In the trunk was a six pack of beer, so we came out about even. The second time, no one found the Honda . . .

And finally, in February 2009, just six months before I moved to Maine, my wife's 1995 Cirrus was stolen for the third time. It had lived a good life and so I wasn't too concerned until May when I received a notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles - which apparently had no ongoing relationship with the Police Deaprtment - stating that I had failed to pay four recent parking tickets on the car.

Since the location of the offense was only a few blocks away I quickly drove there and found my car with tickets jammed under the windshield wiper and the front lock clearly mangled. The DMV, to its credit, did eventually decide I was not responsible.

Of all these vehicles, though, my favorite remains the station wagons. I even got my sons to accept a wagon formerly owned by the IRS as their college vehicle. It not only made innumerable campus trips but two and half treks across the nation before dying in Moab, Utah.

Station wagons combined the great American ideals of adventure, space and practicality. It was a car for an America that still had dreams.

October 26, 2016

Meanwhile. . .

Shadowproof - Prisoners participating in a strike against slave labor at facilities in Texas, South Carolina, Oregon, and other states are speaking out after authorities allegedly blocked members of the media from visiting with them and rejected mail from supporters and media organizations containing news from the outside... The revised prison rules allow for prisoners to be punished with extra work duties if they or their supporters use social media on their behalf. They can also be placed in isolation.

Best campaign ad of the year

Harvard students joined dining services workers' strike

Portside - Roughly 500 students walked out of classes and rallied in Harvard Yard, more than 100 students and supporters of Harvard’s picketing dining services workers sat in the lobby of 124 Mt. Auburn St., singing, and chanting—and, eventually, doing homework—for nearly seven hours.

Great thoughts of Donald Trump

Most people aren't worthy of respect - Donald Trump, 2014

The 282 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter

Apple helps spooks spy on you

From a 2015 email from Apple VP Lisa Jackson to John Podesta:
Larger image

Obamacare update

John Geyman, Physicians for a National Health Plan - Multiple studies have demonstrated that in the U.S. we could save about $500 billion a year by enacting a nonprofit single-payer national health program that streamlines administration. Those savings would be sufficient to guarantee everyone high-quality care, with no cost sharing, on a sustainable basis. The system could also negotiate lower drug prices. Studies over the past two decades have shown 3 of 5 Americans supporting an improved version of Medicare for all. Support for single payer is also growing. 

Vox - Back in 2014, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that 22 million people would be enrolled in the marketplaces by 2016. In reality, the marketplaces have attracted 10.4 million people.Obamacare’s lower-than-expected enrollment drives a lot of the problems we’re seeing right now. It helps explain why many insurers have left the marketplace: The small number of customers makes it a less appealing place to invest resources... “We’ve got all of the sickest people, who are highest need, and they enrolled in 2014,” says Caroline Pearson, a senior vice president at the research firm Avalere Health. “Each year, the marketplaces have continued to not pick up enough healthy people to create a stable risk pool.”

NY Times - Most people are unaffected by the rate increases because they get their insurance through an employer or are covered through government programs like Medicare, Medicaid or the Department of Veterans Affairs. Only a small fraction of Americans who have insurance buy individual policies. There are about 10 million people in the Obamacare markets and around an additional seven million who buy health plans outside the marketplace, according to Obama administration estimates. The published rate increases apply only to people who shop in the markets, but premiums are expected to go up sharply for the other plans as well.

Meanwhile. . .

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter suspends all efforts to collect reimbursement from improperly awarded enlistment bonuses given to some members of the California National Guard. The action follows outrage from veterans and their families over attempts to recover the money 10 years after it was disbursed.

TV shows losing ground

Three glaciers in West Antarctica have undergone "intense unbalanced melting," risking their stability and further acceleration of sea level rise. New research published in Nature Communications found that the Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers in the Amundsen Sea embayment collectively lost about 1,000 feet of ice from 2002 to 2009.

This year the country is poised to have the lowest number of criminal prosecutions from investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency for over two decades. Compared to five years ago when there were 182 individuals and businesses prosecuted, the estimate of FY 2016 prosecutions of this type is less than half the level earlier in President Obama's administration. Criminal prosecutions resulting from EPA referrals to federal prosecutors peaked during FY 1998 when President Clinton was in office when they reached 198, and were nearly as high at 196 during the first year of President Bush's administration.

Morning Line

Based on recent poll averages

Nationally, Hillary Clinton is five points ahead of Trump. This this is 7 points better than her worst position vs Trump. Her current average percentage is 45%, Her campaign range has been 38-48%

Clinton is leading with 230 of the needed 270 electoral votes, down 45 from her best of 275 early in the campaign. Another 90 electoral votes are possibly Democratic. 95 electoral votes are definitely in the Trump column. Another 84 are possible. This would still leave him 94 votes short.

In the Senate the Democrats stand to pick up one and have a narrow lead in three currently GOP seats. One current Demcoratic seat is in doubt. The GOP has a narrow lead in one current Democratic seat. Three GOP seats are in doubt. The Dems need to win four more seats (plus a Democratic Veep) to control the Senate.

Democrats have already gained one governorship and could gain two more. One current Democratic governorship is in doubt

More details

Election updates

Democratic White House candidate Hillary Clinton is leading among likely voters aged 18 to 29, according to a Harvard University opinion poll. The former U.S. secretary of state had the support of 49 percent of likely voters, ahead of Republican rival Donald Trump's 28 percent support, a substantially wider lead than Democratic President Barack Obama had over Republican former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at the same point in 2012.

Donald Trump ties his record: 37 false claims in one day

Word: Gotti's widow on Trump

Daily Beast - The widow of Gambino family boss John Gotti makes clear that she would not have allowed her own husband even to speak as Trump did on the now infamous Access Hollywood outtake.

“I was married to #1 gangster and would have cut his throat if he ever said such a foul thing to me,” Victoria Gotti said in an email to a longtime pen pal at The Daily Beast whom she has nicknamed “Dimples.”

Victoria made her view of The Donald even clearer in a post on Facebook, writing:

“Hoping you women out there who have any ‘class or dignity’ remember what this ‘crude obnoxious megalomaniacal mutt’ really thinks about women, someone needs to pull him by that useless twinkie he thinks is worth gold,”

Social Security lifted 22 milliion out of poverty last year

Center on Budget & Policy Priorities - Social Security lifted 22 million people out of poverty last year, our new analysis of Census data finds.  Social Security’s anti-poverty effect extends to every state, lifting more than 1 million elderly people out of poverty in California, Florida, and Texas, our 50-state analysis shows.

Without Social Security benefits, 41 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal.  With Social Security, only 9 percent do.  

Social Security is also important for non-elderly adults and children.  It lifted more than 1 million children from poverty in 2015. Some of these children receive benefits because a parent died, became disabled, or retired; others live with relatives who receive Social Security. 

Given the program’s powerful anti-poverty impact, cuts in Social Security benefits could significantly raise poverty — particularly among the elderly and the disabled — depending on their design.

The strange Trump and Progressive Review connection

Sam Smith - Everytime I read about Donald Trump's Washington hotel- formerly known as the Old Post Office Building -  I think of the late John Wiebenson. For 23 years, the Progressive Review sublet from the architectural firm of John Wiebenson who was later joined by Kendall Dorman. Wieb has passed but the Wiebenson & Dorman continues and in 2015 won Washington City Paper's award for the best architecture firm in the nation's capital. Admittedly, your editor contributed nothing to the architecture but did share his copying and fax machines as well as the floor's bathroom. Further, Wieb was the longtime urban planning cartoonist for the Review, then known as the DC Gazette. He was also one of the founders of Don't Tear It Down, forerunner of the DC Preservation League. Now for the ironic connection with Trump:

DC Preservation League -  Alison Owings, a news writer and producer for WRC, was distressed at the steady destruction of many of Washington’s historic buildings. She wrote eloquently about losing her sense of history and place through the gradual destruction of the cityscape. Owings felt a sense of urgency, a sense that the time had come to look at the city in a new way. Armed with little more than encouragement from legendary architectural critic Wolf Von Eckhardt, and an idea for a catchy name (praised by legendary New York Times architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable for its “wonderful, direct, hortatory explicitness in a time of cheesy euphemisms”), Owings thought that an advocacy group was needed. Meetings in Owings’ living room on Cortland Place, NW and other members’ houses gave birth to Don’t Tear It Down, the predecessor of the DC Preservation League. Early on, Owings was referred to Terry B. Morton at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, whose work had led her to conclude similarly that Washington needed a purpose-specific advocacy group. Together, Owings and Morton developed a plan of action and were joined by other National Trust staff, interested professionals, and various like-minded souls.
Morton focused the group on the fate of the Old Post Office and suggested a rally to help save it. A list of city lovers and incipient preservationists was developed and invited to attend. On the first day of the second annual Earth Week, April 19, 1971, Morton led a march from National Trust headquarters to the steps of the Old Post Office, where the marchers joined an enthusiastic crowd of about 250 well-mannered placard-carrying preservationists, historians, planners, architects, and local residents, some of whom wore black armbands. “We don’t want ivory towers-save the whole Post Office!” they proclaimed, urging that the building be spared and that it be converted to new uses to serve the community.

It was Don’t Tear It Down’s first street action, and it received a lot of publicity.Within two days, Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) convened a previously scheduled hearing of the Senate Public Works Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds to determine the Federal government’s overall preservation policy as well as the fate of the Old Post Office. Among those testifying on behalf of preservation were James Biddle, Sen. Vance Hartke, Richard Howland, Charles Conrad, John W. Hill, John Wiebenson, and Arthur Cotton Moore, who later designed the renovation of the spared building. The force for preservation had become entrenched. The Old Post Office was saved over a period of years ....

Sam Smith: One memory I have of the Old Post Office Building, when it was just that, has a nice Trump flavor to it. As a radio reporter in the 1960s I went to interview an assistant postmaster general at a time when the Post Office was raising controversy over its censorship of publications, heightened by the rise of popular sex magazines.

As Jed Birmingham describes a part of the story, "I found Postal Service Decisions concerning the availability of second class mailing privileges for three literary magazines: Eros, Big Table and Aspen... Periodical status grants special privileges such as reduced rates and various delivery services. As a result, periodicals are subject to the most complex regulations of all mail, including regulations concerning obscenity."

What was remarkable about my interview - carried out in one of the largest and most historic looking offices I had ever seen with the assistant postmaster general sitting in a well over stuffed chair - was that right next to the interviewee (and totally unmentioned by him) was the largest pile of sex magazines I had ever observed.

I wonder if they were still there when Trump  bought the place.

October 25, 2016

Good reason not to use ATT

Telecommunications giant AT&T is selling access to customer data to local law enforcement in secret, new documents released on Monday reveal.
The program, called Hemisphere, was previously known only as a “partnership” between the company and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for the purposes of counter-narcotics operations.
It accesses the trove of telephone metadata available to AT&T, who control a large proportion of America’s landline and cellphone infrastructure. Unlike other providers, who delete their stored metadata after a certain time, AT&T keeps information like call time, duration, and even location data on file for years, with records dating back to 2008.
But according to internal company documents revealed Monday by the Daily Beast, Hemisphere is being sold to local police departments and used to investigate everything from murder to Medicaid fraud, costing US taxpayers millions of dollars every year even while riding roughshod over privacy concerns.

Election update

As Florida Early Voting Begins, 99% More Latinos Have Already Voted Than In 2012

In the first poll taken Sept. 19-22 — before the "Access Hollywood" video came out — Trump was favored over Clinton by 19 points among all men, a huge advantage for Trump, which reflects the historical advantage Republicans have had with men in presidential elections. But by the late October poll, the results had flipped. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton now leads Trump by 3 points in the same group — a swing of 22 points — roughly equivalent to one in five men ending their support for Trump during the past month.

Morning Line

Based on the average of recent polls:

Nationally, Hillary Clinton is five points ahead of Trump. This this is 7 points better than her worst position

Clinton is leading with 254 of the needed 270 electoral votes, down 21 from her best of 275 early in the campaign. Another 50 electoral votes are possibly Democratic. 92 electoral votes are definitely in the Trump column. Another 84 are possible. This would still leave him 94 votes short.

Moving on to more important government issues

Herald Leader, KY - Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration has banned flip-flops and exposed midriffs in a new dress code for Kentucky’s more than 31,000 executive branch employees.

Personnel Secretary Thomas B. Stephens set the policy, which took effect Oct. 16, for all state workers in the executive branch. Violators could face disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article110173732.html?utm_source=fark&utm_medium=website&utm_content=link&ICID=ref_fark#storylink=cpy

Jodi Whitaker, a spokeswoman for the Personnel Cabinet, said Monday that individual state cabinets may initiate policies with more stringent guidelines based on their needs, but all must follow the four points in Stephens’ code.

Under the policy for all executive branch employees, workers must carry or wear identification badges or other agency-identifying clothing. No one can wear flip-flops in the workplace, tops that expose the midriff or clothing with large commercial logos or offensive language. An employee may seek accommodations for religious, medical or disability-related needs.

Whitaker said the policy would allow a polo shirt that has a small university logo but not a shirt that has an oversized name of a business.

Stephens warned that any employee who violates the policy “will be required to take corrective action, which may include leaving the work premises, and may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal.”

On Oct. 4, Stephens implemented a more stringent dress code for the 206 employees in the Personnel Cabinet.

It bans jeans, sweatpants, pajama pants, exercise pants, camouflage pants and shorts for its workers. Casual dresses and skirts must be at a length at or below the knee with no spaghetti-strap dresses unless covered by a jacket or sweater, and men’s dress shirts must be tucked in, but polo-type shirts may be left untucked. Also taboo are tank tops, halter tops, midriff-showing tops or tops with extremely low necklines, and clothing with offensive or oversized words.

Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey, who wore a football uniform during his playing days in the National Football League and at the University of Kentucky, notified cabinet employees of the new dress code on Oct. 19.

Top officials in the Labor Cabinet are to dress in business attire. That means a business suit, or slacks and a jacket, with a dress shirt, tie and dress shoes for men, and suits with skirts or slacks with a blouse, dressy top and/or jacket or dress sweater with flats or dress shoes for women.

Informal business attire — such as slacks, khakis, chinos or Dockers-style twill pants with a dress shirt or polo shirt with a jacket or sweater for men and skirts or slacks with a blouse, dressy top and/or sweater or jacket for women — may be worn on Fridays by top officials unless they are to meet with the governor’s office, the legislature, the public, or outside agency management.
Social Times

Pew Research Center released its newest report, The Political Environment on Social Media, and its findings included:
  • 37 percent of the more than 4,500 U.S. adults surveyed by Pew said they were worn out by the amount of political content they have encountered on social media, while just 20 percent enjoy seeing political content on social networks, and 41 percent did not feel strongly one way or the other.
  • 59 percent of respondents described their online interactions with people they disagree with politically as stressful and frustrating, while just 35 percent find them interesting and informative.
  • 64 percent said such encounters leave them wondering if they have even less in common with those people than they originally thought, while 29 percent believed the opposite.
  • 40 percent of respondents believe people discussing politics on social media platforms say things they would never say in-person, while 49 percent believe political conversations on social media are angrier, 53 percent feel that they are less respectful and 49 percent believe they are less civil.
  • 83 percent try to ignore political posts from friends that they disagree with, while 15 percent said they respond with comments of their own.
  • 39 percent of respondents have blocked or unfriended other social media users or changed settings in order to see fewer posts from them over politics—31 percent changed settings and 27 percent blocked or unfriended other users. 60 percent of those who resorted to those steps said it was due to political content that they found offensive.
  • 19 percent of highly engaged users said they often comment, discuss or post about political issues on social media, compared with just 6 percent of less politically engaged users.
  • 31 percent of politically engaged users feel that social media helps bring new voices into the discussion, while 30 percent feel that it helps people get involved with issues that matter to them.

Harvard reaches a tentative deal with striking dining hall workers

Major new progressive coalition

We have written often about the lack of interest or ability of progressive groups to form coalitions with others who are dealing specifically with different issues but generally with progressive ideals and goals. Most recently we have urged the creation of such a coalition to provide effective pressure on a Clinton administration.

So we're were pleasantly stunned to find a leading ecological organization- 350 - endosing the platform of the Black Lives Matter Movement. 350 describes itself a "building a global grassroots climate movement that can hold our leaders accountable to the realities of science and the principles of justice." Here's how 350 describes its new link with BLM:

350 - Last month, the Movement for Black Lives released a policy platform detailing their vision for real policies and practices in the US and beyond to advance Black liberation. The platform is as detailed as it is broad, and is the product of intensive consultation and research. It is a feat. It is inspiring.

At 350.org, we talked for a long time about what it might look like to endorse this platform. For one thing, the platform includes divestment from fossil fuels, which is right up our alley. And like the rest of the US and the world, 350.org has existed over the last several years in the whirlwind of inspiration, outrage, mourning, and political power shifts catalyzed by the Black Lives Matter movement. 350.org is a global organization, and all over the world, we see racial injustice at the root of social, economic and climate justice fights.

The vision put forth in this platform –of policies that help curb violence against Black communities, invest in Black futures, and build community, economic and political power– are the kinds of policies that make justice feel not only necessary, but imminent.

Many of our staff have taken to the streets and huddled in living rooms planning solidarity actions. We’ve written about all the ways racism is at the core of the climate crisis, and how we can’t tackle one without the other. We’ve incorporated stronger intersectional analysis into our training curriculum, action and campaign plans. And still we debated if endorsing this platform would feel hypocritical or hollow. But in the end, we decided that we can’t stay silent or wait for our own campaigns, plans, and policies to be perfect before we publicly share what we believe. We know that everyone in our network may not agree with all the policies in the platform, but we think it’s an important step for 350.org to show our support for this vision and do our part to drive forward dialogue about what kind of world we want to build together.

So here’s our commitment: We endorse the Movement for Black Lives Platform. We believe in the vision. We celebrate the process and time that went into building it, and we are here for the work to fight for the new world it demands.

Why have states cut school funding?

October 24, 2016

Tiny house fans seek change in zoning codes

Tree Hugger  - The mainstreaming of affordable and energy-efficient small and tiny homes into our cultural consciousness has picked up tremendous momentum in the last few years, leading many to characterize it as a movement in its own right. Even though tiny homes won't be a fit for everyone, they could potentially help address critical issues like over-consumption and debt, while growing alternative and more sustainable building practices on a larger scale and making housing more affordable.

But the idealism of the movement has usually come up against the restrictive realities of existing zoning and building regulations. In many places, tiny homes exist in a legal gray area of sorts, on top of the fact that there are no widely agreed-upon safety standards for them, making it difficult for wider integration.

Tiny House Build's Andrew Morrison is spearheading a proposed appendix to be added to the 2018 International Residential Code, which will address "ceiling heights, sleeping lofts, loft access, emergency escape and egress, and many other details".

The case against the Syrian war

Hands for Syria Coalition
  1. The continuation of the war in Syria is the result of a U.S.-orchestrated intervention by the United States, NATO, their regional allies and reactionary forces, the goal of which is regime change in Syria.
  1. This policy of regime change in Syria is illegal and in clear violation of the United Nations Charter, the letter and spirit of international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  1. This policy of forced regime change is threatening the security of the region and the world and has increased the danger of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, with the potential of a nuclear catastrophe for the whole world.
  1. War and U.S. and EU sanctions have destabilized every sector of Syria’s economy, transforming a once self-sufficient country into an aid-dependent nation. Half the Syrian population is now displaced. A UN ESCWA report reveals these U.S. sanctions on Syria are crippling aid work during one of the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II. The one third of Syrians refugees in surrounding Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been hit hard by U.S. cuts to UNICEF. This forces desperate refugees to struggle to reach Europe.
  1. No foreign entity, be it a foreign government or an armed group, has the right to violate the fundamental rights of the Syrian people to independence, national sovereignty and self-determination. This includes the right of the Syrian government to request and accept military assistance from other countries, as even the U.S. government has admitted.
  1. Only the people of Syria have the inalienable right to choose their leaders and determine the character of their government, free from foreign intervention. This right cannot be properly exercised under the conditions of U.S.-orchestrated foreign intervention against the Syrian people.
  1. Our opposition is to forced regime change in Syria by U.S.-backed foreign powers and their mercenaries. It is not our business to support or oppose President Assad or the Syrian government. Only the Syrian people have the right to decide the legitimacy of their government.
  1. The most urgent issue at present is peace and putting an end to the violence of foreign intervention that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the displacement of millions of Syrians both internally or as refugees abroad.

Bad news for heading soccer balls

Guardian, UK - New research into heading a [soccer ball] has identified “significant” changes in brain function from routine practice. Research reveals footballers are still heading for serious trouble

The study from the University of Stirling is the first to detect direct changes after players are exposed to everyday head impacts, as opposed to clinical brain injuries like concussion. The findings come after concerns that players’ brains are damaged by repeated head impacts.

A few reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton

More than a few readers find it strange, that given our past exposes and other stories, we should be supporting Hillary Clinton. But as we have noted, we are choosing not just a president but a battlefield on which to fight for good policies and defend those that already exist. Clinton is clearly the best battlefield. For some support of this view, check out this list of policy differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Passings: Tom Hayden

NPR - Tom Hayden, a radical activist and advocate for progressive causes, died Sunday at the age of 76.

In the early 1960s, Hayden was a freedom rider in the South and a community organizer in Newark. He became famous for his anti-war efforts and made several high-profile (and later controversial) trips to Vietnam. He was a founding member of the Students for a Democratic Society and wrote the first draft of the influential activist group's manifesto, the Port Huron Statement.

After helping organize protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, he was prosecuted in the "Chicago Seven" conspiracy trial for allegedly inciting a riot. Hayden was convicted, but the charge was later overturned.

Hayden was married several times. Most famously, he was married to Jane Fonda — whom he met through their shared anti-war activism — for 17 years.

An icon of the anti-establishment protest movement for years, Hayden later became a politician. He made an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat in 1976, and was later elected to the California state Legislature, where he served for 18 years. He was also an author, publishing books about the Chicago Seven (originally the Chicago Eight, until one defendant had his trial severed) as well as political manifestos and memoirs.

In 1993, Hayden spoke to NPR about the tensions on the streets of Chicago in 1968, and the violence between police and protesters at the Democratic National Convention that led to his trial.

"By 1968, the Vietnam War was claiming tens of thousands of lives, Indo-Chinese and American," he said in that interview. "The Democratic Party was running the country, and so you had a bipartisan Democratic and Republican war policy that seemed to be escalating without end ... the Democratic Party was controlled from the top by traditional bosses who chose their nominees and their parties platforms in smoke-filled rooms. And so the goal of the protest was not only to protest the war, but to protest the disenfranchisement that was so deep. Here we were, if you were 18, you could be drafted and sent to war, but you couldn't vote for Eugene McCarthy."

He said some things had improved in America over the course of 25 years, but that the country had far to go:

"I would hope that we learned something about how to deal with dissent and protest — that having an inclusive process where you open the doors is a lot better than sending in the police. ... What was not learned, however, is the lesson that prevention and getting ahead of our problems is uppermost.

"We still disenfranchise racial minorities in economic terms. Young people still feel they're not listened to. ... I think the environmental issue has begun to eclipse everything else because our population has doubled and the resources of the world have been cut in half since I was born and there's very little focus on those issues on the political agenda.

"So I don't know on the balance sheet whether to mark myself as an optimist or pessimist, but we've got to go on."

Go on he did — serving several more years in office and writing more than a dozen other books. He faced censure from some on the left who accused him of joining the same establishment he once criticized, as well as those on the right who objected to his protests in the '60s.

But as the decades passed, Hayden remained a prominent voice on progressive causes, including environmental issues, economic policy and continued anti-war efforts.

Guardian -  In 1960, while a student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, he was involved in the formation of Students for a Democratic Society, then dedicated to desegregating the south. By 1962, when he began drafting the landmark Port Huron Statement, SDS and Hayden were dedicated to changing the world.

“We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably at the world we inherit,” began the statement, which outlined a plan for a revolutionary campus social movement.

Hayden was fond of comparing the student movement that followed to the American revolution and the civil war.

In 1968, he helped organise anti-war demonstrations during the Democratic national convention in Chicago that turned violent and resulted in the notorious Chicago seven trial. It began as the Chicago eight trial, but one defendant, Bobby Seale, was denied the lawyer of his choice and ultimately received a separate trial.

After a circus-like trial, Hayden and three others were convicted of crossing state lines to incite riot. The convictions were later overturned, and an official report deemed the violence “a police riot”.

In 1965, Hayden made his first visit to North Vietnam with an unauthorised delegation. He found out later that his movements were being tracked and recorded by the FBI, as they would be from then on. In 1967, he returned to Hanoi with another group and was asked by North Vietnamese leaders to bring three prisoners of war back to the US. With the prisoners suffering medical problems, the US state department thanked Hayden for his humanitarian action.

Firmly committed to the anti-war movement, Hayden participated in sit-ins at Columbia University, then began travelling the country to promote a rally in Chicago for the 1968 Democratic national convention.

Why the Brookings Institution and the Washington Establishment Love Wars

Food stamps improve education

Low Income Housing Authroity - A recent study by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that low-income children who are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, actually perform better in school than children who are not receiving the benefits.

The reason is very simple. They have food in their tummies. Being hungry affects the ability to concentrate in school, resulting in lower test scores and the higher possibility of not graduating from high school. Basically, being hungry affects their entire lives and their future. Poor students receiving food stamps are 18 percent more likely to graduate from high school, according to the study, especially young girls who showed increased scores in reading and math.

When children go hungry, they can't concentrate, they are much more likely to become ill, and they are either too embarrassed or too proud to ask for food. So, they suffer in silence.

October 23, 2016

Ethnic relations: Beyond law and virtue

Sam Smith

As I read about the growing ethnic conflict in the country, highlighted by police brutality against blacks and Donald Trump’s brutality against common decency, I have the feeling of moving backwards to a different time and place. It is as if fifty years of progress is being reversed, and the arguments and behaviors that spurred the civil rights movement and its gifts to America are being badly damaged and forgotten.

The civil rights movement was built in part on the  faith that if one tried hard enough in the right way you would not only achieve goals of decency but convert those who were currently opposing them. And it wasn’t just about laws and virtue. As I wrote a couple of decades ago:

What if we were to start with the unhappy truth that humans have always had a hard time dealing with other peoples, and that much ethnic and sexual antagonism stems not from hate so much as from cultural narcissism and myopia? Then our repertoire of solutions might tilt more towards education and mediation and away from being self-righteous multi-cultural missionaries converting yahoos in the wilds of the soul. We could turn towards something more akin to what Andrew Young once described as a sense of "no fault justice."  We might begin to consider seriously  Martin Luther King's admonition to his colleagues that among their dreams should be that  someday their enemies would be their friends

Today, many think the answer to evil is simply hating and berating the wrong doers and punishing them for their offenses.  The media encourages this, heavily reporting the wrongs – such as cops killing innocent black men – but finding little time to report on changes in policing that would make such events less likely. Thus, unlike the civil rights movement, we confront current horrors with much less hope or discussion about replacing them with anything saner and kinder.

There is a parallel to this that one finds in dysfunctional families, where some of the offspring spend their whole lives in a righteous but futile anger about things that happened without realizing that while you can’t rewrite history you can still change the present and the future.

I feel something similar happening now in our cultural relations. You find it not only in anger far outpacing constructive action but also in the emphasis on eliminating nasty semiotics and cruel symbols, which are just reflections of bad conditions and whose disappearance typically follows rather than leads substantive change. Replacing the name of a 19th century segregationist from a university wall will not alter current police behavior in the slightest.

But another thing I have felt while following these sad stories is what a gift the multicultural has been to my life and, I suspect, to many others. I don’t talk about it much, others don’t either and the media, for the most part, covers diversity’s problems, its regulatory cures, but not its joys and satisfactions. And it’s one of the things current efforts are missing.

For me, discovering other cultures began as early as ninth grade, taking one of two anthropology courses taught in American high schools at the time. Our teacher, Howard Platt, was a tall, bald, bespectacled Quaker. It was a wonderful world that he laid before us. Not the stultifying world of our parents, the monochromatic world of our neighborhood, the boring world of 9th grade, but a world of endless options, a world in which people got to cook, eat, shelter themselves, have sex, dance and pray in an extraordinary variety of ways. Mr. Platt's subliminal message of cultural diversity was simultaneously a message of freedom. You were not a prisoner of your culture; you could always go live with the Eskimos, the Indians or the Arabs. By the time the bell rang I was often ready to move, an inclination heightened by research into the mammary variations of cultures as revealed by the photos in National Geographic.

What we learned that year was strikingly different from what we were learning elsewhere. The world around us, in so many ways, was teaching us to define our place by a process of exclusion, secured by the assumption that we were smarter, whiter, and/or faster than someone else.

In Mr. Platt's class, things were different. The world was defined by people who built igloos and pyramids and stone axes and rafts that could cross an ocean and they lived together in strange combinations and went into the forest to have babies and some of them had more gods than others and some didn't like to fight as much as others and some thought if you died in your sleep your soul would fly away.

After awhile, it was no longer odd to learn about a new culture. The difference of it all seemed natural and, in fact, brought us closer to those we were reading about.

Of course, some of what I read in anthropology about some of the peoples conquered or swept aside in the great march of Western Civilization also made me uncomfortable. There were American Indians, for example, who were considerably more likable than the white men who got rid of them. And it annoyed me to read of white missionaries landing on Pacific Islands and making the natives wear western clothes with some of them dying of pneumonia because of their wet western clothes after a rainstorm or going swimming.

By the end of the year I could take the Romans or leave them. I liked their domes but didn't like them beating up people because they were 'barbarians' and had some land the Romans wanted. I liked the independently invented domes of the Inuits too, but didn't care for their tendency to dump their old people out in the snow to die when the food got short. I had become acquainted with so many cultures so vastly different from my own and from each other that I was hard pressed to say which was inferior or superior. I was not even inclined to try.

I had become, without knowing the term, a cultural relativist. Mr. Platt did not exorcise racism, and he did not teach ethnic harmony, cultural sensitivity, the regulation of equality, or the morality of non-prejudiced behavior. He taught something far more important, something missing from the present discourse on ethnicity, something too often absent still from school and college curricula. Mr. Platt opened a world to us in which its variety was not something to fear or regulate but to learn about, appreciate and enjoy. It was not an obstacle, but a gift that came with being human.

About the same time I had become a drummer and a vigorous student of jazz and its musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Waller.  Such characters became cultural role models and helped me start my Quaker school’s first jazz band. They were not honored by my school, parents, or other white adults around me, but they nonetheless became covert pals who helped me enjoy the often tough times of a teenager.

When I got to Harvard, I found I had been far from alone. Many of my friends, also musicians, were big fans of black jazz and in our beat era rebellion against the conventional found in its players alternative souls and attitudes to admire and emulate. I still remember Miles Davis in a large auditorium playing with his back to the audience and thinking,  yeah, that’s how I feel sometimes. And, coincidentally, to back it all up, the best book I read was Martin Luther King’s Stride Towards Freedom, not on any course list.

Further, out of twenty anthropology majors at Harvard, five of us had been students of Howard Platt, who knew how to welcome his students to cultural diversity in a way that today whole towns and institutions – from police departments to universities – have yet to discover. It was not a moral, legal or political discovery, but simply a better way to live and think about others.  

All of which (along with having a Puerto Rican sister in law and four Puerto Rican nephews and nieces, one of whom became a fellow journalist) came in handy when I moved back to my birthplace, Washington DC, to begin work as a radio reporter. My father had been in the Roosevelt administration and he and my mother had refused to sign then common restrictive covenants (promising not to sell your property to a “Negro, Jew or Persian”) and had instead built a house in a Georgetown alley on a trash dump next to a row of black occupied shanties, half of them without running water – a neighborhood still being listed by the Census as “rural.” While Washington was deeply segregated (including my elementary school), the line between ethnicities was not infrequently just as close as ours. And while I did not play with the kids next door, in that  row also lived our mailman. How many mid level officials in the Obama administration live on the same block as their postal carrier?

This is something that is generally ignored in talking about ethnic relations. The proximity of cultures makes a large difference simply because, while a community may be segregated, its people are not strangers. For much of the white south, integration was an undesired forced change to existing relationships. For much of the white north black migration was more like an alien invasion.  This is still reflected today in the twenty top cities where a black in 2015 was likely to be killed by a cop. Only four of those cities were in the south. A black was 7 times more likely to be killed by a cop in Oklahoma than in Georgia.

Another advantage of cultural proximity is that it damages clichés. It may even break formal cultural rules. Washington’s black madam, Odessa Madre, was a classic example.

At her peak in the 1940s, Madre was earning about $100,000 a year, and had at least six bawdy houses, bookmaking operations, and a headquarters known as the Club Madre. Among the performers there were Moms Mabley, Count Basie and Nat King Cole.

By 1980, Madre had been picked up 30 times on 57 charges over a 48 year span, seven of them spent in a federal prison.

Madre grew up in a mixed neighborhood of blacks and Irish, the latter heavily populating the DC police force and, in the end, often looking out for their childhood friend. "Negroes and Irishmen got along real well," Madre told the Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy. "They would fight amongst themselves, but we wouldn't fight each other. If somebody outside Cowtown came to fight the Irish, the Negroes would chunk bricks at them. We were like a big happy family."

Writes Milloy: "Thus began a long and prosperous relationship with members of the Metropolitan Police Department. When Madre's childhood friends grew up, they became captains, lieutenants and even superintendents in the police department, like their fathers. As the year passed and Madre became the notorious 'Queen,' many of her childhood buddies couldn't forget that she had once been their compatriot in the 'Great Rock Chunkin' Wars' against the Italian and German kids."

After I came back to DC, I wrote a friend:

Have been covering some of the anti-segregation demonstrations around the Washington area. The results here have been hopeful. Good police work has kept violence to a minimum although the presence of neo-Nazi Lincoln Rockwell and his troopers doesn't make the situation any simpler. Quite a few lunch counters have been desegregated. Glen Echo Amusement Park is resisting despite a month of picketing and a Bethesda theater is also refusing to back down.

Earlier that year, four black college students had sat in at a white-only Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two weeks, there were sit-ins in fifteen cities in five southern states and within two months they had spread to fifty four cities in nine states. In April the leaders of these protests had come together, heard a moving sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. and formed the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. The 1957 summer I had first worked for WWDC, I had covered the passage of the first civil rights legislation in Congress since 1875. Now it was getting serious. By the end of June, I was covering the desegregation of lunch counters in Thr suburbs.

But it wasn’t all progress. The House and the Senate were tying themselves in knots over civil rights legislation. In the House, Judge Howard Smith, who was czar of the Rules Committee, had once justified slavery on the grounds that the Romans and Egyptians had used it to build their civilizations. He also noted that southerners had never accepted the idea that the "colored race" had equal intelligence, education and social attainments as whites.

He was not alone. Over on the Senate side, I reported that "This afternoon it was JW Fulbright who said the issue of discrimination was non-existent -- raised every four years for political reasons." Fulbright at the time was participating in a southern filibuster that had already been going 69 hours, far longer than any previous effort.

Meanwhile, several times  when calling the DC police dispatcher to check on overnight activities, I was told something like, "Nothin' but a few nigger stabbings." It had, after all, only been twelve years since the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell arrived to take his seat in the House of Representatives. Stepping into his office for the first time he found a memo on his desk headed "Dos and Don'ts for Negro Congressmen." One was "Don't eat in the House dining room." And, according to the Washington Post, a 1948 report by the National Committee on Segregation in the Nation’s Capital noted a traveler from India as saying “I would rather be an Untouchable in the Hindu caste system than a Negro in Washington.”  
But there were good signs as well such as a sizable number of white Jews marching alongside  black protesters at Glen Echo amusement park. Or the fact that a year before national school desegregation, a Supreme Court decision had forced the integration of the capital’s restaurants. Or that President Eisenhower had promised to integrate the capital.

Even later,  during the six days of the 1968 riots, only four people were violently killed – two white and two black. The black mayor, Walter Washington, refused FBI director Hoover’s order to shoot rioters, pointing out that you can replace buildings but not people. 

Something else, little noticed,  affected the capital: its history and its cultural complexity. As early as 1810, 31% of blacks in Washington were free. That number rose to 78% by the time of the Civil War. In the mid 19th century Sojourner Truth integrated streetcars in DC, which still meant that blacks had to move to the back of the cars when they crossed a bridge into Virginia.

Not a few black Washingtonians were supported by government employment. In fact when the civil rights protests of the 1960s took place, I heard fellow activists complain about the non-participation of older black Washingtonians who didn’t want their jobs threatened.

Once, while in the offices of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, where I was aiding director Marion Barry with media, Stokely Carmichael came and announced that we whites were no longer welcomed in the civil rights movement. Yet a couple of years later I found myself working with blacks and whites to form a third party on behalf of DC statehood just as some years earlier a similar coalition – including black and white middle class homeowners -  had joined in a successful fight against freeways. For 25 years we would have a black party member on the city council and/or school board.

The longer you lived in DC the more you realized that nothing about its black community was simple. Some 15% were Catholic. Blacks included some of the wealthiest and some of the poorest residents,  including folks whose great great grandparents had lived there as free blacks and some who had only recently arrived from further South. I was stopped twice in the 1960s by black men wanting to buy my beagle, clearly hoping that they could still hunt somewhere like they had in their recently departed southern home towns.

Then there were black students having a hard time in public schools but elders who had been taught there during the days of segregation by highly qualified black men and women not permitted to be  college professors. As Wendell E Pritchett has noted, “D.C. became a mecca for America's black elite. Howard University played a central role in this process. The nation's foremost black college, organized at a time when discrimination was the rule at most institutions of higher learning, Howard drew blacks from around the nation. For decades, its law and medical schools produced the majority of the nation's black professionals, and D.C.'s black elite was large and economically diverse.”

There were  also numerous variations in the white community. Those who hated blacks had mostly peacefully moved to the suburbs in large numbers. During the decade of the 1950s the percentage of whites declined by a third.  By 1980 in the nation’s capital just 28% were non-latino whites. During this same period the number of blacks had doubled. Today, whites are back in the majority.

A 2011 study reported by the Washington Post found that blacks and whites both understood how class could surpass ethnicity:

Most District residents — black and white — see socioeconomic class, not race, as the primary source of a stark divide in the city, according to a new poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. And when it comes to their outlook on the city, their own neighborhoods and certain aspects of the economy, higher-income African Americans have more in common with similarly wealthy whites than with lower-income blacks. But in many other important areas, the differences between blacks and whites persist, regardless of income level. Blacks with household incomes of $100,000 or more express significantly more sour views of the District’s economy than do whites with similar incomes. Higher-income African Americans also are less secure than whites about their own financial well-being, more apprehensive about the spreading effects of gentrification and somewhat more critical of the state of race relations in the District.

These changes may seem tumultuous but in fact, Washington – save for the 1968 riots – managed somehow to handle it all better than many other places are doing today. While most whites live in white neighborhoods there are few Donald Trumps among them.  And  the city, for all its other changes, has had, over a half century, nothing but black mayors.

This complex story was one strong reason I lived in Washington so long and so well. As an independent minded guy, I was complex too and found the city a good place to be your own thing. Further complexity is an extremely useful foe of clichés.

My gut rule for dealing with others became twofold: respect and humor. And the payback for me in DC was friendship and  learning lots of new things. Ethnic fairness wasn’t just the law and the right thing to do, it was pleasant, interesting and fun.

Such things have gotten lost in our obsession with procedures and rules as the solutions for all our problems.  Law and documents only carry you so far.  And in the best communities you’ll find them hardly mentioned because there are no legal contracts that provide happy living.

This is why for decades I argued for getting police out of their cars into neighborhoods, schools that introduce students to cultural variety as well as mathematical values, a government that made it easier for us all to get along, as well as media and institutions that addressed multi-culturalism not just for its problems but for its vigorous assets.

I’ve seen it and lived it long enough to know it can happen. But the first step is to start talking about it  How can your town and community become a better place for everyone who lives there? How can everyone learn to like others and have fun while doing so?

We need to know. Last year just less than half of American babies born were non-latino whites. Predictions are that in 30 or 40 years these whites will be part of a minority nationwide.

Washington is one interesting and useful example of how this can happen in a positive way.  But, as with so many good examples, we tend to ignore its story and what it can reveal. Instead we let the bad stuff and the violence-hungry amongst us – whether police, media, neighbors or politicians – define  our status thus undermining sensible education for, and enjoyment of, a better society.