“I am an American”

Dorothea Lange’s censored pictures of the Japanese-American internment, available through the Library of Congress, provide a pertinent reminder.

LC-USZ62-24815-no known restrictions on publication

For more information, check out Linda Gordon’s Impounded Dorothea Lange & the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment. 

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The knotty problems of the G19

The G20 problems of Merkel and Trump.

One early international junket that President(!) Trump will be expected to attend is the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7-8 July 2017.

Angela Merkel has just published the draft agenda, with a cool knot logo.g20-knot-logo

The image is a reef knot, of multicoloured strands - one rope in the red-yellow-black of Germany, the other in random colours presumably for the rest of the world. The knot symbolizes interdependence. But Berlin is a long way from the sea or the Alps, and nobody told the Chancellery that the reef knot is weak. Pull hard, and it’s quite likely to come undone.

The reef knot logo is a parapraxis, a Fehlleistung (mis-performance), a Freudian slip knot. (What a pity that Ernest Jones James Strachey [update, see comments] translated Freud’s elegant and lucid German coinage into poncey fake Greek bafflegab, and it stuck.) It unintentionally reflects globalisation today only too well, with nationalist rebellions against interdependence all over the place, not just in Britain with Brexit and the USA with Trump. The ties woven since 1945 are slipping dangerously. Continue reading “The knotty problems of the G19”

The Democrats’ biggest mistakes

Over Twitter, Kevin Drum asked me to identify the Democrats’ three biggest mistakes.


I have mixed feelings about answering that question. When a comprehensively dishonorable and unfit demagogue ascends to the presidency, all the traditional gatekeepers of our political system have failed: Both parties, the media, the electorate itself. Of course with an election this close, any number of things might have turned the outcome. FBI director Comey’s intercession was probably the decisive endgame factor. He’s not a Democrat.

And whatever mistakes Democrats made, the main responsibility resides with the Republican primary electorate who selected the worst nominee in generations, and with the Republican political professionals who enabled that nominee. They knew exactly who and what Trump was. They supported him anyway, often quietly hoping someone else would bring him down. Had Paul Ryan and George W Bush bluntly announced in late October that Trump is unfit to be president, America would have been spared what we are about to endure.

And Hillary Clinton did a lot right, a fact reflected in her clear popular vote victory. She clobbered Trump in three debates. Her policy shop was maybe the best assembled by any candidate ever. Many of her campaign commercials were outstanding. That should have been enough. It wasn’t.

Still, Democrats must be clear-eyed in assessing how this could have happened—and how we can ensure it doesn’t happen again. In no firm order, here are several mistakes we made*:

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A shortcut to abolishing the Electoral College; an appeal to free-thinking electors

Twice in the past five elections, the person who won is not the person who moved into the White House.

Hillary Clinton received 1.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, yet it’s Trump who is picking Cabinet members and will pick Supreme Court justices.


If this strikes you as unacceptable, please join the League of Women Voters of the United States in advocating passage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Each state adopting the Compact pledges to instruct its electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote-which is to say, the winner. (We don’t say “popular vote” in any other context as if it were a lesser thing. A vote is a vote, and under our system voting is how we choose our leaders.)

Ten states and the District of Columbia, accounting for 61% of an Electoral College majority, have already adopted the Compact. But if you don’t live in California, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont or Washington State, ask your state representative to introduce the Compact in the next session of the legislature, and then ask every person running for a seat whether s/he supports it.

Come on Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia!-all blue states whose votes could get us to 219. And come on Michigan and Pennsylvania, which both had the Compact under consideration in last year’s legislative session: those two would make 255. Capture Florida, and lo and behold, we get to inaugurate the person we elected.

But. As long as the Electoral College is there, it should perform the function the Framers had in mind: preventing the election of a demagogue. We have just under a month to find 38 Republican electors willing to admit either that their standard-bearer is unfit for the office or that he just plain lost.

Who among them is willing to speak up? We’re all ears.

Trump grifting update

The constant of Trump’s business career has been to stiff investors, lenders, customers, suppliers, taxpayers, and partners at every opportunity: bankruptcies (a fancy name for not paying your debts), the piano seller, Trump U. students…the list is endless. If you invest with Donald, you do it for his profit and not yours.

Now he has embarked on a political career, and the pattern is already repeating itself, in two ways. Voted for him because he would trash climate stabilization? because he would put Hilary in jail? because he would torture terrorism suspects “worse than waterboarding”? In a roomful of New York Times reporters, on the record, we learn “You already voted? OK, you’ll get none of those things, suckers!” And it’s not even Thanksgiving.

One one point of fundamental principle, however, the Donald is firm: the point of his new job is his personal enrichment. He is going to hold on to his businesses, and he is going to use his position to make more money.  Blind trust…what are you, some kind of moron?

The 3 AM phone call goes like this:

Mr. President, I need a large shipload of tanks and artillery to put my uppity neighbor in its place…what’s that? you say the neighbor is a peaceable country where the US has large investments? and you’re worried about the conflict spreading?…Mr. President, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about is the bill in our parliament nationalizing your hotel/casino complex. No, of course we don’t pay compensation when we protect our national interest!  As I told Jared yesterday, I would really hate to have to sign that bill if it passes, and we also have the permanent tax and labor law exemption for the hotel drafted…I know, the royal suite you provide us is nice, but about those armaments…don’t forget the spare parts, and extra ammunition.

With civility and rebuke, Hamilton cast sets useful example for the Trump era

Vice-President elect attended Hamilton last night. He was apparently booed by the crowd. I sympathize with the booing. Pence and his colleagues abetted the election of a grifting demagogue as President. Pence’s own track record opposing LGBTQ rights also deserves condemnation. Still, booing politicians is ungracious and tacky. It’s not an especially good look. Most important, it squanders the opportunity to say something of substance.

Fortunately, as noted in Vox, Hamilton’s cast took a different approach. Actor Brandon Victor Dixon addressed Pence from the stage. Quieting some crowd booing directed at Mr. Pence, Dixon politely,  directly, and firmly said some things that needed to be said:

Vice-President elect Pence: We welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir.

But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

We truly thank you for sharing this show — this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

That’s how the President-elect and his key advisors should be treated at all public events for the rest of the Trump presidency: With correct but cold civility. This presidency is not normal. We can’t let anyone forget that.