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Trump in Korea, and some more personal reflections

14 Mar

There’s no doubt about it, North Korea has been a knotty challenge for American foreign policy, not¬–mind you–that I’m a fan of that foreign policy, which has long seemed, shall we say, excessively bellicose. Until quite recently President Trump simply amped up the aggression and seemed entirely too sanguine about the prospect of war with North Korea. Then, all of a sudden, Trump tells us that he’s accepted an overture from Kim Jong-un to talk about Korea’s nukes.

What? Just like that! That’s a good thing, no?

That’s what I felt for maybe a day. And then I began reading commentary by those more deeply informed in such matters than I am. These worthies were not at all encouraging. Quite the contrary, they’ve been rather discouraging and disparaging.

Forget about Trump’s many personal flaws – lack of impulse control, narcissism, megalomania, etc. (Not to mention his misogyny, though that doesn’t seem directly relevant in this matter.) It’s not that these aren’t issues, they are; but let’s just set them aside. Rather, this just isn’t how these things are done. The right way to do this is to have underlings and deputies has things out for months and even years, ironing out all the kinks, and only then bring in Trump and Kim at the very end. They do a bit of sniffing about, find that it’s all good, and sign on the dotted lines their deputies have drawn. Very cautious, very deliberate.

Besides, for Trump to agree to talks with Kim is to give away half the game, or more, at the very start. Regardless of what the talks produce, if they produce anything at all, Kim wins prestige and legitimation points both at home and abroad. But is that so bad? Who knows, maybe that would settle him down. And maybe not.

But the fact is, business as usual – which is what the worthies want – hasn’t been working all that well, has it?

* * * * *

Meanwhile, I’ve had one of those moments I seem to have been having every few weeks or months. It’s generally during the night when I’m neither fully awake or fully asleep. They don’t last long, a matter of minutes at most. And they’re difficult to characterize.

It’s as though my mind were trying to detach itself from my person and become Mind Itself and thereby grasp the World Whole, if that makes any sense. On the one hand the world is what it is and cannot be escaped. It is utterly necessary. And at the same time seems utterly contingent, as though it could easily have been otherwise. All we need is for that butterfly over China to flutter its wings and history is changed. But what if it’s nothing but butterflies all the way down?

There’s so much human diversity in the world, so many different ways of life, so many different individual life histories. Taken individually, one at a time, each in its socio-historical context, they seem fixed and determinate. But when you consider the differences, each seems utterly contingent and arbitrary.

What if we could circulate minds freely from one to another?

* * * * *

Does The Donald have such moments? What I’ve just said seems rather too abstract and too intellectual for him. If he has such moments, they wouldn’t manifest in such terms. They terms would be different.

Is that what was going on in his insistence that more people attended his inaugural day than any other? In his absurd insistence that the photographs of people on the Mall were FAKE NEWS? Sure, his narcissism, his need to assert his power by forcing his deputies to participate in his delusion. All that.

But beneath it all, was he attempting to find a bit of freedom?

Count me among those who believes he didn’t really want to win–noting that there are various ways one can interpret that. But he won and now THUD! he’s stuck with the job. He’s trapped–in the White House, with all these obscure and difficult responsibilities. His world is changed, utterly.

What’s he think he can do sitting across a table from Kim Jong-un? Two men, with nuclear arms between them, and the world on their shoulders. Is that how they wrestle with the Real?

* * * * *

If I were a religious man I’d be praying for them to find peace in a handclasp.

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The longue durée of human history is complicated

3 Mar
Conventional wisdom has it that over the course of, say, the last 50,000 years or so, human society evolved from small egalitarian bands of hunter-gatherers through a series of stages of ever larger and more unequal forms of social organization as we moved through the agricultural and then the industrial evolutions. We are thus stuck with inequality forever. David Graeber and David Wengrow challenge this in an important article in Eurozone, How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened). Here’s their final paragraph:

The pieces are all there to create an entirely different world history. For the most part, we’re just too blinded by our prejudices to see the implications. For instance, almost everyone nowadays insists that participatory democracy, or social equality, can work in a small community or activist group, but cannot possibly ‘scale up’ to anything like a city, a region, or a nation-state. But the evidence before our eyes, if we choose to look at it, suggests the opposite. Egalitarian cities, even regional confederacies, are historically quite commonplace. Egalitarian families and households are not. Once the historical verdict is in, we will see that the most painful loss of human freedoms began at the small scale – the level of gender relations, age groups, and domestic servitude – the kind of relationships that contain at once the greatest intimacy and the deepest forms of structural violence. If we really want to understand how it first became acceptable for some to turn wealth into power, and for others to end up being told their needs and lives don’t count, it is here that we should look. Here too, we predict, is where the most difficult work of creating a free society will have to take place.

These paragraphs will give you a feel for their argument:

Why are these seasonal variations important? Because they reveal that from the very beginning, human beings were self-consciously experimenting with different social possibilities. Anthropologists describe societies of this sort as possessing a ‘double morphology’. Marcel Mauss, writing in the early twentieth century, observed that the circumpolar Inuit, ‘and likewise many other societies . . . have two social structures, one in summer and one in winter, and that in parallel they have two systems of law and religion’. In the summer months, Inuit dispersed into small patriarchal bands in pursuit of freshwater fish, caribou, and reindeer, each under the authority of a single male elder. Property was possessively marked and patriarchs exercised coercive, sometimes even tyrannical power over their kin. But in the long winter months, when seals and walrus flocked to the Arctic shore, another social structure entirely took over as Inuit gathered together to build great meeting houses of wood, whale-rib, and stone. Within them, the virtues of equality, altruism, and collective life prevailed; wealth was shared; husbands and wives exchanged partners under the aegis of Sedna, the Goddess of the Seals.

Another example were the indigenous hunter-gatherers of Canada’s Northwest Coast, for whom winter – not summer – was the time when society crystallised into its most unequal form, and spectacularly so. Plank-built palaces sprang to life along the coastlines of British Columbia, with hereditary nobles holding court over commoners and slaves, and hosting the great banquets known as potlatch. Yet these aristocratic courts broke apart for the summer work of the fishing season, reverting to smaller clan formations, still ranked, but with an entirely different and less formal structure. In this case, people actually adopted different names in summer and winter, literally becoming someone else, depending on the time of year.

Perhaps most striking, in terms of political reversals, were the seasonal practices of 19th-century tribal confederacies on the American Great Plains – sometime, or one-time farmers who had adopted a nomadic hunting life. In the late summer, small and highly mobile bands of Cheyenne and Lakota would congregate in large settlements to make logistical preparations for the buffalo hunt. At this most sensitive time of year they appointed a police force that exercised full coercive powers, including the right to imprison, whip, or fine any offender who endangered the proceedings. Yet as the anthropologist Robert Lowie observed, this ‘unequivocal authoritarianism’ operated on a strictly seasonal and temporary basis, giving way to more ‘anarchic’ forms of organisation once the hunting season – and the collective rituals that followed – were complete.

Scholarship does not always advance. Sometimes it slides backwards. A hundred years ago, most anthropologists understood that those who live mainly from wild resources were not, normally, restricted to tiny ‘bands.’ That idea is really a product of the 1960s, when Kalahari Bushmen and Mbuti Pygmies became the preferred image of primordial humanity for TV audiences and researchers alike. As a result we’ve seen a return of evolutionary stages, really not all that different from the tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment: this is what Fukuyama, for instance, is drawing on, when he writes of society evolving steadily from ‘bands’ to ‘tribes’ to ‘chiefdoms,’ then finally, the kind of complex and stratified ‘states’ we live in today – usually defined by their monopoly of ‘the legitimate use of coercive force.’ By this logic, however, the Cheyenne or Lakota would have had to be ‘evolving’ from bands directly to states roughly every November, and then ‘devolving’ back again come spring. Most anthropologists now recognise that these categories are hopelessly inadequate, yet nobody has proposed an alternative way of thinking about world history in the broadest terms.

Toward the common GOOD (Global Organization Of Democracies)

2 Mar

The big world conferences on climate every 20 years (1972 Sweden, 1992 Brazil, 2012 Denmark) have failed. Bill McKibben and 350.org are raising consciousness and prodding consciences daily, but the big lever of “world opinion” needs a pivot point or fulcrum, a forum or year round parliament of small and responsible democracies so that all the rapidly growing threats to species and cultural diversity can be addressed rationally and continually. I believe that dramatic steps toward nuclear and general disarmament are both necessary and possible at this time. This will open the way to much reduced or eliminated “war budgets” and a release of funds for rapid reforestation & permaculturing of the planet.

Since I witnessed Biafra going under in the 1960s, the UN has never stopped a war, or an “ethnic cleansing,” or an “administrative massacre” (Hannah Arendt’s precise term replacing ‘pogrom’, see her Eichmann in Jerusalem), or an “attempted genocide.” Many wars by states against nations (e.g. U.S.A. against the Six Nations confederacy, China against Tibet and nation peoples of Sinjiang Province, Russia against Chechnya) have gone on for centuries. Described very precisely by Bernard Nietschmann (“The Third World War: Militarization and Indigenous Peoples” Cultural Survival Quarterly 11(3), 1987) many are still ongoing a quarter of a century later. From Nietschmann: “Every nation people that has resisted state invasion has been accused of being terrorists: Karens (all 5 million), Miskitos, Kurds, Palestinians, Basques, Irish, Oromo, Tamils, and so on. From the state point of view only terrorists resist state ‘integration’.”

This “war on terror” became World War Three immediately after World War II (circa 1948) when Burma invaded 5 nations within its borders, India invaded Nagaland, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran divided up Kurdistan, Israel was given a piece of Palestine, etc. etc. etc. etc. and now World War Three has become the unwinnable War on Terror again. None dare call this progress.

War doesn’t work anymore. Big expensive tech is easily destroyed by low cost tech. Think roadside bomb. An old mortar can destroy any nuclear power plant. The greatest aircraft carrier is undone by a half ounce of anthrax, bioengineered smallpox, bigpox, or by radiation, or by chemicals. Think drone attack blowback. Any one person can use all three kinds of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Finally, big states, power politics, growing populations have come up against walls of limited resources and vast pollution. The American Empire or “global economy” will shrink steadily or collapse quickly, whatever we call it. China, all other states (and nations trapped within them) face limits to growth and limits to destroying Nature.

Smaller democracies like Denmark, Costa Rica and Vermont are doing well. The Swiss Confederation is doing very well. Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine/Lebanon could figure out how to share water, basic resources, and thrive economically as Confederations. Indigenous nation peoples all over the world require something like the Swiss confederate model to survive in peace and prosper.

This proposal aims to conserve both species and cultural diversity on this planet:

For the Common GOOD

To stop the ecocatastrophe and build world peace processes a Global Organization Of Democracies (GOOD) supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) could coordinate efficient regional police to help prevent “administrative massacres” and terrorism, thereby enhancing the security of all peoples and encouraging states to redirect a growing portion of their military budgets to economically sustainable and resilient problem-solving over time. Continue reading

When Ravi Bhalla was sworn in as Mayor of Hoboken US Senator Cory Booker spoke of love

4 Jan

Sometime in the late summer or early fall of last year, 2017, I noticed that Ravi Bhalla, who was running for mayor of Hoboken, where I live, was holding a meet and greet at a coffee shop near the supermarket where I do much of my shopping. I went, talked with Ravi and others on his team, including James Doyle, who was running for councilman-at-large, and liked them. Some, come November, I voted for him. And he won.

And so I decided to attend Bhalla’s inauguration on January 1, 2018. I had no particular expectations about what this would be like, but I was a little surprised to see a packed auditorium with the aisles ringed with TV cameras. This, apparently, was a big deal.

It didn’t occur to me that we would say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the ceremony. It’s possible that high school was the last time I stood, hand over heard, saying those words. I remembered the words, and felt a lump in my throat as I said them.

A big chunk of the (progressive end) of the local Democratic establishment was in the audience, and several of them were on the stage, along with New Jersey’s two US Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker; the Governor-elect, Phil Murphy, sent Gurbir Grewal, his nominee for Attorney General, as his representative. Grewal, like Bhalla, is a Sikh. The opening prayer was offered by a Sikh, Giani Raghvinder Singh, and a Jew, Rabbi Robert Scheinberg, offered the closing prayer. A Roman Catholic offered the benediction, Monsignor Michael Andreano. This was an all-nations program.

As it should be, for Hoboken, along with its southern neighbor, Jersey City, the whole of northern New Jersey, and metropolitan New York, is an all-nations region. That was the theme of Senator Cory Booker’s remarks. As background he referred to the divisiveness and “darkness” in the country in 2017; he didn’t name names, but we all knew who and what he was referring to. Against that he talked of America’s ideals, fully acknowledging that our founding documents did not reflect those ideals – women were not mentioned and African-American’s were said to equal only 3/5s of a person – he argued that, in time, those ideals having been winning against the darkness.

It’s in that context that he talked of love. I was a bit surprised and shocked when I first heard the word, love; it’s not one that politicians use very much (if at all), and I forget his exact phrasing. But he must have used the word at least half a dozen times – love love love love love love – though obviously not in immediate succession (he wasn’t channeling the Beatles). His point was that when Robert Menendez was the first Latino elected to the New Jersey General Assembly, that was not merely a victory for Latinos, it was a victory for American ideals. Love. And when Barack Hussein Obama was elected President of the United States, that was not only a victory for African Americans, but, and more importantly, it was a victory for American ideals. Love. Nor is the victory of Ravi Bhalla – a “towel-head” at a time when He Who Shall Not Be Named legitimized and valorized such epithets on the national stage – only a matter of pride for his fellow Sikhs and Asian Indians. That victory is something for which all Americans can be proud, for it exemplifies and further amplifies the ideals equality and justice on which this nation was founded. Love.

Love is not all we need. We need hope, imagination, courage, and determination as well. But, yes, we do need love, for it is the foundation on which the others rest.

* * * * *

Cory Booker on The Conspiracy of Love.

President Trump, Thank you! Thank you for all the women who have come forward with stories about being harassed and raped

30 Nov

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Yes, citizen Trump has played a major role in the parade of accusations, albeit an indirect and unintended role to be sure.

The president of the United States serves two functions: 1) he governs the nation and, 2) he’s a symbol of the nation. The British separate these functions. The monarch is a symbol of the nation, but has no power to govern. The monarch doesn’t introduce legislation or sign it, doesn’t negotiate and sign treaties, doesn’t issue regulations, and so forth. Those are functions of government, and those functions belong to the prime minister. But the prime minister is not asked to shoulder the burden of being a national symbol.

It is in his role as national symbol that citizen Trump has motivated and energized these women to tell their stories. As a symbol of the nation citizen Trump represents our ideas and ideals, our hopes and aspirations, our values and commitments. These women are telling us that they do not want a sexual predator as the symbol of our nation, and they are saying this in the most powerful way that they can, but outing the powerful men who have preyed on them.

No more!

To be sure, citizen Trump is not the first president with unsavory sexual attitudes and actions. But he has come to office at a time when the press, for whatever reason, has decided that it will no longer look the other way. Moreover, he has come to office, not from a career in politics, but from a show-biz career. Thus it is fitting that men in show business are among the most prominent predators being called to account before the public, if not before the law.

Yes, Ronald Reagan was a movie star. But he came to the presidency after two terms as governor of California. And he knew something that 45 does not, he knew there was a deep and fundamental distinction to be made between his personal interests and activities and his actions as head of state. Citizen Trump treats that distinction with utter contempt and disdain, the way he treats women.

By ignoring the distinction between his person and the nation he governs, citizen Trump dishonors and damages the nation. Powerful men ignore a similar distinction, perhaps even, when you think about it, the same distinction, when they prey on women who serve them. When these women speak out to demand recognition, redress, and above all, dignity and respect, they are by that fact speaking on behalf of the nation. Let them and their actions symbolize these United States of America.

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Impeachment Arguments on Water Issues

1 Nov

A guest post by Jonathan A. French, Ph.D

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The President has sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” whose preamble reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The common defense must be not just against soldiers and bombs, but also against hurricane winds and rain, against fire and earthquake, and against the wanton destruction of our resources, immediate and future.

The general welfare depends on protection from these same threats, natural and man-made.

The Environmental Protection Agency was established by law in 1972. Its mission is to encourage, guide and enforce the protection of our water, air and soil—and thence us—from man-made pollution.

The President has willfully and intentionally, and with little public analysis, attacked and frustrated the EPA in this mission. The President, through his EPA Administrator, has sought to reverse, reduce, or nullify many EPA regulations:

Concerning the oceans and the life within them, he has sought to overturn:

  • Offshore drilling bans in the Atlantic and Arctic.
  • A ban on seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic.
  • The Northern Bering Sea climate resilience plan.
  • The status of 12 marine areas.
  • Regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration by floating vessels.

Concerning wetlands, streams, rivers, the life within them, and the water that is drawn for water supply, he has sought to overturn:

  • The decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • The decision on the Dakota Access pipeline.
  • Mining restrictions in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
  • Wetland and tributary protections.

Concerning groundwater that is drawn for water supply, he has sought to overturn:

  • Fracking regulations on public lands.
  • Groundwater protections for uranium mines.

Furthermore, the President’s EPA has overturned flood building standards, to keep buildings out of flood zones, and to enable buildings to survive flooding.

To weaken or overturn these standards and regulations without due technical deliberation is to put populations in danger, and is as treasonous as reckless disarmament within sight of an enduring enemy.

Over the weekend the Nacirema Nationals trounced the Trumptastic Bombers

25 Sep

The Trumpistas went up against the Nacirema and were creamed. How’s this going to work out? What makes the question an interesting one is that many Trumptistas are also partisans of the Nacirema ( = “America” spelled backward). I grew up in Western PA, Trump country, but also football country. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out. Will Trump double-down after his defeat by the NFL? Will the players persist? What of the owners, many of whom are Trump partisans?

Across the Nation

On three teams, nearly all the football players skipped the national anthem altogether. Dozens of others, from London to Los Angeles, knelt or locked arms on the sidelines, joined by several team owners in a league normally friendly to President Trump. Some of the sport’s biggest stars joined the kind of demonstration they have steadfastly avoided.

It was an unusual, sweeping wave of protest and defiance on the sidelines of the country’s most popular game, generated by Mr. Trump’s stream of calls to fire players who have declined to stand for the national anthem in order to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.

 What had been a modest round of anthem demonstrations this season led by a handful of African-American players mushroomed and morphed into a nationwide, diverse rebuke to Mr. Trump, with even some of his staunchest supporters in the N.F.L., including several owners, joining in or condemning Mr. Trump for divisiveness.

However:

But the acts of defiance received a far more mixed reception from fans, both in the stadiums and on social media, suggesting that what were promoted as acts of unity might have exacerbated a divide and dragged yet another of the country’s institutions into the turbulent cross currents of race and politics.

 At Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, videos posted on social media showed some Eagles fans yelling at anti-Trump protesters holding placards. At MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., before the Jets played the Dolphins, many fans, a majority of them white, said they did not support the anthem protests but also did not agree with the president’s view that players should be fired because of them.

Moreover, there is a rule:

The Steelers, along with the Tennessee Titans and the Seattle Seahawks, who were playing each other and similarly skipped the anthem, broke a league rule requiring athletes to be present for the anthem, though a league executive said they would not be penalized.

In other sports:

In a tweet Friday, Mr. Trump disinvited the Golden State Warriors, the N.B.A. champions, to any traditional White House visit, after members of the team, including its biggest star, Stephen Curry, were critical of him. But on Sunday, the N.H.L. champion Pittsburgh Penguins said they would go to the White House, and declared such visits to be free of politics.

Nascar team owners went a step further, saying they would not tolerate drivers who protested during the anthem.

American Ritual

If you google “football as ritual” you’ll come up with a bunch of hits. It’s a natural. It’s played in special purpose-build facilities and the players wear specialized costumes. The teams have totemic mascots and the spectators will wear team colors and emblems of the totem. Ritual chants are uttered throughout the game and there’s lots of music and spectacle. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. When anthropologists go to faraway places and see people engaging in such activities they call it ritual. We call it entertainment. It’s both.

While not everyone actually plays football, a very large portion (mostly male) of the population has done so at one time in their life. When I was in secondary school touch football was one of the required activities in boys gym class. Those who don’t play the game participate vicariously as spectators. The game is associated with various virtues and so participating contributes to moral development.

Other sports are like this as well and other sports have been involved in anti-Trumpista activity. But let’s stick to football as that’s where most of the action has been so far.


And then we have “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the national anthem of the United States, which is played at football games at every level, from local high school games to top-level professional games. As a 2011 article from ESPN Magazine points out, “it’s a battle song.” The lyrics are from “The Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key, a poem written to commemorate the defense of Baltimore in the War of 1812. The song became linked to sports in the early 20th century. According to the ESPN article:

THAT STORY BEGINS, as so many tales in modern American sports do, with Babe Ruth. History records various games in which “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played dating from the mid-1800s, but Ruth’s last postseason appearances for the Boston Red Sox coincided with the song’s first unbreakable bond with the sports world, in 1918.

Ruth was pitching for the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 1918 World Series. It’s the seventh-inning stretch:

As was common during sporting events, a military band was on hand to play, and while the fans were on their feet, the musicians fired up “The Star-Spangled Banner.” They weren’t the only active-duty servicemen on the field, though. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas was playing the Series while on furlough from the Navy, where he’d been learning seamanship at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago. But Thomas’ months of military training had hardly dulled his diamond skills. According to the Society of American Baseball Research, the station’s commander, Capt. William Moffett, was a baseball fanatic who actively recruited athletes for the training center’s team. Thomas, who started playing professionally right out of high school in Wisconsin, later said he “had it made at Great Lakes. All [I] had to do was play baseball.” So after the Red Sox went through nine third basemen during the season, they took a shot and asked the Navy whether he could join them as they took on the Cubs. The military said yes, and Thomas stood at his usual position on the diamond during Game 1’s seventh-inning stretch, present at the creation of a tradition.

Upon hearing the opening notes of Key’s song from the military band, Thomas immediately faced the flag and snapped to attention with a military salute. The other players on the field followed suit, in “civilian” fashion, meaning they stood and put their right hands over their hearts. The crowd, already standing, showed its first real signs of life all day, joining in a spontaneous sing-along, haltingly at first, then finishing with flair. The scene made such an impression that The New York Times opened its recap of the game not with a description of the action on the field but with an account of the impromptu singing: “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”

And thus a venerable tradition was born, though it took awhile. Interestingly enough, the article concludes:

Congress didn’t officially adopt the “The Star-Spangled Banner” until 1931 — and by that time it was already a baseball tradition steeped in wartime patriotism. Thanks to a brass band, some fickle fans and a player who snapped to attention on a somber day in September, the old battle ballad was the national pastime’s anthem more than a decade before it was the nation’s.

Think about that for a minute. The song became the nation’s anthem only after it had been anointed on the ball field.

Whoah!

Fast forward to 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest during the medal ceremony for the 200 meter race at the Olympics. Smith had come in first and Carlos come in third. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played, each raised a black-gloved fist and kept it raised until the anthem concluded:

In his autobiography, Silent Gesture, Smith stated that the gesture was not a “Black Power” salute, but a “human rights salute”. The event is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games.

The gesture had special force in that context because the Olympics was (and remains) an international event. Smith and Carlos were making a statement on the world stage.

And that’s the context for Kaepernick’s 2016 protest during the 49ers final preseason game. The practice, obviously, is spreading, and spreading.

Trump’s Twitter Finger

How far will it go?

There’s no way to tell. A long depends on Trump’s twitchy twitter finger. We know that, in his narcissistic grandiosity, Trump doesn’t differentiate between his own interests and the nations. His ardent supporters (aka his base) have let him get away with it – for all I know, this behavior is all but invisible to them. But now he’s messing with sports, telling owners what to do, bossing the players around, all with his itchy twitter finger.

We’ve got a very complicated dynamic being played out in real-time in various national media including, of course, the Twitterverse. I have no idea how this will play out.

I does seem to me, however, that a great deal depends on Trump’s Twitter fingers. It’s absolutely clear that he likes/needs to push back. He’s called for a boycott of the NFL. Will the fans do it? If so, will the players continue? Will the owners let them? If not, will the player’s defy the owners? Strike! If the fans don’t boycott, will Trump ramp up the action however he can? What then?

But if he backs off – fat chance! – will it all die away, a tempest in a teapot, just a little trumper tantrum?

Stay tuned.

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The city-state redux

16 Sep

Jamie Bartlett, in Aeon:

Until the mid-19th century, most of the world was a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travellers crossed without checks or passports. As industrialisation made societies more complex, large centralised bureaucracies grew up to manage them. Those governments best able to unify their regions, store records, and coordinate action (especially war) grew more powerful vis-à-vis their neighbours. Revolutions – especially in the United States (1776) and France (1789) – helped to create the idea of a commonly defined ‘national interest’, while improved communications unified language, culture and identity. Imperialistic expansion spread the nation-state model worldwide, and by the middle of the 20th century it was the only game in town. There are now 193 nation-states ruling the world.

But the nation-state with its borders, centralised governments, common people and sovereign authority is increasingly out of step with the world.

Maybe Trump was right”

On 17 September 2016, the then presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted: ‘A nation without borders is not a nation at all. We WILL Make America Safe Again!’ The outcry obscured the fact that Trump was right (in the first half, anyway). Borders determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s a citizen and who’s not, who puts in and who takes from the common pot. If a nation cannot defend its border, it ceases to exist in any meaningful way, both as a going concern and as the agreed-upon myth that it is.

Trump’s tweet was set against the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s offer, one year earlier, of asylum for Syrians. The subsequent movement of people across Europe – EU member states received 1.2 million first-time asylum applications in 2015 – sparked a political and humanitarian crisis, the ramifications of which are still unfolding. It certainly contributed to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU. But 1.2 million people is a trickle compared to what’s coming. Exact numbers are hard to come by, and notoriously broad, but according to some estimates as many as 200 million people could be climate-change refugees by the middle of the century.

Tough, of course, The Donald doesn’t believe in climate change. Continue reading

Billions for War, only a Pittance for Peace: We Need a Department of Peace

16 Aug

Rex Tillerson’s reassurances about the threat of a nuclear exchange with North Korea leave me cold. My alarm bells are ringing not only because the two most impetuous fools on the planet (Trump and Kim Jong Un) are playing at nuclear brinkmanship, but because they’re doing so in the context of a militaristic culture whose default response to conflict is threats of violence.

The Pentagon spends $587 billion a year on weapons and military operations. The Defense Department includes not only the army, navy and air force but twenty agencies devoted to all manner of weaponry, logistics and intelligence. Meanwhile, the State Department’s measly budget for foreign aid and diplomacy is in the President’s crosshairs. Little wonder then that we’ve been embroiled in a seemingly endless war since 2003.

Imagine if the United States were to create a Department of Peace whose secretary serves on the Cabinet. Such an agency would provide a powerful counterweight to the choir of generals and war profiteers currently whispering in the President’s ear. If this proposal seems improbable, why is that? The more outlandish it seems, the more needed it is.

Erica Etelson

MAGA: A conspiracy of oligarchs vs. the rest of us?

12 Jul

Just a quick take: We know that prior to becoming President Donald Trump was doing business in Russia. We now know that the Trump campaign – DJ Jr., Kushner, & Manafort – had a conversation with well-connected Russians about dirt on Hillary Clinton. We don’t yet know whether or not anything illegal has been done – expert opinion seems divided. But at the very least, it’s unseemly. Is this how to make American great again, collaborate with a nation that, not so long ago, was America’s fiercest rival?

But is this about nations, or just about the oligarchs and plutocrats that run them? We know that any self-respecting Russian oligarch is going to have an apartment in London, or New York, perhaps Singapore, or Dubai? The Chinese too? And folks on Jersey City, across the Hudson from Manhattan, have been getting exercised at son-in-law Jared’s sister dangling HB-5 visas before potential Chinese investors in their projects.

It’s looking like “Make America Great Again” is just the brand name under which a loose transnational gaggle of oligarchs manipulates politics in the USofA.

Meanwhile, I keep reading these articles about the waning of the nation-state as a vehicle for governance. The most recent of these talk about how states and cities in America are going around the federal government on climate change. That is to say, on this issue, they’ve decided to conduct their own foreign policy and foreign policy, we know, has traditionally be the prerogative of the nation-state. That’s why nation-states exist, to conduct foreign affairs.

What’s it all mean?