Thursday, August 13, 2020

The “Freefall” Continues


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Recently I shared author and former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson's observation that American democracy is in “freefall” as a result of various authoritarian actions by the Trump administration and its Republican enablers in congress. That freefall continues with efforts aimed at, in the words of Rep. Ro Khanna, “destroying” the United States Post Service so as to “keep Americans from voting safely during a pandemic.”

There have been many informed and insightful commentaries written about this deplorable effort (see below) but I particularly appreciate Sen. Bernie Sanders' take.

Today on Fox, Trump made it clear that his effort to defund the Postal Service is a blatant attempt at mass voter suppression. No, Mr. President. We won't let you sabotage the election. This is a democracy, not a damn dictatorship. Your reign of authoritarianism will soon end.


Sanders is also calling for the resignation or removal of Trump's Postmaster General, Louis Dejay, over what Sanders says are “efforts to suppress the vote and undermine democracy.”

In his August 11 Common Dreams article, Jake Johnson notes that Dejay is “a major Republican donor to President Donald Trump whose brief tenure as head of the most popular government institution in the U.S. has brought major nationwide slowdowns in package delivery less than 90 days before an election that could hinge on mail-in ballots.” Such an attack on the USPS not only undermines democracy but, as Heather Cox Richardson reminds us, “dovetails with the push of the Trump administration to privatize the USPS, a push launched shortly after Trump took office.”


Related Off-site Links:
Trump Admits He’s Blocking Funding for the Postal Service in Order to Stop Mail-In Voting – Jordan Weissmann (Slate, August 13, 2020).
Trump Just Admitted He's Sabotaging the USPS to Screw Up the Election – Cameron Joseph and Paul Blest (VICE, August 13, 2020).
Trump Says No Post Office Funding Means Democrats “Can't Have Universal Mail-In Voting” – Brett Samuels (The Hill, August 13, 2020).
Nancy Pelosi: The President of the United States Is Afraid 0f the American People – Jake Thomas (The Intellectualist, August 13, 2020).
Veterans Group Hits Draft-Dodging Trump With New Ad Blasting His War on the Mail – Sarah K. Burris (Raw Story, August 13, 2020).
Trump’s Attack on the Postal Service Is Now a National EmergencyThe Washington Post (August 12, 2020).
The Pandemic, the Post Office, and Another Trump Attack on Democracy – Steven Harper (BillMoyers.com, August 12, 2020).
Postal Service Union Leader Says Mail Sorting Equipment Being “Removed” From Post Offices, Leaving Mail to “Pile Up” – Igor Derysh (Salon, August 12, 2020).
Financial Disclosures Reveal Postmaster General Louis Dejay's Business Entanglements and Likely Conflicts of Interest, Experts Say – Marshall Cohen (CNN, August 12, 2020).
“A Conspiracy to Steal the Election, Folks”: Alarms Sound After Postal Worker Reports Removal of Sorting Machines – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, August 12, 2020).
Noam Chomsky: Trump Is Quite Capable of an “October Surprise” – C.J. Polychroniou (TruthOut, August 11, 2020).
“A Catastrophe”: Postal Workers Warn Trump Sabotage of USPS Could Delay Mail-In Ballots and Distort Election – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, July 31, 2020).

UPDATE: Trump Campaign Exaggerates Potential for Mail-In Voting Fraud After Election – Robert Farley (FactCheck.org, August 14, 2020).
The Postal Service Can Handle the Election – If It’s Allowed To – Russell Berman (The Atlantic, August 14, 2020).
USPS Warns 46 States That Voters May Be Disenfranchised By Delayed Ballots – Artivia Tahir (The Intellectualist, August 14, 2020).
Postal Service Plans to Remove 671 High-Volume Mail Processing MachinesMSNBC News (August 14, 2020).
USPS Removes Mailboxes in Portland and Eugene, Cites “Declining Mail Volume” – Jayati Ramakrishnan (The Oregonian, August 14, 2020).
What a Mail Carrier Is Seeing on the Ground Right Now – Aaron Mak (Slate, August 14, 2020).
Postal Carriers Union Endorses Biden, Warns That “Survival” of USPS Is at Stake – Sahil Kapur (NBC News, August 14, 2020).
Some of the Media Is Getting Better at Calling Out Trump's Election Sabotage. But Not All – Dan Froomkin (Salon, August 14, 2020).
Michael Cohen Predicts Trump Will Steal Presidency Because He's Afraid of Jail – Jake Thomas (The Intellectualist, August 14, 2020).
Just How Far Will Trump Go? – Ronald Brownstein (The Atlantic, August 14, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“We Have an Emergency On Our Hands”: Marianne Williamson On the “Freefall” of American Democracy
Fascism Is Upon Us


Photo of the Day

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Progressive Perspectives on the Biden-Harris Ticket

In yesterday's statement by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on why he chose Kamala Harris to be his vice-presidential running mate, I heard echoes of both Bernie Sanders (“making things better – sustainably, structurally, and permanently”) and Marianne Williamson (“a battle for the soul of this nation”) – the two former Democratic presidential candidates who, in my view, most resolutely and authentically embody and champion the democratic ideals and humanitarian values at the core of the “American experiment.”

Here's hoping that Biden's words are not simply hollow rhetoric but signs of commitment to genuine progressive policies and change.

For my part, in response to yesterday's announcement of the Biden-Harris ticket, I'm committed to remaining hopeful and proactive – qualities that are reflected in the following perspectives.

__________________________


There's no way to sugarcoat it: If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are elected, they'll still be influenced by the powerful forces that have shaped their careers. Biden has reassured billionaires that he doesn't think they're the problem. Wall Street has celebrated Biden's decision to choose Harris.

That's where you come in. Your activism – your constant, fearless, unyielding calls to conscience and sanity – will be the only counterforce to the pernicious influence of money in politics.

Should activists sit this election out? Not if you believe in activism. The right tactical call for activists is to elect the politicians they're most able to cajole, persuade, and pressure. That means viewing politicians in a different light: not as heroes or villains, but as tools. (And, no, I don't mean "tool" in the pejorative, slang sense – at least, not necessarily.) Confronted with the choice between Trump or Biden, the question isn't, which of these people do I admire? The question is, which of these people can I most effectively use as a tool for change?

Too many people in this country's progressive majority – a category that ranges from center-left to socialist – are still searching for heroes when they vote. There aren't many heroes in politics – although there are some, and their ranks are growing. But there are people that can be tools for change. Find them. Use them. But when it comes to heroes, look to yourselves. As the great civil rights leader Ella Baker said, “strong people don't need strong leaders.”

You are strong. Stay strong. . . . [A] strong people don't need strong leaders. But this is a time to speak, for anyone who has something to say. Personally, I want a radically different world than the one we live in today – a world mainstream politicians can't imagine, much less build. I believe we'll need that kind of world to survive what's coming. But we will have to cross a long, hard political landscape before we reach it.

With this announcement, movement activists now have more information about the terrain they'll need to navigate. Information is power. So is activism. My plea to you, as someone with no particular standing to make a plea, is this: Use this information. Stay powerful. Know that you can win – that we can win – if we love, hope, and work together.

– Richard (RJ) Eskow
Excerpted from “A Message to the Left About Kamala Harris – and Us
Common Dreams
August 12, 2020



I will admit I am considerably more progressive than Joe Biden, but on election day I won’t be thinking of that. On election day I will be trying to salvage what is left of our democratic process. Four more years of stacked courts and crony capitalism can only make our humanitarian ideals less obtainable. Yes, we need viable third parties. Yes, we need better candidates. And, yes, we should work on all of that 364 days a year. But, on election day I will vote on whoever realistically gets us closest to our humanitarian goals.

I have many wonderful friends who say “to vote for the lesser of two evils is still evil.” That may be true in the pristine world of human language, but in the real world it is decidedly less evil than inaugurating four more years of the greater of two evils by our inaction. I will join you 364 days a year in building better options; but on election day I will not be voting for personalities, I will be voting for leverage.

– Jim Rigby
via Facebook
August 12, 2020



Harris stakes out some important turf for the Democratic ticket. She is a woman with both Black and South Asian American roots, enabling the Democrats to illustrate their commitment to a multiracial democracy by nominating her. She is crackerjack smart, a quality that many Americans would like to see in an administration. She is seen as a defender of the rule of law at a time when it seems under attack – she caught Attorney General William Barr in a falsehood at his confirmation hearing, noticeably throwing him off and forcing him to avoid her question out of fear of perjury. At 55, she is a generation younger than Biden (or Trump) balancing out the older ticket. And since she was hard on Biden during the primaries, his invitation to her indicates his willingness to accept criticism and continue to work with those who are not yes-men, a significant contrast to Trump.

. . . Already Republicans are insisting that Harris, a former prosecutor, is, as Trump tweeted, part of a “radical left.” National Review ran an article titled “Kamala Harris Is Farther Left Than Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.” Trump campaign advisor Katrina Pierson said that Harris had “gleefully embraced the left’s radical manifesto” during her own run for the presidency, and that Biden’s choice showed that he was “surrendering control of our nation to the radical mob.”

The Republicans are clearly hoping to convince voters that Harris is an extremist. It will not be an easy charge to make stick to a former prosecutor, especially on a day when a Republican candidate who supports QAnon conspiracy theories won a congressional primary in a solidly-Republican district in Georgia, virtually guaranteeing that she will go on to Congress. Marjorie Taylor Greene seems the definition of an extremist. She has spouted anti-Semitic, anti-Black, and Islamophobic comments, and called George Soros a “Nazi.” She has defended QAnon, a mysterious source of a belief that Trump is secretly fighting against a well-connected ring of Satan-worshipping pedophiles that has taken over the government, praising the source as “someone that very much loves his country, and he’s on the same page as us, and he is very pro-Trump.”

– Heather Cox Richardson
via Facebook
August 11, 2020



Unfortunately, Biden’s political vision doesn’t offer much in the way of upending the conditions that made Trumpism possible. But his point that getting rid of Trump is of utmost importance is correct.

. . . For progressives and those on the Democratic Party’s so-called “left wing,” Biden’s candidacy has been a tough pill to swallow. After all, with an ongoing nationwide uprising against structural racism amidst a crushing pandemic and economic collapse, what circumstances could better illustrate the need for the type of confrontational, systemic change proposed by candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren [and Marianne Williamson]? Yet now, with unemployment spiking, and millions taking to the streets to assert that Black Lives Matter and demanding officials defund the police, we’re in the unenviable position of being forced to acknowledge that voting for Biden – the author of the gruesome 1994 crime bill – and Harris – a former tough-on-crime prosecutor – is undeniably better than the alternative.

. . . The groups RootsAction and Progressive Democrats of America [are] blunt in their assessment of Harris: “While her penchant for taking positions broadly palatable to the corporate donor class raises concerns about her dedication to progressive principles, her habit of aligning her stance with the prevailing political winds gives us some hope.”

Ultimately, while defeating Trump remains a priority, it’s up to those of us on the left to generate the winds we want to prevail by building power outside of presidential politics. Taking to the streets for racial justice, strengthening the labor movement, demanding universal healthcare, establishing tenants’ unions, electing more candidates up and down the ballot who are committed to taking on corporate power to benefit the working class ” this is how we can reorient politicians’ incentives and priorities. The weather vanes will follow.

– Natalie Shure
Excerpted from “Now Comes the Difficult Work
of Pushing the Biden-Harris Ticket Left

In These Times
August 12, 2020


Related Off-site Links:
Joe Biden Selects Kamala Harris as His Vice Presidential Running Mate, Making History – Austa Somvichian-Clausen (The Hill, August 11, 2020).
Centrists and Progressives Rally Around Harris Pick for VP – Tal Axelrod (The Hill, August 11, 2020).
Black Lesbian Political Powerhouse Announced as Kamala Harris’s Chief of Staff – Alex Bollinger (LGBTQ Nationl, August 12, 2020).
Right-Wing Media Is Already Hurling Racist, Misogynist Fire at Kamala Harris – Alanna Vagianos (The Huffington Post, August 12, 2020).
Think Joe Biden Will Be the Next FDR? His Wall Street Donors Don’t Seem To – Luke Savage (Jacobin, August 12, 2020).
Noam Chomsky Wants You to Vote for Joe Biden and Then Haunt His Dreams – Anand Giridharadas (The Ink, August 11, 2020).
Three Policy Reasons for Progressives to Be Happy About Kamala Harris – Jordan Weissmann (Slate, August 11, 2020).
Public Defender: I Worked With Kamala Harris. She Was the Most Progressive DA in California – Niki Solis (USA Today, August 10, 2020).
Biden’s Ukrainegate Problem – Gerald Sussman (CounterPunch, August 10, 2020).
Progressives Don’t Love Joe Biden, But They’re Learning to Love His Agenda – Matthew Yglesias (Vox, July 18, 2020).
Survivors Question Kamala Harris’ Record on Clergy Abuse – Michael Rezendes (Vox, June 26, 2019).

UPDATES: By Canadian Standards, Kamala Harris Could Run for the Conservatives – Don Pittis (CBC News, August 13, 2019).
Trump Questions Kamala Harris’s Eligibility, Echoing Racist Conspiracy Theory About ObamaDemocracy Now! (August 14, 2019).
Why Trump's Birtherism Attack on Harris Is Killing the Republican Party – Chris Cillizza (CNN News, August 14, 2019).
Silicon Valley’s Big-Money Donors Are Very Excited About VP Kamala Harris – Alex N. Press (Jacobin, August 14, 2019).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“We Have an Emergency On Our Hands”: Marianne Williamson On the “Freefall” of American Democracy
“Fascism Is Upon Us”
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Quote of the Day – June 9, 2020
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – June 2, 2020
Something to Think About – March 23, 2020
Progressive Perspectives on Big Tuesday and Beyond
Something to Think About – March 5, 2020
Marianne Williamson on the Contest Being Played Out by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders
Thoughts on the Eve of the Iowa Caucuses
Moderates, Radicals and MLK
David A. Love: Quote of the Day – November 27, 2019
John Atcheson: Quote of the Day – October 19, 2019
Progressive Perspectives on Corruption in U.S. Politics
Bernie Sanders: Quote of the Day – June 12, 2019
Beto, Biden and Buttigieg: “Empty Suits and Poll-Tested Brands”
Progressive Perspectives on Joe Biden's Presidential Run


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Quote of the Day


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In Minnesota, we know that organized people will always beat organized money. Tonight, our movement didn't just win. We earned a mandate for change. Despite outside efforts to defeat us, we once again broke turnout records. Despite the attacks, our support has only grown. This election isn't about me. It's about an agenda rooted in people's everyday struggles – and the corporations and rightwing donors who are threatened by it.



Related Off-site Links:
Ilhan Omar Wins House Primary in Minnesota – Astead W. Herndon (The New York Times, August 11, 2020).
Rep. Ilhan Omar Wins Contentious Democratic Primary Election in Minnesota – Savannah Behrmann (USA Today, August 11, 2020).
Rep. Ilhan Omar Wins Congressional Primary – Elena Moore (MPR News, August 11, 2020).
Progressive Champion Ilhan Omar Beats Well-Funded Challenger Antone Melton-Meaux in a Minnesota Blow-Out – Ibrahim Hirsi (Sahan Journal, August 11, 2020).

UPDATES: The Media Said Ilhan Omar Was Fighting for Her Political Life. She Won Easily – Luke Savage (Jacobin, August 12, 2020).
Where the Votes for Ilhan Omar’s Victory Over Antone Melton-Meaux Came From – Greta Kaul (MinnPost, August 12, 2020).
Every “Squad”’ Member Won Her Primary – Daniel Marans (The Huffington Post, August 12, 2020).
Ilhan Omar's Win Proves the Squad Is Here to Stay – Kimberly Truong (InStyle, August 12, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Ricardo Levins Morales on the “Deepest Political Fault Line” Separating Democrats Ilhan Omar and Antone Melton-Meaux
To Whom the Future of America Belongs
Ilhan Omar: Quote of the Day – April 13, 2019
Global Condemnation for Trump's Latest Ignorant and Racist Comments
Ilhan Omar: Stepping Into Her Power
Juan Cole: Quote of the Day – February 11, 2019
Progressive Perspectives on the Ilhan Omar “Controversy”


Monday, August 10, 2020

Ricardo Levins Morales on the “Deepest Political Fault Line” Separating Democrats Ilhan Omar and Antone Melton-Meaux

To say that the contest between incumbent Rep. Ilhan Omar and her most serious challenger, attorney Antone Melton-Meaux, has divided the Left of Minnesota's 5th congressional district (and beyond) would be an understatement. To my mind, it has exposed the deep and long-standing, though often papered-over divide between liberals and progressives; or, said another way, between moderates or centrists pushing for incremental tweaks to the system and those insisting on much more immediate and bolder structural transformation. Of course, both types of change have their place, but I believe we are living in a time when the multi-faceted crisis we're facing calls for the latter.

Omar and Melton-Meaux face off in tomorrow's 2020 U.S. House of Representatives elections in Minnesota. I'm not about to tell anyone who they should vote for, but I will urge those reading this in the 5th district (which is where I live incidentally) to take the time to read and reflect upon Ricardo Levins Morales's thoughtful and insightful commentary on the deeper meaning and signifance of the Omar/Melton-Meaux race. Indeed, as you'll see, it's a meaning and significance that extends far beyond the 5th district.

Ricardo Levins Morales is a Minneapolis-based artist, educator, and activist whom I've long respected and admired. Back in 2012 he published an article that inspired me (as then-executive coordinator of CPCSM/Catholics for Marriage Equality MN) to organize the only educational event that opposed both the repressive “marriage amendment” and “voter ID amendent.” (See here and here.) Both amendments were rejected by Minnesota voters in November 2012.

Following is Levins Morales's recent piece on the significance of the contest between Ilhan Omar and Antone Melton-Meaux. It was first published August 5 on his art studio's blog.

________________________


Ilhan, Antone and the Price of Inclusion


By Ricardo Levins Morales
August 5, 2020


The glossy four-page election mailers have been hitting my mailbox faster than I can say “recycle.” They are promoting Antone Melton-Meaux’s primary campaign against Rep Ilhan Omar. The latest piece attacks Omar for “pushing for her own agenda and ideological beliefs, even if it means getting nothing done for her community just to wage a symbolic battle.” Melton-Meaux, by contrast, the flier says, “believes that Washington has too many ideological purists on both sides.” This message – that he is ideology-free (in contrast to all the extremists out there) seems to be his big selling point. It is also a ruse, concealing the deeply reactionary politics underlying his campaign. These brochures, by the way, were paid for by “Americans for Tomorrow’s Future” (whatever that means) who exist, according to their web site, to promote candidates “who advance America’s positive role in the world, including through support for our strategic alliance with Israel.” We’ll come back to that.

There is little mention of policy positions in the pro-Antone literature. Each new piece hammers in the message that Ilhan is simply disgusting, self-promoting and out of touch. Melton-Meaux is depicted as a mediator, a listener, someone who “brings people together.” With that contrast in place the voter is supposed to decide “which one do I like,” conveniently distracting from the real question raised by the campaign: “which side am I on?”

I generally prefer to keep my distance from electoral politics. For me, the power to shift the direction we are headed is found in the streets, barrios and prisons more than the halls of congress. There are times, though, when what happens at the polling booth (or mailbox) has a direct impact on the national balance of power and therefore on the lives of people I care about. This is one such campaign. It’s important, therefore, to decode the “non-ideology” being offered by the challenger.

The deepest political fault line separating Melton-Meaux from Omar is the one between the struggle for inclusion and the struggle for transformation, a long-standing divide within colonized, exploited and marginalized communities. Inclusionists demand equal participation at all levels of the empire and its institutions while transformationists call for fundamental change. Under the racial capitalist politics of the United States, competition among populations is necessary to keep the threat of real solidarity at bay. The price of inclusion, therefore, is always betrayal. A marginalized population or individual hoping for a seat at the political table must make a public display of throwing other victims of the system under the bus. Without that ticket, no one gets in.

New waves of immigrants, for example, quickly get the message that if they make common cause with Black folk they’ll be treated like Black folk. Solidarity inevitably develops but it often takes a second generation to figure out the nature of the trap. The second absolute requirement for inclusion in the system – a variation on the first – is that you must not interfere with the global functioning of the empire.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s refusal to accept these rules led to the massive backlash he experienced in his final year. Not only had he refused to turn his back on poor people of all races (launching the Poor People’s March on Washington) but he went even further by refusing to betray, as he described them, “little brown Vietnamese children.” The backlash was instantaneous and ferocious. A hundred and sixty eight major newspapers denounced him, as did the national board of the NAACP. He was condemned by “moderate” Black leaders for “grandstanding,” seeking the “limelight” and trying to promote his own celebrity. King was accused of risking all the hard won gains of the movement by meddling above his rank and hearing cries of pain that were better left unheard.

The Democratic Party began organizing meetings for the purpose of isolating King within the movement. “They had a conference of preachers in Detroit,” recounts Andrew Young. “They pulled together all the Negro newspaper editors to support the administration’s stand.” The Cincinnati Enquirer declared that since winning the Nobel Peace Prize King “has specialized in speaking in Olympian tones, rather than addressing himself to the practicalities of the civil rights movement.”

This line of attack echoes loudly in the campaign against Ilhan. Instead of engaging with Dr King’s political and moral arguments they simply attacked him as an opportunistic publicity hound. While Vietnam was the political loyalty test during King’s time, today it is Palestine. As the pace of Israeli military and police killing of young Palestinians (for the simple crime of being Palestinian), rural land grabs, building demolitions and the destruction of wells and olive groves picks up (home demolitions have seen a marked increased since the start of the pandemic), supporters of Israel have intensified their efforts to suppress voices critical of the apartheid state.

A week ago Israeli government soldiers leveled a coronavirus testing center at the entrance to Hebron, the epicenter of the pandemic on the West Bank just as it was nearing completion. It had been intended to ease the pressure on overburdened hospitals struggling with a second wave of infections. The day before they demolished a covid testing station in Jenin. These kinds of actions by the occupying regime have become so standard that they didn’t cause the slightest ripple of concern in the US media or political worlds. Congresswoman Omar’s audacity in defending Palestinian human rights is a shocking challenge to the bipartisan-forced silence of Washington.

The hundreds of thousands in donations bundled for Melton-Meaux’s campaign (and unknown amounts independently spent) by groups such as NORPAC (dedicated to “the shaping of important and concrete pro-Israel policies”), Pro-Israel America and a lineup of generous Trump and Mitch McConnell donors are an investment in re-establishing that silence. The candidate shrugs it off, saying they support him because “I listen.”

Mr Melton-Meaux’s class politics also deserve some attention, especially his time as a law partner at Jackson Lewis, “widely known as one of the most aggressively anti-union law firms in the U.S.” according to the New York Times (a part of his resume somehow omitted from his campaign bio). Jackson Lewis is “management’s go-to firm for anti-union campaigns” says a professor who witnessed them in action against a faculty organizing drive at the University of New Mexico. Their client list includes literally thousands of corporations in every industry. They also provide pro-active services like seminars on how to keep your company “union-free.” As a longtime labor activist I have encountered these union-busting law firms. They do not play nice.

Jackson Lewis is no mere bit player in the field of preventing and destroying unions. They have, for decades, been at the forefront of the corporate class war against working people’s standards of living, safety protections, job security and their right to organize. They employ “captive audience” meetings, intimidation, deception and – according to one lawsuit – illegal firings. The Melton-Meaux campaign’s response is that his own cases didn’t directly involve busting unions. Instead, he defended large corporations against worker claims of racial and sex discrimination, harassment, hostile work environments, wage theft and illegal firing. As a corporate lawyer he argued for non-disclosure agreements in sexual misconduct cases. As a candidate he opposes them.

What’s missing is any sign of remorse for having been part of a leading powerhouse in that inherently unethical field; no angry letter of resignation; no heartfelt apology to the many thousands of working families still suffering from the damage these well-heeled “economic hit men” systematically inflicted on the entire working class. Candidate Melton-Meaux’s expressions of empathy for low wage workers ring hollow without a denunciation of his former employer and a commitment to reverse the harm done. As James Baldwin put it, “I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”

The proposals that Ilhan has championed, which are widely popular outside the political class, include such things as “Homes for All,” “The Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All.” What they have in common is that they address the big-picture causes of the problems that afflict our communities. That means, of course, that they threaten vested interests and are therefore labeled “ideological,” “self-promoting,” and “publicity seeking.” “Her focus is on broader issues that tend to enhance her celebrity to the detriment of the local interests of the district,” according to one of Melton-Meaux’s local supporter. This idea that addressing big issues means ignoring local ones cries out for a response.

Addressing childhood asthma on the north side won’t lead to lasting change unless it’s coupled with something like a Green New Deal, to ensure that we’re not fighting the same battle ten years from now. How will these children’s medical bills be covered as they grow, without a program like Medicare for All to completely replace the parasitic health insurance industry of today? There is no realistic way to address the crime and mental health crises that send people scrambling to call 911 without universal access to stable housing. And you can’t seriously deal with the under-funding of schools unless you take on the massive tax breaks for the rich. It’s all connected. The shadowy federal police bundling protesters into minivans on US streets are blowback from US support for such practices in Central America. And that “strategic alliance” with Israel? It includes training US police forces – including the Minneapolis tactical cops who murdered Terrance Franklin in an Uptown basement. Naming these connections is not a “distraction.” It’s the key to transformative change and the duty of anyone aspiring to “progressive” leadership.

Melton-Meaux’s slogan should probably be “Platitudes, not Policy.” His self-positioning of being unburdened by ideology makes as much sense as a mid-westerner claiming to have no accent or white people believing they don’t have a racial identity. It just means that your ideology fits so comfortably within the dominant one that it appears to not exist. His repeated chant about his “bringing people together” rather than “dividing” is equally empty of content. Everyone in politics or activism both brings people together and divides. The question is who you are uniting or dividing and in the service of what agenda. In the non-ideology of liberal centrism “bringing people together” always means reaching out to your right, no matter how far you need to reach. It does not apply to those on your left. Those people must be removed from the stage, not with clear counter-arguments but by hammering on the message that they are disgusting creatures with no real principles or ideas.

Antone’s local supporters seem comfortable with that strategy. When I’ve looked online to find their political analysis of the race I find that they mostly have a lot to say about Ilhan’s motives. I learned that “she lusts after the dangling carrots.” She’s “out to appease white audiences.” “She’s not from America. She’s following a different doctrine.” “I’m glad she’s been revealed as the snake she is.” She “craves . . .,” “will do anything for . . .” attention, to sell books, for the limelight. “It is really just about her and not her constituents and not our country as a whole.” “Vote that horrid woman out!”

Whatever people’s beefs are with Ilhan I’m in no position to judge. Whether they rise to the level of her being pure evil is doubtful, although I suppose if you repeat it often enough some people will start believing. (Incidentally, have you ever heard these kinds of insults directed at a male politician? Asking for a friend.)

Justified or not, though, this election isn’t about them. The interests of the people of the fifth congressional district are barely a blip on the radar of the concerted multi-million dollar effort to remove Ilhan. This is a battle over the balance of power on a large scale in which locals are pawns not drivers. It is, of course, part of the strategy to remove all the members of the squad from office. Large right wing donors are not careless with their money. They know that a middle-of-the-road “progressive” is not a threat to their interests.

Melton-Meaux has shown that he is comfortable with things that no one should be comfortable with. They are consistent, though, with centrist ideology (and yes, there is one!). The liberal centrist will, with his left hand, join you in demanding relief from the injuries of the system while with his right one he protects the very interests and policies that cause those injuries. That is to be expected. With young, working class and dark skinned activists and organizers getting elected this is the perfect kind of candidate to undermine them. Offering watered down versions of each radical proposal as the “realistic” alternative.

That local activists would fall for this “non-ideological,” “uniter-not-divider” kool-aid is alarming. A tactical alliance with the enemies of justice doesn’t usually turn out well. At least not for “little brown Palestinian children,” working people, or even the communities of the fifth district that cry out for big solutions. Don’t believe otherwise.

– Ricardo Levins Morales
August 5, 2020


Related Off-site Links:
US Rep Ilhan Omar Readies for Tough Primary ChallengeAljazeera News (August 10, 2020).
Omar and Top Rival Dig In for Final Stretch – John Croman (KARE 11 News, August 10, 2020).
The Squad Could Shrink As Ilhan Omar Comes Under Fire in Minnesota Primary – Ramsey Touchberry (Newsweek, August 8, 2020).
As An American Jew, I Will Not Stand for the Scapegoating of Ilhan Omar – Joel Rubin (Newsweek, July 23, 2020).
Omar Allies Decry Cash Flowing Into Melton-Meaux Primary Challenge – Torey Van Oot (Star Tribune, July 21, 2020).
Antone Melton-Meaux Challenge Puts Ilhan Omar's Style and Controversies to the Test – Briana Bierschbach (Star Tribune, July 18, 2020).
Why I’m Voting for Ilhan Omar in the Fifth District Primary – David Brauer (Medium, July 18, 2020).

UPDATES: Ilhan Omar Wins House Primary in Minnesota – Astead W. Herndon (The New York Times, August 11, 2020).
Rep. Ilhan Omar Wins Contentious Democratic Primary Election in Minnesota – Savannah Behrmann (USA Today, August 11, 2020).
Rep. Ilhan Omar Wins Congressional Primary – Elena Moore (MPR News, August 11, 2020).
Progressive Champion Ilhan Omar Beats Well-Funded Challenger Antone Melton-Meaux in a Minnesota Blow-Out – Ibrahim Hirsi (Sahan Journal, August 11, 2020).
The Media Said Ilhan Omar Was Fighting for Her Political Life. She Won Easily – Luke Savage (Jacobin, August 12, 2020).
Where the Votes for Ilhan Omar’s Victory Over Antone Melton-Meaux Came From – Greta Kaul (MinnPost, August 12, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
To Whom the Future of America Belongs
Ilhan Omar: Quote of the Day – April 13, 2019
Ilhan Omar: Stepping Into Her Power
Global Condemnation for Trump's Latest Ignorant and Racist Comments
Juan Cole: Quote of the Day – February 11, 2019
Progressive Perspectives on the Ilhan Omar “Controversy”


Saturday, August 08, 2020

Floating Skyscrapers Reflects Its Country of Origin's Ongoing Tensions Between Denial and Desire

Tomasz Wasilewski's film Floating Skyscrapers is as topical today as it was in 2013, the year it was released. This is due in large part to the ongoing actions of the notoriously anti-LGBTQI government of the Polish filmmaker's homeland.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch published a helpful (though troubling) statement on recent events in Poland. Following is an excerpt.

In recent weeks, [Polish] police have arrested LGBT rights activists for peaceful protest actions on the basis of an overly broad blasphemy law, violating freedom of expression and signaling the further deterioration of the rule of law in Poland.

On August 7, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Warsaw offices of the Campaign Against Homophobia, an LGBT rights group, to protest an order to arrest an activist named Margo accused of causing damage in June to a truck promoting false anti-LGBT propaganda. After about an hour of the demonstration, which was livestreamed on Facebook, police who had arrived to execute the order departed without Margo.

“Polish authorities should immediately stop targeting activists who exert their basic free expression rights,” said Kyle Knight, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Scapegoating and targeting a vulnerable minority is becoming a routine and nasty part of the government’s playbook, with dangerous repercussions for human rights.”

. . . In recent years, Poland has been engulfed by anti-LGBT vitriol. The rhetoric has been largely fueled by the ruling Law and Justice Party, which has a history of scapegoating LGBT people and sexual and reproductive health activists for political ends, under the rubric of attacks on “gender ideology.” Senior party members have historically misrepresented efforts to advance gender equality and end discrimination as attacks on “traditional” family values, and used such arguments to undermine women’s and LGBT rights groups.

Andrzej Duda, a Law and Justice politician, was re-elected president in late June following a campaign that actively deployed anti-LGBT rhetoric as an election strategy, including calling “LGBT ideology” more dangerous than communism. Currently the Justice Ministry is funding work aimed at “counteracting crimes related to the violation of freedom of conscience committed under the influence of LGBT ideology.”

In July, the European Commission announced that it would withhold development funding for six Polish municipalities in reaction to their insistence of retaining the label of an “LGBT-Free Zone.” Authorities in one third of Poland’s cities have identified their localities as “LGBT Ideology Free Zones” although courts attempted in 2019 to curtail the pernicious anti-rights campaign. On August 6, an administrative court in Lublin annulled the anti-LGBT resolution of the Serniki Commune.

– Human Rights Watch
Excerpted from "Poland: Crackdown On LGBT Activists"
August 7, 2020


Tomasz Wasilewski's Floating Skyscrapers is set in the Polish capitol of Warsaw and follows the story of Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), an aspiring professional swimmer who falls in love with another man to the disapproval of his mother and to the surprise of his girlfriend, who tries to hold on to him and their relationship.

The film premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, and is the first Polish production that primarily deals with the topic of same-sex relationships. As such, many see Floating Skyscrapers as a work of cinema that challenges contemporary Polish social and cultural norms on homosexuality. The film is noted for its largely clean, straight aesthetic, along with its emphasis on the starker urban landscapes of Warsaw to convey Poland's strict social conventions, which its storyline then attempts to break through and move beyond.

As praiseworthy as the film's convention-shattering intentions are, I must admit I find it to be uncompelling in terms of its largely non-existent character development, flat storyline, meandering pacing, and predictable conventional tragic end.

In short, not only does the title of Jack Page's review of Floating Skyscrapers pretty much sum it up for me – “Diving Right In . . . But Not Making a Splash” – but so does Page's central critique: “Floating Skyscrapers shares an all too safe and familiar depiction of repressed homosexuality as the majority of popular gay and lesbian European cinema. The film offers no new perspective, nor a different variation on the narrative or visual style of similar recent independent feature films. Devoid of any ideological or political agenda, Wasilewski’s vision is considerably tame, but accomplished, yet lacking in any real progression and importance in regards to its increasingly prominent subject matter.”

Of course, others think otherwise; and so I close with Clive Botting's relatively positive review of Floating Skyscrapers.

Kuba (Mateusz Banasiuk), an aspiring champion swimmer and romantic character has a normal uneventful life living at home with his mother, Ewa (Katarzyna Herman) and his girlfriend Sylwia (Marta Nieradkiewicz). Invited to an art gallery opening, Kuba meets Michal (Bartosz Gelner) and their magnetic attraction is immediate.

Kuba’s world changes – he drops his training programme to the consternation of this mother and the film follows his evolving sexuality and its effect on Sylwia and his family in an ever increasing claustrophobic environment. Whilst Kuba dreams of a life with Michal, the latter takes on the task of convincing his concerned mother and distant father that his lifestyle isn’t just a passing fancy.

Floating Skyscrapers is an accomplished second feature and is a touching story of denial and desire that addresses themes of loneliness, love that’s different and its social acceptance in contemporary Polish society.

Tomasz Wasilewski says: “It is about love, or the lack of it, and about the consequences of seeking out its substitutes. It is about wasted opportunities and lost dreams – about the contemporary world and its pitfalls.”

There are sound performances and the film has visual style but the sparse dialogue and clinical approach offers a style magazine presentation of two middle class Polish families with little attempt to elicit audience interest in the characters – we’re looking at a series of photo shots whereas we want to know what makes Kuba tick. What makes him a romantic character, destroying all those who love him? And what of the power and influence of the conservative Catholic Church in contemporary Polish society?

The essence is the family in the context of a gay relationship and its powerful influence on Kuba and Michal. Explore the characters in depth and we may then begin to see the complexities that are the background to this relationship.

– Clive Botting
Floating Skyscrapers: Gay Love in Contemporary Poland
The Huffington Post
February 12, 2013




Related Off-site Link:
Poland’s Anti-LGBTQ Attitudes and Arrests Spark Mass Protests In Warsaw – Vanessa Gera (The Huffington Post, August 10, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Thoughts on Queer Cinema
Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage
Chris Mason Johnson's Test: A Film that “Illuminates Why Queer Cinema Still Matters”
John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday: “A Genuinely Radical Film”
Stephen A. Russell on Moonlight, “the Most Beautiful Gift to Cinema in Countless Years”
Vulnerability Is Power: Moonlight Actor André Holland on Masculinity and Homosexuality in the Black Community
On Brokeback Mountain: Remembering Queer Lives and Loves Never Fully Realized
Liberating Paris: Liberation in Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning
Five Takes on Five Dances
“This Light Breeze That Loves Me”


Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Vulnerability Is Power



André Holland on masculinity and
homosexuality in the Black community.


Barry Jenkins' 2016 film Moonlight remains an all-time favorite for me, and I continue to follow and admire the career of one of the film's actors, André Holland.

Recently I came across the following video by The Root in which André thoughtfully and insightfully talks about masculinity and homosexuality in the Black community and about what drew him to the role of the adult Kevin in Moonlight.

At one point André observes: “There’s so many shades to masculinity, and the characters in this movie show us that vulnerability is power.”





See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Stephen A. Russell on Moonlight, “the Most Beautiful Gift to Cinema in Countless Years”
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Reclaiming the Power of Male Touch
Love as Exploring Vulnerability

Related Off-site Links:
The Knick's André Holland: “I Don't Want to Be 'the Black Friend'” – Sarah Hughes (The Guardian, October 13, 2015).
Here's What Critics Are Saying About Hulu's André Holland-Led Stephen King Series, Castle Rock – Monique Jones (Shadow and Act, July 25, 2018).
Actor André Holland Explores: “Where I Fit, How I Fit, If I Fit”Fresh Air (August 22, 2018).
The Eddy’s André Holland: “I Still Have a Lot to Learn, and a Lot to Offer” – Maxine Wally (W Magazine, May 4, 2020).
André Holland Says The Eddy Isn’t a Musical, but Tells a New Narrative Through Music – Kristen Lopez (IndieWire, May 6, 2020)
We Need to Give André Holland His Flowers – Ineye Komonibo (Refinery 29, May 8, 2020).


Monday, August 03, 2020

Quote of the Day

Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages – immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise – it floundered. While countries as different as South Korea, Thailand, Iceland, Slovakia, and Australia acted decisively to bend the curve of infections downward, the U.S. achieved merely a plateau in the spring, which changed to an appalling upward slope in the summer. “The U.S. fundamentally failed in ways that were worse than I ever could have imagined,” Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, told me.

Since the pandemic began, I have spoken with more than 100 experts in a variety of fields. I’ve learned that almost everything that went wrong with America’s response to the pandemic was predictable and preventable. A sluggish response by a government denuded of expertise allowed the coronavirus to gain a foothold. Chronic underfunding of public health neutered the nation’s ability to prevent the pathogen’s spread. A bloated, inefficient health-care system left hospitals ill-prepared for the ensuing wave of sickness. Racist policies that have endured since the days of colonization and slavery left Indigenous and Black Americans especially vulnerable to COVID‑19. The decades-long process of shredding the nation’s social safety net forced millions of essential workers in low-paying jobs to risk their life for their livelihood. The same social-media platforms that sowed partisanship and misinformation during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the 2016 U.S. election became vectors for conspiracy theories during the 2020 pandemic.

. . . Despite its epochal effects, COVID‑19 is merely a harbinger of worse plagues to come. The U.S. cannot prepare for these inevitable crises if it returns to normal, as many of its people ache to do. Normal led to this. Normal was a world ever more prone to a pandemic but ever less ready for one. To avert another catastrophe, the U.S. needs to grapple with all the ways normal failed us. It needs a full accounting of every recent misstep and foundational sin, every unattended weakness and unheeded warning, every festering wound and reopened scar.

Ed Yong
Excerpted from “How the Pandemic Defeated America
in the September 2020 print edition of The Atlantic
with the headline “Anatomy of an American Failure”


Related Off-site Links:
How Jared Kushner’s Secret Testing Plan “Went Poof Into Thin Air” – Katherine Eban (Vanity Fair, July 30, 2020).
Kushner’s COVID-19 Team Ended Plan for Nationwide Testing Because They Didn’t Want to Help Democratic States – Cristina Cabrera (Talking Points Memo, July 31, 2020).
Trump and Kushner Should Be Prosecuted for Crimes Against Humanity – David Atkins (Washington Monthly, August 1, 2020).
Trump Heads to His Own Golf Club as Covid-19 Surges and Jobless Benefits ExpireThe Guardian (August 1, 2020).
Masks May Reduce Viral Dose, Some Experts Say – Katherine J. Wu (The New York Times, July 27, 2020).
It's Time to Start Handing Out Fines to People Who Refuse to Wear Masks – Kathi Valeii (Business Insider, August 2, 2020).
Public Health Expert Says “Zero Doubt” Most U.S. Virus Deaths Were AvoidablePBS Newshour (July 30, 2020).

UPDATES: As GOP Blocks Covid Relief, Experts Warn of “Wave of Despair” and Devastating Anecdotes Show Crisis Already Here – Julia Conley (Common Dreams, August 13, 2020).
What Will Happen If We Can't Produce a Coronavirus Vaccine? And Is Herd Immunity the Answer? – Sarah Pitt (ABC News, August 14, 2020).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Lancet Weighs-in on the Trump Administration's “Incoherent” Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Quote of the Day – June 9, 2020
An Infectious Disease Specialist Weighs-in on Covid-19
James Martin, SJ: Quote of the Day – May 22, 2020
Marianne Williamson: In the Midst of This “Heartbreaking” Pandemic, It's Okay to Be Heartbroken
The Calm Before the Storm
In the Midst of Crisis, Learning Resistance and Vision-Seeking from the Indigenous and African-American Experience
The Crisis Is Not About the Virus
Examining the Link Between Destruction of Biodiversity and Emerging Infectious Diseases
Something to Think About – April 22, 2020
Marianne Williamson: “This Is a Time of Transformation”
“You're All Kings and Queens”
Memes of the Times
Sonya Renee Taylor: Quote of the Day – April 18, 2020
Ken Butigan: Quote of the Day – March 17, 2020
Hope and Beauty in the Midst of the Global Coronavirus Pandemic
A Prayer in Times of a Pandemic

Image: The New York Times' Coronavirus in the U.S. Map and Case Count for August 3, 2020.


Sunday, August 02, 2020

From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookself


I continue today my series that draws from the wisdom within the many books on my shelf at work. As most reading this would know, my “work,” since September 2018, is that of a palliative care interfaith chaplain at a hospital just north of the Twin Cities.

In this fourth installment I share an excerpt from Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book, Close to the Bone: Life Threatening Illness and the Search for Meaning, about which acclaimed author Isabel Allende writes: “This is the book I needed when my daughter was sick. It would have helped me through it, like a map of the underworld. Myths, stories, prayer, touching, visualization, rituals, and especially love, are some of the tools and wisdom that this extraordinary book gives us.”

(NOTE: To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

_________________________


The Chinese pictograph for crisis is comprised of the ideograms for “danger” and “opportunity.” Every life-threatening illness is a major crisis for everyone concerned that shakes the foundations of previous assumptions. Such a crisis is not restricted to the person with the illness, nor is it just about the fate of the body.

A life-threatening condition throws all aspects of life for the patient and all significant relationships into a time of turmoil and transition. Life-threatening illness is a crisis for the soul.

When death and disability come close, it is indeed a time of danger and opportunity, which raises questions about the meaning of life and tests the bonds of relationships.

. . . Illness [can be understood] as a descent of the soul into the underworld and the healing that can result. . . . I have accompanied family members, friends, and patients through illnesses and hospitalizations that were descents into the underworld. The terrain is very familiar, though the gateway of physical illness is not as familiar as the psychological entry points that bring people on a soul path into a Jungian analysis with me.

Whether the life-threatening illness is psychological or physical, when depression colors or influences thought and action, people often give up on themselves and on the future. It is then not enough to treat a depression only with medications, or only pay attention to the physical signs and symptoms of disease, when giving up on life having any meaning, now or in the future, is the underlying life-or-death issue.

. . . A life-threatening illness has the impact of a stone hitting the still surface of a lake, sending concentric rings of disturbance out, as feelings, thoughts, and reactions radiate out from this center. It impacts relationships, it stirs the depths of others, it potentially brings the patient and those who are affected “close to the bone,” into the proximity of the soul. Soul questions arise about the meaning of life when the mind is ill or the body is ailing. Healing and recovery may depend as much or more upon a deepening of relationships and connection to one’s own soul and spiritual life, as on medical or psychiatric expertise.

I have learned over and over again that a life-threatening illness is soul-shaking for everyone involved, that it provides us an opportunity to get intimations and intuitions about why we are here, and what and who really matters.

– Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
Excerpted from Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness
and the Search for Meaning

pp. 9-11


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf (Part I)
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf (Part II)
From the Palliative/Spiritual Care Bookshelf (Part III)
Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Welcome
Interfaith Chaplaincy: Meeting People Where They're At
Spirituality and the Healthcare Setting
World Hospice and Palliative Care Day
Resilience and Hope
The Calm Before the Storm
George Yancy on the “Unspoken Reality of Death”
Arthur Kleinman on the “Soul of Care”
“Call Upon Those You Love”

Related Off-site Links:
In Pandemic, Health Care Chaplains Address an “Existential and Spiritual Crisis” – Alejandra Molina (Religion News Service, March 20, 2020).
Hospital Chaplains Bring Hope and Solace to COVID-19 Patients and Staff – Lulu Garcia-Navarro (NPR News, March 29, 2020).
It's Time to Get Serious About End-of-Life Care for High-Risk Coronavirus Patients – Jessica Gold and Shoshana Ungerleider (TIME, March 30, 2020).
Learning to Cope With the Pandemic From Palliative Care Patients – Rob A. Ruff (KevinMD.com, May 8, 2020).
Our Crash Course in Being Mortal – Ira Byock (Goop, May 2020).

Images: Michael J. Bayly.