Zócalo Public SquareZócalo Public Square http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org Ideas Journalism With a Head and a Heart Mon, 11 Dec 2017 19:41:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Los Angeles Times Former Beijing Bureau Chief Julie Makinenhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/11/los-angeles-times-former-beijing-bureau-chief-julie-makinen/personalities/in-the-green-room/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/11/los-angeles-times-former-beijing-bureau-chief-julie-makinen/personalities/in-the-green-room/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:01:49 +0000 zocalo http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89888 Julie Makinen is a former Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. She has lived and traveled extensively in Asia, and previously worked for The Washington Post and for what is now known as the international edition of The New York Times. She also was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. Before moderating a Zòcalo/UCLA Anderson School of Management event, “Is China Prepared to Lead the Global Economy?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about Wonder Woman, Chinese food, and the lost island of California.

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Julie Makinen is a former Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. She has lived and traveled extensively in Asia, and previously worked for The Washington Post and for what is now known as the international edition of The New York Times. She also was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. Before moderating a Zòcalo/UCLA Anderson School of Management event, “Is China Prepared to Lead the Global Economy?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about Wonder Woman, Chinese food, and the lost island of California.

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The ‘Hillbilly’ Migrants Who Made Akron, Ohio the World’s Rubber Capitalhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/11/hillbilly-migrants-made-akron-ohio-worlds-rubber-capital/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/11/hillbilly-migrants-made-akron-ohio-worlds-rubber-capital/ideas/essay/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:01:49 +0000 By Tom Jones http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89900 In the earliest decades of the 20th century, more than 28 million men and women—black and white—began “The Great Migration” north from the Deep South and Appalachia. Among those who left their homes, literally hundreds of thousands migrated to “the Rubber Capital of the World”—Akron, Ohio. With blacks barred from factory work due to the tenor of the times in Akron, Southern white males would build the tires and produce the war materials as America entered World War I.

Although dismissively and disparagingly called “hillbillies,” these Southern whites were preferred even over locals by the rubber companies. This was because, as author John Tully noted in The Devil’s Milk: A Social History of Rubber, “they were hard workers and often individualistic in outlook, reflecting their origins as fiercely independent small-owners of farmlands.” This made them less susceptible to unionization and meant they could be easily “returned” by simply allowing

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In the earliest decades of the 20th century, more than 28 million men and women—black and white—began “The Great Migration” north from the Deep South and Appalachia. Among those who left their homes, literally hundreds of thousands migrated to “the Rubber Capital of the World”—Akron, Ohio. With blacks barred from factory work due to the tenor of the times in Akron, Southern white males would build the tires and produce the war materials as America entered World War I.

Although dismissively and disparagingly called “hillbillies,” these Southern whites were preferred even over locals by the rubber companies. This was because, as author John Tully noted in The Devil’s Milk: A Social History of Rubber, “they were hard workers and often individualistic in outlook, reflecting their origins as fiercely independent small-owners of farmlands.” This made them less susceptible to unionization and meant they could be easily “returned” by simply allowing them to go back home when production slackened. That very mobility, however, also meant that they were resented by locals who saw them as having no city pride and being only interested in taking their wages and returning home.

Even though they were once recognized as “Akron’s largest ethnic group,” their contributions have been all but forgotten.

My grandfather, Haskell Jones, was one of those “hillbillies.” Born in Western Kentucky in 1898, the first son of a respected magistrate and former schoolteacher, his family may well have been counted among the “elite” of the community—even though they resided in a two-room shack without running water, electricity, or an outhouse. When his father passed away, leaving Haskell as the head of the family of eight at the age of 15, he had to provide for all by working in the fields—until he heard about the rubber factories of Akron and their insatiable demand for labor.

As it became a home for that labor, Akron’s population tripled between 1910 and 1920 to 208,435—making it the fastest growing city in the entire nation. Of those, more than 75,000 were employed in the rubber industry, in factories that operated 24 hours a day, six days a week.

“All you had to do was hit town in those days and they grabbed you,” Haskell later recalled in more than 40 hours of a recorded oral history. “Rubber factories was going full blast and they was hiring every one of us hillbillies that come into town. Thousands. When I first came here, they couldn’t get enough people.”

He said that he arrived on a Saturday and couldn’t find a room. “First night I was in Akron, I slept with two other guys. Strangers. There wasn’t any rooms. There was just not any you could get ahold of unless you was acquainted and knew how to look. Two of us had to stand out in the hall while the other guy undressed and got into bed it was so small.”

By Monday, he had a job at Miller Rubber. “Wages were pretty low,” he said. “I think I was makin’ 56 cents an hour. It was better than 60 cents a day, I’ll tell you that. That’s what I got around home.”

The author’s grandfather, Haskell A. Jones, C. 1917. Photo courtesy of Tom Jones.

It was dangerous, too. “I’d worked about two or three weeks and a man got killed,” he said. “It was only about twenty feet from me. He got pulled into the machine. Some guy run a steel bar in between the rolls and cracked the machinery to get him out of there. But the poor guy died.”

When the company tried to assign the dead man’s job to him, Haskell refused, and was fired. Which was hardly a problem.

“I went over to Firestone, got another job, got examined, and was back in an hour and a half later to get my pay. Firestone and Miller was only a block apart. That’s how it worked in those days. You just walk out of one job, said ‘I want another one’ and the man gave it to ya’.”

As one of thousands of white Southerners in Akron, he was not alone in refusing certain work. Due to appalling conditions on both the factory floor and in acquiring suitable housing, recruiting and maintaining a workforce were not easy tasks. In her dissertation, “Industrial Voyagers: A Case Study of Appalachian Migration to Akron, Ohio, 1900-1940,” author Susan Allyn Johnson reported that one company reported hiring 642 new employees during one week of 1916, only to have another 652 quit. Another company, which employed 18,000 men on its production lines, was forced to employ 88,000 men over the course of a year.

After the first World War, recession, the Great Depression, and modernization of the factories, much of that workforce would be eliminated. At the bottom of the Depression, Akron’s industrial unemployment rate hit a staggering 60 percent. The national economy, with an unemployment rate of only 23.6 percent, looked almost robust by comparison.

But with a tenaciousness birthed in a hardscrabble childhood, my grandfather and thousands of other hillbillies held on, working part-time at the factories, taking odd jobs, or signing up for the Works Progress Administration before World War II created yet another employment boom.

By then, Haskell had moved on to a more important role. Beginning in 1941 and continuing throughout much of the war, he served as the last marshal and first chief of police of the neighboring village of Tallmadge, Ohio. On call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he was required to supply his own uniform and gun, as well as his own police car.

As the sole member of the community’s police department, he established its first fire department, organized scrap drives, and received FBI training to help protect the wartime industry of Akron. Or, as a recent history of the city notes, “Police work in Tallmadge began in 1941 when Haskell Jones served as the lone officer and Town Marshal in the village of Tallmadge.” It would not be the last role he would perform in service to the community.

With the wartime influx of factory workers and post-war veterans looking to live in Tallmadge, the village rapidly grew into a city—which required major changes in municipal operations. As a member of Tallmadge City Council—first elected in 1949, then re-elected in 1953 and 1955—he helped define the infrastructure on which today’s modern city is built.

Improvements during his tenure included everything from paved roads (many of them built on an emergency basis), to new housing developments, mail delivery (but only after the houses were numbered), and the first shopping mall, first drive-in theater and first city bus service. The council also forced a water system through against voters’ wishes, and oversaw the installation of gas mains and a sewage disposal system. For the new city employees, it established paid holidays and sick leave, as well as a police pension fund.

In his later years, this hillbilly migrant who had grown up without so much as an outhouse was keenly aware of how far he’d come. “Now, I got along with no education because I came at a time when all they wanted was muscle,” he would observe. “But that time is gone, see. They need somebody that can think. In today’s market, I couldn’t’ve made it. I think about it: ‘Boy, you was lucky. You were a little bit smart a few times, but lucky all the time.”

The hillbillies did more than find a better life in Akron. They built it—on a foundation of independence, determination, pride in their heritage, and pride in their new home. In doing so, they created a modern, industrial Ohio, forever changing its culture, institutions, and people. And that could be the best hillbilly elegy of all.

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To Be Blunt, California’s Marijuana Industry Is Stoking High Anxietyhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/11/blunt-californias-marijuana-industry-stoking-high-anxiety/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/11/blunt-californias-marijuana-industry-stoking-high-anxiety/inquiries/connecting-california/#respond Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:01:34 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89893 California’s 2018 transition to legal marijuana contains a mind-bending paradox: Ending prohibitions on marijuana is going to require an awful lot of aggressive law enforcement.

When January 1 rolls around, California will not merely be permitting adults 21 and older to buy marijuana for recreational purposes. The state and its cities also will be scrambling to create a new and wickedly complicated regime to regulate and tax cannabis.

Coming high times will have high stakes: The legalization of cannabis in America’s largest state, if carried off well, represents an opportunity to end the war on drugs that still rages in the United States, with the cops catching far more poor people than preppies.

But if this transition turns messy, the Trump administration—which is devoted both to debasing California and promoting thoughtless “law-and-order” policies—could bogart everything by stepping up arrests and criminal penalties for drug violations.

Smoking weed is said to

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California’s 2018 transition to legal marijuana contains a mind-bending paradox: Ending prohibitions on marijuana is going to require an awful lot of aggressive law enforcement.

When January 1 rolls around, California will not merely be permitting adults 21 and older to buy marijuana for recreational purposes. The state and its cities also will be scrambling to create a new and wickedly complicated regime to regulate and tax cannabis.

Coming high times will have high stakes: The legalization of cannabis in America’s largest state, if carried off well, represents an opportunity to end the war on drugs that still rages in the United States, with the cops catching far more poor people than preppies.

But if this transition turns messy, the Trump administration—which is devoted both to debasing California and promoting thoughtless “law-and-order” policies—could bogart everything by stepping up arrests and criminal penalties for drug violations.

Smoking weed is said to expand your mind, but I’m not sure if there is enough marijuana in the state for anyone’s brain to comprehend the complexities of all the new rules, much less figure out how best to enforce them.

The paradox of legalization is that it requires moving a $7 billion industry—that has long gone unregulated by the state, and benefited from that status—into a highly regulated structure, with extensive taxes and permitting. California governments that once took a live-and-let-live approach to cannabis now find themselves having to boost enforcement against cannabis businesses to make sure that companies move out of the black market.

Such policing requires a difficult mix of tight and carefully balanced enforcement. If regulatory compliance is too loose and taxes and permits are too cheap, scofflaws could plague the new industry. If they undercut the prices of the legit sellers, they might make the drug all too available to children. But if regulatory compliance is too costly and taxes and permits too expensive, too many firms might choose to stay in the black market.

At this point, it’s hard to be optimistic that California’s governments will find that balance.

Among the challenges: The state has been slow to issue regulations to create an interconnected framework of rules covering both newly legal recreational adult use and medical use, which has been legal since 1996 but poorly regulated.

Then there are California’s cities—which have tremendous discretion in whether to issue permits, but are in many cases still debating what to do. Those municipalities that have issued rules are creating so many different standards—some cities ban marijuana businesses of all kinds, while others might permit certain dispensaries, distribution, or labs—that California’s cannabis market will resemble a crazy-quilt.

The federal government is also undermining the transition. By maintaining its prohibitions of marijuana, it is creating both legal jeopardy for those in the legal industry and real difficulties with banking, since few financial institutions will serve businesses selling a product that the United States considers to be an illegal drug. In an acknowledgment that cannabis is likely to remain a mostly cash business, State Treasurer John Chiang has offered to provide armored cars so that cannabis businesses can transport their money when they pay taxes.

Because the industry is badly undercapitalized, it has yet to build out the infrastructure—from compliance systems to lab testing to a strong distribution system—necessary for its new regulated reality.

While attending three different conferences on cannabis this fall, I was struck by the high anxiety around the conundrum of making a business legal without ending up in trouble over the new rules. These days, marijuana business owners sound a bit like homebuilders—utterly frustrated at the endless delays and NIMBY politics that make it so hard to get permits from California’s local governments.

Smoking weed is said to expand your mind, but I’m not sure if there is enough marijuana in the state for anyone’s brain to comprehend the complexities of all the new rules, much less figure out how best to enforce them.

Many businesses, as they struggle with uncertainty, are coping by devoting themselves to California’s ultimate drug of choice: marketing.

Indeed, attending industry events or receiving industry communications (I now get twice as many pitches for cannabis companies as I do for Silicon Valley startups, the previous champion) is to enter a fog of propaganda so thick that it obscures the larger questions about how this important social transformation will work.

Cannabis already seems to be reproducing all the regular facets of American commerce, with endless varieties of products of dubious necessity: cannabinoid eye drops that will treat your glaucoma, cannabis oral strips that dissolve under your tongue, hemp oil that will stop your brain seizures, cannabis creams that will make your skin glow, and several cannabis-infused items that will get you off addictive opioids.

There’s also an attempt to sell corporate architecture. I’ve been deluged with pitches for companies that claim to be “vertically integrated,” which means that they operate in the “complete ecosystem of cannabis—breeding, cultivation, extraction, packaging, and manufacturing.”

Add to this a host of other services like online marketplaces, specialized software, and—my personal favorite—PotBot, an “artificial intelligence” app that will recommend marijuana strains that show the most promise in relieving your symptoms. All these choices also create the need for companies that can simplify your marijuana shopping. A press release from Canndescent, a cultivator of “ultra-premium cannabis flower,” has adopted a “consumer-friendly, strain classification” system (Calm, Cruise, Create, Connect, and Charge).

“You shouldn’t need to bio-hack your body through a periodic table of ominous strain names like Durban Poison and Trainwreck just to buy some pot,” said the CEO in a statement.

Amid all this smoke, there are nods to some important issues—including whether the new industry is representative of California and the communities that have suffered the worst from enforcement under prohibition. I’ve been repeatedly invited to “Meet L.A.’s First Legit Latina Cannabis Entrepreneur” and been asked, rhetorically, “Did you know there’s a growing, influential Jewish community within the cannabis industry?” More seriously, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Sacramento are among the cities working on “social equity programs” to make sure that communities hurt by the drug war enjoy the benefits of jobs and investment in the newly legalized market.

But these efforts speak to the real possibility that cannabis businesses will mirror California’s inequality. Poorer communities have been more open to permitting the businesses, while wealthier places have kept them out. In effect, many places with the resources to pioneer the enforcement that shrinks the black market and protects the newly legal businesses are sitting this transition out. For example, the Independent California Kingdom known as Marin County has failed to license a single new retail dispensary or adult use shop, despite 70 percent voter support there for legalization.

This New Year’s Eve is likely to be full of high spirits, especially at the stroke of midnight when some Californians may light up for the first time. But don’t be surprised if the rest of the transition feels like a bad trip.

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OCCUPIEDhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/08/occupied/chronicles/poetry/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/08/occupied/chronicles/poetry/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 08:01:50 +0000 By Genevieve Leone http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89862 *****

Underneath this day, another

The way morning – shang
sits on top of afternoon

What is past is
what we see –

Speculation as to how long this war will last.
Con Cater says 3 months. Ethel Taylor says 12 months.
I say three years.

The pages fill. Each day a blank.

*****

Then, my stomach –

moldy flour,

wanting news from home, and

a body is what we bring,

what we offer. I’ve taken a strange

language into my mouth but

press gangs busy taking Chinese off streets is what

this hand writes,

records

****

Samuel Johnson said, no detail too small

Mending and tea and washing
everything on days with
blessed hot water

Christmas letters written,
then destroyed

Black houses and
streets

One day, only this –

Something to remember

Betty’s face, when she came in
with the red rose

 
 
*The above poems are

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*****

Underneath this day, another

The way morning – shang
sits on top of afternoon

What is past is
what we see –

Speculation as to how long this war will last.
Con Cater says 3 months. Ethel Taylor says 12 months.
I say three years.

The pages fill. Each day a blank.

*****

Then, my stomach –

moldy flour,

wanting news from home, and

a body is what we bring,

what we offer. I’ve taken a strange

language into my mouth but

press gangs busy taking Chinese off streets is what

this hand writes,

records

****

Samuel Johnson said, no detail too small

Mending and tea and washing
everything on days with
blessed hot water

Christmas letters written,
then destroyed

Black houses and
streets

One day, only this –

Something to remember

Betty’s face, when she came in
with the red rose

 
 
*The above poems are based on the diary of an American missionary and teacher who lived in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation of that city before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941.

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When Alaskan and Russian Native People Thawed the Cold War’s ‘Ice Curtain’http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/08/alaskan-russian-native-people-thawed-cold-wars-ice-curtain/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/08/alaskan-russian-native-people-thawed-cold-wars-ice-curtain/ideas/essay/#respond Fri, 08 Dec 2017 08:01:03 +0000 By David Ramseur http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89868 As the Russian city of Provideniya’s deteriorating concrete buildings came into view below, Darlene Pungowiyi Orr felt uneasy. So did the other 81 passengers landing in that isolated far-eastern Soviet outpost in 1988.

They were aboard the first American commercial jet to land there since the United States and USSR had imposed a Cold War “Ice Curtain” across the Bering Sea some 40 years earlier. Orr, a 26-year-old Siberian Yupik Alaska Native, grew up on the tip of Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island, the mountains of Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula visible on the western horizon. Her family’s shortwave radio sometimes picked up chatter in Russian. “That was the language of spies,” recalled Orr, who imagined Soviet frogmen splashing up on her village’s gravel beach.

The Alaska Airlines’ “Friendship Flight” helped melt the Ice Curtain by reuniting Alaska and Russia Native people separated for four decades. As soon as she made her way

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As the Russian city of Provideniya’s deteriorating concrete buildings came into view below, Darlene Pungowiyi Orr felt uneasy. So did the other 81 passengers landing in that isolated far-eastern Soviet outpost in 1988.

They were aboard the first American commercial jet to land there since the United States and USSR had imposed a Cold War “Ice Curtain” across the Bering Sea some 40 years earlier. Orr, a 26-year-old Siberian Yupik Alaska Native, grew up on the tip of Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island, the mountains of Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula visible on the western horizon. Her family’s shortwave radio sometimes picked up chatter in Russian. “That was the language of spies,” recalled Orr, who imagined Soviet frogmen splashing up on her village’s gravel beach.

The Alaska Airlines’ “Friendship Flight” helped melt the Ice Curtain by reuniting Alaska and Russia Native people separated for four decades. As soon as she made her way into Provideniya’s chaotic airport terminal that day, the first person Orr met was a member of her own St. Lawrence Qiwaghmii clan.

That flight and other headline-grabbing initiatives by citizen-diplomats to help end the Cold War launched decades of perilous but prolific progress. These citizen-led initiatives not only overcame a stalemate; they offered a durable model of grassroots international cooperation that could be useful around the world—and even in these familiar Northern climes, where the warming oceans have renewed geopolitical conflict over control of the Arctic.

The history of people-to-people connections here is an old one. After the Bering Land Bridge disappeared under the icy Bering Sea an estimated 18,000 years ago, indigenous peoples from Asia and North America plied the 55 miles between the Alaska and Russia in walrus-skin boats. These Inupiaq and Yupik people spoke common languages and shared similar subsistence cultures, with coastal residents surviving primarily on fish and marine mammals while interior Natives followed vast herds of reindeer, commonly known in Alaska as caribou.

The strait was the site of international cooperation during World War II, as the United States supplied nearly 8,000 Lend-Lease warplanes to assist the Soviet war effort. But soon after the war, Cold War suspicions froze those gestures of good will. The Soviets forcefully exiled Natives living on their own Big Diomede Island, replacing them with a military surveillance post aimed at Alaska.

In 1948, American FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, with the concurrence of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, decided national security interests outweighed those of the region’s Natives. The United States and USSR suspended a 10-year-old agreement permitting visa-free travel by Natives, replacing it with an Ice Curtain which sealed the border and isolated indigenous families on either side.

Darlene Pungowiyi Orr (left) of Alaska meets distant relatives from the Russian Far East village of Sireniki. Photo Courtesy of Darlene Orr.

For the next 40 years, Alaskans and Soviets eyed each other through rifle scopes and the cockpits of fighter jets. At the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, an Alaska-based U-2 spy plane drifted into Soviet airspace and was nearly shot down by Soviet MiG’s. In 1983, the Soviet military blew up a Korean civilian airliner in this same North Pacific neighborhood, killing all 269 on board.

By the 1980s, the last Alaska Natives to interact with long-lost relatives in the Soviet Far East wanted one final opportunity for reunification before passing from the scene. Their quest coincided with Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power. Unlike his predecessors, Gorbachev encouraged interactions with the West, burnishing his image as an enlightened reformist.

But Alaska Natives faced intransigence from their own national government. President Ronald Reagan resisted people-to-people overtures as incompatible with his “peace through strength” foreign policy.

So average Alaskans joined the campaign to reunify Bering Strait Natives. Business and civic promoters also jumped at the prospect of contacts with the mysterious Soviet Union after 40 years of isolation.

A Nome realtor engaged in “balloon diplomacy,” attempting to launch weather balloons across the strait carrying goodie bags and messages of friendship. A Juneau musician led 67 Alaska Natives and other performers singing and dancing their way across the USSR to promote peace.

In 1987, a California endurance athlete swam the 2.5 miles between Alaska’s Little Diomede Island and Russian Big Diomede in 38-degree seas in nothing but a swimsuit, goggles, and cap to highlight Cold War tensions. A medical doctor born to glitterati Hollywood parents returned to his Alaska Native roots to dedicate his career to reuniting Bering Sea Natives by addressing their common health challenges.

These efforts finally won the blessing of both national governments and launched decades of chaotic but often productive interactions in business, culture, science, and education, with thousands of Alaskans and Russians crossing the International Date Line on regular flights by Alaska Airlines and other air carriers. Nearly 60,000 Russians learned western business practices in training centers set up by Alaskans across the Russian Far East. Enticed by Alaska’s guarantee of in-state tuition, more Russian students attended the University of Alaska Anchorage than any other American university.

Alaskans helped form dozens of Russian Rotary Clubs that improved care to elderly pensioners hit hard by the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse. Alaska and Russia communities rushed to establish sister cities to strengthen civic and commercial ties. And scores of Alaskans and Russians married, settling in each other’s countries and advancing cultural understanding.

Endurance swimmer Lynne Cox approaches a snowy beach on Soviet Big Diomede Island after becoming the first person to swim across the Bering Strait from Alaska’s Little Diomede Island in 1987. Photo by Claire Richardson.

With the dawn of the 21st century, relations cooled across the strait as well as between Moscow and Washington. Russia’s rip-the-bandage-off transition to a market economy under Boris Yeltsin was too chaotic for many U.S. companies. Vladimir Putin’s subsequent rise to power was initially welcomed for stabilizing the economy, but as his regime restricted the operations of international companies and non-profits and infringed on human rights, many westerners ceased their involvement with the country.

Today in the Bering Strait air service is limited and visits are burdened by bureaucracy and high costs, so contacts are rare. Relations between countries at the highest levels also have deteriorated as tit-for-tat sanctions, expulsion of diplomats, and crackdowns on “foreign agents” harken back to the Cold War.

The year 2017 was the 150th anniversary of America’s purchase of Alaska from Russia. At many events marking the occasion, Alaskans said they remained inspired by the vision of William Seward, President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, who consummated the Alaska purchase. Seward, a bold internationalist, believed Alaska could advance a U.S.-Russian relationship and strengthen America’s standing in the world.

Fulfilling Seward’s vision of U.S.-Russia cooperation could start with the natural affinity between citizens of the Far North regardless of national borders. Alaskans and nearby Russians are challenged by common problems—climate, geography, transportation, indifference from our national capitals—for which common solutions can work.

That’s especially the case among the indigenous peoples who struggle on both sides of the strait to preserve traditional languages and culture, combat substance abuse, and scratch out a subsistence way of life endangered by climate change. A 1989 U.S.-Soviet “visa-free” agreement for travel by Alaska and Russia Natives remains in place, but contacts suffer from costly and irregular transportation.

Managing a rapidly changing Arctic is the area of greatest potential cooperation between our countries. Nearly half the world’s Arctic falls within Russia, and the United States is an Arctic nation only because of Alaska. As Russia beefs up its fleet of some 40 ice-breaking vessels and opens scores of mothballed Soviet-era Arctic military bases, the United States and Russia should expand joint efforts for search and rescue, environmentally sound resource development, and scientific research.

Three decades ago, Alaskan and Russian citizen-diplomats melted the formidable Cold War Ice Curtain separating them in the face of significant resistance. Many were branded kooks, communists or worse. Juneau musician Dixie Belcher was summoned to the Alaska legislature to explain her suspected ties to the KGB, while Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper was criticized for cozying up to “reds.”

Darlene Orr was so inspired by that day-long visit to Provideniya that she mastered the Russian language and returned to the Russian Far East 13 times, dedicating her career to researching Native languages and native plants. On one trip, she ignored warnings about visiting restricted areas, dressed herself as an average Russian, and spent a long day on the coast harvesting seaweed and mushrooms.

“It was worth any risk to me to visit the shoreline where my ancestors had walked,” she said.

Inspired with courage and persistence like Darlene Orr, Alaska and Russia citizen-diplomats overcame enormous obstacles to transform history.

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Barack Obama Had an ‘Iron Will’ to Succeed—but What Was at His Core?http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/07/barack-obama-iron-will-succeed-core/events/the-takeaway/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/07/barack-obama-iron-will-succeed-core/events/the-takeaway/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:00:47 +0000 By Reed Johnson http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89839 Historian David J. Garrow acknowledges that he’s “cynical” about Barack Obama, a conclusion that he reached while conducting 1,000 interviews and spending nine years researching the formation and political rise of America’s 44th president.

Garrow shared some of his reasons for what he called his “huge disappointment” with the Obama presidency at a Zócalo/KCRW “Critical Thinking with Warren Olney” event, “How Did Barack Obama Create Himself?”.

Hosted by Olney, the longtime KCRW radio personality and dean of Los Angeles news broadcasters, the evening echoed many of the thematic lines—and withering criticisms—that surface in Garrow’s 1,400-page biography Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. “It’s worth reading,” Olney quipped, “but it takes a long time.” (Most reviewers agreed: The New York Times appraised Rising Star as “impressive if gratuitously snarly,” while Politico judged it to be “a masterwork of historical and journalistic research.”)

Published last spring, the book charts his

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Historian David J. Garrow acknowledges that he’s “cynical” about Barack Obama, a conclusion that he reached while conducting 1,000 interviews and spending nine years researching the formation and political rise of America’s 44th president.

Garrow shared some of his reasons for what he called his “huge disappointment” with the Obama presidency at a Zócalo/KCRW “Critical Thinking with Warren Olney” event, “How Did Barack Obama Create Himself?”.

Hosted by Olney, the longtime KCRW radio personality and dean of Los Angeles news broadcasters, the evening echoed many of the thematic lines—and withering criticisms—that surface in Garrow’s 1,400-page biography Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. “It’s worth reading,” Olney quipped, “but it takes a long time.” (Most reviewers agreed: The New York Times appraised Rising Star as “impressive if gratuitously snarly,” while Politico judged it to be “a masterwork of historical and journalistic research.”)

Published last spring, the book charts his subject’s transformation from a highly intelligent, rather aimless young man into a calculatingly ambitious politician who, according to Garrow, wore various masks at various life stages, walled off his emotions when it served his career goals, and remained an enigma even to friends and lovers.

“It has to be said that from at least 2001, 2002, Barack Obama has been first and foremost, fundamentally, a politician,” said Garrow, the author of well-regarded books on the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, the Civil Rights Movement, and the FBI. “There’s a very absolute compartmentalization that Barack imposes on his life, even as a 25-year-old.”

Garrow sketched out an abbreviated version of his book’s sometimes unflattering portrait of Obama, drawing applause and nodding assents, as well as occasional gasps and murmured objections, from the overflow audience.

Following Olney’s line of questioning, Garrow started out by discussing Obama’s high school and college career, his stint as a Chicago community organizer, and his youthful romantic life. Garrow faulted the future president for dumping Sheila Jager, the half-Dutch, half-Japanese woman with whom he lived for two years in the late 1980s, because Obama had made a determination that having a white wife would have been “a political non-starter” for a black politician in the Chicago of that time.

He said that Obama, born in Hawaii and raised with a “friendship network” of international students, only really began living among African Americans once he moved to Chicago and set his sights on a political career.

In Garrow’s view, Exhibit A in the saga of how Obama selectively re-invented himself is his 1995 best-selling memoir, Dreams From My Father, a reflection on his upbringing and his absentee Kenyan father. In Rising Star, Garrow describes Obama’s book as “a work of historical fiction.”

Garrow said that, in Dreams of My Father, Obama was “making a very conscious effort to reconstruct his life as dramatically more African American than it really was.” He also was attempting to re-cast himself as a rebellious tough guy, rather than the academically gifted nerd he really was, according to Garrow.

At one point, Olney quoted from the Rising Star epilogue that Obama had “willed himself into being” and that “the crucible of self-creation had produced an iron will,” but “the vessel was hollow at the core.”

“That’s pretty rough,” Olney said.

Garrow—who late in the evening described himself as “a Bernie Sanders Democrat” and “a great fan of Edward Snowden”—conceded that it was. But the author’s strongest criticisms centered on what Garrow regards as three key ways in which Obama walked back key campaign promises: by accepting large amounts of private campaign financing; by presiding over the growth of the federal government’s surveillance and anti-terrorist apparatus; and by retreating from support for same-sex marriage until Vice-President Joe Biden “got out there first.”

In response to Garrow’s comments, Olney asked whether Obama was really so different from other politicians who realized, once they got elected, that their campaign promises had to yield to more pragmatic considerations. Had Abraham Lincoln been “absolutely consistent in the things he said and the things that he did?” Olney asked, drawing one of the night’s biggest applause lines.

“I probably frankly have never read an Abraham Lincoln biography because I am almost entirely a post-1945 person,” Garrow replied.

Noting that Obama had read the first 10 chapters of Garrow’s book, Olney wanted to know what the former president thought of its less-than-glowing appraisal.

“The impression I came away with,” Garrow responded, “is that when someone has written up a version of their life story, at that point 20 years earlier, they remember better and remain attached to the version of their life which they wrote than the version which they lived.”

But if Garrow was unsparing in his remarks on Obama, he saved perhaps his harshest rebukes for Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, and the current U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore—and for the American people themselves.

“The last 13 months again highlight, to me as a political historian, how American public opinion, oftentimes, lots of times, at a mass level gets huge numbers of things fundamentally wrong,” Garrow said. “I think there is a deep weakness in the American people, in American public opinion. I think there is a deep vulnerability to ignorance in American culture and American opinion that we continue to see, and that I fear we will see again next Tuesday, Dec. 12 in Alabama.”

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Why We French Canadians Are Neither French nor Canadianhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/07/french-canadians-neither-french-canadian/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/07/french-canadians-neither-french-canadian/ideas/essay/#comments Thu, 07 Dec 2017 08:01:28 +0000 By Robert B. Perreault http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89825 Whenever my family visits Québec, people other than our relatives are surprised to hear Americans—even our grandchildren, ages five and six—speak fluent French. They’re amazed to learn that French is our mother tongue and that we also speak English without a French accent. Likewise, if we leave our native New Hampshire to travel elsewhere in the United States, we get blank stares upon mentioning that we’re Franco-Americans from New England.

“Franco-American, as in canned spaghetti?” some ask.

I roll my eyes and sigh. “No connection whatsoever.”

Geographically, Franco-Americans resemble Mexican Americans in the Southwest because we also live near our cultural homeland. But unlike Mexican Americans, we’re unknown outside our region. Quite accurately, Maine journalist Dyke Hendrickson titled his 1980 book about Franco-Americans Quiet Presence. The source of this inconspicuous group identity lies in our ethnically and religiously mixed relationship to the United States, Québec, and even pre-revolutionary France,

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Whenever my family visits Québec, people other than our relatives are surprised to hear Americans—even our grandchildren, ages five and six—speak fluent French. They’re amazed to learn that French is our mother tongue and that we also speak English without a French accent. Likewise, if we leave our native New Hampshire to travel elsewhere in the United States, we get blank stares upon mentioning that we’re Franco-Americans from New England.

“Franco-American, as in canned spaghetti?” some ask.

I roll my eyes and sigh. “No connection whatsoever.”

Geographically, Franco-Americans resemble Mexican Americans in the Southwest because we also live near our cultural homeland. But unlike Mexican Americans, we’re unknown outside our region. Quite accurately, Maine journalist Dyke Hendrickson titled his 1980 book about Franco-Americans Quiet Presence. The source of this inconspicuous group identity lies in our ethnically and religiously mixed relationship to the United States, Québec, and even pre-revolutionary France, which has given Franco-Americans a highly varied and personal sense of what our identity means.

From the earliest French expedition to the Carolinas in 1524, to the founding of Québec City in 1608, New France eventually extended across North America from the Appalachians to the Rockies, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. But over time, through conquests, treaties, and land sales, French North American colonies became part of the British Empire, or of the United States. The only exceptions were islands near Newfoundland and in the Caribbean, plus an independent Haiti.

For socioeconomic and political reasons, as second-class citizens under British rule in the very country they had founded, roughly 900,000 French Canadians left Québec between the 1840s and the Great Depression. Many settled in New England and eastern New York state. The earliest migrants, mostly farmers, engaged in agriculture or logging in rural areas, or in the manufacture of textiles, shoes, paper, and other goods in urban areas. After the Civil War, when migration increased drastically, members of Québec’s business and professional classes settled among their compatriots. Today, Franco-American descendants of the original French Canadian immigrants total more than three million.

Among the region’s mill towns, there emerged four with Franco-American populations significant enough to vie for the unofficial title of French-speaking capital: Lewiston, Maine; Manchester, New Hampshire; Lowell, Massachusetts; and Woonsocket, Rhode Island. These cities and others had Franco-American neighborhoods called Petit Canada (Little Canada), comprised of residences, churches, schools, businesses, social organizations, newspapers, and other institutions designed to preserve the French language and Franco-American culture. There, one could be born, educated, work, shop, pray, play, die, and be buried almost entirely in French. Streets with names such as Notre Dame, Cartier, and Dubuque were lined with multi-family houses in whose yards there might be a shrine to the Sainte Vierge Marie, the Sacré-Coeur de Jésus or to one’s favorite saint. From those homes came the aroma of tourtière (pork pie), tarte au sucre (maple sugar pie), and other delights.

Unlike other groups who’ve become well known, most Franco-Americans tend to live and practice their culture in intimate, unassuming, and conservative ways. In my opinion, the root of this unobtrusiveness lies in our history.

The 1789 French Revolution didn’t merely topple the king and replace the monarchy with a republic, it also attacked the Roman Catholic Church and made freethinkers of the French masses. Having left France a century earlier, our ancestors missed that Revolution.

Bird’s-eye view of Manchester looking from downtown toward the mills of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company and beyond to the Franco-American West Side. Photo by Ulric Bourgeois, 1925

Fast-forward to Québec’s Révolution Tranquille (Quiet Revolution) of the 1960s, which had somewhat the same effects on the previously Catholic-clergy-dominated Québécois as did the French Revolution on the French people. But by the time of that revolution, Franco-Americans were already living in the United States.

Yet even though the Franco half of our collective psyche missed both revolutions and remained in the past, the American half of our dual identity experienced the future-focused sociocultural revolution of the 1960s in the United States. This phenomenon applies mainly to baby boomers, whose Franco identity was already on the wane by the 1960s, while their American identity was susceptible to influences of the times, as is evidenced by the subsequent rise in outright secularism or, in adherents of cafeteria Catholicism, the rise in divorce, cohabitation, contraception, and other practices considered taboo by the Catholic Church.

In fact, each family—and each person, really—has a slightly different sense of what being Franco-American is. Consider my hometown, Manchester, New Hampshire, where the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company (1831-1936) attracted immigrants from Québec and Europe from the mid-19th through the early-20th centuries. With Manchester’s total population at 78,384 (1920 U.S. Census), Amoskeag’s work force peaked at 17,000, some 40 percent of whom were Franco-Americans. At its highest, Manchester’s Franco-American population reached nearly 50% of the city’s total. To serve their needs, they created their own institutions—for example, eight parishes, all of which included a church and a grammar school, and in some cases, a high school. The social services sector comprised orphanages, hospices for the aged and the indigent, and a hospital.

I was born in 1951 and, unlike many Franco-Americans, my family lived across the Merrimack River from Manchester’s Petit Canada, where we were the French family among Scottish, Irish, Polish, Greek, Swedish, and other ethnicities. Although my father’s relatives spoke French, they favored English. Other than belonging to St. George, one of Manchester’s eight French-language parishes, they weren’t members of any Franco-American institutions. By contrast, my mother’s relatives spoke French exclusively and were heavily involved in various aspects of Franco-American culture. Out of respect for my maternal grandparents, French was the chosen language in our home when I was a young child.

My awareness of the difference between our family and others increased when I started school. Nearly every neighborhood kid attended either the public school around the corner from our house or an English-language parochial school somewhat farther away. Meanwhile, I attended St. George, which was Franco-American. There, French and English were taught to us on an equal level, each during its half of the school day. We had to be fluent in both languages upon entering first grade.

In New England’s mill towns one could be born, educated, work, shop, pray, play, die, and be buried almost entirely in French.

Our most important subject was catéchisme, almost as if French were the official language of heaven. Surprisingly, l’histoire du Canada wasn’t taught, nor was Franco-American history. In fact, I don’t recall the term Franco-American having ever been pronounced in class. And as for Acadians, a separate branch of French North Americans, I learned of their existence and that of their Cajun cousins only through my research as an adult!

These terms themselves show how difficult it is to describe the multi-faceted identity of being Franco-American. That term in French—Franco-Américain—is something my maternal grandfather, uncles, and aunts all used. My mother always said we were Canadiens, despite our having been born in the United States. Anglophone kids called us French, and some adults called us French Canadians and still do. Franco-American seems to be a term used mainly by community activists.

Nowadays, much of the daily culture that Franco-Americans once lived by is practiced outside the home during festivities such as the feast of the French Canadian patron saint, la Saint-Jean-Baptiste on June 24. In Manchester, one can eat some of the aforementioned traditional foods in a few restaurants, including the popular Chez Vachon, a must-stop for candidates during New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary. There, the specialty is poutine (French fries and cheese curds in gravy), a late-20th-century Québécois invention some call a heart attack on a plate.

Franco-American identity manifests itself more strongly through organizations such as the Franco-American Centre/Centre Franco-Américain, which offers French classes, films, lectures, and other events, and the American Canadian Genealogical Society, where Franco-Americans from all over the United States come to Manchester to trace their ancestral roots.

With every generation, most Franco-Americans have put a bit more American water in their French wine. Many today don’t speak French and know little about their ethnic heritage. In the United States, pressure from proponents of the English language and American culture has accelerated this evolution. Whereas people once spoke French on the street, in stores, in restaurants, and elsewhere, and whereas Manchester almost always had a Franco-American mayor, such phenomena are now things of the past.

Though many Franco-Americans are such in name only now, our family is an exception. My wife is the first woman I ever dated who introduced me to her mother in French. We raised our son in French. He and his wife, a former student of mine, are doing likewise, the seventh generation of French-speaking Perreaults living on U.S. soil.

To us and to a minority of Franco-American families in our region, the French language and our Franco-American culture are gifts we lovingly pass on from generation to generation.

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Why Poor Americans Are So Patriotichttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/06/poor-americans-patriotic/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/06/poor-americans-patriotic/ideas/essay/#respond Wed, 06 Dec 2017 08:01:09 +0000 By Francesco Duina http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89814 Why do the worst-off American citizens love their country so much?

Patriotism may be defined as a belief in the greatness, if not superiority, of one’s country relative to others. Depending on how one defines the term exactly, somewhere between 85 to 90% of America’s poor are “patriotic.” They would rather be citizens of their country, for instance, than of any other country on Earth, and they think America is a better place than most other places in the world.

This is striking for at least three reasons. First, those are very high figures in absolute terms. Secondly, the corresponding figures for working class, middle class, and upper class Americans are generally lower. And, thirdly, the worst-off in most other advanced nations are also less patriotic than America’s—even in countries where people receive better social benefits from their government, work fewer hours, and have better chances of upward intergenerational mobility

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Why do the worst-off American citizens love their country so much?

Patriotism may be defined as a belief in the greatness, if not superiority, of one’s country relative to others. Depending on how one defines the term exactly, somewhere between 85 to 90% of America’s poor are “patriotic.” They would rather be citizens of their country, for instance, than of any other country on Earth, and they think America is a better place than most other places in the world.

This is striking for at least three reasons. First, those are very high figures in absolute terms. Secondly, the corresponding figures for working class, middle class, and upper class Americans are generally lower. And, thirdly, the worst-off in most other advanced nations are also less patriotic than America’s—even in countries where people receive better social benefits from their government, work fewer hours, and have better chances of upward intergenerational mobility than their counterparts in the United States.

Why are America’s poor so patriotic? The short answer is: We don’t know for sure. And we should, because so much depends on the patriotism of poor Americans. Their love of country contributes to social stability, informs and supports America’s understanding of itself as a special place, and is essential for military recruitment. It is also a force that can be tapped into by politicians eager to rally a large contingent of voters.

To understand this patriotism, I spent parts of 2015 and 2016 in Alabama and Montana—two distinctly different states that are both ‘hotbeds’ of patriotism among the poor. I hung out in laundromats, bus stations, homeless shelters, public libraries, senior citizen centers, used-clothing stores, run-down neighborhoods, and other venues. And I interviewed 63 poor Americans of different ages, genders, religious and political orientations, races, and histories of military service.

I came away with three overarching insights.

First, many view the United States as the “last hope”—for themselves and the world. Their strong sense is that the country offers its people a sense of dignity, a closeness to God, and answers to most of humanity’s problems. Deprive us of our country, the people I met told me, and you deprive us of the only thing that is left for us to hang on to.

This feeling of ownership is national and personal. Consider the words of Shirley (all names here are pseudonyms, per my research rules), a 46-year-old unemployed black woman in Birmingham with plans to become a chef: “For me to give up hope on the country in which I live in is almost to give up hope for self. So I gotta keep the light burning for me and for my country or I’m gonna be in the dark.”

In my interviews, people separated the country’s possibilities from their own frustrations; many took full responsibility for their own troubles in life.

That comment connected to a second insight. America appeals to the poor because it is rich. “The land of milk and honey” was a phrase I heard often. The poor see it as a place where those who work hard have a chance to succeed. In my interviews, people separated the country’s possibilities from their own frustrations; many took full responsibility for their own troubles in life. “People make their own life, make their own money the way that they wanna make it and however much they wanna make it,” said Jeff, a white man in a bus station in Billings, Montana.

Many saw this as an American virtue. Here, at least, your failures belong to you. Your chances aren’t taken away by others. “If you fail,” said Harley, a vet now on food stamps, “gotta be bad choices.” This sentiment was articulated with particular frequency by African American interviewees in Alabama—something that particularly struck me, given the legacies of slavery and segregation in that part of the country.

For the same reason, many were confident that the future was about to bring them better things. Several felt that they had just turned a corner—perhaps with God on their side. Rich Americans, they told me, deserve what they have. Besides, they added, look at the rest of the world: They keep trying to come to America. This must be the place to be.

That related to a third source of pride in the nation: America is the freest country on earth. Many of the people I met spoke of feeling very free to come and go from different places, and to think as they wish. America allows people to be as they want, with few preconceived notions about what the good life should look like. Such a narrative took on libertarian tones in Montana.

For some, this included the freedom to be homeless, if they choose. As Marshall, a young, white homeless man, told me in Billings, “it’s a very free country. I mean, I’m actually, I live on the streets, I’m kinda choosing to do that … sabbatical. Nobody bothers me for it; I’m not bothering anybody. I got my own little nook. There are other places in the world where I’d be forced into some place to shelter up or, you know, herded off or … jailed.”

When conversations turned to freedom, guns were often mentioned. Guns give one security and make hunting possible—enabling one to feed one’s self and family. I was accordingly often reminded that Americans rebelled against the English by making guns. Guns equal freedom. And America, thankfully, ensures gun ownership.

Taken together, these conversations helped me understand that the patriotism of the poor is rooted in a widespread belief that America belongs to its people. There is a bottom-up, instinctive, protective, and intense identification with the country. This is a people’s country.

Of course, some of this patriotism is clearly grounded in misconceptions about other countries. One person told me that there are only two democracies in the world: Israel and the United States. Another told me that Japan is a communist country. Yet another that in Germany one’s tongue can get cut off for a minor crime. Many also assumed that other countries are poorer than they really are. But these were almost tangential reflections that further justified—rather than drive—their commitment to the country. They seldom came up on their own unless I asked about the limitations of other countries.

As I completed my interviews and reflected on what I heard from these patriots, I realized that their beliefs about America are not a puzzle to be solved. In America, there is no contradiction between one’s difficult life trajectories and one’s love of country. If anything, those in difficulty have more reasons than most of us to believe in the promise of America.

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Treason Isn’t Just a Crime—It’s a Sin of the Hearthttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/05/treason-isnt-just-crime-sin-heart/ideas/essay/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/05/treason-isnt-just-crime-sin-heart/ideas/essay/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 08:01:29 +0000 By Asha Rangappa http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89788 If you’re looking to nail someone for treason these days, don’t talk to a lawyer. The answer you’ll get will be short and likely disappointing: It’s hard to convict someone of treason and chances are the actions you’re describing won’t qualify for the charge. But if what you’re really trying to express is an emotional response, you’re better off turning to 14th-century Italian literature, not the law.

Legally speaking, treason—at least in the United States—is a narrowly defined crime, and for good reason. Under the British crown, treason could include a wide range of acts, some ambiguous enough to allow questionable or baseless charges. Merely imagining (known as “compassing”) the king’s death, for instance, could be treason. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was convicted of treason for adultery (based on pretty flimsy evidence).

And in the American colonies, declaring independence from King George III was itself a treasonous act.

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If you’re looking to nail someone for treason these days, don’t talk to a lawyer. The answer you’ll get will be short and likely disappointing: It’s hard to convict someone of treason and chances are the actions you’re describing won’t qualify for the charge. But if what you’re really trying to express is an emotional response, you’re better off turning to 14th-century Italian literature, not the law.

Legally speaking, treason—at least in the United States—is a narrowly defined crime, and for good reason. Under the British crown, treason could include a wide range of acts, some ambiguous enough to allow questionable or baseless charges. Merely imagining (known as “compassing”) the king’s death, for instance, could be treason. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was convicted of treason for adultery (based on pretty flimsy evidence).

And in the American colonies, declaring independence from King George III was itself a treasonous act. Most traitors were punished by being dragged to the gallows, hung, cut down while still alive, their entrails cut out and burned, before finally being decapitated, limbs quartered, and delivered to the king. (Nobility were spared this production and simply beheaded.)

Having escaped this fate themselves, the Founding Fathers wanted to limit the scope of what could be considered treasonous in our new democracy. For that reason, treason is the only crime explicitly defined in the Constitution; it consists “only in levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Further, conviction for treason requires the testimony of two witnesses or a confession by the accused in open court. In other words, no matter how nefariously you act on behalf of another country against the interests of the United States, you won’t be convicted of treason unless we are at war with that nation and there is adequate proof of the crime.

The moral sin of treason, though, is a different story. And for that, Dante’s Inferno is a useful guide. In Dante’s imagined descent through hell, he reserved the Ninth Circle—the “lowest, blackest, and farthest from Heaven”—for the sin of treachery. The worst sinners, in his underworld, were the traitors—those who betrayed their loved ones, their country, and their God. Betrayal lies at the core of what we label as “treason,” and for Dante, the two concepts would have been synonymous: Dr. Marina Johnston, Associate Director of the Center for Italian Studies at Princeton, says that the origin of the Italian tradire (to betray) is “turning someone over to the enemy, outside the space of trust of one’s family, party, and country, breaking their covenant with God.”

No matter how nefariously you act on behalf of another country against the interests of the United States, you won’t be convicted of treason unless we are at war with that nation and there is adequate proof of the crime.

Dante’s punishment for treachery, while less gruesome than the English version, was more fitting for the crime. Traitors in the Ninth Circle lie buried in a lake of ice formed by the tears of Lucifer, the angel who betrayed God. Lucifer’s flapping wings keep the lake frozen solid so the guilty cannot move, and freeze the tears of those who try to weep. In committing treachery, Dante believed, these sinners deliberately broke the bonds of love and human fellowship, and are therefore condemned to an icy landscape that lacks the warmth created by the heart. So cold-blooded are the sinners in this circle that some of their souls are punished in hell even as they remain alive on earth.

Ironically, Dante himself was falsely accused of treason. While serving as a city prior in 1302, Dante was accused of corruption and financial wrongdoing by a rival political party in Florence; his enemies used his presence in Rome at the time as proof that he had absconded the law, confiscating his property and sentencing him to death if he returned. Dante remained in exile for more than 20 years—during which time he wrote the Inferno. His condemnation of traitors to the worst suffering possible no doubt reflects, in part, the psychological pain he experienced after being betrayed by his countrymen. (Better late than never, the city of Florence reversed his sentence in 2008.)

Because treason is something we feel so viscerally, limiting its expression in the law is a good thing. Until the 1970s, for example, several states legally permitted a man to kill the paramour of his wife if he caught them having sex—apparently on the premise that it would be perfectly natural to react violently when betrayed in love. More recently, political leaders have questioned the loyalty and patriotism of those who don’t stand for the national anthem. What constitutes treason lies in the heart of the beholder, and the framers of the Constitution wisely recognized that relying on lawmakers’ hearts isn’t the best way to rule a democratic society.

Even so, it can be disheartening to realize that the law won’t necessarily serve justice on those you perceive as engaging in traitorous acts against the United States. And finding the words to describe your outrage can be difficult. So, as a lawyer, I give you permission to still call it “treason”—as long as you remember that the guilty parties will receive their icy deserts only in the afterlife.

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With Charles Manson Gone, California Needs a New Villainhttp://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/04/charles-manson-gone-california-needs-new-villain/inquiries/connecting-california/ http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2017/12/04/charles-manson-gone-california-needs-new-villain/inquiries/connecting-california/#respond Mon, 04 Dec 2017 08:01:25 +0000 By Joe Mathews http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/?p=89758 It’s hard to find a villain who can bring Californians together these days.

That—more than any other factor—is why Charlie Manson’s death produced so many remembrances in California media. Manson was a murderer, but he also represented the time, a half-century ago, when people had enough in common to share certain experiences—like fear of the crazed killers of the Manson Family.

Today, it’s difficult to think of a villain we all have in common. Politically, we’re too polarized to agree on who is the bad guy. Academically, we’ve discredited the notion of individual evil in favor of blaming wrongdoing on systems. And culturally, we’re so large and diverse that we don’t share the same knowledge or references—never mind the same enemies.

It’s too bad that we don’t share a sense of the too bad. “The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture,” Alfred Hitchcock famously said, and the

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It’s hard to find a villain who can bring Californians together these days.

That—more than any other factor—is why Charlie Manson’s death produced so many remembrances in California media. Manson was a murderer, but he also represented the time, a half-century ago, when people had enough in common to share certain experiences—like fear of the crazed killers of the Manson Family.

Today, it’s difficult to think of a villain we all have in common. Politically, we’re too polarized to agree on who is the bad guy. Academically, we’ve discredited the notion of individual evil in favor of blaming wrongdoing on systems. And culturally, we’re so large and diverse that we don’t share the same knowledge or references—never mind the same enemies.

It’s too bad that we don’t share a sense of the too bad. “The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture,” Alfred Hitchcock famously said, and the virtues of villainy—of the plausible kind, not the cartoonish sort that prevails in today’s superhero-addled blockbusters—go well beyond the box office.

Villains may be evildoers, but they can also be galvanizing, energizing societies to protect the innocent, defend democracy, or address wrongdoing. And villains allow us to recognize the evil within ourselves. “There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. “When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

So our current shortage of common villains, while perhaps not as important as California’s lack of housing, or open spots at the University of California, deserves some attention.

Especially now, with villainy—like so much else—in a moment of transition. Traditional sources of villainy aren’t producing the distinctive characters they once did. Mass murder, for example, is now so routine that we’ve become desensitized to it. Is it just me, or do you find it hard to keep all the mass shootings and truck rampages straight?

An oversupply of villains can be paralyzing. Take the mortgage mess that produced the Great Recession, or the never-ending frauds at Wells Fargo. Both involve so many thousands of low-level scammers (some of whom lost their jobs) and so many hundreds of higher-ups (who weren’t punished) that it’s hard to figure out who the biggest villain is, much less whom to prosecute.

California’s power brokers of the past—from the lobbyist Artie Samish to the Assembly speaker Willie Brown—once played the villain with panache. But politics here has become too complicated and confusing—with so many different interests and inflexible constitutional amendments—that it’s impossible to assign responsibility when things go bad.

And just when it appeared that Hollywood finally had given us a singular uber-villain with the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s predations, dozens of actresses came forward to tell us that such villains are as common as casting calls.

While we once could depend on the rich to live lives worthy of our contempt, today’s Californians have come to treat the rich as saints—since, in this time of vast fortunes and a declining middle, our companies and our causes have come to depend on a few billionaires. It’s worth noting that while California’s Democratic politicians and labor union chiefs like to talk about their commitment to the poor, the person they seem to spend the most time thinking about is the billionaire political donor Tom Steyer.

Villains may be evildoers, but they can also be galvanizing, energizing societies to protect the innocent, defend democracy, or address wrongdoing. And villains allow us to recognize the evil within ourselves.

Now at this point, I can hear 70-plus percent of Californians yelling at me: Haven’t you forgotten Trump? I have not. Yes, he’s waging rhetorical and policy war against California and its people. But he is an unsatisfying villain, for reasons both personal (his lies and offenses are too obvious and dumb to make him worthy of our opposition) and geopolitical (we have to root for him not to start a nuclear war and kill us all).

No, if we’re going to find a villain big and ambitious enough to fit California, we need to look in Silicon Valley, where the object of the game is not merely to dominate the world but to transform it. And if the lives and livelihoods of others are disrupted in the process, so much the better.

When I asked Bay Area people if there was one figure whose villainy might be universally acknowledged, one name kept coming up:

Peter Thiel.

The billionaire Silicon Valley investor in startups co-founded PayPal and was famously Facebook’s first outside investor. His work has shaped modern society so profoundly as to impact the lives and livelihoods of virtually everyone in the state.

California, in turn, has made him rich, powerful, and famous. And how has he thanked us? By using his renown to attack us.

Thiel is a graduate of California public schools (San Mateo High) and of our foremost institution of higher education (Stanford) who rails against government-backed schools and has encouraged people not to go to college. He’s an immigrant (his family came from Germany when he was an infant) who has supported the anti-immigrant provocateurs like Ann Coulter and President Trump. While backing nationalist politicians, he bought himself citizenship in New Zealand.

Worse still, while he has benefited from living, working, and investing in a free and democratic country, he has expressed contempt for democracy. “I no longer think that freedom and democracy are compatible,” he wrote in 2009, and he has argued for escaping democracy via cyberspace and outer space. He has suggested that people are too dumb to govern themselves democratically, and called women’s suffrage damaging to democracy. “The broader education of the body politic has become a fool’s errand,” he has written.

This is monumentally villainous. A man who has the power and technology to reach deeply into all of our personal lives betrays utter contempt for humans. Like so many villains, he’s a false prophet, claiming to liberate people with technology while actually holding authoritarian views that would enslave them.

Thiel also has written that he “stands against … the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual.” The notion of eternal life for some is tyrannical, but it can be useful for the rest of us. When it’s so hard to find a durable villain against which we can define ourselves, aren’t we Californians lucky to have one who intends to live forever?

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