Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Outside our campaigning comfort zone

I have very warm feelings toward Doug Jones, the Democratic Alabama Senator whose surprise election in 2017 proved that Republicans had not completely lost all sense of decency when they flocked to Donald Trump. Jones had an appealing record, having prosecuted and convicted in 2001 two of the white men who bombed Birmingham's 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. He's an all round good guy and voters preferred him to a wacko racist and accused pedophile. Nobody (except maybe Jones' campaign) thinks deep red Alabama is likely to re-elect Jones in November; partisanship is too powerful for Alabama white voters. But Jones' campaign is taking a bold tack as he tries to hang on. He's accusing his opponent, college football coach Tommy Tuberville, of caring more for Donald Trump than for the citizens of the state. Take a look at this ad:
Jones aims straight at Republican threats to health care access and Social Security, as most Democrats do. But he also, probably accurately, accuses his opponent of running to be a Trump suck-up. It's a bold move when most Republicans including Tuberville have competed to win primaries by demonstrating how submissive they can be to the Orange Cheato. 
Also outside campaign norms, In These Times reports on intriguing experiments with canvassing in rural North Carolina where preserving Confederate monuments and resisting a feared immigrant invasion are common sentiments. Local organizing groups think they've found a way to train canvassers to have deep conversations that can reach conservative voters. Their contacts find themselves cross-pressured between fear of the unfamiliar and attachment to humane values. 
“We need to specifically talk about race and class,” said Danny Timpona, an organizer with Down Home North Carolina. “The Democratic Party might talk about class or they might talk about race, but they’re not talking about both of these things and how they pull at each other. We’re specifically pointing it out. We’re naming that this is a weapon that is economically harming us, and that the alternative, the antidote, is multiracial solidarity.” ...
“What we find with the majority of voters is they’re conflicted,” [Adam] Kruggel [from People's Action] said. “People carry all these contradictory beliefs. Often times, it’s more a matter of what is rising to the surface than a conflict in shared values. Deep canvassing helps slow people down. When you communicate, you create nonjudgmental space and lead with listening. You communicate through stories. It’s an effective way to de-polarize, to a certain extent.”

I'm always a little skeptical when social scientists and professional organizers claim to have come up with new techniques which will enable canvassers to make major inroads with otherwise antagonistic people. I understand that we'd all like to reduce how to carry on a successful persuasion campaign to a formula that could be taught. And we often give our magic bullet a very serious label like "deep canvassing" or “the “Race-Class Narrative.” Such claims probably play well with donors. 

But the struggle to make door-knocking effective will always be tough. Some people who do it take to it. Training can make these naturals better, pointing them toward techniques to have more effective conversations. But scaling up to produce multitudes of canvassers who lack a preexisting sympathetic gift-for-gab is not formulaic. Campaigns keep trying.

The In These Times story is nonetheless interesting.

Monday, August 10, 2020

A San Francisco treat

Tom Ammiano has given us a memoir -- titled, of course, Kiss My Gay Ass. It's perfectly wonderful; you should read it; and as far as I can figure out, the only way to obtain a copy is through that link.

Ammiano is the flaming queen who carried assassinated Supervisor Harvey Milk's gay liberation cause right up through the stuffy auditoriums of the San Francisco School Board (1990-1993), on to the Beaux-Arts corridors of San Francisco City Hall (1994-2008), and finally into the corrupt precincts of the California State Assembly (2008-2014). And never has he retreated from his allegiance to class-conscious equality for people of all races, sexual inclinations, and gender identities.

His own liberation movement put Ammiano on track to storm the halls of power -- but his memoir makes clear that performing stand-up comedy might have been his true love. The quick quip was his defense while growing up in a very hostile world for a gay man -- he writes that he "weaponized it to protect me from bullies." Later he honed his comedy as as school teacher and in comedy clubs. Whatever his credentials, the San Francisco establishment of the 1980s would have recoiled at the prospect of a gay teacher running for school board, but his comedy career was a particular target of scorn from the newspapers.
"... comedy was used against me as a weapon. But I felt like, without really articulating it, there was no reason I could not do both those things: comedy and politics. I really loved comedy. Who wrote the rules that say you have to choose?"
As a legislator, Ammiano assembled a majority of the Supervisors (that legislative body would be a city council if the City were not a county) to pass Healthy San Francisco which extended health coverage to all residents in 2007. He led passage of protections for LGBT+ civil rights in both San Francisco and Sacramento. He fought for legalizing marijuana before that notion was cool. He repeatedly sought to revise California's tax-limiting measure Prop. 13 so that big business had to pay its fair share. (That one is coming back at us this November as Prop. 15.) Ammiano has been there for every progressive effort of his generation.

Gay people of Ammiano's generation, with rare upper class exceptions, never trusted that the policeman was our friend. Calling the cops after a gay bashing might just get the victim bashed again. So when Ammiano won his seat among the city Supervisors who have some say over the police department, he found himself in a contradictory position.
"Ironically, the Police Officers Association had endorsed me in my race for Supervisor! All they asked me about was my support for unions issues and I was strongly pro-union. They didn't ask anything about policing rules or independent investigations of police shootings.

"... There was a lot of shit I had to deal with about the police. A lot of the officers were white cops who didn't live in San Francisco. ... There were a lot of raids of gay bars. They would say "you're overcrowded" as an excuse, shit like that.

"... Soon after I was elected, there were a number of police shootings in the black community. I remember going out to the community and standing and holding hands with black ministers about the shooting of some kid by the police. ... Then the cops raided an AIDS fundraiser. ... When they raided it, the cops covered their name tags so they could beat people, that was common practice.

"... I took fixing the Office of Citizen Complaints up as my cause ..."
For all Ammiano's efforts, although the SFPD may have achieved some hiring "diversity," its union still seems committed to viewing law enforcement as an occupying army restraining uppity dark skinned people and other transgressives. The struggle goes on.

Ammiano thinks of himself as a "lefty." I might substitute "radical" in this summation of what's he's learned about keeping the faith inside the halls of power:
"... It has always been [a] struggle to come from the lefty point of view in any movement. There will always be moderate people. There will always be people who sell out. There will always be people on the fence. Then there will be people who push the envelope because it's more than about just one issue or one thing -- it's about a movement."

Movement makers are precious people. Ammiano is a San Francisco gem.

Full disclosure: yes, he's a friend. A guy like this is a lot of people's friend.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Out and about in shutdown San Francisco

Imagine my delight when Walking San Francisco last weekend to come upon this:
These friends were having a great time on an obscure block in the Oceanview neighborhood. (Oddity: there is no ocean view.)
For the most part, the musicians practiced what they preached.
With one exception. 
The audience kept well back, enjoying the music and the day.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Prediction: health care will again move to center in the election

Remember the seemingly endless Democratic presidential primary season that ended with Joe Biden suddenly wiping out all the others? Probably not. Between COVID-19 and the filmed murder of George Floyd, most feeling people have had so much run over us that the memory is indistinct.

But at least one development of the last week should remind of us of what that long intraparty squabble was ostensibly about. Presidential aspirants argued and proposed and postured for months about how they would ensure everybody had access to health care. Today millions of people are out of work in a country that ties access to medical services to having a job -- in the midst of a pandemic. And it looks like voters do still care, even in states that seem less than obvious.

Dylan Scott at Vox surveyed social scientists about a recent, seemingly unlikely, development:

"For the second time this summer, voters in a solidly Republican state have decided now is the moment to expand Medicaid coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

"Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid during Tuesday’s primary elections; 53 percent of voters supported the measure and 47 percent opposed it. That vote comes about a month after Oklahoma voters also decided to expand Medicaid via ballot referendum by less than 1 percentage point. 
"... Crises have a way of changing political attitudes. ... right now, disapproval of the Affordable Care Act is at a low ebb, with just 36 percent of Americans saying they have an unfavorable view of the law in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s July 2020 poll.  
"It is too soon to say whether any shift in the public’s policy preferences will be permanent. But we shouldn’t be surprised if a crisis as disruptive as the coronavirus pandemic leaves a long-lasting mark on our politics."
In the Los Angeles Times, David Lauter points out the advantage which Democrats gain by responding to the public's health care fears and hopes.
"Democrats have learned over the past decade that complex efforts at market-based solutions to expanding healthcare, like the Affordable Care Act’s subsidized marketplaces for low- and middle-income families who lack job-based coverage, don’t work politically on two levels: They fail to win over the Republicans they were designed to attract and they aren’t as popular with voters as straightforward expansions of public programs. 
"Biden opposes Medicare for All, but if he wins in November, some form of Medicaid for Many — a public option built around further expansion of the program — will likely form a key part of his administration’s program. 
"... if the spread of the virus slows, which President Trump‘s campaign strategists hope will allow him to start a comeback, he will still face a host of issues on which he was vulnerable long before the pandemic began. His efforts to repeal healthcare coverage for millions of Americans remain high on the list."

This is not the terrain on which Donald Trump wants to fight this election. He'll try to distract. He'll promise a “tremendous healthcare plan,” as he did just two weeks ago, a fantasy solution. He'll claim to protect people with pre-existing conditions, such as having been infected by COVID -- but legislators of his party has voted to repeal these protections over and over. And Trump supports a lawsuit to kill off all of Obamacare. Trump's magic health care fix will never happen. 

If Dems are smart, they'll keep hammering on a promise to make certain all of us can go to doctors. People need and want assurance of health care access; the virus keeps the need fresh in our minds.

It's on all of us to make sure Trump does not escape his failures -- his failure against the coronavirus, his failure to deliver on delusional promises.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Friday cat blogging

We're not living in the peaceable kingdom around here. Janeway wishes she could persuade me to play with her 12 hours a day (the balance of her time is for napping). But even with the pandemic, I can't give her that much attention. But she has discovered that if she peers out the back door, she can bait Carli, the pit bull, into charging the glass and barking. Janeway, not at all afraid, rises up and threatens to rip Carli's nose.

It's all good fun until their respective human servants hear the uproar and chase them away from each other. The glass is fortunately very tough.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

75 year ago, we dropped the Bomb

The Imperial War Museums (there are multiple locations) in Britain seem remarkable institutions. As a younger friend exclaimed after a visit, "that could be a peace museum!" In a way unlike how such an institution might act in the U.S. of A., their culture treats wars soberly, as terrible, anti-human, eruptions, not occasions for bluster and chest beating.

For the occasion of today's anniversary, IWM asks:
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were experiments in a new kind of warfare, whose full implications were not entirely understood at the time. The bombing of these cities in August 1945 brought an end to the Second World War, but at a terrible cost to the Japanese civilian population, and signalling the dawn of the nuclear age. What had led to the fateful decision to deploy these new weapons of mass destruction?

As a confirmed peacenik, I recoil from the atrocity that my country perpetrated to end the war of my parents' time. The scene in the video in which Churchill, Truman, and Stalin appear to be yucking it up appalls. War breeds more war; Hiroshima and Nagasaki only make macabre sense in the context of years of brutalizing, coarsening combat. As well, the Pacific war between Japan and "the West" -- Britain and the United States -- was a race war. Both sides routinely denied the shared humanity of the other.

I also know, I have no business judging. Future generations, if there are any, will condemn mine for our profligate addiction to fossil fuels.

At the annual ceremony at the peace memorial site at Hiroshima this year, journalists report the crowd was diminished. Many survivors have died; some of those who remain alive stayed away for fear of the coronavirus.
"Despite the health risks, a relatively small number of survivors attended this year. They believed that 'they’ve come this far' and 'can’t quit,' Mr. Sakuma said, adding that 'sending this message from Hiroshima is extremely important.' ...

... The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who was not able to travel to the event because of the virus and delivered remarks by video, issued a stern warning about the dangers the world faced as international arms-control regimes began to break down.

"'Today a world without nuclear weapons seems to be slipping further from our grasp,' he said, adding that 'division, distrust and lack of dialogue threaten to return the world to unrestrained nuclear strategic competition.'"

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we no longer have the excuse of not knowing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Thanks Donald!

Your incompetent response to the coronavirus has turned 60 percent of us into anti-vaxxers. That took some doing. Most of us knew at least vaguely we were glad to be living in a world without polio or smallpox thanks to vaccines until you came along and raised up the stupid.

Your handling of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic has been nothing but ignorant and venal. It's clear that you are either incapable or unwilling to understand the toll of COVID. Your interest in a preventative vaccine seems almost entirely about enhancing your own glory.

I don't know whether something you've labeled "Operation Warp Speed" can rapidly produce a safe and effective vaccine that I'd trust. "Warp Speed" is great in fiction, but careful science gets it done and you are devoid of acquaintance with either care or science.

This injury to our trust in science will have lasting consequences beyond the coronavirus -- even if we somehow don't see 300,000 U.S. deaths by the end of this year. Responding to human-induced climate change will require the best of our human analytical faculties -- which are organized and empowered as science.

This was preventable.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

A tale of two ballot summaries

As the array of propositions that California voters will be asked to weigh in on is being finalized, we're in the season of lawsuits. It's the job of the state Attorney General's office to write the description of a proposal's content that we see on our ballots. It's also the job of the AG to be sued by proponents and opponents of various measures who think he should have described their little darlings differently. The lawsuits usually have little impact.

If you ever wondered whether voting on obscure offices matters, the contrast between what was offered by a right wing Attorney General two decades ago and what current Democratic AG Xaxier Becerra have written on essentially the same measure makes the importance of these elections perfectly clear.
The intent of Prop. 16 appearing this November is simple: it will repeal Prop. 209 passed in 1996. Prop. 209 outlawed affirmative action by the state to assist Californians held down by entrenched racial and gender discrimination. But what does that mean?

John Myers, writing in a politics newsletter for the Los Angeles Times, summarizes:
Here’s the ballot title for the original proposition written by the office of then-Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren: PROHIBITION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION OR PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT BY STATE AND OTHER PUBLIC ENTITIES.

Becerra is a politician who came up in the generation when Californian Republicans fought their battle to keep political power solely in disgruntled white suburban constituencies by handicapping the rising tide of Latinx, Black, indigenous, and other immigrant groups. This failed. California is no racial paradise, but this generation of Democratic pols know they have to work at equity.

Will Prop. 16 succeed? It ought to in the year of Black Lives Matter and widespread racial reckoning. But nobody should kid themselves that it will be easy; fear that someone, somewhere, is getting something undeserved that ought to be yours remains a potent political motivator.

But California certainly has changed since 1996, just as Republicans feared it would.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Encouraging novel voting methods will be hard work

Last week I listened in to a web presentation hosted by the Arizona Democratic Party that included Clara Pratte, presidential candidate Joe Biden's Tribal Engagement Director, and Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas, one of two Native Americans in Congress.

Ms. Pratte emphasized that no other segment of the population is more in need of a functioning U.S. administration, since the 578 tribal Indian governments depend on having a partner that listens and learns.

Rep. Davids reported that serving in Congress has required her to become adept at educating the other members about tribal sovereignty. Along with Rep. Debra Haaland of New Mexico, also an enrolled tribal member, she feels herself a bit of a novelty in Congress. There's a  Black Caucus, and a Hispanic Caucus, and an Asian-American Caucus -- where do these two women -- "the +2" -- fit in?

Both speakers emphasized that Native voting could help swing the election, especially in Arizona where 4.5% of the population is considered American Indian according to the Census. The local Navajo nation has experienced one of the most devastating outbreaks of COVID-19 in the country. So the Democratic Party and the Kansas congresswoman are urging widespread use of mail-in ballots.

An Arizona listener pointed out that the mail-in ballot push might encounter a significant cultural obstacle: historically the Navajo nation has held tribal elections the same day as the federal election, encouraging voters to gather centrally. This creates additional incentives for traveling long distances to vote -- and welcome opportunities for friends and family to socialize. Voting safely in the pandemic is going to force people to adopt a new, isolating, individualistic practice. This is tough where the internet is scarce and where postal facilities are few.

It was agreed that the most useful method for reaching out to explain mail-in voting to tribal members would be local radio.
Counties with large Native American populations with reported infection rates above 1,500 cases per 100,000 residents. New York Times
Counties with large Native American populations with reported infection rates above 1,500 cases per 100,000 residents. New York Times

The pandemic has been brutal in Indian country. And Indian country can help make a difference for us all.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Public service

This scene reminded me the other day: our public library is still fulfilling one of its missions -- providing free access to information to all. Yes, the SFPL unsecured wifi network remains available outside this entrance which has been locked since mid-March. If you already had a library card, you had good access to some electronic materials; but we miss our libraries.

There have been rumors that the library might reopen one of these days. In mid-July, the City Librarian told the Library Commission that he hoped to start up "SFPL to Go" in a couple of locations. Patrons could pick up and return books, DVDs, and other physical materials. Libraries in other nearby counties already have curbside pick up. What's holding our library back?

It turns out the librarians and other employees are busy. Chronicle columnist Heather Knight got the story:
According to City Librarian Michael Lambert, his staff as of July 1 comprised an eye-popping 45% of San Francisco’s disaster service workers.

Anybody hired by the city of San Francisco can be redeployed in a time of crisis, and the city has relied heavily on librarians, since all libraries have been closed since March and they otherwise had little to do.

Lambert oversees a staff of 560 people, which includes 213 librarians as well as library security, custodians and library pages who sort and shelve books. They’ve packed food at food pantries. They’ve worked at hotels for homeless people. They’ve served as contact tracers. 

 I suspect that library skills are a good fit for contact tracing. But let's hope the library staff are able to get back to their accustomed roles soon.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

San Francisco rock garden

In these days of sheltering in place, many children and parents seem to be diverting themselves by coloring signs for windows. In this household somebody is making art out of rocks.
The concerns are contemporary.
At our best, we're a confident communtiy.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Friday cat blogging

Much of the day, Janeway occupies our front window, watching birds and humans. But if I wonder where she has got to, I look up. Here she looms over my desk.

I feel as if I might need to remind her that I am not a bird.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

What might Miss Manners suggest?

These pandemic etiquette suggestions are being passed around on Facebook. They originated with Paige Campbell Johns. I think they are helpful for figuring out how we should behave among friends and co-workers in the novel situation in which we find ourselves. People who are going into work settings may have other standards imposed on them by employers. But many of us have a lot of leeway in how we conduct ourselves. I've pulled some excerpts. Click on the link to read it all.
I want to propose three general ground rules for interacting with people right now.

The rules are: (1) When you make plans, make them very specific, and avoid changing them at the last minute. (2) Defer to the most cautious person in your presence. (3) Do not take it personally if someone is more cautious than you.

To elaborate, with examples I made up: 
(1) Be very detailed about any plans you make to see other people. If you invite friends over to sit in your driveway and have a drink, don't suggest as people arrive that you sit on the back deck instead. Among your friends might be someone intending to give herself 10 feet of space instead of 6. She might have been excited about the driveway idea because it's not only outdoors but effectively unbounded; she knew she'd be able to make as much space for herself as she felt she needed. Then you move to the deck and space is more limited, and she is faced with a really awkward decision. ...

The point is that trying to make decisions on the fly is incredibly stressful. You might be 100% confident that you understand the relative risk of things. But you don't know what other people's understanding is. And the split-second after being told that the location or the menu has changed is not a good scenario for evaluating risk, especially with an audience. Don't put people in that position.

(2) On that note, when you and a person in your presence have different (verbalized or apparent) levels of caution, the obvious and decent thing to do is match the more cautious person's behaviors. If you don't wear a mask but you notice one of your co-workers tends to, then put on a mask when you are going to be anywhere near them. Their mask usage is a clear indicator that they think mask usage is important. ...

(3) This also doesn't mean that this person has an issue with you in particular. Do not take it personally.  
Some people are approaching the world with an understanding that there are essentially two groups of people: the ones I live with, and everyone else. From a public health perspective, the standards I apply to interacting with anyone in the latter group should be consistent, whether you are someone I work with, a friend, a relative, or a stranger. I do not and cannot know whether you are carrying a potentially deadly, poorly understood, highly contagious virus, so to the greatest extent possible, I'm going to behave like you are carrying it, no matter who you are. ...

...  People want to interact with the world, and some of us never stop thinking about how to do it right in this not-at-all right world we find ourselves in.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Testing in the 'hood

Tents took over one side of the BART plaza at 24th and Mission this morning for a well organized coronavirus testing operation set up by the local authorities, Calle 24, and UCSF.
About half of known San Francisco COVID cases have been in the Latinx community, despite Latin people making up only 15% of the population. Many are "essential" workers -- the folks who keep the city clean(er), who work in grocery stores and make deliveries, who drive trucks and work as construction laborers.
One of a bevy of yellow-vested "ambassadors" explained that, at opening, the line had extended around the block. But by 9am when I wandered over, there was almost no line. I turned down the opportunity for a test; my sheltering and mask wearing has been good enough that I'm at little risk, while the city needs these tests for people having to live more vulnerable lives.
The rest of the corner was its usual wacky self. The city fenced off the wider areas of the plaza early on in the pandemic to prevent the little groups of men who pass their days there from gathering in close proximity. (They moved to neighboring streets; where else were they supposed to go?) But it is still the crossroads of the Mission in all its quirky delight.

Dangerous drivel

Notoriously, the pathological toddler in the White House has again been hyping the unproven and dangerous drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus. On Monday, his dopey son tweeted an endorsement; Twitter scrubbed the lie and locked Jr.'s account for 12 hours. So Daddy started passing around the same phony medical endorsement.

A friend, a doctor "too exhausted actually taking care of sick COVID patients to type it out," passed on this rebuttal to the Trumps from yet another working doctor.
"Even doctors can spread misinformation, and despite the claims, there are numerous studies showing lack of efficacy even when used early on. That's why we created a process to sift good information from the bad in an objective manner.

"You can always find outliers. What do the MAJORITY of credible doctors and scientists say. Just b/c the far right trots out a handful of scientists who deny global warming doesn't mean we aren't all in a slow cooker.

"Also, if a doctor says he knows his cures work bc others doctors tried it and told him so, then scoffs at double blinded randomized studies, rest assured you are not getting good information. Anecdotal evidence is as useful as a monkey's fart.

"Just because your great aunt Tandy once plastered onion to your 3rd cousins feet and cured his syphylis does not mean everyone needs to run out and buy onion flip flops. There are doctors going around claiming they are curing covid with hydroxychloroquine, zinc and azithromycin.

"Please remember MOST people will get better with nothing, just like MOST people recover from the flu. The fact that you drank a tequila and wheat grass shot 3 times a day does not mean it was a "cure" for the flu."
The Daily Beast reveals some background on Trump's new favorite source of medical misinformation.
"Before Trump and his supporters embrace [Dr. Stella] Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams. ...
"She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens."
Just the sort of quackery you'd expect Trump to embrace. No wonder he has been worse than useless to the people of his country as we endure preventable sickness and death. He's bored with COVID.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Dumb election punditry

It would be hard to imagine a sillier headline or a sillier premise.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Good news: so far, the epidemic has not exploded at Laguna Honda

In the early days of the pandemic I walked (with careful distancing) the neighborhoods adjacent to San Francisco's mammoth public nursing home, Laguna Honda Hospital. Was a catastrophic death toll about to happen in that huge facility? As I read reports from Washington State and New York, mass infections and horror seemed inevitable.

But this hasn't happened. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Now, four months into the pandemic, not one Laguna Honda resident or worker has died of COVID-19, public health officials say. Of the 721 people living there, 19 have become infected. And of more than 1,800 employees, 50 have tested positive.
What went so right when so many other nursing homes became death traps?
  • The city received useful help from the CDC in training staff in effective handwashing and how to wear masks and gowns.
  • The city somehow got hold of enough PPE so workers could follow safety rules without having to worry they would run out.
  • There was enough space to create a separate COVID area so infected patients could be quarantined for 28 days.
  • Testing was slow to ramp up, for lack of tests and equipment, but eventually all residents and staff were put on a two week  regular testing schedule.
  • When workers did develop symptoms, the local public health department devoted personnel to contact tracing.
I'm not often a fan of our mayor, but the article highlights another reason Laguna Honda was the recipient of this smart, careful assistance: London Breed's own grandmother had been a resident there. It's not every mayor who has had relatives in a public hospital and that almost certainly made a difference in the attention directed at Laguna Honda.

The article fails to mention another unusual facet of why Laguna Hospital has been able to beat back infection, at least for now. The workers there are union members, accustomed to stick up for themselves through their own organizations. Worker power can save lives.

Let's hope San Francisco's public hospital can keep up this effective response to the public health crisis.

The experience points to the two clear lessons of this plague time: mass death was preventable and mass death is averted when organized people work together.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

For an unsettled Sunday: Portland is being used

Britt Carlson serves as pastor of community life at Portland Mennonite Church. She described current observations and her reflections for Baptist News. What follows is an excerpt;

... [A]s an Anabaptist pastor who believes the way of Jesus is the way of nonviolence, I’ve also struggled to know how to respond to the protests down at the Justice Center.

How do I talk about the police violence compared to the protesters’ when there is an enormous imbalance of power? The police have guns, munitions and tear gas. The protesters have laser lights, water bottles and the occasional naked woman (nudity is legal in Portland if it is an act of protest). The protesters break windows, but the police are breaking bodies. The protesters light fires, but they’re also being taken away by officers with no identification in unmarked cars.

What do I think about the destruction of property? 

Obviously as a follower of Jesus, I value people over property. But it’s also scary. It feels out of control. And it does come at a cost.

In the midst of all my questions, however, there is one thing I am certain of: Portland is being used. ...

Jesus didn’t mind joining forces with imperfect people. After these protests, whenever I think about Simon the Zealot I picture him as a punk antifa kid — angry at systemic injustice of the world, passionate that things change. Simon, the punk zealot that he was, was a part of Jesus’ crew. ...

... Our calling as Christians isn’t to separate ourselves from imperfect people or imperfect protests. Our calling is to cause them to rise. To lift them. To let the flour and water help us be what we were always meant to be: bread for the world.

 I’m afraid the power moves are sucking the air out of the loaf. I’m afraid a conversation that should be focused on the infinitely precious lives of Black Americans is getting deflated into political set-to. We cannot let that happen.
As the late John Lewis reminded us, nonviolence enables us to make "good trouble."

Engaging in nonviolent protest is not a flight from the ugliness that comes with engaging in struggle against entrenched power. As I learned from that wise non-violent practitioner Barbara Deming,  nonviolence doesn't mean there are no casualties -- it simply means that non-violent resisters choose to take some casualties on themselves in preference to joining oppressors whose hope is in their guns. We have bigger and better hopes. Protesters don't want to sacrifice themselves and try not to, but neither are they going to emulate The Man.

The powers-that-be will always focus on the transgressions of the powerless. The powerless come into their own power when they stay focused on the persistent demand for justice, for life itself.

Many "essential" workers are getting sick, but not all

I seem to be going to Andy Slavitt's twitter threads (@ASlavitt) about once a month for my COVID updates. Slavitt was the techie brought in to fix the Obamacare website in 2013. He stayed in that administration to become a health policy wonk. He's a smart guy who thinks the humans should be able to fix things in the societies we create -- even in a pandemic.

This thread grabbed my heart. I did, after all, work for and with California migrant farmworkers for years. Listen up:

If you don’t know many people who have Coronavirus, its because you don’t know the people who pick the food you eat.

Yes many of the people getting sick are working for us.

... The virus is becoming more predictable. At least until it gets inside the human body.

It goes to big cities where it finds clusters [of vulnerable hosts] until people get their act together. Then it goes to smaller cities. It preys on locations where people are forced together indoors.

Since it will spread anywhere people congregate (faster with poor ventilation without good masks), many who can avoid those places will.

After stops & starts more, bars will close. More masks will be required. People will stay home.

But this is only true for those who can [stay home].

Are migrant farm workers in 114 degree Yuma, AZ picking the beautiful melons we eat wearing masks? One third are.

[Think five workerss] in a Ford F-150 up at 6am to earn & send money home.

Then to Imperial County, to Salinas, to Fresno, to Wachata, WA. Picking strawberries, lettuce, grapes & apples.

In these migrant camps, high percentages are sick. And then they travel from farm to farm. Across Florida, Arizona, Texas, California.

Agriculture may seem a million miles from how you live (or I) & it may not be the first thing you think of when you think of California, say.

But during the “Stay Home” orders, 60% of Californians were forced to go to work. [Many] in agriculture or in related service areas.

Even without agriculture, large portions of the workforce never stopped.

To everyone who complained about the stay-at-home orders, for a large chunk of the [working] country, they would have felt lucky.

Any grocery worker, trucker driver, or day laborer now sick with COVID didn’t have the choice.

... The lack of a humane & national approach means people on the margins suffer first and most.

What to do?

  • Prioritize testing in farm & rural communities
  • Airlift cases from rural areas to bigger hospitals
  • Give resources to OSHA & farms, meatpacking plants, distro centers, trucking
  • Reconsider which services are essential
Nothing works without reduction in cases & more testing. That may require a serious conversation about a harder lockdown.

This is also why there’s no such thing as innocent, harmless cases. Given the rate of spread, we eventually harm others without as much choice.

Often the very people who feed us. /end

It didn't have to be this way. There are examples of companies which have weathered the pandemic, whose executives figured out how to prosper amid disrupted supply lines, whose workers have never stopped working, and nobody has caught the coronavirus.

At the Vitamix facility, a low-slung, tan building common to many suburban industrial parks in Ohio, the long hallway off the parking lot is lined with entries in a poster contest, on coronavirus prevention themes, for the children of employees. “If you get kids involved, parents look at things differently,” said Beryl Blaylock, the manufacturing manager. “When the kid comes home and says, ‘Daddy, why don’t you have your mask on?’ then it hits home.”

Until the coronavirus struck and shut down restaurants, Vitamix focused on commercial blenders, a favorite of professional chefs. For its health-conscious following, the blender held rock star status for its ability to do everything from whipping up smoothies to grinding nuts.

[Jodi Berg, the president and CEO,] is the fourth generation of her family to head the privately owned firm, headquartered in Olmsted Township, Ohio. It has more than 800 employees, including 300 at its Strongsville plant.

During the pandemic, with people cooking more at home, sales for the consumer line have increased, Berg said. The company is hiring additional workers to meet demand.

... Ohio manufacturers with operations in China had been sharing with colleagues how masks had stopped the spread of coronavirus, even at facilities with thousands of workers. But there were shortages of industrially made masks, as well as cloth masks.

So [Charlie Gallagher, vice president of supply chain and operations,] asked a neighbor, who has a small sewing business, if she could make masks for the plant. She could make 300 at $7 each. There was one issue. The only way she could fill the order was by using green-and-white material with a 4-H emblem.

“I said, ‘I don’t care what they look like as long as they keep people safe,’” Gallagher said. And so by the end of March, the plant was fully masked up. About a month later, the company was able to buy commercially made masks.

The plant, which has remained open throughout the pandemic, has had no recorded cases of coronavirus infection occurring at the facility, the company said.

This was preventable.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

What it is really like work on a campaign: fending off free advice

Here's a snippet from a gossipy New York Times article about the Biden campaign.
“I’ve really never been in a campaign where so many people every day are reaching out to me with offers of assistance, advice, input, suggestions about everything,” said Ron Klain, who served as Mr. Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president.

“Everybody wants to win,” said Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, one of the campaign’s co-chairmen. “And everybody wants to give their ideas on what they think it takes to win.”

All that input has its downsides. “At some point you have to be able to make a decision and execute a strategy,” said Representative Richmond. He credits the nominee’s tight inner circle for keeping the campaign on track. “You just can’t have a million coaches.”

Some close to Mr. Biden have adopted a more absolutist approach. “I get letters and telephone calls from people saying, ‘This is what Biden needs to do,’ or, ‘This is what you need to tell Biden to do,’” said Representative Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat, chuckling. “I don’t tell him any of it.”
I don't quite believe Ron Klain about this. He's an old pro who knows better. A deluge of advice and "helpful" ideas always is part of what successful campaigns must navigate. Somehow, whoever is responsible for setting the strategy and tactics has to develop a plan and stick to it -- without seriously pissing off either self-aggrandizing and/or well-intentioned supporters. All that, while remaining alert to any suggestion that really might be useful amidst the maelstrom.

Campaigns, and particularly this one in 2020, are anxious battlefields on which hope and fear war with each other. Rank and file Democrats and progressives are fired up to "fumigate" the White House. (That's Nancy Pelosi's language; I like it.) They think their lives depend on Joe Biden campaigning well -- and they are not wrong. But tamping down our appropriate angst is another campaign burden.

The professional Democratic Party class thinks, with plenty of current evidence, that Joe Biden is likely to win this election. So they all want in and hope to get some credit. So they offer more good advice.

Media and pundits want stories to tell. They have advice too.

Most campaigns need someone to do the job Representative Clyburn says he's taken up; listening without alienating, while filtering out what is useless.

Photo (from Wikipedia) shows Ron Klain (l.) working with President Barack Obama in 2012 on debate prep. John Kerry was playing the role of Mitt Romney.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Friday cat blogging

Her ears are so outsized, sometimes they get folded over when she is running about and she doesn't even notice. When threatening Carli, the pitbull who lives out back, through a thick window, Janeway can flatten those long ears against her head. She's a feisty critter.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Says WHO?

What is likely to happen if Democrats win the presidency, the Senate and hold the House of Representatives in the November elections?

Democrats may disagree about Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal, but there are some things around which they will quickly coalesce:
  • Repealing every deregulatory initiative of the Trump administration while imposing new restrictions on coal companies and the oil and gas industry;
  • Repealing the Trump tax cuts and raising rates on business profits and profits made by individuals from the sale of stocks, bonds and real estate;
  • Repealing tax loopholes that benefit hedge fund and private equity managers and real estate developers;
  • Restricting stock buybacks;
  • Taxing financial transactions to discourage rapid-fire computerized trading and the hedge fund profits it generates;
  • Tripling the IRS budget for audits of corporate tax returns and crackdown on overseas tax shelters;
  • Launching aggressive antitrust cases to break up tech giants and telecom oligopolies;
  • Reforming the bankruptcy code to favor consumers and workers over banks and bottom-fishing hedge funds;
  • Raising the minimum wage and reforming labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize;
  • Regulating, for the first time, the shadow banking system and derivatives market;
  • Imposing price caps on prescription drugs, medical devices and hospital services;
  • Overturning Supreme Court decisions limiting lawsuits against businesses by workers and consumers;
  • Requiring disclosure of corporate political spending laundered through secretive front groups and sham nonprofits

These are the predictions of Washington Post business and economic columnist Steven Pearlstein. And he thinks Dems will kill the Senate filibuster to get it done by majority vote.

Let's hope he's right and let's make it happen.

Uncovering what is essential

Erudite Partner has written at length about how the pandemic is reshaping our economic lives:

Until an effective vaccine for the coronavirus becomes available, expect to see the emergence of a three-tier system of worker immiseration: low-paid essential workers who must leave home to do their jobs, putting themselves in significant danger in the process, while we all depend on them for sustenance; better paid people who toil at home, but whose employers will expect their hours of availability to expand to fill the waking day; and low-paid or unpaid domestic laborers, most of them women, who keep everyone else fed, clothed, and comforted.

Read it all at Tom Dispatch.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

A tale of two states

Arizona reopened rapidly in defiance of a novel coronavirus. It’s quickly become a canonical example of how not to respond to a pandemic. And you don’t have to look far for the tortoise to Arizona’s hare: New Mexico, its close neighbor in the Desert Southwest, has taken a more deliberate approach.

The two states start in a similar place, seen through early virus exposure. They end in a similar place, seen through levels of economic activity. But the slower, steadier path New Mexico followed differed in crucial ways. As did the human cost.

Andrew Van Dam and Tony Romm, New York Times

We're all, of necessity, learning that there is no way to "open the economy" unless we first control the spread of the virus. The linked article presents a clear explanation that there are no shortcuts.

Ending the pandemic requires increased immunity -- we can hope by way of quick invention of a vaccine. Failing that, science will have to come up with treatments that make infection with COVID a minor inconvenience. For everyone.

And until one or both of those outcomes has been achieved, a frightened population simply won't go out to work, or send kids to school, or consume. Therefore genuine economic recovery can't happen.

For now, our existence must consist of living with precaution and practicing patience. Better, smarter leadership would help, though no leadership is going to be perfect.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Democracy at work for wild places

It's a good, and almost unfathomable, fact that pressure on legislators to show their constituents that they are doing something useful can still sometimes prevail in this anxious election year. And just that is happening in Congress right now.

The Great American Outdoors Act, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate by a 73-to-25 vote on June 17, has been called one of the most important environmental bills in history because it could nearly eliminate a $12 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog and fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for the first time since it was enacted in the 1960s.

Washington Post

The House will take it up this week; Democrats are down with it, so it should pass. The law not only appropriates funds for the park infrastructure, but also puts $900 million a year into a land acquisition fund created by receipts from gas and oil drilling on public properties. This cash can be used to purchase more public lands, including parcels stranded within national parks and wildlife areas, as well as to improve state and local parks.

The White House has indicated Trump will sign the law.

So to what do we owe this miracle of functioning government in Washington overriding partisan gridlock? Election year politics, of course.

Despite the broad popularity of these policies in California and nationally, getting the legislation to this point took a chance alignment of the “political stars” [according to Holly Doremus, an environmental regulation professor at UC Berkeley.]

Prominent in that constellation were Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Steve Daines of Montana, Republicans from outdoors-friendly states who are considered vulnerable in their reelection bids. Party leaders, including Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have gone out of their way to give credit to the two senators for shepherding the measure through Congress, even as some critics call their effort an aberration from otherwise less-than-green politics.

Los Angeles Times

I'll be hoping we can replace these two GOPers in November, but in the meantime good may be coming from their electoral vulnerability.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Trump's Ronald Reagan gambit

Donald Trump's chances of reelection are cratering as COVID kills the people he is supposed to be working for. He faces rejection. So he, and his most fascist minions in the Justice Department and various immigration police agencies, are making a Ronald Reagan play.

This is the Ronald Reagan of his California Governor terms. Fear your popularity is waning? Go find some young people, Berkeley students were preferred, and send in thuggish cops to beat and disperse them. Tear gas, batons, and helicopters make great theater; your weapons work as theater. White people in the burbs think you are protecting them. Who cares if a random young person gets blinded or even killed by your goon squad (back in the day it was Alameda county sheriffs)?

And -- crucially -- everyone forgets the substantive issues the students were raising and remembers the presence of protesters meant wild, fearsome violent scenes.

This may not work so well today. Most of the demonstrators nationally seem to have adopted a disciplined focus on demands for racial justice. The national racial reckoning is broad and deep and has established its issues in the national consciousness. Reagan's play, and the Trump/Barr play, is to goad the undisciplined among the demonstrators to play cat and mouse games in the streets and lose the thread.

The Moms have the right idea in the video. My friends in Portland have the right idea -- they go to speak out, not to play street guerilla.

This moment is about justice for Black lives. If we can remember what its all about, that remains our best defense against Trump's outrages. Trump is reaching into a dead past; we can move on toward a better future.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Overview of U.S. Senate elections in 2020

As of this moment, it sure looks as if Joe Biden is on track to win the presidency. (Yes, things could change. Yes, polls will likely tighten as voters scamper back to their familiar corners. Yes, Trump may be preparing to create chaos and disrupt the election and transition. Yes, Trump could start doing his job caring for the country ... not likely.) But as things stand today, Democrat Joe Biden looks likely to prevail.

But that will mean little unless Democrats also capture the U.S. Senate. A Republican-controlled Senate can block much of what we need from government. So we've got a lot to do. Friends have asked me to lay out what I know about which Senate elections are most meaningful to winning a Democratic majority. Obviously this is where many of us want to put our energy. I'm just a moderately informed observer, but here's my overview:

Democrats currently hold 47 seats (including two independents, Bernie Sanders-VT and Angus King-ME). So, theoretically, if Biden wins and Dems gained 3 seats, they would control the Senate because whoever Biden chooses for Vice President would break tie votes.

But it's not so simple. As you can see from the pink coloring above, polls say Alabama's Democratic Senator Doug Jones is going to have to move mountains to hold off a Trump-loving Auburn football coach. So actually Dems may need to win 4 seats somewhere to have a majority.

And Dems have one seat (light blue above) that may need some serious defending, that held by Michigan incumbent Senator Gary Peters. His opponent, Republican John James, is a attractive, competent candidate who has out fundraised Peters in recent quarters. However, the context in the state is good for Peters. Michigan is a battleground state which will receive a lot of Democratic focus; Joe Biden is 11 points ahead there today; and its Democratic governor clashed with Trump over COVID, largely to her advantage. But still worth watching.

Pollsters consider there are three tossup seats most likely to fall to Democratic challengers.

In Maine, incumbent Republican Senator Susan Collins is in the race of her long political life. State senate leader Sara Gideon is an experienced politician who has outraised Collins by $9.2 million to $3.6 million in the last quarter. Collins has been hurt by voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court while claiming he'd stand up for abortion rights (not so in the recent session) and by voting to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial. But Collins is wily and well suited to Maine's rural expanses, so this will be a fight.

In Colorado, Democratic former governor John Hickenlooper is trying to unseat incumbent GOPer Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper was a very popular office holder, though Dem voters found him dull as dishwater in his brief presidential run. Like other Dem candidates, he outraised Gardner by a couple of million dollars in the recent quarter. He polls well. But I don't think we can take this one for granted: in 2016, Democrat Evan Bayh, a former Senator and legendary name in Indiana, looked like a shoo-in to regain a seat he had previously held -- Republicans creamed him. Hickenlooper seems a stronger candidate, but this race could go sour.

In Arizona, former astronaut Mark Kelly is taking on Republican appointed-Senator Martha McSally. Weirdly, McSally lost a Senate race in 2018 to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema -- so Arizona's Republican governor then appointed her to the Senate seat made vacant by John McCain's death. On paper she has a terrific resumé, but Kelly has led in every poll this year despite running in what was once the center of Republican Goldwater cowboy conservatism. And Kelly has vastly outraised McSally, $12.8 million to $9.3 million last quarter. Arizona will be a viciously contested state at the presidential level; the emergent Democratic coalition -- people of various colors, including a huge Latinx segment, Native indigenous voters, Black voters alongisde educated suburban whites -- is beginning to show its potential here. It is the previously solidly GOP state most thought possible to flip for a Democrat.

After this set of three seats, where are the Dems most likely to find another win? Here I'm seriously speculating, though there are encouraging benchmarks.

In Montana, another Democratic Governor, Steve Bullock, is running against incumbent Republican Steve Daines. Unlike Hickenlooper, Bullock is still in office now, and is getting high marks for his handling of the coronavirus. And, although Montana will certainly vote for Trump for president, it has a current history of electing Democratic Senators. Its other one is Jon Tester, first elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2012 and 2018, who always seemed an unlikely Democratic survivor in the rural West. Montanans have shown they will vote for a candidate who they find somehow authentic, even by splitting their votes between parties. And as in other Senate races, Bullock out raised the other guy by a couple of million dollars last quarter -- no small change in lightly populated Montana. I'm very hopeful about Bullock.

In North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham is challenging incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis. North Carolina is the ultimate battleground state: the parties have been hammering each other in a no-holds-barred partisan fight for about a decade, with local GOPers trying and often succeeding at gerrymandering and voter suppression. There's a fight near to the death going on there between a rural old South and a growing, more educated, urban population. The latter, with Black and Latinx turnout, elected a Democratic governor in 2016 and the Republicans have been trying to take away his executive powers ever since. That Governor, Roy Cooper, is on the ballot again in 2020. As in so many of these contests, Cunningham raised $7.4 million while Sen. Thom Tillis raised $2.6 million in the last quarter. Cunningham definitely has a chance, though this election will be terribly hard fought and probably vicious. Both Biden and Cunningham have led in some polls, though not by much.

Then there are the true long shots:
In Georgia, there are two Senate elections this fall. In the regular one, Democrat Jon Ossoff is running against incumbent David Perdue (yes, he's from the chicken packing family.) Ossoff is a heck of a fund raiser and even leads in some polls, though it will take a lot more evidence before many people believe in his chances. The other Senate race is actually a sort of primary. Incumbent Republican Senator Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons. Republican governor Brian Kemp appointed plutocrat Kelly Loeffler (she's married to the guy who owns the New York Stock Exchange and, yes, I do hold it against her). The Trumpie parts of the GOP wanted Congressman Doug Collins in the seat. So Collins is running against a Senator of his own party. Dems have fielded Raphael Warnock, who is pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic Atlanta church and is endorsed by Stacy Abrams, as well as several other contenders. The way this special election works, the whole lot of them run in November, then the top two vote-getters duke it out in a special election on January 5, 2121. At the moment, the contenders would be Collins in first, trailed by Loeffler. But who knows where this crazy mess goes. Dems could win one Senate seat, or two, or none, in Georgia.

In Iowa, challenger Theresa Greenfield is giving Republican Senator Joni Ernst a strong run. Ernst broke into the national conversation in 2014 by running an ad boasting of her prowess at castrating pigs. In June, the often accurate Des Moines Register poll found Greenfield ahead. Social Security death benefits saved her family; she promises to protect Social Security for all. Can she pull it off?

And finally, a couple of seats where wishful hopes are not yet born out by polling. In South Carolina, Democrat Jaime Harrison is a wonderfully attractive candidate against loathsome Trump suck-up Lyndsey Graham. And wouldn't it be great if Moscow Mitch McConnell in Kentucky could get his comeuppance? Democratic challenger Amy McGrath is a prodigious fundraiser -- but it is hard do more than hope she can do it in this very conservative state.

All of these Republican Senate candidacies are being held back by the anchor around their necks that is Donald Trump. The Democrats look safe to hold the House of Representatives which we won in 2018. There are even some promising Democratic House seat pick ups, particularly in Texas suburbs.

No one can say that those of us who live in noncompetitive states don't have choices to work on. Just pick one or more and do it.

(Fundraising numbers here cribbed from an article in The Trailer.)

Saturday, July 18, 2020

John Lewis

Jonathan Capehart eulogizes Congressman John Lewis in the Washington Post:

In my last interview with Lewis last month, I asked him what advice he had for this generation of marchers, who will invariably face setbacks. “You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more,” he said. “We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it.”

We got our marching orders.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Friday cat blogging

It's a small wonder I get anything written with all this assistance. If postings are scant, blame Janeway.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Vengeance, only vengeance

After a decade break, the federal government is back in the retail killing business, thanks to the cruel enthusiasms of the Orange Cheeto, of his slimy obedient toady Bill Barr, and of a Supreme Court majority which privileges legalistic form over human justice. Add to that malevolent stew a dash of Law'nOrdure politics and you get three dead old men, at least one with Alzheimers, in a busy week at the death chamber in Indiana.

The death penalty is always arbitrary. Bad guys who are poor, whose lives are particularly repugnant, who have lousy lawyers, who are disproportionately of color, get the orders for execution. Other criminals with slightly better luck get long time, or even no time, for equally awful offenses.

The scholar of the death penalty Austin Sarat enumerates how "tough on crime" policies have distorted charging and sentencing in the federal courts.

A Department of Justice study published in 2000 found significant racial disparities in the department’s own handling of capital charging decisions. It reported that from 1995 to 2000, minority defendants were involved in 80% of the cases federal prosecutors referred to the department for consideration as capital prosecutions. In 72% of the cases approved for prosecution, the defendants were persons of color.

In addition, white defendants were twice as likely as members of racial minorities to be offered a plea deal with life in prison as the punishment.

Another study found a similar pattern in drug kingpin cases. The vast majority of defendants convicted under the 1988 law have been white. However, when the death penalty has been used in those kinds of cases, only 11% of the people convicted were white, while 89% were black or Hispanic.

And racial minorities now comprise 52% of the inmates awaiting execution at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, a figure only slightly lower than the 55% found on state death rows.

But race is not the only source of disparity in the federal system. Geography plays a key role as well in both charging and sentencing decisions.

From 1995 to 2000, 42% of the 183 federal death cases submitted to the Attorney General for review came from just 5 of the 94 federal districts.

Federal death verdicts, like those in the states, are concentrated in the states of the former confederacy. Three of them—Texas, Missouri, and Virginia—account for 40% of the total.

We endorse state killing of offenders because we feel some acts are so bad something has to be done. But the feeling makes bad law. The Los Angeles Times has been through California's death penalty wars and knows what to ask:
... This is justice?

Backers of the death penalty argue that it is there to dispose of the “worst of the worst,” but in practice it falls disproportionately on people of color, the poor and the mentally ill, and executions usually come so long after the crime itself that there no longer is a penological justification for it.

So we’re left with vengeance for the sake of vengeance, even if it means letting the government kill its own citizens, a brazenly excessive use of government power.
One more injustice that's got to end.