Sunday, August 27, 2017

Oops, I Did it Again!

Yesterday, I posted offensive material to Facebook, and lost a few friends over it. Again.

What was my offense? A photo (included below) and a short video of my participation in an anti-Fascist protest in San Francisco.

Following the events in Charlottesville, VA, where one woman was killed and 30 more injured while counter-protesting a rally filled with Klansmen and Nazis shouting their hate-filled rhetoric, similar "alt-Right" events were planned for the Bay Area.

Rather than attend their hate rally and confront them head-on (potentially leading to more violence), counter-rallies were scheduled for various places away from the epicenter of hate.

We were invited by friends to take part in the Ukulele Resistance Brigade, and attend the rally planned for the Castro district, then a march up Mission Street to Civic Center. We would sing satiric anti-Nazi songs and be accompanied by two electric magical unicorns. Harmless stuff.

The Ukulele Resistance Brigade, riding Mission Pony Unicorns, singing anti-Nazi songs at the intersection of Mission and Castro, San Francisco, CA, August 26, 2017
Harmless, perhaps, and yet, "friends" were so offended that I chose to say that I'm against Fascism by singing sarcastic songs while walking along Mission Street in San Francisco that they un-freinded me today.

Silly as our protest may seem, the cumulative effect of all these counter-protests worked: the leaders of the pro-Nazi rally kept changing the location and size of their event, until all that anybody saw were a few lost and lonely individuals with alt-Right slogans on their shirts stopping off at Starbucks.

I believe that those who un-friended me have two general misconceptions:
1 - That I'm using the word "Nazi" too loosely to describe those I merely disagree with, and
2 - That this protest means we leftists/progressives/whatever are against free speech.

First, no, I do not throw around "Nazi" as an all-purpose putdown for anybody with views even slightly more conservative than my own. I reserve that word for people who literally espouse the views and symbols of Hitler's Germany.

The "Unite the Right" protesters were not simply calling for conservative policies, like "tax cuts for job creators" or the right of people to die from easily preventable diseases if they're not clever enough to get a job that includes health care benefits.

They went to Charlottesville carrying semi-automatic weapons (their right), flags of the (defeated) confederacy, flags of the (defeated) Nazi Germany, raising their hand in imitation of the Nazi solute, and chanting such Nazi slogans as "blood and soil" while carrying signs reading "Jews will not replace us."

This is not rhetoric or hyperbole. I'm not saying that they're "like Nazis." They are literal Nazis.

And this is what they said they had in store for us in San Francisco. Nazi propaganda that includes calls for my erasure from America. Making clear that however much we assimilate, Jews will never be white enough for them.

That we chose ukuleles, unicorns, and satire (on the other side of town) as our weapons, rather than baseball bats, large rocks, and direct confrontation, is pretty much a testament to our tolerance for "opposing viewpoints."

But what about Free Speech!?

Yes, the Ukulele Resistance Brigade's big hit (captured in the short video post) was this:
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
Your were spotted in a mob, now you lost your fucking job
If you're a Nazi and you're fired, it's your fault (clap, clap)
What that refers to, of course, is that following Charlottesville, several of the people who figured prominently in the photos, carrying torches and screaming hateful rhetoric, were recognized by their employers and fired. No company wants to be represented by Nazis. That's a good thing. That's their right.

Yes, you have the right to say hateful things. But that doesn't mean there are no consequences.

There have always been limits to free speech. You cannot shout "Fire" in a crowded theater. You may not incite a riot. Threatening peoples lives or suggesting that someone else "needs to die" are bad things to say.

The propaganda shouted in Charlottesville went beyond hateful. Whether or not it fell within the legal of definition of inciteful, I'll leave up to the courts.

I know that when I saw those signs, I felt threatened. And when the organizers said they were coming to my region, that I'd be complicit in normalizing that speech if I did not go out and protest it. I have a right to be heard too.

No, I do not support firing someone for basic political differences that have nothing to do with the employer-employee relationship. But I know full well that if I make a public statement that goes against my employer's mission or damages my employer's image (such as suggesting a group of citizens is somehow less human than I am), I will be fired.

Check the fine print of your employee agreement or handbook: you probably already agreed to the same. I'll bet that each of the individuals who've been fired since publicly exposing themselves as Nazis agreed to such a policy. No way their employers would have fired them if their legal council hadn't made sure it would hold up in court.

Again: free speech doesn't mean no consequences.

If standing up and declaring I'm against Fascism is "too political" for you, then you're a collaborator.

And if you're thinking that their saying I have no right to exist is somehow equal to my saying I do, I do not mourn the loss of your friendship.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Nachum Khannina, Refugee

Nachum Khannina
On April 23, 1891, the Jews of Moscow were expelled from that city and forced to move west, into a region knows as "the Pale of Settlement." The Pale, roughly the region between Imperial Russia and Austria-Hungary, was first created by Catherine the Great in 1791 to remove Jews from Russia entirely, unless they converted to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion.

Forty-four days later, on June 6, 1891, my Great-Grandfather, Nachum Khannina*, journeyman tailor, paid 85 Kopecks to the Russian authorities of Vitebsk Gubernia (in the Pale, in what is now Belarus) for permission to travel to complete his training and receive certification as a master tailor.

Paperwork of "Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin"
His travel permit says, "By order of His Majesty, the Emperor Alexander Alexandrovich, the autocrat of all Russia... Jew Nofush Hofushov Hanin,"* is authorized to travel for study. It is also specific that if he does not return to Vitebsk (and the Pale of Settlement) at the end of six months, he will suffer penalties under the law.

We are unsure of the route he took, but by 1894 he was known as Nathan Channen, of Boston, Massachusetts, and his family was with him. Also not known is if he had any paperwork or authorization to come to America before he arrived on his temporary travel-study permit.

The Channens: An American Family
We also don't know if Nachum/Nathan was new to being a refugee when he left Vitebsk in 1891. Did multiple generations of Khanninas make their home in the region? Or did they arrive there by way of evictions from deeper in Russia over the previous century, or just the previous four months?

What we do know is that he violated Russian law in traveling as far as he did, with no intention of returning. Nathan Channen and his family were refugees, as were each of my Great-Grandparents and Grandparents, who all came to America to escape Imperial Russian Pogroms, anti-Semitism, and the Pale of Settlement between 1890 and 1905.

They were all refugees. When I stand and march for refugees, it's for them, and the sacrifices they made, so that I could be a spoiled, privileged, American citizen. And I won't deny that opportunity to anybody else, regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.

The five daughters of Nathan and Sophia Channen. On the right is my Grandmother, Ruth Channen Goldstein. May their memories be a blessing
 * Nachum Khannina or Nofush Hofushov Hanin? One his Yiddish name, the other Russian, both approximate transliterations.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

"Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit"

The quote that serves as the title for this post is from Tom Hayden, who passed away last October 23, shortly before the presidential election.

Many people today hardly remember the name. To some he was a mild-mannered, liberal state legislator, representing Santa Monica in the California Assembly and State Senate for a couple of decades. To some he was "that commie rabble rouser" - one of the Chicago Seven, who consorted with the enemy during the Vietnam War and caused riots here at home. To others he was just Jane Fonda's husband (between Roger Vadim and Ted Turner).

(Disclosure: Around 1983 or so, I went to work for Tom's organization, Campaign California, on 3rd Street in Santa Monica, as a political canvasser. We were working on clean air issues, and each afternoon we canvassers would get loaded into cars and taken to different areas around Los Angeles to go door-to-door, collecting signatures and checks to get Tom's work done.)

Since the election, and particularly since the inauguration of P45 (I can't quite bring myself to say his name), I've been thinking about Hayden, and that quote, "Looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit" ...

At my age now, it's not the world we are to inherit that bothers me; it's the world we are to bequeath. A few weeks ago we had a small family gathering, and looking at the youngest, my two-year-old grand-niece, I couldn't help but to apologize to her for the mess the world - and our country - is in.

It is for her sake (and others of her generation) that I cannot give in to depression over the situation, or allow myself to be overwhelmed by the avalanche of insanity that is coming out of the White House. I will continue going to protests and speaking out in any way I can.

I may not make it to every rally. I won't be able to change my Facebook icon to go along with every challenge to democracy. There won't be time to blog, or even tweet, about each new outrage. But I will do all I can, and I will not sit idly by while the rights and lives of anybody are threatened - whether they are my friend, family, ally, or not.

They want to overwhelm us. They want to divide us. They want to make us choose whether we're going to defend the rights of immigrants, or women, or LGBTQ, or Muslims, or... just give up and watch the Constitution get trampled. I will not pick and choose. We all stand together or we perish together.

At the close of the Chicago Seven trial, each defendant was given a chance to make a statement. Tom Hayden said, "We would hardly have been notorious characters if they left us alone on the streets of Chicago," but instead "we became the architects, the masterminds, and the geniuses of a conspiracy to overthrow the government; we were invented."

The new administration is good at inventing enemies. A free press, doing its job of asking tough questions, is referred to as "the opposition party." A Judge - a conservative Judge, appointed by George W. Bush -  is referred to as a "so-called Judge" for ruling to uphold the rule of law.

So fine, I'm an enemy of this President, and I encourage you to be an enemy too.

As long as I'm writing about the Chicago Seven Conspiracy trial, let's talk about Hayden's partner, Abbie Hoffman. A nice, college educated, Jewish boy from Massachusetts. I can relate. In Hoffman's final words to the court, he said:

"I always wanted to change my plea. I had just a great urge to confess; say, 'I am guilty,' because I felt what the State was calling me was an enemy of the State and I am an enemy of the State ... [B]efore, you [Judge Hoffman, no relation] said, '... you could have had a nice position in the system, you could have had a job in the firm.' ... We don't want a job there, in that system. We say to young people, 'There is a brilliant future for you in the revolution. Become an enemy of the State. A great future. You will save your soul.'"

Save your soul, and possibly democracy and America: Resist.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

This is not 2000; Jill Stein is not Ralph Nader

The short version: 
  1. I'm a former Democrat, former Green, now unaligned, left-of-center, independent. 
  2. It was Bill Clinton's first term that chased me out of the Democratic Party. 
  3. I proudly supported Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy in both 1996 and 2000, and have no regrets (Gore lost all by himself, get over it). 
  4. I have been a fan of Bernie Sanders since he became Mayor of Burlington, VT 35 years ago and was thrilled to be able to give him my vote for President earlier this year. 
  5. I have had serious reservations about Hillary Clinton (and have taken heat about expressing these opinions on Daily Kos). 
  6. Nevertheless, I believe that a vote for Jill Stein (or Gary Johnson) is a foolish, unproductive, and dangerous act, and I urge all Greens and left-leaning independents to join me in supporting Hillary Clinton.
The long version: 

I don't need to get into much detail on #1 and #2 above; I've told the story many times before. With the election of Bill Clinton, the "third way" of the Democratic Leadership Council had officially replaced the progressive liberalism of the Democratic Party I grew up in. That, and the arrogance of my local Democratic State Assembly member, telling me he didn't care what I think because "Who else are you going to vote for?" made me realize that I did have other choices to explore.

For me, Ralph Nader entered the Presidential electoral arena at just the right time. Here was somebody who I had considered a hero since my 1960's childhood. In '96 I volunteered for the campaign. Going to hear him speak when he visited Sacramento (where we lived at the time) was an experience unlike any other political event I've ever been to. Here was truly one of the most intelligent and thoughtful people to ever seek office, speaking for hours without a single sentence that could be considered pandering for votes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

I Got Them Old #DemExit Blues

I'm no stranger to political disappointment.

My first presidential election cycle (at 19) was in 1980. I voted for Ted Kennedy in the primary. Come November, as I was driving from work to my poling place, a little before 7 PM, Pacific Time, President Carter conceded the election to Ronald Reagan. I went in and voted for Carter anyway, just for the hell of it, even though the election was technically over.

In 1984 I became an early fan of Gary Hart and he was my primary choice. He was way in the back of the Democratic field that year (when the time came, I got behind the Mondale-Ferraro ticket, like any good little Democrat would), but for the next four years I read all I could by and about Hart, and was ready for him in '88.

Although an early leader in 1988, the Hart campaign went down in flaming hubris. Talk about disappointment: I'd just spent four years promoting the jerk who dared the press to follow him and "accidentally" discover him with his mistress. My second choice, Jesse Jackson, got my primary vote. Jackson didn't get the nomination either. I voted for third choice, third-rate, Mike Dukakis, in the 1988 general election. He didn't win.

In 1992 I distrusted Bill Clinton and the whole Democratic Leadership Council gang, but once my primary choice, Jerry Brown, was out of the race, I watched the Democratic Convention, drew a deep breath, and volunteered to help elect Bill. After a dozen years of voting, I finally backed a winner!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mellencamp & Carter: New Concert, Old Memories

John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter
Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA
July 25, 2015

John Mellencamp gets no respect. I know because I'm as guilty as anybody when it comes to under-estimating this rock icon. I want to review the concert of his that I saw last night, but first I need to go back 33 years or so and issue an apology.

In 1982 I was a manager for the Music Plus chain of record stores. One fine day I was at the home office attending one of our regular managers meetings when they rolled out a TV, dimmed the lights, and played us a video of a new song we would be promoting.

We thought it was a joke. We recognized the artist from his prior poor-selling albums, but this little ditty about teenagers sucking down chili dogs behind Tastee Freezes in the heartland (among other things) did not impress us. I get it now, but back then I was just too cool to relate. We laughed through it and made rude jokes about his height and how Pat Benatar's cover his previous single, "I Need A Lover," had outsold his.

The lights came up and the bosses said, "And now we'd like you to meet Mr. Cougar..." When the song had started he had apparently slipped into the room and was seated right behind us. Oops. If he overheard anything he didn't let on and very kindly spoke with each of us and signed all our copies of American Fool.

In the decades since I've slowly come to respect him more and more. While I've never been a super fan, I have bought a couple of CDs, and appreciated him as a thoughtful person, and a dedicated musician. Still, when the Mrs. suggested we see him in concert I was slow to jump on it, until she told me the opening act would be Carlene Carter.

By the time of my Johnny Cougar faux pas, Carlene Carter had already become my secret country crush. Back around 1979 I'd slip on Musical Shapes or Two Sides to Every Woman between the Ramones, Who, Deep Purple, and Kinks records that were my norm. I've followed her career off and on since then, but never had a chance to meet her or even see her live until last night.

Her performance was worth the 35 year wait. Just her and her guitar (and occasional piano) was enough to fill the hall with raw country emotion and rock 'n' roll power. Her new CD, Carter Girl, is a tribute to her family, so the show was full of stories of learning to play guitar from grandma, Maybelle Carter, getting songwriting advice from her mother, June, and watching them perform with the rest of the Carter Family. She shared how her life changed when her mom married "Big John" (Cash), growing the family, but keeping the roots close to home and their music.

Most of the Mellencamp audience may not have known who that Carter Girl was when she stepped out on stage, but by the time she was done they were cheering every song, laughing at all her stories, and singing along with (her great uncle) A.P. Carter's version of "Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)."

After her set she took a table in the lobby, signing pictures and CDs, talking with the fans, and smiling for pictures with every one of us. Getting that hug from her will stand as one of my favorite "brush with greatness" stories for many years to come.

That would have been enough for the night, but the lights were dimming in the theater, and Mr. Mellencamp was taking the stage, so we re-took our seats.

Did I mention that John Mellencamp gets no respect? I mean, I knew he'd put on a good show. I didn't know he'd put on a great one. The man, and his six-piece band, are professional rockers. They are note perfect, powerful, and play off each others' strengths like a well-oiled machine. And why shouldn't they be tight? Guitarist Mike Wanchic has been with Mellencamp for 40 years! Violinist Miriam Sturm for over 20.

There were (most of) the hits you'd expect (or demand) to hear - after all these years you kind of forget just how many he's had - and plenty of new songs too in the nearly two hour set. While most of them were played seriously, even he's now laughing at "Jack and Diane," doing it solo acoustic, while the rest of the band took a quick break.

"I don't know why I even play this thing anymore, other than that you expect it," was part of the intro. He then let the audience do most of the work, laughing and correcting them when they launched into the chorus after the first verse. "No, the chorus doesn't come until after the second verse! If I'd known then that you wanted to go right to the chorus I could have saved a lot of time and trouble coming up with that second verse."

Miss Carter came back on to join the band on a couple of numbers from Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a musical that Mr. Mellencamp wrote with Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King). Rumor is that once the tour is over, Mellencamp and Carter will be recording a duets album together.

The show continued and rocked some more. I thought it was coming to a crescendo when the Walls Came a-Tumblin' Down, but it just continued to build from there. The entire audience were on their feet screaming along with the last several numbers. He Fought Authority, and I swear this time he won.

Bottom line: It was a thrill to hear and meet Carlene Carter after all these years, and John Mellencamp deserves our respect as one of the hardest working rockers we've got. John, I'm sorry for making fun of your video. And your name. And your height. You rock, sir. Thank you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Democrats Against Democracy

Last week Allen Clifton, co-founder of Forward Progressives, wrote a column with the terrifying title Bernie Sanders Is Already Making It More Likely Republicans Win The White House In 2016.

How dare Bernie do such a thing! Hasn't Senator Sanders read any newspapers over the last six or seven years? Didn't anybody tell him that Hillary is going to be the nominee? Or is the grumpy old Senator from Vermont under the mistaken impression that the primaries have any other purpose than to reinforce what the party leaders have already determined to be our preference? (note: that was sarcasm you just read.)

Geeeshhh! Give me a freakin' break! What is Clifton so terrified of? This...
.. what I ultimately fear Sanders is going to do is get liberals worked up just enough to where when he eventually loses the Democratic primary election to Hillary, it's going to cause many to become apathetic and refuse to show up in 2016 to vote for the "not liberal enough/basically a Republican" Hillary Clinton.
Well, guess what, Mr. Clifton: It didn't take Bernie Sanders officially entering the race for many of us on the left to recognize that Hillary is no progressive. There were reasons why we didn't support her candidacy in 2008, and nothing since then has convinced us that we were wrong.

Let's get this clear from the start: If Hillary is nominated and loses, she will have lost it on her own accord, and not because she will be forced to debate an actual liberal before facing the Tea Time Circus. As Harry Truman so perfectly put it, "When a Republican runs against a Republican, the Republican will win every time."

Please continue the rest of this rant at Daily Kos....

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