Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Illegal Orders

The news this week contains so many outrages, and so many ways that people are attempting to resist, that I'm overwhelmed. I'm also making phone calls and posting emails to elected authorities, and hope we still have a democracy where this is a useful tactic. In many ways, the refusal of the Executive Branch to listen to Federal court orders feels like democracy is really endangered.

Sally Quillian Yates from the New York Times. (link)
One scary happening: Sally Quillian Yates, the US acting attorney general, was fired for her refusal to allow her department to defend what she evaluated to be an unlawful executive order. She questioned the order to prevent entry to the US of holders of valid visas and green cards. "As long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so," she wrote.

She was fired almost immediately, and replaced with a more compliant attorney. As described in the Washington Post:
"On Monday afternoon, only days away from stepping down from her 27-year career in the Justice Department, Yates defied President Trump, ordering federal attorneys not to defend the controversial immigration order issued Friday.
"Yates, 56, struggled with her decision over the weekend, said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. By Monday, though, she had concluded that she could not ask her federal attorneys to defend the order." -- from "Who is Sally Yates? Meet the acting attorney general Trump fired for ‘betraying’ the Justice Department" by Sari Horwitz, January 30 at 11:33 PM
From the New York Times: "The firing of Ms. Yates came at the end of a turbulent three days that began on Friday with Mr. Trump’s signing of his executive order. The action stranded travelers around the world, led to protests around the country and created alarm inside the bureaucracy. ... Ms. Yates said her determination in deciding not to defend the order was broader, however, and included questions not only about the order’s lawfulness, but also whether it was a 'wise or just' policy. She also alluded to unspecified statements the White House had made before signing the order, which she factored into her review."  (link)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reading "1984" like many people today.

First, from the book everyone is buying this week:
"Oceanic society rests ultimately on the belief that Big Brother is omnipotent and that the Party is infallible. But since in reality Big Brother is not infallible, there is need for an unwearying, moment-to-moment flexibility in the treatment of facts. The key word here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known as doublethink." -- George Orwell, 1984, Signet Classic, p. 175.
Second, from National Public Radio last week:
"The president said he believed there was anywhere between 1 million and 1.5 million people on the National Mall as he delivered his inaugural address, and he also falsely claimed it stopped raining and the sun came out just as he started speaking when, in fact, the rain continued and the day remained overcast and cloudy." from "Trump Administration Goes To War With The Media Over Inauguration Crowd Size" January 21, 2017.
Orwell's book is essentially a long polemic about how totalitarian societies exert control over their citizens or subjects. I had not read it in a long time, and I found it painful. I could select a lot more quotes and pair them with today's news. I'm sure lots of people will be writing more ambitious book reviews of it. Orwell gets a lot of things so right that it's agonizing.

But just one more here: "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake." (1984, p. 217)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Few Headlines


-- New York Times

Trump’s order barring refugees and some migrants causes shock, outrage
-- Washington Post

Immigration attorneys at LAX helping immigrants, many from Iran, detained by federal officials

-- LA Times
-- Boston Globe

Congresswoman, lawyers working to free 12 detainees at O’Hare

-- Chicago Sun Times

First Republican Senators Speak Out Against Trump's Ban on Travelers From Muslim Countries

Ben Sasse (R-NE), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Susan Collins (R-ME) criticize new executive order, while party's senior ranks keep mum.

-- Ha'aretz

Banner: "Resist"

From the L.A. Times: "Bay Area Greenpeace activists charged with unfurling 'Resist' banner near White House."

According to the article: "The massive banner could be seen hovering over the White House a half-mile away."

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What this means?

The Washington Post reports that at the State Department: "The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era. ... All are career foreign service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations."

Resigning State Department official Patrick Kennedy.
"President George W. Bush selected Kennedy for the role
in 2007 and Kennedy stayed on throughout
President Barack Obama's term." (source)
The officials, named and described in the article, may be resigning under pressure, and they may be resigning out of a principled objection to the new era in American international relations under Rex Tillerson, the almost-confirmed Secretary of State who has no diplomatic background or government experience.

The New York Post reported that the highest of these officials did not resign, but was fired. An article titled "Top State Dept. officials exit after Tillerson visit" reports: "A source close to the White House" is quoted as telling the Post: "Pat Kennedy was fired. He may be saving face and pretending that he resigned but he was let go. The poorly performing senior leaders at State will also be pushed out. You should expect other ‘resignations’ there, too."

Whatever the reason for the mass departures from State, one can only hope that their loss will send a message to the administration (unlikely though that is) and that at least some of them will become active in helping the public and maybe the political classes to resist the dangerous behavior of the administration.

The Washington Post article concludes:
"By itself, the sudden departure of the State Department’s entire senior management team is disruptive enough. But in the context of a president who railed against the U.S. foreign policy establishment during his campaign and secretary of state with no government experience, the vacancies are much more concerning.
"Tillerson’s job No. 1 must be to find qualified and experienced career officials to manage the State Department’s vital offices. His second job should be to reach out to and reassure a State Department workforce that is panicked about what the Trump administration means for them."

The Art World

I'm not usually aware of much going on in the avant-garde art world. I often go to art museums, but they are way behind the curve. It appears that several artists are acting dramatically to resist the current administration.

According to an article in the New York Times,  the artist Christo, famous for "wrapping" or otherwise decorating prominent buildings and parks has been working for years on a project to "create a vast public artwork in Colorado that would draw thousands of tourists and rival the ambition of 'The Gates,' the saffron transformation of Central Park that made him and Jeanne-Claude, his collaborator and wife, two of the most talked-about artists of their generation."

Christo stated that he will not proceed with this project "because the terrain, federally owned, has a new landlord he refuses to have anything to do with: President Trump." Coverage of Christo's cancellation in "The Art Newspaper" explains that the planned "Over the River" project would have "covered 42 miles of the Arkansas River in silver fabric for 14 days" -- they showed the following image of Christo's design.

"Christo, Over The River, Project For The Arkansas River, State of Colorado, 2007, collage in two parts. Photo: Wolfgang Volz, © Christo 2007"
The Times article also summarizes several other artists' protests:
"In late November, more than 150 prominent artists, curators and gallery workers picketed in front of the Puck Building in Downtown Manhattan, owned by the family of Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband and now a senior adviser to President Trump. Under the banner of a continuing social-media and protest movement called Dear Ivanka, critics of the President have directed almost daily condemnations of his actions and policies to his daughter, a prominent art collector. And on Inauguration Day, dozens of galleries — and a few public art institutions — closed in cities across the country as a part of a movement, J20, that plans to broaden protest activities in the coming months to address issues like racism, immigration and gentrification."
Also, an article titled "Richard Prince, Protesting Trump, Returns Art Payment" described how artist Richard Prince has returned $36,000 to Ivanka Trump, a payment for a work that he did based on her Twitter feed: "Mr. Prince first announced his decision in a series of tweets, saying that he was disavowing the work. In language that echoed Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, he called his own work 'fake' and added, 'I denounce.'"

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Good Badlands

I think everyone has probably heard that the new administration has issued gag orders on a number of government agencies, prohibiting the discussion of information on climate change, health, and various other issues. And that the staff at Badlands National Park defied the order for a few hours until they too were shut up and shut down...
From the Washington Post
This struggle is just beginning!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dr. Seuss and "America First"

The slogan "America First" is an old one -- used in the 1940s by Nazi sympathizers. At that time, Theodore Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) -- later known as Dr. Seuss -- was a cartoonist for a journal titled "PM." In a post today about a recent revival of this odiously-intended slogan, Language Log has a post titled:

Along with some linguistic discussion, Language Log writer Mark Liberman included some of these cartoons. Remember: they date from the 1940s!

Here's a little background from a CNN article, "Trump's 'America First' has ugly echoes from U.S. history," by Susan Dunn --
"It is extremely unfortunate that in his speech ... outlining his foreign policy goals, Donald Trump chose to brand his foreign policy with the noxious slogan 'America First,' the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Nice people made the best Nazis."

Writer Naomi Shulman wrote an op-ed for station WBUR titled "No Time To Be Nice: Now Is Not The Moment To Remain Silent" (November 17, 2016). One paragraph from this article has turned into an internet meme -- that is, it's widely quoted without full attribution, and sometimes with additions or alterations by whoever is quoting. It's appeared on Facebook and elsewhere. Here is a direct quote:
"Nice people made the best Nazis. 
"Or so I have been told. My mother was born in Munich in 1934, and spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves. When things got ugly, the people my mother lived alongside chose not to focus on 'politics,' instead busying themselves with happier things. They were lovely, kind people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. 
"I don’t remember the first time I heard the stories my mother told me; I feel like I always knew them. She’s dead now. If she were alive, I imagine she would be quite sanguine; all her anxieties would be realized, so there would no longer be anything left to fear."
The article continues Naomi Shulman's observations of some of her friends and neighbors' reactions to the election. She mentions "apolitical" people she knows who refuse to discuss politics. They say things like "Count me among the silent resistance." She asks:
"The silent resistance? What did that even mean, to resist silently?"
She concludes: "I miss my mother. I am speaking for her now."
If you see this meme floating around the internet, you might want to link to the actual article. Obviously, it's a little more subtle than the imitators. Again: "No Time To Be Nice: Now Is Not The Moment To Remain Silent."

Naomi Shulman from WBUR.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Congressman John Lewis, Patriot

John Lewis
John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia, says that he will not attend the inauguration Friday because he regards the President-elect as an illegitimate president. The president-elect had the expected Twitter fit in response, saying that Lewis is "all talk, talk, talk—no action or results."

Lewis is a hero of the civil rights movement, having put his life on the line for civil rights in the sixties -- leading a march in Selma, Alabama where he was beaten and suffered a fractured skull. The New Yorker calls him "the singular conscience of Capitol Hill." John McCain once called Lewis 'one of the most respected men in America.' The Washington Post writes: "For a lifetime of civil rights work, Lewis was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Last year, the Navy announced it would name a ship after him, making Lewis one of just a few to get that honor." (Links: "JOHN LEWIS, DONALD TRUMP, AND THE MEANING OF LEGITIMACY" and "In feud with John Lewis, Donald Trump attacked ‘one of the most respected people in America’")

Lewis's refusal to attend the inauguration is an act of patriotism and heroism. Paul Krugman, in his column today, puts this in perspective, saying "talking frankly about how Mr. Trump gained power isn’t just about truth-telling. It may also help to limit that power." Here are a few of the paragraphs from the column:
"...let’s ask whether Mr. Lewis was right to say what he said. Is it O.K., morally and politically, to declare the man about to move into the White House illegitimate?
Yes, it is. In fact, it’s an act of patriotism. 
"By any reasonable standard, the 2016 election was deeply tainted. It wasn’t just the effects of Russian intervention on Mr. Trump’s behalf; Hillary Clinton would almost surely have won if the F.B.I. hadn’t conveyed the false impression that it had damaging new information about her, just days before the vote. This was grotesque, delegitimizing malfeasance, especially in contrast with the agency’s refusal to discuss the Russia connection. 
"Was there even more to it? Did the Trump campaign actively coordinate with a foreign power? Did a cabal within the F.B.I. deliberately slow-walk investigations into that possibility? Are the lurid tales about adventures in Moscow true? We don’t know, although Mr. Trump’s creepy obsequiousness to Vladimir Putin makes it hard to dismiss these allegations. Even given what we do know, however, no previous U.S. president-elect has had less right to the title. So why shouldn’t we question his legitimacy? ...
"What this means is that Mr. Trump must not be treated with personal deference simply because of the position he has managed to seize. He must not be granted the use of the White House as a bully pulpit. He must not be allowed to cloak himself in the majesty of office. Given what we know about this guy’s character, it’s all too clear that granting him unearned respect will just empower him to behave badly. 
"And reminding people how he got where he is will be an important tool in preventing him from gaining respect he doesn’t deserve. Remember, saying that the election was tainted isn’t a smear or a wild conspiracy theory; it’s simply the truth.... 
"So let’s be thankful that John Lewis had the courage to speak out. It was the patriotic, heroic thing to do. And America needs that kind of heroism, now more than ever."
The New Yorker writer, David Remnick, concludes:
"Trump avoided the draft by citing bone spurs in his feet. He has said he has made 'a lot of sacrifices' for his country because he has created jobs and 'built great structures.' The sacrifices that Lewis has made for his country and for the cause of justice are manifest in the scars on his skull. It is a safe bet that he will not be wounded by any tweet. And there are those who know well what he has done to advance the cause of justice and human rights. Eight years ago, at a lunch following the inaugural ceremonies, the new President signed a piece of paper for him with the inscription 'Because of you, John. Barack Obama.' John Lewis surely believes in the orderly transfer of power as a tenet of democracy, but asking him to keep quiet and sit through the inaugural ceremonies this time is asking too much."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Great Falls in Solidarity with Whitefish, Montana

In the last few days the Great Falls, Montana, City Commission and Montana's governor, state attorney general, US representative, and senators have all announced that they stand in solidarity with the town of Whitefish, which was threatened by white nationalists. A march against the Jewish community of Whitefish by neo-Nazis was announced for Martin Luther King Day, but as of now the march may not actually take place.

Commissioners read a proclamation January 3 that was met with resounding applause from meeting attendees. The proclamation stated that the commissioners "express our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the ongoing struggle to free this world of the ideas and conduct that served to undermine a free and virtuous society, and to those who would promote these false ideas long since rejected by civilized peoples, we say and I use the words as they are spoken in Hebrew…never again." The commissioners cited George Washington's letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island promising religious freedom in the newly founded country. (source1, source2: Radio Station KPAX Missoula, and Tablet Magazine.)

Here is the full statement from state officials via KPAX:
December 27, 2016

Dear Fellow Americans,

As we close out this year and look toward the future, we as Montana’s elected leaders are focused on the values that reflect our true character. Therefore, we condemn attacks on our religious freedom manifesting in a group of anti-Semites. We stand firmly together to send a clear message that ignorance, hatred and threats of violence are unacceptable and have no place in the town of Whitefish, or in any other community in Montana or across this nation. We say to those few who seek to publicize anti-Semitic views that they shall find no safe haven here.

We offer our full support to the Jewish community, Montana families, businesses, faith organizations and law enforcement officers as they ensure the security of all our communities. We will address these threats directly and forcefully, putting our political differences aside to stand up for what's right. That's the Montana way, and the American way.

Rest assured, any demonstration or threat of intimidation against any Montanan’s religious liberty will not be tolerated. It takes all Montanans working together to eradicate religious intolerance.

We are encouraged that so many Montanans from a variety of religious backgrounds have joined us in condemning this extreme ideology.

God bless the great state of Montana and the United States of America.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester

U.S. Senator Steve Daines

U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke

Governor Steve Bullock

Attorney General Tim Fox

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Grab Your Wallet" Boycott

Boycotts may or may not be a good approach to protest in the current disastrous political climate. However, various boycotts have definitely been suggested, and especially promoted by a group called "Grab Your Wallet." Here's their list of corporations and why this group suggests boycotting them: https://grabyourwallet.org/

Link to a brief description of this effort: "The Grab Your Wallet Movement Wants People to Boycott Donald Trump-Affiliated Retailers by Kerry Close.

In the news today: the GrabYourWallet boycott of L.L.Bean, caused by a large (and potentially illegal) donation to a PAC by a member of the Bean family.

Link: "Group Says It’ll Take LL Bean Off Boycott List If Company Takes Linda Bean Off Board" by Steve Mistler.

I'm more or less chagrined that I just made an L.L.Bean order this morning before learning about the boycott. I'm not sure what I'll be doing.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

"A new consumer movement is rising"

"In the old normal, it would have cost little to stand up against neo-Nazi slogans. But in the new normal, doing so might involve angering key players in the White House, including the president-elect, Donald J. Trump, who has hired the former editor of Breitbart as his senior adviser. Mr. Trump recently proved the damage he could do to a company by criticizing Lockheed Martin on Twitter; soon after, its stocks prices tumbled.
"Still, a new consumer movement is rising, and activists believe that where votes failed, wallets may prevail. This struggle is about much more than ads on Breitbart News — it’s about using corporations as shields to protect vulnerable people from bullying and hate crimes."
A long NYT article "How to Destroy the Business Model of Breitbart and Fake News" by Pagan Kennedy describes efforts to inform large corporations when their ads appear on right-wing fake news sites: especially Breitbart News. The article describes how this effort is proceeding:
"In the past month and a half, thousands of activists have started to push companies to take a stand on what you might call 'hate news' — a toxic mix of lies, white-supremacist content and bullying that can inspire attacks on Muslims, gay people, women, African-Americans and others.
"In mid-November, a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants became the hub of the new movement. The Giants and their followers have communicated with more than 1,000 companies and nonprofit groups whose ads appeared on Breitbart, and about 400 of those organizations have promised to remove the site from future ad buys."
It started with Kellogg's -- which removed its ads from Breitbart and was then the target of both negative and positive consumer actions. (I bought two boxes of Kellogg's cereal this week. Unfortunately I didn't like one of them very much.) But it's an ongoing effort, and I hope it will work. As far as I'm concerned the problem is that in order to see the ads you have to look at despicable websites, which profit the minute you open them. What a world!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

“Innovate Against Hate” Prize

Between now and February 17, 2017, the Anti-Defamation League is looking for applicants for a $35,000 prize titled "Innovate Against Hate," according to a press release dated January 5.

The prize "will be awarded to nonprofit organizations or individuals such as programmers, students, academics, journalists, artists and social entrepreneurs who devise new approaches to uncovering and countering anti-Semitism and other forms of online hate speech." (source)

Here's the list of types of projects this contest is looking for:

  • "Develop positive, constructive efforts to understand, expose and undermine some form of online hate, such as harassment, extremism or cyberbullying;
  • "Educate diverse audiences about the contours and dangers of hate online, particularly those that chill the ability or willingness of people to use social media;
  • "Build awareness of existing tools available on various social media platforms to tackle hate and encourage not only their active use, but also ways to improve them;
  • "Encourage counterspeech initiatives that bring Jewish and other ethnic and religious communities together to speak out against and overwhelm hate speech online."
The Anti-Defamation League has been active since 1913. According to their website, it is "the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry." Co-sponsor of the contest is The Natan Fund. The application form and instructions are HERE.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"A statement of inclusion and love for community"

"All In Service DC" is "a team of people from the hospitality community, service workers, and restaurateurs, who are making a statement of inclusion and love for community. As a service industry - like a gracious host - we welcome all." Participating restaurants will donate a share of the profits that they make during Inauguration Weekend (when business will no doubt be very good) to several service organizations that provide food, shelter, and medical care for those that need it. Recipients of their aid are very likely to lose a variety of lifeline services from the policies of the incoming administration.

From the "All In Service DC" website:


"ALL IN SERVICE DC celebrates DC’s diversity by giving back to local organizations that keep our community thriving. 
"This inauguration weekend, eat and drink in DC for good.

"The events of the inauguration present a vital opportunity to serve our nation’s capital by creating inclusive spaces, in service not only to our guests, but also to our community. These are the fundamentals of hospitality, and it is in this spirit that we invite you to join us."
Participants choose which of several helping organizations to donate to. The list appears to be growing as the idea takes hold, though of course its impact is as yet unknown.

Some of the charities designated by "All In Service DC":

Monday, January 2, 2017

Conservation: Hero and Anti-Hero

"The World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London ... reported last year that between 1970 and 2012 there had been a 58% decline in the abundance of vertebrates worldwide." -- Article in the Guardian
Even an ordinary person can witness the decline in wildlife in recent years. Evelyn and Tom were in the Everglades last week, and noticed how birdlife was scant compared to Merritt Island, a refuge near Cape Canaveral. Yes, pelicans and cormorants are still present -- as we saw last year (photo right).

The noticeable attrition of Everglades wildlife is attributed to predation by the Burmese Python, an introduced snake. The Park Service explains:
"The population of Burmese pythons presently established in the park is the result of accidental and/or intentional releases by pet owners. These introductions can have devastating consequences to our ecosystem. Burmese pythons have been found to feed on a wide variety of mammals and birds in the Everglades -- even the occasional alligator! By preying on native wildlife and competing with other native predators, pythons are seriously impacting the natural order of south Florida's ecological communities." (source)
An 'Anianiau, endemic honeycreeper on Kauaii. Endangered!
There are so many examples of both rapid man-made disasters and slower more natural (or natural-seeming) disasters. Polar bears: losing their habitat to Arctic melting. Giraffes: 40% population decline in the past fifteen years. Elephants: losing habitat dangerously in Asia and Africa. Rhinoceroses: several species endangered or (in some cases) recently extinct. Hawaiian birds -- disappearing rapidly because a slight change in average temperature has allowed disease-bearing mosquitoes to penetrate their previously safe habitat. Many smaller and less-spectacular species are also in trouble.

In the cited Guardian article today, I read an interesting discussion about the media and how TV nature programs -- one in particular -- cover the news of threats to wildlife. It strikes me that there are no heroes here, but another example of how popular media sources handle a reality that's too unpleasant to accept.  But here's the essence:
"David Attenborough’s blockbuster nature series Planet Earth II is 'a disaster for the world’s wildlife' and a significant contributor to planet-wide extinctions, a rival natural history producer has claimed. 
"The BBC programme concluded in December and drew audiences of more than 12 million viewers but presents 'an escapist wildlife fantasy' that ignores the damage humans are doing to species everywhere, according to Martin Hughes-Games, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch."
Hughes-Games, a presenter of the BBC’s Springwatch, calls the Attenborough blockbuster "'an escapist wildlife fantasy' that ignores the damage humans are doing to species everywhere." Although Attenborough's presentations at least mentioned the need for conservation Hughes-Games "urged the BBC to commit to making more wildlife programmes that overtly address conservation."  He says:
"These programmes are still made as if this worldwide mass extinction is simply not happening... The producers continue to go to the rapidly shrinking parks and reserves to make their films – creating a beautiful, beguiling, fantasy world, a utopia where tigers still roam free and untroubled, where the natural world exists as if man had never been. [Attenborough and others] are lulling the huge worldwide audience into a false sense of security. ... No hint of the continuing disaster is allowed to shatter the illusion."
Do I need to make parallels to other coming disasters? Do I need to point out that many folks hold the media responsible for declining public intelligence and increasing rejection of unpalatable truth? What can I do? Not much.