Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday cat blogging

There's nothing quite like waking up with this in your face and his weight on your chest. Here he is merely helping me write.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

National media misunderstanding California -- as usual

The national media has noticed San Francisco and California again. A couple of major New York Times articles in the last few days have laid out how our shortage of affordable housing is promoting gentrification, segregation, ill-considered building practices, and increasing the political conflict between those who prosper in the tech economy and those who labor for far too little reward.

All true, though sometimes lacking in local nuance.

But then these articles point to the collapse of State Senator Scott Wiener's Senate Bill 827 through which the state would have blown away local zoning impediments to development. California must be hopelessly dysfunctional. Isn't that always the story?

Wrong. State intervention to help bridge the housing gap cannot be fronted by a guy whose entire political record is as a stooge for irresponsible urban development. Wiener is my state senator. He's seldom met a highrise development he didn't love, while his occasional support for tenants in existing affordable housing has been merely cosmetic when he showed up at all.

California needs to negotiate a path to developing far more affordable urban housing. Density is the urban future and that's good for the environment and for people who live in cities. But big developers and rich winners in tech can't be the only winners. We need a more inclusive vision engaging more sectors of the state's population -- all promoted by more credible leaders.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Battered, but still resisting ...

Sometimes we all feel like piñatas.

I spent an evening last week with friends -- older white lesbians, relatively prosperous, good and kind and liberal but not activist in the way we are in my household -- and was overwhelmed by the depths of discouragement they are feeling at this moment in the Trump/GOPer ascendancy. For myself, I know things are truly dire and this regime is daily working to impoverish, poison, or blow us all up, yet I am also delighted by the tenacity and creativity of resistance I see all around.

So here's a bit of a Washington Post oped that highlights one resistance accomplishment we too easily ignore:

Here’s a reality check: The resistance is not “failing” — it is gathering steam for a long, uncertain battle ahead.

Let’s start with the fact that seems most vexing to the resistance critics: the failure of Trump’s approval rating to fall below 40 percent, even as bad news mounts. To be clear, at 40 percent, Trump remains as unpopular as he was when he was the most unpopular first-year president ever — 20 points below Gerald Ford after he pardoned Richard Nixon.

True, Trump has not sunk further in this sub-sub-basement level of public support, but that misses the point: The success of the anti-Trump movement is in keeping him there, notwithstanding the low unemployment rate, stock market gains and billions in tax-cut stimulus surging through the economy. Only two other modern-era presidents enjoyed an unemployment rate below 4.3 percent in their terms and suffered an approval rating below 50 percent: Lyndon B. Johnson (during the Vietnam War) and Harry S. Truman (during Korea). 

Trump’s 40 percent approval rating doesn’t reflect a failure of his opposition: It reflects success in preventing Trump’s ratings from soaring the way any other peace-time president’s would under such conditions.

Moreover, the anti-Trump movement has shown political progress where it matters most: the ballot box. In the past 150 days, Trump opponents have won a blow-out in Virginia, the first newly elected Democratic senator from Alabama since 1986 and a victory in a Pennsylvania House district Trump carried by nearly 20 points. If the anti-Trump movement is “failing,” that’s news to the GOP leaders sounding “blue wave” tsunami alerts.

My emphasis. We have a massive lot of work ahead, but we've been doing very good work, in all our various ways, all along. No quitting now!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How about a Muslim woman for the House?

There are two sitting Muslim Congressmen: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.). Among the 309 Democratic women currently vying for nominations or actual Congressional seats, three are Muslims.
  • In Maryland's Sixth District, Dr. Nadia Hashimi is one of eight candidates trying to attract notice in a race for a safe Democratic open seat. Her parents immigrated from Afghanistan in the early 1970s; their sacrifices set her on the way to college, medical school, and service as a pediatrician; she is also a published novelist. Health care policy is her passion: "A total outsider to politics, I joined a growing movement to elect the right doctors in office." She's very much an underdog in the June 26 primary.

  • Fayrouz Saad, seeking nomination in Michigan's 11th Congressional District, is a far more seasoned candidate. She's worked for a Michigan state representative, in the Obama Department of Homeland Security, and for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in his office of Immigrant Affairs. Her district is the focus of much Democratic Party effort as the Republican incumbent has retired and Donald Trump won the area by only 4 percentage points. There are four Democrats in the race with significant financial support; the primary is August 7.
  • When Representative John Conyers resigned amid sexual harassment charges, his Michigan 13th District attracted a huge, squabbling field of candidates. Whichever Democrat survives both a primary in August and the general election in November will most likely occupy this Democratic seat for close to perpetuity. The Conyers family put up TWO challengers; the retiring Conyers has endorsed his son over his nephew. There are half a dozen other contenders, including many well known Detroit political veterans. Into this scrum, former state representative Rashida Tlaib is trying to bring out her fellow citizens of Arab heritage, a growing constituency just learning to make itself felt through active citizenship. She's experienced in leading racial justice coalitions, as she explains in this inspiring Re-Dream video:
None of these women are favorites to make it to office this round, but you can't win if you don't try. Their entry into the fray is a good omen for our country's future.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The end stage of the Trump presidency?

Since November 2016, responsible journalists have been hesitant to predict Donald Trump's downfall. After all, his election surprised most of us, though in retrospect we've become convinced the signs were there if we'd looked more dispassionately at the evidence. The New Yorker's Adam Davidson has crossed that line. He makes a bold prediction:

This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency.

He contends that when prosecutors raided the president's fixer, advocate Michael Cohen, they began a process that will crash the pillars of Trump's edifice.

The narrative that will become widely understood is that Donald Trump did not sit atop a global empire. He was not an intuitive genius and tough guy who created billions of dollars of wealth through fearlessness. He had a small, sad operation, mostly run by his two oldest children and Michael Cohen, a lousy lawyer who barely keeps up the pretenses of lawyering and who now faces an avalanche of charges, from taxicab-backed bank fraud to money laundering and campaign-finance violations.

Of course there's a long way to go. But Davidson believes the Trump presidency will not survive this exposure.

Of course Trump is raging and furious and terrified. Prosecutors are now looking at his core. Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its partners around the world; he was chief consigliere and dealmaker throughout its period of expansion into global partnerships with sketchy oligarchs. He wasn’t a slick politico who showed up for a few months. He knows everything, he recorded much of it, and now prosecutors will know it, too. It seems inevitable that much will be made public. We don’t know when.

We don’t know the precise path the next few months will take. There will be resistance and denial and counterattacks. But it seems likely that, when we look back on this week, we will see it as a turning point. We are now in the end stages of the Trump Presidency.

Since the first week of the Trump regime, I've opined we're up against three malignant strains that combined: 1) Donald Trump's wily authoritarian political instincts which have won him the fanatic allegiance of about 30 percent of us who are disappointed by the direction of their lives and country; 2) a Republican Party agenda which has no content except enabling looting of the country's considerable resources by wealthy elites, mostly in fossil fuels and financial manipulation; 3) Trump's economic model, the same model as that of oligarchs everywhere -- criminally using the state to extract individual, personal profit while contributing nothing to the life and well being of the community.

Davidson dares to say this triad is crumbling -- that unstable foundations will matter. We can't know how it will look, but we can sense that it cannot stand.

Citizens are not just spectators. Our agitation, our demands, our votes can help bring it down -- and then determine where we go from here. Resist and protect much.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Enough police killings

There were plenty of celebratory contingents in the annual Cesar Chavez parade down Mission Street on Saturday, but there were also a growing number of groups of families, friends and their supporters demanding accountability from the District Attorney for killings by the San Francisco Police Department. On the banner above, Amilcar Perez Lopez, shot by the SFPD on February 26, 2015. D.A. Gascon did not charge the officers who killed him.

Alex Nieto's parents have been marching since he was executed by SFPD officers while eating a burrito in a park on March 21, 2014. The D.A. filed no charges.

Mothers on the March along with family members are demanding the D.A. file charges for the killing of Luis Gongora Pat by the SFPD on April 7, 2016.

The latest unhappy addition to this parade of the injured is the family of Jesus Adolfo Delgado, executed by 99 bullets on March 6, 2018.

In the same time period, the SFPD has also killed Mario Woods and Jessica Nelson.

Officers of the SFPD won't stop shooting citizens of the city until they suffer some penalty for killing. The D.A. must charge; the department must discipline. Shooting their guns at all should be cause for rigorous inquiry and usually discipline, even if no one is hurt. Cops will kill so long as police and political authorities don't make it certain that use of excessive force will be punished.

Enough.

Albert is no more

This past week I was shocked to learn that my friend Albert Naccache (pictured above enjoying his boat on the Mediterranean) had died in his home city of Beirut. As another friend wrote of him "... [he was] such a generous, gentle, sweet soul, and so smart."

Albert was a linguist and historian, a UCBerkeley Interdisciplinary PhD. determined to study his own Lebanese/Arabic roots, inventing his field if necessary. Some of his scholarly writings are accessible on the web in English, including Beirut Memorycide: Hear no Evil, See no Evil. In that article, he argued that Lebanon had missed a chance to develop a unifying understanding of its own history when, after the destruction left by the Civil War (1975-1990), it allowed reconstruction that bulldozed archeological treasures in the central city.
Mass psychosis waxes and wanes, and the sobering effect of the rubble might not last long. This is why it was important to take advantage of the rubble of Beirut’s Downtown to start a program of concerted archaeological research designed to uncover as much as possible about the history of this major Lebanese site. The proper archaeological study of Beirut would have been a first step towards the writing of the much sought-after “Unified Lebanese History Book.” Unfortunately, the needed “research framework or set of objectives and priorities for the archaeological work” ... was never elaborated. ...

... The aborted archaeological program has denied the Lebanese an opportunity to acquire a common ancestor, i.e. to have a common history. Because the loss of the archaeological wealth of Beirut has been the result of conscious and obstinate policies, and since it amounted to a loss of a shared, albeit “forgotten” memory, we are entitled to describe it as a memorycide. And we can but fear the consequence of this memorycide on the future of Lebanon.
Bath site uncovered in Downtown Beirut
Albert Naccache ¡Presente!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

U.S. strikes in Syria

In the mad world of instant international media, the Times provides some opinions from Syrians about our latest exercise in murderous futility.
The people of these (dis)United States -- we know nothing of war.

California shows how GOP dies

An East Coast political pundit paid a visit to the exotic Wild West -- and noticed what those of us who live here already know: California passed through the white panic stage of the national demographic change over a decade ago and is demonstrating what a more civilized country might look like if U.S. democracy can survive Trump's kakistocracy. (Thanks to John Brennan for popularizing an academic word for government of the worst.)

The New Yorker's John Cassidy writes:

In many ways, the Golden State represents the American future that Trump—with his white nativism and economic protectionism—is trying to turn back, Canute style.

The 1990s in California were rough. The local Republicans recognized that their numerical advantage among the electorate was temporary -- soon enough (around 2000) all those Black, Brown, and Asian newcomers would outnumber them, even if these citizens weren't voting yet. So we lived through a series of attempts mostly driven by older whites to use government policy to slow the efficacy of demographic change: we passed initiatives that outlawed affirmative action in the university system (still in place), denied public services to immigrants (ruled unconstitutional), a three strikes law that locked up people (many of color) for life for relatively minor offenses, and outlawed most bilingual education (repealed in 2016).

But we lived through this storm of repressive white populism -- and came out in a California that should offer hope to the rest of the country. I think I know why. In Whiteness run amok, I laid out why I think we were so fortunate.

California is not a racial and social nirvana. Our (quite diverse) cops shoot black and brown men without justification all too frequently. A widening divide between economic winners and losers expresses itself in a housing crisis; nowhere in this state can people making even our quite high minimum wage afford available homes. But we have left the Trump/GOP train. Those politics don't work here.

Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira have characterized the state of the nation as verging on a civil war in which Republicans and Democrats represent very different futures. Their vision of how this all works out is both dire and exhilerating.

The red states held by the Republicans are deeply entrenched in carbon-based energy systems like coal and oil. They consequently deny the science of climate change, are trying to resuscitate the dying coal industry, and recently have begun to open up coastal waters to oil drilling.

The blue states held by the Democrats are increasingly shifting to clean energy like solar and installing policies that wean the energy system off carbon. In the era of climate change, with the mounting pressure of increased natural disasters, something must give. We can’t have one step forward, one step back every time an administration changes. One side or the other has to win.

... The differences between two economic systems or two classes that are fundamentally at odds could conceivably get worked out through a political process that peacefully resolves differences. However, culture frequently gets in the way. That’s especially true when pressures are building for big system overhauls that will create new winners and losers.

They are confident this doesn't end well for the Republican party:

... the entire Republican Party, and the entire conservative movement that has controlled it for the past four decades, is fully positioned for the final takedown that will cast them out for a long period of time in the political wilderness. They deserve it. Let’s just say what needs to be said: The Republican Party over the past 40 years has maneuvered itself into a position where they are the bad guys on the wrong side of history. For a long time, they have been able to hide this fact through a sophisticated series of veils, invoking cultural voodoo that fools a large enough number of Americans to stay in the game. However, Donald Trump has laid waste to that sophistication and has given America and the world the raw version of what current conservative politics is all about.

Where they write "cultural voodoo," I would say racial resentment. I think California proves these authors are right: the Republican party is simply no longer significant in California outside isolated rural pockets. Even Orange County is turning blue. Leyden and Teixeira conclude:

... political change is slow until it’s very fast. The fall of the GOP is likely to be no different.

Let's make it so. We must resist and protect much; be compassion with one another; and win.

Thanks to the Labor Center at UC Berkeley for documenting the state's condition in the video.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Score one for Smokey!

The Department of the Interior has backed off its plan to increase the cost of entry to the most popular National Parks from $25 to $70. They'll still raise the fees by $5, but this is a win for vacationers and families.

According to the Washington Post "an analysis by the National Parks Conservation Association showed that 98 percent of 110,000 public comments opposed the dramatic increase." The people have spoken.

Now if we can just keep these thugs from giving our public lands to coal barons and from drilling oil along our beaches ...

Friday cat blogging

Dirty window; sleeping beauty. Somewhere in District 8.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

YIMBY!


Literally that should read Yes In My Front Yard, but you get the idea. According to stories in Mission Local and the Chron, educational leaders at Horace Mann/Buena Vista school which I look out on every day are exploring whether to use a gym facility to provide shelter to some of the homeless families and children the school serves. In 2011, an estimated 2200 students in the district were homeless or lived in insecure situations at risk of losing their living quarters. As so many affordable rentals have disappeared over the last decade, there may be more today. Teachers estimate there are 60 homeless kids right now at HMBV.

Our local Supervisor Hillary Ronen is working with the Board of Education and the city to flesh out the idea. She emphasizes that shelters are not homes -- ultimately people need real housing. But for right now:

“It really felt like it made a lot of sense — that it was a solution for everyone,” Ronen said. “The fact that kids are asking to sleep at the school says a lot to me.”

The concept is to put up movable cots in a gym, allowing about 20 families at a time to use the space from 7pm to 7am. The hope is get the necessary sign-ons, staffing, and facilities (plumbing!) ready by next October.

The tech boom has been very good economically for San Francisco and many San Franciscans, but too many people are being priced out of their homes by this prosperity. Once upon a time, people could move to cheaper surrounding cities, but now those places too are out of reach. Besides, regional transportation is nowhere near cheap enough or reliable enough to allow people who work in the city to commute from the outskirts. The city is just not working for all but the most affluent residents.

We've all got to do what we can for our neighbors. Horace Mann/Buena Vista could provide safe, dry, stable sleeping space for a few students and families. Let's use what we've got to do what we can. And then organize politically to build affordable housing!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Is this how a conspiracy theory begins?

Amid the din of President Blowhard blustering about deadly but meaningless attacks on something/someone in Syria while squealing like the cornered rat he is as the law closes in on his lawyer/fixer, it would be easy to miss this development.

The third building from left above is the (former) Trump hotel in Panama City. On Monday we learned that Trump Organization -- the business from which the President refuses to disengage -- leaned on the government of Panama to try to get relief from a Panamanian judge's ruling that favored a former partner with whom the company is disputing ownership.

The request was extraordinary: The U.S. president’s company was asking the leader of a U.S. ally to intercede on its behalf, disregarding Panama’s separation of powers.

It is the first known instance of the Trump Organization asking directly for a foreign leader’s help with a business dispute since Trump was elected.

It's not as if the rule of law was so strongly established in Central America that this sort of gangster move might seem out of line. Nice little country you've got there ...

In case you've forgotten, or never noticed, when the hotel's majority investor, Orestes Fintiklis, moved to take over the failing enterprise in February charging the Trump company had mismanaged it, it was reported that Trump employees had barricaded themselves within and were shredding documents vigorously. Panamanian courts eventually turned the building over to Fintiklis. It's hard not to wonder what they were shredding.

Will all this amalgamate with the slew of sludge being unearthed in Washington -- with swamp dwelling cabinet members who use the public's money for private air travel, with pay-offs to porn actors, with thuggish fixers laundering payouts for or from Russian oligarchs -- who can say? It doesn't seem a stretch to suspect this may point back to previous Panamanian revelations.

Very possibly all these threads do not come together; very possibly the Panama eruption has nothing to do with the rest of the emerging criminality. Or maybe it's all of a big -- HUGE -- piece. I can't claim to know. But when there is some much bad behavior and general greedy grasping about, it's hard not to wonder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On conspiracy theories

Grist's Eve Andrews has taken on the difficult question: why do some people believe what seem completely wacko conspiracy theories. I don't mean (and she doesn't either) just disagreements about climate policy; those can be quite sane -- it is not as if we have discovered all the answers to the threat. I mean the really crackpot stuff, like that Pizzagate (did you know that Hillary Clinton ran a child porn business out of a pizza parlor?) or even Donald Trump's crazy notion that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election.
Andrews interviewed academic researchers studying human mystification and came away with some observations.

You basically have two choices when it comes to a daunting problem like climate change, says Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor at the University of Bristol who studies the psychology and cognitive theory of conspiracy theories. “You can either accept the science and say, ‘we have to deal with this problem,’ and then look for the solutions least offensive to your worldview. Or you say, ‘the problem doesn’t exist!’ You deny the problem. The moment you do that, you have to figure out how to justify that to yourself.”

Conspiracy theories are security blankets. They protect those that uphold them from their own responsibility in the crisis in question — mass shooting conspiracists don’t want to confront their attachment to guns, an anti-Semitic conspiracist wants to believe she lost her job because of a Jewish world domination plot, and climate conspiracists don’t want to change their behavior.

... Lewandowsky, the University of Bristol professor, says that there’s evidence of a way to “inoculate” against conspiracy theories, and that’s instilling a sense of control.

“For example, even just saying: ‘We’ve already started to tackle the problem, but we need to increase our efforts even more.’ That is a more empowering message than, ‘It’s so big, it’s horrendous, and we haven’t even started solving it.’ If I tell you that, that’s very demotivating! That’s a tough ask!

“I think if people know what to do about climate change, and they feel they can do this without hurting too much, chances are they’re less skeptical, less in denial of the problem.”

My emphasis. It's not clear to me how we could provide enough reassurance in many instances to do much good, though I find it interesting that the New York Times is evidently trying this approach through such interventions as How to Reduce your Carbon Footprint.


This is a very fear-filled society. All of us legitimately perceive our life chances as beyond our control, at least some of the time. Perhaps the best we can do to encourage the small choices that give us a sense that we're doing SOMETHING on climate and on other dimensions of life. Simple, but true.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Assorted Lady Liberties

The post-World War II generation lived with a disquieting awareness that rejecting refugees from Hitler had added to the tole of the recent slaughter. Here Harry Truman confronts a southern Senator in the iconography of the time.

The Post's Tom Toles gives the Lady a contemporary spin.

It's nice to see Lady Liberty in an active role, as befits her modern sisters!

Sunday, April 08, 2018

It never gets easier

Saturday was the second anniversary of the murder of Luis Gongoro Pat by the San Francisco Police Department.

On April 7, 2016, at 10:04:14a.m., Sergeant Nate Seger and Officer Michael Mellone first fired four bean bag shots, followed immediately by seven bullets at Luis Demetrio Góngora Pat, a Mayan-Mexican living in a homeless encampment on Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th Streets in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Thirty seconds transpired between the moment that officers arrived on scene to the moment that they killed Luis Góngora Pat. A surveillance camera video obtained by KCBS caught the actions of the officers: “In the clip, officers are seen arriving in their patrol vehicles on Shotwell Street in the Mission District at about 10 a.m. Thursday morning without lights or sirens. They get out of their vehicles and advance on the homeless man who is outside of the frame.

... By all witness accounts, Luis was sitting on the ground minding his own business when officers brutally engaged him. He posed no threat to the officers, nor anyone else.

Justice4Luis

Friends and relatives, witnesses, and activists gathered at the death site to remember this married father of three grown children who had worked as a dishwasher in the city for over a decade.

Maria Christina Gutierrez, who was a leader of the fast against SFPD killings in 2016 which led to the resignation of the last police chief, announced a daily vigil outside the offices of District Attorney George Gascon who has so far not charged the shooting officers. Here she is flanked by two women from the block who witnessed the killing and can't forget what happened in front of them.

The father of Jesus Adolfo Delgado Duarte, killed by a hail of SFPD bullets on March 7, 2018, greeted Luis' cousin at the commemoration. For the families of the dead and their neighbors, it never gets easier.
***
And the US Supreme Court just made it even harder for civilians to get justice when police shoot them.

The court ruled Monday in favor of an Arizona police officer who shot a woman outside her home in Tucson in May 2010. Officer Andrew Kisela shot Amy Hughes four times after she emerged from her house holding a kitchen knife at her side and did not respond to commands to drop it.

Hughes sued Kisela claiming the officer used excessive force, but the Supreme Court ruled this week that Kisela was entitled to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that says police are immune from excessive-force lawsuits as long as they don’t violate “clearly established” rights that a “reasonable person would have known,” The Post's Drew Hawkins reported.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said the ruling “sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public. It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”

... The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery pointed out that the law seems to protect police more than those on the receiving end of a bullet. “This is what conversations about special prosecutors, body cameras, etc tend to miss: under our current laws, almost every single police shooting — no matter the circumstance — is legal. The police are legally allowed to kill you,” he tweeted.

Washington Post, April 3, 2018

A couple of California politicians are seeking to make it harder for cops to get away with blazing away, to set new standards that protect us all from wanton use of force by law enforcement.

SACRAMENTO — Two Democratic state legislators want to toughen the standard for when a police officer can shoot a suspect, a proposal prompted by the recent killing of an unarmed African American man in Sacramento.

Police would be allowed to use lethal force only when it’s necessary to prevent imminent death or injury and when there is no reasonable alternative, under a bill proposed Tuesday by Assembly members Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.

Officers can now use “reasonable force” when attempting to make an arrest, a standard set by state law and the courts. Deadly force is justified when an “objectively reasonable” officer would have reacted the same under the circumstances, according to a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.

Stanford law Professor Robert Weisberg said California is free to impose a tougher standard than the Supreme Court set because the state would be giving more protection to civilians, not less. Weisberg said the bill would put more scrutiny on what an officer did to defuse a situation before it escalated to a shooting.

I'm not holding my breath. Police officers are schooled to fear civilians and learn to fire in response to their overblown perceptions of threat. The police unions are powerful in state government and work to prevent any infringement on officers' freedom to use lethal force. But there has to be a better way.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Saturday scenery: spring festival residue

Easter bonnets were in short supply this year, but that's a nice one on the local roof cow. She gets decked out for Christmas too.

There was no shortage of decorative baskets in store windows.

I might not have imagined using colored eggs to make a door wreath, but someone did, and these are actually quite common.

These bunnies appear cuddly.

Then there are the bunny cutouts, probably brought home from school -- suitably secular for all.

All encountered in the last few weeks while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, April 06, 2018

How about a Native woman for the House?

You probably have heard that a record number of women have thrown down to run for Congress this year, 309 so far have filed for candidacy. Two thirds are Democrats. Forty women are running so far in governors' races.

But you may not have heard that several of those women identify as Indigenous, or Native American, or Indians. No native woman has ever been elected to Congress. Three Democratic aspirants seek to change that.
  • Sharice Davids is running in the 3rd District in Kansas, part of Kansas City. She is enrolled in the Ho-Chunk Nation (Wisconsin) and grew up in Kansas, is a graduate of Cornell Law School, was a White House fellow in the Obama Administration, and has worked for community development in South Dakota. Much more about this woman's accomplishments and plans at her campaign website.She is running in a crowded Democratic primary (August 7) to take on sitting Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder; the district narrowly supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.
  • Amanda Douglas is running in Oklahoma's 1st District, a heavily Republican seat that is open in 2018 because the incumbent has been nominated to head NASA for the Trump administration. Douglas is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and graduated from Oklahoma State University. Here's her campaign website.
  • Debra Haaland is running in New Mexico's 1st District which takes in three quarters of Albuquerque. She is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo and a veteran of state Democratic politics. Since 2008, this seat has been strongly Democratic, so the victor in the June 5 primary should have a strong likelihood of election in November. Haaland faces several serious opponents in the primary, but she has broad endorsements including the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Organization for Women PAC. Campaign website here.
Mark Trahant of the University of North Dakota chronicles Native political participation at Trahant Reports for anyone interested in keeping up with these efforts.

Friday cat blogging

Some animals instinctively pose when met with a camera.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

The house is still on fire

Yesterday Erudite Partner (that's Rebecca Gordon) was asked to speak at one session of a teach-in commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King's murder, organized by the Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach at the University of San Francisco where she teaches. Her distinguished co-panelist was Professor James Lance Taylor. EP has allowed me to share her talk here.

What is the legacy of Dr. King's vision of justice in 2018?
Some years ago, I attended a fundraising banquet for a local progressive foundation. Harry Belafonte was the keynote speaker, and he told this story about a conversation he'd had with Dr. King, shortly before he was murdered. He told Mr. Belafonte that he had spent his life working to get his people into a house. Only lately had he fully realized that the house itself was on fire.

That house, of course, was full membership, as full human beings, in U.S. society. And the flames consuming it? What Dr. King called the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism. If he were with us today, he would very likely add a fourth to this interlocking trio of systems -- the disastrous changes to the Earth's climate that result from an unfettered capitalism that creates great wealth for the few and poverty for the many, a poverty made differentially worse by the workings of racism, all of it enforced by military impositions abroad and police forces at home that in some places act more like an occupying army.

In many ways, things look pretty bleak in the United States of 2018. We are still fighting imperial wars. No longer against Vietnam, a war that Dr. King called out in his famous “A Time to Break Silence” speech, in which he said that the United States was at that time the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. That, unfortunately is even more true than it was in 1968. Today our wars extend throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Collaborating with Saudi Arabia, the U.S. is abetting a famine in Yemen. We have soldiers fighting in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, along with more-or-less secret deployments in Sudan, Mali, Djibouti, and Niger. We have almost four times as many military bases around the world as states in the union.

But there are signs of hope, movements growing that very much reflect Dr. King's vision of justice. When Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and thousands of other young leaders, insist that Black Lives Matter, you can hear the echoes of the sanitation workers striking in Selma, Alabama in 1968, carrying signs proclaiming, “I am a man.” One difference is that today our conception of humanity is no longer coextensive with manhood. A movement led by queer women can galvanize the nation. This is a change from the days when Bayard Rustin, who with A. Phillip Randolph organized the 1963 March on Washington, had to hide his gay humanity to claim his Black humanity.

Things have changed, but the message has only deepened: that a Black life is a human life, and that human lives -- and respect for those who live them -- matter.

While many of the most inspiring younger people of color who are leading my movements are conscious anti-capitalists, they are not pure materialists. Just as Dr. King's practice of nonviolent direct action was rooted in a radical Christianity that insisted on the full humanity of all of us, all of us made in the image of the divine, and just as the Black theologian James Cone insisted that the message of the gospel in 1968 was Black Power, so too, today's movements of young people of color are infused with spiritual power. Their spirituality may not be that of the Black evangelical churches, but it is an unashamed embrace of spiritual practices as central to their political work. This is the practice, for example, of the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland, whose projects like “Love with Power” promote the building of the beloved community through tenacious organizing and practices of spirit.

And there's a lot to do, if we are to build that community, because the house is still on fire, and if anything, the fire is burning brighter than ever in this country. Legal segregation, legal discrimination are dead. But institutional racism lives on, and in many ways is more difficult to combat, because the target is less clear. The Civil Rights movement won great legal victories in the 1950's and 60's -- Brown v. Board of Education, the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, but those victories have proved partial, largely because of a series of court actions that have weakened their effects.

Today's public schools are as segregated as ever -- in large part because of the decision in a 1971 case, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. The courts ruled that it was illegal to bus students across school district lines in order to achieve integration. This gave even more impetus to white families to leave the cities for suburbs where they could form separate districts to keep Black children out of their schools. Similarly courts have eviscerated the anti-discrimination provisions of the Civil Right Act by requiring plaintiffs to demonstrate not that there is a pattern of discrimination, say in employment or college admissions, but that the people doing the hiring or admitting demonstrate personal, intentional prejudice in their decisions. Despite the resurgence of white nationalist terror, most white people's racism still operates at the level of unconscious bias, which makes it very hard to prove discrimination. And I don't have to tell you what the Supreme Court has done to the Voting Rights Act, with Chief Justice Roberts proclaiming that the states that historically prevented Black people from voting have fixed their problems and no longer need oversight. Today's ID requirements in those states and intimidation are the new poll taxes and literacy tests.

Sadly, many of those who've argued in the courts -- or for anti-affirmative action ballot measures around the country -- have relied on a misinterpretation of a line from Dr. King's speech at the 1963 march on Washington -- his wish that his children might be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” This desire has been twisted to suggest that race doesn't matter, that people are simply lonely individuals, unconnected to the families and communities that help form us. The corollary, of course, is that racism can only be dismantled if we refuse to recognize race. But pretending that everyone has an equal chance doesn't make it so. And it doesn't begin to address the larger problem in that burning house -- the fact that capitalism forces all of us to want “chances” at very few gold rings that can only ever belong to the wealthiest few.

The house is still on fire.

The rest of the country is finally waking up to something that Black and brown communities have known for decades: this country imprisons a larger percentage of our population, and a larger number of human beings, than any other country in the world. And those prisons are sites of terror and torture -- beatings, electrical attacks, the horror of solitary confinement, and the insane cruelty of “botched” executions.

My own work for the last 16 years -- almost since September 11, 2001 -- has focused on torture and war crimes in the course of the so-called “war on terror.” From the very beginning, torture has been racialized. Only particular bodies are legitimate targets for torture. For this country, both in today's wars and historically, those bodies have been black and brown. The U.S. didn't start torturing people on September 12th. We'd already been at it for centuries, and the practice is among the armaments that keep Dr. King's triple evils alive. The more deeply I looked at the history of torture in this country, the clearer it became that torture and racism are tied at the root.

From before the United States existed, Black bodies have been legitimate targets for torture. Institutionalized abuses that were ordinary practice among slaveholders - whipping, shackling, branding and other mutilations - were both common and legal. Nor were such practices incidental to the institution of chattel slavery. Rather, they were central to slavery's fundamental rationale - the belief that enslaved African beings were not entirely human.

Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom helped me to understand more deeply why slavery in this country became entwined with torture from the very beginning. The book takes the colony of Virginia as a case study for the role of slavery in the founding of the United States. Morgan explains the labor economics of Virginia's cash crop - tobacco. Farming it is a labor-intensive business, and in the early days of Virginia, labor was in short supply. The first human imports were indentured servants from England. Some came voluntarily, exchanging seven years' labor for the price of their passage. Others were swept from the streets of England's cities, or culled from her prisons, and brought against their will. In either case, they received the same deal - seven years of work, in return for freedom, and in many cases a piece of land to farm.

When the first enslaved Africans began to arrive, they were offered no such deal. They weren't going to get freedom and a plot of land after seven years, or seventeen. In fact, they and their children, and their children's children could expect only lives of enslavement. The Virginian farmers quickly discovered that without any incentive on offer, there was only one way to get these people to work - by causing them terrible pain. So torture became an everyday practice among slaveholders.

In The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E. Baptiste describes how cotton farmers used the “pushing system,” an organized technology of cruelty, to get the maximum labor possible from enslaved people. It was, he says, “a system that extracted more work by using oppressively direct supervision combined with torture." Baptiste continues,
In the context of the pushing system, the whip was as important to making cotton grow as sunshine and rain…. [I]n 1849 a migrating North Carolina planter hired a “Mississippi overseer” to ensure that his “hands” would be “followed up from day break until dark as is the custom here.” The overseer would drive each “fore row” in a vast and easily surveyed field, and he would “whip up” those who fell behind. All that pushing, the owner calculated, would force “my negroes [to do] twice as much here as negroes generally do in N.C.”
This human technology powered by the whip created productivity increases that rivaled anything achieved by the steam-powered machines of the industrial revolution, as people desperate to evade the lash developed new techniques for planting, hoeing, and picking cotton. Between 1801 and 1840, the average amount of cotton picked each day rose from 28 pounds to as much as 341 pounds per person.

That torture continued with the state-sanctioned practice of lynching, and continues today in our jails and prisons.

The house is still on fire.

But Dr. King's legacy lives on here, and around the world. It lives on in Black Lives Matter, in Colorlines and Color of Change, in Critical Resistance, Left Roots, Right to the City, Causa Justa, and the thousands of other local and national organizations struggling to birth the beloved community. It lives on in the scholarship of Michelle Alexander and Naomi Murakawa, who challenge mass incarceration, and the very act of locking human beings up in the cages we call prisons.

And it lives on in the place that many people have called the world's largest open-air prison -- the Gaza strip in the Middle East. Just under 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, and most of them cannot leave. Today we mark the 50th anniversary of the catastrophe of Dr. King's murder. In a few weeks, Palestinians will mark the 70th anniversary of the Naqba -- what for them was the catastrophe of 1948, in which their parents and grandparents lost their homes in what is now the land of Israel. How are they observing it? With a massive civil campaign of nonviolent direct action. Thousands, men, women, and children, have begun camping near the electrified fence that separates Gaza from Israel, insisting on their humanity, their human desire for justice. Their nonviolent action has been met -- as Dr. King was met -- with violence. Eighteen have been killed by Israeli soldiers and many more wounded. But still they carry on that legacy of Dr. King's nonviolent action, still they demonstrate in their resolve, their humanity. Can we do any less?

When Dr. King told Harry Belafonte about the burning house, Belafonte asked him, “Well what are you going to do about it?”

“I guess we'll have become firemen,” said Dr. King.

The house is still on fire. We must all become firefighters.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Firefighters still needed


A week before his assassination, King told performer and activist Harry Belafonte that he worried the civil rights movement was “integrating into a burning house.” But when Belafonte asked what they should do, King replied, “I guess we're just going to have to become firemen.”

Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Trump having a good influence for Mexicans

A new poll out this morning from Parametria shows that far-left presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador [known to friend and foe by his initials "AMLO"] is surging ahead of Mexico’s July 1 election and has opened an 18-point lead, thanks in part to hatred for Trump south of the border. He formally kicked off his campaign yesterday with a rally in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, where he gave a strongly nationalistic speech and said Mexico under his leadership will demand more respect from the American president. “A Lopez Obrador victory could usher in a Mexican government less accommodating toward the United States,” Reuters notes. “Lopez Obrador has backed [NAFTA], but his plan to review newly issued oil contracts sparked worries he will deter foreign investment.” There are also concerns across Washington’s foreign policy firmament that he’d be less cooperative with us on national security matters, specifically drug interdiction.

The Daily 202. Washington Post, April 2, 2018

My leftist Mexican friends will be happy, though I think they'd characterize AMLO as simply the only possible progressive choice, not "far left."

Here's a nuanced discussion of just what the former Mayor of Mexico City (population 20 million) might stand for; he has a record of accomplishment.

What could an AMLO presidency look like?
... When AMLO left office, he enjoyed an 84% approval rating. His welfare reforms were wildly popular, and he gave the city a major facelift while improving public transport and education.

... Without doubt, AMLO’s biggest achievement as mayor of Mexico City was to create the country’s first comprehensive, socially-funded retirement pension system. Before AMLO, Mexico had a mostly privatised system of income-related pensions with some government subsidies. This system was woefully inadequate. In 2000, only about 22% of Mexicans aged 65 and older had any kind of pension. Today, 88% of all Mexican seniors have a pension — largely thanks to AMLO.

... Under AMLO, streets were re-paved, new street lights installed and the city scrubbed clean. ... Tax breaks and other incentives were also used to encourage investment. Critics warned the influx of private development was gentrifying vast swathes of the city and pricing out locals.

... AMLO has pledged to make university education universally accessible while investing heavily in infrastructure. His record suggests he is dead serious.

... Finally, if AMLO has an Achilles heel, it is corruption. Despite vowing to crack down on corruption, AMLO’s record is spotty at best.

Ryan Mallett-Outtrim, GreenLeft Weekly

The whole article is worth reading. Hard to believe that our racist kleptocrat could be helping anything positive, but his influence on the Mexican electorate could bear good fruit for poorer Mexicans.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Two marches, two borders, two walls, how much more killing?

Considering that Israeli gunfire killed 15 Palestinian protesters and injured hundreds at the Gaza border last Friday, there's been mighty little media coverage of the ongoing mass protest. I can only guess that's how both Israel and the US powers-that-be like it.

The independent journal +972 explains the impetus for the Great Return March:

This year Palestinians will mark 70 years since the Nakba (in Arabic, the catastrophe) in 1948. During the 1948 war and its aftermath, Israel destroyed hundreds of Palestinian villages and more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes. Some 70 percent of the Gazan population are refugees, meaning they or their grandparents fled or were expelled from towns, villages, and cities inside the territory that become Israel in 1948.

According to Hasan al-Kurd, a leftist organizer in Gaza, the plan is to set up camps between 700-1000 meters from Israel’s border fence, outside the Israeli army’s unilaterally imposed buffer zone, where anyone who enters is liable to be shot. In the weeks leading up to Nakba Day [on May 15], there will be marches and bicycle races and other events every week, aiming to draw more attendees along the way. ...

“We want families. We want to live in peace — with the Israelis,”  al-Kurd said. “We’re against stone throwing or even burning tires. We will make sure the protest doesn’t escalate to violence — at least from our end.”

... Friday’s march in Gaza also coincided with the anniversary of Land Day, which itself commemorates how in 1976 Israeli security forces responded to a general strike and mass protest of Palestinian citizens of Israel by killing six and wounding some 100 others. ...

Inevitably, among the 30,000 or so reported to have marched, there were young men who threw stones. That's what young males who want to demonstrate they are becoming grown men do. Israeli troops, overwhelmingly well armed with modern weaponry and subject to no apparent restraints when it comes to Palestinian lives, took the bait. It is very unlikely the killing is over.

Meanwhile Adolfo Flores at Buzz Feed is accompanying a column of some 1000 Central Americans who are making their way across Mexico toward the US border.

Organized by a group of volunteers called Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or People Without Borders, the caravan is intended to help migrants safely reach the United States, bypassing not only authorities who would seek to deport them, but gangs and cartels who are known to assault vulnerable migrants.

Organizers like Rodrigo Abeja hope that the sheer size of the crowd will give immigration authorities and criminals pause before trying to stop them.

“If we all protect each other we'll get through this together,” Abeja yelled through a loudspeaker on the morning they left Tapachula, on Mexico's border with Guatemala, for the nearly monthlong trek.

When they get to the US, they hope American authorities will grant them asylum or, for some, be absent when they attempt to cross the border illegally. More likely is that it will set up an enormous challenge to the Trump administration's immigration policies and its ability to deal with an organized group of migrants numbering in the hundreds.

The Washington Post has published a good background piece about the refugee caravan.

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are among the most violent countries in the world. Drug traffickers and gangs, some like MS-13 in El Salvador which originated in the United States, extort, rape and murder vulnerable people. Honduras has been particularly murderous to its own citizens ever since a 2009 coup in which the army removed the elected president. The Obama administration, under the leadership of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, refused to join international condemnations of that coup and approved the successor government which has detained many opponents.

President Trump has seized on the approach of the refugee column to inflame fears of arriving migrants among his always anxious base in a series of his trademark incoherent tweets about "big flows". The head of the Border Patrol Union seems to be champing at the bit to repel what he sees as an invasion.

Trump's bluster about the approaching refugees is all the more ominous since last month a federal court essentially allowed US cops to shoot people on the Mexican side of the border without penalty.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Alleluia: Christ is risen!

Fr. Jack Eastwood lights the "new fire" at St John the Evangelist San Francisco -- the opening act of the Great Vigil of Easter.

Just why the service heralding the Resurrection begins with fire is not much spelled out in the liturgy. I can't help guessing that it might have some affinity with northern European rites of spring.

Nonetheless, a happy beginning to a glorious evening of music, remembrance, and hope for new life.
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