Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fifth of July

Fifth of July is not just a date, it’s a play by Lanford Wilson. It opened off-Broadway in 1978, then, after some revision, on Broadway in 1980. It’s also the play that was the starting point of my doctoral studies and the subject of my doctoral thesis in 1988.

In 1985 I directed a production of the play at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder with a great cast.

Fifth of July Nomads March 1985

The cast of Fifth of July at Nomads Theatre, Boulder, Colorado, March 1985

In the course of my studies I became friends with Mr. Wilson, and the director of the productions, Marshall W. Mason. So ever since then, I have marked the 5th of July as a special day for me and my love of theatre.

“Matt didn’t believe in death and I don’t either…. There’s no such thing. It goes on and then it stops. You can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.” – Sally Talley, Fifth of July.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Glorious Fourth

Flags in the Rain 07-03-14When I was a kid I was very outgoing in putting up displays for the holidays — Memorial Day, Christmas, the Fourth of July. I liked the flags, the lights, the stuff. It was cool to make a big splash. But as I grew up I grew out of it, and today I don’t go much for things like that. I don’t have a flag to fly on national holidays, and the most I’ll do for Christmas is a wreath on the door because it has good memories and the scent of pine is rare in subtropical Florida.

I suppose it has something to do with my Quaker notions of shunning iconography — outward symbols can’t show how you truly feel about something on the inside — and more often than not they are used to make up for the lack of a true belief. This is also true of patriotism: waving the flag — or wrapping yourself in it — is a poor and false measure of how you truly feel about your country.

There’s an old saying that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. As Benjamin Franklin noted, no country had ever been formed because of an idea. But when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1776 and passed the resolution embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that was what was being done: create a nation not based on geographical boundaries, property, tribalism, or religion, but on the idea of forming a new government to replace the present form because the rulers were incompetent, uncaring, and cruel. The American Revolution wasn’t so much a rebellion as it was a cry for attention. Most of the Declaration is a punch-list, if you will, of grievances both petty and grand against the Crown, and once the revolution was over and the new government was formed, the Constitution contained many remedies to prevent the slights and injuries inflicted under colonialism: the Bill of Rights is a direct response to many of the complaints listed in the Declaration.

But the Declaration of Independence goes beyond complaints. Its preamble is a mission statement. It proclaims our goals and what we hope to achieve. No nation had ever done that before, and to this day we are still struggling to achieve life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness goes on with no sign of let-up.

That is the true glory of America. Not that we complain — and we do — but that we work to fix those complaints. To put them right. To make things better than they were. To give hope to people who feel that they have no voice, and to assure that regardless of who they are, where they come from, what they look like, who they love, or what they believe, there will be room for them to grow, do, and become whatever it is that they have the capacity to be. It’s a simple idea, but the simplest ideas often have the most powerful impact.

This nation has achieved many great things. We’ve inspired other nations and drawn millions to our shores not to just escape their own country but to participate in what we’re doing. And we’ve made mistakes. We’ve blundered and fumbled and bullied and injured. We’ve treated some of our own citizens with contempt, and shown the same kind of disregard for the rights of others that we enumerated in our own Declaration of Independence. We have been guilty of arrogance and hypocrisy. But these are all human traits, and we are, after all, human. The goal of government is to rise above humanity, and the goal of humanity is to strive for perfection. So if we stumble on the road to that goal, it is only because we are moving forward.

I love this country not for what it is but for what it could be. In my own way I show my patriotism not by waving a flag from my front porch but by working to make things work in our system and by adding to the discussion that will bring forth ideas to improve our lives and call into question the ideas of others. It is all a part of what makes the simple idea of life, liberty, and that elusive happiness so compelling and so inspiring, and what makes me very proud to be a part of this grand experiment.

Go forth!

Photo: The Avenue in the Rain by Frederick Childe Hassam 1917.

[This post originally appeared on July 4, 2005.]

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Organize

I still find Joe Scarborough to be insufferably smug more often than not, and his tolerance meter for Trump outrage was several years behind the times, but I’ll give him credit where credit is due.

Blaming Hillary Clinton for the party’s demise is too easy. More than 18 months after that inexcusable loss, Clinton’s party still lacks a winning national message and has yet to find a candidate younger than 77 to replace Republican Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

But many Democrats campaigning across the United States understand that now is no time to panic. Instead of being distracted by those electric flashes of light created by Trump’s perpetual motion machine, they are knocking on doors, reaching out to neighbors, making Facebook friends and organizing teams to drive their supporters to polling places. For those still distracted by the latest cable news calamity, remember the words of a union activist wrongly executed in 1915. Before his death, Joe Hill sent a friend instructions: “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize!”

If my inbox linked to this blog is any indication, the Democrats are doing just that, at least here in Florida.  I get ten to twenty missives from local campaigns and national organizations a day.  The difference between now and two and four years ago is that they’re not all begging for money.  They’re telling me about rallies, campaign appearances, and other such events where like-minded people are getting together.  (Yes, of course they all come with an appeal for a donation.  They’d be derelict in their duty if they didn’t beg.)

What I’m also seeing, though is an emerging message.  Like a star forms when various quantities of gas and dust begin to coalesce, it may not seem all that coherent until you realize that each individual mote and molecule has a message of its own, mainly geared to local issues and providing a positive outlook for the place they’re in.  And it might just be working.

The national Democrats are at the natural disadvantage in that they don’t have a national candidate like an incumbent president to rally around.  And it’s hard to sell a Dump Trump message without something to sell on your own.  But if the local campaigns keep concentrating on the local issues — forget about pussy-grabbing but fix the schools — the mix of a thousand different voices in a thousand local races can win over the places where they need to be won.

Passing This Along

No, it’s not from The Onion.  But nowadays it seems like every news story has to come with that disclaimer.

From the Guardian:

A report that Donald Trump is looking to walk away from the World Trade Organisation and instead adopt a United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act, or Fart Act, has been greeted with loud amusement on Twitter.

Axios reported that it had received a leaked early draft of a bill ordered by the president, that would see America take the unlikely step of abandoning WTO rules, allowing Trump to raise tariffs without the consent of Congress.

The bill the existence of which has not been independently confirmed would be a dramatic shift in trade policy with wide-reaching impacts, but it was the name of the proposed bill that caught people’s attention.

Share this with the nearest twelve-year-old.

Monday, July 2, 2018

This Time We Really Mean It

I know it sounds alarmist to say that the Supreme Court pick by Trump could change the world, but this time it could.  Giving the right wing a solid majority on the court for the next thirty years could mean the end of reproductive choice, which effects more than just women; LGBTQ rights, including marriage equality; voting rights, workers rights, immigration, and even the various amendments to the Constitution, including the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth.

All of them have been under assault by the right wing since the 1960’s, held in check by an evenly-balanced court that even Ronald Reagan couldn’t tip his way completely.  He got very close with Robert Bork, but we stopped it then, and got Anthony Kennedy.  Now he’s going, and unless we do something to stop Trump’s pick, we’re going to get someone just as doctrinaire and antediluvian as Bork, but without the charm.

But wait, someone says, how do we know that Trump will pick a far-right jurist?  Simple; because he will do whatever he can to piss off people, and he knows that picking a wingnut will outrage the progressives.  He doesn’t really care about policy or judicial background; he just likes to watch the fireworks.  He doesn’t have a clue that whomever he picks will outlive him and change the fundamental laws of this nation; he just wants to see Rachel Maddow’s head explode.  Knowing that, it’s safe to conclude that his choice will be not be because he cares a popcorn fart about the Constitution — we’ve known that all along — but what kind of meltdown he can cause on Twitter.

So it comes to the Senate, where a far more wily foe lies in wait: Mitch McConnell.  He’s already stolen the Supreme Court pick from the Democrats the last time there was a vacancy with his daring daylight robbery of Barack Obama and Merrick Garland.  Now he’s planning to whoop through Trump’s pick before the mid-terms, knowing that the sentiment is building against the Republican majority in the Senate, and the only thing that’s keeping him in the majority is the health of John McCain, who is the 51st Republican in a 51-49 chamber.  It only takes two to win for the Democrats.

As Martin Longman notes, it’s a lot easier to work for change than it is to fight to keep the status quo.  This time the change is coming from the left, but the battle is going to be that much more brutal when you have a mercurial and frankly bonkers leader on the other side, held in check only by the fingernails and hawksbill of Mitch McConnell and the ticking clock leading up to November.

This will be a two-front battle.  We have to defeat the nomination of Trump’s pick and we need to win back the Senate to guarantee that no matter who else he picks for however long he remains in office won’t get passed through so your grandchild can marry whomever he or she wants or gets to decide who controls her body or if they get to enjoy a safe work place or even vote in the first place.

I know I’ve said that every election and therefor the future of this nation hangs on three little words — The Supreme Court — but this time we really mean it.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sunday Reading

Marching In Miami — Via the Miami Herald, thousands of people took to the streets in the heat and humidity to protest Trump’s immigration concentration camps.

Several hours after protesters led by Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda marched from the White House to the Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., the exasperated chants and flailing picket signs reached downtown Miami Saturday evening as critics of the Trump administration’s immigration policies took to the streets in solidarity with more than 700 affiliated protests across the country.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus at around 5 p.m. — and marched down Northeast Fourth Street to the Freedom Tower — in protest of the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting as many immigrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as possible, which in turn led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents and guardians and taken to migrant shelters across the country — including three in Miami-Dade County. One of the shelters, located in Homestead, was the site of a large protest last week.

Marching under the banner “Families Belong Together,” the Miami protesters called for President Trump to reunify fractured immigrant families as quickly as possible and criticized the administration’s new plan to indefinitely detain parents with their children as the adults undergo immigration proceedings. Many of them called for the elimination of ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but most appeared centrally focused on the trauma they say children as young as toddlers have had to endure due to family separations at the border.

Marleine Bastien, executive director of the Family Action Network Movement, led much of Saturday’s protest, her voice growing hoarse as she bellowed into a megaphone about the need to reunify families in a quick and transparent manner.

“There are children as young as 18 months old that have been ripped out from their moms, from their dads, and caged like animals,” Bastien said. “This is not acceptable. This is unspeakable.”

“This is not the America we want, this is not the America we fought for, this is not the America we will accept,” she said. “We deserve better.”

The coast-to-coast protests were organized by four main groups — The Leadership Conference, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Move On and the American Civil Liberties Union — but local groups handled logistics for their sister marches.

The Miami march was one of 31 demonstrations planned in Florida, according to the Families Belong Together website. A smaller gathering took place in Palmetto Bay earlier Saturday, the only other affiliated sister protest in Miami-Dade County. Events were held as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Key Largo.

Protesters flooded public streets in major cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. In Miami, police cruisers blocked off traffic as a swarm of chanting protestors showed the public “what Democracy looks like.”

“ICE, hey! How many kids did you take today,” they chanted.

Some viewed Trump’s June 20 executive order ceasing family separations as a clear sign their activism had been effective thus far. Pro-immigrant demonstrators have staged many demonstrations outside immigrant shelters and detention facilities in recent weeks, and the administration’s zero-tolerance policy — which was officially announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April — had been subject to biting criticism from Republicans and Democrats in the nearly two months of its existence.
In a memorandum to federal prosecutors issued April 11, Sessions urged a “renewed commitment to criminal immigration enforcement” that would deter further illegal entries. The Department of Justice at the time said the policy came as the Department of Homeland Security documented a 203 percent increase in illegal border crossings from March 2017 to March 2018.

“I don’t understand how anyone can stand by it at this point,” said Marie Caceres, the principal of Aspira Arts Deco Charter. Caceres, among the first protesters to arrive Saturday, held a sign that said “This is America. Do you know where your children are?”

Caceres said some of her students have suffered through the trauma of living without a parent because they were deported or still remain in their native countries.

“It makes me want to fight,” she said.

Felipe Reis, a 20-year-old Brazilian immigrant and recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), addressed the crowd prior to the march. He said he was “proud to stand here today as an undocumented immigrant and unafraid.”

Reis, who led an “Abolish ICE” chant, said he has lived much of his life under “constant fear” of deportation and did not want the immigrant community in South Florida to fear any longer.

“No child, no father and no mother deserves to be threatened or taken away and abused because of their status — because they’re seeking refuge for their families,” he said.

Standing in front of the Freedom Tower, nicknamed the “Ellis Island of the South” for its role in providing relief to Cuban refugees fleeing the regime of Fidel Castro, protestors drew honks of support as they rallied.

Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition, delivered an impassioned speech about fighting back against Trump’s immigration policies through activism.

“You can tell your grandchildren that you stood up,” she said to roaring applause and cheers. “You stood up for the children. You stood up for the families.”

If You See Something, Say Something Stupid — From The New Yorker, some of the calls that came in about brown people doing ordinary things.

“Hello, ICE? The person sitting on the park bench across from me just got tan.”

“Can you believe that these Puerto Ricans think they can enter America whenever they want, simply because they all have American passports?”

“Just saw a black person buy five pounds of crack at the grocery store in a sack labeled ‘flour.’ ”

“Those brown people keep walking down the street like they’re allowed to be on public sidewalks!”

“That Mexican-Arab-Native person is chewing an egg-salad sandwich like a terrorist.”

“Black people are barbecuing over there. Isn’t it illegal for black people to cook meat outside? And inside?”

“As we all know, it’s illegal for minorities to buy art.”

“Yeah, he does look exactly like that baby he’s pushing in that pram, but black people kidnap babies who look just like them every day.”

“They’re speaking Spanish. O.K., fine, maybe it’s Chinese.”

“I am one hundred per cent sure that this black person is tying her shoes in a suspicious way.”

“I just saw a brown person illegally cross the border from Vermont into New Hampshire.”

“Help! A minority glared at my dog.”

“Yes, I called five minutes ago, but that black person is still breathing.”

“There’s a black woman in my yoga class who’s stealing my moves.”

Doonesbury — Faking it.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Friday, June 29, 2018

Does It Really Matter?

Another mass shooting, another day of endless video loops from helicopters and long shots of police cars and emergency vehicles lined up, and another ceaseless round of people on cable TV trying to come up with new ways of saying they have no new information but here’s the same clip over again.

This time it’s the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland.  This time it’s five journalists dead at the hands of a man with a shotgun.  This time he’s alive and in custody, and this time the authorities are telling us that he had a grudge against the paper: he lost a defamation suit against it in 2015.

Without diminishing the horrific act itself and the loss of life, let me ask a simple question: does it really matter what the shooter’s motive was?  Does knowing why he did it somehow lessen the pain or amplify it?  We’re always asking “Why?” but the answer, even if we know it, doesn’t make any difference to the dead, and in comparison to the result, it often seems trivial or even insulting to the memories of the lost to wonder why.  The result is endless speculation and, like the live TV coverage, an endless loop of non-information.

But in this time of polarization, of meaningless attempts to control the madness of guns and death through legislation or “thoughts and prayers,” there is one simple reason why a man with a gun can walk into a newspaper office, or a mall, or a school, or a movie theatre, or a church, or a church basement, and in less time than it takes to write it, kill or wound people and scar the rest of us: Because he can.  What more do you really need to know than that?

Job Evaluation And Review Time

Trump is going to have a summit with Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Finland.  I’m sure he’ll do the requisite sucking up to the boss that all good and loyal employees do.

In the past few weeks alone, Mr. Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of 7 industrial powers, suggested it has a legitimate claim to Crimea because a lot of Russian speakers live there and continued sowing doubts about whether Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election — or if it did, whether the sabotage actually benefited Hillary Clinton.

In Singapore, Mr. Trump emerged from a lunch of sweet and sour crispy pork with Mr. Kim to declare he had solved the nuclear crisis with North Korea, even though the North conceded nothing on its weapons and missile programs. Mr. Trump also canceled joint military exercises with South Korea, a concession long sought by Pyongyang.

It has become a recurring motif for Mr. Trump as a statesman: In November, he lavished praise on President Xi Jinping of China after a one-on-one meeting in Beijing, during which Mr. Xi offered no concrete concession on trade — an issue that matters more to Mr. Trump than almost any other.

What these three leaders have in common is that they are autocrats, whom Mr. Trump admires and believes he can win over with a brand of personal diplomacy that dispenses with briefing papers or talking points and relies instead on a combination of flattery, cajolery and improvisation.

“Trump sees a good meeting as a positive diplomatic achievement,” said Michael McFaul, a former American ambassador to Moscow. “That’s wrong. Good meetings are a means to an end.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up with a box of candy and a stripper.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

What’s To Stop Them Now?

There are times when you just have to say…  Well, I don’t know what I can come up with cogently, so here again is Charlie Pierce with thoughts on the retirement of Anthony Kennedy and the handing over of the reins to the far-right nutsery for the next thirty years.

There is not much that the Democrats can do about this now. The Republican majority in the Senate killed the filibuster in order to install Neil Gorsuch in the seat they hijacked from Merrick Garland. So any complaining about how Chuck Schumer didn’t hip-check Mitch McConnell into the aisle should be pre-emptively dismissed now. This result was inevitable from the moment that Antonin Scalia’s heart stopped. This is the beginning of the end of the long game that began with the Powell memo in 1972. All that’s left for them now is to solidify the gains they have made, an option that no longer may be available to minority voters, and gay citizens, and everybody else who thought their enhanced ability to participate in American self-government was permanent.

They have everything in place to do that very thing. Some of it was serendipity; they didn’t plan on two Republican presidents in 18 years both installed without winning the popular vote. But the rest of it was a grand strategy against everything they have despised about American politics since the end of World War II. They have pushed every built-in chokepoint present in our political institutions in order to put in place political choke-points guaranteed to operate to their advantage, and they’ve done everything to reinforce these dark creations until they look as permanent as the composition of the U.S. Senate or the Electoral College. When the Senate confirms the nomination of Louie Gohmert later this summer, it will mean that four of the nine justices of the Supreme Court will have been nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote. I’m beginning to doubt the wisdom of the Founders.

Anyway, everything’s up for grabs now, if Justice Samuel Alito’s casual detonation of 40 years of precedent in Wednesday’s majority opinion in Janus is any indication. Roe, and then Griswold, are in range. The very idea of a national healthcare system is running scared. Reform of our cash-drunk campaign finance system now looks as distant as the mountains of the moon. Obergefell carries a bullseye—the next court is odds-on to find religious liberty exceptions to every law, including gravity and certain parking regulations—and so do Miranda and, what the hell, Brown v. Board.

Why not? What’s out there to stop them now? Just this week, they’ve written religious bigotry and legislative ratfcking into the Constitution and converted the United States into a right-to-work country. Millions of people are going to have their lives made harder by the events of the past week. In that context, musings on political strategery seem viciously beside the point.

The only way to stop this is to stall the hearings on the nomination until after the mid-terms in November and work like hell until then to take back the Senate.  Both are breathtakingly monumental tasks given the odds against the Democrats and their maddening ability to try to get along.

And don’t think that waiting for Robert Mueller and his report, no matter how damaging it is to Trump and the Republicans, to save us.  Even if Trump is somehow miraculously forced out of office or is incapacitated, waiting in the wings is Mike Pence, who will appoint Judge Roy Moore to the court.

So, yeah; there doesn’t seem to be a lot to be gained by wondering what Chuck Schumer will do.  It’s up to us now.