Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King holiday

The Martin Luther King holiday is unsettling. It should be. He tried to change the country at its core, to turn us away from the injustice of race hate and poverty. So we killed him. And we gave him a holiday which calls for "national service." I guess that's better than ignoring the man, but how much better?

My friend Dana has become a racial justice activist late in life. I was reminded of her response to another of our problematic holidays, the one about "bombs bursting in air." Her sentiments seem appropriate to this one too.

... it was the Fourth of July, and we did our usual things — a speaker spoke, we told another horrible story, we said the person’s name. And while I was kneeling, I thought about this song that I loved. A song I loved all my life, but that has never made a whole lot of sense. “America the Beautiful.” 
It was the Fourth of July, we finished saying their name. I walked out into the middle of the road, and I turned and faced everybody, I said, “You all know this song,” and sang “America the Beautiful.” When I was done, I said to them, “I know that I will never be able to, and I don’t think my children will ever be able to, but I can only hope that if they make it to my age, my grandchildren will be able to sing that beautiful song without the same sense of irony with which I just sang it: ‘God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.’” 
I don’t think so. I mean, it’s a wonderful idea, but it is potential that has been unmet. And that for me is really sad.

That's how I feel on the King holiday. But he didn't give up and neither can we.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

We've been warned

Someone who uses the Twitter name Alexis in Brexitland (@andevers) has a message for us who live in the disunited States. A slightly edited thread:

So, real talk to American friends. Start wearing your masks outside on the sidewalk if you are not. Start wearing them outside if there are people meters away. Start wearing them inside your house if there are others there. Wear them. The new variant transmits readily.

A great deal of people I know all got the new variant all at once -- at least one handful of people got it outside in a very legit allowed social distance park walk. ...

I am saying this because I can tell from talking to people back home that it hasn't really hit everyone how different it is. It's very different.

And really, I say this to everyone. The new variant is a doozy. ...

For months and months in fall, even as numbers climbed, I didn't know anyone with Covid. Then I knew a dozen all at once. And now I know about a dozen more. Just be careful.
 
I think it becomes very hard to avoid even if you do the right things now, if you interact with others at all. But the masks are definitely something.

If you are in a situation with others outside your home, even if you are in a bubble wear your masks. ...

Truthfully, I am selfish. I want the virus to go slower there than it did here, because all my older family is there, waiting on vaccines or second vaccines. Slow this down for them.

And for the hospitals and the workers. Everyone.

I submit this for your consideration, considering a lot more people don't have to die that will if we don't get better at masks and unnecessary going out. Etc. And that's it! I'm going to bed.

Scary.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

It's big, it's bad, and political choices still matter

Until I read Adam Tooze's Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, the economic upsets of early 21st century global capitalism had mostly registered with me through the Wall Street melt down that confronted Barack Obama on taking office in 2009 and the grinding Great Recession of Main Street America that fed the resentments of his detractors. Somehow the Obama administration never seemed willing or able to turn its economic policies to the needs of ordinary citizens.

Oh, I knew that what seemed to begin with casino-gambling with home mortgages by the sleazier elements of US finance had somehow nearly brought down the whole world economy -- I read books that sought to decode what they had been doing. (Gillian Tett's was a good one.) And I encountered a Spain in 2013 where the economy was still somehow leveled by the backwash of these shenanigans. And I even knew all this somehow fed those pratfalls by English-speaking democracies in 2016: Brexit and electing Donald Trump.

But until I read Tooze -- he's an erudite Brit who has landed teaching history at Columbia -- I lacked a global picture to put all this together. Crashed does that. It's a masterly account of intricate financial systems and above all their dysfunctional politics. If you suspect any discussion of global capitalist economics is no more than a morass of high falutin jargon, you are usually not wrong -- but Tooze draws a path through vast swathes of human activity and suffering, of myopic leadership and occasional brilliance. I found it fascinating,

This is how Tooze introduces the grand scale of his subject matter:
The events of 2003, 2008, and 2017 are all no doubt defining moments  of recent international history. But what is the relationship among them? What is the relationship of the economic crisis of 2008 to the geopolitical disaster of 2003 [Iraq invasion] and to American's political crisis following the election of November 2016? What arc of historical transition do those three points stake out? What does that arc mean for Europe, for Asia? How does it relate to the minor but no less shattering trajectory traced by the United Kingdom from Iraq to the crisis of the City of London in 2008 and Brexit in 2016?
... the idea that was so prevalent in 2008, the idea that this was basically an American crisis, or even an Anglo-Saxon crisis, and as such a key moment in the demise of American unipolar power, is in fact deeply misleading. ... It pleased people around the world to imagine the hyper power was getting its comeuppance. ... Contrary to the narrative popular on on both sides of the Atlantic, the eurozone crisis is not a separate and distinct event, but follows directly from the shock of 2008. ...
Unexpectedly -- to rest of the world and possibly also to elements of the US political elite  -- the Obama administration and most critically the central Federal Reserve Bank, proved quite adept at saving floundering wealth institutions. Their prescription -- a sophisticated application of "print money" and give it away to rich people -- broke with academic economic orthodoxy, and succeeded. Ordinary citizens remained screwed -- but hey, at least the whole capitalist economy didn't grind to a halt.
However unprecedented and effective the Fed's actions might have been, even for those politicians whose support for globalization was unfailing, its practical implications were barely speakable. Though it is hardly a secret that we inhabit a world dominated by business oligopolies, during the crisis and its aftermath this reality and its implications for the priorities of government stood nakedly exposed. It is an unpalatable and explosive truth that democratic politics on both sides of the Atlantic has choked on. 
... America's crisis fighting exhibited massive inequity. People on welfare scraped by while bankers carried on their well-upholstered lives. But though the distribution of costs and benefits was outrageous, at least America's crisis management worked. Since 2009 the US economy has grown continuously and and least by the standards set by official statistics, it is now [pre-pandemic in 2018] approaching full employment.  
By contrast, the eurozone [the European Union countries that share a currency], through willful policy choices, drove tens of millions of its citizens into the depths of a 1930s-style depression. That tiny Greece, with an economy that amounts to 1-1.5 percent of EU GDP, should have been made the pivot of this disaster twists European history into the image of bitter caricature.
And then there's China, whose burgeoning capitalist command economy might also have been dragged down amid these flailings and which both wavered and grew exponentially. Nobody's financial elites look like geniuses in this telling

Until I read Tooze, I had no idea that Obama's foreign travels were usually more about trying to nudge bankers and global financial elites toward what the US thought was economic stability than about arms control, or recovering from the global opprobrium which George W Bush's wars had seeded, and or even climate change. It's an enlightening perspective.

None of this suggests happy prospects for economic justice, democracy, or even truth as Europe and America have known it.
It was the current president of the European Commission who announced in the the spring of 2011: "When it becomes serious, you have to lie." At least one might say, he knows what he is doing. If we believe Jean-Claude Juncker, a posttruth approach to public discourse is simply what the governance of capitalism currently demands.
In the 19th century, economics was sometimes labelled "the dismal science" because it was the study of why human beings would always lack for our basic needs, for food, clothing, and shelter. Modern global capitalism has proved capable of building the components for those needs beyond the wildest dreams of pre-capitalist economists, though it usually flunks the equitable distribution part of the problem.

The crux of Tooze's argument about the unfolding of the crisis of 2008 is that it turns out that contingency, accidents, and politics still matter despite the enormous scale and complexity of financial systems interwoven with modern states. It's possible that global capital has stamped out the possibility of democracy and we didn't notice. But also it's possible that's wrong.
There are ways of describing the operations of these systems that void the presence of politics. But if a history such as this has any purpose, it is to reveal the poverty of such accounts. Political choice, ideology and agency are everywhere across this narrative ... Success and failure, stability and crisis, can indeed pivot on particular moments of choice. ...

Not a bad thought as we enter a different, hopefully better, US political era ...

Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Erudite Partner reports that spinning is not made easier by a good ear cleaning from Janeway's rough tongue.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

We need a new President's medal -- the Eugene Goodman Medal

It's small potatoes among twice-impeached Donald's crimes, but this is still a little sickening. The old celebrity chasing conman has been handing out Presidential Medals of Freedom to cronies. He especially favors honoring past-their-prime white sports icons like Lou Holtz, Jerry West, and Gary Player. (Still active NFL coach Bill Belicheck had the decency to turn the award down after this month's Capitol attack; he's a smart one, that crafty old survivor.) 

In the last few months, Trump has honored champions of political vitriol and vituperation: Rush Limbaugh, his current Congressional pitbull Rep. Jim Jordan, and that rather stupid fabricator of lies Rep. Devin Nunes. The Nunes medal citation is a masterpiece of the Trumpian bullshit: 

Devin Nunes’ courageous actions helped thwart a plot to take down a sitting United States president. Devin’s efforts led to the firing, demotion, or resignation of over a dozen FBI and DOJ employees. He also forced the disclosure of documents that proved that a corrupt senior FBI official pursued a vindictive persecution of General Michael Flynn — even after rank and file FBI agents found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Congressman Nunes pursued the Russia Hoax at great personal risk and never stopped standing up for the truth. He had the fortitude to take on the media, the FBI, the Intelligence Community, the Democrat Party, foreign spies, and the full power of the Deep State....

 After this sort of tripe, the Medal of Freedom has lost much luster.

My friend Ayse Sercan, writing on Facebook, has an idea:

For the last week the video clip of a Black officer being chased by a mob of white men has haunted me. I'm no fan of the cops in general, but in no way does that make the situation of a bunch of violent racists chasing a Black man any better.

Then I found out he had deliberately led them away from chambers to protect the people inside. A Black man *used his Black body* to protect white people who too often forget how they have benefited from systemic racism and the service of Black people, the sacrifice of Black bodies. While some of his white colleagues were participating in the riot and taking selfies with rioters. Now he has to fear for his safety and that of his family because terrorists know who he is.

I think we need a new medal, the Eugene Goodman Medal, which would replace the defiled Presidential Medal of Freedom. [My emphasis]

Here's Goodman's story as told by Rebecca Tan at the Washington Post. Apparently he's not the sort of fellow who would want the attention, but he deserves plenty of thanks for quick thinking and courage. He probably averted many deaths.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The fear will linger ...

What happens to the psyches of members of legislative bodies who have experienced incursions by armed right-wing thugs screaming for their overthrow? Plenty, it seems.

Michigan statehouse in April. Photo by Jeff KowalskyAFP

Matt Shuham of Talking Points Memo interviewed members of the Michigan and Idaho legislatures who have endured gun-toting anti-coronavirus restriction protesters invading their space. 

“Now I’m like, ‘Well gosh, does it really make sense to get up and make a big speech about why I’m making this vote, or is that just going to land 50 armed guys terrorizing my family outside my House?’” said state Rep. Ilana Rubel, a Democrat and minority leader in the Idaho House of Representatives.

... State Rep. Donna Lasinski (D), minority leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, recalled sitting mere feet from the swinging doors that separated the House “and the men who were screaming and armed right outside our chamber” in April. 

She said the rage on display in Washington, D.C. last week recalled what she’d seen at her own workplace — “when you hear someone scream, and you hear the change in their voice that has moved them to a point where you feel like there’s no return, where you feel like violence is imminent.”

From the point of view of the thugs, intimidation is the point. And unless this kind of terrorism can be curbed, very few people are going to be willing to sign on to contest and hold elected office. And that means the terrorists win.

Watching this has reminded me that our Constitutional structure of government was not designed to be operated by professional politicians whose career path consisted of winning and holding elective office. The founding generation expected Congresscritters and their state analogues to be short-termers, white gentlemen taking a break from their plantations (South) or perhaps their law practices (North). 

Though political parties formed within a decade and professionalization rapidly followed (all that patronage for office holders to distribute!), it's worth remembering that eighty years after the founding, our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, had been merely a one-term Congressman who had retreated after a loss to a country law practice. He enjoyed continued prominence only thanks to the accident that the national party structure was reformulating itself to generate a new, anti-slavery, free labor party (the early Republicans). His equivalent of Twitter was a national lecture tour reinforcing the drive toward free-soil expansion of the nation to the west. And, having won the Presidency in 1860, he had to slink into Washington under threat of assassination in Baltimore before even taking office. In Lincoln, we lucked into a politician who believe in something beyond a career and paid the price.

People whose ambitions are simply to hold a cushy job and perhaps graduate to a lucrative lobbying career aren't going play in the political arena if it is perceived as more dangerous than prestigious. We have to make elective office safe enough to attract people who want to engage in public service without fear. Ideologues will come to the fore when temperatures remain as hot as they are today. 

Biden wasn't my guy by a long shot. But nothing is served by so breaking the structures of government that only ambitious monsters and monomaniacal zealots will take part. Let's hope he can calm the roiling seas.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

We need to hunker down

That huge black bubble over California representing current hospitalizations is properly alarming in this depiction from the COVID Tracking Project. The coronavirus is thriving among us.

Mission Local passed along a video exploring why new COVID cases took off after mid-October in San Francisco as authorities relaxed precautions.

According to Phoenix Data Project:

This data reveals that although San Francisco was doing relatively well controlling the pandemic, when indoor dining opened and cases numbers increased, SF made its big mistake. By not reversing reopening plans, ICU and case numbers increased, and SF experienced a large holiday surge.

Stay safe out there ...

Monday, January 11, 2021

America's mayor or America's next governor?

The headline reads "Bowser tells Americans to stay home for the inauguration." Good for District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser. If enough potential visitors listen, as seems likely, it will make it easier to separate the white supremacist militia boys planning another riot from the rest.

Locals may differ; they almost always do. (Don't expect me to applaud my mayor's coronavirus response, despite her national rep.) But from afar,  it seems Bowser's a done decent job in an impossible position and year, both in affirming Black Lives Matter and trying to bring order to a city abandoned by Donald Trump's federal government which controls most of the levers of power.

Certainly she supplants for the title that delusional conman from New York who had one good afternoon 20 years ago and now awaits a much needed pardon from his criminal client and overlord.

Bowser's legal inability to extract assistance from the feds and to command her own National Guard add to the case for DC statehood. I don't know if the Dems have enough votes to deliver; all it would take is a majority vote and presidential signature. But one or two lawmakers and the President himself could gum up the works, again.

Some facts about DC statehood: the new jurisdiction would immediately become the most Black state with currently something like a 46 percent Black population. Though that's a high proportion, it's nothing like the "chocolate" Washington that Erudite Partner grew up in during the 1960s -- truly an overwhelmingly Black city. 

DC's population is larger than that of Vermont and Wyoming.

Because DC is entirely an urban city center, the new state's GDP would be 1st per capita in the nation, and 1st by median household income. That doesn't mean everyone is Washington is rich. Poor residents (essential workers, perhaps?) have been pushed east across the Anacostia River where, in 2016, the poverty rate was 33 percent.

Residents of the District are U.S. citizens; they have long deserved their own state government.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

How to crush the Rebellion

That's what my Unionist ancestors would have called the white nationalist incursion at the Capitol last Wednesday. They were by no means "woke" or anti-racist, but they helped found the anti-slavery force that became the party of Lincoln. They didn't intend to be ruled forever by what they called "the Slave Power." When the southern states chose to break the country because Lincoln had affirmed that "government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free," those ancestors worked loyally for the Union war effort until the Confederacy was broken. They knew where the moral right lay.

I can bloviate long and vigorously about what I think ought to happen to our contemporary insurrectionists. But I think I'll hand that job off to San Francisco civil rights lawyer John Crew, writing on Facebook. I particulary appreciate the comprehensive scope of the sanctions he says we ought to bring to bear against the instigators as well as the perps. Here's Crew:

More attempted acts of insurrection may be imminent -- especially if the reaction to what has already taken place is not immediate, very strong and sustained. 
And, that reaction must be comprehensive. 
It must be political -- impeachment of the leader and inciter of the insurrection and, at minimum, official censure of the congressional enablers. 
It must be prosecutorial -- the punishments must fit the crimes and be more severe for those who do not turn themselves in. 
It must be professional -- disbarment, firings, expulsions from professional associations. 
It must be economic -- threatened boycotts and other pressure on business interests who remain complicit. (Hell, if the National Association of Manufacturers can break with Trump and the democracy-destroying lies that define Trumpism, anyone can.) 
It must be journalistic -- not just with relentless investigations and accountability pieces that name the insurrectionists and expose their roles but also with newly direct, no-bullshit, clarity and bluntness in how these events and those involved are described. 
It must be social -- people who openly seek to destroy democracy, who cannot or will not accept the core requirement of democratic citizenship that one MUST accept the equal legitimacy of all legally cast votes, and [must] peacefully accept legitimate electoral defeats, and/or who cannot accept the demographic certainty that this country's democratic power will continue to become ever more multi-cultural and less white must be shunned.

I would add that it must include the readiness of people to take to the streets and confront right wing hate groups who will surely be feeling a sugar high after their murderous stunt.

Further, the 147 Republicans in Congress who, after the attack on their citadel and persons, voted to throw out the clear verdict of the people in favor of Joe Biden, must be driven from office. If they had any decency, they would resign, but the votes Wednesday night gave them a a chance to repudiate sedition and they flunked it.

The people will have to do the job on most of these Congresscritters, rejecting them at their next election. That will be hard, but midterm elections are always tough for the party in power. With a Rebellion underway, lives depend on keeping Democrats in power in both houses of Congress. 

This cycle's success at turning Georgia blue shows that hard work by local organizers, with adequate financial support from outside, can increase participation and change outcomes. Georgia also showed that the work has to be ongoing; you can't just put up a campaign in the last six weeks and expect to swing elections.

Fortunately, the Cook Report has given democracy activists whose arena of struggle is elections what amounts to a target list of Republican offenders who voted to overthrow the election. Here's a small section of it, highlighting California's top target:

Mike Garcia's Congressional district is in Orange County. Anybody know who is doing the work of expanding and engaging the electorate in those parts?

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Weasel words

This is not the most important vexation in this moment, but this New York Times headline provoked me.

Either the Native American population dependent on the hospital were abandoned by the overlords of the U.S. Indian Health Service or that population is in the grip of a delusion. Which is it, Times? 

If you don't have an answer, you don't have a story. I wouldn't ask this of some amateur blog -- but the "newspaper of record" ...