Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Uh-oh! Fires burning bright


Having driven yesterday adjacent to the Yosemite fire zone, I came away with a question.

I have no difficulty believing that California's extreme wildfire seasons are a consequence of, and exacerbated by, global climate change. (As are many fires elsewhere.) If year after year is very dry and very hot, there's a lot to burn in the forests. And so it has been. This sort of intuitive awareness of climate changing is not controversial, even among Republicans.

But is all this burning we're experiencing in itself a contributor to increasing CO2 levels? Are we caught in a dire climate feedback loop?

Chris Mooney is a responsible climate journalist and he answered this a couple of years ago.

Just as growing plant life pulls carbon out of the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis, so decomposing — or burning — plant life releases it back again. In the meantime, the carbon is stored in the plant, or in the case of forests, the trees.

In a climate in which wildfires are a steady, regular occurrence — but don’t change much in intensity or number from year to year — they will still release carbon, but the regrowth of forests and other plant life will also pull much of it back in again. “If climate and fire regimes equilibrate, then fire-induced atmospheric CO2 emissions are balanced by uptake from surviving vegetation or via regeneration,” noted a major 2009 study on the relationship between fires and the climate system.

But in a climate where there’s a change to the size, number, or intensity of wildfires, it’s possible that forests could burn and release carbon considerably faster than regrowth allows it to be replaced. Fire “has a substantial positive feedback on the climate system,” the 2009 study concluded.

As California works through public policy to reduce our CO2 emissions from controllable human activities, our warming ecosystem may increasingly be outrunning our efforts. This makes it all the more important to do what humans can do to reduce CO2.

Gym at Buena Vista/Horace Mann to be opened to some homeless families

The four women responsible for a pilot program to provide overnight sleeping space for some of the Mission District school's unhoused students and their parents explained the plan at a neighborhood meeting on Monday night. From the left, School Board President Hydra Mendoza, BVHM principal Claudia DeLarios Morán, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, and Emily Cohen from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Services.

DeLarios Moran explained that the idea arose when some of the children in need of housing asked if they couldn't just stay at the school. Plenty has happened since then. BVHM teachers and parents discussed the plan and agreed unanimously to ask the District for support. Teachers will not be asked to run the sleeping facility, but expect to see learning gains among their more rested students. The School District had to consider facility demands and liability concerns. Ronen went prospecting for city money, now included in the new budget. The city Department of Homelessness will be putting out a contract for bid by some the city's experienced service non-profits to run the planned overnight sleeping and feeding program for some 60 people.

Some of the 30 or so neighbors on hand complained they weren't cut in on the plan until very late in its evolution, but the majority were glad see our school try something new to support our homeless neighbors. As far as these innovators have discovered, no other public school in the country has decided to use its building to house some of its homeless students. BVHM is pioneering something new here.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Something happening here ...

Sunday afternoon we made the long, smoky drive past Tuolumne Meadows, north of the wildfire at the entrance to Yosemite Valley, and across the smog-hazed Central Valley. We stopped off for lunch at an unprepossessing roadside Mexican restaurant among the strip malls of Oakdale. Cocina Michoacana was friendly and the food tasty.

While we were eating, a woman came over to say how much she liked the text on my shirt (right). We explained we'd gotten it while protesting the Trump/Republican migrant family separation policy near the border in San Diego. We told her about chanting outside the prison, then keeping silent, and hearing women locked within shouting back to us. She told us the thought almost made her cry.

Then she told us how proud she'd been that, right there in the Valley community of Oakdale, they'd had their own protest about the child-snatching and refusal of asylum seekers. "It wasn't so big -- but it was right here in our little town."

"I keep telling everyone they have to vote in November. They all have to!"

She lives in California Congressional District 10 where the Republican incumbent is thought to be one of the most endangered in the nation. The aspiring Democrat is Josh Harder. She and her neighbors intend to put this Democrat in office and send a message to Washington. They just might do it.

As George Packer insists: "All That’s Left Is the Vote."

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Enough


Several weeks ago, former President Obama delivered a lecture memorializing one of the last centuries' true great men, South Africa's Nelson Mandela. Obama returned to his roots, eloquently defending Mandela's vision, and his own.

I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible, and that it can achieve more peace and more coöperation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe.

I was struck reading the text (recommended) by what seemed almost a throwaway affirmation -- one of great significance for those of us lucky enough to live in a rich country, very much among the planet's winners. Since leaving office, Obama has clearly been able to ensure his family's position among our U.S. winners. They are not, perhaps, one percent level, but they are surely among the most comfortable of the comfortable. Nonetheless, he reminded us of what underlies a sustainable future for humankind:

There’s only so much you can eat. There’s only so big a house you can have. There’s only so many nice trips you can take. I mean … it’s enough! You don’t have to take a vow of poverty just to say, “Well, let me help out. Let me look at that child out there who doesn’t have enough to eat or needs some school fees. Let me help him out. I’ll pay a little more in taxes. It’s O.K. I can afford it.” I mean, it shows a poverty of ambition to just want to take more and more and more.

A hard truth where global capitalism thrives, but necessary for survival.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Saturday scenery: Eastern slope of Sierra vistas

Despite the heat and smoke haze, the mountains are lovely. Here one of the Virginia Lakes.

This valley acts as catchment for several small lakes.

Above stretch rugged rocks. It's a harsh land, prelude to miles of high desert.

Saturday scene: in Northern California fire season

The air is hazy, and when the wind blows a certain direction, slightly smoky, even though the fires are 40 miles away. In the little towns, residents and tourists are wary and grateful.

And is there still something that can be labeled the season of wild fires?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes, cat or human, just rolling up in a ball is the only thing to do. Morty enacts this ... pretty much daily. Then he gets up and complains about the service around here.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

On the road; possibly off the grid for a few days

Not visiting Yosemite this year, rather the little town of Lee Vining, adjacent to Mono Lake. This is a 15 year old photo. Long a casualty of Los Angeles' urgent thirst, the partially restored saline basin is now much higher than shown here and is recovering its role as a migrating bird rest stop. It remains a haunting place.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Building blocks of democracy

This wouldn't be the ad you'd put up in California (too entirely pale), but it is great to see Michigan anti-gerrymandering activists trying to win a more fair system of drawing districts through the initiative process. Michael Wines reports that five states are voting on these measures this year.

In Michigan, for example, Voters Not Politicians arose from a single Facebook post that its founder, Katie Fahey, dashed off in 2016; it mushroomed into a campaign that held 33 town-hall meetings across the state, recruited 12,000 volunteers and raised close to $1 million, most of it from small donors.

The group’s proposed remedy is similar to what has been advanced in the other states: amending the state constitution to turn responsibility for drawing political boundaries over to a citizens’ commission composed of Democrats, Republicans and independents or small-party supporters. The panel would be barred from giving any political party an advantage, and would judge its work using “accepted measures of partisan fairness.”

The state attorney general and the state chamber of commerce sued to block the proposal, saying that it is illegally broad. A lower court unanimously rejected that argument; the case is now before the state Supreme Court, which held a hearing about it last week.

This is a conservative-dominated court; these enthusiasts could still lose. But they have a lot of momentum. People want a more fair system.

California reformed its boundary drawing procedures through an initiative passed in 2008. We needed this. Our state legislative and Congressional districts drawn after the 2000 census utilized a slightly different anti-democratic principle than partisan advantage: they were drawn to protect all the incumbents of both parties then in office. And this worked spectacularly. In the entire decade of the 2000s, only one incumbent Congressperson was unseated by a challenger. The new California districts drawn after 2010 shook things up; several incumbents found themselves doubled up, competing against another sitting legislator. It will be interesting to see how much boundaries change again after the 2020 census when they are redrawn again by the Citizens Redistricting Commission. All sides will lobby and jostle for advantage, but last time the commission did its job surprisingly fairly.

UPDATE-July 31: Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to keep the citizen proposal on the ballot! On to November.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Iran: where Bolton and Pompeo get their payoff for playing dead

Monday's news that our tweeting President has turned his fire on Iran makes perfect sense.

“To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!” Trump tweeted.

I'd been wondering why renowned war hawks like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton were willing to work for President Appeaser.

Now it seems clear: if they pretend the man in the White House is capable of carrying out a foreign policy, especially in Russia, perhaps he'll give them the war they really want. For reasons that have always seemed obscure to me, the U.S. establishment has long lusted after using our military might to overthrow the government of Iran. Sure, the Iranian government is genuinely horrible to those of its own citizens, especially women, who want to move beyond theocracy. But that's not what the war fever is about. Maybe they really think they can "seize the oil." Or are they still bent out of shape because Iranians held some U.S. diplomats hostage 40 years ago? Or are they vaguely guilty that, when Iranians elected a free and fair government of their own, they sent the C.I.A. to oust it?

For sure, governments around the world are going to know how to interpret Trump's fawning over Putin and cozying up to Kim Jung Un -- it's safer to have nukes than not to have them.

Monday, July 23, 2018

On climate indulgences

Next week, E.P. and I launch off on a verrry long flight to Australia -- and then on further flights within that huge continent. This trip will be by far our worst offense against climate stability this year. One CO2 aviation emissions calculator figures 250 kg CO2 per hour of passenger jet flight; that means our flights just to get to Brisbane will release something like 6 U.S. tons of carbon pollution.

Contemplating that number brings me back to whether a responsible person (who is able) should buy carbon offsets when she travels. I first wrote about this over 10 years ago; I was a skeptic then. Personal feel-good solutions didn't seem likely to make a dent in society-scale problems.

Fortunately the good environmentalists at Grist have been digging into the question.

Really ... You can do whatever you want, and cancel out the carbon impact by buying something?

Well no. But Eve Andrew suggests what else you can do ...

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why read the old stories every week?

“We are determined to have a king over us!”
Now for something a little different. A few weeks ago I undertook a task I'd never done before: I preached a Sunday sermon at our little urban Episcopal church. One has to take up new challenges, right? We are between regular priests at present; there is only so much we can exploit our wonderful volunteer clergy. So several of us, including also Erudite Partner, are throwing our two cents in about the weekly Bible texts. Here's my offering from June 10 on bits of 1 Samuel 8: 4-20; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; and Mark 3:20-35.
If you ever want to goose the urgency of your prayers for God’s help, I’ve got a suggestion for you: be fool enough to volunteer to preach. Performance anxiety can do wonders to remind a person of her dependence on God’s help. ...

...One of the aspects of Episcopal practice that brings me here week after week is our routine exposure to the ancient texts of old stories of people trying to comprehend how God/Godself is alive within history. I’m not saying, as our fundamentalist cousins do, that the Bible is The Last Word. Rather, I think we are challenged by these readings to extract meaning for our lives today from the lives of people wrestling, as we are, with how God is right there with them.

So let’s think about today’s readings. I’m going to start with the Gospel. In this passage from Mark (the story is also told by Luke and Matthew), Jesus tells the religious leaders who come to accuse him of being an evil magician that they are full of it. He asks them: how can he, Jesus, be doing the work of the Devil by using the Devil’s tools? That would not work. He points out “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

If you had been in the United States in the 1850’s and 1860’s, this text would have had a striking resonance; it would have seemed invigorating or frightening depending on your politics. Jesus’ admonition that a divided house or kingdom must fall might have haunted your nightmares much as Donald Trump’s elevation to the presidency does to many of us today. When Abraham Lincoln was merely a Senate candidate in Illinois several years before he was elected President, he seized on Jesus’ parable to describe the country’s existential conflict, quoting: “A house divided against itself cannot stand” and continuing “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.” ...
I go on to discuss the sad and terrible longing that the ancient Israelites felt for a king over them.

No kings! God knows kings are not a good idea.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday scenery: Buddhas of the Haight

San Francisco is a city of many statues of the Buddha. Often they hide quietly, emanating peace in the corners of gardens.

But not so much on the Haight-Ashbury tourist trail, where, though the Summer of Love was over 50 years ago, the trappings of Orient exoticism dominate.

I'm not sure what that middle face is. Perhaps Polynesian.

Even here, there are a few more modest masks.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Rumors of war in That Part of the World

E.P. has taken on the thankless task of surveying the carnage -- made in America, made by other powers, and homegrown -- in what we call the Middle East. With Trump running amok in other areas, we've tended to look away from the region that so inflamed our fears for the last 15 years. But we can't really. The consequences could be too dire.

With President Trump and his secretary of state now talking openly about a possible “escalation between us and the Iranians,” there is a real risk that some combination of the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia could initiate a war with Iran. If there’s one lesson to be learned from US wars since 9/11, it’s “don’t start another one.”

Read it all at the link.

Friday cat blogging

We had just unwrapped our new quilt made from some of my old running race t-shirt collection -- Morty approved and settled in.

The quilt was created by Too Cool T-Shirt Quilts if you are wondering. They were great to work with; unlike me, they knew what they were doing.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The U.S. Senate and our increasing democracy deficit


We are living in an international moment of "democratic deficit." The term is usually used to refer to the feeling among people in the member countries of the European Union that somehow, despite elections and politicians and the paraphernalia of legislatures, the individual nations within which they live fail to enact the policies implied by their voting choices. The larger Eurosystem felt to be in the way of small "d" democratic accountability. Europeans aren't alone in this feeling.

Looking ahead beyond present alarums and the Trumpian fog, I think people in the United States need to face up to our own democratic deficit. Its obvious manifestation is that in two of the last five presidential elections (2000 and 2016), the candidate with less popular votes ended up legally elected. The federalist fudge that enabled the original 13 colonies to enact a slavery-protecting Constitution by allocating two Senators to every state regardless of population size is becoming more distorting of the popular will every decade.

This graphic representation of the projected distribution of U.S. population by 2040 means that all those little gray slivers will radically outweigh the numbers in the Senate from the few big teal blocks -- California, Texas, Florida, New York, etc. Philip Bump spelled out the political implications:

Eight states will have just under half of the total population of the country, 49.5 percent, according to the Weldon Cooper Center’s estimate. The next eight most populous states will account for an additional fifth of the population, up to 69.2 percent — meaning that the 16 most populous states will be home to about 70 percent of Americans. ... [But] 30 percent of the population of the country will control 68 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Or, more starkly, half the population of the country will control 84 percent of those seats.

... The gray states on the map ... — states that make up more than two-thirds of the land area of the United States — will similarly control enough of the Senate to overcome any filibuster. The House and the Senate will be weighted to two largely different Americas.

Because the numbers of Congresscritters in the House are determined by actual proportion of national population, there are going to be a lot more states with only one representative, unless Congress decides to increase the overall number which is fixed at an already unwieldy 435. Currently there are seven states with one rep: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. Soon enough, there will be more such states. Meanwhile growing states will get more Congresspeople. The House will continue broadly representative the democratic principle of "one person, one vote."

But then there is the Senate ... More populous states are now, or are trending toward, the Democrats, the political party whose base is urban, of color, and in one way or another a part of the 21st century economy. Yes, even Texas will turn purple if current trends continue. But the federal structure guaranteeing two seats to every state means the Senate will become less and less democratic, less representative, unless something changes.

So what's a progressive to do? Lots.
  • Democrats need to support Democratic-leaning groups in small states and help them win. New Hampshire and Maine are small states in a region where government-affirming policies are in the game. Let's win and keep them. Mississippi is home to less than 3 million people -- and 37% percent of them are Black, while the state's whites are the most conservative in the nation. But a decent and smart Democratic party can't abandon Magnolia State Black voters. (Alabama has proven that you never know what might happen.) Note that Dems currently solidly win two of the seven smallest states.
  • If/when Democrats control both houses of Congress, admit the District of Columbia as new state, ASAP. DC has more people than two existing states, Vermont and Wyoming. All statehood requires is a majority vote in Congress and a presidential signature; though admitting new states feels today like an historical curiosity, two -- Alaska and Hawaii -- have come in during my lifetime. DC voted overwhelmingly for statehood in 2016; that's not to the taste of the Republican Congress which is actively undermining the local elected government. Republicans will howl when DC becomes a state, but this is a matter on which democracy requires political hardball.
  • Are there other U.S. territories that could become states? Well maybe. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens as most of us who are not named Trump know, but the island is not a state. It is home to more people than 20 states. The place and people have been a colony since the U.S. seized it from Spain in 1898. Puerto Ricans are divided about their future. The current elected governor campaigns for statehood; it is not at all clear that a majority of Puerto Ricans agree with him. It's close to certain that Republicans would oppose Puerto Rican statehood -- you know, more Brown people.
  • Anywhere else that should be a state? Well, maybe Guam, though this would be a reach. Today, residents live in an “unincorporated territory" and have U.S. citizenship -- when they travel to the 50 states. On the island of Guam, they are subject to the U.S. Congress. You can imagine how much attention Washington pols pay to an island of 175,000 Chamorro-speaking people nearly across the Pacific.
If we hope to be a country in which popular majorities have a chance, we must understand how the Constitution's federal structure will contribute to a pervasive feeling that majorities don't fully count. That's a recipe for conflict; so conflict we must.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Arenas of denial

This is a testing time.

When commentators talk about “denialism” in Trump’s presidency, they tend to mean denial that climate change is real and human-caused. But Trumpian denialism can stand for something much broader: a refusal to see the facts that tie people together so powerfully and inconveniently. These things include the history of American inequality, the perennial presence in our natural life of migration and undocumented labor, the decline today of relative American power. You could distill it by saying that denialism is the ethos that refuses to see how the world is deeply plural at every scale, how it draws people inexorably into uncertainty and potential conflict, how it puts us at odds.

The denial comes not because the denialist cannot see this, but because he does see it, not because he doesn’t believe others are there, but because he feels their presence so acutely, fears they will make claims on him, fears they will get power over him and take what he has. ...

Jedediah Purdy

Fear paralyses and forecloses. Fear isolates. Fear is bleak lonliness.

We are as a culture moving on to a future with more people and more voices and more possibilities. Some people are being left behind, not because the future is intolerant of them but because they are intolerant of this future.

Rebecca Solnit

What a bleak prospect. Fear is an empty road to nowhere. We have no choice but to discover courage and to go forward together.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Elect Jacky Rosen to the Senate

Long before she was a software developer, she was a waitress. Now that's the sort of experience Nevada needs in the U.S. Senate.

After yesterday's #TreasonSummit, we can tweet and howl and denounce -- but above all, we can DO something. Our best chance of turning this around -- and there's no guarantee it will work -- is to replace every elected Republican enabler of the Traitor White House.

To that end, after Labor Day, E.P. and I will be working in Nevada for a couple of months to replace a weathervane Republican Senator.

We're fortunate. We are free to go where we have a chance of doing the most good. So we will. Everyone needs to do what they can to have hope of having a decent country in which to struggle another day for more freedom and more justice.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Words for the day

California is different. Why?

I've been slow to write about State of Resistance: What California’s Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America’s Future because its subject matter is almost too close to me. One of sociologist Manual Pastor's key assertions describes my life, my professional career, if a succession of electoral campaigns, written insights, and organizing efforts can be called a career. (A strategy memo I wrote is quoted in this and Pastor relies heavily on Dan Hosang's Racial Propositions to which I contributed much material.)

Pastor describes California's climb out of a broken political framework built on white fragility and tax revolt. He contends the story cannot be written without emphasizing that something was brewing beyond establishment institutions.

Demography played a role -- a higher share of people of color helped tilt the state left ... The economy played a role as well ... Shifts in the political rules of the game have been essential ...

... organizers did not assume that demography itself would bring change; movement builders were intentional about amplifying the voice of the new majority. The state has become a hotbed of movements for decent wages, immigrant rights, racial equity and environmental justice. ... the state's ability to achieve fiscal balance with new taxes on the wealthy was actually an idea prompted by the movement activists who dragged the political establishment left ...

Omitting movements from the picture -- and focusing just on a septuagenarian governor or even the economic and political rules of the game -- will leave you with a story that is one step short. Policy change does not always start in the halls of the state or local legislatures, but rather in the streets, workplaces and voting booths where power is contested. ... understanding the strategic choices of California's organizers is critical to understanding the evolution of the state and can help others in the United States understand the need for and nature of grass roots work in an era of reaction.

Yes, indeed. And if that seems obscure, read this book. I'm not going to go into the movement aspect of this further here. Pastor provides a multitude of reasons to think that California is about two decades ahead of much of the country at constructing a better society and future. We face many challenges, but we've laboriously built at least some of the prerequisites for people-powered equity and sustainability.

Despite having lived so much of this intimately, there were elements of this story that I found novel and had to question. Pastor documents how the shift in California's wealth creation from agricultural and southern California to Silicon Valley and San Francisco was a boost to our progressive political culture.

Silicon Valley has long embedded an interesting internal contradiction: its competitive risk takers are frequently connected, partly through venture capital firms and partly because of mobility between business enterprises, and often see themselves in a sort of collective ecosystem that allows for individual success. ... [The "ecosystem" in various formations] sought to coalesce with other public and private actors to push for affordable housing, mass transit opportunities, green space, and other social and environmental infrastructure. One of the reasons for the unusual business support for extensive social serving infrastructure ... was the idea that these were factors key to the quality of life to attract and secure the loyalties of the high-skilled workers key to the new economy.

Well, maybe. Here in tech-impacted San Francisco, it's a little hard to applaud Silicon Valley's commitment to, say, affordable housing. But he's probably on to something in that, minimally, tech moguls inhabited a wider world than California agriculture barons or real estate/sprawl developers. And northern California plutocrats try to survive and thrive amidst a hornet's nest of community, environmental, and labor organizations which win their own impact on the culture of their environment.

As a statewide campaign organizer, one of the difficulties and oddities of state politics since the early 1990s has been that, although 60 percent or more of the people live in the south, nearly all major statewide elected officials -- governors, senators, even legislative leaders -- are from the north. Pastor does not directly address this. I always used to wonder: Los Angeles has the numbers -- why don't Angelenos just take over? The southland certainly has always had some of the most innovative community, worker, and union formations; Pastor describes them well. But the north goes on batting way above its weight. On this topic I find convincing some thoughts from a 2016 Mercury News article:

“If you ask a voter in Los Angeles, ‘Who’s your Assembly member?’ they’ll say, ‘What’s an Assembly member?’” [political consultant Bob Mulholland] said. “But if you ask ‘What’s Lindsay Lohan up to?’ they’ll know all about it.”

Bay Area voters are on the opposite end of the spectrum, said Mulholland, a Chico resident. “If you go door-to-door in San Jose or San Francisco or Oakland, whether it’s rent control or a legislative election, they’ll actually know something.”

...[San Francisco’s] compactness has helped foster a culture of grass-roots political engagement and networking that “much more closely resembles Boston or Chicago than Los Angeles or San Diego,” said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics.

One other side note on Pastor's description the California progressive ecosystem: he gives enlightened philanthropy big props for supporting our many para-political organizations. He's probably telling a kind of truth. But I can testify that through much of the 1990s and 2000s, winning any kind of foundation support for building voter engagement in poor communities of color was a miserable experience of confronting incomprehension and parsimony. (I'm retired. /snark)

One oddity of States of Resistance is that Prop. 54 (2003) appears nowhere in the narrative. That feels important, even though Prop. 54 was the ultimate outlier in the history of California's "racial propositions" -- initiative measures passed by a fearful majority white electorate that aimed to reduce the emerging clout of immigrants, African Americans, young people of color, and speakers of Spanish. It would have prevented the state from recording or collection information about racial outcomes of any governmental activity, pretty well guaranteeing institutional racism run amuck. And on this one, the emerging California majority won big, 64-36 percent. Weirdly, it was the only initiative on the ballot in the gubernatorial recall election that dumped Democrat Gray Davis and gifted us with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Since Pastor doesn't tell you his opinion of why this wonderful out-of-pattern result was achieved on Prop. 54, I'll give you mine. (I worked against Prop. 54 in a non-leadership position.) This was the first statewide racial proposition on which grassroots, funders, and policy organizations showed they'd learned the lessons of all the brutal losses of the 1990s and formed a cooperative, sophisticated coalition that could work to deliver the most persuasive, poll tested messaging to the appropriate voters. Ten years of brutal failure began to pay off. Moreover, this was the first of the racialized initiative campaigns in which organized labor was willing to put some (still small) funding into community efforts to get out grassroots voters. This was a change from the decade of the 1990s when labor political directors seemed sometimes to snicker at the idea that community groups could reach people that unions could not. By 2003, we had all learned a lot. It's too bad that Pastor didn't include the Prop. 54 experience in his account of how a new progressive coalition laid the ground work for our present state of resistance.

In the 1990s, the introductory book to read about California was Peter Schrag's Paradise Lost. In the 2000s, the book was Peter Schrag's California: America's High-Stakes Experiment. In this decade, Manual Pastor has picked up the California ball and runs with it.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Freedom is a forever struggle

Katia Cardenal sang for her country, her people, and for the earth at La Pena in Berkeley last night to a packed house of Nicaraguans and friends. Banners listing the names of victims of the government's current violence against its own people hung on the stage.

Nicaragua is in trouble and danger, as are we at home. Yet Nicaraguans dance to celebrate. The demand of the peoples for justice, freedom, dignity and peace is never more than temporarily set aside or crushed; it changes form and breaks out again. Few know that better than our Central American neighbors.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Saturday sights: teach the children well

Making my rounds, I've noticed that displays of children's books that are neither fantasies (nothing against a good fantasy) or saccharin are turning up in store windows.

There's one role model.

And here more than one are offered.

One of my favorite authors has contributed to the genre.

There must be a market in these times. Not all these pics were snapped in San Francisco, by the way.

Friday, July 13, 2018

How many stolen children remain to be reunited?

The child whose cries we all heard thanks to the reporting of ProPublica has been reconnected with her mother.

Dude wants to be a conquering eagle. More like a flightless chicken.


As the President continues his antics abroad, I'm reminded of some observations about the dumb bird we've loosed in the global china shop -- written last May by John Feffer of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

It’s not just unilateralism, where Washington acts alone and allies be damned. Nor is it merely unipolarism, in which the United States targets all hegemonic challengers in an effort to preserve its position as the world’s dominant military and economic power.

Let’s coin a new term: unileaderism.

According to unileaderism, only the U.S. president makes foreign policy decisions of any import. ... Unileaderism, at least as it’s embodied by Donald Trump, is a philosophy bound up entirely in the personal quirks of the president himself. Instead of strategy, there are only tactics: wheedling, bluffing, threatening. It’s like playing tennis against someone with John McEnroe’s legendary temper and will to win, but few if any of his actual skills.

Unileaderism may well be the logical endpoint for a country that has used unilateralism to preserve its unipolarism. And Trump is certainly the product of a particular tendency within the U.S. political culture that rejects liberalism and multilateralism.

But it goes beyond that. In its rejection of strategy in favor of tactics, Trumpism is a repudiation of geopolitics altogether. Trumpism isn’t a new kind of opening in the chess game of international relations. The president, out of rage and stupidity and arrogance, has simply picked up the board with all of its pieces and flung the whole thing against the wall. He’s playing a different game altogether.

Like most good U.S. lefties and critics of our wanton wars, I have long believed that U.S. imperial pretensions have passed their sell-by date and begun to stink. Despite considerable timidity when confronted by a population that likes chanting "We're Number One" and "foreign policy experts" confident of U.S. virtue, the previous incumbent POTUS seemed to know his job was winding down global empire. You learn something when, unlike so many of us, you have been educated abroad, even for a short time. A military reform school doesn't impart much; nor does a decorative B.A. in Business.

The rest of the world just isn't going to put up with us (that's U.S.) forever. Empire is over and the U.S. will have to learn to live in the world that is.

Trump is both easily conned and ignorant, acting the part of King Canute, raving against the oncoming ocean waves. Empire is not drifting toward a soft landing.

Friday cat blogging

This is not Morty, but rather someone with a family resemblance inside a very dirty window.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

It's the names! Some family history

When I started thinking about the glorious variety of names carried by contemporary U.S. citizens and residents, I realized a side trip into my own forebears was warranted.

Many of my ancestors' names would seem mighty foreign to my contemporaries. What's a Gamaliel? The name is Biblical, naturally among those hearty settler Protestants; Gamaliel appears in the Book of Acts as a good guy among the religious authorities of his day who didn't want to condemn the Jesus' followers to death. The particular Gamaliel whose cemetery monument I've posted about actually had an additional Biblical middle name which also sounds foreign. He was also a Cyrus. The only Cyrus I know in my circles is of Iranian/Korean-American origin. Some delightful world!

Another ancestor was an Asaph. What's an Asaph? Again, this is derived from the Bible: there are three named Asaphs in the Hebrew Bible, of whom the most prominent is identified as the author of several Psalms of David.
Asaph's last name, Bemis, may be of Greek derivation, or maybe be a corruption of the English surname Beamus. In contemporary usage, Bemis is a company that makes toilet fixtures.

America marches on.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It's the names!

Way back in 2008 I wrote the story of a progressive white friend's interior struggle to understand her own hesitations about then-Senator Barack Obama's presidential run. Finally she blurted out: "It's the names. I felt it when I watched Michelle's speech and his daughters came on stage. They were called something I can't pronounce." Being the good soul and justice warrior she is, she rapidly learned how to pronounce "Barack," and "Sasha," and "Malia." I suspect she would hardly remember her discomfort today.

But I remember, because that phrase -- "it's the names!" -- has become one of my touchstones in this dark era. A segment of white people fear they are being erased and look to Trump to Make America White Again. But I look at bylines and mentions in U.S. media every day and rejoice that our everyday names have irreparably changed and we now live in a wider world amid a wider national family.

For a few days, I grabbed a small selection of names that would have been strange and foreign to my parents' generation. (A little more behind each link.) Vivek Ranadive. Duke Tran. Ishaan Tharoor. Malkia Amala Cyril. Seung Min Kim. Latona Giwa. Taurean C. Sanderlin. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian. Rustem Kazazi. Karthik Nemmani. Yphtach Lelkes. I could pull hundreds more, just from my regular reading.

Trump and the GOPers stumble over this reality. Kris Kobach (perhaps a German-origin name?) -- Secretary of State of Kansas and inventor of numerous stratagems to prevent people of color and other Democrats from voting -- fell on his face when he tried to convince a federal judge that many non-citizens were polluting his state's elections. He produced an "expert witness" to explain how they had identifed these improper voters.

[Kobach's expert Jesse Richman] simply flagged people with “foreign”-sounding names, although he was inconsistent in his execution. As Talking Points Memo reported, “two respondents with the last name Lopez were coded as foreign, and three Lopezes were not.”

On the sixth day of the trial, [ACLU lawyer Dale] Ho read a series of names and asked Richman if he would label them as foreign-sounding. When he came to the name Carlos Murguia, Richman said he probably would flag it as foreign. Ho responded that Carlos Murguia was a federal judge in that very courthouse in Kansas City.

Ooops.

The exponentially increasing number of names we bear in this country is one of our national joys and strengths. I'll give the last word to Washington Post book critic Carlos Lozado, whose Latinx name seems conventional to most of us in the U.S. Southwest.

The American experiment is not just worth the fight — it is the fight. With passion always strained, the pursuit of prosperity, freedom and belonging is an endless battle, an enterprise in equal measures exhausting and exhilarating.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

California election prospects


The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is trying to make the governor's race between Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and business man John Cox interesting. Good luck with that. Given the disrepute of the Republicans here on the Left Coast, the relevant question is probably whether the GOPer can break 40 percent. I'd guess it will be a close call.

According to the Secretary of State:

Democrats now make up 44.4 percent of California’s 19 million registered voters, with no-party-preference voters at 25.5 percent and Republicans at 25.1 percent.

Most of those "no-party-preference voters" are young, city dwellers, and often from the communities of color. If they vote -- and Republicans keep giving them reasons to turn out in defense of their communities and their futures -- they lean Democratic, however reluctantly.

PPIC polling meanwhile finds a 10 point gap among likely voters, favoring leadership that pushes back against the Trump administration. No wonder Gavin is running as Mr. Resistance. I don't trust my former mayor's leadership, but he'll make the right noises. That we must have.
Though PPIC finds that overall we want push back, in their poll independents are more evenly divided. I wonder if that will hold up through further rounds of child-snatching?

A wrinkle in 2018 is that California is in the midst of a transition to all-mail elections, in which every registered voter will be mailed a ballot and the number of polling places and drop-off points for election day voting are cut back. Five counties tried this in the June primary:

Compared to 2014, Napa, Nevada and Sacramento counties had a 10 to 12 percent increase in voter turnout this year. Two were outliers: Madera’s turnout increased 8 percent, and San Mateo’s shot up 17 percent.

Let’s put that into perspective. Voter turnout in the 2014 primary was dismally low, so it didn’t take much to outdo that year’s turnout with 37.6 percent of registered voters casting ballots. ...

... San Mateo was one of a few counties that tested out parts of the new model, mailing ballots to every registered voter during a local election in 2015. As a result, last month’s primary voters and the city knew what to expect.

I worked briefly on that 2015 election and I think this conclusion is exactly right. Voters had to learn anew how to vote -- and then many rejoiced to get the task done in their homes in advance. Other counties, except Los Angeles, can opt-in to the universal mail-in ballot system in coming elections. This procedural change comes on top of the existing no-excuse "absentee for all" option which meant that 11.5 million ballots were mailed to primary voters across the state. Election Day as the focus of voting is receding.

Monday, July 09, 2018

For my running friends ... a Senate candidate from our tribe

Beto O’Rourke is running to replace Ted Cruz. Literally. ...

... O’Rourke explains to me the origins of this novel campaign event, which has him running several miles under the Texas sun, stopping in the middle to take questions and lingering at the end to pose for selfies. “Some sadistic member of our team,” he recalls, “was like, ‘So we’re doing like six town halls a day in six different counties. We’re driving hundreds of miles every day, we’re visiting all 254 counties. What more could we do? Ah, get up earlier and have running town halls.’”

Politico

O’Rourke is a plausible challenger in a Texas perhaps not quite ready to turn purple, but inching toward a multi-party future in which ethnic, economic, and political diversity makes it more like other prosperous areas of the country.

The Politico story is fun and includes a much better video of Beto running which I didn't embed because I didn't trust it would play on this blog. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Yet another Trump regime atrocity


If they don't survive infancy, those children from "shit-hole" countries will not make it to the border. To prop up the profits of wealthy first world vendors of baby formula, the Trump administration is trying to undermine cooperative work for better health across the globe.

Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times reports that a resolution affirming what decades of research has proved, that breast feeding is safer and better for babies than commercial processed formula products, was set to glide through the World Health Assembly. That is, until U.S. reps started throwing their weight around for the benefit of corporate behemoths like Abbott Laboratories and Nestle.

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding” and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

Ecuador is depending on U.S. aid at present because it fears the failing Columbian state on its border. Poor nations in Africa and Latin America feared to step up for the resolution amid U.S. threats. In the end the resolution was presented -- and passed with only minor nods to the baby food industry demands. Russia stepped up to sponsor it, despite being the site of significant recent Nestle investment.

... the Americans did not threaten them.

... The $70 billion industry, which is dominated by a handful of American and European companies, has seen sales flatten in wealthy countries in recent years, as more women embrace breast-feeding. Overall, global sales are expected to rise by 4 percent in 2018, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in developing nations.

If these children can't survive infancy, they'll never show up at the border, right?

"Whether I'm 15 or 100, I'm going to be myself."

To close out what has felt like a week long Independence week, here's a worthy take-down of some limiting social expectations. Enjoy.

Via my good friend Ronni at Time Goes By, a good place to drop in for perspective on aging.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Running wear and tear tangent

I use my feet hard. I'm prone to nasty seasons of plantar fasciitis. I'm also prone to black toenails from the pounding. My feet have grown to a men's size 12 after more than 30 years of fairly diligent running. Finding shoes that don't hurt and possibly help is a challenge. Two years ago, I chanced upon a shoe that served as well as anything I've ever worn, the first iteration of the HokaOneOne Challenger. Since shoes routinely are "improved" every year, ceasing to fit, I snapped up four pairs. Last week I sadly retired pair Number III (shown on the left) and broke out Number IV, the last.

Number III had nearly 500 miles on it. I flatten a shoe; the trails have done a job on the tread.

Now I'll have search for a modern replacement. First stop will be the Challenger's fourth iteration, but I won't be surprised if a few false attempts deposit me with a different shoe company. Shoe obsolescence is infuriating. Just when someone builds a good one, it disappears.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Friday cat blogging

So here's a tale. When we got back from the border two weeks ago, Morty seemed withdrawn. And, notably, his eyes looked oversized, like a Keene painting if you've ever seen such a thing. When we shined a light in them, there was no response.

So off to the vet we all three trooped, Morty in his box, E.P. to carry, comfort and cajole, and the driver. And pretty soon the verdict came in: Morty had outrageously high blood pressure, so high his retinas had detached. He was blind, not seeing. Fortunately there was a pill he'd have to be given daily for the rest of his life for the blood pressure. But he was blind.

So every day we gave him his pill, and the blood pressure came right down to an acceptable cat level (top number 140) -- but Morty still moped and stared into space. And then, a couple of days ago, this. At least in some lights, his eyes are functioning more normally. Can cats heal their detached retinas? Maybe.

He's certainly more adept at fighting his daily pill. Perhaps the old boy is going to be with us a little longer.

14 month old boy separated from parents at the border ...

and that's not the worst of it.
As Therese Patricia Okoumou says, that's what "this monster" does.

Resist and protect much.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

John Adams on why we are suckers for men with gold toilets

Yesterday, in addition to marking U.S. independence from George III, was the 192nd anniversary of the death of John Adams. The second president of the United States was a Massachusetts lawyer, an instigator and signer of the Declaration, the chief diplomatic representative in Europe of the upstart republic during the Revolutionary War, and not a very competent politician. During his presidency, he urged executive rule against a fractious Congress and is tarred with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts restricting citizenship and penalizing dissident speech. Civil libertarians then and now consider these laws abominations. At a moment when the new country was developing its politics, Adams lacked the essential knack of making friends and coalitions.

But Adams was also different from the more aristocratic gentleman founders, never owning slaves nor enjoying the financial security of commercial wealth or a grand plantation. Perhaps in consequence, he had a sharp eye for how men of wealth maintained their advantages in a democratic republic. According to historian Luke Mayville:

Adams drew on the moral psychology of Adam Smith to describe how public admiration of wealth, much like public admiration of royalty, could be a potent source of political power. ...The political power of wealth, he insisted, could not be fully appreciated without understanding its roots in public sentiments. Though it was true that oligarchic power derived in large part from more tangible sources, such as social connections and relations of material dependency, Adams insisted that “there is a degree of admiration, abstracted from all dependence, obligation, expectation, or even acquaintance, which accompanies splendid wealth, insures some respect, and bestows some influence.”

Adams did not deny the importance of the purchase of political influence by money. It was “a natural and unchangeable inconvenience in all popular elections,” he wrote in Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States, “that he who has the deepest purse, or the fewest scruples about using it, will generally prevail.”

But Adams also traced the influence of wealth to the deep admiration for the rich felt by the public and to the insatiable appetite for that same admiration possessed by society’s most ambitious. It was the grandeur of wealth, and not merely its purchasing power, that accounted for its immense political influence. ... ... Adams warned that “the distinction of property will have more influence than all the rest in commercial countries, if it is not rivalled by some other distinction.”

***
Adams also had a pleasantly humane notion of what all that struggle to found a new polity was for.

"I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have the liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine."

I feel certain his fiercely competent and independent wife Abigail reminded him to remember his daughters as well as sons.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

The only flag I need on the nation's birthday

Knowing that the USofA has not always been good -- in fact has been a horror show of genocide, slavery, exploitation and murder for many -- let us recommit to that "new birth of freedom" which shimmers as a tantalizing alternative possibility to be pursued with all our lives and strength.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

I.C.E. in San Francisco got a visit Monday

A human wall of resistance activists stretched around the downtown stone block that houses Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as Department of Justice immigration courts.

We're sick of this shit, but not half so sick as those locked away by the federal child-snatchers.

Kids get it.

To steal a slogan, more and more of us in the resistance are learning this is about "changing the human race into the human family."

Northern California is not a religious place. In fact, it's the most secular region of the country. But there is something about the horror of how the U.S. government is treating desperate migrants that calls forth ancient moral injunctions that still underlie the culture. Not for everyone, but for more than we might have expected. When push comes to shove ... keep on.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Long suffering Russians

There's something deeply broken in Russian society. That simple minded statement is what I've taken away from reading a series of books about Russia recently: Nadezhda Mandelstam's memoir of survival and devastation during Stalin's Terror in the 1930s; Peter Pomerantsev's vertigo-inducing Surreal Heart of the New Russia; and Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Literature prize-winning collection of mini-interviews with post-Soviet citizens.

Russian/American journalist Masha Gessen's National Book Award winning The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia is another contribution on the same theme. She chronicles Russian political and social experience through stories of the lives of seven individuals between the 1980s when the Soviet regime was dissolving amid its own contradictions and failures through the 2010s when Putin was seizing increasingly unchallengeable power. For U.S. readers who have struggled with Russian naming conventions in those hard-to-follow Russian novels we were supposed to read in school, she provides a wonderfully helpful introductory explanation of how she uses these forms; you don't have to get lost in the names here.

Gessen ties the trajectories of her individuals together through describing the ongoing research of pioneering post-Soviet pollster and sociologist Lev Gudkov, a student of communist Russia's father of indigenous sociology, Yuri Levada. (Putin eventually drove Levada out of the institute he founded where Gudkov also worked.) Levada had propounded the notion that the Soviet system had indeed made possible the emergence of a New Man: Homo Sovieticus.

The system had bred him over the course of decades by rewarding obedience, conformity and subservience. ... The Soviet state was the ultimate parent: it fed, clothed, housed and educated its citizens; it gave him a job and gave his life meaning. It rewarded him for doing good and punished him for doing wrong, no matter how small the transgression.

It also taught its citizens to live inside "double-think" -- at once permanently victimized by encircling capitalist enemies and also a conquering heroic empire which had defeated Germany in the 1940s and was standing up against an aggressive America. In the late 1980s, Levada expected Homo Sovieticus to die off after the Soviet state failed.

But in the 1990s, Gudkov's polling showed that Homo Sovieticus was making a comeback. A complete economic crash, oligarchic privatization that amounted to theft of the USSR's industry and farms, the peeling off of non-Russian minorities into their own states -- all of this led Russians to yearn for renewed stability and order.

Now Russians were distinctly tired of thinking of themselves, and their country, as inferior. So what did they see as the innate positive qualities of Russians? This open question elicited, on the basis of 2,957 surveys, three leading qualities: "open," "simple," and "patient." The ideal Russian, it seemed was a person without qualities. It was clear to Gudkov that this was the blank mirror of the hostile and violent regimes under which Russians had long lived. ...

... Homo Sovieticus was not going anywhere: there was no clear evidence that this sociological type was less prevalent among young people than in their parent's generation. Homo Sovieticus's central trait -- double-think -- was in full display across age groups. ... A majority of respondents agreed with the following statement: "Over the seventy-five years of the Soviet regime our people have become different from the people of the West, and it is too late to change that." A slightly larger majority agreed with the statement "Sooner or later Russia will follow the path that is common for all civilized countries." Most people agreed with both statements at the same time, and that that they did seemed to affirm the former, and made the latter seem vanishingly unlikely.

Living with these unresolved contradictions made Russians ready to give Vladimir Putin 80 percent approval ratings when another economic crash in 1998 was short lived and the new strongman promised decisive action against Chechen terrorists. By 1999, 58 percent of Russians wanted to go back to how things were before Gorbachov loosened the regime's controls in 1985; 26 percent believed Stalin's rule had been good for the country. Nostalgia ruled.

By the early 2000s, Gudkov believed he was seeing in Putin's rule something he called "pseudo-totalitarianism." The same bureaucrats ruled; mass media were state controlled; the secret police had changed its name but not its powers. Neither reliable rule of law nor an independent judiciary had emerged. Education was militarized and the state determined the distribution of goods.

One thing was certain: this regime was not going to develop into a functioning democracy. In fact, it did not seem capable of developing at all. It probably could not re-create the old systems of terror and complete mobilization. Its sole purpose ... was to stay afloat, to maintain just enough inertia. In this its main resource was the Russian citizen weaned on generations of doublethink ...: the Homo Sovieticus.

As the Putin regime moved closer to being a recognizable totalitarian state in the 2010s, Gudkov developed a theory that Russia's periodic popular eruptions, whether in 1990 or in subsequent repeated mass protests against elections devoid of choices, were a feature serving to revitalze an unchanging system.

This was Gudkov's depressing, and he had to admit, radical idea: the last century could be viewed as a continuity, with periodic bumps of "aborted modernization" and the society he had been studying his entire adult life had stayed essentially the same. What made this idea radical was that no one wanted to hear it.

Perhaps it is proof that merely compiling the truth doesn't set people free since all this sociological theory and data exists without discernible impact on the country's development. Dictators don't have to hide their scat anymore, it seems.

The heart of Gessen's book is not these sociological observations I summarized crudely here, but the stories of particular individuals. Her subjects are city people, educated, relatively privileged, middle and upper middle class in our terms. They are not Russia's bottom dwellers. (Alexievich goes deep in that stratum.) I found them by turns interesting, repellent, and attractive and you probably would as well. None of these lives are easy; but then, even the most idealistic didn't expect life to be easy.

One of Gessen's people, Lyosha, is a young gay man trying to make a life as a professor of gender studies at a provincial university. It's a tough road, but he makes something of a go of it until Putin's regime realizes it can create an aggressive xenophobic Russian patriotism by inciting mass hatred of queers. U.S.-based homophobes from an outfit called the World Congress of Families (listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center) assist Russia's homegrown anti-gay zealots. Lyosha becomes first an object of suspicion during a national pedophilia panic, then a prospective target of bashers and murderers. He emigrates.

Some reviewers, including Francis Fukuyama in the Times, imply that Gessen -- a lesbian who decamped to New York to protect her children -- is making too much of the role of gay bashing in Putin's consolidating his regime. Actually, I am grateful that Gessen shows so vividly that violence and bigotry derived from fear of gender fluidity can be a very potent instrument in a dictator's arsenal. Not every society would be so subject to this particular intra-community wedge as contemporary Russia, but violent gender terrors are potent inflammatory agents. This is not some piddling minor issue; we should not look away.

Marina Arutyunyan, a Russian psychoanalyst, came to believe that nearly all her clients should be understood as suffering ongoing trauma. Gessen lets her sum up.

Most of her clients craved "stability," whatever that meant. It had all been too much for them for years. ... When the first constraints began snapping back into place, to the beat of the "stability" drum, they had felt calmer.... [A client with a small business] had a strong sense -- she got signals -- that she should be cultivating connections and giving bribes, but she did not know how and, more to the point, she felt strongly that she should not. The signals she was getting about what was right came into conflict with her own inner sense of what was right. If only the law was clear and permanent and applied to all equality ... It was the oldest trick in the book -- a constant state of low-level dread made people easy to control, because it robbed them of the sense they could control anything themselves. This was not the sort of anxiety that moved people to action and accomplishment. This was the sort of anxiety that exceeded human capacity.

... The whole country felt helpless. ... What options did this frightening country offer its intolerably anxious citizens? They could curl up into total passivity, or they could join a whole that was greater than they were. ... they could rejoice alongside other citizens that Crimea was "theirs." ... Paranoia offered a measure of comfort: at least it placed the source of overwhelming anxiety securely outside the person and even the country. It was a great relief to belong, and to entrust authority to someone stronger. ... One could belong, but one could never feel in control.

As I say so often, the remedy for helplessness is action. Do something to build power and community. Resist and protect much.
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